Different fuzz designs have come and gone, but few have had as much impact on the industry and guitarists as the Fuzz Face and Big Muff.
This inevitably, raises the question which of the two is the better fuzz.
The Fuzz Face
The Fuzz Face is the most well-known fuzz in the world. Famously used by Jimi Hendrix, it was invented in 1966 by Dallas Arbiter. The original Fuzz Face relied on germanium transistors, with later models using silicon for better stability.
Hendrix used the Fuzz Face a lot in his “Are You Experienced?” album. You will also hear the Fuzz Face in his classic hits. He wasn’t the only one, as George Harrison, Pete Townsend and other artists have used it as well.
The Fuzz Face has a relatively simple design. It has 11 components and has germanium transistors. The primary output is fed into the secondary input.
Its bias is controlled by a second transistor’s output, and the result is a clipped, asymmetric signal that simulates a broken speaker’s square wave fingerprint.
Because germanium is temperature sensitive, new Fuzz Face models started using silicon. While silicon transistors are not temperature sensitive, they do have a brighter harsher sound.
While some players like the new silicon sound, others prefer the old germanium. That’s the reason why germanium based Fuzz Face boxes have returned.
The Fuzz Face has a round, warm, and soft sound. Its overdrive is almost creamy, and it is impossible to listen without conjuring up Jimi Hendrix.
Fuzz Faces respond promptly to guitar knob adjustments. If you want a clean sound, just tur the knob down and you’ll get it.
A Fuzz Face with germanium transistors are versatile, but they’re also temperature sensitive. This is ideal as classic fuzz, with good sounds and easy to use.
Today there are a lot of Fuzz Face models including silicon, germanium, mini versions etc. If you’re handy with pedals and fuzz, you can modify or build your own Fuzz Face.
The Big Muff
The Big Muff came out in 1969, and like the Fuzz Face it has become a classic. Different versions are sold, such as the Ram’s Head, Triangle, Russian, Deluxe etc. A lot of artists, including Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, use a Big Muff.
Jimi Hendrix used a Big Muff, and it was also used by Pink Floyd in their album “Animals”, as well as Thin Lizzy, the Isley Brothers and Kiss.
The Big Muff continued to gain a strong following as it is used by the Black Keys, White Stripes, Sonic Youth, the Smashing Pumpkins and other bands.
The Big Muff design is somewhere between fuzz and distortion. The original 1969 Big Muff has four independent silicon transistor stages.
A clean boost goes into couple of clipping phases. This is then followed by the last phase which restores the volume and tone prior to outputting into the amp.
Through the years, different types of Big Muff have been released. The Little Big Muff, the Metal Muff, the V1 Triangle and the Ram’s Head are among the most famous versions that have appeared.
If you want to buy a Big Muff, it’s important to keep in mind that they have different sounds. You should study each one before settling on one.
One of the characteristics of the Big Muff is you get a lot of sustain, almost infinite. Listen to Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”, and you will get an idea of what the Big Muff is like.
A Big Muff has a saturated sound, heavy, yet smooth and compressed. The end result is you get solid harmonics and lots of sustain.
With a tone potentiometer you can move from bass heavy and warm to something that is more aggressive.
One of the traits of the Big Muff – for better or worse – is there aren’t a lot of mediums its EQ can make. This means you could end up vanishing in a mix, but you can prevent this with an overdrive to produce more mids.
You will also find a lot of Big Muff that have a unique tone stack.
Fuzz Face vs. Big Muff – Which is Better?
The answer is it depends on what you need.
The Fuzz Face sound is more transparent. Plug in your guitar and it will sound like a les Paul, Stratocaster or whatever it is.
Fuzz Faces don’t have any tonal control, but you up the gain, the sound gets brighter progressively.
You can use your guitar’s volume knob to clean it up. Germanium Fuzz Faces respond well to dynamics too.
A Fuzz Face also means it’s your fingertips control the strings and have a greater effect on the results. However, the Fuzz Face doesn’t have a lot of gain.
If you want more gain, look at a Big Muff as it is more sophisticated. You just plug your instrument in the Big Muff and it will change the character and tone.
The 4 stage compression effect will significantly change your guitar’s dynamics, i.e. it’s going to be more of the Big Muff than you.
The advantage is your guitar’s bottom end and the tone will turn deep and bright. In general you’re going to get a massive sound.
The effect is going to be huge, and it’s up to you whether it’s desirable or not. Regardless which one you decide on, make sure to study each one.
Don’t settle for anything less than the best Fuzz Face or Big Muff. A lot of the issues that arise from fuzz pedals is not using them properly.
Get to know the fuzz, and most important, the type of sound you want to generate before buying one.
In the Fuzz Face and Big Muff debate, it’s all a matter of perspective and making sure you’ve got what you want.
The fact is the Big Muff and Fuzz Face have different approaches, and either one could prove useful depending on what you’re trying to record.
Give yourself time to study the options and you’ll get the best results.
See also: Top 10 Best Fuzz Pedals
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