I thought I should do a sort of recap roundup of some of the recent more extended-range fuzz pedals that have been in my considerations. Two of these I have had in my possession for a wee while - The Fjord Fuzz Berserk V2 and Kuro Akuma - while the Pettyjohn Rail Fuzz is currently winging its way towards me - and should hopefully land relatively soon. The Catalinbread Giygas is riding high on my acquisitions wishlist but I have yet to pull the trigger on it - I have pretty much decided that yes I like that too and will undoubtedly acquire it some day soon - while I may well hold out for a discounted version. As is always the case there are a lot of priorities to juggle here and my acquisitions are balanced to serve this blog, as well as my ongoing pedal-chain needs. So priorities shift quite regularly to meet each of those demands.
Update! - I so liked the Giygas in doing this review (as often happens) that I decided I just had to have that - and as it’s generally quite widely available in the UK currently - it has already arrived - somewhat ahead of the previously ordered Pettyjohn Rail - funny how some things work out!
Although each of these are in fact their own individual variety of fuzz and quite distinct from each other in many ways, they do all however share the ability to range into a variety of different textures and flavours - and each accomplishes this in its own way. All have something unique to offer - and by virtue of its particular controls - the Giygas is actually probably the most versatile here - but more of that later.
With its smart Tone Controls and Dry-Blend - the Giygas can really approximate most of the classic varieties - Fuzz Face, Tone Bender and Big Muff. The Kuro Akuma is sort of a mix of high-gain Fuzz Face, Jordan Boss Tone and Univox Super Fuzz. The Fjord Fuzz Berserk V2 is sort of based on the Colorsound Supa Tonebender Muff - but straddles nicely into more classic Tone Bender territory. And the Pettyjohn Rail is hugely versatile too - and while it sits mostly in Fuzz Face / Muff territory - its dual-band EQ and variable notched Drive control can put it into several adjacent territories also. All of these are very firmly in the all-rounder camp - while some have slightly more extended range than others both up and down the scale - interestingly there is no direct overlap here really - the core tonalities of each at default are all pretty distinct.
It’s impossible for me to separate these out into some order of precedence or preference as I feel each has different characteristics that likely appeal to different types of players. If you’re a fuzz fanatic like me though - you really need to have them all!
Here follow the individual details :
I can't explain exactly why - but initially this pedal for some weird reason somehow appealed to me the least initially of this quartet, and was the last to be acquired as such. I've often stated how random the pedal acquisition process can be in terms of what your influences and triggers are at any given time - and depending on your focus at the time you may well overlook or get the initial take on a pedal a touch wrong. The more I've gotten to grips with the Giygas (perhaps it was the name?) though, the more I like it and value how it's been engineered. It is an unspecified 3-Transistor Fuzz type circuit with a Tilt EQ, ±10dB 900Hz Active Mids Control and a Dry-to-Wet Mix / Blend. It has huge amounts of gain / Fuzz on tap and enormous volume - likely enabled by the internal charge pump - all ingredients that I really I like. The cleverness of the top row of controls means you can blend in so many different varieties of overdrive / fuzzy-drive / fuzz and fuzzstortion that I can't see how you could get a more wide-ranging pedal with this amount of controls. The ability to tweak and finesse so many aspects of the fuzz really gives you the most incredible all-rounder which can very impressively touch on most varieties of those classic fuzzes - Fuzz Face, Tone Bender and Big Muff. Some of my other Catalinbread pedals have suffered from insufficient output for my liking, while that is certainly not the case here. This is a really cleverly designed and engineered fuzz that should appeal to the widest range of players - even those who profess to not really like fuzz. I can't explain why I wasn't more captivated with this pedal earlier on, but I certainly am now!
I wrote in some detail recently how I initially happened to chance across this fuzz on the Fuzztopia Facebook Group. It's crisp looks obviously hooked me in initially, but it was the demo that was the clincher - that wonderful full-textured tone really appealed from first encounter. This 6 x BC109 fuzz has a wonderful harmonic bloom to it - which is much tighter and more focused than a Super Fuzz - but obviously owes a lot to that flavour. There are distinct Jordan Boss Tone characteristics here too - and if you lower both Fuzz and Intensity Controls you get into some very pleasant Fuzz Face style tones. The magic here is the core circuit itself - the interplay between the Fuzz and Intensity Controls and the Active Hi/Lo Baxandall Tone Controls. This also has a lovely percolating sustain which lasts for days - and plenty of range on every dial. And it sounds amazing on both Bass and Guitar. It is distinct from the other 3 in this category for having those Super-Fuzz sort of overtones, but it's every bit as versatile. I still have it on my #5 slot through to the end of July - where I will be mixing up the pedal-chain a touch more. Since July is largely about fuzz - there are likely to be more fuzzes in evidence in the chain - so we'll need to see exactly how all that pans out. There's something about the Akuma though that really appeals to my sensibilities - it surely has some sort of addictive quality and is just a joyful experience to play through!
