If there was just one fuzz box for everybody, there would be no need for rock and roll because everything would sound the same. Rock and roll is about your voice; what is being said is just as important as how it is being said. Is it the sound ripping and tearing through the auditory landscape? Is it so subatomic that the listeners think you just buried them under the weight of your incendiary tone? No matter what, your voice has to be heard. It has to stand out and grab attention. I mean, why else did you pick up a guitar in the first place... right?
Some will try to tell you that the fuzz box was first created to imitate the cutting, vocal nature of a saxophone. Maybe. But if fuzz was truly trying to imitate, it wasn’t because the guitar wanted to be a sax as much as it was that the guitar wanted the position of the woodwind instrument. With so many killer blues guitarists begging for a front position in a 1950’s world tuned into big band and pop music, it’s no wonder players were trying to emulate the “lead" or “voice" of the days’ sound.
What is Fuzz?
To keep it basic, I would like to provide you with a definition that might help to understand fuzz’s purpose and role on your pedalboard.
Fuzz; n. - an excited tonal palate, greater than the original played frequencies, that is then refocused and forced into your amp.
Where did this come from? Well it’s how fuzz works. You see, fuzz is simply a form of distortion. There are 2 main types of distortion in the music world: Linear and non-linear.
Linear distortion is an increase in amplitude, or “more volume” increasing to distortion. In short, it's distortion without tone loss.
Non-Linear distortion is an alteration to the sound wave called “clipping.” This generates frequencies that are not present in the initial signal.
Fuzz is a form of non-linear distortion. Therefore, fuzz is your initial signal with added frequencies. Depending on the pedal manufacturer, that "excited" tone is refocused or “voiced” to the engineer's liking and then sent out to your amp. This expanding and refocusing, or “voicing,” of the fuzz unit is what provides the wonderfully ripping tones that we so love to hear.
Iconic Fuzz Pedals
Here are a few of the original greats and what gave them their fuzz mojo:
- Maestro Fuzz-tone FZ-1a: Created in 1962, this “god-father” of fuzz boxes was dreamt up to replace the dying transformer in the custom-built Langevin Console that belonged to the Quonset Hut in Nashville, TN. The circuit was designed by two gentleman, Glenn Snoddy and Revis Hobbs, and later was refined and marketed by the Gibson Company. Ultimately, it was the Rolling Stones that put this box into the ears of millions of listeners with their hit “Satisfaction.” Looking for a Maestro tone? Try these killer units: Basic Audio Gnarly Fuzz | Catalinbread Merkin | JHS Firefly | Boss FZ-5 | EHX "Satisfaction"
- Arbiter FuzzFace: Hendrix, Gilmour, Townsend, Young… I could keep going for days. This fuzz box has been distributed by four manufactures and with many different configurations, but the basics remain. It is super simple and very usable. Originally, germanium transistors were used in the Fuzz Face. Germanium transistors are full of rich, warm dynamic tone but they are very unstable. This means the knobs aren’t always doing what they did last time you dialed them in. Heat, cold and other variables can cause the germanium to respond differently. Therefore, silicon transistors were substituted. Silicon was far superior in its stability and function. However, silicon lacks the warmth and dynamics of germanium and has been labeled as “harsh” in comparison. Looking for the sound that made Rock? here are a few choices: Wren & Cuff "Your Face" | Keeley "Son of Fuzz" | JHS "Pollinator" | Solidgold "If 6 Was 9" | Dunlop "FuzzFace"
- EHX Big Muff Pi:- Ok, I already said Hendrix… but seriously, Hendrix! This was a staple for him and many others. Even though many greats have been labeled as “muff” players, I always think of Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins' “wall” of distortion. That wall comes from non other than the 1966 creation of the Big Muff Pi. Practically every rocker has played a Big Muff since the pedal's creation. There are even websites dedicated to Big Muff Players and their tone. Silicon lies at the root of this circuit designed by Bob Myer. The pedal was made at the request of Rock-n-Roll legend Mike Matthews, owner and creator of Elestro-Harmonix, who wanted a box full of sustain. That is exactly what was created too! Don’t believe me? Ask Gilmour, he’ll back me up. Here are some great Muff boxes to get your hands on: Basic Audio "Tri-Ram Muff" | Earthquaker "Cloven Hoof" | EHX Big Muff USA | Way Huge "Swollen Pickle DD"
- Tone Bender - Designed by Gary Hurst and modeled after the Maestro Fuzz-tone, this fuzz box has “gotten-around” and has gone by a variety of names and build designs — Vox Tone Bender Pro MKII, Marshall Supa Fuzz, and Rotosound Fuzz Box to name a few. Basically, this circuit was the British response to the american made Fuzz-tone. Ever heard of a guitarist name James Page? ;) Then you’ve heard a Tone Bender. Here are some other great “Tone Benders” to look for at Rogue: SolidGold Fx "Rosie" | Basic Audio "Scarab Deluxe" | Vemuram Shanks 4 | Coldcraft "Fusion Fuzz" | Earthquaker "Tone Reaper"
This was a great article to study up for; I love fuzz. There was one thing that stood out to me though as I was reading and that is this:
The truly great fuzz players of old never considered the cost, or the retribution to their gear, when searching for their voice among the crowd.
Got Questions or Comments? Feel free to leave them in the comments section! or, email email@example.com
- Nate -