First of all, happy new year to everyone! I thought I would start the year with a hot topic, that is hot for guitarists: to fuzz or not to fuzz?
Fuzz pedals can be difficult to master and most of us who have tried one thinking it would sound like Hendrix on ‘Band of Gypsies’ were disappointed. I thought a bit of knowledge and a tip I have recently discovered would come in handy.
It will probably be my last “video” post for a little while as I am busy with a lot of personal and professional projects at the moment. I will of course continue to post about The Tone and will come back with video demos some time in 2012.
Fuzz or fuzz?
What is a fuzz tone? For a lot of us guitarists, Hendrix exemplifies the Fuzz tone, or rather tones: warm, rich, with lots of sustain as heard on ‘Band of Gypsies’, or edgy as heard on the famous outro of ‘Axis Bold as Love’. Subsequently, the Fuzz Face pedal, still made today by Dunlop (and made in the 60s by Dallas Arbiter) served as a basis for countless clones. It is thought of as ‘the’ fuzz pedal to get.
Let’s dispel a bit of myth here, the Fuzz Face was not the first fuzz pedal, the Maestro fuzz sold by Gibson and heard on ‘Satisfaction’ by the Rolling Stones is an example of alternative design that was also available in the 60s.
Anyway, the tips I will share here are more directed towards Fuzz Face type pedals, they might not work for other types of Fuzz.
Choosing a Fuzz Pedal: Silicon or Germanium?
I have spent hours trying to decide which to get. At the heart of Fuzz pedals lie transistors. Early Fuzz Face pedals were based on Germanium transistors before switching to Silicon transistors, mostly for reasons of stability. Germanium transistors tend to be affected by the ambient temperature.
The consensus on the sound difference between the two is that Silicon transistors are brighter than their Germanium counterparts. As a matter of reference, it is thought that Hendrix used Germanium fuzz pedals on his first three studio records but switched to Silicon later on, which means that the fuzz pedal heard on ‘Band of Gypsies’ is probably Silicon based.
As always with a true master, the sound is mainly in the fingers and less in the equipment chain: wether using Germanium or Silicon, Hendrix has produced some of the best Fuzz tones ever.
So I would say don’t focus too much on the transistor type if it is your first fuzz. I chose to go for a Germanium based Z.Vex Fuzz Factory as it can do “normal Fuzz tones” as well as completely whacky ones, thanks to some extra settings.
Not so easy
So here you are with your brand new Fuzz Face, or Fuzz Face clone, you plug it into your amp set clean, at a reasonable volume and… it does not sound like Hendrix at all. It might sound thin, aggressive, not at all full like it does on Jimi’s live and studio recordings.
The main reason for the difference in tone resides in the fact that Hendrix often plugged his Fuzz Face into a somewhat really loud and cranked to the max overdriven Marshall amp. These amps can be quite dark to start with, especially the old ones. This”darkness” made up for the aggressiveness of the Fuzz which, by the way, did not come with any tone or eq settings, just gain and volume.
It is hard to emulate this sound at bedroom or practice level with a clean amp. There is a way though…
Using an overdrive placed after a Fuzz to alleviate the Fizziness of the Tone
Without further ado, here is a little trick you can use if your fuzz is too, well, fuzzy or rather fizzy/aggressive. This might happen with bright amps such as my 74 Fender Champ. Just place an overdrive pedal after the fuzz in your effect chain. For this video, I have used a Digitech Bad Monkey, it is rather cheap and has a bass and treble control. I have used the least amount of gain I could on the Bad Monkey and rolled off the “Treble” knob a bit (the same trick can be achieved by rolling off the tone knob found on other overdrive pedals):
I will feature a selection of fuzz pedals in one of my very next posts. Until then, have fun fuzzing away!