It turns out that I’m quite the fan of deep and dark sludgy fuzzes. This post was actually inspired by a YouTube demo of the Slomatics Belfast Fuzz Machine Edition of the celebrated single-knob D*A*M M-13 Meathead.
I so liked the demo that I then started looking out for fuzzes that got me into similar territory - before realising that I actually already had a couple of my own - the Greenhouse Sludgehammer and Occvlt Furious Dope.
And since I started writing this piece I had the opportunity to acquire a couple more - the MidValleyFX Mad Robot and Nine of Swords Tyrant. The latter named being in fact a clone / variation of the D*A*M Meathead - as is the last pictured Sunmachine Fuzz O))).
I’ve long sought out the Blackhawk Balrog V3 - and in fact included it in my most recent High Gain / Metal pedals roundup. It sits right on the boundary of metal and fuzz - and is one of the very best heavy sludge machines out there.
The Earthbound Audio Super Collider is based on a Big Muff circuit which gets you into similar territory while the Minotaur Sonic Terror Mud Giant sounds like it’s in that core Silicon Meathead territory too. These in the main seem to be somewhat Fuzz-Face derived circuit using the highest gain Silicon type transistors, while we also broach Muff territory here as mentioned, and the Balrog actually utilises a trio of TL072 JFET OpAmps deliciously cascading into each other.
I’m sure there are many more suitable candidates out there and will gladly take on further readers’ suggestions. In this instance it was the demo videos that had to have the right degree of appeal - playing style, accentuation etc. I’m sure I encountered some decent alternatives, but the demos weren’t wholly up to the task. I am looking for something really dark and doom here with a tonne of saturation - sort of like molten lava!
In any case here follow a few more details on each along with my deliberations and the very pertinent demo videos :
I really don't have to go into too many details here - the excellent above video tells you everything you need to know - and this has been featured so many times on this site most should already be aware of it. You have six knobs here to dial in just the right degree of doom :
As I mentioned - this has been on my wishlist for far too long now - I really need to reel one in by the end of the year. It sounds just tremendous to me.
So the above video demo of the M-13 Slomatics Edition and some of the material from that self same Belfast-based band are what inspired this post. While there is some degree of complication in deciding which version of this fuzz will actually be best for me. In many ways I really quite want the simplest version per the reference, but there seem to be at least 4 variants to choose from :
Most of the varieties of this fuzz come in somewhat unappealing pastel colours - typically baby blue or pink. While I like the more monochromatic efforts. By all accounts the 3-knob editions are a little more fiddly to dial in because of a somewhat quirky range taper on the dials. So I'm probably thinking this is one instance where a single knob may be preferable. I will likely try to seek out a Slomatics edition in black as pictured here. Notably also is that this is one of David Main's D*A*M flagship pedals - and it literally has hundreds of clones out there - including two on this very listing.
It seems the magic of the Meathead is in its use of two unmatched / disparate Silicon Transistors. Whereas with Fuzz Faces you normally have two of the same kind evenly matched, the Meathead uses variously at odds combinations including - 2N3904 + BC107, BC337 + BC182L, BC182L + 2N3904 and BC182L + BC239C etc!
I keep meaning to get something from Earthbound Audio - Throat Locust, Iron Pig, Centurion and now of course probably its best known pedal the Supercollider - which used to sit in a medium vertical enclosure, but now occupies a silver or black compact 125B style shell. This is a very distinct Big Muff style circuit with a huge low end component - perfect for sludge. It has 6 controls :
As mentioned previous, most of the Sludgy Fuzz pedals tend to be largely Fuzz Face style circuits with 2 or three unmatched transistors of different types, there are of course several specialist varieties of Muff style circuits too which are good for this style, but they're not always obviously labelled or identified as such. Note that I could not find any demos of the latest compact format - so we use the slightly older model - per above.
This was in fact my first Sludge Fuzz as such (OpAmp based) - and a pretty good example of the genre it is too. Which really mostly needs to be in Vintage Mode to get the most of that deep Sludge impact. The Modern mode tightens things up considerably which actually can sound pretty amazing too, but you don't get all that low frequency goodness that way! It has 5 useful controls :
This is a really cool example of the type, I would like it to be even a little more grind though - doesn't quite go to 11!
