Fuzz is one of the most iconic and instantly recognisable guitar sounds. Ever since fuzz pedals were first popularised by guitarists like Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s – they have become a key feature on pedalboards worldwide. Arguably they are more popular now than ever.
For guitarists like Gary Clark Jr, Dan Auerbach and Eric Gales – fuzz is a signature part of their sound. And it now seems that an increasing number of modern blues guitarists are also using fuzz.
If you are looking to create similar heavy blues and blues-rock tones, you need to add a decent fuzz pedal to your rig.
Over the years a whole range of different fuzz pedals have been developed. Navigating this market is tricky, as there are huge variations between fuzz pedals. Not only this, but many are designed with modern metal tones in mind. These are totally inappropriate if you want a slightly more subtle blues/blues rock tone.
So here I’ve outlined some of the main features you should be looking for in your next purchase. I’ve also listed 8 of the best fuzz pedals out there for modern blues tones.
Some Initial Considerations
When it comes to fuzz pedals, there are a whole range of varieties you need to consider. Many of these are obvious from the knobs and switches on the pedal itself. Yet there is one major difference between fuzz pedals that you can’t discern from just looking at the pedal’s exterior.
This is the type of transistors used within the pedals.
If you have researched fuzz pedals prior to reading this article, you may have stumbled across the germanium vs silicon transistor debate. This is centred around the different kind of transistors used within fuzz pedals and the effect these transistors have on tone and playability.
Historically, fuzz pedals were made using germanium transistors. All of the early pedals made in the 1960s used germanium transistors. So amongst purists, there is a feeling that you should opt for a pedal with germanium transistors if you want vintage Jimi Hendrix style tones.
The downside to germanium transistors, is that they are not reliable. Most notably, they are affected by temperature. This means that they can sound quite different when you play them in a hot or a cold environment. If you are a gigging musician, this could be problematic. You could potentially dial in the perfect fuzz tone at home, only to find that it changes when you are on stage.
To help deal with these inconsistencies, in the late 1960s pedal manufacturers switched to using silicon transistors in their fuzz pedals. Since then, most fuzz pedals have been made with silicon transistors. On the plus side, these pedals are more reliable. Critics would argue however, that their tone is inferior to those of vintage fuzz pedals.
Germanium vs Silicon Fuzz Pedals
I would argue that opting for either a germanium or silicon based fuzz pedal is a matter of personal choice. Try different pedals out and find what works best for you. Just be mindful that there are some significant differences between them that you should take into account. I’ve listed these below to help inform your choice.
Generally speaking, fuzz pedals made with germanium transistors:
- Have a harsher and more aggressive sound.
- Produce vintage sounding tones (Germanium transistors were used in all fuzz pedals during the early 1960s)
- Have a short frequency response. This means that you will the lose the definition of notes outside of the midrange
- Are typically used and best paired with amps that are slightly overdriven
- Don’t produce that much gain
- Are affected by temperature
Conversely, fuzz pedals made with silicon transistors:
- Have a smoother, less raspy tone
- Have a much wider frequency response. This means your notes will maintain definition, even when you are playing at either end of the tonal spectrum.
- Are typically used and arguably best paired with clean amps
- Produce a lot more gain
- Are unaffected by temperature
- Produce more modern sounding tones
Ultimately, I think the choice of germanium or silicon is one of personal taste. Neither is better than the other, but it is worth being aware of their differences. So with that in mind, here are the top 8 fuzz pedals for heavy blues tones:
The original Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face is one of the most iconic fuzz pedals of all time. It was made famous by Jimi Hendrix, but also popularised by guitarists like Duane Allman, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Johnson, amongst others . The early fuzz face had germanium transistors, but these were later changed to silicon transistors – which Hendrix used during his time with the Band of Gypsies.
Dallas Arbiter fuzz pedals are now considered collectors items. As such, they start from around $1250/£1000 on sites like Reverb.
Luckily, Dunlop have brought out a number of models based on the original fuzz face pedals. Of these, the Fuzz Face Mini is a brilliant choice. Housed in the familiar red case, the pedal features the same intuitive controls as the original. It is also built using germanium transistors. So if you are looking for vintage fuzz tones, this could be a great addition to your rig.
As tends to be the case with vintage fuzz pedals, the Fuzz Face Mini is very responsive to the dynamics of your picking hand, as well as changes in your volume. Just by altering the controls on your guitar, you can go from an off clean to filthy fuzz tones. At $130/£120 – this also offers great value for money.
Along with the Fuzz Face, the Big Muff by Electro-Harmonix is a pedal that has defined the fuzz pedal category. First introduced in the 1970s, it was a favourite of David Gilmour, who famously used it on albums like Animals and The Wall. These aren’t exactly classic blues albums, but the quality of Gilmour’s tone for blues and blues-rock are undeniable.
The Big Muff is best known for its huge frequency response and sustain. You don’t lose clarity in the lows and you can also get clear and biting treble tones. Add to this a massive and thick overdrive tone that sustains beautifully and you can see why the Big Muff is one of the most popular fuzz pedals of all time. In fact its circuitry has gone on to provide the blueprint for the majority of fuzz pedals built in the modern era.
As a final bonus, the Big Muff is amazing value for money. It currently retails for around $110/£80 – which makes it one of the cheapest fuzz pedals out there. If you are looking for a brilliant all round fuzz pedal, you’d struggle to go far wrong with the Big Muff.
If you have your eye on a high end fuzz pedal, you should consider the Analog Man Sun Face. Analog Man are a boutique pedal manufacturer that have become famous for the quality of their pedals and the guitarists who use them.
