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.