My big thing his year - apart from the usual pedal-chain ToneQuest has been my separate ’Year of Fuzz’ journey for which this article will probably be a Part 1, even though I’ve already reached most of the goals I set at the start of the year, and am somewhat over quota! When I first started down this road I really did not know too much about fuzz beyond Hendrix really. I did not realise how much fuzz was actually used on so many of my favourite records and tracks. I also love St Vincent, so I was familiar with the spikier side of things, but not really the smooth searing Big Muff tones of players like David Gilmour - I had not really fully considered what was creating those tones. I do find it odd that so many players profess to hate fuzz - when I think they have just and under-developed understanding of what range fuzz can truly cover - as was the case with me at the start.
Within my now classic ’12 Degrees of Saturation’ scale I allocated only 2 slots to fuzz - ’Regular’ and ’Fuzzy-Drive’. I have come to discover that fuzz has many more flavours than Overdrive and Distortion and combines them with other effects in so many interesting ways - just consider the Schumann PLL for instance - which is a particularly special type of really quite complicated Fuzz.
Initially I was looking to acquire overall 25-30 regular / compact size fuzzes (mini fuzzes I treat separately) - but I encountered so many different styles I like - I was soon up to the total of 40 per the above. With the target list chopping and changing on almost a daily basis. I feel with these 40 - I pretty much cover most bases - and in fact cover 17 different types - as indicated in the Type key below and the 2-letter legends in the above image. I had also decided that I would pretty much stick within the compact form factor, as my pedal-chain space is already very tight. Yet I have since come across some larger enclosure fuzzes that I could not ignore - more of that later. I also was privileged to be approved for an Abracadabra Audio Acid-etched Ayahuasca Trem-Fuzz, so one of those will be on its way late July.
For this article, we will focus on the 40 fuzz pedals listed above in alphabetical order by brand. Do note that many of these pedals have extended tonal and saturation / gain ranges and have tonal palettes which can cover several category types (Note too that some of those perceptions can be highly subjective!):
Each pedal above has a number of twin-characters down by its side - the below legend lists which category they belong to (in my estimation):
The most common type of fuzz nowadays uses Silicon transistors - and you can see in the below listing just how many follow this route. As recorded / stated on 'The Big Muff Pi Page' - "The typical Big Muff Pi circuit is made up of 46 components : 4 transistors (Silicon), 22 resistors, 13 capacitors, 4 diodes, and 3 potentiometers". So not quite the simple circuits many people envisage!
The older / vintage style fuzzes use more sensitive and rarer Germanium transistors, while the classic Rat pedals use the LM308 OpAmp chip. There's also one DSP fuzz here (Boss FZ-5), one JFET (Chase Bliss Brothers), and a couple of Germanium + Silicon, and two non-specified Integrated Circuit fuzzes.
This was one of my winners from my Maestro Fuzz shootout - alongside the SolidGoldFX Germanium Rosie. Both sort of straddle the Maestro / Tone Bender divide, while the Rosie can be smoother and more elegant, the aptly named 'Gnarly' is full throttled and fierce. Probably my favourite all-out Maestro type tone.
This one is not mentioned in my 12 Best Tone Bender head-to-head piece, I somehow foolishly overlooked this really versatile Tone Bender style fuzz then - which has a huge range of saturation and tone - enabled by 5 highly interactive dials - Level | Tone | Fuzz | Bias | Fat. This is a great all-rounder Tone Bender.
A highly unusual Gated / Octave Fuzz from Bearfoot FX - which started out as an upgraded Candy Apple Fuzz circuit. It combines several unusual dynamics while the underpinnings are still somewhat Univox Super-Fuzz. This is a tweaker's pedal, and can require some patience - but it does reward careful tweaking with spectacular output.
Note that I have the rarer Germanium edition, while the above demo is for the Silicon version.
This discontinued gem is much loved by many of the more unusual fuzz players - it can sound too gritty and harsh for regular fuzz fans. This is another take on the Univox Super-Fuzz with some interesting voicing options. Quite a lot of these were made - so be careful with how much you pay for yours from Ebay or Reverb.com.
