A dirty guitar tone can be achieved through different means. Aside from the distortion from a guitar amplifier, you can use a variety of pedals, such as boosts, overdrives, distortions, and fuzz pedals. This guide is going to focus on fuzz, and guide you to find the one that is most suitable to you and the sounds you want to get from that pedal.
Guitarists tend to have split opinions about fuzz. Some say that they just can’t find a way to use it in any situation, and others swear by them, even going as far as not using an overdrive or distortion pedal, and using just a fuzz pedal to get all of their distorted sounds. It is also worth noting that there are several types of fuzz pedal circuits, and each of them has its unique tonal properties. Some are more compressed, clean up better, have more gain, different EQ options, and more.
To find the most appropriate fuzz pedal to add to your guitar pedalboard, you should first think of the sound you are looking to get from it. Who are your favorite guitarists who use fuzz? If you are a die-hard Jimi Hendrix fan, then you are probably going to enjoy fuzz face pedals the most.
If you dig heavily saturated sounds such as the ones you can usually hear from Jack White, you should try out a big muff style pedal. Aside from these, there are many options in the market today that can cover pretty much anything, from vintage-oriented pedals to some crazy-sounding stompboxes that sound anything but traditional.
Lastly, you should try any pedal that you consider buying, preferably with your rig. A different guitar, set of pickups, or amplifier will have a big impact on your overall tone, and fuzz pedals can sometimes be a bit sensitive to these changes. Some amps tend to take pedals better than others, and tube amps also react differently with fuzz pedals when compared to solid-state models.
The volume at which you play can also influence how it sounds, so as you can see, there are many variables to take into account. The last thing you would want would be to fall in love with a pedal at the store and then come back home to find out that it doesn’t sound the same with your guitar and amp.
What is the difference between fuzz, overdrive, and distortion?
When you’re browsing through a music store, you will often see pedals grouped into overdrive, distortion, and fuzz, yet they all follow the same general principle. They are gain stages that can distort your signal and add harmonics to it. Depending on the guitar tone that you are looking to get, you should look for a pedal that fulfills your needs.
For instance, if you are looking to get close to the tone of blues guitarists like BB King, Albert King, or Stevie Ray Vaughan, you don’t need an aggressive distortion pedal, since it will have way too much gain. Instead, a light overdrive would do the job better. In any case, many of these pedals are exceptionally versatile, allowing you to cover a lot of ground with just one stompbox.
Let’s take a look at what these three types of pedals are in a general way.
Overdrive pedals were invented when people wanted to recreate the same sound that tube amplifiers have when you push them into the edge of break up. If you set them even louder and play more aggressively, you can get a great crunch sound and even distortion.
Unfortunately, this means that you need to play very loud, and that is not always possible, especially if you are playing in a bedroom. Even a 10w tube amp puts out a lot more volume than what you usually need.
With an overdrive pedal, you can get a light crunch sound at any volume. They are also great when used as a clean boost. Some of the most popular overdrive pedals are the Boss SD-1, Ibanez TS-9, and the Electro-Harmonix Soul Food.
In summary, distortion pedals are like overdrive, but they are much more aggressive, saturated, and compressed. You have heard them countless times in hard rock, grunge, and heavy metal records.
The Boss DS-1 and the MXR Distortion+ and the ProCo RAT2 are examples of very popular distortion pedals that have been used by hundreds of guitarists.
Fuzz pedals sound even more saturated than distortion. They essentially clip your signal to the point that it sounds similar to a blown amp speaker being pushed past its limits.
Jimi Hendrix made this sound popular with the Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face pedal, and since then, many players have adopted it.
Several types of fuzz pedals sound and behave differently from each other. This guide will go over the main types and give you suggestions of what could be your next great pedal purchase!
The Main Types of Fuzz Pedals
Fuzz pedals can be grouped in different categories according to their circuits, namely how many transistors they use. The number and material of these components play a major part in the sound of the pedal.
Some players love a specific kind and don’t enjoy playing with others, so you should try to find what works out best for you by investigating what pedals your musical references use and trying them out for yourself.
