In my recent coverage of Eddie Van Halen’s Signature Pedals I indicated that I had none of the usual suspects Overdrives/Distortions - or namely MXR EVH 5150, Wampler Pinnacle Deluxe and Seymour Duncan Diamondhead. While in fact I have well over 20 Brown Sound Style variants in my collection of various different sizes - with the vast majority being compact enclosures as featured here. I make no secret of the fact that the compact size format is my faourite and particularly for these sorts of largely singular task pedals.
The selection here in fact includes 4 sub-categories really - actual directly targeted EVH Brown Sound voiced pedals, JCM800 style, Hot-Rod Plexi style, and pedals like the Sinvertek N5+ - which are exceptional at delivery the Brown Sound variety, but not directly targeted at that genre. There is also a variety of capabilities and classifications as to what some of these pedals are - some are ’Marshall in a Box’ (MIAB) style preamps, some just straight up drives and distortions and others are multi-drives and dual drives even. So hopefully something for everyone then!
I am so enamoured with the particular slightly broader category of distortions - that I actually own 18 of the 28 featured here - which is why some pictured here are very specifically those editions I own (i.e. not the very latest models of Bogner and LPD Pedals). I also wanted to emphasise the dominant use of red here - which I feel was much influenced by Eddie’s best-known colorway iteration of his Frankenstrat. The MI Effects Super Crunch Box would seem to be particularly inspired by the V3/4 Frankenstrat with its black crackle pattern onto red.
There are other varieties I could have included here - which are also exceptional - like Keeley’s El Rey Dorado for instance - I will likely tag some of those onto the featured list as bonus rounds, and then may reference some of the other viable candidates not featured in the main visual - as a postscript if I feel that is required.
I like all my own varieties here - where the Jackson El Guapo is my current pedal of choice, the MI Effects Super Crunch Box V2 has been my long-term champion, and the Carl Martin Panama is the most recently added to the collection. These pedals have a varying degree of controllability and versatility - ranging from the 3-controls Mad Professor Mighty Red Distortion to the 9-controls El Guapo and 12-controls Sinvertek N5+ which are the current champions of the comprehensive.
I obviously have enough varieties already - while I’ve also had the Dawner Prince RedRox and JHS Signature Andy Timmons Plus distortion on my wishlist for the longest time. I will probably call it a day on this selection once I add those and the number rounds out to 20. There are of course a variety of different price points here and a varying degree of complexity and versatility.
As always - even though these are all overlapping to a large degree, each has subtle nuances of its own in terms of how textured the distortion is and what the exact makeup of the frequency profile is. All here can produce a very satisfactory EVH Brown Sound tone - while players as always will likely slightly prefer one take over another. For me it’s not really entirely a matter of how authentically you can replicate Eddie’s exact recorded sound - it’s more a matter of how close you get to your own perception and feel for that tone. I probably dial all these pedals in slightly differently - and have slightly different varying shades of EVH style tones - none of which are likely more than say 80 or 90% of what Eddie’s own true signature tone actually was - but that is almost always the case.
I hope you find some inspiration here and can celebrate what has been included versus what just missed out. These are obviously my choices and there are likely other opinions out there just as valid. Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand as usual. One fun fact here which is also a deliberately engineered confection is that the Bearfoot FX Dyna Red Distortion, Mad Professor Mighty Red Distortion and OneControl Dyna Red Distortion are all variants of Björn Juhl’s BJFE Dyna Red Distortion! - and also of course help underline the dominant red theme :
Much has happened with the Amptweaker brand recently as original 5150 engineer James Brown sold his own pedal company to Alpha Distribution, before taking on a job at Fender's EVH Gear Division. Amptweaker seems to be currently somewhat fading out of distribution with pretty much no presence remaining in the UK, and only a small smattering of pedals available throughout Europe. In fact the Amptweaker TightRock Jr and TightMetal Jr in particular seem to be sold out almost everywhere - all of which is slightly incongruous and worrying. Nevertheless this is a fantastic versatile Marshall crunch pedal ranging all the way into JCM800 territory. This is in the main focused on Plexi tones with regular knobs for Volume, Tone and Gain, a mini-knob for Noise Gate, and 2 x 3-way switches for EQ and Tight Mode - which cover Plexi/Stock/Smooth and Fat/Stock/Tight options respectively. All amptweaker gain pedals have a really beautifully textured crunch and this is a somewhat unsung and under-the-radar variant when compared to most of the usual suspects. I recall seeing pricing as low at £179 or £149 even, while it's now back up around the £200 - currently seemingly in rather short supply which is possibly why.
