This is probably the most anticipated of my 12 Degrees roundups - and is a touch more complex and different to the other 2 in the series. Within each category here there can be a huge difference in character and output - for instance with Fuzz Faces going from quite mild to rather searing Meathead and Regulus VIII levels of aggression. So the gradual step up in gain per category doesn’t apply here. And because of circuit variations and differences in components and construction, each and every pedal in the same category can sound quite different and range enormously for different parameters - while there is of course a common core at its centre - but we can have several pedals which sound quite our of category and might be more judiciously placed elsewhere - that’s just the nature of things. This is the way!
Fuzz was the original guitar pedal / effect all the way back in 1962, and we’ve had numerous types of Fuzz since - in fact many times over the typical 12 category progressions I cover in these roundup editions. I have had to be quite selective really in picking out the categories - I have provided a long-list at the start though, as below - which is in itself somewhat selective in what it features - but very plentiful nonetheless.
I’ve obviously picked my own 12 favourite categories of fuzz - while I of course have many more preferences. These are also in part selected based on how many viable alternatives are available. I may do further extrapolations later in any case.
Note that several of the listed pedals are discontinued or hard to get your hand on - so I typically try and favour those that are still in general circulation.
While to start things off - here follows the general chronology of fuzz! :
And these are my preferred categories therefore - for which I own at least one representative for each, and in several cases quite a few more. My own fuzz collection is somewhat skewed towards Big Muffs, Fuzz Faces and Tone Benders - while I’m constantly trying to round out other parts of the reference library to make it more fully representative. I evidently have a while to go - yet am already well over 250 fuzzes in the collection!
As with previous exercises - the Mini equivalents component turned out to be rather tricky - with not that many brands specialising in the smaller formats. The main purveyors of mini pedals tend to be Jim Dunlop/MXR, Dave ’Pickdropper’ Friesema / Function F(x), Canada’s KOAmps, Russia’s NFYFX, and of course Schu-Tone - which came to the rescue several times here. The status of Schu-Tone is somewhat inconclusive at the moment as to whether he’s still making pedals - or specifically those particular mini variants - and I’ve not got around to starting that particular line of enquiry yet.
Generally though there is quite a wide variety of pedals available in each category - from builders and vendors all over the world - and lots of options on the second-hand / discontinued market too. Just because it’s discontinued does not mean you cannot track down one such - you just need to stalk Reverb.com and Ebay et al - rather patiently. It might even take a couple of years or more - but by and large most things crop up eventually - and then you just need to be prepared, and be quick enough to react!
Despite difficulties in tracing mini equivalents - this is the first fully-loaded 12 Degrees Edition - with the maximum complement of 76 candidates!
As always the USA leads the charge - while there are plenty of very decent Fuzz-makers in the UK, in Europe and in Japan in particular. But also Australia, Brazil, Canada and India and further afield.
Lots of different brands involved here too while John 'King of Fuzz' Lyons' Basic Audio brand obviously has the most candidates here. There is no other fuzz brand that is quite so wide-ranging - and while John features in 8 of the 12 categories - he could have been in 11! The only fuzz variety he's not attempted to date as far as I'm aware is the Astro Tone - but since he's done quite so many varieties I might be wrong about that. He very definitely earns his title though - and it is representative in my own Fuzz Collection - where I have 17 of his. In fact of the 8 of his featured in this listing - 4 of those are still on my wishlist - which would take my Basic Audio tally to 21.
There are some slightly different countries involved here - kind of surprising that there are none form Italy - which has a strong history of its own in fuzz pedals - but that's the way these things turn out sometimes. I have come across fuzz pedals in most countries in most continents of this world. There is certainly no shortage of suitable candidates.
Basic Audio commands the lion's share here with 8 placings, Sof Teboune's Expresso FX is usually my go to for Fuzz Faces and Tone Benders - while Daniel Thornhill's Fjord Fuzz is great for slightly more unusual fuzzes. I'm obviously personally connected with a number of these builders and greatly admire their ear for tone. Fuzz is all about the engineer's ear really and how they bias and tune the default values - what range they set the tape to. There are notable differences of approach - with most ways valid, but some degree of adaptation required in places. Of those 76 pedals listed here I own versions of 35 of them, with a further 15 or so imminent and on the wishlist - obviously part of the 2021 task list now.
