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:
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.
I’m a bit of an MXR/Jim Dunlop fanboy. The MXR-to-other-stuff ratio on my pedalboard is about 70:30. I push my amp with an MXR/Custom Audio Electronics boost/overdrive, I get my swirl on via an EVH Phase 90, and the Carbon Copy Analog Delay is probably the funkiest, warmest sounding delay on the market, and earlier this year I finally bought a Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Octave Fuzz, which was literally the very first pedal I became aware of, the day I bought my first guitar magazine at age 12.
And this brings us to the Classic 108 Fuzz. Essentially this pedal is simply the guts of the BC 108-loaded Fuzz Face, transplanted into a more pedalboard-friendly layout than the almost hubcap-like proportions of the original unit. Boutique builders have been doing this very thing for years, and MXR is well aware they need to do something to make the Classic 108 Fuzz stand out from the pack. So aside from the authenticity of being built by the very company that now owns the rights to the design, MXR/Dunlop has ensured this stand-outedness by adding a buffer circuit. More on that later.
Controls are simple: Volume and Fuzz. There are no tone controls or switches, just the buffer button. Unlike the original Fuzz Face, the Classic 108 Fuzz has a removable battery door (the same kind as on the bottom of my MXR/CAE Boost/OD), a simple design which I think should be implemented across the pedal line, and tradition be damned: who wants to have to unscrew a pedal baseplate just to change a battery? Other updates include optional AC operation (I ran it off a battery and my Gator power supply), true bypass, and a status LED. The buffer also has its own LED, when it’s on, it’s on, regardless of whether you’ve turned on the effect or not. This is especially important over long cable runs, where the signal would degrade if not given a helping hand through a buffer.
In unbuffered mode, the Classic 108 Fuzz sounds round, barky and dirty. Just like it’s supposed to. There’s a kind of synthetic charm to the sound that’s not attainable by later overdrive and distortion designs, which are intended to mimic or at least approximate the sound of an overdriven amp. This pedal is pure vintage bliss, Hendrixy voodoo intact, with unearthly-sounding overtones and squashed dynamics all over the place. Pickup selection and phrasing choices make some amount of difference to the sound, but the pedal always adds its own character, regardless of whether you set the gain level to ‘kill’ or if you back it off a bit for some grit and dirt. Chords mush together in an oh-so-fuzzy way, and single notes have a kind of buzzy, violin-like sustain – great for those Eric Johnson moments, especially with some nice cascading analog delay repeats.
Kicking in the buffer has an additional and very practical use: to eliminate an annoying oscillation which can occur between this type of fuzz and certain wah wah pedals. But it also has a drastic effect on the tone, almost kicking the sound up to hi-fi levels (which is not usually a term associated with vintage fuzz). Pick attack and note definition are increased, as are upper midrange harmonics. I loved this sound through my slightly overdriven Marshall DSL50 head, where it added an old school fuzz edge while pushing the amp into a more modern high gain sound. Lower gain levels on the pedal, or volume settings on the guitar, clean up the sound while maintaining that cool vintage vibe. Using my Ibanez Jem7VWH and a more modern-sounding digital delay, the result was a thick, compressed tone with lots of harmonics and an upper midrange spike with added thump to palm-muted notes on the lower strings while evening out legato lines on the higher ones.
Despite its simple origins, this is a very versatile pedal which can be appreciated by rockers, fusionists, blues guys, even metalheads who need an extra lashing of evil for solos. I’m sure I’ll be adding one to my ever-growing pedalboard as soon as possible, especially for the aforementioned Jem/digital delay/overdriven Marshall combination.