Not every one of Russian brand AMT's preamp series are equal - they're all very competent, while the Legend Amps Series II M2 (JCM800) and R2 (Mesa Rectifier) are really quite excellent. These pedals have some enhanced output abilities with onboard IR emulator and a choice of 3 output jacks for output to various devices. There are 7 controls - 6 knobs - including 3-Band EQ, OD.Level, CL.Level (Boost) and OD.Gain, with a push-button CL.Boost +8dB booster. This series of pedals is always good value and really solidly built. Often something of an underdog but capable of great things when dialled in diligently!
This is the first of 3 Björn Juhl derived drives - alongside the Mad Professor Mighty Red Distortion and OneControl Dyna Red 4K Distortion. This is a mostly Plexi-focused drive/distortion - but with a super variable Drive control. The 4 controls are Volume, Drive, Mids / LoMid and Treble. The magic here is really the range of the Drive knob which ramps up beautifully to touch on JCM800 territory at its height - and with the Mids and Treble controls suitably applied. The One Control Dyna Red Distortion is essentially the replacement for this as Björn Juhl moved the franchise across to the Japanese brand. The 4K Bearfoot FX variety is probably still the one I most want of those varieties as I'm a huge Björn Juhl fan and no collection of his is complete without at least one Dyna Red variant!
This is another pedal that seems to weirdly fall under the radar and I'm having to regularly remind my readers of its incredible prowess! It beautifully combines Boss's own BD-2 Blues Driver variety with JHS Josh Scott's Angry Charlie JCM800 style variety. The fact that you can mix those pedals in parallel is really this pedal's genius and forte and delivers some exceptionally finely nuanced harmonic texture. You have a beautifully engineered control topology here with 3 x dual-concentric knobs - Level, Tone and Drive for each voicing, and then a 6-way mode switch for Parallel and Series routing and switching. This is one of the go-to first Boss pedals I regularly recommend - it really is a modern classic and every home should have one!
The Bogner Neve Transformer series has recently been relaunched in even more compact and elegant enclosures. I however chose to go for the Bubinga wood facia edition back in the day as I felt is so well represented the refined textured quality of this series of pedals. The output is of the most beautifully creamy yet incredibly nuanced and textured variety. I actually acquired both the Bogner Burnley and Suhr Riot at the same time - where the Suhr is a slightly brasher version of the same sort of thing - both pedals are very much in JCM800 territory and both are really beautifully textured in their own way - with the Bogner Burnley delivering somewhat more refined tones. You have 3 knobs - Level, Gain and Tone, and a 2-way Fat/Tight mode switch - which shifts the EQ particularly in the lower and lower-mids register. I actually like both the Burnley and Riot equally although they are quite different pedals really even though being in the same territory. Seems that most people though seem to prefer the Riot for some reason which is a shame really as the Burnley is every bit as good and better in some ways with its Rupert Neve Transformer magic onboard.
This is my most recent Brown Sound addition / acquisition - and by its moniker obviously very much targeted at this genre. The new Carl Martins have beautifully engineered enclosures and despite them being Chinese-manufactured SMT varieties they mostly deliver superb tones. This is my second Carl Martin acquisition after the Purple Moon and is actually a beautifully nuanced Brown Sound variant with a really smart 4th 'Damping' control which impacts feel, texture, tightness and EQ for the low end in particular. The other 3 knobs are the more conventional Gain, Level and Tone - while all 4 controls deployed together give you a whole new smart level of distortion control. This is very attractively priced and deserves to do really well as it certainly hits the spot!
Despite 'Red Mod Gate' where said limited edition which I have was very shortly afterwards released as the latest mainline candidate - just with different knobs - this is still very much an essential Plexi variant and supposedly one of Andy Martin's all-time favourites. You get 5 external control knobs - a 3-Band EQ and Master (Volume) and Pre-Amp (Gain) with an internal dip-switch which switches between Super Lead and Super Bass modes. I still don't understand why the switch hasn't been externalised - while this still remains as one of the favourite MIAB variants. It's not quite as nuanced and sparkly as some of these others - but many seem to prefer that sort of output profile. There seem to be a lot of the previous silver MKIII versions still in circulation - with the new Red with Black-Knobs variety seemingly taking a while to establish itself in distribution. My Red Mod edition is evidently identical to the current release candidate - just with different knobs! I joked at the time that surely you needed more than a different knob colour to justify limited edition status!
