Let me just start this off by saying I love fuzz pedals.
Fuzz is, without a doubt, my favorite guitar effect out there. In a way, you could call it my “desert island” effect pedal. Over my lifetime as a guitarist, I’ve bought, sold, and collected dozens of fuzz pedals. I’ve become somewhat of a fuzz missionary at this point in my career, trying to spread the good gospel and convince other guitarists to add fuzz pedals to their rigs.
Fuzz has had such an immense impact on guitar playing over the years, and it’s one of the guitar effects that has truly stood the test of time. In fact, fuzz was one of the very first guitar effects ever made — the 1962 FZ1-A Fuzz Pedal.
Most people don’t realize that you can do so much more with a fuzz pedal than create wild, spitty, ultra-distorted sounds. The point of this article is to explain why I believe fuzz pedals are so essential and so versatile. Along the way, I hope you’ll realize how crucial a fuzz pedal is for your rig too.
But First… A Bit About Fuzz Circuits
Fuzz circuits are actually pretty simple when you dig into them. There’s not a ton going on under the hood. However, there are a few key components you should know about.
Transistors are small electrical components that we use as amplifiers in the fuzz circuits. To achieve fuzz distortion or fuzz sound, we must overload those transistor components. More often than not, we’ll find one of two types of transistors in fuzz pedals: Germanium or Silicon.
Germanium fuzz pedals are a bit smoother in the top end and aren’t as bright or brittle compared to silicon fuzz pedals. What IS worth noting is that Germanium fuzz pedals can be a bit unreliable. The sound of Germanium can change based on things like temperature.
If you’ve ever heard stories of guitarists keeping their Fuzz Faces in freezers before a session or show, or stories of people not wanting to use them inside small, hot venues, now you know why.
Silicon is far more stable and won’t be affected by things like temperature change.
If you want, you can build or find fuzz pedals with other types of fuzz-making components, including clipping diodes (found in the Mythos Golden Fleece Fuzz) or op-amps. Effectively, they all work the same way by clipping your tone.
Fuzz Vs. Overdrive
Fuzz is similar to overdrive or distortion in that they all use clipped amplification devices, whether a diode, transistor, or op-amp. Generally, fuzz pedals just have a different response compared to overdrive or distortion pedals. With that said, there are definitely crossovers that can move from fuzz to overdrive territory with small adjustments.
When looking for “fuzz” pedals, you’ll have to do your best to listen to them and see how far into, and outside of the clipping range, they move to truly classify them.
Why You Need a Fuzz Pedal
Fattening Up Clean Tones
Beyond creating crazy distortion and high-gain sounds, fuzz pedals are incredible tone-shaping tools. You can use a fuzz pedal to fatten up clean tones, for example.
I love fattening up clean tones when tracking guitars. Believe it or not, you can use otherwise high-gain fuzz pedals to dial-in fat, clean tones that sound great when tucked into a mix. To do this, start by dialing in a moderate setting on your fuzz pedal.
Once you have that dialed in, you must find the sweet spot on your guitar, using your volume knob. Essentially, you want to get to the point where the tone is starting to clean up, but you’re still getting a slight bit of drive or saturation coming from the pedal.
A great fuzz pedal will clean up when you give it less volume from your guitar, providing you with an infinite amount of tonal possibilities. Essentially, you’re dialing in a maximum amount of gain before controlling how much gain is coming from the pedal.
Fattening Up Rhythm Tones
If you’re playing in a band where you’re the only guitar player or if you’re making a track with a guitar that needs a bit more weight, you can use a fuzz pedal. The reason fuzz pedals work so well in this instance is that they add harmonic distortion. With all of that additional harmonic content coming from the fuzz, a unique type of weight is added.
While cranked fuzz might sound like a lot out of context, once you put it in a mix with drums, bass, and possibly a few other guitars, you’ll notice just how much beef it can add to your overall sound.
QUICK TIP: When testing out fuzz pedals, play third intervals. Not all fuzz pedals handle playing chords very well. If you can play a major third and still retain chordal clarity with a broken-up sound, then you know that pedal uses prime components.
Creating Soaring Lead Tones
Of course, fuzz is the perfect tool for creating in-your-face lead tones. Beyond the crunchy characteristics of fuzz that you can get with high-gain settings, it also creates sustain. The way that fuzz creates sustain is with a natural form of compression.
If you have ever used a compressor pedal before your overdrive pedals to get more sustain for leads, then you practically know the sound of fuzz. Fuzz does the same thing by clipping your signal and squashing the dynamics. Depending on how your fuzz and amp are set, you can get singing, violin-like sustain. Think David Gilmore or Eric Johnson. Plus, fuzz can push your guitar’s mid-range frequencies to help you cut through the mix.
To get even more sustain, you can even add delay or reverb after the fact.
Finding The Right Fuzz For You
When it comes to finding the right fuzz pedal, the important thing is to do your research. If you have a favorite band or artist, do a quick Google search to determine what pedal they are using or were using in their day. Once you find their preferred pedal, you can look for a similar pedal with an equivalent circuit that falls under the same umbrella of tone.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll eventually end up with a few fuzz pedals in your collection that you’ll never be able to part with. Elevate your playing. Get some fuzz.