Browne Amplification Carbon review: the lower-gain half of the Protein dual overdrive goes out on its own
Suddenly everyone’s talking about the 1991 Marshall Bluesbreaker pedal… and this US-built stomper offers a high-class refinement of the formula.
Well, this is timely. With the new reissues sparking a revival of interest in Marshall’s sort-of-classic stompboxes from 30-odd years ago, what should turn up on our doorstep but the Carbon from Browne Amplification – a premium overdrive pedal based on one of them, the Bluesbreaker.
By ‘sort-of-classic’ we mean that, if we’re honest, there wasn’t exactly mass wailing in the streets when those original black wedges were killed off in 1992. And that might have been the end of the story, had pedalboard snoopers not noticed a few years later that a Marshall Bluesbreaker was playing a crucial role at the feet of modern guitar hero John Mayer.
Cue a surge in demand for the discontinued pedal… and, soon afterward, the emergence of several boutique drives designed to deliver the naturalistic tones of the Bluesbreaker in a more refined and robust form. Among them was the Browne Protein.
The Protein is a dual overdrive with this circuit on one side and a Nobels ODR-1 type on the other. It’s a much-lauded pedal, but offering the Bluesbreaker half on its own makes a lot of sense, given how many players either have the other half covered already or simply don’t want it and would rather spend the extra cash on chocolates.
It’s a simple three-knob affair – level, gain and tone – in a handsome cobalt blue enclosure with Browne’s familiar ‘industrial chic’ name-plate in the middle and a blue LED next to the soft-touch footswitch.
This is a relatively low-gain device, so even with the right-hand knob maxed out you’re not going to fall into a vat of hot fuzz – but as it turns out, you may not even want to push it past halfway. And you may also not want to turn it off: the Carbon can be broadly classed as a transparent overdrive, and it absolutely excels as an always-on enhancer for a clean amp.
For the first half of that gain knob’s travel, the pedal is working like a light coating of breadcrumbs on your macaroni cheese: adding some richness and texture but not changing the fundamental flavour. There’s no Screamer-style mids hump or bass cut, and neither is there a flattering dip to make everything sound sweeter – just a slightly scuzzy-edged version of your bypass tone.
When we do crank it past noon, the steady increase in drive brings with it a crisping-up of the top end that immediately makes things feel much more aggressive. This is easily countered by turning the tone knob the other way – it can go right down to minimum without getting unusably dark – but you might also be happy to leave things wide open for a fresh, edgy take on transparent overdrive.
At just about any setting, the playing feel of the Carbon is as uncannily amp-like as its tone. It works every bit as well going into a preamp that’s already breaking up, and gets on famously with other dirt pedals – which you’ll already know if you’ve heard this circuit in its original dual-drive context.
Speaking of which, if you like the idea of the other half of the Protein as a standalone pedal, watch out for our upcoming review of the Browne Atom. Spoiler alert: It’s not too shoddy either.
- PRICE £239
- DESCRIPTION Overdrive pedal, made in the USA
- CONTROLS Level, gain, tone
- FEATURES True bypass, powered by 9-volt mains supply only
- DIMENSIONS 120 x 72 x 59mm
- CONTACT browneamps.com