21 Pageants of Fuzzy Songcraft

September 20, 2011

FUZZ IS ONE WICKEDLY ABRASIVE AND DELIGHTFULLY peculiar effect. Although it can require a touch of daring to abandon the organic colors of overdrive and distortion and embrace buzz and spit, players have used fuzz to power tons of unforgettable riffs. Here are some of our favorites. Post your choices in the GP Forum (guitarplayer.com/community), or on our Facebook page (facebook.com/guitarplayermag).

“Think For Yourself” Rubber Soul, 1965

John’s viciously distorted guitars for “Revolution” were crafted by overdriving the console’s mic preamps at Abbey Road. (Producer George Martin admitted the studio technicians were not happy about this.) Paul, however, plugged into one of Gary Hurst’s Tone Benders for the fuzzy bass line to this song. The effect is so ear-catching that one wonders if George—the song’s author—grumped that Paulie had once again stolen his thunder.

“Psychotic Reaction” Psychotic Reaction, 1966

Oh, it’s all jangly and bright on the verses, but watch out for the convulsive splatters of noise during the chorus. The music was inspired by the Yardbirds’ version of “I’m a Man,” but composer/guitarist John Byrne was gifted the song’s title when a college classmate suggested it during a lecture on psychosis. He fi nished the song later that day, and quite democratically shared writing credit with his entire band.

“Sunshine of Your Love” Disraeli Gears, 1967

It’s Jack Bruce’s riff, but Eric Clapton’s fuzzed guitar lines blasted the boppin’ lick out of car radios, transistor radios, and home stereos, and into the collective consciousness of the children of the Summer of Love.

“Man Made Mountain” Call It Conspiracy, 2003

The twin-guitar attack of Sweden’s Fredrik Nordin and Tommi Holappa uncorks a barrage of scary, undulating fuzz textures. No quarter, baby!

“I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” The Electric Prunes, 1967

Lead guitarist Ken Williams— who took guitar lessons from string maker Ernie Ball—used his ’58 Les Paul to spew psychedelic spittle, while co-guitarists Weasel Spagnola and Jim Lowe surrounded the noise with churning, swirling, tremoloed, and reversedelayed madness. What a trip!

“House of the Rising Sun” Frijid Pink, 1970

This Detroit psychedelic band got nowhere near the love showered on fellow Motor City rockers the Stooges and the MC5, but its version of “House of the Rising Sun” is a voodoo charm of barking fuzz and feedback, courtesy of guitarist Gary Ray Thompson.

“Spirit in the Sky” Spirit in the Sky, 1969

Greenbaum may be a certified one-hit wonder, but what a smash! A Telecaster with a homemade, built-in fuzz circuit provided the sound for a stomping track that may have inspired ’70s glam rockers, and still blares from numerous films, television shows, and commercials.

“Purple Haze” Are You Experienced, 1967

Hendrix changed the game for music fans and musicians alike, and one of the first salvos was this psychedelic, top-40 smash. To summon the bold yet dreamy vibe, Jimi plugged his Strat into a Fuzz Face and an Octavia. What a sound! What a riff! What a genius!

“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, 1968

Allegedly transformed from “In the Garden of Eden” to “In a gadda da vida” by the band’s intoxicated vocalist, Doug Ingle, things only got stranger when Erik Braun’s spacey guitar riffs and meandering organ and drum solos pushed the song length to 17 minutes. Call it the first psychedelic epic!

“That Lady (Part 1 and 2)” 3+3, 1973

Ernie Isley’s ethereal Hendrix-influenced solo floats, stings, and soars. The tone was likely a Strat, a Marshall, a Big Muff, and a Maestro phase shifter.

“In ‘n’ Out of Grace” Superfuzz Bigmuff, 1988

Guitarist Steve Turner loves fuzz so much that he named the album after a couple of his fave pedals—likely a tough choice, as Turner reportedly brought truckloads of fuzz boxes to studio sessions in order to craft bigger, weirder, and more dangerous whirlwinds of noise.

“Hysteria” Absolution, 2003

This full-on fuzz fest starts with fuzz bass, then adds a brutally buzzed-out guitar riff (reportedly, a ’62 Gibson SG Les Paul through a Z.Vex Fuzz Factory), and, finally, as if the tones weren’t evil enough, guitarist/vocalist Matthew Bellamy’s voice is deep-fried in distortion.

“Hero” Neu! 75, 1975

Michael Rother’s soaring ascending line over a hypnotic “motorik” beat is a blitzkrieg of awe and wonder, as are the sputtering stabs and punches that snake in and out of this six-minute- plus hybrid of punk and Krautrock.

“Goodbye to Love” A Song For You, The Carpenters, 1972

A truly stunning solo that spits and snarls all over an angelic arrangement of syrupy strings and Karen and Richard Carpenter’s pristinely layered vocals. Blasphemy! Richard directed an initially timid Peluso to “Go! Just burn!” So the emboldened session guitarist plugged his Gibson ES-335 into a Big Muff—which was routed direct to the mixing board— and kicked off, yes, the power ballad.

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” Out Of Our Heads, 1965

Arguably the prototypical rockin’ fuzz lick, Keef plugged into a Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ-1 seeking to emulate a horn for the song’s intro. Strangely, he pretty much abandoned fuzz when crafting his other classic song riffs.

“The Man Who Sold the World” The Man Who Sold the World, David Bowie, 1971

Ronson’s spellbinding intro and spiraling verse and chorus lines harnessed the power of his Les Paul, a Marshall, a Tone Bender, and, at times, a wah. Kurt Cobain loved the tune so much that Nirvana covered it on their MTV Unplugged album in 1993.

“20th Century Boy” Single, 1973

If fuzz can be sexy, Marc Bolan’s dancing intro riff almost defines the bizarre schizophrenia of glam rock. It’s simultaneously macho, flirtatious, dumb, clever, sweaty, stylish, and smeared with sonic glitter.

“2000 Pound Bee, Part 2” Single, 1962

This dirty ditty ain’t no “Walk Don’t Run.” Powered by a custom fuzz box made by Red Rhodes, it’s the first rock song to use a fuzz pedal. Sadly, the Ventures’ Don Wilson and Nokie Edwards missed copping the “first fuzz pedal on a record” award by one year. Believe it or not, they were beat out by session guitarist Billy Strange, who used the Rhodes box on Ann Margaret’s 1961 song, “I Don’t Understand.”

“Icky Thump” Icky Thump, 2007

What a gorgeous mess! Jack White’s blistering and crackling riffs practically dance on the edge of destruction. White used a “bass fuzz”—the Z.Vex Wooly Mammoth—to annihilate his guitar tone.

“Over Under Sideways Down” Roger the Engineer, 1966

Leave it to a tireless and crafty innovator such as Jeff Beck to meld an eastern motif with an exotic, flute-y fuzz. Beck used a Fender Esquire through a Sola Sound Tone Bender MkI to conjure this cinematic brilliance.

“Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” Rust Never Sleeps, 1979

No fuzz pedal involved in this tone—just Neil’s ’59 tweed Deluxe cranked up to planetkilling volume levels—but it’s one of the most feral and frightening fuzz sounds ever documented. If you’re considering producing little ones someday, wearing a protective lead apron while listening is recommended.

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