When ordinary gain isn’t enough
Do you find modern distortion pedals too over the top? Or think amp-pushing overdrives are a bit passé? Does your tonal brief call for the strange, weird and wonderful? If so, then you might be better off considering our guide to the best fuzz pedals.
For many, fuzz pedals are the unruly second cousins in the gain family. Not trusted to behave themselves at get-togethers and generally causing more trouble than they’re worth. But look beyond the extreme examples you may have heard, and you’ll find an effect which – given a little harnessing and attention – could give your sound a new dimension.
Forgive me; I’m talking about fuzz like it’s some kind of wonderful new effect. The truth is that fuzz is perhaps one of – along with reverb – the oldest types of effects around. We’ve all heard stories about Dave Davies butchering his speaker cones with a razor to achieve the raw, ragged tone on The Kinks’ “You Really Got me” (for years everyone thought it was Ray but Dave set that particular record straight recently…) and it is around here that first examples of fuzz can be found.
Fuzz wasn’t (and isn’t) meant to add a creamy sparkle to your tone, or complement the existing harmonic structure of blah blah blah. Fuzz should sound like someone has attacked your speaker cones. That’s what it does. And when used correctly, in the right context, it’s a marvellous sound.
Consider Jimi Hendrix, who was such a fan of fuzz that he pioneered its use on many of his albums. He even now has a rather dapper little signature fuzz if that’s the tone you’re going for.
Elsewhere, alt-rock bands like Pixies and Nirvana were known users of fuzz, while Jack White has ensured its legacy has lived on through his judicious use of this awkward little effect.
Let’s take a look at some of the best fuzz pedals we have. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Electro Harmonix Big Muff series
For many, the Electro Harmonix Big Muff is one of the most iconic effects pedals of all time, let alone just a fuzz pedal. The Muff has been used by thousands of artists over the years, and has spawned countless offshoot pedals. At a quick glance, there is the Little Big Muff, the Double Muff, the Big Muff w/Tone Wicker and even the Metal Muff. More muff than you could shake a stick at. Stop laughing at the back.
Each of these pedals offer slight variations on the theme. The LBM is shrunken down to fit on a smaller board, the Double Muff fits two separate output channels into one pedal, the Tone Wicker offers extra frequency control and the Metal Muff takes the ball and runs with it. Right to the fiery pits of hell.
Yet each of these pedals harks back to the same principle; to make a versatile, high quality gain sound that can traverse across the spectrum from gentle warmth through to wall of noise wig-out potential. If you haven’t tried one yet, you should really make a point of doing so.
Jim Dunlop Fuzz Face series
Another bona fide classic is the (Hendrix-approved) Jim Dunlop Fuzz Face series. These have their own unique look and twist on the fuzz effect.
The original model, the Jim Dunlop Fuzz Face, uses a silicon transistor to deliver its warm, hairy fuzz tones. The reason we mention this is that there are two main strands of fuzz technology; silicon and germanium. Silicone delivers a somewhat harsher tone and was found in a new wave of pedals in the 70s and 80s. Prior to these, fuzz pedals had a germanium transistor which was said to be slightly more reserved and controllable. It’s all relative, of course, but as with many things there proved a cyclical change over time with germanium based pedals coming back to the fore fairly recently.
Nowadays, pedal manufacturers tend to offer variations on both themes, as seen in the Jim Dunlop Fuzz Face mini, which opts for germanium in contrast to its silicon-toting bigger brother.
As well as the two big-hitters we mentioned above, there are some belting fuzz pedals to be found elsewhere. Boss has its own take on this unique effect in the Boss FZ-5, while boutique American firm Wampler has its Velvet Fuzz pedal which combines the best bits of fuzz with added girth in the form of a complementary distortion circuit.
Hopefully, this article has helped shed a bit of light on the subject of this oft-underappreciated effect. There are indeed plenty of pedals we haven’t been able to include, but the above examples will hopefully give you some food for thought if you’re looking for the best fuzz pedals around.
Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.