This is actually a rather fine take on the Fuzz Face style, not as searing and saturated as some, but stands out nicely in the mix. I got the Boss FZ-2 first, and then thought I might as well do a head-to-head with this one too. It's not quite up to the standard of my favourite Fuzz Faces, but it comes close enough for most.
This one I acquired after the other 2 Boss fuzzes - partly out of sake of completion, and partly to see if some of the harsher reviews and criticisms were justified. It's a rather unusual pedal in being the only Digital Signal Processing one here - using the Roland / Boss 'Composite Object Sound Modeling' technology.
Of the 3 different voicings, the first Fuzz Face style one is somehow the least satisfying, and particularly when compared with the previous FZ-3. The Maestro and Octave modes are pretty decent though - and getting all 3 modes in one pedal really can't be bad. I will admin that this one does not get much rotation, but it's an interesting pedal of its own accord nonetheless, and was a useful part of this whole process even is an aside.
This is probably the most infuriatingly 'Marmite' pedal of those listed (even more so than the Fuzz Factory) - a weird highly dynamic square-wave oscillating fuzz - which reacts very sensitively to Gravity and Space dials in particular, as well as Guitar Volume and Tone dials - each of which impacts intensity, texture and speed. It can be frustrating to use at times - but is magic when you hit on the right combination! Obviously a leftfield choice, and one for the oddball crowd - but sill fun!
I'm a big 'Rat' (ProCo) fan, and this is an interesting mix of Rat and Tone Bender tonal characteristics, with plenty of grunt on-tap. I have a number of harder Rat style pedals, but this sounds great in its own way too, and is an interesting pedal of its own accord - actually not on too dissimilar lines to the VFE Alpha Dog.
This is an official replica of one of the earlier classic rawer fuzzes - closest in output really to the Maestro style - can sound a touch unrefined for some, but has a nice bitey cutting quality that holds well in the mix. Not necessarily one of my overall favourite fuzzes, but another one with interesting pedigree and worthy of a route marker within fuzz history.
This is one of my pretty much permanent Fuzz pedals - occupying now slot #20 on a fixed basis since I acquired it. It is of course a multi-drive pedal with Boost, Overdrive and Fuzz modes, but mine is always parked in at least one of the fuzz modes. A highly versatile pedal and worthy of a space on most pedalboards.
This is both one of my most recently acquired and one of the most recently launched. A sort of JHS Muffuletta style pedal with Fuzz Face, Rangemaster and 3 Tone Bender voicings. It's that classic 2-dial format fuzz really plus a mode selector - which gives you plenty of voicing range, but for tonal-sculpting you need to rely on your guitar dials. So no good for those players who don't like tone dials on their guitars.
A pair of BC109C Silicon Transistors create one of the thickest and most fabulously rich Silicon Fuzz Face type sounds around. Obviously the enclosure is somewhat gimmicky and this is to a degree a collector's pedal - but it sounds amazing too, so style AND substance if that's your thing!
This amazing pedal was a firm fixture on my board for the longest time - being at its essence one of the most versatile Fuzz pedals ever, but also an exceptional multi-mode modulation pedal. I have found fuzz pedals that I like more, and same goes for the big-box modulation workstations, but nothing else comes close within this compact enclosure form factor.
This is another of my semi-permanent fuzz fixtures alongside the Chase Bliss Brothers - it combines searing Rat-style frazzly charged electrical fuzz with high gain distortion. You can dial in all manner of different flavours, while I tend to favour a rather full on 'electrical storm' variation of the Rat sound. One of the rare fuzzes with a full 3-Band EQ - it has the most amazing range. I would recommend to any Rat fans - this is my go-to Rat and has been since I acquired it.
This one wasn't particularly on my radar - I'm often suspicious of artist branded gear - particularly dead ones which cannot vouch for quality control. In this case Andertons put me onto this - I forget the specific episodes, but there were a couple where this sounded amazing. I believe Dunlop somewhat oversold these, or at least stores over-stocked them - so you should be able to find them at a reasonable price.
