Sandwiched between the evergreen tweed Deluxe and blackface Deluxe Reverb, Fender’s brown Model 6G3 Deluxe of the 1960-’63 period has inspired fewer imitators than either model, yet is revered by many guitarists as another “best amp ever” from the Fullerton factory’s golden age. Billy Gibbons tapped the glories of this little brown box for many of ZZ Top’s early recordings, and Joe Bonamassa has also sung its praises. Still, few makers have taken the time to rejuvenate the 6G3 — Allen Amplification and Lil’ Dawg being notable exceptions — and originals are nearly as pricey and collectible as original tweeds and blackfaces.
Enter Cutthroat Audio. Founded by Ron Westwood (and named for Idaho’s state fish), Cutthroat started out making high-end audio cables. Westwood has been obsessed with the brown Deluxe, however, and today his company indulges his passion with the Down Brownie, a combo that has quickly become one of the most highly respected homages to the 6G3.
It’s one of the most versatile, too. With its tan Tolex cabinet, brownface control panel, brown knobs and wheat-colored grille cloth, the Down Brownie looks, from a few feet out, like a dead-on ’62 Deluxe. The 20-watt, fixed-bias dual-6V6 design follows the traditional 6G3 engine room, but rather than merely cloning the entire circuit and calling it a day, Westwood has added a few bonus features to expand the combo’s vocabulary. Where the original had similarly voiced Normal and Bright channels, we get one channel labeled British (brighter) and another Brown (stock 6G3). A pull pot on the Brit channel’s volume knob links the two internally, while a pull on the tone control disconnects the bright cap. Round back there’s a switch to select either solid-state or GZ34 tube rectification, and a three-way switch for varying levels of negative feedback (6G3/5E3/JTM45). There’s also a post-phase-inverter master volume (PPIMV) on the back panel, and a jack for the foot switch to engage the bias-modulated tremolo, with speed and intensity controls on the front.
Inside, the Down Brownie is a thing of beauty. SoZo signal caps and carbon-comp resistors are neatly hand-wired to a Fender-style eyelet board, partnered with Mercury Magnetics transformers and other high-end components. A Weber Alnico speaker inspired by the Jensen P12Q populates the finger-jointed, solid-pine cab (a Celestion Alnico Cream is optional for a $175 upcharge). The entire package measures just 20.75 x 17 x 9.5 inches and weighs a mere 30 pounds.
I tested the Down Brownie with a Fender Telecaster and a Koll Super Glide Almighty with Monty’s PAFs, sampling a range of overdrive pedals in the process. As simple as the amp might seem, there are too many variables to cover thoroughly in the space allowed, so I’ll mainly describe the amp’s sonic veracity and characteristics, which is big, meaty, thick and brown. Although their differences are subtle, the British channel has a slightly crispier and more granular upper-mid response, while Brown is warmer. Through either channel, with the stock Weber speaker, the tone is pliable and full of tubey 6V6 goodness, underpinned by a slightly “brown” push into clipping and a reedy zing to the notes when you hit the guitar hard. In other words, everything you’d expect from a good 6G3.
Keep the volumes around 10 o’clock or below, with the master maxed, and there’s plenty of round, rich, semi-tight cleanliness for anything from jazz to country twang. The amp really wants to roar, though, and the Down Brownie is sheer rock and roll heaven when wound up to one o’clock or beyond with the master set to taste (and the louder, the better). Whether you want early ZZ Top, AC/DC, stinging Chicago blues or grungy Detroit garage rock, it’s all there via a mere tweak of the dials and switches. The differences between the rectifier and negative-feedback switch positions are subtle, but they do provide an extra little tweak to help you nail your sound, and the bias-modulated tremolo sounds superb.
All in all, the Down Brownie is a hyper-cool little amp that runs with surprising confidence whether you’re going retro or rock. Swapping in the more efficient Celestion Alnico Cream speaker yields a louder amp at any volume setting, and to my ears significantly improves the overdrive tones with either channel’s volume set above one o’clock. This speaker holds together better when things get hairy, providing more articulation amid the grind, and plenty of juicy touch-sensitivity too. The Weber is great for period-correct brownface tones, but go for the Celestion if you mostly want to crank it. For some real fun, patch it into a good 2x12 extension cab, like I did, and watch out!
PRICE $2,195 street
CONTROLS British volume (with pull for channel link) and tone (with pull for bright off); Brown volume and tone; tremolo speed and intensity; master volume (back panel)
POWER 20 watts
TUBES Three 12AX7s, two 6V6GTs, one GZ34 rectifier
EXTRAS Footswitch for tremolo. Solid-state/tube-rectified switch, three-way negative feedback switch, rotary switch for 4/8/16Ω speaker output
SPEAKER 12" Weber Signature Alnico (optional Celestion Alnico Cream, add $175)
WEIGHT 30 lbs
KUDOS A great-looking, great-sounding and well-constructed take on the original 6G3 Deluxe
CONCERNS Some might find it pricey for a “simple” 20-watt combo, although it’s well within the range of other hand-built amps of its type