Price paid: $ 120
Purchased from: FuzzHugger Direct
Ease of Use: FuzzHugger is the work of Tom Dalton and Tom Dalton only - I'll talk more about that in the Overall Impression section, but for this one I'll just say he knows how to build good pedal.
Ease of use? Well, it's a fuzzbox. Despite having four modes it's really not difficult to dial in a good tone. I don't think it can produce a bad one. It's in a fairly standard cast-metal box, think new EHX pedal size. Two footswitches - one to switch on the effect, one to toggle oscillation (more on this later), a micro-switch to toggle the amount of gain and Level, Gain and Oscillation knobs. I'm just going to rate this section democratically because operating a distortion pedal is not exactly difficult - you just turn up the noisy control until you're happy with the results. // 9
Sound: I'll go through each mode at a time. With the Mode switch up it's a low-gain distortion, with a more overdrive-like character than anything else. But it's a very punchy and trebly Overdrive - please don't have this down as a boutique Tubescreamer clone or "transparent overdrive" (or what most of us would call a clean boost). If you want this to push a boutique valve amp into singing overdrive, it's the wrong pedal. Think the brash, in-your-face tone of a Telecaster's bridge pickup plugged into a Fender valve amp on the verge of breakup. Crank the gain in this mode and you'll get a smooth distortion tone great for David Gilmour-esque leads.
Flipping the Mode switch ups the gain a bit and turns the Arc Flash into a nasty fuzz monster. Again, this isn't the place for Big Muff clones. A Fender Blender or Ampeg Scrambler is more of a tonal reference point - this is fuzz that is in-your-face, trebly and sawtoothy. It sustains for days and note definition, even when playing chords or double-stops, is spot-on.
Then you've got oscillation mode. For those not familiar with this sound, it's one found in pedals made by more experimental makers such as ZVex, Devi Ever and Death By Audio, and it produces a constant, droning tone from inside the pedal. If you play over this tone, your notes interact with it in crazy ways - notes sustain out into glitchy noise, random octave-down sounds appear, the oscillation cascades down through the harmonic series as an analogue synth-like run of notes appears out of nowhere as you sustain a note. It's really something else. The sweep of the oscillation control on this pedal is huge, covering everything from synth bass-like drones to white noise to high-pitched squeals.
It's also highly interactive with the Gain control and the volume of your guitar. If you don't like the sweep of the Oscillation pot, a quick tweak of the Gain pot will totally shift it. I don't know why this is - I chalk it down to magic - but lowering the volume of your guitar changes the pitch of the oscillation quite drastically. Even leaving the oscillation running as you play riffs and chords over the top of it adds a level of slight unpredictability that's part MXR Blue Box and part Vintage Vox AC30 that's on the verge of catching fire, as they quite often did. It really has to be heard to be believed.
So if you want smooth, conventional tones, this isn't the pedal for you, but if that is the case I can't see how you'd have ended up reading this review. For the noise-rock fan you can get thrashy Sonic Youth rhythm tones, My Bloody Valentine-esque walls of fuzz and all sorts of weird noises. It's an incredibly versatile pedal. // 9
Reliability & Durability: Again, this will be rated fairly democratically because I've only had the thing for two days. But it's in a solid enclosure (and the graphic on the front is just fantastic) coupled with sturdy switches and jacks, a brace of red LEDs bright enough to be visible from space and huge great pots that look like something off the bridge of a Soviet cargo ship. There's no official warranty but Tom says that if anything goes wrong with it he'll gladly take a look at it and see what he can do. That's customer service.
Would I gig without a backup? I'll have to. I really don't own any other pedals like this one. // 9
Overall Impression: Sadly, my main impression of this pedal so far has been the hassle of importing it to the UK, but that's mostly Royal Mail's fault and there will be a suitable rant on my blog very soon, I expect. To cut a long story short, I ordered it over a month ago and it arrived on Saturday. To make the short story a bit longer, I'd been looking for a good fuzz pedal for a long time and I was eventually drawn to that greatest of innovators - men in sheds. Tom Dalton is FuzzHugger, and he builds a small but perfectly-engineered range of wild and wonderful fuzzboxes. If anything, this is the most conventional one he builds. For the price, you're getting a ridiculously good deal, essentially three pedals in one and three very good pedals at that. It's anathema to the Big Muff that I use as the main rhythm distortion sound in my Indie band. If you want to get heard, and for people to think "How the hell is he/she doing that?" you should have a serious look at this pedal. It might well be the last distortion you ever buy.
The AFO is not part of Tom's standard range, it's built to order so it will take about two weeks plus shipping. But go for it. It's worth the wait. // 9