I’m an amp design engineer and since 1986 I’ve been designing guitar amps–first for Peavey® and then as Chief Engineer for Kustom® Amps. Usually there’s a team of people involved.....industrial designers who design the looks, mechanical engineers who design the package, engineers who design the circuit boards and usually a manager, owner, or artist who decides a lot of the details.
My specialty is tweaking. I’ve been good at coming up with ideas, but my main contribution in every case was really fine-tuning the sound–especially how the amp or pedal distorts.
As a kid in Mississippi, I played amps and wondered why they didn’t sound like the record. I read that players cranked their amps, but I thought it would be better if the amp could do that at lower volumes. I decided to go to college to learn electronics, so I could design better guitar amps.
|After college, I taught at the University of Southern Mississippi for a couple of years, wrote a textbook, "Experiments in Electronic Devices and Circuits", and then in 1986 I finally got my shot at designing amps at Peavey.|
My first amplifier project was designing the VTM tube amplifier. Instead of just making all my tweaks directly to the amp, Hartley Peavey came up with an idea to use a DIP switch on the front so the customer could make their own mods. Adrian Vandenberg used this amp while touring with Whitesnake in '87.
Begun in 1990, the original 5150® project was a very important one, both for me and for Peavey. Of course, working as the lead engineer with Eddie Van Halen on his amps for about 13 years helped me make a name in this industry. These amps have been used by many artists and heard on a lot of recordings. This picture was taken just after our final tweaking of the original 5150 amp.
During my 18 years at Peavey, I was a member of Jack Sondermeyer's Analog Engineering team, and helped design the Classic® 50, Classic 30, DeltaBlues™ and the original TransTube® amplifier line. I was the co-inventor of 12 patented circuits and designed amps that won MMR and M&S Retailer awards. I designed a distortion pedal called the Dirty Dog, and collaborated with Peavey’s digital engineers to help tweak their Delta Stomp effects pedal.
|In the late '90's, Bill Xavier joined Peavey as product manager over guitar amps, and we worked together to build several amps including the Triple XXX® amplifier line. This was my favorite amp at Peavey, and I used it at my own gigs for years.|
In 2003, Bill and I worked with Joe Satriani to develop his signature amplifier, the original JSX™. The amp was loosely based on the Triple XXX, and after spending a few trips to tweak it for him, it was ready to go. Here is a picture of me, Bill and Joe at Atlanta at a tweak session.
In 2004, I moved to Ohio and began designing amps for Kustom Amplification as their Chief Engineer. One of the first things I was asked to do was to ‘make the amp I’ve always wanted to design.’ I began work on developing Kustom’s first US tube amp line, the ’36 Coupe® and ’72 Coupe amplifiers. These amps are all-tube, with birch plywood cabinetry and a custom made Eminence speaker. They’ve been well received in the industry, and are used by many artists both in the studio and on the road.
|The next project at Kustom was the high gain all-tube Double Cross™ head. It used a completely new method of mixing tube stages so that the user can easily get different kinds of distortion to jump out depending on how hard it’s played. The response was really great, and the amp is currently out on the road with some heavyweights.|
After working part time at Kustom for 2 years, I left in '11, and I now devote all my energy to my latest personal venture, Amptweaker. I welcome you to participate by clicking on my Product Idea box on the right end of the menu bar above.......your ideas can help me develop products that an artist like yourself really wants. Together let's change the musical effects and amplifier business into a cooperative one.
James Brown, Amp Engineer
5885 Cumming Highway
Sugar Hill, GA 30518
Peavey, Classic, VTM, Triple XXX and TransTube are or were registered trademarks of Peavey Electronics Corporation. Delta Blues, Dirty Dog, Deltastomp and JSX are or were trademarks of Peavey Electronics Corporation. 5150 is a trademark of E.L.V.H., Inc. Kustom is a registered trademark of Davitt & Hanser Music Company, Inc. '36 Coupe and '72 Coupe are registered trademarks of Kustom Musical Amplification, Inc. Double Cross is a trademark of Kustom Musical Amplification, Inc. Amptweaker is a trademark of Amptweaker, LLC.