Best Boutique Germanium Fuzz Face Clones

The Fuzz Face is one of the most recognizable and iconic guitar effects of all time, due in no small part to its unique, flying saucer—like housing (reportedly inspired by the circular base of a microphone stand), and its close association with Jimi Hendrix. Nearly every budding guitarist goes through a Hendrix phase, inevitably seeking out a Fuzz Face at some point, likely in a quest to approximate the Master's singing leads and rich, dynamic rhythm tones. Many young Hendrixes are subsequently disappointed, having grabbed an off-the-shelf Fuzz Face from their local guitar megastore, with no awareness of the circuit's notorious quirks or the varying qualities of different versions of this pedal that have been made since the sixties. Unbeknownst to many players, there are a lot of factors that go into getting a good sound from a classic style Fuzz Face. Firstly, both knobs must be cranked all the way up, and secondly, it needs to be in front of a sufficiently cranked tube amp of good quality, preferably with not much else in the signal chain to interfere with the Fuzz Face's somewhat delicate constitution. The other major factor to consider is whether the circuit in question is built around germanium or silicon transistors.

The earliest Fuzz Faces were germanium-based circuits, while later versions were silicon. Silicon transistors are more stable, predictable, and cost-effective than their difficult, temperamental germanium counterparts, and thus silicon largely replaced Old Man Germanium in most fuzz pedals by the 1970's. The unfortunate side effect of this is that silicon fuzz, though it has many pleasing characteristics of its own, just isn't as appealing to the ears and fingers, in many ways, as a well-executed germanium design is. Silicon can be rather brash and aggressive, in contrast to germanium's warm, squishy, dynamic nature, and if real-deal early Hendrix fuzz tone is the ultimate destination, I'm afraid that germanium is the only bus that will get you there. Fortunately for us, though quality germanium transistors are becoming more difficult to track down as each day passes, there are a handful of pedal builders still producing very high quality germanium-based Fuzz Face clones for guitarists who find that they really need THAT sound.

Analogman Sun Face NKT275

Analogman Sun Face NKT275

If I were to posit that the Analogman Sun Face, specifically the version that features the matched pair of NKT275 germanium transistors, was the king of all boutique Fuzz Face clones, I would likely not hear much argument from the peanut gallery of Ge fuzz aficionados. This pedal has long been a favorite of Fuzz Face nuts, and is widely regarded as the most authentically vintage-sounding reproduction available, with a huge palette of boost, drive and singing fuzz tones on board, all available with subtle adjustments to the guitar's volume knob.

The latest version features a "Sundial" knob, in addition to the standard FF volume and gain, which acts as a bias control for further tonal variations. Analogman offers many different versions of this pedal with a variety of germanium and silicon transistors, but the lower gain "white dot" NKT275 version is almost universally regarded as the superior version. Due to the cost and short supply of these transistors, however, Analogman charges a premium for them, putting the cost of a NKT275 Sun Face at around 300 smackers.

Fulltone '69 Fuzz

Fulltone '69 Fuzz

Mike Fuller's '69 Fuzz is another modern classic of Ge Fuzz Face clones. Originally in regular production from 1994–97, Fulltone was forced to discontinue the '69 for some time due to an inability to acquire the necessary transistors, but as of 2011 the '69 Fuzz is back in production in its MKII version, featuring the original germanium transistors. The MKII features a small box enclosure, as well as a contour control and input bias adjustment on the face, and a trimmer located under the hood for further tweaking.

The '69 cleans up like a champ with the guitar's volume knob, and just like the early FF's, can get a variety of boost and drive tones in addition to smooth, velvety fuzz. Well known users of the '69 Fuzz include Eric Johnson and Tone Report's own Andy Martin, who owns an original '69 that he assembled himself when he was an employee at the Fulltone shop.

MJM London Fuzz

MJM London Fuzz

Montreal's MJM Guitar FX makes a dead-ringer vintage Ge Fuzz Face with its two-knob London Fuzz (they also do a silicon version of the London with a bias control, if that's your thing). The London features two hand-matched vintage germanium transistors at its heart. MJM doesn't say specifically which ones are used, but no matter, as the London delivers the goods, with fat, wailing lead tones and multitudinous shades of drive and fuzz that positively glisten with upper harmonic goodness.

Perfect for early Hendrix and Cream-era Clapton tones, the MJM London Fuzz has earned a lot of respect in the boutique Fuzz Face scene, and is widely considered an excellent, and far less expensive, alternative to Analogman's Sun Face NKT275.

Monsterpiece Classic Fuzz

The Monsterpiece Classic Fuzz has quietly been making a name for itself in boutique Fuzz Face circles, flying just under the popular radar, while also being regularly mentioned in the same breath with the Analogman and Fulltone offerings. Monsterpiece uses a variety of NOS germanium transistors for its circuit, dependant on availability and quality, testing and matching each one by hand to achieve the desired tone. The Classic Fuzz has the traditional dual knob setup on its face, but it does feature an internal bias control as well.

It further departs from Fuzz Face tradition by altering the value of a single resistor to increase the pedal's overall output, meaning that the Classic Fuzz need not be maxed to achieve unity volume. Monsterpiece is a one-man, largely custom operation and they don't list prices on their website, but word has it that the Classic Fuzz is a huge bargain.

BYOC E.S.V. Germanium PNP Fuzz Kit

BYOC E.S.V. Germanium PNP Fuzz Kit

For DIY-inclined guitarists, perhaps the best option for germanium fuzz face clones is to just build their own. One of the best things about the Fuzz Face is its incredibly simple circuit, making it an ideal pedal project for anyone who can follow directions and solder a few connections in a relatively competent manner. BYOC's E.S.V. Germanium PNP kit is highly regarded among fuzz enthusiasts, sounds like a million bucks, and is an easy build for a first-time DIY-er.

It uses new AC128 transistors made by New Jersey Semiconductor, which are reportedly excellent sounding as well as consistent, and the whole kit costs a mere 95 bucks.

comments powered by Disqus