Rex Brown Bass Rig – Pantera 1982-2001 part 1
The Rex Brown bass rig is the groove machine behind Pantera, Down and Kill Devil Hill.
By his own admission he was “never one to talk to the press”. And he was relegated as the “quiet one” in the band with nothing to say.
In this two part series we’re going to give Rex Brown the credit he deserves by looking at all of his basses, some of his guitars, all of his amplifiers and his warehouse of effects pedals.
Did you watch the video?! Would you like to know when the next one is out?
Rex Brown’s musical upbringing 1974-1982
Born in 1964 in the small town of Graham Texas. Rex Brown would live his childhood to the varied soundtrack of his mother and sisters vinyl collection.
Another influence of Rex’s’ was his grandmother who used to compose music for silent films. He would sit on her knee and take in every sight and sound in musical fascination. Rex admits on reflection;
“it was almost as if I was being force fed music. Music was always being played by someone in the house”.
Around about the time Rex was age 9 his musical mind would reach new levels of confidence and power. Stumbling upon ZZ Top’s Tush on the AM radio.
“ZZ top was a new type of boogie and stomp and I really dug it … My first thought was screw this I want an electric guitar now. This is what I got to do .”
From that point on music was now Rex’s primary focus, he got himself a guitar and started to sing in the local church choir.
Eventually joining his schools’ junior high band with his sights now set on the drum line.
The teachers on the other hand decided Rex would be best suited to play the tuba. While initially disgruntled, Rex soon acknowledged it turned out to be the right choice because it was excellent musical training and he got good at it in a hurry.
Rex Brown’s first bass
Rex’s teenage years continued with more musical studies and lessons with a focus on acoustic guitar. At this point he was already experienced with the guitar, tuba, drums and piano.
It was only after studying a John Denver songbook and realising how bored he was that he decided to move onto the bass guitar. “That and there are already too many guitarists” Rex mentions on a Facebook Q&A that his first basses were a Gibson Grabber and a Fender Precision.
Neck and the Brewheads 1980-1981
While still in school Rex would share an algebra class with Vincent Paul Abbott. The two would talk all things music related. Through their acquaintance, Rex would regularly borrow a PA system from Vinnie. As the singer in his own band would never show up to rehearsals with his own.
It was at this time Vinnie and his younger brother Darrell were creating their own band. Pantera.
Rex Brown joins Pantera 1982
One night around 11.30 pm in June 1982, Rex returned home after a gig with Neck and the Brewheads.
Darrell Abbott was on the phone and asked if Rex would come and lay down some bass lines on some tracks. Rex left for the studio and played along to three tracks that the Abbott’s were recording for their debut album Metal Magic.
It turns out the Abbott’s were due to part ways with their current bassist Tommy Bradford. And it was clear to Rex from their first session that he was the guy for them. He was then given a formal invitation to join Pantera on June 7th 1982 aged 17 years old.
Rex Rocker 1982-1988
Rex’s autobiography is light on the details of basses used at this time. But we do know an Ibanez Roadster was brought just before Rex joined Pantera It was used to record
This bass was put up for auction in 2015 with a description from Rex telling its history.
“It had the sound of an old P-bass that I always liked, The drilled bullet holes and blood splatter was done in Dime’s garage on a very late and beer swilled evening.
This bass really is the building block bass for me in many ways, it was part of the learning experience we all went thru in laying the foundation of what that rhythm section was all about.
That Texas boogie that eventually grew into the Power Groove! I’m still at odds with getting rid of her, but I’d much rather someone else enjoy it, than it just sitting in a case for another 30 years The stories it could tell”
Not long after this, the Roadster was relegated as back up in favor of a brand new Red Hamer explorer bass. Rex also comments that this bass ended up in pieces.
Rex Brown finds Jackson 1985
By 1985 Rex Rocker would be rocking a white 1985 Jackson concert bass and again we find some more information about this bass from the 2015 auction.
The auction website description lists this Jackson as Rex’s second bass purchase. It became his main weapon of choice all the way through the early 1990’s. To quote Rex;
“This bass was the very first Jackson I ever purchased at Valley View mall in Dallas.