There are other fuzz topologies that you can find, but they are not as common as the ones about to be discussed.
Fuzz Face Style Pedals (Two Transistors)
This is the most common type of fuzz pedal that you can find at guitar stores everywhere. The first of its kind was the Vox V816 Distortion Booster, but the most famous fuzz circuit using two transistors is the Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face, which was released about a year later, in 1966.
The fuzz face is a very dynamic pedal that reacts to your picking and guitar’s volume knob in a very sensitive way. This appeals to many guitarists who like to set the pedal at full blast and adjust their volume and gain using only the guitar.
Jimi Hendrix made this pedal famous and influenced countless guitarists to use it as well, making it one of the most distinguishable guitar tones in rock music.
Tone Bender Style Pedals (Three Transistors)
The three transistor fuzz circuit was the first one to be invented. In 1962, the Maestro Fuzz-Tone was released. It was also the first pedal in history, which already makes it special.
Keith Richards used it in the intro of “Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones. It wasn’t meant to be used in the song, but they liked it so much that they decided to keep it.
Other early examples of three transistor fuzz circuits include the Hornby Skewes Zonk Machine and the Marshall Supa Fuzz.
These pedals also have a very useful feature that you don’t find on fuzz face-type pedals, which is a Tone knob. This allows you to adjust your EQ to help you cut through the mix more efficiently. Since fuzz pedals can sometimes be a bit dark sounding, this comes in very handy.
Big Muff Style Pedals (Four Transistors)
The four transistor fuzz circuit came about in 1969 when Electro-Harmonix released their first version of the Big Muff. Since then, several variants of this pedal were released, and many legendary guitarists such as David Gilmour and Billy Corgan have embraced it to craft some of their most unique tones.
The Big Muff circuit is a lot more saturated and compressed, and it doesn’t clean up the same way as the fuzz face does. Because it has a lot more gain, it was adopted by many grunge players.
The most popular versions of this pedal are the Triangle Big Muff and the Ram’s Head Big Muff. Since then, many other pedal brands released their takes on this circuit, such as the Earthquaker Devices Cloven Hoof, JHS Muffuletta, and the Stone Deaf Fig Fumb.
The octave fuzz is one of the most interesting types of fuzz circuits. If you think of octave pedals, pedals like the Electro-Harmonix POG come to mind. These produce octaves digitally, but the octave fuzz circuit works in a different way.
It sounds like a fuzz with a higher octave sound blended into it as if you were playing the same line 12 frets above on your guitar.
It was invented in 1967 by Roger Mayer, and he called it the Octavia Fuzz. He later gave it as a present to Jimi Hendrix, who fell in love with the sound of the pedal and started using it frequently in studio recordings and live performances.
Other examples of this type of circuit include the Foxx Tone Machine, Legends of Fuzz Supreme, and the Fulltone Octafuzz.
How can you tell which type of fuzz is the best for you?
Diving into the world of fuzz for the first time can feel quite overwhelming due to the sheer variety of pedals you can find today.
To make a good decision, you should be informed about the different kinds of fuzz pedals that exist, and identify which one is more suitable to get close to the tone that you want.
If you are going for a more vintage sound, you should consider a classic design like the Fuzz Face. They work amazingly well with single coils, and clean up nicely with the guitar’s volume knob, making them very versatile.
If you would rather get a gnarlier, more modern sound out of your fuzz box, you should try out a Big Muff or a pedal inspired by it. Nowadays many versions give you, even more, gain and saturation, as well as additional EQ options to make the pedal work with your rig more easily.
My advice would be to start by making a shortlist of the guitarists that you like who use fuzz. Check what pedals they use in the studio recordings you like the most, as well as in their live recordings.
You should also take other factors into account, like the guitar they are using, as well as the amp. A Fender Stratocaster into a Marshall stack at a loud volume will sound very different from a Gibson Les Paul into a solid-state amp, for example. Fuzz pedals will react differently to each rig, so you must keep this in mind when shopping for a new fuzz.