I'm generally a big fan of Big Muff tones - all the classic varieties, but not in their vintage-size enclosures with special power requirements. The JHS Mufuletta covers a number of the main varieties, but I always wanted the OpAmp version, as well as an EHX reissued Green Russian. JHS Pedals do some exceptional modifications of EHX pedals - where you get extra voicing toggles and dials - so more range for a little more outlay. If I can, I always try to get the JHS modded version - as I have done here.
In its stock form this pedal can sound pretty grating, but this JHS Modded version adds a voicing toggle to boost mid or low range, as well as an additional saturation dial - giving you a much more usable Maestro style tone. It's not in the same high-end category as the Basic Audio Gnarly, but you can make this Modded version make a really decent Maestro style sound.
This Big Muff Green/Black Russian Muff Style pedal with boost was my main 'Muff' pedal for a while, and took over duties from the JHS Muffuletta - offering more individual range, but not all the different voicing options. I am a big fan of Foxpedals and at one stage had 3 as primaries in my pedal-chain, they are all now exceptional deputies.
This w'RAT'h style pedal briefly took over from the Frazz Dazzler - just for sake of something different really, and it is a very accomplished Rat-style pedal - while I still prefer the Frazz Dazzler. The Wrath though makes for an excellent deputy, I just so like the Frazz Dazzler that the other Rat options aren't getting much of a look-in nowadays.
This was my first compact-size mainstay fuzz pedal - it edged aside the really super Mini EWS Little Fuzzy Drive - providing 6 'Muff' style voicings in one pedal. It was later mostly ousted by the Foxpedal Defector, but does still put in an appearance every now and again in my pedal-chain.
A much touted unique fuzz circuit which covers a lot of ground and sort of starts with a Big Muff voicing at its core but then adds a few tone-sculpting options to take it in quite distinct directions - including the highly dynamic gating / compression 'Squish' function.
At one stage I was most interested in the Monsterpiece MKI Tone Bender clone, but then came across this unique 6-dial Scratchy-Snatch owned by a Singaporean collector and listed on Reverb.com. It's pretty unique as I understand - having separate Treble/Hi and Bass/Lo dials alongside the usual Transistor Bias, Input Bias, Volume and Fuzz Saturation. The regular Scratchy Snatches have 5 dials, including single Tone dial - versus the 2-Band EQ on mine. A tasty Fuzz-Face style contender.
Note that above demo features the regular 5-knob version.
For whatever reason, this was the last fuzz acquired before I started writing this piece - while it's one of the fuzzes that's been on my wishlist for the longest time. I in fact acquired its bigger sibling - the Alpha Haunt - a couple of weeks before this one. It is an exceptional Velcro / Gated style fuzz - a little more controllable than the Zvex Fuzz Factory and slightly different tonally too - more core Big Muff / Fuzz-Drive than Fuzz-Face.
I caught this one on both Pedal of the Day and Livingroom Gear Demos on the same day. Boutique Croatian Pedal-Maker Darko Vajda has two excellent fuzz pedals to his name, and I preferred the more compact format Narwhal - with classic 3-dial fuzz layout, but then several clipping and tone-shaping options to take you into more interesting territory - this has a huge range from fairly subtle overdrive into quite heavy fuzzstortion.
This was my primary pedal in the main rotation slot for a while - taking over duties from the Foxpedal Defector, and itself rotating with the Thorpy Fallout Cloud and Shift Line Termo Fuzz. It has an amazing soaring saturated Fuzz Face sounds which is slightly more on the Fuzz Face than Tone Bender side of the spectrum - although their are of course overlaps.
If you're looking for the one fuzz that pretty much does it all - then this is the one for you! There are fuzzes which do individual aspects here slightly better, but overall the only thing that comes sort of close is the Dr Scientist BitQuest, and that's something slightly different. This has a wonderful searing sort of Ghost Note / Octave type effect throughout much of its range, but can do overdrive and distortion also - with weird harmonic warbles and oscillations. It's currently ousted by the Spaceman Effects Titan II, but will be back in play again soon - as these two are on my current rotation fo the #19 slot.