I played this bass exclusively along with my black Jackson/ Charvel that came at a later time frame. Although this bass wasn’t primarily used on CFH or Vulgar, we did use it on those records by adding piccolo bass strings that are still on it to simulate an 8 string for those records! I used this bass from ’85 through ’88 in the early days after Philip joined the band. This is also the bass that we recorded ‘Power Metal’ with!
This bass was fitted with a classic looking Jackson J40 humbucker in the bridge. Something not really spoken about is a BC Rich Warlock which was spotted in this photograph in 1987. This is the only record of this bass but hey, it’s something.
Rex Brown Bass Rig on Cowboys from Hell 1990
The band would head into the studio in February 1990 and spend two months recording Cowboys From Hell.
A black 1987 Jackson/Charvel bass appeared around the same time. Made in 1987 – and becoming Rex’s third bass. The Jackson/Charvel became his “go to” in the years from late ’88-92.
Towards the end, the guitar was repainted a few more times,including a touch-up of the head stock, where the initial white colored logo was changed to purple.
Rex Brown’s new 5 string bass
1990 was also the first time we see Rex incorporate 5 string basses into his rig. One of the first to arrive was a white Charvel Fusion and was played on Cemetery Gates Speaking of Cemetery gates, Rex mentions in this autobiography, the song was written by he and Dime playing on acoustic guitars. Rex was using a Kramer Ferrington acoustic bass.
Rex Brown Bass Rig on Vulgar Display of Power 1992
Released in February 1992. The tour for Vulgar Display of Power now showed Rex Brown bass rig using Musicman Stingrays in 4 and 5 string models. Rex describes the change in a passage from his autobiography
“I’d just gotten a deal with Music Man and was using their Stingray bass because I was really looking for a change. I knew the bass sound I wanted – a tone that would really pop out in the mix but I just hadn’t found it yet.”
Rex would also clarify the usage of a 5 string.
“I would sometimes go down to the low B instead of a higher one, but I used the B more for tonal character, not riffs.”
Introducing the Fernades Bass
Also joining Rex on the tour were a couple of Fernandes basses of the TEB-1 model. Featuring a body shape in the style of a telecaster guitar. Something Rex has always been very fond of, as he once declared “I’m a Tele freak”.
He had two four string models, all black and white. As well as a 5 string with a reverse head stock in a cool cream colour with a tortoise pickguard. You can also get a glimpse of a Fernades in the video for this love.
Rex Brown Bass Rig on Far Beyond Driven 1994
Rex would divulge in an interview with Guitarworld.com that;
“We had been playing through the same gear for 500 dates between 1989 and 1994, so we felt it was time for experimentation”
During the recording of Far Beyond Driven in 1994 a Black Sabbath cover for Planet Caravan featured Rex playing a fretless Stingray and keyboards on the track. He was also on the hunt for a new sound as recalled in his autobiography.
“I had all these guitar companies sending me coffee table looking guitars. Basses like Warwick’s would come in and id plug them in and they sounded like crap”
Rex finds Spector basses
Eventually asking friend Rachel Sloan from Skid Row if he could borrow some of his Spector Basses. Asking;
“I really want to check out and see what those thing sounds like. I tried them on a couple of songs like “5 minutes alone” after that I was a full blown Spector fan. I had to have one and I’ve played them ever since.”
On one of the very first dates of the Far Beyond Driven tour, Stuart Spector, the owner of Spector basses had come to the show. Handing Rex a 4-string black Spector NS2 with a PJ configuration. Shortly thereafter, in 1995, Rex commissioned Spector to build a 5 string that would become his main bass in the years to follow.
This bass was built with 2 humbuckers and nick named Brownie. It arrived around the time of a show at the Roseland Ballroom in New York, one of the very first shows where this guitar debuted.
Throughout Rex’s career he has claimed to collect more than 40 Spector basses, He would later state in an interview with Skullnbones.com
“I just have a great relationship with those guys. I knew what sound I always wanted to come out of my bass and they nailed it.
