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October 6, 2010


A fuzz pedal (or fuzz box) is a type of effects pedal consisting of an amplifier and a clipping circuit, which generates a distorted version of the input signal. As opposed to other distortion guitar effects pedals, a fuzzbox boosts and clips the signal sufficiently to turn a standard sine wave input into a waveform that is much closer to a square wave output. The sound of almost creating a square wave gives a "Rough around the edges" effect that creates the classic fuzz tone. This gives a much more distorted and synthetic sound than a standard distortion or overdrive. Fuzz sounds also tend to have lower Mid frequencies than other distortion types.

The term "fuzz box" is often used generically to refer to any effects device which produces a distorted sound, however the distortion in some classic guitar effects pedals, (so-called stomp boxes such as the Ibanez/Maxon TS-9, and 808 Tube Screamer) is not actually produced by transistor clipping, but rather by diode clipping.

As clipping is a non-linear process, intermodulation will occur, leading to the generation of an output signal rich in extra harmonics of the input signal. Intermodulation distortion also produces frequency components at the various sums and differences of the frequency components of the input signal. In general, these components will not be harmonically related to the input signal, leading to dissonance. To reduce unwanted dissonance, simple power chords (root, fifth, and octave) are often used when using fuzzboxes, rather than triads (root, third, and fifth) or four-note chords (root, third, fifth, and seventh).

Nashville session musician Grady Martin discovered the fuzz sound in 1961 during a recording session for Marty Robbins' "Don't Worry", due to a faulty recording console preamplifier circuit. In 1962, The Ventures, having heard the guitar tone on "Don't Worry", asked friend Red Rhodes, a steel player and electronics wizard, how they could reproduce the sound.

A few months later, Rhodes presented them with a custom fuzz box, reportedly the first, which The Ventures used to record "2000 Pound Bee." The song charted in December 1962 and is identified by multiple sources, including The VH-1 Music First Rock Stars Encyclopedia, as the first single to use actual guitar fuzz box (the story was in the April 2007 issue of Guitar Buyer magazine in an article titled, "Caught By The Fuzz").

Fuzzboxes gained wider popularity after a distorted sound was popularised by Dave Davies of British Invasion band The Kinks (It has already been noted that Davies had been influenced by American electric blues, though it is uncertain that Davies understood the precise engineering dynamics of the "Chicago tone".). In Davies' case, he played through a small amp whose speaker cone had been slashed with a razor blade, distorting the signal. In 1964, he plugged the doctored amp into a Vox AC30[citation needed] to record "You Really Got Me", the band's first number one single and the first popular rock & roll song using a distorted power chord riff. Fuzzboxes became popular as a much easier way to create a distorted sound.

The fuzz circuit was first marketed by Maestro as the "Fuzz Tone" Model FZ-1. In May 1965 Keith Richards used a Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone to record "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction". The song's success so boosted sales of the device that all available stock had sold out by the end of 1965.

Other examples of fuzzboxes include the highly-sought Mosrite FuzzRITE, the Fuzz Face (originally made by the Arbiter Group) used by Jimi Hendrix, the Big Muff Pi (made by Electro-Harmonix) and the Vox Tone Bender, used by Paul McCartney on George Harrison's composition Think for Yourself, and featured on many tracks throughout Rubber Soul, Revolver and many other Beatles albums and recordings. Colin Greenwood of Radiohead uses the Shin-ei Companion FY-2 and a Lovetone Big Cheese. Pete Townshend used a Univox Super Fuzz pedal starting from 1968 and used on many recordings and stage shows by The Who (being his only pedal for concerts from 1968-1978). There is also a market for boutique fuzzes, such as the Ultralord, Woolly Mammoth, one of the most popular being the Z.Vex Fuzz Factory and the Italian T-Fuzz from T-Pedals, made with selected components.

Early fuzzboxes used germanium transistors. By the end of the 1960s, these were replaced by silicon transistors. Silicon transistors are desirable for a number of reasons, most of which have little to do with the actual tonal performance of the fuzzbox. For tone purists, the germanium transistor's tone is generally regarded as superior, or at least more authentic, to the original fuzzbox concept and design. Nevertheless, because silicon devices are generally less affected by changes in temperature, they offer more reliable performance than germanium ones. Warm conditions (such as the heat generated by stage lights or sunlight in outdoor performances) can adversely affect the tone of germanium fuzzes. Also, fuzz boxes that employ germanium transistors do not work well when placed after another effect pedal that uses "buffered bypass." This is because the buffer on effect pedals converts the guitar's signal from high to low impedance (to retain high frequencies and signal strength). Low impedance signals that pass through germanium-equipped fuzzes tend to suffer from a pronounced drop in volume and bass response. In the 2000s, many boutique guitar effects builders offer fuzz pedals with germanium transistors for a "retro" sound. Additionally, some units employ both silicon and germanium transistors.

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