Amongst these are bluesmen Gary Clark Jr and Doyle Bramhall II. The former uses the Analogman Astro Tone Fuzz, a pedal modelled on a 1966 pedal called the Sam Ash Fuzzz Box. Analogman used the original transistors that were also used in these pedals, and when this supply finished, the pedal was discontinued. The great news, is that if you really want to sound like Gary Clark Jr, then you can still buy these pedals secondhand on sites like Reverb for around $250/£200.
If you would prefer to buy a new pedal though, then Analogman still make the Sun Face Fuzz pedal. This was the the pedal that Doyle Bramhall II used when he toured with Eric Clapton in 2004.
The best thing about the Sun Face is that you can order it ‘tailor made’ to suit your preferences. You can alter where the jacks appear, change the colour of the LEDs, and add additional pots and power jacks to the pedal. Most importantly, you can select which type of transistors you want to use. There are detailed explanations of the impact that these changes have on the pedal on the Analogman website. So you can make sure that you get a pedal that gives you the exact tones you have in mind.
These bespoke extras do come at a cost, but for around $300/£240 you can get a boutique pedal with amazing tones that is built for you personally.
Fuzz is a very particular sound and one that dramatically changes the character of a song or guitar solo. Some modern blues guitarists like Gary Clark Jr and Dan Auerbach use it heavily, and it has come to define their sound. But for most of us, fuzz is an effect that we are likely to use much more sparingly.
As a result, shelling out $200/£160 on a pedal you’re only going to use every now and again might be a bit much. This is where the TC Electronic Rusty Fuzz comes in. At only $80/£30 (I’m not totally sure why it is so much cheaper in the UK) this pedal is amazing value for money. It would make a brilliant addition to your board if fuzz is a ‘nice to have’, rather than a key part of your sound.
That isn’t to say that the Rusty Fuzz doesn’t deliver on quality. Although the enclosure and design of the pedal is reminiscent of the Big Muff, the pedal is in fact closely modelled on the Fuzz Face. Specifically, it is built to replicate the vintage Hendrix tones from the Band of Gypsies era. So if you’re looking for vintage tones and are on a budget, the Rusty Fuzz would be a great choice!
Over the past 10 years or so, Wampler have earned a reputation as one of the best pedal manufacturers on the market. Released in 2013, their Velvet Fuzz pedal has proved popular with guitarists looking for versatility in their sound. Like many of the pedals listed here, the Velvet Fuzz features a simple 3 knob design – with volume, fuzz and brightness. The interesting addition here is the ‘Big/Tight’ switch.
On ‘Tight’ mode, the fuzz is smooth and controlled, with greater definition, especially on the bottom end. Flick over to ‘Big’ mode and the distortion cranks right up. On this setting you’ll end up with a beautiful, fat fuzz tone that washes out on the bottom end.
This allows you to create vintage style tones from the 1960s, all the way through to contemporary sounding fuzz tones. To see a great demonstration of the pedal, just watch this video here.
At $200/£180 – it is one of the more expensive fuzz pedals out there. But if you want a versatile pedal and beautiful heavy blues tones, it will make a brilliant addition to your pedal board.
Like Wampler, British pedal company Thorpy FX have made a name in recent years as manufacturers of very high quality guitar pedals. Their fuzz pedal – the Fallout Cloud – is a ‘Muff clone’. It is designed around the same circuitry as the Big Muff and aims to produce similar tones, but with a few significant differences.
The main one of these, is how the Thorpy FX articulates notes on a higher gain setting. One of the key features of the Big Muff is that it washes the notes out when you really crank the gain and play chords. The notes blend together and you get the effect of a huge wall of sound. It is one of the reasons the Big Muff is so popular.
But there are times when either you don’t want that huge sound, or you are looking for more clarity when playing high gain and hitting big chords. This is where the Fallout Cloud makes a great choice.
At $265/£210, the Fallout Cloud is in a slightly higher price bracket. But if you are looking for a heavy duty fuzz pedal with amazing tones, then the Thorpy FX is a brilliant investment.
As you might expect, the Green Russian is vey similar to the original Big Muff. The key difference is that the Green Russian is more bass heavy. So it’s better suited if you are playing in drop tunings, or playing very heavy blues and rock. To give you a reference point, the Green Russian was the pedal of choice for Dan Auberach on the early Black Keys albums.
Like the original Big Muff pedal, this also offers great value for money. It’s currently selling for around $110/£85, making it one of the cheapest fuzz pedals out there.
Last up is the King Fuzz by Bigfoot Engineering. This is a brilliant fuzz pedal that focuses on quality and simplicity. Unlike the majority of pedals listed here, it has only 2 controls – gain and volume. But don’t let that put you off, as the King Fuzz offers a lot of versatility.
With the gain turned low, the pedal acts more like an overdrive or boost pedal. Crank it up and you can dial in some beautiful vintage sounding fuzz tones. With the gain dialled up, you can also dramatically alter your tone just through simple adjustments to the volume and tone controls on your guitar.
Regardless of how much gain is dialled in, the pedal has a very focused mid-range. This is is one of it’s key selling points as it will help you to cut through the mix in a band setting. This can sometimes be a challenge, especially if you are using a lot of distortion.
At $270/£110 (the pedal is British made, so is much cheaper to buy in the UK), the King Fuzz isn’t the cheapest pedal out there. But if you want a highly responsive fuzz pedal with great tone, it is pretty tough to beat.
Some Closing Thoughts…
Well there we have it – some of the best fuzz pedals out there for heavy blues tones. If you want to add a bit of power and bite to your sound, any of these pedals will make a great investment.
Take your guitar to a store and try these out with the amp that you use. This will show you how they sound and react with your actual rig. This is crucial if you want to make an informed decision.
Let me know how you get on, and if you’ve used any of these pedals before – share your thoughts in the comments, I’d love to hear them!
P.S. If you enjoyed reading this article, please share the love 😁 Thank you!
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