As I touched on in the introduction this Fuzz Edition is a somewhat different approach to the 12 Degrees as it is not a linear scale of gain progression. As mentioned - each category ear can have very wide margins of differences in gain range, volume, saturation etc. Some of these circuits are very dynamic and work well with the Volume and Tone controls on your guitar. You can typically identify a Fuzz fanatic by the type of guitar they play. We need at least two pickups and we need variable controls to get the most interactivity out of the fuzz. It's a rare sight to see a fuzz aficionado with a single pickup single volume style guitar!
So each category can vary and range pretty wildly - and by pure happenstance we have selected 7 Regular fuzzes as such and 5 Octave fuzzes of different styles. There's no room here for a WEM-Rush Pep Box (1966), Lovetone Big Cheese (1995), Function F(x) Clustetfuzz (2015), or any of those more unique and distinct fuzzes - some have clones, most do not - say like my very recently added Demedash Spidola Germanium Fuzz Device.
So the advise here as always is to treat this more as a map of landmarks to navigate through - you will likely have your own preferences here, and it's highly likely that our tastes will match up exactly. But hopefully this exposes you to a few more varieties you otherwise would not be aware of!
The first fuzz category is pretty much the origins of the effects pedal industry as we know it. 1962's Maestro FZ-1, famously used on the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction". There are a number of modern reproductions around with that same sort of original sloped box with the controls facing away from you - including one pricey one from Pigdog. I'm not a fan of those unergonomic and impractical enclosures - and considering the compact nature of the circuit - no need for those oversized shells really.
As with a few of the categories here - I have just one example of this type - courtesy of Basic Audio's excellent Gnarly Fuzz. You should know by now that I typically like a minimum of three controls on my own fuzz pedals - so the only other one here that really fits the bill for me is Australia's Mozztronics FZ-1 which comes with a 3rd Tone knob, as well as a Contour (Mids) toggle-switch - to that would be the one to get next.
These others sound great and are authentic to the circuit - just not quite as versatile as I would want them personally - should also mention the George Engineering (Greece) Maestro FZ-1B which just missed out on the listing. The Reuss take is assuredly great too - but please give me a Bias or Tone Knob to seal the deal! I had a choice of two Mini pedals here - the BYOC Li'l Black Key Mini, and the KOAmps The Key Fuzz Mini - I have a few Mini fuzzes by Canadian Kevin O'Reilly / KOAmps - including an excellent Skreddy Mayonaise clone - he makes some fantastic pedals in the mini category.
This is really quite a complex category - and consists of no less than 9 key varieties - including MKI, John Hornby Skewes Zonk Machine, Marshall Supa Fuzz, MKI.V, Vox Tone Bender, Professional MKII, Baldwin-Burns Buzzaround, MKIII, and MKIV! There are other nuances and varieties here, but generally the category is mostly those 9 types, in fact in my selection we cover MKI, Zonk, MKII, MKIII and MKIV - with my selecting my favourite favourite ones overall - so not a major overlap on this occasion - some magnificent sounding fuzzes in this group - which are all in my collection. Including the Mini 3-Knob Professional MKI which Dave Friesema of Function F(x) / Pickdropper fame just made for me. I feel that I will end up with one of each type from him in the end. Currently in the Tone Bender category I have 3 of Dave's pedals - the MKI, MKIII and Hive/Buzzaround!
I genuinely am a big fan of this category - and probably have a little more catching up to do as I have only 30-odd of these versus the 50+ each for the Fuzz Face and Big Muff categories. Right now I'm going though something of a Mick Ronson / Ronno phase - which means I'm leaning slightly into the MKI format these days - while I also really love the MKII's and MKIII's!
I have never owned one of those discus-style mic-stand type original format Fuzz Faces - I find both versions somewhat impractical really (and yes even the round minis) - and in that sense not one pedal in my collection is fully authentic as far as that goes, as near enough all my Fuzz Faces - bar the SUF Hellephant, have at least 3 controls - including typically an external Bias knob.
We must not forget that Fuzz Factory, and by extension Chase Bliss Audio's new Bliss Factory are really just rather souped up Fuzz Faces - and in its latest guise just a superb example of the craft - with about as much versatility as you can imagine. My 2nd and 3rd listed choices are really listed in order of when I acquired them - but are both fantastic Dual Germanium and Silicon Switching Fuzz Faces with extra controls - both sound phenomenal, and both have fairly rare transistors onboard. Next is the almost as versatile King Tone MiniFuzz, and then the recently reviewed Super-Smooth Sitek Fuzzie - not just a great selection of Fuzz Faces - but a great cross-section of what the Fuzz Face can do - each of these has its own personality.
