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Rack Systems Brown Eye and Naked Amplifier Reviews




Naked
Download Example 1
Clean
Download Example 2
Dirty 1
Download Example 3
Dirty 2
All clips were recorded with a Bogner 2x12 20th Anniversary cabinet with Celestion G12H30s, an SM57 into a Digidesign Elevenrack with Pro Tools 8.0.3. Guitar was a 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom with Tom Anderson pickups.
The Naked head has a storied history. Friedman produced the original line more than 10 years ago in very small quantities (around a dozen were made, and most went to Japan). The first Naked was designed with the input of A Perfect Circle guitarist Billy Howerdel. Friedman had previously modded Howerdel’s 1978 Marshall JMP 100-watt head. The preamp in this circuit was key to Howerdel’s tone, and it was influenced by a certain boutique amplifier that Howerdel was a fan of. Howerdel loved the amp so much that he commissioned Friedman to build several amps based on his beloved JMP. Thus, Howerdel’s request for a high-gain, clear-sounding amp with supreme touch sensitivity was the inspiration for the Naked 100-watt head.

I can clearly recall the first time I heard A Perfect Circle’s self-titled album—I was amazed by how unique the guitar tones were. The mushy sound of typical radio-rock grind was replaced with a crisp, robust wall of sound that had dimension and texture. When I asked Friedman why he waited a decade to release this amp as a production model, he said “Today, it’s easier to promote amps like the Naked because of the Internet. Ten years ago, the market was different, and it was a lot harder to get the word out about something like this. But now, the rules have changed. So, why not?”

Feature Talk
The new Naked is based on the circuitry of the first Naked amps, and it offers many of the same functions. You can switch between two channels, clean and overdrive, using a single-button footswitch that plugs into one of the front jacks. Both channels share a simple 3-band EQ with a highly sensitive Presence control. The Naked’s minimal features are rounded out with an effects loop that’s wired in series.

Aesthetically, the amplifier is an homage to the Marshall Super Lead models of the late ’70s, with large rocker switches for Power and Standby, and white piping instead of gold. Howerdel’s Friedman-modded ’78 Marshall JMP was not only the tonal basis for the Naked, but obviously had a major impact on its visual accoutrements, as well.

After I had a chance to set up the amp and take a test run with my trusty Les Paul, I felt really comfortable gazing at the familiar front panel. I’ve played a lot of Marshalls, so I felt like I’d ridden this bike before and there was no fear of falling off. The era-correct metal panel sports four inputs, with the upper-left one taken up by the Clean channel’s preamp gain control.

I was intrigued to see how Friedman paid tribute to the original, modded late-’70s Marshall by the way he wired the Naked’s input jacks. The bottom-left input is wired for the previously mentioned footswitch, and the upper right input is for the guitar. Friedman could have easily installed a jack on the rear panel for the footswitch and used a faceplate with only a single input drilled into it, but he chose to have the amp’s aesthetics reflect all the modding he has done over the years. It’s familiar and functional, and keeps a visual continuity with his custom work. Unlike the Brown Eye, the Naked is stripped bare of extra frills other than the effects loop. There are no additional mods or enhancements—what you hear is what you get.

Plugging In
Despite their similar looks and British highgain influences, the Brown Eye and the Naked have very different tonal qualities. With its rear-panel voicing switches, the Brown Eye obviously has the upper hand in terms of versatility. But this doesn’t mean the Naked isn’t capable of producing malleable, robust sounds. What it really comes down to is what kind of player is using the amp.

Earlier, I mentioned that the Brown Eye should appeal to players who like a more immediate attack and extraordinary detail in the upper mids. Those frequencies really start to show themselves in a stronger light when the guitar is in standard tuning or perhaps a half-step below. With the Naked, though, it’s all about dropped tunings. This was of special interest to me, as I like to keep one of my guitars tuned down to C#. I can’t tell you how many Marshall (and Marshall-esque) amps I’ve gone through over the years that just can’t keep the signal tight and focused when I’m tuned down that low.

With the Naked and its custom-voiced circuit, that frustrating issue was nowhere to be found. The jumbled, fuzzy mess of distorted, down-tuned riffs was substituted with quite possibly the tightest, meanest British overdrive I’ve ever experienced. Every lowstring palm mute coming out of my 20th Anniversary Bogner 2x12 cabinet was crisp and clear, with that perfect sag in the mids that Marshall lovers obsess over. I’ve played (and owned) some fantastic British-voiced amps throughout the years, but nothing was ever quite this good in terms of high gain.

My 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom, which has a Bare Knuckle Warpig in the bridge position, sang up and down the fretboard, delivering biting, detailed tones and some of the best note definition I’ve ever come across. It was almost as if there were two voicings in the frequency spectrum—one being a darker, more aggressive tone in the low end, and the other being sweet, bright, and soft in the upper registers.

And, just like the Brown Eye, the Presence control has a massive overall effect on the sound. The control really starts to kick in between the 1 o’clock and 5 o’clock positions, considerably boosting both the gain and upper-end frequencies in the higher settings. It’s almost a voicing control at this point, because slight changes pull it from hard rock to raging Slayer territory. It’s flatout amazing just how well the Presence control changes the tone, and it was definitely the secret weapon in my amp testing. During these tests, I found no need to change the EQ from where I had originally set it, because there was a myriad of spectacular, completely usable tones to sweep through, thanks to that single knob.

Even after experiencing the Naked’s extraordinary overdrive tones, I could not ignore its great clean channel. The dark-toned nature of the Naked really shows itself here, and it hearkens back to the clean sounds of late- ’70s Marshalls. Generally, most Super Leads from the early ’70s and late ’60s are considered to have a brighter sound than those released much later. The smooth, clean tone on the Naked was more in line with its late- ’70s Marshall forebears, and it offers more of a traditional response than the Brown Eye.

The Naked has a huge amount of available headroom, and, used in tandem with the master volume, the two preamp controls let you sculpt the top end. Higher preamp settings rolled off those upper frequencies but caused slight distortion when I struck the strings harder. The Naked’s touch sensitivity came into play very nicely here, and footswitching between the two channels put even more timbral options at my fingertips.

The Final Mojo
As any gear fanatic will tell you, the more you explore a particular sonic area, the better you’re able to scrutinize and pick apart aspects and traits of your equipment. In this case, my personal love of great Marshall tone was almost a hindrance. The Naked was specifically designed for a taste that’s very similar to my own, which makes it hard to find areas to critique. If I got a harsh, unpleasant tone, it was easy to dial it out with either a slight turn of the Presence control or by simply backing off the gain. The Naked is designed to perform exactly this way, and it succeeds admirably. If you love British high-gain sound, you’ll be right at home with the Naked. And if you’re looking for an amp that can deliver tight and focused tones with lowered tunings, you must experience Friedman’s Naked amp.
Buy if...
you want the smooth, dark overdrive of a late-’70s Marshall with enhanced gain for modern rock riffing.
Skip if...
lower gain, Fenderish tones are more your taste.
Rating...


Street $3500 100-watt head; $3300 50-watt head - Rack Systems - tonemerchants.com