This is a somewhat belated follow-up to my Mini Pedals State of the Art article where I covered the new benchmarks in mini pedal engineering, quality and design. I’m actually really taken with mini pedals that use the highest quality components and construction, and ideally have classy milled-aluminium knobs as pictured!
For the longest time I’ve considered Guillem Vilademunt of Decibelics as the pinnacle of this particular craft. And it heartens me to see Dave Friesema operating on a similar level - with the ultimate attention to detail - and proper highest quality Through-Hole component construction.
After my State of the Art feature I got in touch with Dave Friesema, and commissioned him to deliver to me three of his mini masterpieces - these are the ones pictured in the top-row of the above visual - the Clusterfuzz Micro, Hive Mind Micro Fuzz (Buzzaround) and Professional MKIII Fuzz (Tone Bender MKIII).
I’ve been patiently waiting for Dave to make the wider range more available, and the second row is testament to that - with the Clay Jones Overdrive Micro, Octavus Octave Fuzz Micro and MiniTaur Klone Overdrive. The value for money here is exceptional too as each of these jewels retails for $169.
Dave will be periodically adding individual pieces from his custom line - which has over the years included this full alphabetical line-up of 17 Mini/Micro pedals :
I’m delighted with the output, feel etc. of my own initial trio of representatives and will undoubtedly be getting a few more eventually - certainly including the Skeleton Rat and Violet Ram’s Head.
This to me is one of those perfect marriages of form and function and absolutely ideal for analog drive and fuzz circuits in particular. I feel that all the elements here are perfectly matched - through design and execution. I’ve always liked mini pedals to a significant degree - even though my favourite pedal form-factor is the slightly larger standard compact variety - where you can fit two footswitches in side-by-side - for some really clever manipulation - as pioneered by Chase Bliss Audio and Jackson Audio for instance.
Mini pedals are often approached from the perspective of space-savers or for some other efficiency or economic reasons - while the quality of these pedals means that they could very well be the favourite choice for a particular category - as the two Decibelics are for mine. You obviously cannot accommodate quite as broad a feature-set or tone-shaping ability as for larger formats, but there are numerous areas where 4 knobs plus a toggle or two is absolutely the right combination.
I feel there are a number of players out there who would really love these - and I encourage you to check them out!
Here follows a little more detail on each of the 6 pedals featured above. Note that these are all so recent that there aren’t any proper demo videos out yet. I partly left it this long for there to be some further audiovisual materials - but they don’t seem to be in any hurry to materialise - so I though I might as well get the word out :
Function F(x)'s full-size Clusterfuzz original flagship modern fuzz has 6 controls with 5 clipping options and a Filter Switch in its medium-sized enclosure - Volume, Tone, Fuzz, 8-Bit, Filter and Clipping - None, LED, FET, Silicon 1, Silicon 2. The Jr Compact version drops to 5 controls - Volume, Tone, Fuzz, 3-way Clipping (LED, None, Silicon) and the 8-Bit knob gets reduced to a 2-way 8/24-Bit toggle. While the Micro version featured here sits somewhere in-between - with the original's 4 full-range knobs and a 3-way clipping toggle-switch on the side for - MOSFET/None/Silicon variations. The first custom versions of the Clusterfuzz Micro also had a second Filter toggle on the side to activate a different voicing - like the original version. Dave reports though that having this extra switch made the build extremely finicky and introduced some fragility into the circuit which he decided he was better off with leaving out. I feel that everyone should have a copy of this super versatile fuzz which delivers all manner of tones - albeit that there are significant gaps in output level between each of the different clipping options. It features 4 transistors - 2 x 2N7000 Mosfet + 2N5089C + MPSA13. This is such an easy fuzz to dial in I can't see how most would not love this. There are still no proper YouTube demos in the wild - so I've referenced the original pedal which is pretty much the same circuit.
A classic 3 x Germanium Transistor fuzz - using 3 x 2N404 Tranistors - which funnily enough are exactly the same style of transistors used in the Professional MKIII - but the differences in the circuit make-up and the different tone controls make for a significantly different and distinct output. The Hive Mind has Tilt (Tilt EQ), Level, Sustain and Timbre - the last mentioned being something of a Bias pot but not exactly. This delivers slightly more cutting and aggressive tones than the Professional MKIII which of course has that classic MKIII style creamy saturation.
When you open this one up and see the same 3 x 2N404 Germanium Transistor types as the Hive Mind - you might be led into thinking that the Professional MKIII would sound somewhat similar to the Hive Mind - while they actually sound quite distinct - where the Professional has that lovely sustaining creamy saturation so associated with this particular Tone Bender style circuit, and the Buzzaround is somewhat more cutting and aggressive in nature. This fuzz actually rounds up my 3 x Function F(x) Micro Fuzzes really nicely and you get 3 very distinctive sounding and complementary circuits - of which the Clusterfuzz is probably the star performer owing to its somewhat broader tonal range. All 3 really sound terrific and were you not staring at the enclosure you would have though that big sound surely came out of something a little bigger! There are no demos available of this pedal yet - I will update when one materialises.
