Fuzz Face Off

Though fuzz is just distortion with a nastier attitude, fuzzes are different creatures than their distortion pedal relatives, which are designed to cop the “sweeter” sounds of overdriven tubes.
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The GP Staff Tests 25 Fuzzboxes

Though fuzz is just distortion with a nastier attitude, fuzzes are different creatures than their distortion pedal relatives, which are designed to cop the “sweeter” sounds of overdriven tubes. Many think of fuzz as buzzy and little else, but the range of textures possible from a relatively simple fuzz circuit can be quite astonishing, and have included some of the most evocative guitar sounds ever recorded. You’ve heard ’em a million times on tunes that span over four decades of fuzz use—from the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” to the White Stripe’s “Icky Thump.” (See sidebar on page 88 for more fuzzy favorites.) And with fuzz being so in vogue these days, it’s not surprising to hear the effect cropping up in pop, jazz, and just about anywhere else that guitarists infatuated by the sound of clipping transistors deem appropriate.

As with all things that come under the guitar geek’s microscope, fuzz pedals, and particularly the germanium or silicon transistors that power them, have been analyzed to an obsessive degree. The result being that the DNA of such classic circuits as the Fuzz Face, Tone Bender, and Big Muff Pi has found its way to a multitude of boutique and production pedals. Thanks largely to a wave of creativity that brought stompboxes back into fashion in the mid ’90s, the sound of fuzz has evolved to the point where now even the most sickly and demented tones a transistor can make are considered a plus.

Many of the earliest fuzzes, however, were hardly one-trick ponies. Sure, they didn’t have things like bias and volts controls, but even with something like the original Arbiter Fuzz Face, the range of textures between the fuzz knob’s travel from zero to fully cranked—not to mention the way the circuit responds to changes in guitar volume—opened all sort of doors to cool sounds, clean and distorted, that could never have happened by just plugging straight into an amp.

No question, though, fuzz has come a long way since the ’60s. That’s why it’s so important—some might say essential—to check out new fuzz pedals and see how they can inspire your playing or at least become a factor in your tone scheme. Rest assured, with so much attention being focused on fuzz these days, whatever box you plug your guitar into is almost guaranteed do something interesting to your sound.

This was definitely the case with the 25 fuzz pedals we gathered for this roundup. Yes, some were wackier and more unruly than others, and a few sounded more like distortion boxes than fuzzes, but each had something we truly enjoyed, and that in itself is a pretty amazing thing. When you can’t fi nd a clunker among this many pedals, it’s clear that the current state of fuzz design is pretty good!

We put these pedals through their paces using Fender, Gibson, and PRS guitars, along with several amps that included a Dr. Z EZG-50 combo, a mid-’80s Marshall JCM 800, and a ’64 Fender Super Reverb.

More from this Roundup:

Analog.Man Peppermint Fuzz
Boss FZ-5 Fuzz
Creepy Fingers Fuzzbud
Catlinbread Merkin
Danelectro Fab Fuzz
Demeter Fuzzy Octavulator
Dunlop Joe Bonamassa Fuzz Face
EWS Fuzzy Drive
Electro-Harmonix Germanium 4 Big Muff Pi
EarthQuaker Devices Hoof Fuzz
Fulltone ’70 BC-108C
Gore Pedals Trilobite Fossil Fuzz
Guyatone TZm5 Torrid Fuzz
Jack Deville Electronics Buzzmaster
Jacques Black Mamba
Lee Jackson Fuzzy Finger
Orion Effekte Deluxe Motor Fuzz
Rocktron Boutique Series Cottonmouth Fuzz
Roger Mayer Voodoo-XX
Seymour Duncan SFX-02 Tweak Fuzz
Verellen Amplifiers Big Spider
Visual Sound Angry Fuzz
Voodoo Lab Superfuzz
WrightSounds Fuzz-Stang
Z.Vex Vexter Series Fuzz Probe