If there was just one fuzz box for everybody, there would be no need for rock & 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 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, has to stand out, has to grab attention…. or why’d you pick up the 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. If fuzz was truly trying to imitate, it wasn’t because the guitar wanted to be a sax as much as it was for the position of that 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.
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 (an increase in amplitude, or “more volume” increasing to distortion. in short, distortion w/o tone loss) and Non-Linear (this is an alteration to the sound wave called “clipping”, this generates freq’s that are not present in the initial signal); Fuzz is a form of non-linear distortion. Therefore, fuzz is your initial signal “excited” (or with added freq.’s) then, depending on manufacturer, that "excited tonal palate” is refocused or “voiced” to the engineers 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. Speaking of tones, 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 humans with their hit “Satisfaction”.
- Arbiter FuzzFace: Hendrix, Gilmour, Townsend, Young… I could keep going for days. This fuzz box has been distributed by 4 manufactures and with many different configurations but the basics remain; it super simple and super 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.
- 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. I think everyone, and their mother has played or is known for the “muff-tone”. There are even websites dedicated to Big Muff Players and their tone. Silicon lies at the root of this circuit designed by Bob Myer at the request of Rock-n-Roll legend Mike Matthews, owner and creator of Electro-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.
- Tone Bender - Designed by Gary Hurst and modeled after the Maestro Fuzz-tone, this fuzz box has “gotten-around” and has had various names (Vox Tone Bender Pro MKII, Marshall Supa Fuzz and Rotosound Fuzz Box to name a few) and build designs. 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.
I love fuzz. There was one thing that stood out to me as I was reading and researching for this article though...
The truly great fuzz players of old never considered the cost or the retribution to their gear when searching for their voice amongst the crowd.
Fuzz? Simply, Get Some!
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