Because of all of these intricacies, you should always try out the pedal before you buy it, or at least check if your dealer offers the possibility of returning the pedal within a certain period if you think it is not the right one for you.
Fuzz Pedals Worth Checking Out
This section is meant to show you some of the most interesting choices available in the market today if you’re looking for a fuzz pedal.
There are lots of different pedals here, and they might sound significantly distinct depending on the guitar and amp you use them with. Try to play a pedal before you buy it, or at least check if the store has any kind of free return period.
Dunlop Fuzz Face
The Dunlop Fuzz Face is one of the most iconic pedals in music history. It was made famous mostly by Jimi Hendrix, who used them for most of his career.
Several versions differ in size, transistor type, and other things, but for the most part, they are all very similar. They often don’t have an LED indicator to tell you when the pedal is on, and they only have two controls, volume, and fuzz.
This pedal has a great clean-up, allowing you to go from a saturated lead sound to an almost clean sound by simply adjusting the volume knob on your guitar.
If you aren’t a fan of big pedals, Dunlop also makes a downsized version of the Fuzz Face, which will fit much better on any pedalboard setup.
Electro-Harmonix Big Muff
The Electro-Harmonix Big Muff has been around for decades, and it is one of the most important designs within fuzz pedals. By using four transistors, it is more stable, giving you the freedom to place it in different places in your chain and still sound great.
It features three controls: volume, tone, and sustain. Volume is self-explanatory, tone allows you to shape your sound to be darker or brighter, and sustain controls the gain and distortion in your signal.
David Gilmour has used this pedal to create his signature creamy sound that he has on many of his famous guitar solos. Other players such as Carlos Santana, Jack White, and Matthew Bellamy are also known for using the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff.
There are lots of different versions of this pedal. The original one has a very large enclosure, so you might appreciate one of the smaller models.
- GuitarCenter – Electro-Harmonix Classics USA Big Muff Pi Distortion / Sustainer Guitar Effects Pedal
Zvex Fuzz Factory
The Zvex Fuzz Factory is one of the craziest fuzz circuits that you can find. It features two germanium transistors, but it gives you a much wider range of controls over the circuit in comparison to other pedals.
What you get is a pedal capable of delivering hundreds of different sounds, from the gated fuzz that cuts out aggressively when you stop playing, oscillation, crazy feedback sounds, and much more.
It is one of those pedals that you should sit down with for a long time, figuring out the sounds you can get with different knob combinations.
Playing through a pedal such as this one can be great to inspire you to write new songs, or simply to come up with musical ideas. Since you can get so many sounds and textures that you wouldn’t get without the Fuzz Factory, it makes you approach the guitar differently.
Many famous players such as Jack White, Trent Reznor, and J. Mascis have used the Zvex Fuzz Factory on several occasions.
MXR M-173 Classic 108
The MXR M-173 Classic 108 Fuzz is a great option for guitarists who like the vintage-sounding pedals like the old BC108 fuzz face pedals, but want to avoid some of the downsides of vintage spec models.
This pedal has that classic silicon fuzz sound that was made famous by legends like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Johnson and adds useful features such as a battery door, AC operation, an LED, true bypass, and a buffer switch that allows you to use this pedal more efficiently if you place a wah pedal in front of it.
Even though this pedal is already considerably smaller than a traditional fuzz face, there is an even smaller version that takes up almost no space on your pedalboard.
Way Huge Electronics WM42 Mini Russian Pickle
The Russian Pickle is Way Huge’s version of the Big Muff circuit. Just like the original Big Muff, the Pickle was first released in a pretty large enclosure, which doesn’t appeal to a lot of guitarists who are trying to save space on their pedalboards.
The WM42 Mini Russian Pickle solves this with a much smaller enclosure that retains all of the tone and controls of the original. The tone knob allows you to shape your signal and boost your midrange to cut better through the mix, volume adjusts the output of the pedal, and distortion controls your overall gain.
Just like the Big Muff, this pedal delivers a true wall of sound that is smooth, rich in harmonics, and perfect for rhythm and lead playing in many different genres of music. Just don’t expect it to clean up as well as a fuzz face-type pedal.
