All Hail the Mighty Fuzz Face!!! Part Numero Uno!
Hello fellow gear heads and guitar lovers one and all!
I wanted to write a very special blog post about one of my personal favorite effect pedals. This undoubtedly will be an extreme love fest dedicated to the major tone you can get from the all mighty Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face!!! As a dedicated Hendrix fan, I have multiple Fuzz Face’s with different components and I just can’t get enough of them! To me these are definitely one of the ultimate guitar effects. They are extremely musical, and deceptively complicated to use practically, considering how simple the circuit is. There are only two knobs and a footswitch to engage the pedal, but the tones that can come out of these units are nothing short of extraordinary. I’m going to explain everything I’ve learned over the years which will include an extensive history of the development of the pedal, circuit design and critical components, design variants over the years, collectability of vintage units, and notable users, as well as how I like to use my Fuzz Face!! I will also link a video of me playing my favorite kind of fuzz face to demonstrate how fantastic a proper fuzz face can sound in the right hands!
The History: The Fuzz Face was debuted in late 1966 by the UK electronics manufacturing company Arbiter Electronics. Almost right out of the gate, the pedal became insanely popular due to the unofficial endorsement by a new, young upcoming guitarist based out of England at the time named Jimi Hendrix. Fuzz Faces are unique in and of themselves just on looks alone. The pedal is a round metal enclosure finished in a dark grey Hammerite spray finish, and the layout of the pedals volume and tone controls, along with the footswitch and the company layout helped give the pedal it’s iconic name: The Fuzz Face. It really does look like a happy smiley face with the company name “Arbiter- England” (later models said “Dallas Arbiter-England) on the smile. The pedals unique visual circular design was in part inspired from the round shape of a mike stand base in Sound City, Shaftesbury Avenue roughly around 1965 in England.
The original “Arbiter-England” Fuzz Faces used two special NKT-275 PNP germanium transistors made at the Newmarket Electronics plant in England. The use of these transistors was commonplace in electronics work in the period. These NKT-275 transistors gave the Fuzz Face a particular tone that later incarnations didn’t have, but were highly susceptible to temperature changes that made the pedal temperamental. One of the most interesting things about original Fuzz Faces is the pedal itself was actually “True Bypass” (passing your guitar signal straight through the effect without the circuitry changing the sound when the pedal is off or “Bypassed”) a selling point for effects pedals that didn’t quite catch on until many decades later! Even though “True Bypass” is a common selling point for modern effects units today, this was pretty much unheard of at the time in the late 1960’s!
By 1968, the Arbiter Electronics company merged with another English music company called Dallas Music Ltd. and formed Dallas Arbiter. The smiles on all Fuzz Faces by this point read “Dallas-Arbiter England”, and at some point, in mid-1968 alternative colors starting appearing on units, like the now classic red Hammerite finish, along with light and dark grey Hammerite finishes.
In the closing months of 1968, Fuzz Faces were changed out with different electronic components in an attempt to address some of the temperature issues with earlier germanium units, but-surprise surprise! - the sound wasn’t quite the same! Fuzz Faces were changed to include newer silicon NPN transistors which solved the temperature issues but changed the tonal characteristics from there on out. Switching from germanium to silicon was also due to the cost of the transistors themselves. Silicon electronics parts are much cheaper to produce, and therefore is was less expensive for Dallas Arbiter to purchase parts for their pedals, which led to increased profits for the company overall. New silicon transistors had higher amounts of gain (more distortion and louder), and the overall sound tended to be brighter, edgier, and much more “fuzzed out”. Early silicon transistor loaded Fuzz Faces used BC183L transistors, and then transitioned into BC108C transistors by 1970. The look of early 70’s Fuzz Faces also changed and “the smile” of the unit now read Dallas Music Industries LTD and included BC109C transistors. Colors changed to include a sky blue Hammerite finish. The last incarnation of silicon Fuzz Faces ran from 1973 through 1976, and had a different label again, reading CBS/Arbiter Ltd., and they had another overhaul which included changing the circuit again with BC209C transistors. Original Production of Fuzz Faces ended in 1976!
There was a Fuzz Face renaissance in the mid 1980’s, with a new company producing Fuzz Faces. Crest Audio ( a renamed Dallas Arbiter), led by Dave Fox, began putting out silicon reissues just like the early 1970’s units with BC109C transistors! Ironically, Crest Audio used to be Dallas Music Industries, which used to be Dallas Arbiter, so these reissues were great for players who wanted as close to an original early 70’s silicon Fuzz Face from the original company without spending on the vintage prices!
By the early 1990’s, pedal giant Dunlop bought the rights to the Fuzz Face name, logo, and copyright of the Fuzz Face and after seeing the popularity of the Crest Audio reissues, began to reissue their own incarnations of all variations of the Fuzz Face up through to today. For most players these reissues are their chance to get close to the original sound of vintage Fuzz Faces without shelling out the large sums of money vintage units command.
The Circuit: Throughout the years, Fuzz Faces have developed a certain mythic quality, with scores of various legends and stories that have led to intense debates amongst musicians about which version sounds best. Often musicians cite their favorite players who use them as evidence to why certain versions are superior, and this has been a practice since the early days of the unit in the late 1960’s due to their use by the great Jimi Hendrix. This is somewhat ironic because the Fuzz Face circuit is incredibly simple to put together. All they are is two transistors of various make, three capacitors, and a handful of resistors on a circuit board, but with the right combinations can make an electric guitar truly sing through an amplifier.
The Fuzz Face Circuit itself is actually based upon a very common circuit called the Schmitt Trigger with extensive applications in electronics through analog to digital conversions (changing analog signals to digital binary), line reception (keeping electronic lines free of noise), and level detection (sensing when to turn on when voltage has reached a certain threshold). For the Fuzz Face, the Schmitt Trigger is what helps turn your normal electric guitar signal into a square wave of distortion! And due to its application in level detection, helps the Fuzz Face become highly sensitive to the player’s pick attack (how hard you pick the strings) and adjusts the guitar effect organically to how a player plays their instrument. This makes each player’s Fuzz Face tone slightly unique to their playing style because everyone pushes the strings down at different rates, and picks each string differently as they play!
KEEP ON PLAYING- AM