Caught by the fuzz – or how I learned to stop battering my cranium and start loving germanium

I’m not sure when it happened. Some time between chaining a few distortion pedals and a graphic EQ together for pure evil Dimebag Darrell tone when I was 16, and my 27th birthday or thereabouts, I started to hear the call. Quiet at first, maybe a little distant and muffled, but definitely there. It got louder over the years, and increasingly raspier and sharper. Then before I knew it, there it was:

Fuzz.

I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of it before. Maybe it was because I spent my teens in an era where amp distortion was king, and even pedal distortion was relatively frowned upon as being synthetic. Maybe it was because I thought of fuzz as, to paraphrase Dethklok, ‘grandpa’s distortion.’ But whatever mental roadblock was coming between me and glorious fuzz gradually started to shift, and now I can’t get enough of those little germanium or silicon-chipped wonders.

My first indication that I was becoming a true analog fuzz hound was when I bought, of all things, a Boss GT-8 digital processor, and found myself dwelling more and more upon the fuzz effects rather than all the other cool stuff the pedal did. A little while later an MXR Classic 108 Fuzz drifted across my desk to review for Mixdown Magazine, and I was instantly in love. You can read that review here to see what I mean. A little while after that I was lucky enough to be loaned a seemingly unstoppable succession of Roger Mayer fuzz pedals to review for Australian Guitar magazine, and I guess that’s when my love of the fuzz really kicked in. As you may know, Roger Mayer is famous for designing pedals for such legendary guitarists as Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, and if anyone knows their way around a fuzz pedal, it be he.

It’s interesting that parallel to this discovery, I’ve also found myself winding back my amp’s gain control. I used to be an ‘amp gain on 10, and with some kind of distortion or overdrive pedal’ guy, but over the last few years I’ve found my gain control has crept back to about 4 on my Marshall DSL50 (on the regular lead channel, not the ‘ultra’ one), and if I need a little more gain I’ve been stomping on a clean boost pedal (an MXR/Custom Audio Electronics Boost/OD). So on one hand I’m favouring a cleaner, drier, more controllable tone, and on the other I’m getting right down into the buzzy, fuzzy, fizzy, farty, gritty world of old school fuzz. Weird!

So now my fuzz arsenal includes two pedals: a Jim Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Octave Fuzz (which sounds a little harsh and edgy, in the best possible way) and the ultra-fat, ultra vibey Way Huge Swollen Pickle MK II. Hopefully I’ll add more fuzz pedals to this batch – I’d love a Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face, a Vox Tone-Bender, a Roger Mayer Axis and Stone X, a Z.Vex Fuzz Factory [2011 edit: I’ve got one and I love it!] and maybe a Fender Blender. I’m also kinda entertaining the idea of getting out the soldering iron and trying to build one from scratch some day, but I don’t know if that’s gonna happen any time soon. All I know is that while fuzz was around for almost 50 years before I got around to seriously checking it out, I now can’t picture my playing future without it. Funny how that happens.