When Dan & Mick stopped in at our New Hope location last fall for a live show, one of the main conversations that took place revolved around buffers and fuzzes. Simply put, fuzzes are situational animals. Their components, circuitry, and the placement in the signal chain are all factors that make or break the sound of this classic effect. Toss in a wah-wah and a buffer and the variables are compounded.
This week on TPS, Dan & Mick were back in the studio for a comprehensive controlled experiment with fuzz pedals, wahs, and buffers. With a board featuring Analog Man renditions of the classic Fuzz Face sound, a Way Huge Russian Pickle approximating a Big Muff-style tone, and an arsenal of different wahs with varying buffer components, Dan & Mick explored the sonic relationship between these three types of effects. Here’s a snapshot of just a few outcomes and upshots of their study.
Posing the Question and Knowing Your Components
As Mick commented at the top of the hour, “The question we get asked all the time is, ‘What happens when you combine a wah-wah and a Fuzz Face and then introduce buffers to that whole thing?’ Because as anyone knows, if you try and use a traditional Fuzz Face-type pedal and a wah-wah you can step into problems.” Why does this happen? Part of the answer has to do with the material quality of components used on the circuit.
While it’s unfair to reduce a complex pedal circuit to a single component, the reality is the signal chain behavior of a fuzz pedal is directly related to whether its circuit includes silicon or germanium transistors. (Transistors are those little bitty conductive devices that help amplify or switch electronic signals and power).
In general, classic Fuzz Face-style pedals utilize germanium transistors. In the episode, the Analog Man Sun Face NKT (Red Dot) fit this description and filled this role. As silicon became more common in components, this style of transistor is increasingly found in subsequent Fuzz Face-style pedals as well as most Big Muff-type designs. On the TPS board, these silicon-based sounds were represented by the Analog Man Sun Face BC183 and Way Huge Russian Pickle, respectively.
Now that the pedals are in place and we’ve taken stock of their profile, the question is how they (mis)behave when partnered up with a wah.
Anticipated Outcomes and Surprise Solutions from Analog Man
Any experiment needs to start with identifying the problem before working towards a solution. The easiest way to do this in the present case was to smack a wah down right before the germanium Fuzz Face and await some shrill and sharp crunch. As Dan & Mick soon found out, however, the gear was one step ahead of them.
Even after running half a dozen wahs into the Analog Man NKT (Red Dot), the sounds were far from unbearable. Shocked at the outcomes, Mick remarked, “They all sounded pretty good to me…so [they say] ‘You can’t use your germanium fuzz after your wah wah.’ Fooey, I say!” In this case, Dan noted that, through a mix of magic and math, Mike Piera’s designs at Analog Man have cracked the code on the expected problem. So while the traditional wisdom would say beware the placement of germanium-based pedals on your board, the practical wisdom is that it all depends on the pedal.
Using a Buffer When the Problem Does Persist
Momentarily thwarted by Analog Man, Dan & Mick swapped in a boutique germanium fuzz that ran amuck with the wah in front of it. Due to the high output impedance of the wah, the resulting fuzz-plus-wah sound lacked a broad frequency sweep and had an unfriendly sharpness to it.
Switching on the buffer in the Fulltone wah, which effectively lowered the output impedance of the signal going into the fuzz, resolved the issue. Here the sound was restored to a wooly fuzz, with a frequency range pleasantly squawked and squashed by the wah. As Mick reflected on this, the lesson learned is that, “Once again, buffers are definitely not created equal and they operate at different parts in the circuit and clearly the ones in wah wahs are very different from the ones in [other types] of pedals.” Dan added, “What’s important here is that the buffer is part of the [Fulltone’s] circuit, but it’s bypassed when the wah is off.” Using a self-standing buffer before the germanium-based fuzz would act entirely differently.
As this episode of TPS demonstrated, getting great tones is as much about knowing the particulars of your gear as it is knowing the sound you’re after. Whatever tones you’re seeking out, head over to visit us at Riff City in store or online and we’ll help explore new wah, fuzz, and buffer territory.
TPS Episode Rig Rundown:
Guitars: Fender Custom Shop 1952 Telecaster, Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster, Gibson Custom 1958 Les Paul Standard, Gibson Memphis 1958 ES-355.
Amps: Marshall 1987x with 2061x 2×12 cab, Fender Super Reverb.
Effects Pedals: D’Addario Pedal Tuner, Fulltone Clyde Standard Wah, Vox V847 Wah, ProAnalog Devices Supa Quack Wah, Jim Dunlop CryBaby GCB95 Standard Wah, Analog Man Sun Face NKT (Red Dot), Analog Man Sun Face BC108, Hubcap John Germanium Fuzz Clone, Way Huge Russian Pickle Fuzz, Jim Dunlop EP-3 Echoplex Delay.