Five Ways To Get Fuzzy

September 19, 2005

HISTORIANS NEVER TIRE OF HAGGLING OVER WHETHER so and so was the first to use ultra-distorted guitar tones, but everyone agrees that the first commercially available fuzz pedal was the FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone introduced by Maestro in 1963. Originally marketed as a device to make electric guitars sound like brass instruments, it wasn’t until two years later when Keith Richards deployed the device on “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” that guitarists finally got hip to the FZ-1’s potential. The overwhelming response to the fuzz buzz lured many other manufacturers to the party, and before long, players could choose between dozens of competing models. Most of those fuzzes are now consigned to the dustbin of time, but a few not only endured, they spawned countless imitators. In fact, the great majority of fuzz pedals introduced since that time are simply modified versions of the FZ-1 and other classics such as the Sola Sound Tone-Bender (1965), Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face (1966), and Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi (1970).

Someone is always trying to build a better fuzz, however, and enough guitarists still beat paths to their doorsteps to sustain an appreciable number of modern-day manufacturers. Nonetheless, nearly all currently available fuzz pedals are either strict recreations of classic circuits (sometimes using NOS or “new old stock” components), recreations of classic circuits modded for improved performance, or truly new designs incorporating significantly different features.

The five fuzz pedals featured in this roundup fall into all three categories: The Foxx Tone Machine is an authentic re-issue of the early-’70s original, the Euthymia Crucible Fuzz and Sub-Decay Stupid Box are modified versions of classic designs, and the Demeter Fuzzulator and Seymour Duncan Tweak Fuzz sport significant new features not found in other fuzz pedals.

“Good” fuzz ultimately comes down to personal aesthetics, but some general considerations can be useful when assessing prospective additions to your tonal arsenal. For example, would you be happy with a pedal that makes basically one good sound, or is variety important to you? Does your style require lots of sustain? Do you play mostly single-note lines and root-fifth power chords, or is individual note articulation within complex chords an issue? Does it matter whether the sound cleans up when you roll back the volume on the guitar? These are a few of the factors that were considered during our evaluation.

The five pedals were tested using a variety of guitars including a late-model PRS Custom 24 Brazilian, a mid-’70s Fender Stratocaster, a reissue ’62 Fender Telecaster, and a ’69 Gibson Les Paul Custom. Amps included a ’60s Fender Twin Reverb loaded with JBLs, a mid-’70s 50-watt Marshall half-stack, a Rivera Chubster 40 1x12 combo, and a Universal Audio LA-610 tube preamp (for direct recording). Naturally, each pedal sounded somewhat different with the various guitar and amp combinations, so descriptions are given in general terms. The pedals were fitted with fresh 9-volt Energizer batteries, which, in each case, required removing four screws to access their battery compartments (six on the Foxx). All but the Foxx and Euthymia also have AC adaptor sockets.

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