Obviously it depends on the song, I have a huge bass collection man, but I know by heart which Spector has the right sound for that piece of music, and that’s really important to me. Plus they make the baddest basses on the planet! They are just the best.
Rex Brown Bass Rig on The Great Southern Trendkill 1996
Released on May 7th, 1996. The Great Southern Trendkill continues with the use of Spector basses.
The new models both in 4 and 5 string versions were coloured with a brown quilt top. And EMG soapbars. Rex would regularly switch between his black and brown quilt Spectors frequently throughout shows.
His original black 4 string NS2 also returned and a black 5 string model. In some spots like in 1998, a cream coloured Fernades returns with a reverse headstock and what looks like a precision bass
Rex Brown Prototype Spector bass 1999
The only real change came around 1999 with the addition of a prototype Rex Brown Spector. This item was on auction too in recent years and Rex provided the following description.
“This was one of MANY prototypes that I had drawn up and had Stuart commission for me. This bass was played on just about every Ozzfest we ever played & that was a bunch. Even though it says proto-type, this design went thru many different woods & necks. This is one of my faves!”
Rex Brown Bass Rig on Reinventing the Steel 2000
The other designs and variations can be seen in the final years of Pantera. These winged Spectors, which took inspiration from a Gibson Thunderbird. These basses would follow Rex into the 21st century with a 5 string model in dark blue colour seen in the video for Revolution is my name. As well as;
- A plain black 5 string,
- A second 5 string in black but with flame racing stripes
- A white 4 string model in a grungey paint job.
Spector also released their first Rex Brown signature bass around 2000/2001 based on this design. They came in several different colours and patterns.
Last days of Pantera 2001
At this time Rex describes that Pantera was “hanging on by the thinnest threads”. With substance abuse issues and personality clashes becoming ever apparent. Everyone was keen to take a break from each other. However the tour dates kept coming.
Unbeknownst to the band at this time. Pantera would officially play their last show in Yokohama, Japan at the ‘Beast Feast’ festival on August 28, 2001.
14 days later the attacks of September 11th occurred. The band decided to cancel the rest of their European tour and return back to the US. Rex mentions that he and the Abbott’s were willing to start a new Pantera record but only after a break had been had. It would be at this point in time Rex would participate in Down and tensions in Pantera reached breaking point eventually leading to its downfall.
Rex Brown Bass Rig Amplifiers
Rex Brown’s amplifiers in the early days 1982
Unfortunately for us, Rex’s autobiography doesn’t go into any detail about his equipment used before Pantera. So we have to start there. First seen in the glam days. The backline was a wall of Randall heads and cabs. Most belong to Dime of course but Rex Rocker would use up to two Randall RBA 500 ES heads. Connected to a 4×10 and most likely a 1×15 cab twice. This set up would stay until Cowboys from Hell was released in 1990.
Bass amplifiers on Cow Boys From Hell 1990
Following this Rex would claim “Ampeg came to the rescue” and finally got himself a pair of Ampeg SVT2 Pros and two 8x10s. Famously seen in the Cowboys from Hell video. The SVT2 pros and 8×10 were his main staple and the cabs would either go up or down in size depending on the size of the venue played. Like at the Monsters of Rock in Moscow where he played with 6 stacked 8x10s. Also, if you look behind Vinnie, you’ll seen an SVT V4B
Rex and the Ampeg cabinets
Some early shows have Rex using additional 1×15 Ampeg cabs alongside the 8x10s. Rex is a dyed in the wool Ampeg champion and has no doubt tried everything at some stage. So you can expect experimental combinations from time to time.
Rex Brown’s Amplifiers on Far beyond driven 1994
By the tour for Far Beyond Driven in 1994. The set up had changed to a newly released all black Ampeg SVT classic set up. Consisting of up to 18 Ampeg classic heads and 6 SVT 8×10 cabs.
However, these CL’s hold a dirty little secret. Most of them are dummies.
Going back to the first auction Rex held. He puts up for sale several SVT CL dummy heads. The electronics are removed but a switch was added to turn on an LED light.