This is sort of the one that got away still as I've been on the cusp of pulling the trigger on it several times now. I'm evidently trying to score one of these at the right price and despite it's obvious prowess I always seem to have other higher priorities at the time it flashes across my radar. This has the most beautifully crisp crunch which has endeared itself to Rob Chapman in particular as one of his favourites. It has 4 smart controls - Contour (Mids Sweep), Tone, Master (Volume) and Preamp (Gain). This is definitely one of the classics of this type and actually quite well known. I will certainly have this in the collection at some stage.
This I believe is very much Dave Friedman's take on the JCM800 and voiced after his Brown Eye amp. I believe Dave made a mis-step here in not providing any mids-control - this is something he corrected in his follow-up Dirty Shirley and BE-OD Deluxe Pedals where the Tight control was rendered rather as a switch, and that knob then replaced by a Mids control. I expected there to be a V2 edition of the BE-OD compact with that correction - but none has materialised to date. The BE-OD is still mightily impressive as is, but would have been even more so with the same topology as the Dirty Shirtely and BE-OD Deluxe. Its 6 controls are Bass, Treble, Presence, Volume, Gain and Tight. It tends slightly toward the dark and dense - but is a finely textured variety in its own right. I would implore Dave to hurry up and release the V2 update! Interestingly after its Winter NAMM 2020 tease - Friedman's newest SMALLBOX pedal appears to be finally ready to enter the fray - and that of course follows the Dirty Shirley pedal topology - with the Tight switch on the side!
And so to my current favourite EVH Variety - actually Mateus Asato's signature pedal which I still rather more associate with Eddie Van Halen for whatever reason. This is an ingenious dual-channel confection of JCM800 on the left-channel and Plexi on the right - each with 4 different Diode-Clipping Modes and dedicated controls. The JCM800 side has 4-Band EQ with Volume and Gain, while the Plexi side has more conventional Volume, Tone and Drive controls. When you stack both channels Plexi>JCM800 the main JCM800 Volume takes over as a master control, while an internal Level-Matching circuit ensures that balanced output is maintained as you step though the different clipping options. Jackson Audio pedals offer next level footswitch control for switching things up - both in terms of the different modes and Gain Cycle. So far on the El Guapo I prefer Amber + Green modes as default, while my favourite Plexi Mode is the blue one - so when I want to be able to deploy each of the channels independently and in combination I then use Amber + Blue. Generally the Green 'Screamer' Plexi mode is the one that stacks best. The amber modes delivery the most bass / low-end content and really overload the low-end if used together - so that's probably the only combination I don't really recommend - while you can of course tune the bass out of it - but that then limits you for switching options! Second/Third favourite combination is a hard contest between Amber + Blue and Green + Green.
This is another that's been long on my acquisition list - I've featured the red edition here for sake of the overall composition, while I probably prefer the more limited black edition. In any case this is he latest iteration of Andy's signature Drive/Distortion - which in turn is a specifically honed version of JHS's Angry Charlie with somewhat different controls. There are 6 controls - 5 knobs and a 3-way Mode switch. The knobs are Volume, Drive, EQ, Air (Presence) and Boost, while the Mode switch changes the gain structure between 25, 100 and 50 Watt Modes. This is a great sounding pedal that I'm resolved to have at some stage - I came very close to pulling the trigger a couple of times on some very reasonably priced examples, but I've kind of decided that I'd rather actually pay a little more for a black variant - if I can get my hands on one.
And this is a more traditional version of JHS take on the JCM800 - with more classic 3-Band EQ, Volume and Drive. I believe the underpinnings here are largely the same as for the Andy Timmons Plus - while that obviously has a different tone stack and additional boost footswitch and control. The Angry Charlie also makes up one side of the Boss JB-2 Angry Driver. The Angry Charlie is a very valid take in its own right, but I would rather take the Andy Timmons Plus in preference to that, and the Boss JB-2 in preference to the Timmons! Depending on what you're looking for - this may be exactly the right choice for you.