Keeley Monterey Workstation Fuzz
The Keeley Monterey Workstation is not just a fuzz pedal, it is way more than that. In just one box, you essentially get a bundle of Jimi Hendrix’s and the ’60s tones including fuzz, octave fuzz, vibe, rotary speaker, and wah.
The fuzz circuit uses two Fairchild Semiconductor transistors that have moderate gain, resistance to temperature, and a dynamic, organic tone.
In the modulation section, you can configure an octave up, octave down, a vibe, rotary speaker, harmonic, and auto-wah sounds. You can control select parameters of these effects with an expression pedal, opening up a lot of possibilities.
If you are a fan of the tones that inspired this pedal and you would also like to have some of the modulation effects on it, this pedal is an amazing tool, providing a lot of different sounds in a small enclosure.
Wampler Fuzztration Fuzz Octave
The Wampler Fuzztration is another dual pedal design that gives you independent fuzz and octave effects. It aims to solve some of the shortcomings of earlier fuzz options, such as the lack of effective EQ controls, and a switch that changes the overall voice of the fuzz, allowing you to go from a classic, vintage-type response to a more modern, open, and spongy tone.
The octave switch can be engaged independently of the fuzz, which gives you two separate pedals that you can combine however you’d like with the rest of your pedals. There is also a switch that places the octave before and after the fuzz, giving you two different sounds.
Like all Wampler pedals, the construction quality is notable, and it should last you a long time, even if you are gigging all the time.
The Analogman Sunface is a boutique pedal made in the United States by a small team. Analogman is known for making some of the finest pedals, used by many world-famous musicians. They also perform mods on other existing pedals.
The Sunface is a fuzz face-type pedal that has been around since the early 2000s. You can get it with silicon or germanium transistors, and there are a lot of options that will get you a different tone, more or less gain, different types of cleanup, among others.
You can get other extras on the pedal such as an LED indicator, an external bias pot, a power jack, and more. Some of the most coveted transistor options like the NKT275 aren’t available anymore, although you can sometimes find them in the used marketplace with a hefty price tag.
The FZ-1W is Boss’s revision of their already famous fuzz pedal, the FZ-5. It can deliver a variety of tones, from vintage-oriented sounds to a modern, tighter, and fatter response. You can achieve this through a switch located between the pedal’s knobs.
It features a pair of silicon transistors, a high-quality buffer, and single tone control to adjust the overall EQ curve of the pedal.
Walrus Audio Kangra Filter Fuzz
Like the rest of the Walrus Audio lineup, the Kangra Filter Fuzz looks stunning, but you could argue that it sounds even better.
It combines two different pedals into the same enclosure. On one side, you get an aggressive, filthy, and spanky octave fuzz, and on the other, you have a filter that can be set in a myriad of different ways. These can be engaged separately or simultaneously.
The filter part of this pedal was inspired by a vintage MPC 3000 low pass filter. It was designed in collaboration with Jared Scharff, a known fuzz aficionado.
You can control its resonance, sensitivity, frequency, and envelope filter. You can use this pedal in a lot of situations where you might not want the fuzz but could use some of the filter effects.
Beetronics FX Vezzpa Octave Stinger Fuzz
The Beetronics FX Vezzpa Fuzz is a beast of a pedal that will never go unnoticed each time you step on it. It combines digital and analog circuits to create a dense wall of sound that will shine during rhythm playing and a cutting octave-up setting that makes your guitar scream as you’ve never heard before.
You can get open, long sustained sounds as well as gated fuzz tones. This pedal’s footswitch also has a nice hidden feature. If you hold it down momentarily while the pedal is off, it will engage it while you’re holding down the switch. If the pedal is on, you can double-tap it to toggle between modes or hold it down to switch them temporarily.
Like all Beetronics FX pedals, the Vezzpa features a stunning design that complements its unique tone perfectly. It probably doesn’t sound like any other fuzz you have tried before, so make sure you can play it before you decide to buy it or try to listen to as many audio samples as you can.
