Reviewed! Dunlop Fuzz Face Minis & MXR Super Badass Distortion

February 7, 2014

Even the most ardent lovers of the classic Fuzz Face will admit its over-sized round housing makes it a pedalboard hog. Dunlop’s new Fuzz Face Mini pedals ($99 street) offer those timeless tones in smaller, more ’board-friendly housings, along with true-bypass switching, a status LED, an AC power jack, and a battery door. (Some batteries did not fit through the access, but could be installed by removing the four bottom screws.)

I tested the pedals with a Fernandes S-type and an Epiphone Les Paul through a 50-watt Little Walter and a Fender Blues Junior. All three pedals sounded best combined with a clean amp setting, and at lower guitar volume settings each responded beautifully to picking dynamics—even with the pedals’ gain set to maximum.

Germanium Fuzz Face Mini

Germanium transistors are vulnerable to extremes of temperature, so it was unsurprising that directly off a hot UPS truck this model refused to reveal its warm tones. Once it cooled down it was a joy, fattening out even a Strat bridge pickup to a throaty roar, and serving up the particular brand of warm classic fuzz sound that only germanium can deliver. Lowering the guitar volume instantly cleaned up the sound completely.


Kudos: Huge tone, with big bottom. If you are playing a Strat in a power trio this is the FF for you.
Concerns: Might not cut through a large ensemble with a humbucker-equipped guitar. Germanium is by nature unstable.
 
 Silicon Fuzz Face Mini

This Mini’s less-quirky, matched BC108 silicon transistors proffered a brighter, more aggressive sound with a fast attack. Its enhanced high end delivered a bit more ’70s fizz, while still sounding huge. The overall tone was the most evenly balanced of the three models, making it perfect for retaining articulation with P-90s and hot humbuckers. With the guitar volume backed off the clean range was smaller but the crunch range larger than the Germanium’s.
Kudos: Balanced tone. Added highs stand out in a mix.
Concerns: May be too aggressive for some.

 

Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face Mini

Like Dunlop’s full-size Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face, the Mini uses the same transistors as the Silicon model, but is tweaked for less gain and a slight midrange bump. The fizz was gone, while the extra upper mids combined with the reduced gain to make solos and chords clear but still ginormous. Reducing guitar volume cleaned things up almost as quickly as the Germanium model.

Kudos: Highly articulate, offering desirable attributes of both germanium and silicon.
Concerns: Mids may be too much for some guitars and amps.
Contact:
jimdunlop.com

So which one to buy? Don’t think of the concerns as weaknesses, but rather as guideposts for deciding which Mini is right for your sound. Better yet, for the price of one expensive boutique pedal, you can collect them all. Between them, these three pedals cover a huge range of vintage fuzz tones, each rendered in a faithful and musical manner. —MR

 
MXR Super Badass Distortion

The Super Badass is a compact pedal that nonetheless delivers a great deal of tone-shaping power—and at $99 street it is itself a great deal. The pedal’s sturdy metal casing, classy silver-flake finish, and easy to grip knobs make for an attractive and practical package, and its true-bypass switching provides unimpeded signal flow. The Super Badass may be powered by either a 9-volt battery or an optional power supply.

The name of the game here is versatility. First, the Distortion control covers an unusually broad range, from just a smidgen of overdrive to various degrees of amp-like grind to more conventional distortion pedal tones. Similarly, the Output control’s atypically wide range allows the pedal to function as a clean boost (with the Distortion control fully counterclockwise), to goose the front-end of a tube amp for added oomph, or to elevate even heavily saturated solos well above rhythm levels.

In addition to the possibilities offered by the interaction of the Output and Distortion controls, the active Bass, Middle, and Treble controls enable considerable tone-crafting capabilities. They not only boost or cut frequencies across an extensive spectrum, they are intelligently voiced, making it difficult to dial in a bad sound even if you were to try. The tight bottom-end boost was particularly impressive, especially with dropped tunings, but scooping the mids also yielded old-school metal tones, and boosting them facilitated classic rock punch and squawk. Interestingly, rolling back the guitar’s volume worked best with the Distortion control cranked up. Personally, I prefer a little more single-note clarity within chords than the Super Badass offers, but that likely won’t be an issue for many players—especially if power chords are their primary passion.

It is worth noting that the Super Badass sounded appreciably different with different combinations of guitars and amps. For me, this is a good thing, as it demonstrates that the pedal modifies the existing sound of your other gear rather than commandeering it—but it also means that ideally you’ll want to try it with your own rig to be sure that it’s a good match. — BC

Kudos: Super-versatile. Sounds great with a variety of guitars and amps.
Concerns: Minimal single-note definition within chords.

Contact: jimdunlop.com
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