As promised, I’ve drawn up a list of suitable quality alternatives - for those who did not or were unable to snag one of the excellent Boss TB-2W 2N404 Waza Editions. I’ve already passed highly favourable opinions on said pedal, while I recognise that there weren’t nearly enough to go around for all of those who wanted one. This has resulted in ridiculous price gouging - which has long afflicted the Klon Centaur in a similar manner. For the Klon Centaur around 8,000 units were made between 1994 and 2000. And the aggregate pricing there is around $6,000 equivalent nowadays, where the original fetched just $225. For the Boss TB-2W the original price was around $349/€349/£312 - yet currently there are some on Reverb.com priced at as much as $3,000 - which is of course entirely ridiculous too. Based on my serial number I would estimate around 3,100 or so TB-2W’s were made in the end.
So obviously - however impressive the Boss TB-2W is, it’s not the only game in town as such. And I’ve sought out similarly impressive TB MKII equivalents which are every bit as appealing in their own way.
I own most of this selection - so I’m well placed to pass judgement, overall I own around 20 or so MKII style Tone Benders at various different enclosure sizes - and overwhelmingly Germanium Transistor-based of various stripes. I started curating this selection almost as soon as the TB-2W was first announced in early December last year. And the selection has changed many times since then. Dave ’Pickdropper’ Friesema of Function F(x) fame is still in the process of engineering one of his marvellous Minis for me (3 x 2N404 + 3-controls Professional MKII) - but that project is running somewhat behind schedule - and so misses the cut-off point on this occasion, I will of course feature that pedal when it eventually lands.
The key criteria for the selection though is to provide at least as many controls as the Boss TB-2W - and to have that same sort of rich and satisfying MKII breakup texture - with some added versatility in tone-shaping - which the Boss does with its 3-way Battery / Voltage Bias switch.
All the Fuzzes here have at least 3 controls and wholly deliver on that style of texture. 4 of these are Silicon Transistor varieties and one is a Ge/Si Hybrid (Magnetic Effects Solar Bender), while the other 10 are of course authentic Germanium Transistor types - of various denominations. Often just a different combination of Transistors can be a worthy additional acquisition! While all of these are distinct and individual.
So I have all those listed here - bar the Arcane Analog MKII, and relatively recent Reeves Electro RedDotSound. Markus Reeves is opening up his order book again for 24 hours on July 28th - from 00:00-23:59 Hrs BST -so I will likely put in an order for the RedDotSound then, while I will look to pick up the Arcane Analog MKII rather more opportunistically at some serendipitous point in the future.
The featured listing includes a couple of discontinued pedals featured here - the otherworldly Blackout Effectors Fubär, and the battery-powered Hudson Electronics Stroll On. Everything else works off a standard ’isolated’ 9V power supply.
There are several perennial favourites here and many just as smartly engineered as the Boss in their own way - while the Boss does indeed have some extraordinary attention to detail.
NOTE 1 that the original MK II Tonebender had 3 x OC81D Germanium Transistors initially, then 3 x OC75. The Boss TB-2W is the priciest in this selection, and the Magnetic Effects Solar Bender the best value.
NOTE 2 that the demos aren’t necessary an exact variant match for the featured pedals, while their core circuit is the same - also, transistors can vary.
I feel that all of these are worthy and great in their own right - here follow the pertinent details for each :
Controls : Level, Battery : 7V/9V/12V, Attack.
Transistors : 3 x 2N404 Germanium
The TB-2W, which sits at the heart / centre of the above visual is very obviously the célébrité du jour amongt fuzz aficionados - and rightly so. It is a smart and beautifully balanced pedal in every way with exceptionally rich breakup textures and some ingenious engineering touches. It is also the priciest in this selection and not in sufficiently plentiful supply to serve everyone that wants one. There has been some degree of backlash towards Boss - criticising the company for going down the sort of elitist boutique route. While I feel there is much Boss should be lauded for - and particularly for how well the final pedal was executed and finely calibrated. It is for sure a classic of its kinds - and particularly in that iconic enclosure. It's just unfortunate that there weren't enough to go around. While it obviously pays of being a Boss insider!
The TB-2W was the catalyst for this article from the time it was announced - it is for sure at or near the pinnacle of this genre, while there are several other high-flyers within that club - as I will endeavour to illustrate with this selection. Congratulations once again to everyone who managed to snag one - and here follow the other contenders for those of you who cannot or will not be getting the Boss variety.
Controls : Gain, Bias, Fuzz.
