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

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Crossing the English Channel

The reason I got into building guitar amp emulation pedals was because Fuzz pedals cannot really produce they're nasty, yet pleasant, sound without the softening effect of the amp and its speaker(s) cabinet. Getting some software simulations of speaker cabinets and connecting the Plexi (Thor) and the Princton (Prof. Tweed) pedals directly to the soundcard's preamps gave me such great results so I thought I better continue my amp overdrive builds and take it further. This time it was the VOX AC30 TOP BOOST emulation achieved by the ROG design which they named the "English Channel". This pedal Rocks!!!

The classic Vox AC amps together with Fender and Marshall form the complete triangle of great 60s amps. The Vox, in a combination with a Fender guitar produced the unique "Western" Shadows sound of Hank Marvin and was used by Vic Flick to record the first James Bond theme. Brian May, Ritchie Blackmore and Rory Gallagher used a Treble Booster pedal to get the amp to sound Fuzzy when overdriven. The bands who cherished this amp go from the Beatles and the Stones to Radiohead, REM, U2, Suede and Tom Petty. It actually has a major part in the sound of the British Invasion. American Garage, Psych and Rock bands of the late 60s loved and embraced the new kid on the block. Because it's a little dark sounding amp compared with Fender amps, the use of the Arbiter Rangemaster as a treble booster became the secret weapon of many players. This kind of boost pushed the tubes in the amp to a unique sound and thus put the Rangemaster treble booster on the same list with other fuzz pedals and made the combination of the two a guaranteed success. Truth is that it sounds great with a lot of fuzz pedals and a Wah just in front.

The pedal as an overdrive can drive single pickups from clean to really heavy drive. Humbuckers sound really fat and juicy and are not that clean on low settings. The tone stack is flexible although I don't find myself using the Cuttoff knob much to attenuate the highs. I improvised the enclosure and got a very good overdrive pedal with a lot of character. You can get the schematic here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Rocking Marshall World

The Almighty Thor

If the Fender amps are the trademark sound of the classic American Blues, Rock'n Roll and Country, the Marshall amps are the definitive sound of Rock. Jim Marshall past away a few days ago and it's a good point to bring out another great pedal from Runoffgroove named "THOR". This design aims and succeeds in recreating that vintage Marshall amp character, clean or driven.

This circuit design uses again the Tubes-to-FETs process first suggested by Doug Hammond and later enhanced by the wonderful ROG team. This pedal is inspired by early designs of the JTM and Super Lead Marshall amps. These amps showed up in the UK in the mid 60's after Jim and his son Terry (JTM) tried to design a cheaper version of the classic american Fender Bassman using military American tubes.

Thor's Hammer on
The characteristic sound of these classic Marshall amps, which is the original Plexi sound, is what this pedal is all about. You can get close to the signature sound of Hendrix, Richie Blackmore, Pete Townsend, Angus Young, early Clapton, Steve Hackett, Billy Corgan, Dave Navarro, John Fogerty, Slash, Mick Ronson and the list goes on forever. You have a BRIGHT switch which gives you extra sparkle and a BOTTOM switch giving you more body emulating a large 12X4 Marshall cabinet. The GAIN knob goes from beautiful clean to hard overdriven blues rock crunch which is great for chords or soloing. I have used this pedal for a while now in the studio and live and it's my #1 go-to pedal with a Telecaster. You can get the schematic here.

Below are two clips of a few of the sounds which the Thor has to offer. I played the first clip with HB on a HiWatt amp emulation preset and the second on a Tele with single coils. The tracks are quite lengthy but you can just wonder around and hear what it is all about. As you will hear, The Marshall is the definition of rock guitar sound from Classic Rock, Country Blues Rock, Acid Rock, British Invasion Rock and Prog Rock to Punk Rock, Grunge, Alternative and Heavy Metal, This is the sound.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Amp pedals - The ROG Professor Tweed

After trying a few fuzz designs I started investigating the gear chain of some of my favorite guitar legends and I realized that although the fuzz pedals are a critical part of the chain there are other components which are just as cardinal as the pedals. There is the brain, the heart, hands and fingers and feel of the player. There are the strings, obviously, but once the vibrations are created they are turned to electric current through the pickup coils which are the first major factor in the sound. Mostly you can hear the difference between single coil pickups and Humbuckers. After that you have the pedals, the amp, the cabinet and speakers and the room, microphones and recording gear.