This is a slightly different and distinct execution of Fuzz which you can easily dial into the required territory, but has lots of other aces up its sleeve too. It has a droning oscillator option and upper octave at its core and essentially two different modes of use. It also has 5 simply numbered controls as follows
For ultimate sludge you would likely be turning dials 2, 3 and 4 pretty much all the way down! There's tonnes of fun to be had with this pedal - and it looks like MidValley are carving out a really interesting niche for themselves, I also have their pretty phenomenal Secret Weapon fuzz. I pretty much like everything they do - and will likely look to get in most of this fuzz range at some stage or other - including for sure the Fuzz Vision, Peaks and Takeover Fuzzes!
I included Minotaur Sonic Terrors in my Best of Greek Pedal Makers overview a while back. At the time they did not quite make my top 9 - there are obviously some very heavyweight Greek builders out there - the likes of Crazy Tube Circuits, JAM Pedals, Tsakalis Audioworks and VS Audio. On balance I think actually that Minotaur ST would be in the top ranks if I did the same exercise today. They have a number of suitable candidates for sludge monsters, but in the Compact Pedal stakes it's really between the Evil Eye MKI and earlier MKI version of Mud Giant. They also have the larger / mid-size enclosure Fuzz & Burn and Swamp Lord pedals, which don't fit the size criteria for this listing but would otherwise qualify. There are just 3 controls on the Mud Giant :
I weighed up between the Evil Eye and Mud Giant - and it was a 50/50 sort of decision. As I went for the 1-knob D*A*M Meathead - I though I may as well go with the 3-control version here rather than the 1-knob Evil Eye.
I believe this is still the best value Meathead style sludge fuzz you can get, and many believe it to be Jonathan Wesson's best effort to-date too. Available in red or black livery, I of course went for the sludgier black - just waiting for that to land now, should be with me any day now. Be interesting to see which transistors Jonathan has used here (actually 2N3904 + BC182L). This is in effect, but not exactly a D*A*M M-13 Meathead clone - with just the typical single knob. Sounds great, and is light on the wallet! Surely every home should have one therefore.
I have two of Adrian's pedals - this and the former Amethyst Dope Fuzz. I believe the Furious Dope is just a little bit more doomy and it has that cool array of 3 switches all in a row.
He has since launched and even more heavy-weight medium-enclosure Dope V2 Fuzz - which I'm still considering - it obviously does not fit the criteria of this selection, and in any case - if I can - I would rather have my fuzzes in compact enclosures!
I believe this is another self confessed D*A*M Meathead clone - Dark variety but with some differences - the addition of a Low Pass Filter 'Low' and 3 selectable Input Capacitors named Dark, DLX and 666 as below :
Sunmachine has produced a variety of these - the newer ones are in a sort of Zvex-style horizontal compact enclosure which I have never liked. I would be looking out for some of the slightly rarer previous limited editions - like the one pictured above - which is my favourite edition of this particular pedal to date. Of course this means you need to bide your time and stalk Reverb.com for the perfect opportunity!
There's something peculiarly endearing about these endlessly sludgy fuzzes - like the feeling of wading through molten lava, congealing tar or treacle even that is just fascinating for me at the moment. I still feel they could go even doomier with an almost tangible chewy wall of fuzz that feels like you are being blown by a fuzz-storm. Even though I've covered a wide variety here from 1 to 6 knobs - I feel there are many more great examples of this genre that I'm not sufficiently well acquainted with yet.
There's also a magic formula in keeping it just the right side of musical and controllable fuzz - while it's also fun like on the MidValley Mad Robot to step over that line of chaos. I still think there is plenty of scope for the ultimate doom machine here - with more tonal-sculpting and control over the character and structure of the fuzz.
I can totally see the appeal of the Meathead legend and wonder why I wasn't captivated by it sooner. This is just effortless fun for us home-players where you can literally spend hours playing around in the deep end of the sludge pool - kist oozing out those really satisfying wobbly tones.
As a former and some-time DJ I was big fan of the early Warp Records Bass and Bleep phase and this somewhat recalls those emotions for me. It's akin to wielding some sort of sonic doom death-ray weapon (minus the devastation). I feel this is a particular genre that will endure for me.
Having 4 hear is not nearly enough - I pretty much want all of those featured here that I don't already have - in particular the top-row - probably in that order. We will see how that shapes out for the rest of the year what with Covid-19 and all that. Are any of you into these particular types of fuzzes too? Drop me a line with some further recommendations ...