Northern California’s A Brown Soun has been repairing speakers for nearly 30 years.
Founded in 1974 by John Harrison, the company was named after the way Harrison “sees” sounds – as colors. And his favorite sound is a ’59 Gibson Les Paul played through a dimed Marshall stack. That tone, in his eyes/ears, is a “brown sound.” As for the “d” being dropped from “sound,” well, blame it on the ’70s.
Anyway, Harrison built a successful business as one of just a few Bay Area speaker repair guys. And it was good. But after re-coning speakers for more than 25 years, in the Spring of 2001 Harrison saw a niche in the market and started building his own brand of speakers, dubbed Tone Tubby, based on the famed Celestion-built Vox Bulldog.
Then one day, lightning struck.
“It was a real obvious thing,” Harrison said. “I couldn’t believe nobody had tried before! I was thinking about the Constitution and how it had been written on hemp paper, and it has lasted 300 years! I wondered what it’d be like if I used it to make as a speaker.”
Before long, he’d found a manufacturer that could produce a cone made primarily of hemp. The first one was delivered in July of that year, and within an hour after its arrival, Harrison had already put it in a speaker, wired it, and had it in an amp. To his delight, it worked beautifully.
“It was lighter, stronger, and more responsive,” he said. “It just screamed!”
We recently glommed a semi-open-back Tone Tubby 4×12″ speaker cabinet with four of Harrison’s TT12-01 alnico 12″ speakers with (of course) hempcone drivers.
Aesthetically, the Tone Tubby looks much like most extension cabinets, measures a sporty 26″ x 26″ x 12″ with a straight baffle and 7″ x 14″ opening in the back, and is covered in black tolex, with black grillecloth, metal corners, and large, recessed bar handles. Tone Tubby will dress up any of its cabs (2×12, 4×10, 4×12) in red, green, brown, or blond tolex and dress it up with gold, silver, oxblood, or wheat grillecloth. The 2×12 is available in either vertical or horizontal arrangement. And if you’re inclined, they’ll make your cab (regardless of variety) look very Vox-like!
How’d it Soun?
We checked out the cab using a 100-watt Reeves head, an all-tube Peavey, and a Marshall. Our test guitars were a Fender ’62 reissue Stratocaster and a Gibson Les Paul Classic.
We kicked things off with the Peavey, and at our customary settings we noticed a drop-off in the upper end of the frequency response compared to what we typicallyrun it through. But with a slight bump in the highs, we were able to get more of the tone we knew so well.
Thus was revealed one aspect of the Tone Tubby cab; in general its tone is a little darker than you might be accustomed to, smoothing the peaks and valleys in the frequency response that you find with most closed 4x12s, while maintaing the solid, thumpy low-end that made the configuration famous. And it proffered the midrange airiness that appeals to fans of the open-back cab. In the “gravy” department, despite being pushed hard, these little hemp monsters didn’t go into that beyond-the-limits farting out that tends to plague low-watt alnico speakers.
Overall, our run with the Tone Tubby was very pleasing. Whether we plugged in the Strat or Les Paul and used power courtesy of Peavey, Marshall, or Reeves, it highlighted the inherent tone of our guitars and amps.
John Harrison’s hemp cones may indeed be a daydream come true.
Tone Tubby speaker cabinet
Type of Cab Semi-open-back 4×12″.
Features Fingerjointed construction using hand-selected Ponderosa pine woods and Tone Tubby speakers with hemp or paper cones and alnico magnets.
Price $1,395 (direct).
Contact A Brown Soun Inc., 23 Joseph Court, San Rafael, CA 94903, phone (415) 479-2124, tonetubby.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Nov. ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.