It seems after building some fuzz pedals the next gain stage is the amplifier. I have to give a big credit to the RunOffGroove website from which I learned so much. The guys over at ROG have some fantastic designs of circuits utilizing solid-state FETs to emulate the behavior of driven tube gain stages. With this they designed some serious emulations of classic amps by Fender, Vox and Marshal.

As part of my Fuzz Quest I started off with the simplest design of a classic Princeton amp so I built the Professor Tweed. It sounds like a late 50s amp which can go from clean to overdrive through the input GAIN knob. This was the first time I understood the difference in voicing quality and character between an overdrive and a fuzz. A fuzz is really over-the-top distortion which changes the original sound completely. The overdriven amp stage is softer and crunchier. Although the pedals sound great together with the fuzz boosting the input of the amp pedal, you can use the amp pedal alone as a great overdrive for guitar or Harmonica and it really gives you great classic Blues and Rock'n Roll tone. I have to say that the Professor lacks some sparkle and I always keep its TONE control on max. The mo' bass switch is a nice addition too. I ended up using additional tone control pedal after it to give it more sparkle. Also it sounds better with single coils than with Humbuckers. Humbuckers tend to have higher ouput level and drive the pedal to distortion even at low gain settings. You can get the schematic here.

In the next few posts I'll dive some more into overdrives as it really is part of the story.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Germanium Fuzz Face

Once I had a few Germanium Tranny lying around and I knew how to measure them properly for leakage and gain I continued my quest for the perfect fuzz with the most famous fuzz in the world of Rock and Blues. My first fuzz ever was the Runoffgroove Silicon Fuzz Face which I built a few years ago. This time I'm going all the way back to 1968

This was, of course, Fuzz Face, issued around 1966 by Dallas Arbiter in the UK. The original Face was built with 2 Germanium trannys which were replaced in the early 70's with Silicon ones.

Hendrix, Muddy Waters and Gilmour used the Ge version and I thought I'd give it a go as it is such a simple design. I got a round candy box from a friend at work and finally decided to go with the FullTone '69 schematic which appears on GeneralGuitarGadgets. It's not the finest enclosure but....its round just like the Face and I kept the name - '69. 

This version implements BIAS and BODY controls for more tone control, very similar to the FullTone version and you can really play a lot with the sound. The AC128 Ge Trannys are supposed to be less stable and temperature dependent but I don't  feel any weird behavior from the unit on stage or at home. All I heard was great singing quality which really makes your guitar sound like a square wave synth. Using the BIAS knob or the guitar volume knob gives you that clean edgy sparkling Hendrix sound which is heard so often when he plays chords. I always thought this was an amp thing. Compared to a Silicon Fuzz Face it is deeper and bassier. anyway its singing quality and voicing is great. quite an amazing sound for such a simple design. Most of the time I find myself having the FUZZ knob cranked all the way up.  You can look up the schematic on the GeneralGuitarGadgets website or get it here.

The fuzz that Burns

Continuing my search for that perfect fuzz sound I realized that in those days our great forefathers used Germanium Transistors in their Fuzz boxes and that included The Beatles, Stones' Keith Richards, Robert Fripp of King Crimson, Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Dick Dale, Mick Ronson and probably every Psych and Garage band in The US between 1965-1969. These guys have either used a Maestro FZ-1 (USA) or a Tonebender MK1 (England). Those two pedals shared a lot of similarities with regards to the schematics and the trannys used in them (low gain high leakage Germs) and both seemed impossible to build without some research and experimentation.

Needless to say I had to build one of those. I found a lot of material but a lot of controversial stuff too and it all seemed like there was a lot of voodoo around these schematics and those Germanium Trannys that eventually I decided to start with some easier Germanium pedals before I reached the hard ones.

