“There’s big brands making stuff that’s no better than the $200 Chinese knockoffs you see online. I wanted to make something that could deliver the quality”: Steve Brown wants to shake up the budget guitar market with SBS Guitars’ $379 shred machines

Steve Brown's SBS Guitars
(Image credit: SBS Guitars)

Most know Steve Brown for the pyrotechnics heard across Trixter’s glam rock staples Give it To Me Good, Line of Fire, and One in a Million.

More recently, Brown has been found playing shows with Tokyo Motor Fist and working with the likes of Ace Frehley, Def Leppard, and Dennis DeYoung. But that’s not all, with Brown teaming up with Jay Abend [Guitar Fetish] to launch a new line of decidedly ‘80s-themed curios under the moniker of SBS Guitars.

“SBS Guitars is an example of how important the relationships you have in life and business are,” Brown tells Guitar World. “Relationships are the foundation of everything if you want to be successful. I learned that a long time ago.”

As for how he hooked up with Abend, Brown says, “Jay and I have been friends longer than I can remember, going back to the early days. Jay started working for Guild in the ‘80s, and then he started Bedrock Amplifiers, which the Black Crowes and Aerosmith used. And Jay was the guy who brought Joe Perry the Blade Runner [Guild X-100] guitar that he used in the Walk This Way video with Run-DMC, so he’s got a pedigree.”

As evidenced by Brown’s recollection, he and Abend have been around the block more than a few times, but that still doesn’t quite tell us how SBS Guitars came to be, to which Brown says, “I’m getting there!” before telling us, “So I ran into Jay again in the late-’90s, and Jay was in the business of selling parts with Guitar Fetish, and I was a customer.”

He continues, “I asked him, ‘Hey, do you give musicians’ discounts?’ And Jay said, ‘Who are you again?’ and I said, ‘Steve Brown from Trixter.’ He gave me the discount, we got to talking, and I’ve been a customer ever since. But more importantly, I’ve been good friends with Jay ever since.”

These guitars sound good. They’re no f**king joke. They’re made properly because I know what sounds good

Pushing toward the present, Brown and Abend are staring at a line of hot-rod-meets-vintage guitars, all of which proudly bear the SBS insignia on their Fender-inspired headstocks. They look solid, but their construction and hardware are up to scratch too, with bodies made of alder, necks out of flamed Canadian hard-rock maple, and an array of florescent colors, all of which have been relic’d.

“These guitars sound good,” Brown insists. “They’re no fucking joke. They’re made properly because I know what sounds good, and Jay understands tone and how to build a guitar, and wire pickups.”

Of course, the success of artist-driven lines, such as Earl Slick's namesake brand, is also at play, which can also be found through Guitar Fetish. And that’s not lost on Brown: “I think we all know about the success that Guitar Fetish had with the Slick line, which was kind of a launching pad for this whole thing. He did these cool relic’d guitars that sounded fucking good, were made of nice wood, and were cheap but great.”

Brown is proud of what he’s done. As such, he doesn’t lay his name (or initials) across just any guitar. But that was never an issue.

“Jay is a master,” Brown explains. “So, we applied that thinking to SBS and made killer guitars that I’d play myself. You can’t get a guitar for under $400 that’s this good anywhere else.”

Outstanding as SBS Guitars are, Brown has been at it for a long time, meaning he’s got an array of Superstrats, Les Pauls, and various offsets to keep him occupied. And so, one must wonder if Brown plans to play the guitars featured in this sizzling new line: “Dude, I wouldn’t put my name on something if I didn’t believe this was a real product that stacked up against anything I’ve ever played.”

Ever insistent, Brown continues, “I’m not gonna mention names, but there’s big brands making stuff out there that’s no better than the $200 Chinese knockoffs you see online. And then you’ve got the stuff out of a lot of people’s leagues that’s like $5,000. I wanted to make something that could deliver the quality, and I believe SBS sits right in the middle.”