I'm a big fan of LPD Pedals and really should have a few more in the collection - in particular the Seventy 4. LPD Pedals has recently undergone a remarkable redesign to much more iconic and modern look-and-feel. The New Eighty 7 is a rather bright surf green / teal coloured affair. While the older model is a rather more drab dark-grey - I do believe the underpinnings are pretty much the same, as are the controls. We essentially have 4-band EQ including Presence, then Level and Gain, and a 2-way Low/High Gain Mode switch. All 3 LPD Pedals MIAB varieties are great - and I should really have all 3 by now - but such are my shifting priorities that it's just not happened for me yet. I'm very happy to have this particular variety within is suitably impressive - and many players' favourite in this selection.
I believe these have been discontinued - while there still seems to be a fair few in distribution. I'm not 100% sure, but I feel this may have been my very first or thereabouts Brown Sound pedal acquired. Mad Professor released it at a similar time to its other limited variety Golden Cello. The Golden Cello had the 4th knob as a Delay, while the very obvious Brown Sound targeted #1 had a take on Eddie's Plate Reverb sound on its 4th (1st) knob. The other 3 knobs are the more conventional or so Brown (Gain), Level and Presence. This doesn't have a huge degree of versatility compared to most in this selection, but it does deliver some suitable cool Brown textures - particularly in relation with its onboard Reverb.
This is the 2nd of the Björn Juhl varieties - in its simplest form. In fact this is the simplest pedal in this selection overall with just the 3 control knobs - Volume, Distort., and Presence. And while I usually prefer pedals with a little more variety and versatility this should appeal to the more set and forget players. In most ways it's pretty much identical to the 3-knob Bearfoot FX Dyna Red Distortion - while I've indicated that I prefer the 4-knob variety with the additional LoMid control - which delivers more tone-shaping variety and a little more gain overall.
This was actually my first Menatone pedal and is a kind of an ultimate MIAB type with no less than 8 controls - giving you full coverage of 60's, 70's and 90's Marshall tones. There are 6 regular knobs - 3-Band EQ and Level, Drive (Character) and Gain (Distortion). Then you have a Modern/Vintage Mode toggle-switch and a mini-knob which ranges through 90's, 60's and 70's seconds - both those elements adjust the Mids character of the pedal in conjunction with the Mids knob. I initially used this as more of a Plexi style drive, but I feel it's strengths are at higher gain and more towards the JCM800 side of things. My more recently acquired Menatone King of Britains is my current Plexi pedal of choice.
This was for the longes time my EVH Brown Sound pedal of choice and has been a part of my chain for a few years now - right until the Jackson Audio El Guapo arrived. This is every bit the equal of the El Guapo in delivering killer tones - while the El Guapo has quite a little bit more to it - in terms of its smart footswitches and extended feature set. You get 8 controls at your disposal here - 2 regular knobs - Volume and Gain, 4 mini-knobs - Presence, Hi, Mid, and Low, and then 2 x 3-way toggle switches for Clipping and Mode - which deliver all kinds of variations in gain structure and compression. This still comes very highly recommended by me as it sounds absolutely stellar. I use the Jackson El Guapo nowadays because it delivers even more variety and versatility - the Super Crunch Box is still killer though!
The '78 date here gives this away as a mostly hot-rodded Plexi-focused half stack style of pedal (Super Lead). It's another of the simpler varieties in this selection with 3 knobs - Output, Tone and Distortion and a 'Crunch' push-button for crisping up the distortion. This is the best priced variety here and great for anyone wanting to take a dip into this category without too much exposure as such. For sure one worthy of consideration if you're not sure this genre is something for you!
This is the 3rd and actually most recently release Björn Juhl variant as he's taken his franchise back from Bearfoot FX and given it over entirely to OneControl - which is in the process of re-styling all its pedals - to mixed results really. This latest variety dispenses with the LoMid control of the Bearfoot FX variety and provides a Presence knob in its stead - with the other 3 controls being the same - Volume, Drive and Treble. I actually somewhat prefer the looks and 'beefiness' of the older Bearfoot FX 4K Dyna Red Distortion variety - so I would rather hunt one of those discontinued pedals down than go for this - but that's just my own preference really - I am sure most would be satisfied with either.