The Zvex Woolly Mammoth 7 is a significantly larger proposition - so Side Effects have done a marvellous job of reducing the form factor of their clone down to compact size enclosure - while including an oscillating function also - to make it even more special. It does not sound exactly identical, but overlaps most significantly in the texture of fuzz it generates, and its capable of a wide range of tones - both oddball and more conventional - a really cool pedal.
A slightly different take on the Fuzz Face style versus my other favourite - the ProAnalog Devices Mk IV. The BC109 is named after the Silicon transistors it uses. The Mini Turd above generates a woollier and thicker Fuzz Face tone, while this is more searing and focused - for cutthing through in the mix.
A homage to 2 of David Gilmour's favourite Big Muff tones - the P19 (pig!) has almost as wide a range as the Thorpy Fallout Cloud, and has a significant degree of overlap - while each maintains it own overall identity. Both of those 'Muff' styles are very much within the Gilmour fuzz tone mould.
The first Skreddy pedal I acquired was the above BC109 - as a result of my Fuzz Face research, I had quite forgotten about the Skreddy Trifecta of Screwdrive Mini Deluxe, Hybdrid Fuzz Driver and Lunar Module Mini Delux - so I set about getting each of those. The advice tends to be that this Hybrid Fuzz Driver works better on Humbuckers and that the Lunar Module does similar things for Single Coils - yet they have different Transistor components and a slightly different tone and attack - so I'm happy with both. Both have a huge range of gain and smart tone-shaping options for all the different flavours of fuzz/drive.
As reported above, the advice from Mr Skreddy Marc Ahls is that the Lunar Module works better with Single Coil pickups while the Hybrid Fuzz Driver is really intended for Humbuckers. It's true that the Lunar Module has a different bite and attack on humbuckers, but I really like both these pedals and tune them somewhat differently in any case.
This is another pedal which straddles the Maestro / Tone Bender divide, and while the Basic Audio Gnarly is kind of full-throated and aggressive, the Germanium Rosie can be a lot smoother and refined. Both these pedals can sound quite different texturally really, while they do have some slight degree of overlap too.
This was my favourite Octave pedal when I did the Octave / Octavia head-to-head reviews. My namesake Stefan Fast over at the Pedal Zone has come to love this pedal too - and I've include his demo this time for a change.
Truly one of my favourite fuzzes - in essence a full-on Germanium Fuzz Face type with two toggles - one which activates Sync / Crazy Artifacts Mode, and the other of which cuts some of the low frequencies to make it even more cutting and laser-focused. The Sync / Crazy Mode introduces some seemingly randomised harmonic noise - and you have a further texture / Scan dial to ramp that up. Spaceman Zak specialises in harmonic richness and this pedal has that in spades.
This is a hugely versatile Silicon Fuzz-Drive / Fuzzstortion Fuzz - which covers a lot of ground with just 3 dials. There are great dynamics between the Tone and Gain dials and you get all manner of different Fuzz tones from subtle to full-throttle. I'm not sure it has quite the same low-end punch of its Rumblefuzz predecessor, but it gets you at least partway there.
I think it was Dennis Kayzer who put me on the trail of this one. A really cool osciallating / Trem-Fuzz and significantly less dear than my forthcoming Abracadabra Audio Ayahuasca. Fuzz and Oscillation just goes really well together and results in some magnificent pedals like the Shumann PLL. In most ways my Catalinbread Antichthon above is also a Trem-Fuzz as such, but that one is more of an oddball effect versus the Harmonic Antagonizer and Ayahuasca. All three can sound tremendous of course, but the more effects you mix together typically the more tweaking is required - which is fine for us pedal tweakers, while others may not have the patience for it.
When I first heard this is proclaimed 'The Fuzz for people who don't like Fuzzes', and was even a little dismissive of the Fallout Cloud versus other more aggressive Big Muffs that I had tried. Yet persistence pays off, and this is actually one of the finest Big Muff style pedals ever created - with beautiful and refined harmonic textures, but capable of getting pretty full throated too, but not necessarily to some of the raunchier Muffs out there. Pretty much everyone agrees that this is a bonafide classic, and I believe Thorpy's bestselling pedal to date.
