Saturday, December 22, 2012

Driving Down Da Bass

The Caribass - ROG Flipster
This time we are off and away from the world of guitar and into the bass we dive deep.

Runoffgroove's (ROG) Flipster was designed to emulate the tone and drive of the famous Ampeg Portaflex SB-12 bass amp. This amp was the little brother in a series of tube amps designed in the mid 60's. The amp had a 12'' Jenson speaker cabinet and was probably used on many recordings from 1965 and on through the 70's. Mo-Town Bass sound was known for using Ampeg bass amps.

I don't know too much about bass amps but I do know that I like Ampeg bass amps. They are smooth and have a lot of bottom as well as edge. I particularly love controlling the character of a song using bass, whether it's deep dub style lo-pass or grungy-rock overdriven tone. When I play bass I sometimes like to switch quickly between styles and all that flexibility means I need a good pedal, capable of drive range from clean to hard drive with some equalizing options.

A 1965 Portaflex SB-12
Assuming ROG designs are always good, especially for emulating tube amps, and this one had 2 12AX7, 2 7868 and 1 5AR4 tubes. I built it and tried various FETs to get the gain I wanted. Funny thing, I made a nice error hooking up the the TONE knobs and got 2 modes for the tone-stack. ROCK mode for a more edgy-punchy curve and a DUB mode with less treble and more lows.

I played with the pedal on more than a few occasions and I still use it more for live than in the studio. It gives you the ability to drive your bass without touching the amp and it's not like an overdrive pedal which cuts the lows. You can maintain your lows and still bark and bite. For really hard bass distortion there is nothing better then the Pro-co Rat or any version of it like my Bat shown here on a previous post.

There is a new Portaflex SB-12 version now called "Ginger" which is supposed to be better. I think I know what they are talking about, The Flipster was good, but not so much as an emulation of the Ampeg amp. I did have problems getting low gain clean tones with the Flipster but it was good for what I needed.

Because I got an interesting paint job on the wooden enclosure which had some Carribean touch to it I decided to call the pedal Caribass. With my Music-Man Sting Ray replica bass I can get some great tones with almost any style.

I am definitely getting ready to upgrade the Flipster to the Ginger. Stay tuned as it is right around the corner.

If you want gut shots or audio clips just comment and I'll add them. As always, schematic is available here. More info from Runoffgroove can be found here.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Bending your Tone for Page

The Led Bender mkII
The UK fuzz mania began in 1965 probably after the Rolling Stones recorded the 3 fuzz notes that changed the history of rock'n roll: the opening notes for their hit "Satisfaction". First recorded on Brian Jones' Harmonica in Chicago and 2 days later by Richards using a Maestro Fuzz Tone, the opening notes were meant to be replaced with a horn section later on, but luckily producer Andrew Oldham decided to keep it as it was. The song was an immediate hit across both sides of the Atlantic and fuzz was the talk of the day. Guitar legend Vic Flick, the man begind the James Bond Theme, brought the American Fuzz-tone (FZ-1) to the UK and asked electronics engineer Gary Stewart Hurst if he could modify the unit to increase the tone sustain. Hurst used a similar 3 transistors architecture and designed the first Tone Bender, referred today as the mkI. Within a year or so a plethora of fuzz pedals were issued by various brands like the Arbiter Fuzz Face and the Baldwin Burns Buzzaround. While the Fuzz Face became the most famous fuzz of them all, the Tone Bender was probably the highest selling unit ever due to the fact that it was issued under various brands like Sola Sound, Vox, Rotosound and Marshall. The MKI version was made famous by the Beatles (Rubber Soul), Mick Ronson (Ziggy's Spiders from Mars), Pete Townsend and Jeff Beck.

Jimmy Pages' Bender original receipt (left) and the Sola Sound reissue of the mkII (right)

Despite its legendary sound, the Tone Bender mkI's sound and design was not flawless. Circuit was sensitive to gain tolerances of the transistors and the sound was buzzier than some wanted. A new 2 transistor design was issued by Sola Sound and is referred to as mk1.5. This design could probably be the original 2 transistor design which Arbiter issued during 1966 as the Fuzz Face. The circuit was more stable, the sound was richer and saturation was not too heavy. The huge success of the Fuzz Face drove the competition further and Sola Sound made the leap to a 3 transistor architecture but this time it was a first amplification stage driving a Fuzz Face style 2 tranny stage with Germanium OC75 or OC81D were used on all 3. Different brands featured similar mkII design using various transistors, and they all were successful throughout the late 60's and 70's. When referring to legends like Jimmy Page and his tone on the Led Zeppelin I and II albums from 1969 the Tone Bender mkII is considered to be a major factor.

The Led Bender mkII
Even more variant and diverse than the Tone Bender mkII of the Fuzz Faces is the Tone Bender mkIII which was issued 1968 and sparked a whole different era of fuzz pedals which led to the birth of the Big Muff.

After building more then a few fuzz pedals I decided to get into the Tone Bender jungle. I realized that I really wanted the mkI and the mkII, but the mkI seemed tricky and risky so I took the mkII path. Now Germanium trannys are always expensive and I found some silicon versions which got good reviews so I decided to give it a go.

After many unsuccessful attempts on various schematics I found one which worked, sounded good and by replacing trannys I really managed to get that bendery tone I was aiming for: Raw, punchy and versatile. Once you go for the Whole Lotta Love riff with humbuckers or How Many More Times with a Tele, you'll know this is the one.

I started with the GGG NPN design modded by J. Orman and B. Trembley which is a good choice. You can find the schematic here, but I really wanted to have the extra Tone control so I went the Hot Silicon path  designed by Gus Smalley. The schematic is shown here. The two designs are quite alike and sound more or less the same depending on the transistors used. I took Mictester's and JD Sleep's advise of putting low gain sets and went to buy the 2N2369 parts instead of BC109C or 2N5088. I ended up using 2N2369 for Q1, 2N3904 for Q2, BC109C for Q3 and 2N2369 for Q4 for the TONE stage. I also liked the FAT switch which switches between low and high values of the input cap. Once I got that Jimmy Page sound I called it a day and painted the new Led Bender in a Zeppelin homage style.
Gut shot of the Led Bender. VR1 is a pot on the right side.
Might as well change it to a  board resistor.

I am sure this is not the end of my Tone Bender phase but it sure sounds great, I am getting a friend to lend me his Sola Sound reissue of the mkII professional and I'll compare the two. Meanwhile I play Good Times Bad Times using this little baby connected to the Runoffgroove Supro amp emulation pedal and with the right  reverb I can nail that super tone. A major milestone in my Fuzz quest.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Flying Rat

The 60's and early 70's were all about driving tube amps into overdrive heaven and on the way use fuzz and treble boosters to get the job done. Most Fuzz stompboxes were, in fact, so effective that you didn't really need the amps to be that heavily driven anymore, but they killed most of the guitar's tone and dynamics. They took over the sound (Fuzz faces and Big Muffs to name a few). 

