Friday, February 21, 2014

Fuzzway '67: Revisited

Well it has been a long time since I last revisited the Original 1966 Arbiter PNP Germanium based Fuzz Face. I posted here a while back about my experience with the Fulltone '69 using AC128 trannies which is an enhanced PNP version of the original:

It was a short post and I didn't really use this pedal a lot, mostly because it didn't sit well with my band and because our lead guitarist (although a Hendrix fanatic) could not cope with the over-the-top nature of the pedal. On top of that he plays humbuckers and that made things even worse.

Next I explored the Silicon path and got into building several versions before settling on a slightly revised version of the Fulltone '70. While with the Germanium PNP version I only had a bag of AC128 which I tested for hfe and leakage, tweaking the Silicon NPN with many trannies was a lot of fun and easier due to the vast amount of options at hand. 

If you wanna understand the differences in sound between the Silicon and the Germanium versions try to think about the differences in sound between the early Hendrix Experience era (Ge) and the Gilmour '70s sound (Si), although using different amps and different playing style. Other comparisons are the Hendrix sound of the Experience vs. Band of Gypsys, or Gilmour's sound of '68 vs. '73. It's the rough, bloomy, creamy and deep fuzz of the Germanium trannys vs. the sharper, smoother and edgier sound of the Silicon. Both classic, fantastic and work well with single coil pups, wah pedals and British style cabinets.

Lately I felt that I have neglected the PNP version Fuzz Face and after tinkering with it a bit I decided that it was time to revisit the circuit and see what else could be done to really get that elusive sound and to achieve this critical milestone on my fuzz quest.

So as you know or heard before, the fuzz effect was first accidentally obtained during recording a country song in 1960 by Marty Robbins. Check out this outstanding page for some cool country fuzz recordings including the legendary 1960 bass fuzz using a fried pre-amp channel: . In 1962 the first Maestro Fuzz Tone was sold to achieve all kinds of voicing effects for the guitar, but nobody really got the idea. Once the Rolling Stones released "Satisfaction", fuzz-mania hit the streets and everybody were buying fuzz pedals. Maestro Fuzz Tone (FZ-1, FZ-1A and FZ-1B), Mosrite Fuzzrite and Sam Ash Fuzz Box were the first commercial units on the west side of the atlantic while the Sola Sound (Gary Hurst) and Vox Tone Benders, The JHS Zonk Machine and the Baldwin Burns Buzzaround were the first to emerge on the British island. A year later, in 1966, Arbiter released the first Fuzz Face which was really a clone of the early 1966 Vox Tone Bender (MK1.5) and from all the units around, this was the simplest one. I think this was the first fuzz unit to use a double transistor feedback loop rather than multiple gain stages to achieve the saturated fuzz tone. The Fuzz Face's round shape was conceived by Arbiter while looking on the base of a microphone stand....ok....

Now, it's a simple circuit and because of that each element is critical. Every value makes a difference. 2 coupled transistors working in a voltage feedback biasing mode. Only 3 caps: in, out and the third on the feedback loop. 4 resistors: 2 for biasing the trannies, 1 for the feedback and 1 for the output and biasing together. The basic 2 pots controlling FUZZ and VOLUME are further enhanced by 2 more giving some extra functionality like BIAS which is a pre-gain control and a CONTOUR which controls the body of the output signal.
If you wanna read about the various Fuzz Face designs:
If you wanna read about the cicuitry of the Fuzz Face you should really check this link: 
More about the history of Fuzz pedals:
For the circuit I used and tweaked here's the best schematic out there:
A great verified and compact layout is given by mark and mirosol at:

My Psych '67 Fuzz Face clone
I played around with a lot of the values on this one and ended up using the basic Fulltone design as shown on the GGG website. I really enjoy the overwhelming possibilities given by the addition of the BIAS and CONTOUR controls. While the FUZZ pot sounds best at it's max, the true versatility of the sound comes from these extra controls. The BIAS is similar to rolling down your guitar volume which is the most elusive and sweetest spot of the Fuzz Face. It is what Hendrix sounds like when you think he's playing clean but it's so sparkly and biting that you know it ain't clean. The CONTOUR is like a tone or a body control which gives you more control over the spectral envelope of the sound. I like to keep it low so that the fuzz doesn't get too boomy.

What really got me going again with this pedal was changing trannies and re-biasing the 10k pot which had a huge impact on the sound. Low leakage trannies with Q1-70 hfe and Q2-110 hfe gave me the best results which in my opinion is a milder and smoother tone (far away as possible from a muff sound). The 10k pot was tweaked to get about 5.5V at Q2's collector-to-drain with the CONTOUR knob at halfway. 

Other options for tweaking were using a PNP 2N3906 Silicon tranny at Q1 which really gave me surprisingly good sound, lowering the VOLUME pot to 250k which sounded brighter, adding 33pF caps from collector to base on Q2 as suggested by R.G. Keen, and lowering the 100k feedback resistor to get milder effect. None of these options lasted on my build but they are good and are working. I would, however, add a STARVE pot for a dying battery emulation effect and a BRIGHT switch to change the input cap. Maybe later this year....  

Among the many myths around the Fuzz Face some are true, namely, single coil pickups do seem to work best with this circuit. Also, Marshalls, Vox and HiWatt amps sound better than Fenders as far as I can judge. I also found that the Fuzz Face stacks rather well with overdrive pedals behind it and, surprisingly, sounds even better and tighter when I used a treble booster in front of it, although driving it too hard will change the fuzz character. I always thought it was a no no thing, but, it really adds focus and crunch that the original pedal lacks. It made me think of the Keeley Fuzz Head which looks like a Fuzz Face with an added treble booster stage pumping it.

