Fuzz played an integral part in the early days of modern electric guitar: Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, “Satisfaction”—it was one of the signature sounds of the experimental Sixties. The effect fell out of favor in the late Seventies as powerful pickups pushed more distortion-friendly amps, or overdrive pedals added muscle to weaker single-coils, and a smoother dirty sound became the rage. By the Eighties, electric guitar tone was associated with clean jangle, silky smooth Santana or Carlton-esque drive, or metal scooped fizz (not fuzz). It wasn’t until the Nineties that fuzz pedals saw a resurgence, with Grunge leading the way.
We now live in a golden age of fuzz, with boutique builders copying esoteric vintage pedals like the Jordan Bosstone, the Shin-ei/Companion Superfuzz FY-6, or building brand new concepts.
I have gathered eight of the newest fuzz pedals for your perusal: ScreaminFX 1954 Fuzz, main.ace.fx’s Awdrey-Gore, Tribute Audio Designs’ The Big Fatty, RT Electronix’s Ultimate Analog Fuzz, Dusky Electronics’ Octomotron, Joe Gore’s Duh, and Animal Factory Amps’ Baron Samedi and Chemical Burn.
Fuzz effects can be Overdrive-like, Distortion-like, self-oscillating, and crispy, almost bit reduction sounding. The prime example of an overdrive type fuzz pedal would be the classic Fuzz Face and its modern variations. These pedals are dynamic, responding to variations of pick attack (at least at lower gain levels), and clean up to less gritty versions of their sound when you back your guitar volume off. Distortion style pedals, like the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff, usually display more gain and work best with the guitar volume full up, offering little or no touch response. Within the distortion group lays a wide range of sounds from smooth Fripp-ian tones to cutting buzz factories. A third group includes fuzz pedals that produce bit-reduced, ring modish, or wave-shaped sounds. This group might include octave fuzz pedals and others, which, while not cleaning up in the Fuzz Face manner, can offer a new set of interesting tones when backing off the instrument input. Finally, there is the modern self-oscillating fuzz, which under certain circumstances, plays itself. As with any categorization process, these lines are often blurred, but I have found most pedals, including these, lean towards one camp or the other.
ScreaminFX 1954 Fuzz
ScreaminFX 1954 Fuzz ($189.99 direct) is a handmade silicon fuzz designed to sound like a high end, matched germanium fuzz. A buffer allows you to use a wah pedal before the fuzz and still get the full wah range. A toggle on the face of the pedal switches off the buffer to make it true bypass for more sensitivity to instrument controls.
The ScreaminFX 1954 Fuzz delivered just as advertised, offering fat, warm germanium sounding fuzz with none of the instability attendant with germanium transistors. It also offered the kind of increased dynamic response to fingerpicking, pick attack, and guitar volume adjustments normally associated with germanium but usually absent or diminished in a silicon fuzz. Very articulate, it allowed the different pickup settings to come through clearly. At lower gain settings it was almost like a character-filled overdrive. Backing off the volume served up those great Hendrix rhythm tones that are impossible to get any other way. As icing on the cake, the sturdy transparent panel on top lets you see the inner workings, as well as lighting up in blue when the pedal is on, sending the cool factor through the roof.
If you are into germanium Fuzz Face sound but want to be able to put pedals in front of the fuzz, and/or are rightfully wary of the sensitivity germanium exhibits to heat and cold, the ScreaminFX 1954 Fuzz is for you.
RT Electronix Ultimate Analog Fuzz
The RT Electronix Ultimate Analog Fuzz ($599) encompasses an enormous range of fuzz flavors, in a casing that takes up roughly two and half standard pedal spaces on your board. Pricey yes, but for the cost of between two and four boutique pedals, you get six classic and modern fuzz circuits in Channel 1, while the identical Channel 2 offers them all again with a duplicate set controls.
The six modes of operation include, Silicon, Germanium, TB (Tone Bender), Octave, RT (their own take on fuzz), and Death (over the top, barely controllable gain). Each channel’s controls can be set up independently, letting you switch between two different fuzz voices or the same voice with different tone and gain settings. Each channel includes Bass, Treble, and Shape controls in addition to an HP (high power) switch. A momentary footswitch allows you to cascade Death mode into the selected channel. The pedal offers true bypass switching and is powered by any 9V DC Pin Negative / 150 mA supply source.
Trying to be all things to all people is a risky task but the Ultimate Analog Fuzz does an amazing job of offering six distinct fuzz varieties and providing plenty of usable tools to mold them. The three-way Shape switch toggles from a scooped mid tone, to flat, and then boost. I found all three positions usable for different applications. The scooped setting came in handy with some voicings to maintain clarity with an overdriven amp or in front of an overdrive. In Octave mode, the HP switch was welcome, increasing sustain when sending the Octave signal to a clean amp.
