Generally fuzz pedals are a bit misunderstood, but what if we could change the way we use and view fuzz pedals to show their versatility as well as their effectiveness in areas other than sheer chaos?
There will always be some aspect of controversy when it comes to how and why we use effect pedals; it’s just a matter of fact. The world of guitar and sound crafting that we all participate in has some universal, accepted truths that we can all collectively agree on and accept. Others lead us to band together on opposite sides of comment sections and message boards, holding our ground until our viewpoint becomes the victorious choice. However, amidst the battles between players there are some effects that genuinely confuse us and there’s an uncomfortable silence that fills Reddit and YouTube comments. Generally fuzz pedals are a bit misunderstood, being shoved into their bell-bottom pants and perform their obligatory tasks like circus monkeys. However, what if we could change the way we use and view fuzz pedals to show their versatility as well as their effectiveness in areas other than sheer chaos?
This week on TPS, the guys dive into all things fuzz, giving us ten great ways to experiment with fuzz pedals to get different sounds on top of what we expect from the infamous circuit.
Create A Wall Of Noise
Starting with universally familiar territory, Dan and Mick start off the list with a concept we can all agree on. “Generally, ‘Big Muff’ style fuzz pedals have massive top and bottom ends, which is big, wooly, and fuzzy – great for creating a wall of noise,” Mick explains. Since the sonic waves of a fuzz with this particular circuit pushes the top and bottom sound waves harder, it provides a great backdrop for vocals, too. The vocals sit right in that groove of mids to round out the signal.
Give The Song An Unforgettable Hook
Bouncing right off of the ‘Big Muff’ style of pedals, the guys switch to the ‘Tone Bender’ style of fuzzes, which are a little different. These circuits are designed to be the alter ego of a ‘Big Muff’ since they sculpt a focused, mid-range tone. This sound is most synonymous with songs like “Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones, or “Spirit In The Sky” by Norman Greenbaum. It’s a much different style of attack, but it’s a known sound that some people absolutely love. “There’s nothing ‘passive’ about that sound,” Dan adds. “It’s full of character.” Since it’s more focused, it helps in adding texture to lead and rhythm parts to help the sound stand out.
Simulate A Straight To Board Sound
One of the coolest things you can do with a fuzz pedal is emulate a ‘straight to board’ sound that is famous for a diverse fuzzy-overdriven sound. If you’ve ever heard “Revolution” by The Beatles, any of Steely Dan, or even Nile Rodgers, they were all recording straight into a console preamp rather than an amp mic’d up. This gives the tone a different feeling that most amps have a hard time emulating, because console preamps cut a lot of the bottom end out. This gives it a much different sound than traditional fuzz. Using the Hudson Broadcaster, the guys show how one can use a fuzz pedal to portray that distorted, mixing board sound.
Understanding How It Works With Your Amp
Let’s face it: we all use and prefer different styles of amplifiers. Since it’s unrealistic to hear a sound clip or a review and expect it to sound exactly the same when you get your hands on it, Mick and Dan set up an experiment. For this test, the guys set up their respective amplifiers differently to show how the same pedal reacts differently. Dan set his Matchless HC-30 to the dirtier side, while Mick ran his Marshall Plexi completely clean, and the results from running the BAE Royaltone Fuzz through both are stark. “Fuzzes are all about square sound waves,” Dan explains. “With an overdriving amp (Matchless) the corners get rounded out, muddling the sound. With a cleaner amp (Marshall) the corners are more defined.”
Fall In Love With Your Volume Knob
Sometimes the most diverse way you can change your tone is also the subtlest, and this is especially true when it comes to using fuzz. For example, the guys have a Dunlop Fuzz Face fully cranked, however when the master volume on Mick’s Strat is around 2 or 3, there is a beautiful boost to the tone with essentially no distortion. “Basically we’re recreating Jimi’s clean sound, right?” Mick jokes. Due to their unique input impedance, vintage-style fuzz pedals react to single coil pickups in such a way that can make the pedal multi-purpose. By keeping the volume low and the pedal cranked, you can get clean rhythm tone. Increasing the volume will let the signal substantially increase as well, letting more fuzz through the sound. This is great for switching back and forth from clean to dirty tones quickly.
