Just hearing the word gives me that feeling of pure satisfaction. There is no other effect that makes my eyes sparkle, or gives me a tingly feeling all over. Many people put a sweetly overdriven amp into that category and the likes of SRV and Eric Clapton have helped create that benchmark in the quest for tone. But when that fuzz pedal engages and gives you that sweet, fat, plush smack in the face, I just smile from ear to ear.
Fuzz seems to be one of the most commonly found types of guitar pedals in the independent pedal maker world. And as vast and varied as the choice is, finding the one for you is not the easiest. One of my favourite guitar related purchases ever is my Devi Ever pedal, but I am looking at other options to expand my possibilities, so I am going to take a further look into the pedal to find out what I really want.
History of this Furry Animal
The history of the pedal is long and interesting as, in a way, it coincides with the birth of rock music, a musical genre that, without a doubt, has come to fully depend on this brash tone as its signature sound. Most, if not all, guitarists know there are generally three types of “distorted” tone. The first to be introduced to the public was the concept of overdriven amps. However, once this was built into at least a few guitarists’ artistic work after the development of the Fender Super, guitarists looked further to find their way to a unique tone. This sometimes resulted from unintentional mishaps, and later, intentional ones. However, eventually, Gibson found a way to “box” this and created the first fuzz pedal – the Maestro FZ1-A Fuzz Tone. That was 1962. And without this revelation, a particular band, born the same year in London, England, may not have written arguably their most famous and successful song of all time – Satisfaction. There were other songs before that using the Fuzz Tone pedal, but this one brought it into the limelight and resulted in myriad other attempts to recreate the pedal with a different face. Some were terrible and totally inconsistent. But two Jim’s made themselves infamous using two pedals inspired by the legendary Tone Bender circuit. The Supa Fuzz became the signature of Jimmy Page, while I am sure almost everyone knows the Woodstock performance that featured the Fuzzface tones.
All of these initial models, and including the later addition to the proverbial Fuzz Hall of Fame with the Big Muff coming in the early 70s, were built on Silicon-based transistors. This changed everything and these days you see both silicon and germanium in use all over the place. These transistors are much more stable and so they can provide a more consistent tone but they also bite a lot harder. It is the key component when choosing the type of fuzz you want – germanium for smoother tone and silicone for that hard bite!
What actually is Fuzz and what does it do?
Although I have one full (repeated) year of electrical engineering under my belt, I am certainly not a soundwave expert. On top of that, I sell pedals, I don’t make them. So I will not get deep in describing technicalities too much. However, I will try to give a layman’s explanation (one that I would at least understand) of what the effect is all about.
The fuzz effect is part of the umbrella category of distortion, which also includes overdrive and distortion pedals. However, each of the three circuit types affects the sound wave a bit differently, and the results make each of these effects quite unique from each other.
The basis of all three is the idea of clipping, which is the process of pushing the amount of gain(i.e. the size of the sound wave) past a certain threshold to the point where it because distorted. This can be easily heard in most amps and the amplitude threshold can be identified at the point where it starts “breaking up”. As the clipping happens, and overtones come into play, the soundwave starts to take different shapes than a normal sine wave. The more overtones and the more the wave changes shape, the buzzier it sounds.
While overdrive can be seen as the smoothest of the three, it is quite reactive to the dynamics of your playing, as the compression is not very high. Distortion, on the other hand, manipulates the sound wave to reach the desired effect no matter what the dynamics are. The fuzz box relies on completely changing the waveforms into more square shaped waves and adds multiple overtones using frequency multipliers to give that fat, swing for the fences kind of sound.
As many well-researched musicians might know, fuzz pedal circuits highly depend on the transistors that are used. In fact, the circuit is relatively simple and the transistor(s) are the main contributing factors in the sound you get out of it. At the same time, as pedal makers work to change this pedal into their own, they tweak it with other components. There are two types of transistors commonly used – germanium and silicone. The germanium is the original, so to speak, and can be identified more as being the smoother of the two, but also the less predictable of the two. Typically it is the more preferred type by the general public, but both bring their advantages and disadvantages.