As people got fed up with fuzzes and wanted back that dynamic distorted overdrive, Orange amde the first step and came out with their Overdrive amp in the mid 70's. That started the distortion race all over again. The idea of a stompbox giving you that distortion, which was so important for rock guitarists, yielded the next step in the second half of the 70's. In 1976 Amlyn Crowther designed the Hotcake which would become the first boutique overdrive (Sonic Youth, Pavement, Radiohead, Protishead and many other consider it their "secret weapon'). Japanese based Ibanez and Boss came out with the classic Tube Screamer and the OD-1 (DS-1 too), respectively, around 1978. In Kalamazoo, Michigan, two guys in a basement started selling custom ordered pedals under the Pro-Co name. Those were the first Rats. All the above brands produced pedals based around an operational amplifier and have some similarities in their designs. All three became classics and over the years got reissues, sequels and modified versions. 

I decided to build the Rat for 3 main reasons: a) It is a classic pedal and deserves FuzzQuest attention. b) Some of my favorite guitarists use it or have used it over the years. C) There is no real mojo in this circuit. the LM308 chip and clipping diodes are all pretty straightforward. No Germanium PNP or de-gooped old boxes with debates over them. The amount of schematics on the web is infinite and the mods are all given out. You can build the circuit with mods and it will sound just like the real thing. Even better. Guitarists who used this unit and made it famous were Thom Yorke, Thurston Moore, Stephen Malkmus, Bernard Butler, Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, Frank Black, Jeff Beck, Andy Summers, Graham Coxon and Kurt Cobain, to name a few. If you told me only Thurston and Ribot were on this list, it would have been enough for me. This might have been the overdrive/distortion used by Ribot on Rain Dogs by Tom Waits. Imagine that!

The Multi Rat Schematic
So, I gathered about a dozen schematics I considered to be trustworthy. RG Keen and Jack Orman did some tremendous work given on the aron nelson archive and diystompboxes. You can download the schematic shown here, but Beavisaudio, GGGSabrotoneSoulSonic, Gaussmarkov and others, all have verified circuits readily available, just click the links.

I added the Ruetz mod to conttroll the highs and called it EDGE. Got an On/Off/On switch for choosing between the diodes, MOSFET clipping and clean boost and named it CHARACTER. DISTORTION  FILTER and VOLUME are similar to the original. Apart from that it's a vintage Rat clone.  The added mods give it a lot of "elevation" so I called it the BAT. Also I liked the Mokafix Bat VST emulation and adopted the name. It really is a mouse with wings.

So I got the circuit working and painted the enclosure. I really dig the sound which sounds pretty awesome especially with my English Channel emulation of the AC30. I completely understand why this became a classic unit. This is the distortion we grew up on listening to grunge, alternative and punk rock from the 80's and 90's. Great sound, versatile, easy to use. Humbuckers with an AC30 you get the British indie rock of Suede and Blur. Single Coils with Fender amps will give you Sonic Youth and Pavement flavors. Pretty Amazing. With the clean boost mod you can get great fuzzy overdrive and you can drive other pedals on the chain or drive your amp further. Super!  

As always, if you want audio demos you have to comment and ask for it. I hope to get some clips done for all my posts but it's gonna take a while since I am on a building mania and even posting on the FuzzQuest blog takes me forever.

Anyway, a very recommended build. Pretty easy and fun with a lot of options. With the Ruetz mod attenuating the highs and the clean Boost which is not so clean I got some wicked fuzz sounds. If you are wondering, you can be sure that a Tube Screamer clone is on the way. Naturally.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Pink Face

The Pink Face
Throughout the history of fuzz pedals, fuzz guitarists and psychedelic fuzzy solos, there is no fuzz which has received greater attention than the legendary Fuzz Face. Originally produced by Arbiter Electronics in England and appeared during 1966 the unit was an immediate success. Many of the greatest guitarists in rock history played their best solos and riffs through a Fuzz Face including Hendrix, Gilmour, Blackmore, Harrison, Townsend and many more. Nevertheless, the dependency of the Germanium transistors on temperature resulted in a lack of tone consistency and many players suffered on stage from this effect. To circumvent this issue Dallas Arbiter started issuing Silicon versions of the FF somewhere around 1969 replacing the NKT275 trannies with BC108. Silicon was the new hype at the time and it seemed that by 1970-71 everybody was switching to Silicon faces. Hendrix's Band of Gypsys, Gilmour on all PF albums and tours since 1971 including all of the solos on Meddle and Dark side of the Moon are probably the most documented examples. One of my favorite guitarists Michael Karoli (Can) also used Silicon Fuzz Faces to create his raw and untamed distortion throughout the history of Can, so this was enough to get me going. 

Both designs are pretty close with the Germs being mostly PNP and the Silis being NPN. Comparing the sound of the Germanium units with the Silicon ones it is often said that while the Germs sound raspy, warm and sweet, the Silicons are brighter, edgy and have more gain. Well....from my builds....this statement is....TRUE!

The original 1966 Arbiter Face - Germanium
On my Fuzz quest I really couldn't imagine the journey without understanding the differences between the two FF versions and there was no other way than building the two. After I finished the Germanium Fulltone version I started to drown with info on the Silicon versions: Fulltone, Analog Man, Dunlop, Runoffgroove, GGG you name it. I looked through dozens of schematics and breadboarded some of them. I even looked at the German Schaller Fuzz (FF variant) after reading that Michael Karoli (CAN) used one. Actually, the first fuzz I ever built was the Runoffgroove SiliFace II and I loved it for some months. That was what got me interested in fuzz pedals in the first place, My Fuzz quest started because one fuzz was not enough to get the range of buzz tones I was after.

The 1970 Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face - Silicon
Due to the fact that the Fuzz Face design is tolerant to part values many versions have been issued over the years and the amount of Fuzz Face versions became quite vast (just like it happened with the Big Muffs or the Tube Screamers). The design is so simple that small part changes resulted in some sonical change. After all the entire unit incorporates 4 resistors, 3 caps, 2 transistors, 2 pots and 1 switch. That's it!

4 resistors, 3 capacitors, 2 transistors, 2 potentiometers
The sound I was aiming for was that of Gilmour playing the Time solo on the album version of the Dark Side. I started out with the GGG early 70's Boutique NPN Fuzz Face after my success with the GGG 60's version. I liked the PRE GAIN knob and the circuit seemed pretty good, but something was missing. I didn't box the circuit and it stayed on the shelf for some time. I built a few other Fuzz pedals and when I thought I understood more about what I wanted I revisited the circuit. This time I modified the circuit based on the Axis Face version by Phillip Bryant modified by Brett Robinson. 

Gilmour's early 70's rig

I did a lot of testing using Hi-Watt amp emulations, tweaked many of the parts in this little circuit, changed trannies and used several guitars. Surprisingly, I ended up using 2N2369 (hfe=70-90) for Q1 and BC109 for Q2 (hfe=200). The BC108C I had (hfe around 400-550) seemed to be too pumped up for my taste. I settled on a 50kA pot for the PRE GAIN and a 100kA for the VOLUME. 220n cap for the input and 30p cap on the bridge for lo-pass filtering. I replaced the CONTOUR pot with a 470R resistor and kept the 22uF Fuzz cap. I kept the reverse polarity protection and cut off the strange feedback diode bridge which didn't seem to affect the sound. Biasing Q2 I got 4.5V with resistance being about 3k3 so that's about 4k3 total Q2 bias. It's funny that this fuzz is currently my most tweaked fuzz circuit to date. Only a few parts but so much experimentation. Other fuzz circuits you get the schematic, the parts, breadboard and maybe test a few transistors, bias them and that's it. Along with the early Tone Benders and the Maestro Fuzz Tone which are more complex it's one of the toughest, considering its architecture.

Luckily, somebody at work who knows I am always on the lookout for metallic enclosures, gave me this great candy box. I couldn't have asked for a better design with those pink pigs on a round enclosure making it suitable for a Fuzz Face and for a Pink Floyd related sound, so I jigsawed it to the right height, called it Pink Face, mixed my glass paint bottles and came up with a magical pinkish tone... Perfect!

The sound is well worth the effort. It's not as warm or sweet as the Germanium version but it does give you the Time solo style. Bright when the FUZZ pot reaches max. The PRE-GAIN gets you that rolled off effect for cool rhythm chords and sparkly clean chops. Using a treble booster in front enables you to get great tones with the FUZZ knob below max. I also tested it with a Wah in front and no buffer was needed. Definitely a must build on my fuzz journey towards a better future.

If you want to learn more about the the topology of the fuzz face there is no better place than R.G. Keen's article: The Technology of the Fuzz Face. It helped me a lot in choosing the right part values and testing transistors both in my Germanium unit and this recent Silicon unit. It is really the Fuzz Face Bible, highly recommended and insightful. 

The schematic I drew up in Chrome Circuit Lab is shown here for reference but feel free to use it, tweak it or twist it. I will update it if I decide to change it. The feedback diode did not really do anything so I left it as in the Fulltone version.

Hope you get to enjoy it! You can also have a blast using Mark's vero layout on Tagboardeffects.blogspot,com

There is a lot of Fuzz Face info all over the web, here are some more recommended pages for extended reading on this matter:

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tumble and Drive - the Rougue Dumble

The Runoffgroove Tumble Drive (Umble)
For those of you who are following this blog and my recent posts, it is probably clear that, although our main point of concern is the magical sounds of fuzz circuits, a great of interest is being paid to the accompanying peripherals, which have a great deal to do with the overall guitar sound. What I mean by this long phrase is that every time I think I have understood the fuzz sound of a certain pedal I am amazed to discover how different it sounds and behaves when you play with it through different amps.
That was the main reason I began building amp emulation pedals like the English Channel (emulation a VOX AC30 top boost channel) or the Thor (The Marshall 100W Superlead). You have probably noticed that when it comes to amp emulation I am very fond of the Runoffgroove design, and that is mostly because they just sound great and they definitely evoke the characteristic sounds of the amps they aim to emulate.

On of the most sought after sound of guitar amplifiers is the unique sound of the Dumble amps which have been made since the 60's in California by Alexander "Howard" Dumble. Although I have never played through a Dumble in my life, nor do I believe I will ever do, it was interesting to hear what the fuss was all about. The list of Dumble users includes some major players like Santana, SRV, John Mayer, Al Di Meola and Ben Harper and many more. Probably the most recognized user of the Dumbles is Eric Johnson who made the amps famous with his singing Fuzz Face going through an heavily overdriven Dumble.

Unlike many of the ROG designs which I built in order to get the well known classic sound of a certain amp, on this build I just wanted a good American  sound which would get me from clean to crunch with some nice lead tone and good tone control. I even asked the ROG guys about a Fender like design that would get me close to a Vibroking or a Super-Sonic sound and they recommended their Dumble-like design, called the Umble, a cascaded FET based overdrive. 

I quickly started gathering parts and had the circuit running in a few days....and YES....another great sounding overdrive by the amazing guys at ROG. This is a very versatile unit which got me playing for days getting some wicked tones. On the lower end of the DRIVE knob it's capable of some really sweet clean tones. Single coils come cleaner but with proper use of the tonestack you can get Humbuckers to sound clean too. I really love low gain pedals because I love the warm drive you can get from them. This pedal does it all, warm, punchy or razor sharp, it's all there. Once you get the DRIVE up it becomes a monster and reaches Fuzz territory towards the end. While lowering the Tone stack knobs cleans the sound, increasing them gives you more drive and half way through the dials you are already speeding on the freeway.

I called it Tumble Drive because it sounded better then Umble to me and it drives so smooth and nice.
The one thing which I really love about this design is that it also serves as an excellent booster before a second overdrive like the Supreaux Duo ("1st Page" on my blog). It sounds really good and gives you the Eric Johnson tone if you put a Fuzz Face in front of it. Actually, every fuzz I hooked up with it sounded great and so it isn't just another amp-like pedal. Although the Tone stack is a little strange to work with it sounds good: The TREBLE knob adds some BASS as you crank it, and the BASS is quite subtle.

The final thing I did just recently was adding a simple switch to bypass the first FET gain stage so that I can now get even cleaner sound on low DRIVE settings. Now it's just perfect and I really like the paint job which I got in the end with the IGNITE toggle switch.
The gain switch which bypasses the first stage gain FET (in red)

Umble with Gain switch

Again....don't pass out on this design if you are serious about american sounding overdrives. The schematic can be found here.

Below are 2 demos of my lousy playing on my ES335 clone guitar and the pedal through a soundcard and some amp with room simulations. The first is a demo with different settings and the second is a mix of 3 tracks, Riff+rhythm+solo, with various settings showing the versatile sound of the effect on a single guitar. It's quite an amazing pedal with its capabilities as a low gain overdrive, high gain overdrive, full on distortion and a great fuzz character with the BASS knob fully cranked. The tone stack have a huge effect on the sound of the pedal.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Shake, Rattle and Roll - The Runoffgroove Tri-Vibe vibrato/phaser/leslie pedal

As I have stated on some previous posts, getting the best fuzz sound or for that matter getting the best sound from any guitar involves more than a few parameters: Picking style, pickups, pedals, amps, mic placement etc. All this is nice and all but sometimes there are more effects involved which really transforms the sound into something else, richer, more psychedelic, more dynamic and new. I am talking about the use of filters, reverbs, phasers, vibrato, tremolo, delay and chorus effects. The first effect I built which was not a distortion pedal was a PAiA Voltage Controlled Filter. Combining the filter with a delay pedal proved to be a super exotic source of psychedelic sounds. I knew I would some day get deeper into modulation effects. As those effects are usually tougher to build I was always intimidated to start one out.

The Swirly Vibes vibrato/phaser/leslie pedal
When I started to get deeper into the Hendrix sound I found the Univibe pedal to be something of a mysterious part of his sound. It is used heavily on Band of Gypsys - Machine Gun, and on Izabella. Later I found out that Gilmour actually used a modified version of the Univibe as the phaser on the opening track Breathe on The Dark Side album (The phaser on the Shine On riff from Wish You was an actual MXR Phase 90). The Uni-vibe was first introduced somewhere in the 60's by Shin-Ei and Vox and was intended to be used as a Leslie simulation. When ROG came out with the Tri-Vibe: a simple enough design aiming to get that sound, I thought it was a good way to get into the business. Even more interesting was the design allowing to combine two modulations together, namely pitch vibrato and phase modulation to get the rotary speaker (Leslie) effect, hence, the Tri-Vibe. I always had a soft spot for Leslie cabinets used in Hammond organs but also on Pianos (Don't Pass Me By - the Beatles), electric guitars (as used by Jethro Tull on Benefit - Guitars, vocals and flutes) and even vocals (John Lennon on Tomorrow Never Knows).

A great page for some info about the Leslie cabinet can be found on:

The ROG design looked very clever and interesting so I built it and stuck it in a modified tin chocolate box. After a few gigs I realized that I needed a stronger enclosure so I reboxed in a regular 1590BB Hammond style box.

ROG Tri-Vibe new enclosure
The circuit has two self explanatory knobs for INTENSITY/DEPH and RATE, and a three position switch to get the SHAKE (vibrato) in the center position, RATTLE (phaser) and ROLL (rotary speaker). I love the rate knob which gives you a wide frequency range from about 0.2 Hz up to 7 Hz or so, that's a few seconds a round to a few rounds a second. Both vibrato and phaser are smooth and gentle and sound pretty damn good. Only drawback of the VIBE effect is that is is really mild and you can really feel it on the high RATE settings. I really wish it was more pronounced. The PHASER swirl effect is milder than the Phase 90 by MXR and it is actually very close to the EHX SMALL STONE which I really like. The Leslie-like whirly effect which is a combination of the VIBE and SWIRL is very good in itself but it only reminds me of the Leslie effect and it, obviously, doesn't have the crunch which accompanies a real Leslie. You can add the extra crunch yourself and get much closer to an actual Leslie sound. Using a fuzz (or better yet the High Tyme Axis/Octavia Fuzz) before the Tri-Vibe on Bass or guitar yielded such a dynamic and rich tone that made me sit one evening playing a single riff over and over dosing off on the guitar. Even the minimum settings on both knobs gives a nice useful hi-pass filtering. I also implemented the suggested mod which gives you the rate indication on the LED which is pretty cool and very useful.

I cannot speak highly enough of this pedal. I can just say that our band's guitarist and me always fight over who will use it on gigs. He actually calls me before each gig to make sure I don't forget to pack it. I guess I might have to build another one. I found a few amazing preset settings which I use very often (in clock numbers for RATE and DEPTH): 9, 3 on Swirl, 11, 1 on Whirl, 2, 2 on Vibe and so on.

The Swirly Vibes patterns
The Tri-vibe is not a Uni-vibe clone and those seeking a Uni-vibe could be disappointing as it doesn't employ the chorus mode which the Uni-vibe is famous for. However as it does have the vibrato mode and 2 swirly/whirly modes, it is a very good replacement and can actually be even more useful than the original. I, therefore, named it Swirly Vibes and painted the enclosure with patterns of waves, swirls and whirls which I really really like. It took me forever to decide on the graphics and after several attempts which failed I went with this great pattern which I got from a designers website.

I discarded the Shake, Rattle and Roll modes naming and just painted a wave a whirl and a swirl to designate the proper switch mode.

This fantastic ROG schematic and layout can be found here. Don't pass on this one. I used the Tri-Vibe name for a while with the old enclosure but after redesigning the enclosure from scratch and putting so much effort into the swirly waves patterns I decided to name it "Swirly Vibes". This is exactly what the pedal does best - swirly vibes.

Bellow are two audio clips demonstrating the Swirly Vibes pedal. One demonstrates the Tri-Vibe with a clean telecaster tone, and the second utilizes the High Tyme Octavia/Axis fuzz in front of the Tri-Vibe. I used all three presets with several settings on each. Just run through the audio clips to hear it's versatility.

The Mixcloud player is slightly less intuitive than the regular Soundcloud because you have to press - "UP NEXT" to get the playlist to show you the tracks, but it is equally well designed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Page the 1st or First Page

As discussed earlier on this blog, the amps used by guitarists as well as the guitars, pedals and picking techniques, all contributed evenly to the magical electrical guitar tones produced during the 60's and the 70's. 

While most guitarists rocked the world with their Voxes, Fenders, Hiwatts and Marshalls, there were still other brands which became legendary later on when people realized that some of the great recordings ever were made using them.

Such are the Supro amps made by Valco in Chicago throughout the 50's and 60's. Although cheaper than most Fender amps they still sounded great and were quite popular in the US as well as in the UK. It is believed that one Jimmy Page has recorded the entire Led Zeppelin debut album in 1969 using a Fender Telecaster, a ToneBender Fuzz pedal, a Wah pedal and a 16T Supro combo amp. The sought after sound of Page is also a result of great playing, great mic placement and great recording techniques but surely this American style amp has something to do with it.

I have listened to some software plugins simulating the response of such an amp and decided it was worth the effort. When the Runoffgroove (ROG) team came out with the updated design of the Supreaux Deux I couldn't be happier. What's more, they actually own one of these babies so they really rtied to nail the sound rather than the FET-TUBE conversion design. I was so pleased with the former designs of the THOR and the ENGLISH CHANNEL, that I knew it was going to be a blast. The circuit is driven by 18V which gives the sound more headroom and lower gain. I really love fuzz boxes going into low gain and cleaner amps because it really gets the fuzz sounds better defined and less muddy. It was a pretty simple build and I did a pretty good job, I guess following the ROG design. I placed a 9V battery in the enclosure and connected a regular 9V power so that I could have the 18V together until I build  a 9V to 18V converter.

The results were great. Perfect clean-to-crunch DRIVE flexibility and a good lo-pass TONE control to keep that sizzle I love so much. the FAT switch is a mod I added to keep more of the low end when playing the neck pickups.The amp sounded good with humbuckers but superb with a Tele. Clean sounds and edgey and warm and the overdriven crunch is in the style of "Good Times Bad Times" opening chords. What a Blues Driver. The amp is not complete without a fuzz and a Wah. A treble Booster like the Ranger (ROG Omega) did wonders with the Drive knob about half way and north. Using a Tele you can really nail some of the crunchier sounds on LZ1 album where page doesn't use a fuzz. He engages the fuzz on solos mostly. for a Pagier sound always keep the mic away from the cabinet to get more room, and add some reverb.

The one thing I really needed now was a Germanium SolaSound ToneBender mkII....yeah right.
Well I did start looking for the best ToneBender mkII clone out there. While it may not be the Ultimate fuzz ever (the Maestro FuzzTone or Tonebender mkI are nominated for best ever), it is supposed to be quite versatile and sweet. Stay tuned.

The Supreaux Deux schematic which I call First Page or better yet Page the First can be found here. A 9-to-18V converter can be found here or on this thread.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lester Wires - Live at the Rehab Center (31.7.2012)

click the link below to jump over to the SoundCloud playlist
Lester Wires - Live at the Rehab Center (31.7.2012)

Just thought I ought to share this on my blog too.
A link to the Soundcloud playlist of some of the songs from the last Lester Wires show.
All fuzz and distortion guitars employ pedals which appear on this blog...
You can download all songs or just listen.
Anyway, more to come.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Fluffy Fuzz Cake

The Big Muff Pi (~3.14) was the first major fuzz pedal by the NY based company - Electro-Harmonix (EHX). The legend says that the first units were brought in 1969 to Manny's Music Store on 48th Street, NY, and a week or so later Hendrix picked one up. The circuit was aimed to recreate some of the fuzz tones conceived by Hendrix using a more complicated design than that of most fuzzes from those days. It was supposed to do everything the FuzzFace did with some extra features and a nicer sustain.

Over the years, a lot of Big Muff variants appeared, each with it's own characteristics and subtleties. Some due to part changes by EHX and some by the fact the the company went out of business and other manufacturers issued they're own versions. Gilmour switched from the Silicon FuzzFace to a BigMuff Pi somewhere around 1977. All the solo guitar work on Animals and The Wall incorporates a Big Muff. Santana also used this unit during the mid 70's. During the late 80's and early 90's the vintage Big Muffs and other variants, most notably the Russian Sovtek version, were a big part of the grungy alternative sound of the bands which defined the genre like Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana. Mudhoney went as far as naming their Ep "Superfuzz Bigmuff". Having so much legacy and history around this pedal, I had to try it but I couldn't decide which version to go for. It was actually the first fuzz pedal that was named a distortion pedal.

The original circuit I built was taken from the GeneralGuitarGadgets site shown here. Some of the changes made by EHX over the years as well as the designs made by other manufacturers can be found on the same website here. Although they rely on the idea of cascaded gain stages with diode clipping on each stage, they all sound a little different (tonestack, caps, trannies etc.).

The most gratifying unit I built around the Big Muff concept was the ROG 22/7. The ROG team did it again with a super cool design to get the entire pie in one bite. The name comes from the number pi, but the sound is the fluffy triangular pie which we love so much (How did EHX ever get a way with such a nasty name for a pedal?). The most notable thing about the pedal is that it is based around a CD4049UB IC which makes up the gain stages, and the fact that you have 3 variants in a single circuit!!! the original classic sound, the flatter Russian Sovtek sound and the scooped Ram's Head version. What a great pedal. Every guitarist I played with loved it. It's sustain is super smooth and you can get a very heavy Billy Corgan/Thurston Moore sound easily. Very very cool. The circuit can be found here. A lot of info on this pedal can be found on the Pistones website.

I admit that I did not intend to dwelve so deep into Big Muff territory when I first started my quest for the ultimate fuzz, but this is a great versatile fuzz unit and could easily satisfy grunge heads and fuzz heads alike.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tyme for some High Octave Fuzz

Ever since I have been reading and listening to various type fuzz circuits I was always intimidated a bit to build  an octave fuzz, mainly 'cause I don't really care to much for octave pedals. Sure they are interesting pedals to play with and toy around, and some great guitarists have made some great solos using octavers, both up and down, but it's not what I am usually after in my sound. Anyway what I'm trying to say is...boy...was I wrong.

My first attempt at an Octave fuzz pedal was made by tampering with a Jordan BossTone fuzz which had a pot for battery starving effect (a tip from This yielded an Octave Down effect with a lot of buzzing which sounds a bit like the Motorcycle effect done by Brian May. Pretty cool, hu? but I'll post this one later on.

Then I read an interesting story about Hendrix playing the Purple Haze solo through the mysterious Octavia fuzz made by Roger Mayer. It is told that one of these pedals was stolen, and reappeared after Hendrix's death under the Tycobrahe brand. After listening to more tracks allegedly played through this Octavia pedal I realized that this pedal has a lot to do with what I call the Hendrix sound. Although he used the Maestro FuzzTone and various Fuzz Faces quite a bit, he also used a pedal called the Axis Fuzz and the Octavia. Both of these pedals sound fantastic and very versatile so I could n't sit still, of course, knowing that they are both in one medium difficulty circuit.

Wondering the web for circuits I ended up using the GGG circuit which had some new features like negative ground, PREGAIN knob, polarity protection and also featured the Octave On/Off switch, so that it's actually two pedals in one. The first part of the circuit is actually the highly acclaimed Roger Mayer Axis Fuzz and the second part is the Octave-up which used a coil transformer for frequency conversion. Mind you that the later Roger Mayer Octave Fuzz is a different circuit and does not have the transformer for the octave up thing. From what I understand the original pedal did include a transformer for the frequency doubling.

I ordered some parts from SmallBear and Mammoth, breadboarded the sucker and when I saw that it was all good I boxed it and called the pedal the "High Tyme" fuzz and for a very good reason. As soon as I plugged my guitar in I was back in Psychedelic Ladyland. This pedal is so sweet you wanna eat it. The Axis-fuzz circuit is musical, smooth and rich. It actually sounds much better and more defined than your usual Fuzz Face, and more vintage sounding than any BigMuff if you wanna go 60's. You can play around with the INTENSITY knob but it really sounds good anywhere on the clock. Once you engage the Octave everything goes berserk. You can roll off the guitar knob or use the PREGAIN and as you roll it down you can get a cleaner octave which can sound very interesting on the high notes on the neck pickup. What I love even more is the sound of the pedal on Bass. I spent an entire night playing bass using the pedal with a phaser right after it. The sound was so inspiring that I couldn't stop. It can get really nasty and quirky on the higher settings. Btw, for the Octave on/off switch just cut the transformer's primary channel diode from the ground and hook it on a SPST switch. Yes, it's that simple as shown here.

I don't know if this circuit is the exact circuit Hendrix played through but it is definitely out there. It's probably the closest I got so far to really reaching my goal on this quest. Lately I've heard of a band called T2 which released one album "It'll All Work Out In Boomland" in 1970 and boom they split. On the new CD release there is a bonus track called "Questions and Answers". 17 years old guitarist, Keith Cross, plays 3 amazing solos on this track which climb up the fuzzy scale throughout the track. The fuzz he uses has got to be the Octave Fuzz 'cause no other fuzz sounds quite like it. you can listen to it using this link. You won't regret it. If you wanna build it.and you need the is the magical recipe for this Psycho potion.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Factory of Fuzz

When I first sett of to the journey for the soundscapes of Fuzz territory I didn't really know what I was about to find. I thought that I would build two or three circuits and then box them and go on with my life. As soon as I build the first one I realized that the journey has just begun. From the song list of the previous post you can collect maybe 20 or so fuzz variations which really sound different and probably hundreds of sounds if you go into the details. When I stumbled on the Z. Vex Fuzz Factory video I thought "Man, this is a cool little bastard". It was a Germanium fuzz face (YAFF - Yet Another Fuzz Face) with a buffer input stage and a negative voltage which is an unusual design for PNP trannys. More appealing were the pots located on areas of the schematics which gave the fuzz some really deep control over GATING, COMPRESSION, oscillation STABILITY and, of course, DRIVE.

As I had a few AC128 lying around which I tested for gain and leakage, I thought it could be a simple build and I may find my ultimate sound bank of fuzz versatility. As soon as I finished it I took it to a rehearsal. It was a dense jungle of wires and pots on the studio carpet and... it tore the place down. 

It's a very fun piece of gear with some neat tricks. It will get you close to a straight over the top Fuzz Face, it  reacts well to guitar roll-off and the interaction between the DRIVE and STAB can get you deep into heavy psych-land. The most cool sound I got from this circuit is what Z. Vex call the Velcro effect which is a heavily gated nasal tone that sounds a little like the Mike Ratledge organ fuzz sound on Soft Machine. Like a vintage analog synth or something.

My settings didn't sound exactly like the sounds described on the preset list with hte knobs at the specified locations but a little tweaking here and there and I got the sounds it's supposed to produce.

It's a really versatile unit but I couldn't make it my go-to box because each sound was good but not perfect, except for that sweet sticky Velcro sound and the weird oscillations which are always good when you just wanna go plain crazy. Not a complete winner but definitely worth a shot if you want to scorch some guitar asphalt. Again, I owe you some sound samples and if you comment, I will post them. If you want to build this one, use the verified schematic shown here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

130 greatest fuzz songs of all times

You can never have too many fuzz pedals
After writing and reading so much about the various Fuzz pedals, schematics and the history around them, I thought it would be a good idea to build the ultimate playlist of songs which incorporate the Fuzz, The Ultimate Fuzz Playlist -

130 all time greatest fuzz songs

While some songs are very well known others are quite obscure and even rare. Nevertheless, they all present the fuzz effect in one way or another, mostly on electric guitar but also on bass and even keyboards (Mike Ratledge of Soft Machine). 
These kind of lists are always partial, of course, but the scope of material here is both wide and deep. I gathered a lot of smaller lists from all around the web and added some of my own. You are welcome to comment, correct or add your own ideas so that we can further lengthen the list.

Rating | song | artist | Year

I believe that most of the songs on the list can be found on Youtube or GrooveShark if you want to listen. I'll try to turn this list into a YouTube playlist in the future for better convenience.

If you are new to the world of fuzz listen to the first 10 songs and you'll get the idea. If you are well acquainted and consider yourself a fuzz master check out some of the really rare stuff here. There are some beautiful gems hidden down the track.

Some viewers complained that this list is mostly 60's and 70's and doesn't reflect the fuzz era of the 90's and the 21st century. Well, it is true that the 60's and 70's saw the emergence of fuzz pedals and exploited this sound to great extent and thus the fuzz purists would say that the 1st fuzz era is the real deal. Nevertheless, I did add a lot of newer stuff which, I believe, do justice to the fuzz idea, like Smashing Pumpkins, Jesus and the Mary Chain and other bands who really used fuzz pedals to the extreme).


|1|Blue's Theme|Davie Allan & The Arrows|1968|

|2|(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction|The Rolling Stones|1965|

|3|Spirit in the Sky|Norman Greenbaum|1969|

|4|Incense And Peppermints|Strawberry Alarm Clock|1967|

|5|The 2000 Pound Bee (Part 1&2)|The Ventures|1962|

|6|Pushin' Too Hard|The Seeds|1966|

|7|Who's Gonna Mow Your Grass|Buck Owens|1969|

|8|Mr. Soul|Buffalo Springfield|1967|

|9|Dark Eyed Woman (Album Version)|Spirit|1969|

|10|Think For Yourself|The Beatles|1965|

|11|Over Under Sideways Down|Yardbirds|1967|

|12|The devil's rumble|Davie Allan & The Arrows|1965|

|13|In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida|Iron Butterfly|1968|

|14|You're A Better Man Than I|Yardbirds|1967|

|15|You Don't Remember|Twentieth Century Zoo|1996|

|16|I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night|The Electric Prunes|1967|
|18|Heart Full Of Soul|Yardbirds|1967|
|19|Easy Money|King Crimson|1973|
|20|Rocket|Smashing Pumpkins|1993|
|21|Think About It|Yardbirds|1967|
|22|Evil Hoodoo|The Seeds|1966|
|23|Yekermo Sew|Mulatu Astatke|1970|
|24|Moonage Daydream|David Bowie|1972|
|25|Bluebird|Buffalo Springfield|1967|
|26|Shapes Of Things|Yardbirds|1967|
|27|The Pusher|Steppenwolf|1976|
|28|Iron Man|Black Sabbath|1970|
|29|Death Of An Electric Citizen|Edgar Broughton Band|1969|
|30|American Woman|Guess Who|1970|
|31|To Cry You A Song|Jethro Tull|1970|
|32|Diddy Wah Diddy|Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band|1965|
|33|Nothing To Say|Jethro Tull|1970|
|34|Purple Haze|Jimi Hendrix Experience|1967|
|35|Psychotic Reaction|Count Five|1968|
|36|Dropout Boogie|Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band|1967|
|37|Dole Song|Fresh Maggots|1971|
|38|Cherub Rock|Smashing Pumpkins|1993|
|39|Mayonaise|Smashing Pumpkins|1993|
|40|Journey to the Center of the Mind|The Amboy Dukes|1968|
|41|Sexo Galactico|Piel De Pueblo|1972|
|42|Let's Spend the Night Together|Muddy Waters|1968|
|43|21st Century Schizoid Man|King Crimson|1969|
|44|Sioux City Blues|Majic Ship|1969|
|45|The Nile Song|Pink Floyd|1971|
|46|Search Your Soul|The Shadows Of Time|1996|
|47|How Many More Times|Led Zeppelin|1969|
|48|Bad Little Woman|Shadows of Knight|1968|
|49|Just Like Honey|The Jesus and Mary Chain|1985|
|50|Sunshine Of Your Love|Cream|1967|
|51|Paranoid|Black Sabbath|1970|
|52|Action Woman|Litter|1968|
|53|Balloon Song|Fresh Maggots|1971|
|54|Driving South|Jimi Hendrix|1998|
|55|Cinnamon Girl|Neil Young|1969|
|56|Civilization Machine|The Plastic Cloud|1968|
|57|Tomorrow Is Plastic|Freeman Sounds & Friends|1970|
|58|Jammin|The Savage Resurrection|1968|
|59|Earthquake (Remastered)|13th Floor Elevators|1967|
|60|Thing in E|The Savage Resurrection|1968|
|62|Ramble Tamble|Creedence Clearwater Revival|1970|
|63|Surf-Ari|The Challengers|1966|
|64|I'm A Man|Q65|1965|
|65|Shake|Shadows of Knight|1968|
|66|Nobody But Me|Various Artists|1968|
|67|Mary, Mary So Contrary|Can|1969|
|68|I Think I'm Down|Harbinger Complex|1968|
|69|Fault Line|Deep Purple|1969|
|70|Communication Breakdown|Led Zeppelin|1969|
|71|Tom Cat|Muddy Waters|1968|
|72|The Width Of A Circle|David Bowie|1971|
|73|Almost Cut My Hair|Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young|1970|
|74|Futilist's Lament|High Tide|1969|
|75|The Gift|The Velvet Underground|1968|
|77|My Ancestors|Chrissy Zebby Tembo & Ngozi Family|1974|
|78|Moonage Daydream|David Bowie|1972|
|79|Father Cannot Yell|Can|1969|
|80|Nitrus|Dick Dale|1970|
|81|White Light/White Heat|The Velvet Underground|1968|
|82|I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar|The United States Of America|1967|
|83|Coming Down|The United States Of America|1967|
|84|Daddy's Blazin' BBQ|Pepe Deluxe|2003|
|85|I Wanna Be Your Dog|The Stooges|1969|
|86|Split [Part Two]|Groundhogs|1971|
|88|Hibou, Anemone and Bear|Soft Machine|1969|
|90|Hello, I love You|The Doors|1968|
|91|Fisherman|Chrissy Zebby Tembo & Ngozi Family|1974|
|92|The Musical Box|Genesis|1971|
|93|Pictures Of Matchstick Man|Status Quo|1968|
|94|Down by the River|Neil Young|1969|
|95|Pushed, But Not Forgotten|High Tide|1969|
|96|Soul Typecast|The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion|1993|
|97|Silver Rains|Ivory|1973|
|98|Revolution|The Head Shop|1969|
|99|Coast Road|Gravy Train|1970|
|100|Starless|King Crimson|1974
|101|machine Gun|Jimi Hendrix Band of Gypsys|1970
|102|Questions and Answers|T2|1970
|103|Rama|Cold Sun|1969 (any song on this great album)
|104|Bat Macumba|Os Mutantes|1968
|105|Explosive Corrosive Joseph|John Schroeder|1969
|106|Man With the Harmonica|Ennio Morricone|1968
|107|Don't Worry|Marty Robbins|1960
|108|Time (Solo)|Pink Floyd|1973
|109|Only Shallow|My Bloody Valentine|1991
|110|Polar Bear|Ride|1990
|111|Who was in my room last night?|Butthole Surfers|1993
|112|Train to Nowhere|Rare Earth|1969
|113|Sleepy Son|Sleepy Sun|2008
|114|Mother Sky|Can|1970
|115|Fu Manchu|Godzilla|1997
|116|Touch Me I'm Sick|Mudhoney|1988
|117|Voytek|The Heavy Eyes|2011
|118|Walkabout (Solo)|RHCP|1995
|119|Are You Gonna Go My Way|Lenny Kravitz|1993
|120|Fool in the End|Graveyard|2007
|122|I Don't Know Anything|Mad Season|1995
|123|Get Ready|Rare Earth|1969
|124|There's No Satisfaction|Vampires' Sound Incorporation|1970
|125|Sonic Youth|Starfield Road|1994

|126|Sonic Youth|100%|1992
|127|A Girl Like You|Edwyn Collins|1995

|128|Dead Meadow|Sleepy Silver Door|2000

|129|The Monks|Pretty Suzanne|1966

|130|My Bloody Valentine|Slow|1987

will soon add:
Beck ?? 

White Stripes ?? 

The Mars Volta ??
Pavement ??
The Flaming Lips ??
Ween ??
Fern Knight

Have fuzz !!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A No Fuss Tone from the Above and Beyond

My FuzzQuest started off with the goal of getting that elusive sound of the mid-sixties Fuzz like the Maestro FZ-1 or the FZ-1A. But getting the Schematic and actually building one turned out to be quite a challange, so I started with simpler designs. Over the course of a year I truly fell in love with each pedal I built and I started to really understand what's going on in this world. 

The world of Fuzz is all about getting the right tone for the job. Some fuzz boxes sound like a reed instrument giving you a buzzy effect while some sound like a plain old loud distortion. Over the years the trend changed, from the buzzy Maestro and the scratchy Mosrite to the singing sustain of the FuzzFace and Tone Bender. After that you got the Octave Fuzz and the Super saturated BigMuffs. While some fuzzes are great for solo playing they can be difficult to control in a band structure and can really be hard to mix. This post is about a fuzz which sits just right in the mix.

The Astro-Tone was a simple fuzz designed for the Sam Ash Musical Instruments shop which sold it during the late sixties and early seventies. The fuzz is known for it's soft and creamy tone which, at the time, was the opposite of the out-of-control Fuzz Face character.

So once I built a few Fuzz Faces I was interested to see what this fuzz is all about. The thing that really turned me on was a live show by Jazz-prog band "Sweet Smoke" from 1974 where the lead guitarist Marvin Kaminovitz plays a Les Paul through this Sam Ash unit and it just sounds sooo....sweet and juicy. 
The build is quite simple, I used a couple of cheap BC109 and 2N3904 NPNs, and the results were awesome.... the unit is a winner. It has a very smooth drive that sound super fluid with chords, unlike the heavy Fuzz Face, and the TONE control is very effective. No matter what the setting was I could always get pleasing results and it sounds equally well with Humbuckies and Single coils.

What more could I ask for? well there is another little thing I love about the unit. Roll off the volume knob on your guitar and baaammm, you get a biting sparkly Hendrix-like tone with smooth edges that is just to die for.
The unit really deserved a different touch on the exterior so I gave it a kidney shaped metallic candy box and painted it to give the right Astro-mood. It's a no-fuss Fuzz. As always, I'll post some riffs played with this unit, but you gotta ask for it and put in some comments as I am still null on the comments page. You can get the schematic here.

Now here's a long audio clip which shows the different colors of the pedal all around the FUZZ and TONE knobs with the new addition of a larger cap on the input which gives a much stronger bass response than the original designers have intended. Cool! Listen closely to the areas where the guitar's volume knob is rolled off a bit. The sound is very edgy and Hendrix like. Super Cool!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

From darkest night to brightest light

Before moving on to more distorted sounds created by fuzz boxes and overdrives, I'd like to share with you a great circuit that has become a crucial part of my pedal board. Playing around with all sorts of amps, guitars and pickups, I realized that I could definitely use some clean tone shaping capabilities.
I started looking for a nice tone stack (EQ) schematic that would give me more voicing flexibility, a clean boost/volume control and a good buffer design. By voicing I mean the characteristic tone of an amp. My Zebra Humbuckers often need a bit more treble to get that shine. A clean boost or volume is very helpful when you place the pedal first in the chain. You can really shape your pickups for more MIDs or less BASS whenever necessary. The buffer compensates for tone sucking when working with many pedals in the chain which are not engaged (OFF position). So after some looking around I realized that the wonderful guys at runoffgroove have done all the hard work already and designed the perfect guitar tone stack in a simple circuit named the Tone Mender. It's a dual stage operational amp with a tone stack between the two stages which gives clean and tunable boost. 

Once I breadboarded this design I knew it was love at first site. Placing the unit between the guitar and a fuzz (not all of them) gave my the freedom to really change the fuzz behavior because you control the BASS content. Fuzz pedals react strongly to the bass content coming in (more bass = stronger harmonics = more fuzz). The MID is like a volume control so you can control the fuzz amount by just lowering signal going in. When placing it after one of the amp emulation pedals you can really achieve different voicings by tweaking the knobs, but it doesn't end there. You can get scooped mids or roll off the bass for less mud. It even has a MID SHIFT switch to choose between the MID control at 400Hz and 700Hz. Cranking the TREBLE knob at the end of the chain gives you extra clarity which is always needed. From darkest night to brightest light. It's all there.

Wow... what a great addition. This pedal just blew me away...mainly because it gives you so many options no matter where you place it. Because it was such a jungle of sounds I decided to paint it tropically and name it The EQUATOR. If you are in need of some tone shaping don't miss out on this one, its simple and super flexible. BTW I ended up using the NE5532 dual op-amp and it sounds great. You can get the schematic and details here.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Rite Fuzz for Buzz

The Green Spirit FuzzRite clone
So after a few circuits on the breadboard and a lot of listening and reading I started realizing what the Fuzz is all about....what it is.....and what is should never be!

Fuzz is all about clipping. Not soft clipping like a tube amp or like what we call today 'Overdrive'. Fuzz is about hard clipping. The saturation is immediate and pushed so hard that you get a lot of sustain due to over compression into saturation. The effect of feedbacking a  2nd transistor back into a 1st gain transistor drives the circuit into this hard clipping. Si vs. Ge, architecture and design are all important factors.

When I first heard Garage bands like Strawberry Alarm Clocks,  The Seeds (Evil Hoodoo and Pushing Too Hard) and The Sonics, I didn't really know what was so special about their guitar sound. But when I heard Norman Greenbaum's Spirits in the Sky, The Venture's 2000 pound Bee and Buffalo Springfield's Mr Soul, I realized what to look for. It's that BUUUUZZZZZ. It's a sound that sounds so rotten and crushed that it can be nothing but a fuzz. It really sounds like a bad mixer channel or like the speakers were slashed (that's how they first did it).

The Green Spirit is a super usefull FuzzRite workhorse
Once you start listening to the sound of the Fuzz you start hearing the little differences and before you know it you want 10 different kind of pedals. But the problem isn't the pedals, it's the fact that building them takes a lot of time and for a while you really just plan on playing music but you never do 'cause you are always after the next elusive pedal.

The Mosrite Fuzzrite was a classic buzz maker after the success of the first Maestro Fuzz-Tone. The pedal was heavily used between 1966 and 1969 before Fuzz Faces and Big Muffs took over. It's harshness cannot be mistaken and it sounds close to the previously discussed Orpheum. I looked for a Fuzzrite version which would be easy to build and mod, versatile and authentic sounding. The RNFR Green Bomb seemed like a good choice and once I chopped the first chord I knew what to call it. I added a switch to change four caps simultaneously and get that very thin fuzz but other than that it's really the Green Bomb. The buzz is superb and really gives you that Spirits in the Sky effect. I really love this pedal and the sound takes just me back every time. Good with a Vox or a Fender sounding amp pedal just after it. A real candidate for the FuzzQuest all time favorite. You can find the schematic by RNFR here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Ranger and the Boost

Having read so much about the British amps and the way guitarists circumvented their darker sound with a Treble Booster I thought it would be interesting to follow this path. Apparently the Treble Booster schematics appear a lot as fuzz schematics and it's no surprise as the main point of this simple circuit is too boost the signal going into the tube amps so that the amp can be saturated easier and get the warm fuzzy tone without having to crank the GAIN to 11. But not only that it tilts the spectrum so that you get higher gain with increasing frequency, it also adds some harmonics to the sound which really gives the sound a lot of character. At first I looked at the original Germanium versions of Dallas rangemaster and the Hornby Skewes. It seems like these little gadgets really did magic for a lot of legendary rock guitarists. Brian May used one driving a wall of VOX AC30 amps. Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Iommi, Martin Barre, Gilmour in his early days and Clapton in his Gibson days, all (so I've heard) used this booster as part of their signature sound using British amps. So what was I waiting for? the secret weapon of the late  60s sound? But I wanted a little more. Turns out that there are boosters which are used to drive amps and also fuzz pedals to even dirtier fuzz and grit but are not treble boosters. These are just plain old full boosters affecting the entire spectrum range. Now What? two pedals?

This is where I found again that the amazing Runoffgroove team had it all. The "Omega". Silicon and negative ground are a comfortable pair and the ability to tweak the RANGE from Treble to Full boost with a separate BOOST knob was all I needed.

Maaan....this pedal has such an impact it is remarkable. It's fantastic to use it before any pedal I use.
Before the English Channel (AC30 clone) it gives you great vintage bluesy sound. Before a Germanium Fuzz Face it makes the Fuzz much more focused and bright. Before any overdrive I tried it really opened up the sound and just sounds better. I kept the OMEGA symbol but changed the name to RANGER. A definite must on my fuzz quest list although not a classic fuzz. But is can sure make a lot of amps get fuzzed out.You can get the schematic here