Sunday, March 21, 2010

What The Fuzz?

If you spend any time at all perusing online guitar forums, you may have noticed that the "fuzz" pedal is enjoying a well-deserved resurgence amongst today's players. With original fuzz standards / re-issues now being offered by most of today's major players, along with various boutique off-shoots and clones, it would seem that the effect is also finding a new musical identity well-beyond trippy, psychedelia-infused stoner rock.

One thing I've recently discovered in my own musical pursuits is that a fuzz pedal is very effective when employed as a "colour" effect. Just a touch of fuzz adds some interesting complexity and variance against a clean channel, tones that otherwise would have laid relatively flat in the mix.

Another thing I've found to be useful is using it, more or less, as a distortion pedal - which it technically is. Again, this effect seems to be most useful in tandem with a clean channel, where you can set the effect at the desired top-end level, and then control it in the overall tone by using the guitar's volume knob. That way, you can still use the lovely drive effect for rhythm playing, and then send it to the moon with a slight twist of your volume knob.

Many hi-profile classic rock players used a fuzz spefically for overdrive back "in the day" - chief among them Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) and Carlos Santana. At that time, there weren't a bazillion different overdrive pedals available, meaning that players were forced to experiment with those that were. The end result was that they often found unique ways to employ effects to get tones that were not commonly associated with it. Another "trick" from this era I found to be interesting was using an wah-wah as a distortion effect. The pedal's treadle produces varying distorted / phased tones by being left engaged at different sweep points. Genius!

Like the overdrive pedal, there are now scads of different types of fuzz effects available. Some use modern silicon transistors, others use vintage-type germanium transistors. Common "tweaks" to the original circuit include Q / phasing controls, introduction of an separate overdrive circuit, and some a clipping control to vary the amount / intensity of the clipping circuit. Depending on you playing style, there's likely a fuzz box that will accomodate it.

The two fuzz pedals I use are the Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi and the Dunlop Jimi Hendrix JH2S. The Big Muff is a transistor-based unit that provides a fairly agressive distorted fuzz tone. As I'd noted in a previous post, the Muff can be dialed back for some less-pronounced but still very cool tones. Wide open, its a raging, psychedelic colossus of sound. The Dunlop JH2S is a warmer, less agressive fuzz pedal that also works extremely well as a stand-alone distortion. Both pedals product different, unique tones that can be used in all sorts of live and studio applications.

As basic an effect as a fuzz is, its myriad of applications and tones are often overlooked in favor of other function-specific effects. Truth be known, the power of the fuzz box is vast and aurally volitile when properly employed, meaning that daring tonal explorers can reap its ample rewards with a little pocket cash a few well-intended practice / jam sessions. Lava lamp and incense are optional. - - J.

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