This is another more full-range variety - which I actually preferred looks-wise in its previous more veined / textured enclosure more vintage-style incarnation. Here you get 4 regular knobs - Level, Gain, Lows and Highs, and a Parametric Mids courtesy of 2 mini-knobs and a Mid Frequency range of 400Hz - 2kHz. The Pettyjohn enclosures are a little bit more bulky than most - but very distinctive and high quality. I'm actually more enamoured by Pettyjohn's new Gørva-enclosured 'Core' series - where I already have the Rail - and will probably end up with the ROUS and ODI too at some stage - all really smartly engineered pedals. What is distinct about Pettyjohn is that each pedal comes with a choice of 2-3 custom modifications - which swap in different usually rarer or higher quality components. That element put has put me off Pettyjohn in the past as you wonder if the default version is good enough if it has all the upgrades available. If I were a builder I would just build the pedal to be as great as it possibly could be in one definitive version. Some of the component updates / upgrades make for a slightly artificially inflated environment - which doesn't always sit well with me. But make no mistake these are all quality pedals - even at standard stock version!
I'm a huge fan of the fat/beefy sounding G4 which can sound absolutely thunderous and makes for a pretty great JCM800 / Brown Sound stand-in here as well as a Rectifier and Diezel alternative should you be seeking those tones. I actually have all 3 of REVV's G-Series and have had all 3 in the chain at one time. Right now they are out of rotation - but will no doubt come around again as they are truly great within their respective genres. The REVV G4 has 3-Band EQ, Volume and Gain, and a 3-way Aggression / Gain Structure switch - Off/Blue/Red which ramps up the level of gain and attack. This has long been one of my favourite high gain distortions with a tonne of tone-shaping ability - including a very substantial low-end.
This weirdly still under-the-radar powerhouse multidrive is one of my own all-time favourites. It's not specifically targeted at JCM800 / Brown Sound or Plexi even - but is superb at replicating all those flavours. Very few pedals have this degree of verve and sizzle. Moreover it's incredibly configurable courtesy of its 12 controls - including 7 milled aluminium knobs - Volume, Gain, Bass, Mid, Treble, Resonance and Presence. And then 5 toggle-switches for - Gain Structure, Low End, Top End, Mid Range, Gain Saturation, and Tone Indestidy / EQ Shift. It's a genuine engineering marvel - and a lot more people should be checking it out. It's truly one of the most impressive and versatile distortion pedals available anywhere.
This is another slightly unusual variety and not at all aimed specifically at JCM800 or Brown Sound territory, but has a wonderful sizzling fuzz-edged distortion which is just perfect for Eddie style tones. The Wuffy sports 5 smart controls - Level, Drive, Scoop (Contour / Mid-Sweep), and Tone, with a 2-way Clipping switch. When I first heard Pete Honoré's demo I immediately thought hot-rodded Marshall Plexi style tones with a slight fuzz accent. The distortion texture / character on this is just fantastic.
I prefer the slightly fatter Original Riot variety versus the more modern, more pushed, follow-up Riot Reloaded edition. I acquired this at the exact same time as I got my Bogner Burnley Bubinga and they're sort of cousins really with the Burnley being warmer and creamier, while the Riot is rather brasher and brighter/ Both have incredible distortion texture though and I would not want to be without either - I prefer each in turn on different days - depending on whether I want my distortion to be creamier or slightly more attacking - both pedals have somewhat similar controls. Here the 3 knobs are Distortion, Level and Tone, with a 3-way Voice switch which gives you Natural Organic Distortion, High Gain with pushed Mids and Tight low-end, and Vintage Distortion. This is a pretty classic JCM800 variant with plenty of sizzle and is very much considered one of the benchmarks of this genre.