The mini pedal on this occasion is one that took me a while to hunt down a year or two ago - the El Musico Loco Wee Beaver Fuzz - which is actually an Os Mutantes Regulus VIII variety - or a pretty high gain version of Silicon Fuzz Face. Interestingly and as also reported on this site - the Wee Beaver Fuzz is the core circuit in the Chase Bliss / Abracadabra Audio Ayahuasca Trem-Fuzz! I think you would be hard pushed to find a better selection of Fuzz Faces than these 6. There are several decent alternatives for the Mini variety - including the recent Dunlop / MXR '69 Psych Series and Schu-Tone Mutation (also Regulus VIII). I was also going to include the superb Vemuram Signature Josh Smith Myriad Fuzz and JHS Series 3 Fuzz, but they got edged out by the Bliss Factory and another preferred choice when that suddenly arrived on the scene.
I have long owned the Catalinbread Moseley Fuzzrite - while all he time meaning to pin down an Analog.Man Peppermint Fuzz which I really love and have come so close to landing on several occasions now. In this category I will definitely go for a Peppermint Fuzz too and a Basic Audio Fuzz Right - before calling it on my reference selection here.
The other varieties are decent - including the wee Sizzorfite Studio Mini Fuzzrite with bullet-casings for knobs. I could also have added the Schu-Tone The Loner here, amongst others. This is often quite a brash sounding fuzz, but you can tame that by dialling it in appropriately. Quite a distinctive fuzz variety which doesn't always get much of a look-in.
For lots of players the Analog.Man Fuzz to have is one of the Sun Face varieties - while I'm all about the Peppermint Fuzz and Astro Tone Fuzz in particular - also known as the Sam Ash Fuzzz Boxx (sic). This is a generally quite underrated Fuzz which has a huge degree of versatility and incredibly music ability. The Astro Tone is followed by the alas discontinued Vick Audio Astro Fuzz, and Moho Hand FX Zephyr - which are both discontinued, but pop up every now and again on Reverb.com.
Next we have some lesser known brands - Bulgaria's cool Mojo Gear Cosmic Ash and Roerick Effects 36 Fuzz, and then the RonSound Ashtro Fuzz. There are various other varieties some fairly rarefied - the BJFE Fuzz 66, Northern FX Astrotone Fuzz, and Germany;s BSM Spectrum Fuzz Booster, and Australia's Klinger Astron Fuzz. So quite a few varieties around - but some of those distinctly tricky to pin down.
I really struggled to find a Mini version in this category - I came a cross an unnamed and unmarked speckled version on Ebay (long since sold) which was purported to be an Astro Tone variety, but had no distinguishing makes or proper reference to original builder! So there's likely a gap in the market here!
So the 6th category is the first introduction of Octave style fuzz - in fact one of 5 such categories in this overall edition. This though was the originator of the Octave Fuzz style, and was much emulated and copied by all and sundry.
The only one I have in this selection to date is the Dunlop Hendrix Octavio - which kind of breaks my rule on minimum 3 controls! I have always intended to get the Fulltone Octafuzz, and more recently the fantastic Vahlbruch Octavia - but simply not got around to it yet. I also really rather want the King Tone Octaland which is the priciest on offer here - but looks rather gorgeous in its new blue livery - that's probably at the top of my list of acquisitions now for this category - even though a touch pricey at £299 - but still probably one for early next year.
The mini pedal shake-up was really between the Function F(x) Octavus Mini, Schu-Tone Bitter End, and Pigtronix Octava Mini - which I decided would be better suits as a C.O.B. candidate as there was no obvious shoe-in for that category. So another win as such for Dave 'Picdropper' Friesema. Other varieties considered in the overall category included the Fuzzrocious Octavos, JHS Pedals "Vintage Loft" series Tychobrahe Octavia, KR Musical Products The Doubler, and the slightly over-sized Beetronix Octahive which I have and totally love. So no shortage of candidates here generally.
I've lumped both Shin-ei FY-6 and FY-2 varieties into the same category here even though they are somewhat different. The Companion is somewhat more intense and spiky, while the Super is more dynamic and blooming - yet some Super Fuzz varieties definitely get you well into Companion territory.
