North Effects Fuzz Face



The History

One of the first/second generation fuzz devices, the Fuzz Face has been around since 1966 and in production in some form or another since then with little change to the original design. The first versions came equipped with germanium transistors up until around 1969 when more reliable silicon transistors were adopted. By far the most noted exponent of the Fuzz Face was Jimi Hendrix, but it has appeared on a great many recordings over the years - if I was to recommend a couple I'd say listen to the late Ron Asheton on the first self-titled Stooges album, or Blue Cheer's Vincebus Eruptum to get an idea of what the FF is all about.

The Clone

The Fuzz Face has become a staple of the "boutique boom" with many pedal builders offering their own take on this classic; unfortunately most come with sizable "boutique" price tags. With the consensus that the current official reissue is not so good, what is offered here is a great sounding pedal built using top quality components that dispenses with the boutique frills (elaborate paint job/graphics, silly name) and delivers what matters:

  • Alpha pots and footswitch
  • heavy duty Neutrik input and output jacks
  • matched BC108 silicon transistors
  • reverse audio log fuzz control as found on the posher builds - this gives a much finer level of control than the stock linear pot
  • true bypass switching that won't sap your tone when the pedal is off

Like the originals there's no tacky LEDs and no 9V adaptor - these sound their best with (and come supplied with) a good old Zinc Chloride battery. There are just two controls - volume and fuzz. The clone does have an internal trimmer that allows for precise biassing of the transistors giving you some more tonal options (see below). The clone also adds components to filter out RF interference and stop annoying oscillation squeals which plague some originals. The transistors are socketed - if you're so inclined you can easily swap in your own choice.

The Sound

Full on fuzz. At the risk of dropping in another too-obvious Hendrix reference, compare his Experience stuff (germanium FF) with the later Band of Gypsies (silicon FF). The silicon is generally considered as harder and grittier.

Unlike many other clones, this stays close to the original circuit and sacrifices none of the characteristic low end wallop. The output has been beefed up (by borrowing a little tweak from the Vox Tone Bender Mk.1.5 from whence the FF is derived), and a reverse audio taper pot gives much improved control of the fuzz level.

Transistor bias voltage is an important factor determining how the FF sounds - set "correctly" at 4.5-5.5V gives a good clear singing sustain and nice openness, turning the bias voltage down gets you an excellent full blown ripped speaker sound with some pleasingly nasty gating around the edges (which may well be "correct" for your needs). I find that best results are obtained by keeping the fuzz knob all the way up and using the guitar knob to control the amount of distortion (rolling back the guitar volume cleans things up a bit giving thinner grittier tones). Add some overdrive to your amp via a pedal or by turing up the gain to get some true full fat blown out fuzz tones. You can hear why this thing's been around forever.

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