Area 51 Fuzz


  • Level
    controls the output volume of the effect
  • Fuzz
    controls the amount of fuzz


Area 51

The Inspiration:

The Area 51 Fuzz actually started being developed about 6 years back. I'd done a repair job on an original silver/gray Arbiter for a friend of mine. This pedal, I was told by the owner, had been used by a friend of his (a very prominent Austin guitarist known for his use of classic fuzzes) on an album done in the 80's. This particular fuzz was “pick of the litter” so to speak. Upon playing it, I could see why. All in all, it had that fairly typical fuzz face character, but it was just “that much” better. Of course, I had to find out why! I reverse-engineered it, and built my own copy - which sounded indistinguishable from the original. But as with just about everything.... I wondered if it could actually get better.

2nd Generation:

Well, as I've learned over the years with the Area 51 Wah, I knew the answer was YES - it can always be better! So, I set about the task of figuring out the “what's and why's” of fuzz - what I liked, and what I didn't, and why. One of my complaints about most fuzz pedals, is “farty” low end, for lack of a better phrase. Another complaint was lack of note definition and attack, an overall “dull” sound. I really like to hear some even harmonics in my tone, and fuzzes generally don't have much. Using the original pedal as a measuring stick, I built a few more trying different circuits, and eventually came up with one that just knocked my socks off. It addressed all of the things I didn't like about fuzz, and had more of what I like. Finally! I had a fuzz that made me happy. I remember thinking, “Man, this thing smokes! - Too bad it won't be part of the Area 51 lineup.”

The Problems:

Why? Well, germanium based fuzzes are a bit of a nightmare in the consistency department. They drift and change over time, so what sounded amazing once, may not later on. They're also sensitive to changes in temperature. Sure, bias controls can be added, but having to adjust them is just one more thing to have to worry about. I don't know about you, but I'd rather focus on playing guitar at the gig than messing with my fuzz pedal, getting it “just so”.

The next problem was availability of the transistors. They're not easy to score nowadays. Just ask some of the pedal makers who have recently stopped making germanium fuzzes. And, when you can find them - they are very expensive. This high cost gets passed down to the guitarist and you can ultimately end up with a $400+ fuzz pedal. That seems a bit extreme, don't you think?

New mission:

So, although I'd written off the idea of doing a production germanium fuzz, I wondered if I could get the same tones using the more common and dependable silicon transistor. I've always been told that it “couldn't be done”. This, I believe, is a myth. It's based on the fact that Arbiter Fuzz Face pedals made with germanium transistors sound much different than the later ones, which used silicon, and have a more aggressive, edgy sound. Anyway, I like a challenge - and “couldn't be done” sounded like a challenge to me. So, using my latest and greatest germanium pedal as the measuring stick, I set about accomplishing the new mission……to have a germanium-sounding fuzz, without the germanium.

Mission accomplished:

After a great many hours in the shop, constantly experimenting and a/b-ing different designs, I came up with the circuit that made it all come together. Germanium tone, from a silicon based fuzz. Only thing left to do? Further improve!

Ever notice how a classic fuzz is sensitive to different types of 9 volt batteries? I sure did. Better note definition is had with the non-alkaline, zinc/carbon types. You know, the type you find at the “dollar store”. Another related issue: Many players now like to use pedalboards along with an integrated power supply to run all of their pedals. This is not possible with the classic “by the book” fuzz.

I came up with a solution to both of these things - the new Area 51 Fuzz can be powered by any 9V battery type, OR dc power supply (between 9 and 12 volt) and the tone is consistent! It also has an LED indicator to let you know the status. The LED is bright, but very low current draw - so if you use a battery, it won't drain it quickly like most other designs will.

Of course, it still has it's roots in the classic fuzz of yesterday. Part of the mojo of a classic fuzz, is the low impedance input and it's interaction with your guitar. This is what allows the fuzz to clean up so nice when rolling your volume back. That feature is left intact on our design, and is a very important part of the sound. This pedal, like the Area 51 Wah, is built in the spirit of improving upon the old classics to make new classics.

The Look:

No flashy paint job, no catchy name, no false promises, and No B.S. All the good stuff is on the inside - where it really counts….. Kinda has that old school "generic" grocery vibe, don't you think?

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