I’ve featured MXR quite a lot on this site over the years, but bizarrely and somewhat inexplicably to date have only acquired one of those numerous pedals - the Mini Phase 95, actually with the Brown Acid it makes 2! And this just after my fairly recent acquisition of the Pigdog Juju Fuzz - which also happens to be a TB MKIII style fuzz - I think I now have a nicely rounded quartet of MKIII’s with room for a couple more no doubt. Of course I’m an avowed fuzz fan, and I have noway near as many Tone Benders overall currently as Fuzz Faces of Big Muffs - and while I have several varieties already - even those based on the same circuits can sound significantly different depending on their choice of transistors. So I’m eager to find out just which transistors the MXR engineers have selected here - the original MKIII’s had 2 x BFY71 Silicon + 1 x NKT214 Germanium - I will let you know!
Of the other 3 fuzzes in this roundup, I have featured both the Blue Box (Sub-Octave Fuzz) and Super Badass Variac Fuzz (Band of Gypsys variant) - while I’ve always wanted to feature the La Machine Octave Fuzz - but hadn’t found the right angle / perspective for it until right now. Note that the Super Badass Variac Fuzz was previously featured in its former purple livery - which suited my purposes then. For now the current sparkling cherry red edition suits this selection more.
In any case I like each of the MXR fuzzes featured here and have had them on a wishlist for a while - certainly the La Machine and SB Variac - the Brown Acid pips those on account of its limited number release. I will most undoubtedly have a few more MXR fuzzes in the collection by this time next year - while I already have my eye on the Phase 99 and Il Davolo and Il Torino overdrives amongst others.
Each of the Tone Bender varieties has a different key characteristic which identifies its family type - with the MKIII/IV style being typically a more gainer and saturating proposition with an inherent sizzle and degree of creaminess you certainly don't get with the earlier variants. I find bias and or tone pots essential for most types of fuzzes even though I use my guitar volume and tone pots too extensively - yet the guitar can only modulate that which the pedal produces - and being able to vary the core output with these more versatile fuzz types is essential for me. This sounds slightly different to my existing MKIII's and that's just how I would want it - I like all my fuzzes to have individual personalities and characters - this one doesn't run quite as creamy as a couple of my other varieties - but it still has that lovely Tone Bender signature rasp to it.
I featured this previously in a roundup of Octave fuzzes, and this was only of only a couple of Sub-Octave types ones - most Octave fuzzes are of the Upper/Super Octave type. Here you get a lovely buzzy drone 2 octaves down from the note you play for a slightly beefier bottom end - which is actually a lot of fun with bass guitars in particular. You have only 2 controls here - Output and (Dry/Wet Blend) which sets the balance between your guitar's unaffected signal and the Octave effect. I've not had too much use for one of these thus far, and hence this has not been a priority for me yet - but these are simply and easy to use - although there are very many players that really don't like the output here - in any case if you have a specific usage scenario in mind - this is an effective solution - more of a 'nice to have' rather than an essential, and something you likely pick up in a sale.
There's no blend knob here unlike the Blue Box - so a lot less suitably for Bass players, but you do get an Octave on/off button to go along with Output | Tone | Distortion dials. This is a beautifully rich saturating octave fuzz - which veers nicely into distortion territory. I've had this on a wishlist of a while - other priorities have pipped this before - its time will come! Sound great.
The earlier version of this was sparkling purple, while the newer version is a sort of sparking dark cherry red. They both have in common the smart 'Dying Battery' / 'Voltage Starve' effect loved by so many fuzz players - where you can actually get power supplies which do the same sort of thing - to give you a more sputtery and textured fuzz output. The Variac dial runs from 5V to 15V with the usual 9V value midway. You then have your typical 3 control knobs - Tone | Output | Gain. This fuzz is based on Hendrix's Band of Gypsys fuzz - supposedly an Octavia without the octave in the circuit. It already sounds suitably textured and dynamic and the Variac/Starve knob just adds hugely to the range of fun and texture that can be had from such a pedal - I still want all the new Mini Hendrix pedals - which include a Band of Gypsys variant - but that just has the traditional 3 pots - and less fun overall!
These are all really cool fuzzes each in their own way - with possibly the Blue Box being the least appealing overall - certainly for my taste - although it has its moments. I've been oscillating / vacillating between the La Machine and Super Badass Variac - I really like them both, but have been unable to decide / decipher which of those I have a preference for - they both sound amazing and are generally around the same or at least very similar price - I guess if either one comes up on sale or as an offer - then I will likely pounce on that, and the remaining one will follow more naturally.
The Brown Acid gets picked first as it's a limited run of supposedly 500 or so pedals, and I like both the tone and aesthetics here - the price is good too - so all round a pretty great package for a MKIII style Tone Bender. Like I said above it does not have quite the level of creamy richness that some of my other MKIII's have - but there is a significant difference in price - and I just see it as a slightly different character. It's akin to liking several songs within the same particularly fine genre category - even when keys and chord structure are very similar - it's the many tiny difference in texture which make the individual personalities shine through. As with all my pedals on some days I feel more predisposed to playing certain styles and characteristics from one day to another, while on the following day my preference might shift back the other way. Some will argue that there are finer MKIII's to be had, but this is pretty decent at any price point really - I now have over 170 fuzzes, and each sounds sufficiently distinct and individual to me in how I am inspired to dial in the tone and play. You could probably tune several pedals go sound vaguely similar - although there are still harmonic components, transients and distortion artefacts that help me distinguish one form another - while I would still most likely be caught out to a degree in a blind test - but then again everything counts!
I was caught napping for the EQD Black Ash (also a MKIII) and did not get around to acquiring one even though 1,500 of those were released - prices are still a touch high at the moment on the Reverb.com and Ebay - some flipper on Ebay is trying to shift one at £528 which is really just for fools. I will bide my time and wait for one to materialise eventually at more reasonable levels. I thought I had one a couple of months ago, but seems like that was some kind of Reverb.com scam - which is the first time I've encountered anything of that ilk on that resource.
In any case if you'd like a decent MKIII style Fuzz for reasonable money in a cool enclosure, then now's a good time to buy - and the bonus is you save yourself some 'flipping' nonsense for if you change your mind later when it's possibly too late ...