So is it the Ultimate Analog Fuzz? All of the positions on the RT Electronix Ultimate Analog Fuzz sound really good, and are easily identified as the type of fuzz advertised. You might be able to find individual pedals that you prefer for some sounds: i.e. the germanium mode didn’t clean up with backed off guitar volume quite like a Fuzz Face. On the other hand you might not find a better sounding Tone Bender clone anywhere. If you want an exceptional variety of fuzz from a single pedal, with the option of quickly accessing two slightly or vastly different sounds on stage, the RT Electronix Ultimate Analog Fuzz is definitely worth a look.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the Ultimate Fuzz lies Joe Gore’s Duh Remedial Fuzz ($179 exclusively at Vintage King Audio http://vintageking.com/joe-gore-duh-remedial-fuzz) with its single (volume) knob. As you might expect with a former Guitar Player editor, current Premier Guitar editor, guitarist with Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, and Tracy Chapman, Gore has an educated ear when it comes to tone.
The Duh’s gain is on the lower end of the Fuzz Face range, but it still offered plenty of sustain and gorgeous harmonic overtones. Even at full guitar volume the Duh was more articulate than its name might suggest. Manipulation of the instrument’s volume and tone controls, and/or switching the pickup selector brought out a surprising variety of sounds. Backing off the guitar tone created a warm, woody, “woman” tone. It is always a good sign when you don’t want to stop playing when exploring a new piece of gear, and I found the Duh hard to shut off—the term “inspiring” kept coming to mind.
In an age of option anxiety there is something to be said for a pedal that limits your choices, especially when it sounds as amazing as this one. The Duh by Joe Gore is truly a case of less is more.
Dusky Electronics Octomotron Fuzz
Another simplified entry is the Octomotron Fuzz ($195) from Dusky Electronics . A single knob simultaneously controls the output volume and indicates when the effect is on by glowing a cool blue, while a lone toggle switch provides a subtle bass boost.
The Octomotron features a specially designed FET input buffer that isolates the signal from pedals before it in the signal path, so unlike vintage fuzzes—which can sound different depending on whether your guitar is plugged directly in, or you have another pedal or a buffer in front of it—the Octomotron sounds the same regardless of where it is in your effects chain.
The Octomotron did everything octave fuzz pedals typically do—except provide much fuzz on its own. It did distort enough to enhance all the usual effects of an octave fuzz: a solid upper octave when playing at the upper frets, on the top strings, with the tone rolled off on the neck pickup; great ring mod tones when playing close intervals, and—one of my favorite tricks—a sitar-like sound when using the bridge pickup with the tone full up and the guitar volume down a bit.
Despite its nominal grit, it sounded great straight into a clean amp, and the minimal fuzz was welcome when combining it with an overdrive or broken up amp. There, the slightness of the distortion helped retain clarity often missing when combining fuzzier octave pedals with other distorted sources. It added a strong fuzz character to the overdrive, but kept the sound defined.
The Octomotron did sound and respond exactly the same whether an overdrive pedal was placed before or after it—when the overdrive was bypassed. When the overdrive was on, the sound varied in each position but was great in both—just brighter when the overdrive came first. It was like the difference between a wah-wah in front or after an overdrive; there might be personal preferences but both positions are equally valid.
Almost two bills may seem steep for such a minimalist pedal, but if you love octave fuzz it should be at the top of your list to check out—and there is that knob that lights up.
Tribute Audio Design The Big Fatty Fuzz
Tribute Audio Design’s The Big Fatty Fuzz ($149.99 direct) is a tribute to the Tonebender MKII, originally made by Sola Sound in the UK and favored by Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.This is another pedal that employs silicon transistors to avoid temperature sensitivity and bias drift, common with the original’s germanium transistors.
If ever an effect was aptly named, it is The Big Fatty—this pedal trades in girth. With the Fuzz full up and the Bias control at about four o’clock it is hard to imagine a larger sound. Through a high-powered amp with lots of clean headroom (or a smaller clean amp miked), you can imagine it filling stadiums. Despite its bulk, the distortion was quite focused. Turning the Bias full clockwise tightens it up further by removing much of the sag. I was amazed at the variety of tones I could get out of this pedal through manipulating the Fuzz and Bias knobs, from lurking doom to fizzy but somehow still full.
Some effects just sound luxurious and the Big Fatty is one of those. For those times when size matters, this reasonably priced pedal is a must.
The Awdrey-Gore http://www.mainacefx.com/ ($140 street) joins the increasingly popular self-oscillating fuzz trend started by Z.Vex’s Fuzz Factory and continued through Paul Trombetta’s Tornita, and the VauxFlores Number 23.