It’s all Fuzzamentary
Now that I told you everything I can (with a level of confidence) about fuzz, I want to start looking at specific ones. Before I found my current fuzz pedal, the Truly Beautiful Disaster, I knew exactly the sound I wanted to create – a table saw devouring its prey, a razor blade scratching across a blackboard, the sweetest, most painful cut-through that I could find. The very thought of it gave me a maniacal smile and I dreamt of applying it to every damn song I would ever write! Of course, that was just excitement, not blind ignorance. But I went on a search and it didn’t matter where in the world I would find it. The beauty of the internet is that you have the possibility to find anything, in any country, anywhere. The only problem is to actually get it in your hands sometimes takes a lot of effort, time and money. (refer to my first blog post as to why we started Feedback Pedals) I looked a lot at the most easily found boutique pedal shops in Europe (as there was absolutely none near Prague) and found at least a few Death By Audio pedals that were interesting. The Fuzz War is known around the world as one of the best fuzzes out there, but I was looking for something much more tweakable, with more features. I discovered the Edge used the Supersonic Fuzz Gun and checked DBA out finding that loads of top musicians have a DBA pedal on their board. I compared this pedal endlessly to find out as much as possible about this and many other pedals (the likes of Red Witch, Z-Vex, Dwarfcraft Devices, Earthquaker Devices, Electroharmonix – all quality boutique level pedal makers). But I started searching further and, as mentioned already in my first post, contacted Devi Ever, waited too long (not her fault at all) and finally got by TBD, which is a pedal that makes my bandmates shake their head laughing even 4 years on. Its self-oscillation dial helps out whenever we need to simulate the sound of a helicopter on stage before our cover of Morning Glory!
When I first used it, I used it constantly, but as time goes by, I find more and more that its application is quite specific, and due to the circuit, it is a different monster every time I change the electrical grid I am connected to. Thoughts, as a consequence, enter my head of expanding my fuzz arsenal. I have been lucky enough to try a few now, including some of the models we have in stock and am amazed at the versatility of the pedal – meaning the fuzz pedal circuit itself, particularly with what today’s producers are providing us.
There is everything from a very simplified fuzz/tone set up – two of my favourites are the Fuzz War(which we carry), and the Soda Meiser (which I personally hope to carry someday soon …we’ll keep you updated if it comes into play) – use this type of setup very effectively. These are for players that prefer to dial in all the sound they are looking for with just those two knobs. Then there are band eq knobs, changing the tone as you play, gate switches that reel in the high gain madness, battery sag emulators (back in the pioneering days, players would experiment with actual battery sag to find exactly the tone they were looking for), dark/bright switches, and many other small tweaks.
The Four Eyes Fuzz by Fairfield Circuitry even includes an expression pedal connection to utilize the frequency sweep within the circuit to create utter madness. I think this pedal is a bit like the TBD in that you can find noise in it that will make people’s heads spin; it is a bit of a wildcat and you can find quite a range of breakup. However, it definitely isn’t like your standard fuzz box and only the adventurous will be brave enough to walk into that circle!
On the other hand, the Hoof by Earthquaker Devices, and, maybe even more so, the Daredevil Supernova are much more organic. The Hoof is a pure classic at this point, but the Supernova was probably the biggest surprise from all the fuzz pedals we tried when opening up the shop. We were floored by how sweet and smooth the fuzz sounded. It was, by definition of the word, amazing to hear such a lush (almost plush) creamy sounding fuzz – definitely nothing we expected and definitely something we both felt would be the “sleeper hit” of our initial stock. Don’t want to sound too sales-y here but you should really check this thing out! I have been long tempted to add it to my board and we will see how long it is before it ends up there! That is if I don’t add the Hawaiian Pizza first…or maybe the Fuzz Gun, or…the Unpleasant Surprise, or….the Absolute Destruction…
What to choose? What to choose???
Man, there are so many sweet fuzzes out there, I would probably go broke if I was to buy all the ones I would like to try. Fuzz is definitely my favourite effect and when you find the right one…that fuzzy feeling just hits you. The level of satisfaction in hitting that I/O switch in anticipation of what is going to pierce (or grace) your eardrums…this is the feeling I crave when I pick up the guitar. That cut, that fluffy sandpaper, that marshmallow razorblade. How many songs do we put on repeat because of that sound? How many guitarists have built their signature on whatever fuzz pedal they call their own? How many riffs would we have missed out on if not for this simple, organic, sometimes volatile circuit? God bless the guitarists that dropped their amps off the roofs of their car, cut their speakers, left their amps in the rain, and inspired the fine people that brought this gorgeous devil to life. God bless the two kids named James, who brought it into prominence in the still-young-at-the-time genre of rock music. And God bless the pedal makers that give us so many options to use to create that blast of ear drum popping noise!
We at FP will keep adding more and more pedals, including some fuzz monsters, as we progress. So keep an eye out for your next pedal on our site, or our social media channels. If you are looking for something and we don’t have it…well just let us know! For me, personally, I think I have a long way to go before I decide on which one ends up on my board!