I initially had the Boss FZ-2 in this listing too, but truth is I have a number of favourite Super Fuzzes that are a little more versatile than the Boss - so that just misses out here. I have all the pedals in this selection - and all of them get a pretty regular rotation. The Anasounds melds 2 fuzz circuits together - pushing Fuzz Face into Super Fuzz - for a particularly rich and rounded harmonic fuzzstortion. My copy of Fjord Fuzz Fenris is due any week now - just waiting on Daniel really - I have a predecessor to this - which is the 5-knob, 2-footswitch Gjallarhorn - the Fenris has even more of everything on tap. The Bearfoot FX Candiru Gold Fuzz is a rare Germanium Transistor variety of that circuit, and I pretty much love the SolidGoldFX '76 and Sitek Pandora equally. These are all really versatile and a notch up from the more standard Super Fuzz varieties. That said, the Danelectro Eisenhower is another decent choice in similar territory - and it kind of straddles Foxx and Super Fuzz territory to a degree.
There was some competition for the Mini slot too - between the Malekko Omicron Fuzz and David Evans's (Dead)fx Can't Feel MyFace Super-Fuzz - oh and of course the Schu-Tone Accomplice and Shatter Machine Fuzzes. The DeadFX takes it in the end by virtue of its greater hands-on controllability and the fact that I own it! - actually about the same degree of control as the Schu-Tone Accomplice and Shatter Machine. The Omicron has options - but they are firmly under the hood as such!
Another category where I own just a single candidate - the first listed Bearfoot FX Burgundy Bosshorn which looks and sounds fantastic. Correction! I forgot about my recently acquired KMA Audio Fuzzly Bear - that makes 2! I've long wanted a Basic Audio Texsur - that is on my list too - probably along with an Animal Factory Baron Samedi. I actually really like the look of India's Animal Factory pedals - and I fully intend to track down copies of its Baron Samedi and Chemical Burn (Super Fuzz / Companion).
Monsterpiece makes some great pedals too, and while I only have one of theirs to date - a special 6K version of Scratchy Snatch, I intend to pick up at least a couple more including the Angry Dick 2000 and MKI Fuzz. 'Jordan' seems to have bought the brand, but not the licence - as its Boss Tone is rather a Buzz Tone!.
Schu-Tone comes once more to the rescue for the Mini pedal variety - with its Back Stabber edition. Would that there were a few alternatives!
Considering that Big Muff is my most significant collected category volume-wise - with over 60 representatives now in my collection. It's rather tricky to pick out just a handful of favourites here. As per my recent piece on Big Muff Pi Ranges - I have 7 Muff types which I consider key - Triangle, Ram's Head, Opamp, Civil War, Green Russian, Black Russian and NYC Pi.
I was a little more broader and circumspect for my Tone Bender roundup, while here I'm just straight up going for my favourites which means several Triangle style varieties - which do have individual personalities - but some may feel I could have gone with more diversity - nevertheless these are my all-time favourites.
Most of the deliberation was for the Mini Fuzz - where the action was stiff between the OneControl Baltic Blue Fuzz (Björn Juhl), the D-Sound '73 Ram's Head Mini, Ibanez 850 Mini, and Custom Pedalboards Muff War Mini. My first and most-used Mini Muff to date has been the OneControl Baltic Blue - which is surprisingly versatile for its 3 controls.
There have been quite a few new takes on tis format recently in a variety of different enclosure sizes - and including of course the Danelectro 3699. I have the Danelectro, Basic Audio Foxton, and an earlier single-knob dual footswitch version of the Fjord Fuzz Odin. The new variety of Odin started out as a custom build for a particular customer, but is now joining the main range - with proper dual-channel functionality and tone and gain-shaping dip-switches on both sides. I need to wait for Daniel to send me mine!
Also in this selection is the excellent discontinued Keeley Wolff - which I'm definitely trying to track down a copy of, and I will probably scoop up an MXR La Machine too some day.
For the Mini selection it's between the Tone City Fuxx Fuzz and Schu-Tone Harpy - where I usually award to the more boutique and hand-made variety.