In a similar way that I was initially slightly dismissive of the Fallout Cloud, I had a similar reaction to the Alpha Dog on my earliest listens - as this too can get relative mild and refined, which is at the opposite end of the spectrum to my well-loved Frazz Dazzler - which is just full-on everything. Nevertheless, and with some perseverance you discover that the Alpha Dog is one of the most versatile drive pedals ever build - giving you all manner of different drive, fuzz and distortion sounds throughout a rather extensive range of gain. Much like the Fallout Cloud, this has become one of my long-term favourites too.
Another supposedly unique fuzz circuit using a Big Muff style core tone as a base and then a clipping toggle and bass boost to get you into heavier territory. An all round great Fuzz-Drive style pedal which sits nicely with the other ones mentioned in this list. You certainly don't need all of them, but all of these listed are really good.
You've heard this spikey fuzz on lots of records and may have wondered what that sound was - the orginal bad boy of fuzz has a teenage temperament and can reduce grown men to sobbing wrecks. In other words its a great in-your-face noise-maker which requires a little patience with dialling in. Most people get this one wrong by not realising you need to adjust several dials in tandem - you can't just leave everything at 12 o'clock and then play around with an individual dial - you will get lots of unusable quirky sounds that way. For those who have the knack, there are few pedals more satisfying when you hit a sweet-spot. This though is diametrically opposed to the Fallout Cloud. If you are not a pedal tweaker and lack patience and perseverance then go for a simpler fuzz, or the Fallout Cloud or Wampler's Velvet Fuzz. There are a number of fuzzes out there engineered for players who are generally more comfortable in traditional overdrive territory. So don't be one of those who is disparaging about the Fuzz Factory - several player name it the Emperor's New Clothing or the worst fuzz ever - they just don't know how to dial it in!
So I originally had a milestone of 25 fuzzes, which expanded to 35 and then ended up at the above listed 40. But it's only July now, and this Year of Fuzz is nowhere near over yet, and there is still more out there that warrants consideration. I already mentioned that I have an Abracadabra Ayahuasca on the way - which should be here late this month or early next, and there are several more pedals that have caught my attention - like the new V2 White Atom from Magnetic Effects.
I still harbour a desire to obtain a Spaceman Gemini III and Rumblefuzz, but frankly the likelihood is slim. Also in the district of 'unobtanium' is the more obscure Paul Trombetta Design Bone Machine GTX - the one with all the toggle switches!
I've confessed to being a huge fan of mini fuzzes - which I cover off separately, and even though I swore off larger size enclosure fuzzes, I have actually acquired some of those too recently and have one or two more in my sights. For the purposes of this particular article we will concentrate on the Compact format though, and the following list includes some that I kind of meant to get and did not get around to or went for different options at the time, as well as many more that I have come across and liked along the way ...
For those who say they hate fuzz it's just exposing a degree of ignorance really, as if they look into the back catalogue of music they love, there is bound to be a few track which make use of some of the iconic fuzz tones. You may have had bad luck with certain pedals, you may not have persevered long enough to get to a decent outcome. Your perfect fuzz is out there though - and sometimes you need to seek it out.
As a musician you should always be open to new influences and different tones and textures. I find it odd that some people hold fast within such a narrow gauge of possibilities. There's also Guitar + Amp types vs us pedalmaniacs. We obviously like to experiment with an extended palette - and forge new and interesting combinations, rather than just exactly replicate someone's core tone form circa 40 or 50 years ago.
Pedalboards / pedal-chains are in fact Spice Racks as I look at them, and some of us like to try all the flavours, while others stick to just salt and pepper, and a little chill oil on the side.
Fuzz is alive and dynamic and dangerous - many pedals have a famously unreliable temperament - which also makes them fun for experimentation and inspiration. I think you would have to be very dull indeed not to take fancy to at least one or two of these fuzzes featured.