How to Tame a Fuzz Face Type Fuzz Pedal

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.

The Fuzz Face is still made today by Dunlop - Note it only has a Fuzz (gain) setting and a Volume setting - Picture courtesy of Dunlop USA


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):

About me using a Z.Vex Fuzz factory as my fuzz pedal in that example, you will think it has nothing to do with a Fuzz Face. Well, at “normal” settings where you keep “stab” on max and “comp” on low, it is close enough. The Fuzz factory is a modern take on the Fuzz pedals of old but it is still a fuzz.

I will feature a selection of fuzz pedals in one of my very next posts. Until then, have fun fuzzing away!

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11 thoughts on “How to Tame a Fuzz Face Type Fuzz Pedal”

  1. Hey man, great post. im having trouble getting a “fuzz face setting” out of my fuzz factory. i really bought the pedal thinking on the sound of a band and im just nowhere close to getting that sound out of my guitar. would you please take a listen to this: what do you think, is it a Fuzz Factory or a Fuzz Face? and what can i try to get something close to this fuzz sound? Thank you!

  2. Hi, the only way I found to get a “normal” fuzz tone was to keep stab on max and comp and gate on minimum. Then the drive and the volume act the same way they would on a “regular” fuzz face.

  3. nice demo, mate…but what about the clean tones of the fuzzface?
    does your guitar clean up still when you roll it back like that?

    fwiw, i’ve done the same thing for years…always fuzz into other dirt. most toneful way to get it done.

    rock on

  4. Hi good day, I have a question. I have a jimi hendrix fuzz face reissue. I use battery to power it and there is this terible hizz when I turn it guessing its from the amp since its a china made tube amp but when I use my boss cs2 and ts808 there seems to be less hizz. So my question is, what could b the for the noise? would you recomend noisr suppressor pedals?thanks Godbless

  5. It could be a number of things: bad cables, something to do with the guitar (bad shielding, noisy single coil pickups, etc.). What type of guitar do you have?

  6. so you put the Overdrive after the Fuzz, can you put the Overdrive before the Fuzz? will that do any change or what, i tryed this using my ProCo RAT sounded awesome, i aslo tryed this on my Boss Ds-1 (Japan) loved it. i havent really got a Overdrive pedal, could i set my Ds-1 to an overdrive kind of setting and just use that as an overdrive pedal?

  7. P.S i borrowed an overdrive pedal to do what i just said. i dont own one at the moment

  8. Yes you can try any combination, there is no “golden rule” really. The DS-1 can be used effectively to boost an amp or another pedal but it won’t sound like an overdrive.

  9. Nice post. Completely agree. Built a germanium fuzz pedal clone and use a love pedal eternity fuse after it. Tames the harshness, creates a more mellow and smooth fuzz tone. I use the fuzz this way all of the time now and never use by itself. For a little more in the face, I crank the gain on the lovepedal about half way. And sometimes I put a keeley compressor before or after. Still not sure which I like better.

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