4 Outrageous Octave Fuzz Boxes

Though the octave fuzz pedal arrived in the late ‘60s tide of first-wave stompboxes, the wild range of sounds they continue to emit is anything but washed up. Few other effects react so dramatically to volume, tone and touch variations, and a hidden palette of musical and textural titillations lurks within each of these four octave fuzz favorites. Let us prepare our tone tongues for sharp tastes of stinging upper zing, wiry bouquets of robo-talk chords and smooth tracking, lip smacking fuzzy goodness abound. It is intoxicating enough to make anyone see double… or in this case, hear it.

Chicago Iron Tycobrahe Octavia Special Edition

The whole octave doubling kit and kaboodle starts with Jimi Hendrix and his pedal guru, Roger Mayer. Legend has it that after a gig in California, Jimi dropped off a broken “Octavio” (apparently this was Jimi’s jive-talk take on Roger’s intended Octavia) for repair at Tycobrahe Sound Company and the wedge-shaped pedal was never seen again. However, according to Roger Mayer, the pedal Tycobrahe cloned (or “inaccurately copied” as he puts it) was a 24-volt, 1969 variant of Octavia that was owned by Keith Relf, singer of The Yardbirds. In any case, after Jimi’s untimely passing in 1970, Tycobrahe launched a line of effects pedals that included a suspiciously similar octave fuzz unit, also called the Octavia. Confused yet? Well at least one thing is certain: the Tycobrahe Octavia is one of the most sought after octave fuzzes out there.

For vintage tone freaks who want the medium gain, warm harmonic bloom and ghost note upper-octave hauntings from the days of yore, Chicago Iron’s faithful special edition reproduction is the closest to the original Tycobrahe available. It is vintage-correct from the transformer coupling circuit, original artwork, beautiful blue enclosure and knobs, right down to the wooden stash box. It may be a clone of an “incorrect copy,” but it’s a great sounding Octavia nonetheless. For equally badass vintage Octavia tones at a much lower price, check out the Voodoo Lab Proctavia.

Catalinbread Perseus

For those like myself who are MXR Blue Box cultists tantalized by the elephant-tinnitus tonnage of The Melvins and The Birthday Party, the Perseus is sure to excite. Imagine a Blue Box with tons more output on tap, better tracking, fine-tunable low end and selectable one- or two-octave-down tone shadowing. Sound like heavenly hell? The Perseus truly stands alone in the nether-realm of analog octave-down fuzzrocity.

Like its predecessor, the Perseus sustains endlessly at full guitar volume, mangling and munching leads and chords like an 8-bit videogame monster. And, like a good retro videogame, there are some secrets to be found. One clever trick I learned from Catalinbread’s manual is to roll the tone off for a more muted signal. This allows near perfect analog octave tracking for legato lead and rhythmic bass blats. The heavy gating in the circuit really accentuates rhythm dynamics and goes near dead silent the second a note is ceased. Playing the guitar suddenly feels like rocking a Moog Concertmate MG-1. This is no mere Blue Box clone though. The Cut control allows one to fine tune the sometimes-muddy low end and reveal some of the sizzling top layer harmonics. Finally, the Blend control can sweep from just a gutsy fuzzy drive without any octave madness, to full on Moby Dick digestive system octave down depths. This is a top ranking musical glitch machine if I have ever heard one.

EarthQuaker Devices Hoof Reaper

Few pedal slingers are better versed in the language of fuzz than EarthQuaker Devices. The Hoof Reaper combines two of the most famous and sought after fuzzes of all time and crams an analog octave up right in between them. The Hoof side is a tweaked out green Russian Muff and the Reaper side is all classic Tone Bender. Drooling yet? Every shade of classic fuzz tone is available from the three independently selectable sections of the Hoof Reaper. However, it is the seven deadly combinations of these sections that open up the seals of sound previously unheard.

Starting with just the Octave selected alone, one can roll off the volume slightly and play an arpeggio on the upper frets. This sends shivers up the spine as it turns a sweet little guitar melody into the skeletal ghost town plinking of a haunted honky-tonk piano. Moving down to the lower notes and turning up the volume makes complex chords devolve into ring modulated robot monster speak and this is when I am inclined to send the tone to River Styx by engaging the both the Reaper and the Hoof for a devilishly divine deliverance. Putting the Hoof Reaper on a pedal board is like adding a classic fuzz tone arsenal to any rig and the added octave to both these revered circuits is simply an improvement upon perfection.

Malekko Heavy Industry Barker B:Assmaster

This is the only pedal that has remained on my board as a constant since 2007. Yes, it is normally known as a bass fuzz. Yes, it is huge, pink and brown. Yes, it has a control for ass volume. And, it will most certainly offend preachers, teachers, moms, cops and even small animals with both its appearance and sound. I have mentioned this box a few times, but felt the need to bang the hammer again, because for my money this is the coolest octave box by a mile.

Switching on Malekko’s modern version of the famed Maestro Brassmaster for the first time was a religious experience of the southern variety. Who would have predicted that a whacky ‘60s fuzz box (designed to mimic a saxophone of all things) would end up being the gateway to a hellish dimension? The guitar shop employee and other customers winced at the “unusable” avalanche of sound emitting from my corner of the room and I could feel the collective sigh when I stopped and said, “I’ll take it.”

I soon discovered hundreds of not only “usable” tones inside, but completely new territories of tone all together. No doubt becoming an Assmaster takes some time and tweaking. It is as physical an experience as it is aural. The ability to blend the clean (Bass) and fuzz (Ass) is great for balancing chords and chaos, but the real key control is the Sensitivity knob. This can go from gated ring mod overdrive to a pumping compressor of endlessly sustaining brimstone firestorms that subside instantly into complete silence at your command. Even seven years into my relationship with the Assmaster, I still find myself unconsciously tuning down to drop D and letting those bottom two stings eat themselves alive in droning layers of morbid mastication. It is like being hypnotized by an army of chanting Gregorian Gorgons—turns me to stone every time.

The Funhouse of the Rising Note

Analog octave doubling may be an old trick, but it is such a wildly interactive guitar experience that it still yields new sounds to this day. Sitar droning, ring modulation, ghost note floats and percussive metallic clangs all hide inside our favorite octave fuzzes. They inspire experimentation and encourage exploration of the dials, frets and mind alike. Go forth now fuzz freaks…bend the mirror on those notes and check out those psychotic reactions.

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