While wandering Summer NAMM 2013 I heard some delightful noises coming from one of the many booths featuring effects pedals. The industrial-chic stompboxes by the folks in the Fairfield Circuitry booth stood in stark contrast to the wealth of candy colored, hand-painted pedals in other booths, while shunning any thoughts of clone-dom. Based in Hull, Québec, the company hawks their wares on a website as spare and beautiful as their pedals. I asked them if they would be kind enough to send a couple of effects for review and they generously provided two unique sounding boxes: Four Eyes Crossover Fuzz and The Unpleasant Surprise Experimental Fuzzgate.
Four Eyes Crossover Fuzz
The Four Eyes Crossover Fuzz features three parallel JFET fuzz circuits driven by a voltage controlled state variable filter with resonance control, mu-amp input stage, and, as the designers wryly assert, “quite possibly, a wedgie.” Lo, Mid, and Hi knobs control the relative level of each fuzz circuit, modified respectively by lo-, band-, and hi-pass filters
Volume is just that, while the Freq knob sets the center frequency of the filters. A mini-toggle set the Q to 1(“mild”), 10 (“spicy”), or 100 (“suicide”). A control voltage input let me sweep the frequency by inputting a pedal or any other CV signal, say, from a modular synth.
With the Q set to 1, the Four Eyes offered up a wide variety of low gain fuzz sounds from bassy to bright. Some vintage sounds were on tap, but the advantage of this pedal is the ability to sculpt specific tonalities to fill out a sparse track or sit perfectly in even the densest live or recorded mix. If I needed more sustain, I used the Four Eyes to color an already distorted amplifier or overdrive pedal.
Switching the Q to10 delivered everything from great cocked wah tones to thin skronk sounds. Set at 100, some self-oscillation set in, perfect for more experimental excursions. Plugging in a Source Audio expression pedal let me create everything from swamp fuzz-funk wah to electronica filtering effects.
If you are looking for a fuzz-face or big muff clone, buy one of those. If you are looking to create you own vocabulary of sounds, the Four Eyes offers some exciting new avenues of exploration.
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The Unpleasant Surprise Experimental Fuzzgate
While certainly capable of “unpleasant” sounds, the Unpleasant Surprise proved able to serve up some fat, sustaining fuzz as well.
This pedalboard-friendly effect has two knobs and three toggle switches mounted on an unfinished metal housing about the size of an MXR Dynacomp, but turned sideways. The Fairfield fellas explain the pedal thus [with commentary in brackets by yours truly]:
The VOLUME control is self-explanatory. Unity gain is around Noon but who cares. Use it to slam your amp or the next pedals in line. Turn it down if the anguish is overwhelming. [I found the pedal sounded best without any other gain effects between it and a clean amp—there was more than enough squashing going on within the Fairfield effect without adding any more grit.]
The ONSET control affects interstage gain, which happens to mimic an inverse gate threshold. Turn it up for more saturation, longer sustain. Down for sputtery ad-lib farts. [That pretty much nails it. At full throttle it provides plenty of sustain but does not fade gradually, rather cuts off abruptly, revealing the derivation of the “gate” in Fuzzgate].
T – Simple output treble cut. [Set to cut, it removes most of the high end leaving a warm fat tone that is excellent for playing solo or in a power trio setting but risks get lost in the mix. The full treble setting is bright and cutting without being harsh. This is the better setting to cut through a second guitar and keyboards, or should you play through a distorted amp/overdrive pedal.]
G – Affects amplifier bias offering a choice of more open (0) or saturated (1). Allows variations in distortion grain. Note: the difference becomes less noticeable as the ONSET is turned up. [I found the difference in positions still evident even at full onset. Turning it to 0 at lower Onset settings created a kind of bit reduction truncation of notes. At higher Onset levels 0 the more preferable setting when playing through a silghtly distorted amp or overdrive pedal.]
C – Feedforward. Crushes your signal to shit. [Reminiscent of wavetable distortion, like the WMD Geiger Counter. The surprise was that it was dynamic: that is, it responded to picking attack, harder equaling more squash. At lower Onset levels this proved quite expressive.]
The Unpleasant Surprise Experimental Fuzzgate is the perfect pedal if you want the extreme, aggressive fuzz of a Z. Vex Fuzz Factory in a less complicated, more controllable form. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised.