Watch the Fuzz online guitar lesson by Jeff McErlain from Guitar Effects Survival Guide
The fuzz pedal is one of the earliest stomp boxes on the market. A very simple circuit the fuzz box altered the guitar's signal by transforming it into a square wave. The first widely available fuzz was the Maestro Fuzz Tone by Gibson. The Fuzz Tone pedal was released in 1962 and didn’t really catch on until Keith Richards used one on the opening riff of “Satisfaction” and the floodgates opened. Another definitive fuzz pedal of the late 1960’s was the Sola Sound Tone Bender made famous by Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. You can hear one all over Led Zeppelin’s debut record and all over Jeff Beck’s trademark “Heart Full of Soul” intro riff from the Yardbirds. He also used it extensively on the Jeff Beck Group sessions. Of course the most famous fuzz pedal is the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face. This pedal was favored by Jimi Hendrix and set the benchmark for fuzz tones that we are still chasing to this day.
There are two distinct kinds of transistors used in fuzz pedals, germanium and silicon. In the early 1960’s silicon transistors were fairly new and very expensive and germanium was the norm. Germanium transistors are susceptible to temperature changes and noise so they can be unreliable at times. They do have a very distinct tone, they also react very well to the guitar's volume knob by cleaning up very well. As silicon transistors became less expensive they largely replaced their germanium counterparts in pedals due to their stability. The Silicon fuzzes generally produce more gain but often don’t clean up as well. As a lover of fuzz pedals myself I have both kinds and find uses for them, they sound different and excellent. Other famous fuzz users are Eric Johnson, David Gilmour, Joe Bonamassa, and Stevie Ray Vaughan to name a few. When shopping for a fuzz, try to play as many as you can next to each other, even of the same model. Due to the transistor values the same model pedal can sound and feel very different from pedal to pedal.