It's been a while since I featured a Fjord Fuzz on this blog - which is actually probably my favourite fully modern fuzz brand. Daniel Thornhill really has a way with circuits - where he delivers them raw, full-throttled and visceral - but with some suitably clever controls too - which always do a little more than you initially think they would/should. That's part of the fun with Fjord Fuzzes is that they are fairly unleashed as such and you can take them to interesting places where other fuzz-builders might have put some limits in place. The Mushroom central symbol on this fuzz is typically used to indicate Bias in Fjord-Fuzz's lexicogrammatical symbolism, and the four controls here denote Volume, Gain/Fuzz, Thickness and Mids. Each of those dials has a huge range, and by spiking the Mids control and dropping the thickness a touch you can get into some lovely Tone Bender adjacent tones. The core circuit started off as a somewhat loose derivation of a Colorsound Supa Tonebender - oddly Colorsound's only Muff variety - probably closest to Ram's Head in flavour overall. I currently have 6 Daniel Thornhill pedals - actually 2 are still on the way - but there's certainly something distinct about Daniel's approach and style which is quite distinct from more traditional approaches. The Berserk V2 was a limited edition a couple of months back - but if you ask him really nicely I'm sure he will make you one on commission! Actually - Daniel has recently informed me that the Berserk platform will be a testbed for new fuzz ideas - which will be released periodically in batches of 10 or so - meaning that the next Berserk - V3 will be quite different from the V2 - so you had best start collecting them now!
This is another pedal that I wasn't initially totally captivated by - something about Pettyjohn's mods options always leaves me with an uneasy feeling. The Pettyjohn mods are sold as 'upgrades' rather than options - with can make the standard pedal sound somewhat underwhelming from a brand positioning standpoint. So I always get conflicted when I go in on the Pettyjohn site - as in do I really need those mods - is the standard version not good enough? In any case a few demos in I was more confident about the Rail's capabilities which generates its breakup texture / distortion not via traditional transistors and diode clipping means, but rather boosts the signal with extreme levels of gain - direct into the voltage rails of the circuit. The Lows are pre-gain passive sweepable low frequencies from 30Hz to 1kHz, while the Highs are post-gain sweepable high frequencies from 1kHz to 22 kHz. The pedal also has an internal voltage-doubling circuit to take it to 18V. While the most distinctive feature is the progressive 8-notches Drive control which build up level of gain and saturation right up to the final 'Infinity' mode which adds gating to the highest level of gain. The core tone of this is deeper and darker than say the Catalinbread Giygas and I would say somewhat Muff adjacent, and while the Rail doesn't have quite the extremes of tone-shaping that the Catalinbread variety possesses - it nonetheless lets you travel into a number of adjacent areas from the somewhat Muff-sounding base character of the fuzz.
Depending on your own sensibilities here and what your typical preferences are - you are likely to be more drawn in by one variety over another. But I personally really struggle to separate these in preference - while you could argue that the Giygas's specific combination of controls makes is the the most versatile overall in this listing.
I would say that the Giygas probably has the widest appeal and particularly for players who don't necessarily typically like fuzzes. For those who really love fuzzes though - I would have thought they would be more excited to try out the slightly more nuanced flavours of the Fjord Fuzz Berserk V2 and Kuro Akuma, while the Pettyjohn is rather more neutral as such and sits somewhere between the Giygas and the Akuma and Berserk V2.
We're all people of odd idiosyncratic extremes and often like different things at different times. And I find I get a different kind of kick out of each of my pedals depending on my mood and prevailing circumstances. There's not a huge discrepancy in price here, while some like the Kuro Akuma have a more hands-on construction and others are more PCB / SMT -centric and machine-assisted let's say.
The one thing that is clear here is that these are all excellent sounding fuzzes with heaps of extended variety and versatility and should be to most players' liking - particularly those of us who love fuzz!
Update! - The Pettyjohn Rail has just been handed over to me - quite an auspicious day really - not sure I was expecting it quite that quick - Prymaxe shipped it on 29th June - which really isn't that long ago! USA to UK typically takes quite a bit longer - particularly in these days of Covid-19 - so this is a minor miracle really.