Keep this in mind when you see someone with a wall of Marshalls or like in this case. A wall of Ampeg amps and cabinets. 80% of them are probably for cosmetics only. Sorry to burst your bubble.
Real SVT CL’s and SVT 2 pros can be seen in shows throughout 1995.
Amplifiers on the Great Southern Trendkill tour
Whilst on tour for the Great Southern Trendkill. The Ampeg rig distinguishes itself from previous iterations by being all grey. It’s easy to spot as well as Rex cutting off his hair.
Six 8x10s sometimes nine are piled up behind him and the heads are hidden. They could be Ampeg SVT IIP’s or SVT 3 Pros at this point. Rex was featured on an Ampeg SVT3 Pro promotional poster around 1995. Although there is no evidence of him using SVT3’s on stage throughout the research for this video.
Recording bass on The Great Southern Trendkill
Rex was asked in Bass Player Magazine how his setup has changed whilst recording Trendkill. He answered;
“We tried a couple of different SVT setups but they didn’t work out, so I went back to what I used on the Far Beyond Driven tour- Spector Basses, SVT IIP preamps, Crest 8001 power amps and SVT 8×10 cabs.”
Adding some balance on Rex’s part. He also stated on an auction item for 2015;
“The AMPEG IV’s were my main amps that I started playing live from around 1995 when they came out until the end!! “
Again, there is no other evidence SVT4’s were used this early in the Rex Brown Bass Rig.
Bass in the mix The Great Southern Trendkill
We shot for a lot more mid-range on this record. Dime’s low end is real fat coming off tape so we had to compensate for that. We wanted that 900hz to 2k region good, solid and punchy because Dime’s guitar is dipped so much in that area. Boosting the mids definitely gives my bass more cut in the mix-it’s more in your face.
1996’s video for Drag The Waters provides a glimpse of an another V4B.
Brand new Silver Meshed Ampegs
By 1997 a steel frame was fitted around the 8x10s, still laying flat. A wire fence was added not long after. This setup would continue until the year 2000. Where Ampeg CL’s return in the video for “Revolution is my name” accompanied by some classic 8x10s.
Amplifiers on Reinventing the Steel
For Reinventing the Steel tour Rex’s amplifiers would change aesthetics again. Still confined to a steel cage around it but this time with up to
- PR-810H x 6
- PR-410H x 6
- PR-210H x 6
It does appear in some shows that a set of 2x10s were on top of this rig and later removed. These are believed to be powered by Ampeg SVT4 pros at this point.
Upgrading the Ampeg PR cabinets
Rex would mention in one of the auction descriptions;
“After having used the PR-410H and PR-810H cabinets for a long time, I worked with Ampeg on a new design, which eventually became this SVT-410 AV and 810-AV series. I wanted a new look and came up with this silver-grey mesh grill front, which they ended up using on later models as well.”
Miscellaneous bass amplifiers in Pantera
Up for sale on the auction site was a 12” Randall Isolation speaker cabinet. They are a recording and touring musicians’ best friend. You get a speaker and a microphone you like. It can also be just the cab then you put it in an acoustically treated box. Plug in a feed from your preamp and connect an XLR to front of house.
This cab would sit backstage, in the wings or even left on the haulage truck if the cables were long enough you can run your amp as loud as you like. Avoiding deafening people and other audio bleed. Perfect if you want to crank up a tube amp like an SVT.
The description for this item was listed as saying;
“Rex used this custom build Randall Isolation 12″ speaker cabinet during the recording of the last few Pantera studio albums and it is to a large degree responsible for the sound on many of the classic Pantera tunes. In several cases this cabinet was even used from behind the stage during concerts.
“To me, this is a very personal speaker. As you will know, Dime was endorsed by Randall and one day they approached me and built this isolation cabinet which is truly a one-of-a-kind. It brings back a lot of memories, in addition to it just being flat-out rare!”
Other than that,Rex had a few practice amplifiers
Rex Brown effect pedals in Pantera
As you’ll find out in part 2 of Rex Brown Bass Rig – Down, Kill Devil Hill. Rex has only recently become a pedal board geek. But in the early days of Pantera there were only really two pedals Rex relied on.
