Fuzz: the final frontier. These are the voyages of Dan & Mick in the That Pedal Shed…
Okay, well, not really. But this week Dan & Mick did push beyond the bounds of traditional fuzz into bold new territory. As with many other types of gear, the world of fuzz sounds is diverse yet hearkens back to some fundamental vintage typologies. As Mick noted in the episode, in some way or another modern fuzzes share a family history back to three essential items: the Fuzz Face, Big Muff, and Tone Bender. As past episodes of TPS have demonstrated, decades after the inception of these foundational fuzzes, the world of fuzz is ever expanding. (For some of this backstory related to the Big Muff, check out both or TPS blog and recent article in the Riff City Sunday Papers).
Even fuzz aficionados, however, will know that there is no single way to navigate through this universe of fuzz-er-ociousness. Using the traditional typologies of fuzz as a departure point, Dan & Mick toured through a set of pedals that take fuzz into new domains. Along the way, our TPS anchormen offered both tips and insights into moving on from vintage-style fuzzes in two different directions.
Axis One: A Vintage Inspired Fuzz with Extended Parameters
These days, there are loads of options for takes on traditional fuzzes. A myriad of gear makers offer their own tailored variations including: Analog Man, Electro-Harmonix, Jim Dunlop, and Wren and Cuff. It’s indeed a good time to be a fuzz addict.
In many ways, the best modern variation on a classic effect is to take what it does best and design for increased fine-tuning by the user. Take the Wampler Velvet Fuzz pedal, for example. The Velvet Fuzz features two different clipping options that allow for tiers of compression and aggression at all frequencies. With the added controllability of the “big/thick” switch and “brightness” knob, the Velvet is equally at home in a 60s rock tribute gig as it is in a Queens of the Stone Age cover band. Engineered as a fuzz with the feel of a distortion pedal, the Velvet is a pedal with a vintage heritage for a modern player.
As Dan noted, this pedal is not new to the market but has been close at hand in his collection ever since its launch. He continued, “What I like about this is that if the craziness is not something that you’re after and you want something that does cool fuzz tones or you might just be getting into fuzz or something that is appropriate for a lot of sounds, this is a fantastic pedal.” Moving on from this, however, the Velvet is an ideal vehicle for venturing further into the realm of fuzz.
As Mick described, if you’ve done the Tone Bender, Big Muff, and Fuzz Face thing, the way forward really involves two options: either “I go weird, and wonderful, and experimental…or what I might actually want is a more controllable really good fuzz sound.” The classics also come with limitations, like where they play well in the signal chain, how they behave with buffers, etc. Dan noted that “why [the Velvet] is great is because you can grab this and stick it anywhere on your pedalboard and it’s going to sound fantastic.”
Axis Two: An Otherworldly Fuzz with Experimental Powers
As was the case with modern versions of classic fuzz sounds, the number of pedals in the non-traditional camp is also equally numerous. To note just a few, thumb through the brilliant gear by EarthQuaker, Walrus, Stone Deaf, and Chase Bliss and you’ll see what I mean. In this episode of TPS, Dan & Mick hitched a ride on a self-described “voyage of discovery” to the experimental side of the world of fuzz with a pair of pedals by ZVEX: the Fuzz Factory 7 and Probe.
Starting with the Fuzz Factory 7, the design philosophy is essentially to put user-controlled pots atop any and all points of the circuit that would traditionally be internally fixed. As Dan noted, this means “you can mess with everything that creates that fuzz and its character.” This means even the tame sound can be tuned toward a ferocious fizz with a biting gate. Journeying further along the spectrum of multi-knob spinability, the Fuzz Factory 7 careened into an almost overloaded low-fi crunch with a taste of glitchy bit-crusher tossed in. As Dan concluded, “It does sound wonderful, there is nothing vintage about that at all, but it’s amazing!”
The Probe is where things go from crazy to crazier still. As Dan declared in an on-air reading of the first line from the ZVEX Probe manual: “Congratulations! You must be insane. Even I don’t get how to use this pedal.” That said, the Probe merges the “stability” control of the Fuzz Factory with a pad control that behaves like a theramin. At its subtlest, the pedal sounded something like the tail end of Radiohead set with all band members going all in on rocky oscillation. If that’s the starting line, you know things get exponentially wilder from there on out. As Mick remarked at the close of the segment, while the pedal is not immediately predictable, it’s controls are all highly interactive. “I guess you could get to the point where certain actions elicit a certain response, but that’s not really the point of these pedals.”
To draw the journey through the frontiers of fuzz to a close, it’s safe to say this is a corner of the gear world that is both old and new. As Dan highlighted, “Fuzz is simply a genre. We spend a lot of time with drive pedals, tube drive pedals, transistor drive, and op-amp drive pedals, and their power is crazy. For fuzz, you take all that and multiply by ten. The different textures that are available are incredible.” No matter what point you’re at on your journey with fuzz, be sure to check out our fully stocked selection of fuzz pedals, from simple and sublime to cosmic and colossal.
TPS Episode Rig Rundown:
Guitars: Collings 290 DC S, Fender American Vintage Stratocaster, Fender Custom Shop 1963 Telecaster, Duesenberg Bonneville.
Amps: Marshall 1987x with 2061x cabinet, 1961 Vox AC30.Effects Pedals: D’Addario Pedal Tuner, ZVEX Probe, ZVEX Fuzz Factory 7, Thorpy Veteran (Silicon), ProAnalog Devices MkIV, Wampler Velvet Fuzz, Empress Echo System, Neunaber Immerse.