As mentioned in my fairly recent head-to-head vs the Gunshot feature - I recalled how this was very much the V2 modern edition of the Lovetone Brown Source - Brown Sound targeted pedal. Thorpy informed my what this was modelled more on a hot-rodded Plexi sound vs the JCM800 stylings of the Gunshot - while The Bunker immediately sounds slightly sharper and more aggressive than the Gunshot - while that actually ranges higher on the gain scale and has slightly more saturation. I'm always fascinated by what settings one tends to land on and how you can end up using pedals in slightly contrary ways to what was intended. So I run the actual JCM800 voiced pedal as a Plexi, and the Plexi voiced pedal more as a higher gain JCM800 variety. The Bunker has 4 highly interactive knobs - Volume, Drive, Texture, and Tone - with the Texture being particularly important here. The Brown Source was originally intended to go in front of a rather cooking amp with the Texture dial cranked up, while if you run it into a clean pedal platform amp like me - you need to rather crank Texture counter-clockwise. The 3-way Mode switch is a sort of EQ-shift which delivers more high-end at top, is stock / flatter in the middle, and more low-end focused when set down. You also have a second footswtich which acts as a boost courtesy of a tone-stack bypass. After a very thorough review - I had to conclude in the end that the Gunshot and the Bunker were equally impressive - they are slightly differently voiced but should be equally appealing for most. Generally the Gunshot has a little more range and can go softer and lower gain than The Bunker - while the Bunker has its own advantages also - which really makes them equally appealing.
For this pedal I originally laboured under the misconception that this was voiced after a Plexi amp - before Thorpy corrected me that it was actually more aimed towards a JCM800. I recently reviewed this as a head-to-head with the newer The Bunker Distortion q.v. which is actually more Plexi-oriented - while I still tend to set them up the other way around - with the Gunshot slightly softer and more towards Plexi and The Bunker being sharper and set to more JCM800 style gain. The Gunshot has a slight larger range than The Bunker - as it can go softer as well as more gainier. Like the ThorpyFX Warthog his has the fairly unique Calibre dial - where the Gain control targets the first Mid-Focused gain stage, while Calibre targets the second flat-EQ gain stage - by mixing those two you get an incredible range of break-up and distortion textures. You then have the more conventional Tone and Volume knobs. This is an incredibly nuanced distortion - which while voiced more on the JCM800 - I actually seem to prefer slightly further down the gain scale.
I'm obviously a very significant fan of Brian Wampler's and this is one of his many killer drive pedals. I actually always intended to get the Pinnacle Deluxe - but got a good deal on the compact, and now that I have that it seems to have somewhat impacted my desire to get in the larger sibling. We have 6 controls at our disposal here - Tone, Mid Contour, Volume and Gain knobs, and 2 x 2-way mode switches - Modern/Vintage and Boost/Gain. This is actually a really decent pedal while I feel the Pinnacle Deluxe is even better - and obviously comes with 3-Band EQ. This pedal is good enough though that it has somewhat lessened my desire to need to have the larger Deluxe version. I am committed to getting the Deluxe edition eventually - while in the meantime this will do very nicely.
This was actually a forerunner / predecessor to the Pinnacle - where each is voiced very slightly differently and the Plextortion has a touch more bite to go with its 3-Band EQ. Besides 3-Band EQ, Volume and Gain - you have a 2-way Vintage/Modern mode dial. Many commentators state that the Plextortion is better suited to humbuckers, while the Pinnacle is more balanced in that regard. I actually like both varieties - and like the Bogner Burnley and Suhr Riot - I prefer each on different occasions. It doesn't hurt that the sparkly purple Plextortion enclosure looks amazing.
I had to include this in the extended coverage as it sounded so great in the above Andertons EVH Sound Like. This is gloriously textured take on a hot rodded Plexi - with knobs for Drive, Tone and Level, and a 2-way Lo/Hi Gain Mode switch. A simple pedal for sure but it delivers all you need! I will almost definitely be adding this to the collection too at some stage!
So just for reference - these are the varieties I actually own from the above selection:
And I will probably get in a few more eventually from among the Amptweaker TightRock Jr, Bearfoot FX Dyna Red Distortion 4K, Dawner Prince Red Rox, JHS Andy Timmons @+, and Keeley El Rey Dorado - may even be all 5 of those eventually - while I really do not need any more in the slightest.
In terms of my all-time favourites here - the Jackson Audio El Guapo is my current weapon of choice in this area - with the MI Effects Super Crunch Box as the long-term understudy, and the Sinvertek N5+ probably the first reserve after that - while it could really be any of these. They all overlap to a degree - but are also each slightly and subtly different.
Even with all of these - there are probably still some viable candidates I've overlooked - do let me know if you have other preferred choices in this area - and at this enclosure size!