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May 2014
more... Builder ProfileGearAmpsOctober 2010Brown Note

Builder Profile: Brown Note Amplifiers

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Builder Profile: Brown Note Amplifiers

The new ODR 100 D’Lite has footswitchable Clean, Overdrive, and Boost controls. Front-panel controls include Volume, three mini toggles—BR1/BR2, Norm/Deep, and Lean/Fat—Treble, Mid, Bass, Drive and Level for the Overdrive function, and Master and Presence knobs.

The slogan on Brown Note’s MySpace page reads, “Guitar Amps That Don’t Suck.” Judging by the number of guitarists who flock to the Fair Oaks, California, company’s demo room at the annual New York and Los Angeles Amp Shows, that’s something of an understatement.

Brown Note’s founder is Moss Hudson. Rather than follow the conventional path into amp manufacturing—one that typically begins with learning the ropes doing repairs and mods—Hudson made his name by selling kit amps to DIYers. Eventually, he added assembled amps to the offerings and now Brown Note has a full product line, ranging from low-wattage tone machines to 100-watt beasts.

The DIY ethos can be traced back to Hudson’s youth. After obtaining the Radio Shack 101 Electronics Projects Kit, Hudson became an electronics freak. He took pleasure in converting battery-powered board games to AC power, giving the board game Operation a whole new meaning. And as a teen, Hudson went to school with a kid whose dad had “all this cool stuff—guitars, electronics, and stereos.” It turned out the kid’s father was Sammy Hagar. Inspired by what he saw, Hudson scraped together enough money to buy an imported guitar and snagged a Magnavox console stereo his neighbor was getting ready to trash. Determined to find a way to make use of the Magnavox, Hudson summoned what he could remember from the Radio Shack kit’s “Big Ear” amplifier circuit to build a crude guitar amp. That initial project planted the seeds for Hudson’s amp-building business.

What’s the origin of Brown Note amps?


I got started offering supplies to do-it-yourselfers. In 2000, inspired by sites like ampage.com and 18watt.com, I really got involved with the DIY craze. I was the first to offer an 18-watt kit based on the lead channel of the Marshall 1974X, and then, as far as I know, I was the first to offer an Overdrive Special-type kit—the D’Lite.

How much electronics knowledge does someone buying a kit need to assemble it?


I’d say almost none. I know of people who have never even heated a soldering iron who just decided to try it and were totally successful.

How long does it take to build a kit amp?


A guy who is really cooking could have an amp kit up and running in a week, yet another guy might take six months to a year to complete it. If you decide to tackle a kit with no experience, you need to approach the project slowly and methodically— and ask a lot of questions. After you’ve built three or four kits, you could easily assemble one in a weekend.


The back of the ODR 100 features convenient power-tube bias-adjusting controls (top), as well as an Impedance selector, FX Loop, an OD Gain Trim control for adjusting the amount of footswitchable gain, three mini toggles—OD (which switches between clean and overdrive), MID (for mid boost), and PAB (for a preamp boost)—and a 5-pin jack for the footswitch (bottom).
What are the differences between your kits and the assembled amps you sell now?

The whole idea with the kit is to provide a really high-quality product and make it as affordable as possible. My other goal is to simplify the building process, so someone who is just starting out can put one together. Fortunately, simplified circuits end up sounding really good. With the Brown Note amp line, our approach is to offer as high-quality an amp as possible and include all the things customers want, like an effects loop and reverb.

So a customer can’t get reverb and an effects loop in a kit?

Our kits are streamlined for the sake of cost and ease of assembly. That said, we now have a reverb retrofit kit and effects loop kit available, and we also offer a footswitching kit. For more ambitious builders, we offer kits with add-ons to bring the level of the DIY features closer to our production builds.

By making affordable kits available, you probably reduce the temptation for someone to open up one of your production amps and copy it.

Even if you try to keep it a secret, people are going to find out what’s under the hood anyway. We follow more of an open-source model. That’s cool because it’s like a community—a collaborative effort with hundreds of great minds working together and sharing knowledge.

Has anybody come up with a kit mod that you’ve integrated into your designs?


Norm Feaster worked with me closely in developing the D’Lite kit and had some great ideas we put into use, and Scott Lerner was very helpful. There’s Gil Ayan, who came up with a cool treble-bleed circuit I use, and Alfonso Hermida who worked with me on a ported cabinet design. The Hall VVR, Iron Sounds FX Loop, and Ampdoc 3-relay board are aftermarket items you can add to your amp kit. A lot of guys have really tricked out their build and done cool stuff. In some cases, their mods mirror what we’re doing with our production amps.

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