What Is a Fuzz Pedal?

In altering the sound of amplified electric musical instruments, there are forms of audio signal processing used, such as distortion and overdrive. The former is most commonly utilized with an electric guitar, but can also be used with other electric instruments as well.

The latter is most often used by guitarists who play electric blues as they turn up their vacuum-tube powered guitar amplifiers to high volumes. While overdriven tube amps are still utilized nowadays to get an overdrive, especially in genres such as rockabilly and blues, several other ways have been developed since the 1960s to produce distortion like the distortion-effect pedals.

These effects change or alter the instrument’s sound as they clip the signal to add sustain as well as harmonic and non-harmonic overtones. This then leads to a compressed sound that is often defined as “warm” and “dirty.”

But really, it depends on the type and intensity of the distortion used. The terms overdrive and distortion are most of the time interchanged. However, to differentiate, distortion is considered as a more extreme version of overdrive.

Now, the term “fuzz” is used in describing a specific form of distortion that is originally created by guitarists who use faulty equipment like a misaligned valve tube. This was imitated way back 1960s by a couple of fuzz box effects pedals.

So what is a fuzz pedal? Well, it is referred to as the “real godfather” of the dirt boxes as it arrived way before the booster. Also, it was initially intended as an effect that would help a guitarist mimic the reedy and raspy tone of a saxophone. It is said that one of the most famous fuzz guitar parts of all time is Rolling Stone’s “Satisfaction” signature riff.

Both old and new fuzz pedals owe their tone to a pair of hallowed germanium transistors. And along with a simple network in governing their function and connecting them to a pair of potentiometers for fuzz and volume (or some form of drive and level controls), an ungodly sonic mayhem is produced to your tone.

But yes, it is mayhem with a warm, smooth and furry heart. The best-known fuzz pedals are loved for their playability, which is the extent to which their dynamics and response can be controlled by your guitar’s volume control and pick attack.

There are also the silicon transistor-base fuzzes that followed the germanium units. They are then known for their more crisply defined and slightly harder tones. This does not mean that they are inferior to other types of fuzz pedals.

More often than not, they are only different and a lot of notable players have become fans of each and every breed. In addition, fuzzes kind of “slather a wealth of their own kind of stink” all over your signal, unlike linear boosters. However, they can be used as well to drive a tube amp into clipping.

Eventually, most of the great guitar players with definitive fuzz tones use pedals in both these ways at the same time to make a bigger and more interactive instrument out of the single components in their rig.

Below are some of the all-time popular fuzz pedals:

Fuzz Face

This is known as the classic fuzz that Hendrix and others made famous. It has a very simple design, only having two transistors that are originally germanium.

And since the fuzz is so dependent on individual transistors, it may result in a big variation when it comes to sound. Meanwhile, most of the new generation Fuzz Faces (as well as some reissued ones) are built with silicon transistors, having more gain, but are less smooth sounding.

Big Muff

This big box that also has a pretty big tone. Additionally, this is one of the classic pedals that a lot of musicians use. Most of the Big Muffs are tiny but can be dialed back to get a good sound. As a whole, it has great tone.

Fuzz Factory

An over the top fuzz, this one can be hard to reign in. But if you are looking for that “insane sound,” this is the fuzz pedal worth looking into.

Analog Man

Analog Mike really creates some of the greatest pedals that are worth your bucks. And the good news is that he does both germanium and silicon.