Sunday, June 15, 2008

Rustlin’ Up Some Fuzz-Boutique-style fuzz boxes, rounded-up by Matt Hallam

Below is an awesome five fuzz review done by my friend Matt Hallam. Matt is a fuzz hound, just like me and has given us his opinion of some of the coolest fuzzes out there now- check it out!!!

Today I took the time to listen to four fuzz pedals to review for GearTrap! Two I own personally and two were loaned to be by my friend and GearTrap guru Joe King. I had a great time playing through them all and had lots of fun listening to their individual tonal qualities.

Tested were the J. Everman “Fuzz Drive G2”, the Throbak Electronics “Stone Bender”, the Blackout Effectors “Fix’d Fuzz” and the BFD Design Mad Professor “Fire Red Fuzz”.

I used mainly a Gibson Reissue ’58 VOS Chambered Les Paul with Gibson Burstbucker 1 and 2 pickups, but threw in a Fender Classic Player 60’s Strat with Fender Custom ’69 pickups for comparison. I plugged into a Sovtek Mig 50 head through a Sovtek 2-12” closed back deep cab loaded with one Eminence “The Governor” and one Celestion “Vintage 30” speakers.

J. Everman “Fuzz Drive G2”. According to the manufacturer, “The Fuzz Drive is the result of the combination of a fully functional fuzz pedal and a high quality overdrive”. It is intended to work “with your amp and sound more like a part of it instead of hacked into it, as a lot of pedals do”.

Pro- I was given this pedal as a gift by a fellow guitarist after a session we did at Sun Studio in Memphis last year. He had two of these and wanted to thank me for the experience…very cool indeed!

Con- I have yet to fall in love with this pedal. It doesn’t have a LED indicator. I find the tone of this pedal to be thick but a bit muddy, and all the controls seem to need to be maxed (except for the overall volume) to get any decent fuzz or overdrive out of the unit. It’s very “mellow” for a fuzz box. Note- On paper this pedal would appear to be killer. In reality I find this box to be lackluster and a plain let down so far. In its defense, it does have two internal trim adjustments to help the player find their sound. The manufacturer states “typically these are set to the max level”, which I totally agree with after playing around with different settings (less= well, LESS!). Damn.

Throbak Electronics “Stone Bender”. According to Throbak, the Stone Bender is “a faithful reproduction of the fabled 3 germanium Sola Sound Tone Bender MKII Professional used by Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck”. Also, “a pre gain switch makes this a great overdrive pedal as well as a monster high gain fuzz box that gives endless sustain and useable feedback”.

Pro- I feel this pedal really does NAIL the early Zeppelin I and II Page sounds. It has great sustain and the feedback from held notes sing organically (a bit of sag that extends into harmonic detail). It is a simple pedal to use and really does its thing. I especially like it with the Les Paul but can cover the Hendrix with a strat quite well.

Con- This pedal is very micro-phonic when on. The first day I had mine I was jamming alone in my rehearsal space. When I stopped playing for a brief moment, through my amp came a loud voice reading scripture from the Book of Revelation, freaked me out big-time but when I figured out what was going on I had to assume Page was sitting in his castle laughing with the Devil himself. The other thing is this unit may be voiced a bit too vintage for some, definitely a bit thinner toned than the other pedals tested but not “weak” in any regard.

Blackout Effectors “Fix’d Fuzz”. From Blackout Effectors, “The Fix’d Fuzz is a gnarly, multi-headed dragon of a fuzz/boost. Wherein a million extreme sounds live, yet a million +1 more traditional fuzz/boost tones roam. This is not a novelty “use once during the show”-type fuzz, but it can readily compete with those too”.

Pro- Lots (seriously) of fuzz tones to experiment with and controls to utilize them. The box itself has really cool graphics; big-ass black ants rock anywhere but picnics and my kitchen.

Con- No battery can be used, has to use a DC power supply with a 2.1mm power jack (Boss style). The “Buzz” knob (volume) affects the signal of the guitar through the unit even when off, creating unwanted noise in the signal chain, etc…not good in my opinion. The fuz:2 toggle switch activates what is referred to by the manufacturer as (fuc’d), this really makes the box extra noisy and well, kinda fuc’d up. Note- I get it, and only list this as a con as this is a “use once during the show” feature in my opinion.

BFD Design Mad Professor “Fire Red Box”. As stated by pedal designer Bjorn Juhl of Finland, “Fire Red Fuzz is an easy- playing pedal with long sustain and a lot of tone variations. The pedal has a compressed, deep effect to allow equal sustain throughout the fret board. Tone control was specifically designed to allow tones from mellow fuzz, through slight mid-cut to thin bright fuzz. This allows layering different sounding guitar parts in multi-track recordings”.

Pro- This is a simple to use pedal with really killer fuzz and sustain. Knobs felt smooth and were easy to read and adjust on the fly.

Con- With the Fuzz and Volume knobs higher than noon, the unit wanted to “howl” uncontrollably when on. Tone knob seemed voiced on the bass-side, didn’t really become “alive” until past 1 o’clock.

THE BOTTOM LINE! I am going to list the pedals in order from my most favorite to least. I would like to state before I do that it is obvious to me that all four of the manufactures seem to really care about the quality of their pedals and the tones they provide to their customers. I opened all of these pedals up to view the internal components and workmanship; all were very neatly done and built for the long haul!

Throbak Electronics “Stone Bender”. This is the one I would choose if I could only keep one to use on a deserted island. I dig its vintage voicing and the way it interacts with both the guitar and amp. This one “feels” right to me, the way notes sag, sing and sustain really make the Stone Bender my personally favorite of the group. Note- I use this pedal with a Tele often, which really takes it into the early Zeppelin realm!

BFD Design Mad Professor “Fire Red Fuzz”. This pedal is a very close second to the Stone Bender. It has a bit more modern voicing to it (you could easily use this pedal to coax Queens of the Stone Age or Fu Manchu tones yet still hit Billy Gibbons/ZZ Top sounds). Good sustain and versatility of tones, love its simplicity.

Blackout Effectors “Fix’d Fuzz”. This arguably is the most versatile fuzz box of the group and one I would choose for recording or if I wanted to work into the NIN territory. I have a real problem with the “Buzz” control adding noise to the amp and other pedals for live situations, even when the pedal is off. I personally don’t like the fact that it can’t be powered by battery if necessary. In defense of this design choice Blackout Effectors state: “the Fix’d Fuzz does not consume batteries, because they simply won’t fit in it’s belly…objectives in building the Fix’d Fuzz was making the most versatile pedal…in the smallest possible enclosure…that could only happen at the sacrifice of not being able to run on battery power. They’re (batteries) bad for our environment anyways”. True.

J. Everman “Fuzz Drive G2”. I want to like this pedal. I really do. However I have yet to find its way onto my pedal board or onto a recording. It’s not that it sounds bad, it’s just not enough. According to J. Everman each unit is “hand built, tested signed and dated by a single craftsman to assure quality”. I appreciate that, but it is the sound I am still reaching for with this box. There has to be a reason why my friend Steve who always has great tone had two of these…Hmmmm.

Thanks to GearTrap and Joe King for allowing me to test and review these stomp boxes. I prefer my fuzz to be as thick and full as that in a 70’s Playboy, yet as sensitive and defined as that on a Brazilian beach. You are always only one G-string away from Heaven, and the box that awaits your arrival. Have fun on your search!


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