At TheToneKing.com, we know that among dirt boxes, there’s probably no other type of pedal that offers such a wide range of tones, dynamics and attitude than fuzz. From ragged, ripped-speaker garage-rock tones to huge, soaring smoothness to responsive and harmonically-rich sizzle, players have a lot to consider when they decide to add a fuzz to their arsenal. In this installment, TheToneKing.com takes a look at some of the pedals that are bringing their A-game to the fuzz market and offering unique takes and features on one of the most classic guitar effects ever created.
1) MXR Custom Shop La Machine
Dressed up in a killer metallic purple finish, the MXR Custom Shop’s La Machine octave fuzz’s visual flash is complemented with some seriously saturated tones that are right out of the ’70s. But even with it’s vintage DNA, the La Machine will certainly fit right into many modern styles.
The La Machine’s base fuzz tone certainly delivers the goods, but things don’t stop there. A switch nicely integrates an octave-up pitch to add bite and dimension to your tone. While octave-up effects have been around for decades the fat, thick fuzz of the La Machine really gives the higher octave a nice “push” and even responds nicely to volume pot and picking dynamics. The La Machine makes a great “whoa, what is that?!?” secret weapon for any setup.
2) Amptweaker TightFuzz
One of the hallmarks of classic fuzz design is how amazingly simple many fuzz circuits of old tend to be. Go ahead and crack open an original saucer-shaped Fuzz Face (we’ll wait). You’ll see that it’s iconic, wooly tone is produced by a mere pair of transistors, a trio of capacitors, four resistors and another couple potentiometers. Some guitars have more strings than the Fuzz Face has internal components!
As time has moved on, however, so has pedal design. Instead of simply offering a pedal based upon a single design, James Brown’s Amptweaker TightFuzz pedal gives you a huge range of features to help scratch whatever fuzzy itch you might have at any given moment. With controls to select between germanium and silicon transistors, smooth out the high frequencies, sculpt the character of the gain between soft ’60s warmth and fat, thick ’70s heft, and a “Tight” control to adjust the occasionally flabby low-end that plagues some fuzzes, the TightFuzz has as many options as some vintage fuzz pedals have circuit components. On top of all that, the TightFuzz adds a feature that few pedals of any type offer: an integrated effects loop with pre-and post-fuzz routing options. The TightFuzz was one of many eye-openers covered by The Tone King during the 2012 installment of “30 Pedals in 30 Days” (3P3D), and is still one of the most innovative fuzz pedal designs available today.
3) Earthquaker Devices Hoof Reaper
From picturesque Akron, Ohio, comes the fabled Earthquaker Devices Hoof Reaper, a combination of two of the company’s most popular fuzz units, the Hoof (a Big Muff-inspired fuzz) and the Tone Reaper (a Tonebender-inspired fuzz) with an added octave-up option, effectively giving players a fuzz-o-licious Swiss Army Knife. If you enjoy combining different dirt pedals and exploring the results, this pedal will inspire.
If anyone knows how fuzz is applied to modern music, it’s Earthquaker Devices. Founder Jamie Stillman began the company while he was on the road managing the rock-soul duo The Black Keys, a band that has helped bring fuzzed-out guitars back to the radio waves. In fact, the “Hoof” side of the Hoof Reaper is based on Black Keys’ frontman Dan Auerbach’s green, Russian-made Big Muff, a pedal sought after by fuzz aficionados.
4) Wampler Velvet Fuzz
There are pedals out there that echo the tones of classic overdrive and distortion boxes and there are pedals out there that are designed to evoke the power and feel of renowned amplifiers pushed to their limits, but the Wampler Velvet Fuzz is a real trailblazer: a pedal that is designed to emulate an entire classic signal chain. A 2013 3P3D standout, the Velvet Fuzz captures the timeless tone of a vintage fuzz hitting the front-end of an overdriven, EL34-powered British stack.
Wampler’s wheelhouse is building pedals with uncannily amp-like tonal and response characteristics, and this sort of design philosophy really shines in the Velvet Fuzz. “Smooth aggression” is the name of the game here; mixing fuzz and overdrive sounds together under one roof gives the pedal a slightly more refined character without sacrificing any of the primal grind that fuzz is known for. And, as The Tone King points out in his excellent overview, the amp-like element of the Velvet Fuzz is just as much about emulating the feel of an amp being pushed by a fuzz pedal as it is the fuzz itself. If you’re looking for a simple way to add some new feel and color to your setup, the Wampler Velvet Fuzz should be on your shopping list.
5) Way Huge Havalina
Compared to other pedals in our rundown, the Way Huge Havalina germanium fuzz closely resembles a more traditional fuzz pedal: no effects loops, no smoothing switches, no octave-up feature. Instead, the advancements incorporated into the Havalina are a bit more subtle. For one, the Havalina’s tone has been described as a combination of the classic Fuzz Face and Tonebender circuits, whereas most fuzz pedals focus their flavors on one classic recipe. The Havalina is also uniquely voiced as far as most fuzz pedals go. It has midrange and high-end to spare, even with the Tone knob set in the 7 o’clock to 12 o’clock range. Yet, it’s not a trashy, can-of-angry-bees buzz that define some of the more extreme fuzz pedals out there.
So what is this voicing good for and why should you care? Well, some fuzz pedals sound massive on their own, but when you play them in the context of a band you get what some call the “disappearing guitar effect.” This happens because many fuzzes impart a radical low- and/or high-end emphasis on the tone of your guitar, which usually has the effect of massively scooping the midrange out of your tone. And as we al know, the midrange is the guitar’s natural auditory sweet spot. The Havalina eschews the huge low/high boosts and keeps your midrange intact, so that when you step on the pedal during band rehearsal or recording your guitar still sits nicely in the mix. It’s the kind of deep thinking you expect from folks like designer Jeorge Tripps and Way Huge/Dunlop, and the Havalina is a nice way for folks to implement a classic-yet-forward-thinking, simple fuzz effect in their rig.
The Sonic Rorschach Test
A pedalboard (or lack of one) can speak volumes about a player, the type of music he or she plays and where he or she draws his inspiration from, and a fuzz pedal can be one of the best markers of a musicians musical DNA. At the TheToneKing.com, we are always debating on the best sounding pedals out there. Everyone loves their own brand. If someone looked at your pedalboard, what fuzz pedal would they see and what would it say about you? Take a seat on our virtual psychologist’s couch and let it all out in the comments below!
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