So that's that. Listen to it and build it if you still haven't. It's the real deal. The classic combination 
of Single coils-Fuzz Face-Marshall sounds even better when using a Marshall overdrive pedal like the Runoffgroove Thor. The cabinet emulation is a HiWatt 100W which is really the most transparent classic rock cabinet out there. I tried to cover all bases with the knobs at various positions and playing around with neck and bridge pickups and various volume levels on the guitar. You'll get the idea.

If you wanna turn your Fuzz Face '67 to an AnalogMan Sun Face just use the GGG Boutique '60s Fuzz Face schematic with the following 7 changes:
1. Replace 2u2 input cap with a 1uF one.
2. Replace the 100nF output cap with a 10nF one.
3. Replace 500kA VOLUME pot with a 250kA pot.
4. take the Q2 bias trimmer outside to an external knob for the Sun Dial. Use a 5k pot in series with a fixed 2k2 instead of the 1k fixed with the 10k trimmer.
5. You can leave the 50k input pot or use a trimmer internally like the one in the Sun Face.
6. You can leave the Contour pot or replace it with a fixed 470R instead of the 220R in series with the 1k pot.
7. Try to find the NKT275 germs instead of the AC128 which I normally use.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Peachy Fuzz

The Peach Fuzz clone
This one is a little off my main path (or the king's highway) towards the ultimate fuzz. The PeachFuzz is one of those new boutique, over-the-top fuzz boxes which you see by the hundreds. Actually, some of the best pedals you can get today are made by little boutique companies which have an enormous amount of pedals or at least update their catalog quite often. Because a lot of them are hand made or partly hand made they can change their designs quite fast and have a new pedal on the market every month, be it a modern clone of a classic fuzz, a newly designed fuzz, vintage overdrives, delays, you name it. To pay some tribute to these great manufacturers, here's a short and partial list of boutique pedal brands:
D*A*M , Analog.Man, Keeley Electronics, El Nano, Frantone, Skreddy Pedals, Wampler, Catalinbread, Devi Ever, ZVex, Fulltone, Love Pedals, Way Huge and the list goes on and on.

All these boutique brands sell top quality, great sounding pedals and they all have some unique designs which make them stand out. Some focus on their own designs while others focus on getting that vintage tone of the great legends of the past. Luckily you can't start a pedal company without having a killer fuzz box on the shelf, so the number of fuzz circuits and variants grew over the past few years from dozens to hundreds, hence...the fuzz explosion, or as I call it, fuzz-plosion.

One company that had some great designs but went out of business is Frantone and for a long time I have been looking at their offerings and always wanted to build a "Cream Puff" clone which sounded very interesting to me. As my want-to-build list just got longer I forgot about it for a while until I stumbled upon an article which ranked the best 50 distortion, overdrive and fuzz pedals of all times. Needless to say, every pedal I have ever built or wanted to build was there: Big Muff Pi, Tube Screamer, Fuzz Face, Tone Bender, Klon Centaur, Maestro Fuzz Tone, Pro-Co Rat, Range Master, Tycobrahe Octavia, Hot Cake, Fuzz Factory, Boss BD2, you name it. Wow....what a should really check it out, I have building noise boxes for a while now and I can safely say that the most important pedals in rock history are definitely there:

Going over the list it turns out that the Frantone PeachFuzz, which I've never heard of before, reached number 47! very nice. Had to listen to it a few times on Youtube before I set my mind on building one. I figured it's kinda like a Big Muff style of sound, but the Schematic looked different and I thought I maybe I can learn something new. Took me a long time to get around to it, and decide on the layout and version to choose from.

The Frantone Peach Fuzz. Entered the top 50! all-time distortion pedals 
Well, for the good things: It's a fuzz, it's tight and focused and it sounds like a good mid gain BMP clone...but......, it's just not that much of a fun-to-play with pedal. It has limited versatility with it's best with the FUZZ knob over half, and working the TONE knob can get you some Big Muff Pi op-amp style from the 70's. Not bad. But that's it. I figured it might be good to get some wicked sounds putting the fuzz in front of a real Muff or an overdrive so I decided to keep it and box it. After pairing it with some amp-like overdrive pedals I can say that I finally got it to sound good, focused and interesting.

Blue knobs, blue LED, blue texts and peachy gradients
Yellow faced and Blue "fonted" as on the original, Blue "knobed", blue LEDed and turned vertically for smaller rig footprint. I used the original circuit so there was no real way to change the name of the pedal. I just had to add some "peachy" texture so I painted the enclosure to give it more peach gradients.

Over the past few years I have tried a lot of circuits which didn't get boxed and remained naked in a drawer. This one got boxed because it's just a good sounding fuzz. It behaves well in a band setup and it gives great chords and solos.

So, the verified layout can be found on the Tagboardeffects blog:

The schematic I used is given here:

The fact that this pedal is extinct by now makes it a better collector's DIY item and I think that recently I have grown more and more fond of its thunder.

FuzzBoxGirl's youtube video was removed for some reason so I added this video as there aren't many other PeachFuzz videos on the web anymore: 

And if you can handle the power of this pedal, just listen below. I played a single coils tele through the PeachFuzz clone on a HiWatt 70's emulation amp. Listen to the various settings and then with a ROG Thor just behind the fuzz. Some of the riffs are also played with a treble booster in front of the PeachFuzz. This baby really roars. Take care, rock on!