Add An Octave
There’s no better way to say it: octave fuzz is its own breed of sound. However, with their tonal uniqueness they are still a bit misunderstood. “Basically,” Dan explains, “a lot of upper harmonics are in the sound, not just, you know, the sound split, turned into an octave and shoved up top.” Most people believe octave fuzz just creates a fuzz signal an octave higher or lower than the original signal. What it actually does is adds harmonics to the fuzz to give it more texture and diversity over a traditional, powerful fuzz sound.
Add A Filter
If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at creating synth-like sounds but never got around to it, try placing an envelope filter to your fuzz sound. “What a mess!” Mick exclaims, however there is a tone hiding in the wave of sheer fuzzy tone. “Adding a filter (in this case an envelope filter) to a traditional-sounding fuzz changes the attack on the front end, resulting in synthetic sounds,” Dan adds. This is a unique way to add a much different, unexpected aspect to fuzz so it doesn’t just sit in its usual role. The guys use a Beetronics Swarm Pedal, which is already impressive on its own, but with a filter it gives you ‘80s style synth vibes. While this type of sound can be hard to adapt into a constantly on sound, it’s more to show the versatility and the fun that can be had using fuzz differently.
Use It On Other Instruments
It’s a little strange to see Mick reach for a Fender Precision Bass, but for this video it was essential to show that fuzz can be an effective add-on to other instruments as well. A great altercation to vocals, drums, bass, keyboard, and maybe even recorded wind instruments, fuzz can give a textural distortion to a sound. Even if it isn’t a massive fuzz sound, even a smidge of fuzz can change the texture drastically and make it an unexpected edge.
Put A Gate On Your Tone Garden
Wait, what? Oh, that was just Mick being Mick. However, he’s getting at a great point, and an underutilized effect: noise gated fuzz pedals. The cool thing about noise gates is they restrict the frequencies that come out of them, sculpting the texture in a more controlled way. “The transistors in these pedals only open a certain amount, and if the frequencies are too high it shuts them out,” Dan explains. Generally this creates a much more focused fuzz sound, similar to a ‘Tone Bender’ styled fuzz, but it comes across as much cleaner and sophisticated. Well, as sophisticated a fuzz signal can be. Maybe that could be the name of a song: “The Gate of The Tone Garden.” Hmm.
Put An Overdrive After Your Fuzz
Lastly, the guys (especially Mick) are excited about presenting the most fun you can have with a fuzz pedal. For sheer sonic power, placing an overdrive after your fuzz pedal will do two things for you. For one, in the words of Mick, it’ll make your tone “epic and god-like.” Secondly, it will tighten up the frequencies of fuzz, making it punch through the mix. It’s similar to how they mentioned using the volume knob to control the fuzz: the overdrive acts as a booster and focuses the square signal of a fuzz pedal, amplifying those sharp corners and enlarging the signal. So, yes, epic and god-like indeed.
That’s it for this week’s TPS! Is there a fuzz pedal they didn’t use that you love, or a way to use fuzz pedals they didn’t touch on? Let me know in the comments!
TPS Rig Rundown
Guitars: ’65 Fender Telecaster, ’61 Fender Stratocaster, Supro Jamesport
Pedals: TheGigRig Three2One, Jim Dunlop Jimi Hendrix JHF1 Fuzz Face, JHS Muffuletta, BAE Royaltone Fuzz, Hudson Broadcast Dual Footswitch, Third Man Bumble Fuzz, Mythos Argo Octave Fuzz, ZVEX Fuzz Factory, Beetronics Swarm Fuzz Harmonizer, RYRA Klone, Echo Fix Tape Echo EF-X2 w/Spring Tank, Analogman Block Logo Envelope Filter, Peterson StroboStomp HD Tuner, TheGigRig G2
Amps: Matchless HC-30 w/Hughes & Kettner Vintage 212/Celestion G12M Greenback, Marshall 1987x w/1960AX Cab/Celestion G12M Greenback