First Fuzz

Christmas has brought some new toys my way. Besides the chorus pedal, I got a FUZZ. This is something that’s been low on my wish list since they started making a comeback in the early 90s. They always seemed crude to me, and I never need THAT much distortion. So I don’t know what suddenly possessed me to buy one. Maybe it Sly & the Family Stone’s second album which has been my happy day driving music for these past weeks.

My only criteria for getting a fuzz was cost/performance, in other words, the cheapest thing I could get that didn’t say Behringer on it. The cheapest new pedal I could find was Modtone’s “The Fuzz” for $40, but for a few dollars more I was able to win a Seymour Duncan Tweak Fuzz with no scratches and the battery still inside on Yahoo! Auction. I was concerned it would be too big, but it’s only a little wider than a Barber pedal. However, it’s slanted which makes it easier to stomp. The enclosure is one of the sturdiest and most attractive I’ve seen, but it looses points for battery access. The guts are clean, too but I was surprised when I couldn’t find any transistors inside. I guess they are surface mounted components like…Behringer. Maybe this is why these pedals don’t get much love. A boutique exterior with behringer might seem like bate-and-switch to some. In spite of this, the pedal is supposed to be very easy to mod thanks to sea of holes on the PCB, thus giving the pedal it’s name. 

The circuit is basically a fuzz-face, which is cool because that’s pretty much what I was seeking this time. Crank it and it delivers the goods: think, nasty ruthless clipping covered with extra hair and other cheap analog artefacts. This description makes it seem like it sounds bad, but the sound is not unpleasant. At least not after I changed the battery. Before that, I was treated to some nice sputtering fuzz flatulence which has inspired ‘sag’ controls on certain pedals and power supplies. After a battery change, stomping on the pedal deep-fried my guitars sound until it was unrecognizable, but totally imposible to ignore. The pedal is certainly not difficult to tweak, but there is no description for the 6-position tone-switch. This is not like a typical tone control with a single capacitor. There are 6-different caps to switch between, almost like tone presets. The manual I downloaded for it was very helpful, and my favorite tones so far are the first two sample settings. 

The sound was not quite as bright and raspy as I was expecting, so I finally changed the strings on my G&L Legacy. This time, I tried a lighter and brighter set of GHS Boomers (10.5~48). The combination of my Keystone pickups, Callaham Tremblock and amp’s crispy sounding speaker, I was worried the Boomers would be too bright, but the new strings compliment the whole set up very well, bringing out the best it all of it. Compared to these, the Burnished Nickels (11-50) set felt too heavy and dull. The guitar plays and sound very nicely again, especially clean and semi-clean. However, the fuzz doesn’t seem to care how bright the guitar is, and tone control on the bridge pickup had almost no effect.  

The final test was to see how it would interact with other pedals. Since I already installed an output buffer into my Budwah last month, there was none of the legendary incompatibility between fuzz and wah. Rolling off the volume control didn’t seem to have the desired effect, but I was again pleasantly surprised at how great it sounded together with my Robot Factory Ubber Rat. The day before the fuzz arrived, I had been really getting down with this pedal to see how it works, and I think I’m almost there. The major break through was figuring out how to get a clean boost by using the op-amp without the clipping diodes. Driving the fuzz with that gave some very nice overdrive tones with the volume rolled off, in addition to tightening up the fuzz and increasing sustain. This is good because it means I can still use my Tonepress as a clean boost with compression. 

Following the fuzz and strings, one more upgrade this week was a 12AT7 tube for my Valbee. I’ve tried all the other types and wasn’t totally satisfied. There was either too much gain or too little sustain. Yet again, I was surprised that the cheapest single tube I could find on Yahoo! Auction was not Electro-Harmonix, but an NOS MULLARD (actually branded Fisher)!!! It seems most tubes simply are sold as singles, which totally ignores the market for small single ended amps with like the Valbee, Greco GVA Custom and the Chimp which I covet. So lonely tubes with no family like this one can be gotten for as little as $12. The Mullard/Fisher sounds even better than my prized JAN 6072A which it replaces. I can’t describe it, but the there does seem to be a more open and detailed sound, and it even seems to add some of the warmth that has been missing from my current rig. 



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