Guide to Pedals: Fuzz Pedals

An introductory guide to fuzz pedals following the same steps as before.

Ultimate Guitar
Good news everyone! The guide to pedals is back!

I am sorry that it took me a little longer than usual to write this article, but today's pedal has such a great a cult behind it that I wanted to read as much a possible to deliver something that would appeal to all the fan-boys out there. As I stated before, today we are going to discuss the almighty and creepy fuzz pedal!

Now, this is a historically worshiped pedal, but why, you may ask. Well, all guitar champions have used it to produce a very distinctive type of sound. If you have no idea why, check out "Foxy Lady" by Jimi Hendrix or "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones and perhaps you will understand why some people are addicted to them.

What kind of sound does it make?

Well, my girlfriend says that if a distortion pedal is a cat, a fuzz pedal is a mean and hairy one. Fuzz is just a very dramatic distortion that is known to be very responsive and aggressive, and yes hairy and noisy. It is definitely not for everyone, but those who learn to tame it can find very musical ways to use it. There is not really more to say, fuzz is just a very noisy distortion, it sounds like your amp's broken (really). I mean I guess that's the only way to really describe it. If you a bit confused, here is a video that compares all the pedals we have talked about:

YouTube preview picture

What does the pedal do to your signal?

A fuzz pedal is another pedal that clips your signal (please refer to the previous articles for the explanation of clipping). The difference between a fuzz and a distortion pedal is that the clipping is not hard but is extreme, this turns your sine-like signal into almost into a square wave. Therefore, a fuzz pedal can, in fact, be almost like a very saturated, compressed distortion, all the way to something that almost sounds like several guitars playing the same note with a lot of noise in the background. A nice article describing basic fuzz is here.

Fuzz pedals are beloved for their noisy transparent tone, that is, their response and dynamics to your pick attack and your guitar's volume control. There are many types of fuzz pedals but at their core there is a transistor that produces the clipping. Even though there are a many types of transistors, for this kind of pedals silicon transistors and germanium transistors seem to be the favorites to be incorporated into these units. Germanium units are known for their slightly harder and more crisply defined tones. This is not to say that silicon-based fuzzes are inferior, only different, and many notable players count themselves fans of each breed. If you want to know more about this, go here.

How you use it?

Unlike linear boosters, fuzzes add a lot of thing to your signal (and that's precisely the idea), but they can also be used to drive a tube amp into clipping. Ultimately, most great guitarists with definitive fuzz tones use their fuzz pedals into a clean amp to get that dirty and hairy tone. Others like to use it to push their amp a bit harder (like an overdrive pedal) and produce some nasty sustain with a lot of feedback. These choices turn the pedal into a more interactive part of the rig.

Check out this video to listen to some different ideas of how to use a fuzz pedal:

YouTube preview picture

Fuzz pedals also work great with other pedals, particularly well with octavers and wah (the wah Jimmy Hendrix did it). Go here for a taste of a fuzz and an octaver is the same pedal:

YouTube preview picture

Three good choices:

This is going to be hard, there is not only a great amount of brilliant fuzzes out there, but also every one likes the one that they have. I will try my best to recommend some good fuzz pedals for you without getting into much detail. Keep in mind that fuzzes are known to be hand made and custom pedals and good fuzz pedals (in my opinion) start at around $80. Lower that that (once again, in my opinion) they are just noise boxes.

1. Cheap

A cheap and good fuzz pedal is a rare thing, as I said before. But if you are on a budget, go for and Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi, it is not extremely cheap but it will work properly. Here is a taste.

YouTube preview picture

2. Mid

With a bit more than a hundred dollars, you could find a great fuzz pedal that will make any Hendrix fan happy. My favorite one is the Way Huge Havalina Germanium Fuzz. There are also the Jim Dunlop Face pedals, but I like the Havalina better!

YouTube preview picture

3. Expensive

Expensive fuzz can signify VERY EXPLENSIVE, but in my experience there is fuzz that kills all of them the Black Arts Toneworks Pharaoh, it is aggressive, it is transparent and produces almost none of the unwanted noise that is associated to fuzz pedals and have some cool switching. The same company also produces the Black Arts Toneworks LSTR, which is a nastier pedal. If you are looking for a great fuzz pedal, go no further. Check them out:

YouTube preview picture

My Weapon of Choice

So, where do I go when it comes to fuzz tones? Well, the guys at Black Arts Toneworks have a lot of fuzz pedals and my favorite fuzz pedal is theirs too. My favorite one is the Black Forest, a fuzz pedal design to be a hairy overdrive, it is clear, it has treble and bass knobs several clipping choices, I just love it, and I know you want one too!

YouTube preview picture

Well my friends, we have reached the end of this article. If you are curious about fuzz pedals go here.

There is a lot of info that you might find useful about fuzz pedals. This is also the last lather of the distortion-type pedals. We have covered boost, overdrive, distortion and fuzz pedals. Where do you think I should go next? Maybe filters (phasers and wah), or modulations (chorus and tremolo), or perhaps delays or pitch shifting devices, leave a comment bellow and lets see what you guys pick.

Until next week!

15 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I'd love to see a similar series on delay. IMO it's the Swiss Army knife of guitar effects, along with overdrive, since it has so many uses.Great articles so far BTW! P.S. How is that MIM Stratocaster working out for you? I really want one lately...
    I only just got my first delay three days ago for my birthday. It's a Boss DD7, and it is awesome. And yes, like you said, it really is a Swiss Army knife of a pedal! Back to fuzz though, if you're a fan of the Big Muff sound but would like a little more flexibility, the Big Muff Tone Wicker is perfect!
    I'm really more of a guitar-cable-amp kinda guy but thanks for the recommendation
    Well then, why the delay?
    I have a multi effects unit, cause I can't afford (or have the time to deal with) individual pedals. I do use effects, but I normally plug straight into the amp.
    Leather Sleeves
    Delays are useful, but their actual effect is pretty self-explanatory. Overdrives, fuzzes, and distortions require some explanation to account for their differences. Still, a series on various time and pitch related effects pedals would have a good parallel with this series.
    I know this is off topic, but how the bleeding Christ does someone writing for this website (or edits articles) not know how to spell Jimi Hendrix? I mean VERY EXPLENSIVE is obviously a typo, but Jimmy? Not a bad article, but that just really boggles my mind.
    For anyone interested in a sputtery and versatile fuzz pedal: go for the EarthQuaker Devices Dirt Transmitter. It's the best mid-range fuzz pedal I've ever tested and bought.
    Fuzz is my spirit animal, and Devi Ever's Shoegazer is my weapon of choice. If only either channel weren't so noisy.
    Where are Zvex or Death By Audio fuzz pedals? Or at least such classic stuff as Fuzz Face or Tone bender? Not very good article in my opinion.
    It's a good article but fuzzes are more than just prices. He could have showcased things like silicon transistors, different vintage and modern flavors.
    for high end i will chose the Analogman Sunface NKT275 Low Gain White Dot any day of the week and on the low a Russian Big Box fuzz. On the really low end the Joyo Voodoo Octave is a great choice
    In terms of bass, the Darkglass Electronics bass fuzz is my personal favorite.