Considering how much I love my Anarchy Audio Baa Bzz, it's a wonder I don't have more this type. I will definitely be getting a Basic Audio Beeb-Ah while those particular ones seem largely made to order. And I quite like the look of the Maxon FF10 Fuzz Elements Fire - will probably call it a day on my own selection when I get to 3 or 4.
The discontinued SUF Son of a Bee is great too as is the discontinued Black Cat Wee Buzz Fuzz - and the Brazilian Trefilio Pedais Black Bee. Not much choice in the Mini department on this occasion - where Schu-Tone comes to the rescue again with its Tigerjaw variety.
This is a great sounding fuzz and actually was the starting circuit for the Fjord Fuzz Embla too - although that is much removed from its source material now. Definitely one of my favourite fuzz varieties!
And so to one of the more recent fuzz derivations which nonetheless has quite a number of decent alternatives. The original box is a medium BB enclosure - so not really suitable here - I though I spotted a few Compact editions - but those are rather serviced replicas and were never made by Prescription Electronics.
The two best-know varieties of this currently are likely the Mythos Argo and DanDrive Austin Blender - of which I have the former in the earlier livery. I don't like the looks of the new Argo as much with its black knobs and slightly less lustrous enclosure! The DanDrive Austin Blender has been under consideration for a while, and yet I'm probably more likely to pick up a Basic Audio Clean Octave Blend or Blammo Slob - note that some of the earlier Blammo varieties were more authentically branded as such - but changed to 'Slop' once Prescription Electronics was revived. All the Prescription Electronics pedals are available again - but they've not really moved them on, and are in slightly and relatively impractical enclosures all things considered.
There have been a lot of discontinued pedals in this category - and the King Tone Octaland actually sits as happily in this category - with its Blend knob - as in the Octavia category above. Other notables include Butterfly Effects Aces & Eights, George Tsomokos / Tsomokos Audio C.O.B. Clone, JAM Pedals COB octave fuzz clone, .PSHC Pdls. Piggy Octa-Fuzz-Boost, RS-Pedals C.O.B Clone, and Super Electric Octaver Clean Octave Blend.
I really struggled to find an exact COB Mini equivalent here - and went therefore for the Pigtronix Octava Mini in the end - which does have a Blend knob - and while it's not exactly the same thing, it kind of qualifies in my book, even though I had it initially assigned against the Octavia category!
Fuzz tends to be such a personal subject and few are as wide-ranging in our appreciation for everything fuzz as I and Basic Audio's John Lyon - who is the only one I know of who has touched on near enough every flavour of fuzz over the years.
Many more people tend to stick in their lanes - and they are strongly and very specifically Fuzz Face, or Tone Bender, or Big Muff fans. There's very few that like every extent of fuzz - including all the weird and wonderful ones - but I am firmly in that category. There's lots of players who will only play fuzz into a driven amp or in tandem with another drive pedal - these are strictly speaking not proper fuzz fans - as they cannot enjoy the raw unadulterated textures of fuzz. It's similar to those who only take their whisky or rum in coke as such - those cannot be the arbiters of taste - and someone who solely enjoys Bacardi and Coke cannot really be seen as a proper rum fan - controversial I know - but true!
I mention throughout this article that I am a little bit skewed at the moment towards Fuzz Face, Big Muff and Tone Bender - while I'm still missing a few of the more unique varieties or at least interesting derivations and deviations - that said, over 250 fuzz pedals across more than 100 brands is not a bad tally thus far, and I already know what's on my list and what's to come.
Rarely a week goes by without my discovering one or more interesting fuzzes - once you get the bug then fuzz likely dominates over everything else. It's certainly true in my case.
Also within this all I have a somewhat practical / practicing approach to fuzz - which literally means no room for those awkward and oversized big box originals - by all means take the circuit and transplant to a slimline enclosure - don't try to sell me a circuit the size of a Jacob's Cream Cracker inside a box that's equivalent to the whole biscuit tin. I know lots of you guys like those stupid big box enclosures - like say the JPTR FX Silvermachine - it's a great sounding circuit, but in a stupid box which just can't easily or otherwise fit on any common-sense pedalboard - I really don't see the point of it in that format. Which is why I will likely never own the Silvermachine, but love the JPTR FX Add Violence Planetary Disorder Unit - another brutal sounding fuzz - but in a fully practical compact enclosure.
Would love to hear your likes and dislikes - as long as they are practical pedals - I admire a lot of those earlier original circuits, but not the boxes they came in!