Friedman BE-Mini Head: What is it?
Ordinarily, if we are talking Dave Friedman and guitar amps, we are talking high-end tube amps, inspired by classic Marshall designs, or signature heads for the likes of Bill Kelliher, Steve Stevens and Jerry Cantrell.
But this time out we’ve got a change of pace, a solid-state mini-head, boasting 30W of class D power, weighing in at just 4lbs, and bearing all the hard-rockin' promise of Friedman’s much-vaunted BE preamp circuit. That Brown Eye sound in super-portable and compact form? That’s big news.
Friedman’s craft is legendary. He is the sort of guru whose services the likes of Eddie Van Halen would seek out. Much of this fame is built on overdrive, and his most famous overdrive voicing, from the BE, aka ‘Brown Eye’, has proved so popular that the Californian company has exported it in various guises.
In many ways, the BE-Mini is just how you might imagine it. You’ve got the gold badge, piping and control panel on black Tolex – very much in keeping with the Friedman aesthetic. So far, so good.
In the 21st century, where we guitar players are caught between the analogue appeal of the vacuum tube and the digital modelling amp, the solid-state amplifier feels like a technology out of time.
This, however, is but a quirk of fate, of how our attentions have been captured. The solid-state amplifier remains an attractive proposition for the same reasons as it always did; it doesn’t rely upon heavy transformers, it’s more power-efficient, and when you switch on a solid-state amp it sounds the same every time.
It also requires no time at all to get to grips with the control panel. There are controls for Volume, Bass, Middle, Treble, Presence and Gain, with a pair of three-position mini-toggles for Cut and Tight. Cut controls the range of the BE-Mini’s gain, while Tight does just that, trimming some of the fat off the low end as the gain is dialled up, keeping the tone lean and mean.
Built in the USA, there’s a road-worthy feel to this little amp. On the rear panel, you’ll find a straightforward series effects loop and a pair of speaker outputs with a total load of 8-ohms. Be mindful of this when choosing which cabinet to put this through.
Friedman BE-Mini Head: Performance and verdict
Powered by a 24V DC supply, the BE-Mini puts a respectable level of volume out of a speaker. Just as long as your drummer isn’t a complete animal you should be able to be heard over them in practice sessions.
What’s particularly pleasing about the BE-Mini is its response; there’s something genuinely tube-like in how it’ll clean up when you roll the volume back on your guitar, or break-up more as you dig in with a pick.
As for tone, well, the BE/Brown Eye overdrive sound is late 70s and early 80s British amplifiers, perhaps with an under-the-hood tweak. There’s lots of juicy harmonic content when you jack up the gain, and because it is solid-state, these musically inspiring tones are available without impractical levels of volume.
It responds equally well with single-coils or humbuckers. Stick a Telecaster through it, dial in just a little grit, keep the Cut switch low, turn the amp up it will work well for those Led Zeppelin I tones.
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As you adjust the Cut switch, more saturated 80s sounds come online, perfect for Judas Priest riffing and running through your Blizzard Of Ozz tab book. The pinch harmonics will come thick and fast, and there there’s more than enough gain here for mid-80s steel, NWOBHM, and general-purpose shred hi-jinks.
It’s so much fun, and perhaps that is exactly what Friedman was going for here because the asking price will not wipe the smile off your face. But just because it’s fun doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take this amp serious.
Its size and form make it eminently practical, and while the lack of a clean channel might limit its application, we all know why we’re seeking this one out. It’s for that Brown Eye sound, a genuine US-made take on hot-rodded British guitar amplification that is as thrilling in 2021 as it ever was.
MusicRadar verdict: Presented in an affordable solid-state mini-head, the magic rock tone of Dave Friedman's BE overdrive has never been more accessible.
Friedman BE-Mini Head: The web says
"While the BE-Mini can be a little hissy when used for quiet recording, you can’t hear it with the amp plugged into speakers and turned up loud, which is what everyone who buys it will want to do. Best of all though, it’s a real USA-made Friedman you can afford, offering most of the fun of a Brown Eye Deluxe at less than a tenth of the price. What more temptation does a guitar player need?"
Friedman BE-Mini Head: Hands-on demos
Friedman BE-Mini Head: Specifications
- TYPE: Analog solid-state head with 30-watt class D power stage and 24VDC external power supply
- POWER: 30 Watts
- CHANNELS: One
- CONTROLS: Gain, Bass, Mid, Treble, Presence, Master volume, Cut switch, Tight switch
- EFFECTS LOOP: Yes
- OUTPUTS: Two 1/4 jack speaker outs
- FOOTSWITCH: No
- CONTACT: Friedman