It’s evident that Brown has put everything he has into SBS. Moreover, he’s put downed his vintage guitars and subbed all three of SBS’s models, which include the VS300 HSS Superstrat-alike, the double-humbucker MS260, and the VS200 offset, which looks a bit like a Fender Jazzmaster… with a double-locking tremolo.

Steve Brown's SBS Guitars

(Image credit: SBS Guitars)

When asked which is his current favorite, a wry smile stretched across Brown’s face. 

“I’ve been loving this purple MS260, which was so great right from the factory,” he enthuses. “When I have that thing in my hands, man, I’m so proud of it. I get amped up when playing it, which isn’t surprising. I’m kind of high-energy on stage and get knocked for my guitar attitude a lot, but I don’t care; I’m happy playing this thing because it sounds fucking phenomenal.”

Only time will reveal the ultimate success of SBS Guitars, but the early returns are looking good, with Brown telling me the response has been “overwhelming” and that “people are digging what we’ve done because they get it.”

I chose the shapes and colors I did because hot-rodded-looking guitars are what I came up playing

“Getting it” is a key to the entire SBS enterprise. The line looks like it surfaced from a hair metal time capsule. But that, of course, was by design.

“I chose the shapes and colors I did because hot-rodded-looking guitars are what I came up playing,” Brown reminds. “If you look back to my Trixter days, these are the guitars I was playing, and I still love them. But the beauty is that with SBS, you can have those types of guitars and get those sounds for a fraction of the price. This is a lifelong passion, and I’m so fucking stoked to bring it to people who want it, too.”

As with most things he takes on, Brown is embarking on his SBS Guitars journey with vigor and a blindingly positive outlook. But he’s not quite the same as when he was young; he’s wiser, a bit more weathered, and just a touch savvier.

Steve Brown's SBS Guitars

(Image credit: SBS Guitars)

“We know we have to maintain a smart business sense,” Brown admits. “We can’t go crazy early, and we haven’t. We weren’t sure how it would go, but we made a great product at an incredible price. And we’re in the thick of it now; the buyers have spoken, and the success has been overwhelming.”

Success is nice, but with it comes naysayers, something Brown is all too familiar with. Unfazed, Brown and Abend are more than optimistic about the future of SBS, with Brown insisting, “We don’t care about the haters. People are going to bash these guitars specifically because they hate me. They’ll say, ‘Fuck that guy and fuck Steve Brown. Don’t buy that guitar,’ and that’s cool. I’m used to that shit.”

Providing an amazing guitar that people can afford is one of my crowning achievements

Given his friendly nature and sunny disposition, not everyone would agree, but Brown reveals, “When we started this, I told Jay, ‘You know you’re getting into business with Steve Brown from Trixter, right?’ There’s a group of people who have always loved to bash what I do and haven’t let it go all these years later. But I don’t care – providing an amazing guitar that people can afford is one of my crowning achievements.”

As for what comes next, Brown has that mapped out, too: “We’ll keep tackling obstacles and do our best. It boils down to what I was talking about before: relationships. That, and making a high-quality product that people can afford. If you do that, there’s a pretty good chance of long-term success.”

“But, man, I’m excited,” he concludes. “And I want people to be excited when they get these guitars in their hands. I believe in them, and I’m proud of them. Can you tell? If you can’t, I don’t know what else to do besides scissor kicks in my kitchen. Beyond that, I’m taking as it comes and ready and very willing for what comes next.”

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Andrew Daly

Andrew Daly is a contributing writer at Guitar World, a staff writer for Copper and Rock Candy Magazine, and a steady contributor for Goldmine Magazine. In 2019, Andrew founded VWMusic, a successful outlet that covers music in all its forms. A guitar junkie at heart, Andrew is proud to have interviewed favorites including Joe Perry, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Steve Vai, Richie Ranno, Brian May, and many more. Some of his favorite bands are KISS, Oasis, Spread Eagle, and Starz.