Maestro Fuzz Tone FZ-M
The Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ-M deserves to be mentioned because it is a revamped version of the first pedal ever in history, the original Fuzz-Tone that came out in 1962.
This one features several improvements that rid you of all the inconveniences that vintage pedal had, leaving you with a much more user-friendly pedal that fits right into your pedalboard.
It has controls for attack, tone, and level, an LED indicator, and a true bypass switch that ensures that this pedal is not coloring your tone while it is disengaged, something that vintage pedals are famous for.
This pedal also features a Modern/Classic toggle switch that essentially gives you two different pedals in the same enclosure. You can power it with a 9V battery or with a 9V DC center-negative power supply.
Where does the fuzz pedal go in the signal chain?
Fuzz pedals can be very sensitive, despite having a fairly simple circuit. Ideally, you should always place them at the beginning of your chain. This means it should go before any tuner, wah, compressor, or any other effect.
Some fuzz circuits don’t play nicely with buffered pedals, which is why you shouldn’t place them in the middle of your chain. However, this is not the case for every single fuzz pedal there is.
For instance, the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff features a type of design that is more stable than the Fuzz Face, which makes it easier to switch around the signal chain.
You should always experiment as much as you can with your pedals and their place in the signal chain. If you want to stack your fuzz pedal with overdrive, distortion, or a boost, you should try placing them in distinct orders to see which one gives you the best tone when they are both engaged.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions About Fuzz Pedals
Question: When should I use a fuzz pedal?
A big muff-type pedal will always be a lot more saturated and will not clean up as easily as the fuzz face. These are great for bands who like to have a massive wall of sound, rich in harmonics and saturation.
Pedals such as the Zvex Fuzz Factory can create a lot of crazy sounds that aren’t common to hear from fuzz pedals. An octave fuzz is great to cut through the mix with that high octave added to your signal.
Question: What kind of fuzz pedal is the best?
The key is to think well about the tone you wish to obtain from your pedal, get references from other guitarists who play fuzz pedals, and try out a few for yourself with your guitar and amplifier so that you can see if you would like to use it with your current setup. There is a huge variety of fuzz pedals: fuzz faces, big muffs, tone benders, octafuzz, and more!
Question: Which guitarists have used fuzz pedals throughout their careers?
Here are a few players and bands who are known for using fuzz:
• Jimi Hendrix
• Keith Richards
• Eric Johnson
• David Gilmour
• J. Mascis
• Matt Bellamy
• Jack White
• Electric Wizard
• Sunn O)))
Question: Where should I place my fuzz pedal on my pedalboard?
Many fuzz circuits become extremely noisy when they are placed after a buffered pedal. Germanium transistor models are particularly prone to having issues with other pedals.
However, not every single fuzz pedal shares this downside, which should encourage you to experiment with your setup and see how can you get the best sound out of what you have. Try placing it before and after an overdrive if you’re planning on stacking them and see which order sounds best to you.
Question: What fuzz pedal did Jimi Hendrix use?
Question: What kind of fuzz did David Gilmour play with Pink Floyd?
Question: What is the difference between germanium and silicon fuzz pedals?
In a general way, fuzz pedals with germanium transistors tend to sound warmer, have less gain than most silicon transistors, and are known to clean up better. The NKT275 is one of the most coveted germanium transistors.
Silicon transistor fuzz pedals like the BC108 are known for having more gain, having a brighter tone, and less sensitivity for external factors like temperature, which makes them more stable.
Closing Considerations About Finding the Best Fuzz Pedal
As you can surely tell by now, picking out a new fuzz pedal can be quite the task if you don’t know what you are looking for. Not only there is a large variety of fuzz circuit topologies, but they also tend to react distinctly to different guitars and amplifiers.
The bottom line is that there is no absolute fuzz pedal since some perform better than others depending on the context they are being used in.
Start by figuring out what kind of fuzz pedals are used by the guitarists you look up to and try to figure out if the same pedal or a similar one could get you close to that tone.
As always, you should ideally test the pedal before you buy it since hearing audio samples does not always give you a very clear understanding of how the pedal feels when you are playing through it.
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