The first schematic I found that seemed reliable and tunable was the Baldwin-Burns-Buzzaround (produced 1965-68) which according to the stories was used by Fripp on the King Crimson "RED" album which is probably one of my top 10 albums of all times. His Les Paul sounds just incredible through that fuzz and probably followed by a HiWatt amp. I gave it a go and it came out FANTASTIC. My first Germanium Fuzz with AC128 Trannys measured for Hfe Gain and leakage. It's not the original trannys used in the original circuit but it still sounds like the real deal to me. The Schematic can be found here. I used my own layout but a lot of info can be found here, and here

So here is my BBB takeoff which I named BURNS and had it enclosed in a RED (like the album) enclosure. The controls are labeled "Balance" (volume), "Timbre" (tone) and "Sustain" (gain) but they are so coupled (interleaved) so that you can't really use them in the ordinary way and really tune all three for each setting. This box really nails that Starless sound... btw it would be a few months before I really succeeded building a variation of the Maestro FZ-1.

Orpheum Fuzz

The Orpheum Fuzz - Thanks Andrew Carrell whoever you are
This mean and nasty fuzz is somewhere between the Shin-Ei Fuzz Companion and the Mosrite Fuzzrite. It's buzzy and zippy all at once and really does that 1966 sax-like buzz in a very convincing manner.

I built it because I was looking for that elusive mid 60's fuzz which is both thick and buzzy like that found on Garage Psych albums by west coast bands like the Seeds or Strawberry Alarm Clocks. The first feedback I got on the web stated I should go for a Mosrite Fuzzrite sound or something similar. Finding a simple schematic using Silicon transistors I gave it shot. It's a silicon fuzz and I tried several silicon trannys until I found the right combination. Well I have to admit it...IT SOUNDS GREAT, both on guitar and bass. Beautiful on single coils and Humbuckers. I really nailed the Spirit in the Sky buzz sound by finger picking with the Neck pickup.

The only addition I added was a 68k resistor in series with the 199nF cap at the input to tame the fuzz for humbuckers and to have some extra control on the pedal which simulates the effect of rolling off the guitar's volume knob a bit. This is a great mod and could be hooked up on an SPST switch to enable both options.

After some years building all kinds of ancient fuzz circuits I can definitely say that this circuit delivers some crazy vintage sounds which you wouldn't get from any other pedal. Very buzzy-zippy-sax-like in your face fuzz. NOT for chords but more for those wacky 60's solos and heavy riffs. Amazing on bass and on guitars on the neck pickup. It's that simple....and that rewarding. Mean, splatty and nasty!

Other garage riffs and solos which can be nailed are those by the Seeds. Mellow playing with your thumb on the lower strings with the neck pickup really brings out the buzziness in a beautiful way.

The Orpheum Fuzz
The TONE control really changes the character of the sound and goes from fat crunch to mean sharp buzz. On neck pickup and playing lower strings with your fingers you get amazing sax-like character which is exactly what I was looking for. It's meaner than the Mosrite but not as aggressive as the Shin-Ei. It's just the perfect balance between the two. I love it!!!

Both 2N2222A and 2N3904 as well as Silicon NPNs should sound good as long as the Hfe is around 100-300, I guess. I started with the 2N2222A which sounded great but then moved to 2N3904 which had a bit more gain and gave me more flexibility at lower settings.

If you wanna build the germanium version you can find the schematic here:

The great layouts by Dragonfly can be found on the aronnelson page here:

The no-risk versions from the TagboardFX page:

The Schematic I used for the silicon version is no longer available for some reason on the web so I am adding it here if Dragonfly doesn't mind:
Orpheum Silicon fuzz version
A fascinating comparison between some vintage fuzz circuits which are all based on similar architecture with minor differences can also be found here.

Will soon add a clip to demo this beast.

The Colors I use for painting all enclosures on this blog.
I like the paint job I did. It was my first attempt at doing my own art on these pedals and once I saw the result I never looked back and went on doing the art on all my future pedals.

I tried to find a different name for it as I couldn't understand why they named it Orpheum. It should have been called something like Morpheum.

Highly recommended for any newbee in the DIY business. Easy to build and tune and sounds really authentic and musical.