All Hail The Mighty Fuzz Face- Part 2!
The Differences Between Germanium and Silicon Transistor Fuzz Faces: As evidenced by the extensive history for the Fuzz Face I laid out, there are many versions of the pedal and each sound completely different. I get asked a lot about which one is best, and which are the ones to avoid. In my opinion, there are is no best version of the Fuzz Face, just versions that work best for different applications and different musicians.
The Germanium versions of this pedal can include NKT-275’s, Red Dot NKT’s, 2SB’s, AC128’s, SFT363E, and Mullard CV7005 transistors. Usually vintage germanium versions only have NKT-275’s. These germanium transistors are share similar qualities such as reaction to high temperature, changes in the fuzz through volume changes made through your electric guitar (meaning you can reduce or increase the amount of fuzz in your sound by adjusting the volume knob of your guitar), and round breakup smoothness to the overall tone. Some transistors may be a hair brighter, dirtier, or less smooth it just depends on the unit.
Adopters of germanium Fuzz Faces were Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, George Harrison of the Beatles, and David Gilmour (Early Pink Floyd Recordings from 1986-1970 only), and Pete Townshend, later users include Doyle Bramhall ii, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Joe Bonamassa! Most of the hype of germanium models comes from the famed NKT-275’s which were original to the first units. Hendrix would have used NKT-275’s on his early recordings like “Purple Haze “or “Manic Depression.” David Gilmour would have used NKT-275’s on songs like “Let There Be More Light”. Stevie Ray Vaughan used his NKT-275 Fuzz Face when chasing what he called the “Jimi Hendrix King Tone” and playing Hendrix songs live and in the studio. Doyle uses a NKT-275 Fuzz Face regularly through out most of his songs. George Harrison would have used a Fuzz Face on the albums Let It Be and Abbey Road.
The Silicon versions of this pedal can come to include BC183L’s, BC108C’s. BC109C’s, and BC209 transistors. These versions of transistors are more stable to temperature fluctuations, but do not change tone when you move your guitar’s volume pedal. Tone wise they tend to be brighter overall when compared to germanium transistors, and have more edgy distortion and fuzz to the sound. Notable users of Silicon Fuzz Faces are Eric Johnson, David Gilmour (in his 70’s period), Jimi Hendrix (in his Band of Gypsies period), and Gary Clark Jr among others. Eric Johnson is more partial to BC183L silicon transistors in his Fuzz Faces and can be heard using them on songs like Cliffs of Dover. BC183L tend to be characterized as being very fuzzy and smooth sounding. David Gilmour made the switch to silicon transistor Fuzz Faces in the early 1970’s. He used a BC109 silicon transistor Fuzz Face in the recording of Dark Side of the Moon and his Fuzz Face tone can be heard on classic solos like “Time” or “Money”. BC109 transistors are a little bit grittier than BC108’s and aren’t as smooth as the BC183L’s. Jimi Hendrix more than likely used a BC108 silicon Fuzz Face for his now infamous Band of Gypsies concert at the Fillmore East in NYC in 1970.
What I Prefer to Use: I would like to advise everyone at this point that guitar tones are very subjective. I would encourage everyone to try as many Fuzz Face variants until they find THAT TONE that inspires them! It took me many, many years of playing guitar before I was satisfied with what Fuzz Face tone I had. I pretty much accidentally stumbled into it and fell in love with the fuzz tone I was getting. I prefer the tone, touch sensitivity, and tonal response of the original NKT-275 germanium transistors. The tone to my ear is perfect for Fender Stratocasters, and when paired with the right combination of amp and guitar volume, really sounds like it sings like a great vocalist. I love how switching between different pickups really produces such a wide range of usable tones. I also love how I can use my guitar volume in the middle of playing to adjust how much fuzz is mixing with my overall guitar sound. Most importantly, the tone of the fuzz effect doesn’t change the great tone of my main guitar tone without the effect on, it just enhances what I already have going on.
Collectability on the Vintage Market: I would also like to point out that vintage Fuzz Faces are highly collectable, and are extremely sought after by professional guitarists. However, each Fuzz Face is unique, and sometimes even with the right components can just sound plain bad. So, it’s very important to try each one out before you commit to paying for them. Vintage original germanium NKT-275 Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Faces can fetch upwards of $2000-$3000 when and if they come up for sale. Vintage original silicon Fuzz Faces can fetch anywhere from $1000-$1800 when and if they come up for sale. I recommend for more consistent results, for students or players to check out Dunlop reissues. Some sound paint chip close to vintage originals for only $100.
There is also a slew of boutique companies that manufacture recreations of the vintage originals with varying success. I think for the money, Analogman a boutique pedal company based out of Connecticut, makes the best more truest sounding clones with their Sunface fuzz pedal. You can even buy a cheap Dunlop Arbiter Fuzz Face reissue and send it to Analogman and have him put his meticulously sourced, matched set of transistors of your choosing into your Fuzz Face shell making it a fantastically sounding, as close to the originals as possible clone. In some instances, Analogman’s transistors sound even better than the vintage original Fuzz Faces. I highly recommend checking out Analogman for helping anyone getting a proper fuzz face to use. AnalogMike the owner of the company is incredibly knowledgeable about circuit design and really knows his Fuzz Faces. He is the man to talk to for detailed answers about which fuzz face is right for you.
How to Use a Fuzz Face Properly!!: The most under looked thing about Fuzz Faces is considering how you use your guitar and amp when attempting to get great fuzz sounds out of the unit.
First off, it’s important to understand that your guitar amp must be at a decent volume for the Fuzz Face to really sing. If you play with your amplifier’s volume on 2 the Fuzz Face will sound incredibly thin and anemic and not very pleasing. If you already have a nice, large somewhat broken up tone coming out of the amplifier, adding a Fuzz Face into the mix will help the fuzz retain its low end, aid in the guitar volume knob sweep usage when using germanium, and help it cut through the mix in a band situation.
Secondly, it may be important for you to use the Fuzz Face with other pedals to help get the level of fat sustain you are chasing. I recommend putting your Fuzz Face after your wah pedal, but before any other effect. This way you are further boosting the Fuzz Face’s output with other pedals down the line. Jimi Hendrix would stack his Fuzz Face with other effects driving it or vice versa to help get a larger tone and more sustain. An Ibanez Tube Screamer and a Fuzz Face are a classic pairing made in tone heaven!
Third, there are major differences between using single coil guitars, P90 pickup equipped guitars, and humbucker guitars. Your Fuzz Face will react differently to all of them. You will need to experiment to find the sweet spot of which guitar to use at what volume, what level of amp volume, and fuzz face settings.
Fourth, Fuzz Faces are old school effects, meaning they don’t run on external power supplies, they run on 9-volt batteries. For the best tone I recommend using cheap DOLLAR STORE non-alkaline batteries. Alkaline batteries will sound dull and lifeless, and the fuzz will lose some character in a germanium Fuzz Face. Using power supplies for a Fuzz Face can add AC hum noise to the tone which isn’t good. In the time-honored words of Analog Mike from Analogman: It's not just the voltage that makes batteries and power supplies sound different. It's the resistance, inductance, and capacitance in the battery, which is part of the circuit in a Fuzz Face.
I hope this really has given you enough information to start investigating Fuzz Faces for yourself. I promise when you find the right one for you, it will change your playing life forever!
KEEP ON PLAYING-AM