Transistors : 3 x OC72 Germanium
I've been following Andrew at Arcane Analog for a while - but have still to start adding his fuzzes to the reference collection. I can only do so much at any given time, but Arcane Analog pedals are undeniable impressive - in particular the recent 3 and 4-knob compact fuzzes which are entirely my scene. This is a great example of a classic MKII - with all the controls you need to get the most our of it.
Controls : Level, Tone, Fuzz (Gain), Bias, Fat (Low End).
Transistors : 4 x BC549B Silicon
John Lyons needs no introduction to readers of this site - as I've featured him several times already, and he is pipped only by Boss for the Brand which I have the most pedals from . I've recently acquired the Spooky Tooth - which brings my Basic Audio collection to 18. The Scarab Deluxe is a fantastic versatile Tone Bender style fuzz - using a quartet of Silicon Transistors, and with some very smart controls. This is really a multi- Tone Bender - while it mostly covers the MKII and MKIII styles.
Controls : Range (Tone/Pre-Gain/Oscillation), Bias, Sag, Fuzz, Expression, Level, Second Sag/Exp footswitch.
Transistors : 3 x 2N5088 Silicon
This is a pretty wild and unusual Tone Bender which leans towards the extreme - while you can dial it back nicely to a perfect MKII voicing. This pedal can really be driven hard into self-oscillation and can produce some weird and wonderful tones as well as more vintage inspired tones too. A really cool version of MKII for sure.
Controls : Filter, Gain, Volume, Input.
Transistors : 4 x 2N5088 Silicon
Here is another really cool circuit hybrid - which mixes up MKII sensibilities with Rat style crunch. Again you can easily tune it more towards vintage MKII style tones - while is produces some very distinct tones of its own. A great execution of a smart idea.
Controls : Volume, Gain, Mode : FF/VTB/3÷2/2/RM/RMFF.
Transistors : 3 x OC41 Germanium
This is another brand that my readers should be very familiar with - I first compared my original OC45 version to the newest CV7003 (OC44), and then added the current OC41 and compared them all together. The current OC41 delivers a splendid MKII voicing as I commented on in the interview. This is sort of the odd one out here - as strictly speaking it doesn't exactly have 3 controls in the same way as the Boss - as the 3rd one here is the different voicings - but it's still easily good enough to qualify!
Controls : Volume, Beam (Bias), Gain.
Transistors : 3 x OC41 Germanium
In many ways the Limelight is preferable to the Constellation as it deploys those same OC41 Germanium Transistors - but here has a 3rd 'Beam' actual Bias knob for really very broad tone control. You can get everything from the most wonderful germanium overdrive - all the way up to FZ-1 and MKI tones. Of course sounds great for MKII with a little more fine-tuning than the Constellation offers.
Controls : Attack, Bias, Hi-Cut, Impedance, Mode : MKII/MKI.V, Volume, Pickup Sim, Type : SC/Humbucker.
Transistors : MП20 + П416 + OC1074 All Germanium
When I first saw this I immediately though it was slightly reminiscent of the Ramble FX Twin Bender with slightly different controls. While they have entirely different Germanium Transistors onboard and where the tone controls look vaguely similar in some ways - both those pedals sound distinctly different - with the Taras Bulba (named after a Ukrainian folk hero) coming across slightly thicker and rawer - you can of course temper and tone that down however you like - but I really like this pedal run to its extremes - it sounds glorious!
Controls : Level, Attack, Buzz, Bias, Q3 : Si/Ge.
Transistors : 3 x OC75 Germanium +/ optional OC202 on Q3
Sof created a masterpiece when he made me this custom edition - which up until then was only available in BB-size enclosure. He was able to cram all that goodness - proper vintage specs OC75 Transistor MKII with a couple of extra features. A swappable Silicon OC202 on Q3 - with give you more attack and stridency. And the aptly named 'Buzz' switch produces a buzzier timbre and tonality by mis-biasing the transistor on Q2 as such. I mostly prefer it with the Buzz off, and the Q3 set to Silicon OC202!
Controls : Attack, Level, Bias.
Transistors : 3 x MП20 Germanium
This was a cool second hand find for me - I think I got all my early Hudson Electronics fuzzes off Reverb.com in one way or another. This is loaded with really rich and vibrant sounding Soviet transistors - not dissimilar to the ones used in the Spaceman Sputniks to such great effect. I'm usually not a fan of battery-only devices - because of their impact on the environment. While this is a relatively rare version with a 3rd Bias Control on the right-hand edge of the pedal. Again I don't particularly like knobs on the sides of my pedals - but this one really sounds great enough to overcome those reservations.
Controls : Cut (Highs), Bass : I/II/III, Input, Anger (Gain), Output.