A certain hobbyist boutique builder Clay Jones made just 58 copies of his 'Overdrive' pedal back around 2004/5 over a period of 9 months and 50 were put on sale for $219 - which were snapped up almost immediately and started a sort of mini Klone type Ebay hype - with the most expensive example being sold to a Japanese collector purportedly for circa $1,500 a few months later, and some on sale on Ebay more recently for a few $1,000's more. There were all manner of recriminations at the time - and several accusations that this was simply just a copy of John Landgraff's Dynamic Overdrive from 1999 - also a 3-knob design, but with a 3-way clipping toggle - and based on the classic Tube Screamer JCR4558 OpAmp. In fact to most intents and purposes this was largely a point-to-point hardwired variation of the classic TS808 circuit with some fairly minor modifications (3 component changes) - but which produced an even more dynamic and amp-like output and feel. The Landgraff Dynamic Overdrive with its swirly paint-job actually retailed for a rather mouth-watering $500 from the start. So understandably over the years there have been a number of different clone varieties - and this is the first proper mini pedal variation I have encountered of this type. I initially thought - oh just another Tube Screamer - but this is sufficiently different to be its own thing and be worthy of consideration / acquisition - so it definitely goes onto my wishlist. Upon further reading it does seem that the Clay Jones was pretty much a clone of the earlier Landgraff variety - with similar swirly paint job, while that was really very close to the original TS808 - with just those 3 component differences! I included a YouTube demo of one of the 50 odd Clay Jones - just for sound reference purposes - no official demo exists yet for the Micro version. Oh and the toggle-switch is a Diode lift - or Diode bypass I guess - probably one of the 3 modes on the original Landgraff Dynamic Overdrive.
A really cool take on Jimi's original wedge-shaped Octavio Octave Fuzz - with the same 2 simple controls - Fuzz and Level, but joined here by a toggle switch which allows you to bypass the octave element - thereby in theory yielding another classic Hendrix style variety - or Band of Gypsys Fuzz! This could not be simpler really - maximum versatility from the minimum of controls. I of course LOVE bias knobs - so would have quite liked to have seen one here for some extended range. Most will feel though that there is really no need for it. You obviously have the choice between this one and the recent Dunlop / MXR Hendrix '69 Psych Series Octavio - that one is made with SMD components and certainly not handwired - meaning I would probably pay a touch more for the better quality Octavus variant featured here - I will likely have both eventually in any case! There is no demo yet of this pedal - will ad one when there is!
I am somewhat biased when it comes to Mini Klones - owing to my long-term association and friendship with Guillem Vilademunt of Decibelics fame. I still feel that his Golden Horse is the best of the best in that category, but I expect this MiniTaur variety to come fairly close to that level of perfection. You have the same 3 classic controls as you would expect for such a device, and Dave Friesema's attention to detail is pretty on point. Dave states very specifically that his is not a direct clone - while the Golden Horse is very much in that exact category.
So yes, I love my original trio of Function F(x) / Dave Friesema Micro pedals as they're called. 4 of the pictured pedals are currently part of the official Function F(x) range - so currently excluding the Hive Mind and Professional MKIII - which Dave can still make for you as custom commissions if you ask him nicely.
I already quite fancy a Clay Jones Overdrive Micro and Octavus Fuzz Micro - which are more readily available now, and I will likely be putting in an order for a Skeleton Rat and Violet Ram's Head at some stage in the not-to-distant future.
The quality of these pedals is really excellent - they are beautifully made genuine professional tone machines - using proper highest quality Through-Hole components as mentioned. I have no hesitation in recommending any one of these. There's lots of mini pedals out there which are cheaply made with tiny plastic knobs and lowest cost components. These Function F(x) Micros are however fantastically priced for the quality of fit and finish you get here.
I have been so impressed with the ongoing improvements to Mini / Micro pedals - compared with where they were at just a few years ago. I have charted the evolution of the Mini's innovation - from their cheap low-cost origins, through to more mainstream Compact-equivalent designs, and onto a new level now - where a select number of mini pedals exceeds the quality of most of the typical £200 boutique style compact pedals.
This is no longer a secondary or lesser option in any way - it is at least equivalent now, and in many cases better within that overall category. I would recommend you start your inquiry on the Function F(x) website - where a number of these have already been made available, or contact Dave Friesema - courtesy of his Pickdropper Instagram page - where most of the variants are featured - custom and otherwise.