Some would argue that fuzz pedals are a thing of a bygone age – even though it’s true that this remarkable guitar effect came to be more than a few decades ago, it’s still used in huge capacity by iconic and up-and-coming bands and artists alike.
Fuzz pedals are relatively simple as far as performance goes, but they’re not the easiest to play – with that in mind, we’re here to talk you through every bit you need to know before you master this vintage piece of equipment.
What is the fuzz pedal?
Fuzz (or Fuzz Box) is a type of guitar effect pedal that is somewhere between crunchy overdrives and over-the-top distortions.
Basically, fuzz effect relies on clipping your guitar’s original signal instead of saturating it with gain. This ‘clipping’ (square wave clipping) has varying results, with the two main parts of the equation being the actual rig (guitar, specific fuzz box model) and the player’s fingers.
What does a fuzz pedal sound like?
Each fuzz pedal is different, so it’s obvious that each also has a different kind of sonic performance. However, there’s a threat that connects them all, which is a sound that almost sits atop your original signal.
Namely, the clipping process produces a myriad of overtones; even though a good chunk of them is being lost during the compression stage (and later with equalizers), the ‘clipped’ signal still dominates the original signal.
Unlike other pedals that build upon the tone and add sonic bits and pieces to it, the fuzz pedal simply splits the signal, morphs one part into a distorted, full-bodied behemoth without even grazing the other part.
In that regard, a fuzz pedal will inevitably make your guitar tone sound bigger and fuller, but more notably, substantially richer. You should keep in mind, though – the amount of raw strength behind a fuzz-processed sound may make your licks sound sloppy, especially chord-work.
Position in the signal chain
A signal chain where both distortion and fuzz boxes are present are rare, mainly due to the fact that you’d be forced to pick one over the other – the same spot should be reserved for either of the two, which is as close to your amp as possible. If you choose to run both, having the distortion pedal before the fuzz pedal is our recommendation.
Fuzz pedals heavily modulate your guitar signal, which means that any effect on top of it is likely to change it even more, leading you away from a typical guitar tone into the realms of relatively unarticulated noise.
Common Tone Controls on a Fuzz Pedal
Fuzz pedals can be categorized as straightforward and advanced along the lines of complexity and what types of tone controls are present onboard.
Now, Electro-Harmonix's Big Muff is regarded as one of the most iconic fuzz pedals of all time, and it is supplied with only three knobs – volume, tone, and sustain. The ‘volume’ and ‘tone’ knobs are a part of every fuzz pedal, even though they may be named differently.
Other notable tone controls include bass, gain, and treble; these settings essentially serve as a built-in equalizer of sorts. Obviously, having an actual EQ pedal in the chain would allow you to control your fuzzed-up tone with greater accuracy.
Fuzz Combo Pedals
Now, we should also mention ‘combo’ pedals – models that feature multiple effects that can be activated and used simultaneously. A classic example is Blackout Effectors’ Twosome, which is a combination of Overdrive & Fuzz in one, relatively bulky pedal.
While it’s generally not recommended using these two effects as standalone pedals, the Twosome blends them perfectly, allowing you to fill in the gaps that you wouldn’t be able to look past otherwise.
Voodoo Labs’ Octavia is another example, but it doesn’t exactly resemble Twosome. Essentially, this is an octaver effect pedal that has a unique sonic signature – it packs a bit of fuzz within its natural tone, so you won’t have to adjust it, but you wouldn’t be able to control it either.
When should you use a fuzz pedal?
Basically, lead guitarists tend to rely on fuzz pedals more so than rhythm players. The logic behind this is pretty obvious – plucking a chord with a fuzz behind your rig will sound too explosive, especially in a live setting.
That being said, the perfect spot for a fuzz pedal is within a solo or a melody line. You will gain the ability to establish a firm presence in your tone while also adding a bit of exquisite and colorful timbre to your guitar’s sonic signature.
Genre-wise, fuzz can be used in any music setting. Pop and jazz tunes aren’t particularly famous for a fuzz guitar tone, although with proper synergy with other guitar pedals there’s no reason why such a thing should be hard to imagine.
Fuzz tends to sit perfectly in heavier music genres, though. It was primarily used in rock music, but ever since the advent of punk and metal music, numerous players relied on this effect pedal to develop a unique tone.
What to avoid when using a fuzz pedal
Essentially, it all boils down to what type of rig you’re using. If your guitar has a gritty sonic signature (most metal guitars), you should keep your gain and volume a tad lower. Additionally, using a fuzz pedal atop a heavy-gain stack of amps is generally not recommended.
Fuzz pedals are flexible enough to be experimented with in different pedalboard settings. You should feel free to use any of your go-to pedals as long as fuzz is among the first ones in the chain. Obviously, avoid stacking distortion, overdrive, and fuzz alongside of each other.
As far as control settings are of concern, avoid setting your tone on high master volumes. The higher the overall volume is, the higher the gain your amp will generate, so you will ultimately end up with a weaker (and cleaner) tone at lower volume levels.
Finally, avoid using a fuzz pedal without some sort of a contingency plan (noise gate, equalizer, compressor). If the tone becomes too wild, you shouldn’t resort to shutting it off completely.