Transistors : МП16Б + МП21A + AC125 All Germanium
This is not exactly a straight up MKII circuit clone as Enrico states that there is some Super Fuzz -inspired circuitry in their too to produce a much wider palette of tones. You can still dial it in very easily to produce the perfect MKII voicing - rich and with that endearing breakup character. This is for sure a really cool variation on this theme.
Controls : Level, Bias, Low, High, Attack.
Transistors : 2 x MП20 Germanium + 2 x 2N7000 Silicon
I'm a huge fan of Chris Livingstone's output and I have 7 of his pedals in he collection to-date - including the previous version of this Solar Bender. For my version the Bass control is a 3-way switch, while recently Chris has updated that to a fully variable mini knob. Not enough of a difference though to warrant an upgrade. This is unique here in having a hybrid Mix of equal numbers of Germanium and Silicon Transistors - combined with those 5 controls this delivers significantly more range and versatility than most, and at a significantly lower price point. Easily the most affordable and best value here - and it properly delivers on that vintage MKII texture too!
Controls : Level, Attack, Impede, Mode : MKII Pro/MK I.V, Tone : Mids/Stock/Fat, Bias.
Transistors : 3 x П402 Germanium
I've noted the superficial similarities in control topology between this and the Drunk Beaver Taras Bulba - that obviously takes some inspiration from the Twin Bender. While the circuit and core transistor are quite distinctly different and as mentioned - the Taras can go a little rawer and thicker if you need it. Both deliver excellent MKII voicings and are really smart and versatile varieties within this genre - obviously both priced identically too!
Controls : Level, Bass, Bias.
Transistors : 2 x TO106 + 1 x 2N3053 All Silicon
I have waxed lyrical about Markus Reeves' point-to-point-wired pedals several times on this site already, and have showcased my own exceptional BlackHatSound MKI voiced fuzz. Markus gets incredibly Germanium-like textures out of his specially selected and matched Silicon Transistors - the circuit construction and smart component curation delivers the most amazing results - with plenty of range on the volume and gain - like I really like it. Both the BlackHat and RedHat Sounds Fuzzes have the same topology of Volume, Bass Boost and Bias - where the gain is default set to max within the circuit - and you can temper that with your guitar volume knob! I will most certainly be ordering a RedHatSound too on the 28th, when Markus opens up his order book for just 24 hours - from 00:00 to 23:59 Hrs BST.
Controls : Fuzz, Tone, Volume, Bias.
Transistors : 2 x Tesla 106NU70 + K30 R-J04 All Germanium
I think this was the first fuzz range as such that I got properly stuck into - obviously showcased in last year's SGFX Compact Fuzz Overview. I particularly like the limited edition / custom shop Germanium limited editions as this one is - using premium East European Germanium Transistors to great effect - of course with 3 knobs including Bias, and a 3-way Tone Toggle switch - which mostly moves the mids around. This is a fitting end to the overview and this looks really gorgeous with its copper facia. Delivering still more exceptional and authentic MKII tones.
The simpler the circuits - the more important is the nature and quality of the tone-generating transistors. And to get just the right sort of MKII texture - it's about perfectly balancing the Saturation and Attack. For MKII you need very specific hFE Transistor Values and you need to finely bias each of those transistors in a row - which is clearly visible on the TB-2W through those individual trim-pots.
Each of these recommended pedals uses mostly totally different types and arrangements of transistors - and wile head here has some significant degree of overlap - and can easily replicate those authentic MKII Tone Bender tones - each is also unique and distinct and delivers its own flavours too - depending of course how you dial things in.
Some of these are rawer and more full-on in nature - but their smart controls allow you to dial in just the right amount of texture - using a combination of Gain, Bias, and your guitar volume knob when appropriate.
I've already vouched for Boss's TB-2W credentials and confirmed that indeed it's one of the very best in this area - but then there may be varieties within this listing that readers may prefer to the TB-2W. I've stated that the TB-2w leans very slightly to the cooler side of things - but with exception cut-through, while there are several here that render slightly warmer and softer if that is your preference.
For my all fuzzes have their own character and soul - based on the builder's default calibrations. Each of those inspire and suggest different riffs and melodic structures - and wile both within the exact same genre each can inspire very different style of playing.
I don't think you can go wrong with any of these really - and I've give you a broad palette of pricing and feature sets. There really should be something here for everyone!
Of course my listing of 15 is not exhaustive - it's just my preferred 15, while there are still plenty more - some of which I have, and some of which will end up in the collection eventually in one way or another :
What about you dear readers - being mindful of my criteria are there any you would have named in preference to my curated selection?