In Edward Gorey’s book, Miss D. Awdrey-Gore, renowned 97-year-old writer of detective stories, is found murdered; then a mysterious hidden packet is discovered. The pedal that bears her name had some mystery about it as well, with unmarked controls, and sounds that revealed themselves only after manipulation of multiple controls.
There is nothing polite about the Awdrey-Gore pedal. Its basic sound is the scorching fuzz best for cutting though a band with other guitarists and/or keyboards. The feedback loop is controlled by a momentary footswitch and can be dialed in with what is obviously the Pitch control. What I determined to be the “Fuzz” control seems to change the tone of the fuzz as much as the amount, and the “Tone” operates more like a filter than a standard tone, but all this just added to the character of this quirky pedal.
As with most of the self-oscillating species, adjusting the volume, tone and pickup selector of my guitar joined the pedal’s Pitch knob in modulating the pitch of the oscillations. In the video I am manipulating the guitar switch and controls even as I am turning the pedal’s knobs.
While I understand the appeal of being able to quickly throw some wild oscillations into a solo or part, I had Mr. Trombetta replace the momentary switch on my Feederbone with a latching one so I could bend down and manipulate the pitch or wander the stage while shifting it with my instrument controls. The Awdrey-Gore offers so many cool pitch altering options—turning the “Fuzz” and “Tone” controls on the pedal while the feedback switch is engaged also alters the note—that you should consider requesting a latching switch from Main.Ace.Fx, so you can put the pedal on a stand or table and manipulate it like an instrument. If your fuzz needs reside at the more aggressive and noise generating end of the spectrum, you should invite this gal out.
Animal Factory Amps Baron Samedi
Guitar Moderne readers are treated to a first look at the Bombay, India produced prototype that is the Animal Factory Amps Baron Samedi. Like the Awdrey Gore, the Baron Samedi falls in the more aggressive fuzz genre, taking on the Jordan Bosstone favored by Randy California (of Spirit) and pedal steel players in the Seventies. On the original Bosstone, Volume controlled the overall level while Attack set the instrument input level—redundantly mimicking the effect of manipulating the guitar’s volume knob. The Baron Samedi keeps the output volume control (Voodoo) but adds tone (Life), which is a passive mid-scoop notch filter with treble cut at the extremes; a control (Burial) that accentuates the lower octave; and a gate (Death), which, when turned clockwise reduces bass and creates AM-Radio/bitcrushed fidelity at the upper extremities. Finally, a fuzz control (Rum) adjusts the, well, fuzz.
I was able to pry a wide variety of sounds out of the prototype Baron Samedi many of them short, bit-crushed tones suitable for experimental music. Set at its most normal, the sustain of the fuzz seemed shorter than the original Bosstone, but the Baron evidenced similar character. As with many boutique pedals with oddly labeled controls, once I learned what they did, the labels became unimportant. What will hopefully improve in the production model is the smoothness with which the knobs turn and the placement of the upper and lower reaches in a standard horizontal plane.
If experimental sounds and/or cutting fuzz is your thing, be sure to check out the finished version when it becomes available.
Animal Factory Amps Chemical Burn
The Chemical Burn is Animal Factory’s venture into aping the Shin-ei/Companion Superfuzz FY-6, a pedal that garnered its recent object-of-desire status by featuring in the toolbox of Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach. Chemical Burn attempts to reproduce this classic, with some modern twists to make it more usable and versatile.
The imaginatively labeled controls perform these functions: Damage is a three-way mini toggle that claims to “choose three levels of octave blended in,” Skin being the lowest, Flesh halfway, and Bone being the maximum. Though the effect’s LED changed color with each position (cool), I noticed only a hint of upper octave in any of them. Skin was noticeably brighter, thus accenting high end, while Flesh and Bone sounded much fatter and almost identical. The Blister control did mix between silicon and germanium clipping as advertised, sounding characteristically different in each extreme and uniformly great throughout the blend range. Degree controlled the amount of fuzz, while Agony was the output volume. The pH control scooped the tone when turned counter clockwise, while clockwise increased the mids and cut treble and bass.
I will leave it to the forums to debate whether an exact Shin-ei sound can be derived from the Animal Factory Amps Chemical Burn—my guess is no two of the originals sound exactly the same. That said, octaves or not, this pedal sounds terrific, offering fuzz options both cutting and fat, sometimes simultaneously, and would make a welcome addition to my arsenal of grit.
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Here’s one youtube sample – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-28hhwN714
I get the impression that he uses Fuzz sort of like changing socks, and he has an appreciation for self-oscillating models, but love the sax tones he can achieve.
Torn loves fuzz pedals. I gather every one in the world sends them to him and he is kind enough to make recordings for them and for us.
Michael – Nice article, as usual, thanks. Love your site, btw.
Hey, any thoughts on David Torn’s (occasional) favorites at Basic Audio?
Thanks – I don’t know what that is. Please illuminate me