Firstly a subtle chorus effect from a BOSS CE3 which was used to add some presence to his sound. You can easily notice this on live renditions of Cemetery Gates. Of course this was sold off during the 1st auction in 2015 And in some shows you are also likely to hear the intense wah of a Morley Pro Series 2 Bass Wah.
Rex Brown’s SVT tone
Rex’s tone in Pantera would come directly from using his SVTs to get that awesome grind sound. This could have been used in conjunction with a Boss Bass Overdrive. Again another pedal he listed for auction.
As many of his pedals were pretty visible in Down onwards – Coming up in part 2. I have a feeling this was only used in Pantera. Rex also explained that;
A set of Moog Tarus bass pedals were used during the recording of all the Pantera albums “just so there’d be no low-end dropout”.
Rex and the Sansamp Hall of Fame
Rex has been a long time user of Sansamp and has been listed in their hall of fame since 2004. His tone is synonymous with the classic Sansamp, Ampeg and Spector combo. He would applaud the use of a Sansamp Bass Driver DI in the early days of Pantera
“Every track that was played on all those Pantera tracks were deeply affected by the sound of that little DI box.
We also know that a Sansamp PSA1 was spotted in his rig around 1996 on the Great Southern Trendkill tour. In his rig at the same time was a Rocktron Basix preamp. Although I have come across some chatter this was upgraded to the Rocktron Voodu model. Then we got an
- Ampeg SVT IIP
- A DBX 160X compressor
- And a Korg DT1 Pro tuner.
- Crest 8001 amplifier
This was most likely this rig that was powering the shows from 1996 until Pantera’s last show in 2001.
Rex Brown’s Strings and Things
It would look like Rex and or Pantera was endorsed with Dean Markley in 1997. With Rex using Dean Markley Blue Steels through the early part of Pantera, more than likely 45-105.
Confirmations soon arrive around 2000 With Rex using the Dean Markley signature series medium light, again 45-105. He switches back to the Blue Steels with Down as was confirmed in an interview with Bass player magazine in 2008 Rex would continue using Blue steels up until 2017 where he was poached by Ernie Ball. Using the Slinky Cobolt’s 45-105. He uses them to this day.
Pantera Tab Tuning
There’s always been some inconsistency in figuring out how the band were tuned. Rex revealed;
“We always used drop D, but we tuned down just a quarter-step. Back in the day, we tuned to D# plus 40 cents, which would be just under a half-step. I think Dime came up with that. There are a lot of tracks, like “I’m Broken” and “5 Minutes Alone,” where Dime is tuned down a full-step and I’m tuned down to D. I’m almost positive that both Cowboys and Vulgar were at D# plus 40 cents. We didn’t want to make it like everybody else. We wanted to have our distinct little tonal range there.
There’s also this picture from the headstock of Brownie with a bizarre tuning.
Rex Brown’s EMG and Seymour Duncan pickups
It looks like the original Charvels and Jacksons were stock pickups. Whilst the red Hamer bass had two EMG pickups. EMG had a massive effect on Rex’s tone and basses and they would continue to be seen in humbucker and eventually PJ form.
He was officially listed as an EMG artist around 2013.using the PJ set. Which was something Rex originally disliked. EMG’s were fitted in practically every Spector bass through Pantera and even the Warwicks today.
However in May 2018, Rex would release his very own signature pickup with Seymour Duncan. Professing;
“I recently fell in love with Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound PJ set, but also wanted the power and versatility of their most aggressive active pre-amp and EQ, and the ability to quickly and easily engage it with a push/pull volume pot….and the Rex Brown Quarter Pound PJ System was born!”
This set can clearly be seen installed on his silver Warwick around 2018.
Rex Brown in Down and Kill Devil Hill Part 2
Coming up in part 2 we continue the Rex Brown bass rig with new new ESP LTD basses in Down, new Hartke amplifiers in Kill Devil Hill New, custom guitars, Warwick basses and a shit ton of effects on Rex’s solo albums.
All that and a lot more. Part 2 will be released late summer 2020.
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