5 Pedals That Multiply Your Fuzz Experience
Jimi Hendrix is usually referred to as some kind of guitar hero, but he really should be considered the pioneer of mixing fuzz with other effects. In this special avenue of sound mathematics, he was a true innovator. Hendrix's Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face blended into everything else he used: wahs, rotary speakers, vibrato, and most certainly samples of what was passed around during Woodstock. His legacy left a desire to make pedals that could capture some of the magic of his intermingling, and several great ones exist if you want to see to what your next fuzz can add up.
FUZZ + WAH = Morley Power Wah Fuzz
While it wasn't the first fuzz pedal to be built into a wah enclosure, the Morley PWF lands squarely at the head of the list for me for its monstrously aggressive fuzz sound and wide-frequency wah pedal. No pedal is more deserving of the arbitrary descriptor of POWER than this, enclosed in a gigantic polished chrome enclosure with dual footswitches and a foot treadle fit for Hulk Hogan's wrestling boot. Mixing a fuzz box with a wah pedal was a signature sound of the late '60s, used by everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton, and the way a fuzz pedal's compressed sound makes a wah just scream with a vocal-like energy is a great sound to try to squeeze into a single unit. Morley, strangely enough, decided to capture this sound with an absolute buzzsaw of a fuzz sound. It's nothing like a classic combination of the two, and becomes a standout effect all its own. By far its most famous performance is under the heel of the inimitable Cliff Burton on his solo track from Metallica's Kill ‘Em All, "Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)." Burton's bass becomes the vocalist of the instrumental track, snarling and growling through a melodic passage before ripping into a thrash metal outburst. I used one for a bit and it really is something else; it weighs a ton, it has a hardwired power cable that makes the unit quite noisy, the foot pedal rocks in an unusual way, and it sits a couple inches of the ground with that huge enclosure. Once it was plugged in, however, I just found myself loving to unleash it. Morley has recently released a tribute reissue of the pedal in Cliff Burton's honor, and while the new version doesn't have the same feel or travel as the old model, it captures much of that powerful sound.
FUZZ + DELAY = Mid-Fi Electronics Clari(Not)
If you're checking my math at home, you may point out the strange and unique Clari(Not) is a bit more than a delay swirled in with a fuzz. It features a kind of warbly tape echo like flutter, a slight delay, a vibrato, and the end product is something not like anything else before, or really since. Mid-Fi really surprised me with this when it came out, and I was mesmerized listening to an ancient Andy YouTube demo video attempting to explain its mysteries. The pedal's vibrato is controlled by envelope, so the harder you play, the more the unit reacts. It can go from relatively tame but fuzzed-out delay sounds to psychedelic freakout by emphasizing the pitch bending of the repeats with the Tracking knob. As a delay pedal's signal decays, it can waver in pitch (especially true with tape echoes, due to the physical tape bending around the machine heads). Most delays explore this pitch wavering as vibrato, but the Clari(Not) takes the concept to the maximum. It can sound like everything from string bending to a warped record, soaked in what I would describe as a classic fuzz sound with some heft. Because it reacts to your playing, it becomes a pedal you can dynamically control with your plucking hand. Bending a string as hard as you can while the pedal is set to pitch bend heavily almost gets you into a Dimebag Darrell-esque divebomb tremolo territory. When Mid-Fi disappeared for a spell, it graciously made the schematic of this available for experimentation. The only mystery left unsolved is what it ever had to do with clarinets!
FUZZ + PHASER = Roland Jet Phaser
If you’ve ever wanted a phaser's gentle swoosh to sound more like a sci-fi movie laboratory, putting a fuzz in front of it is the ticket. A fuzz pedal's harmonics emphasize the sweep of the phaser dramatically, putting the swirl front and center. The Roland Jet Phaser is a vintage pedal that perfectly captures the concept. The Phaser itself has a built in notch-filter that brings out a lot of vocal-like quality to the phaser. Combined with the fuzz, which the unit calls "Jet mode," you can kind of understand where the designers were at comparing this to a jet leaving a runway. The fuzz is rather nasal, but it works for the Jet Phaser, letting slower speeds sound like molten sirens and faster phaser speeds sound almost like a fuzzy wah pedal. Similar to Leslie-style units at the time, a footswitch is available to toggle between fast and slow phaser speeds, adding some handy flexibility from the pre-expression pedal era. Besides being used by guitarists, this pedal is a favorite of Sly and the Family Stone bass pioneer Larry Graham. The pedal strips away a lot of the bass frequencies, but Larry unleashes it for soloing, like on the awesome clip of him playing “The Phantom of the Opera” featuring it. It's a sound you can't miss. The pedal is quite rare and expensive, but if you'd like to put something similar on your pedal board, consider the Keeley Dark Side, which puts an op-amp Big Muff-style fuzz alongside a Phase 90-style phaser. It doesn't have the Jet Phaser's gnarly high-end, but it does cost less then an international first class flight.
FUZZ + RING MOD = Blackout Effectors Crystal Dagger
What else is there to do with the ring modulator, the most controversial effect in music, other than stick a really crunchy fuzz to it? Blackout Effectors not only managed to make this odd pairing a reality, it also managed to make it remarkably flexible. The modulation section of the pedal can go from a really gentle vibrato to totally atonal ring mod sounds, and the fuzz section is classic in that kind of sputtery and harmonically dense kind of way, with a selectable octave-up that exaggerates every wisp of the modulation you choose. With both halves of the pedal be separately and handily switchable, it allows you to mix and match, emphasizing a solo or fattening up a chorus. The key to a great two-in-one fuzz pedal is the fuzz section itself, since different styles of fuzz can interact better or worse with the chosen effect addition. The fuzz in the Crystal Dagger sounds fantastic on its own, including on bass guitar, making the included modulation and ring mod effects a bonus rather than intertwined. The Blend knob is key here, sitting the ring mod right where you want it. At lower Blend settings, it can be cool to use the footswitch that turns the Modulation on and off for different sections of your playing, making its intermittence a subtle change. The ring mod section on its own is a very simple but an effective ring modulator if you’d like to jump in to trying out the effect without going head-first into the Frequency Analyzer deep end.
FUZZ + SUB OCTAVE = MXR Blue Box
While the octave-up fuzz is more or less a staple distortion sound in guitar, the two-octaves-down fuzz is relegated to synthesizer effects, weird boutique pedals, and the MXR Blue Box. This little blue pedal has been confusing and amusing people since it was introduced in the ‘70s. The octave it generates is two full octaves below your playing, and the sound is raunchy, glitchy, and fat. Its most famous application is the freaky guitar solo from Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain.” While all analog octave generating pedals will track better while playing with the neck pickup and past the 12th fret, the Blue Box only comes close to tracking quality in those ideal circumstances. In all others, the synthesizer-like note irregularities take over for some wonderful chaos. Playing with a bass on the Blue Box exaggerates the tracking irregularities even more; notes two-full octaves below your low E translate as a purely molten presence that is felt far more than heard. The Blue Box’s Blend knob is the secret ingredient that allows its weirdness to end up exactly as noticeable as you want it, and allow it to be a great pedal to stack with other distortion effects. Putting a Blue Box in front of a Fuzz Face is a classic pairing that can make an electric guitar sound fat, while adding texture to the Blue Box’s glitchiness that can make it sound more natural. One of DOD’s most infamous pedals is the Buzz Box, which was conceptualized as a ‘Blue Box into a ProCo Rat.’ Buzz Osborne of the Melvins, who the pedal is named for, remarked after playing the pedal, “Do I really sound this bad?”
Written by Nicholas Leners