Best Dirt Pedals for Stoner Rock

Sitting in my friend's car in our high school's parking lot and hearing Kyuss's "Green Machine" for the first time was a life altering experience. At first, I wasn't even sure that the sound I was hearing was a guitar; the tone was so raw and guttural, and the opening riff so dissonant and brutish, my 16-year-old ears were at once totally disoriented and completely transfixed. I simply had never heard anything remotely like Kyuss. I immediately scoured my local record store and snatched up their lone copy of Kyuss's groundbreaking second record, Blues for the Red Sun. My infatuation with this band, and Josh Homme's shockingly original guitar work, has never waned in the 20-plus years since. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this mysterious, heavy music from the American desert was, perhaps arguably, the beginning of modern "stoner rock," inspiring a wave of great, weird, heavy bands, as well as a million lesser soundalikes. Stoner rock is now a legitimate genre (for better or worse) defined in large part by lumbering, hard-swinging grooves, and monolithic, fuzz guitar tones. There's even a small, well-established industry of builders designing pedals based on these sounds. We're all living in a golden age of tone, and as such, modern stoner rock guitarists are blessed with more stoner-centric dirt box options than you can shake a down-tuned Les Paul at. These are a handful of the standout stompboxes for conjuring up that low, mean sonic boom:

Electro-Harmonix Big Muff

It's impossible to discuss stoner rock guitar without mentioning the EHX Big Muff. It's easily the most popular choice amongst guitarists of the genre, due to its beefy low end, plentiful gain, and flexible tone control. Match it with a loud tube amp, a big cabinet, and a neck-position humbucker, and you've got very formidable slab of tone at your behest. Every player has their favorite version, but many stoner, doom and sludge enthusiasts prefer the Russian Big Muff Pi. The Russian versions are a bit smoother on top, with more of a distortion (rather than fuzz) quality to the drive, and the deep bass frequencies remain intact when the tone knob is cranked. The Muff's popularity has also made it one of the most copied pedal designs on the market, with a cornucopia of excellent variations of the circuit available from EHX themselves, as well as innumerable smaller builders.

Boss Hyper Fuzz

The Boss FZ-2 Hyper Fuzz is one of the most highly revered pedals in all of stonerdom, due to the oversized influence of a single band and a single album: Electric Wizard's Dopethrone. This pedal is a bit of a one-trick pony (okay, it actually has a few tricks, but only one of them is good), but its Fuzz II mode is legendary for the being the secret sauce in Electric Wizard guitarist Jus Osbourne's heavier-than-heavy tone recipe on both the Dopethrone and Come My Fanatics... albums. The FZ-2 is no longer in production, and Boss's current fuzz pedal, the FZ-5 is nothing like it, and so if you're after a proper Electric Wizard tone, you'll have to head to eBay, where the FZ-2 Hyper Fuzz regularly sells for between 100 and 150 American dollars.

Univox Super-Fuzz

The Univox Super-Fuzz is a well-known vintage fuzz pedal that was produced from 1968 through the late 1970's. Its highly compressed, velcro-like rip, distinctive upper octave sounds, and mid-scoop tone switch give it a unique and recognizable voice. It has appeared on the pedalboards and albums of many players, but in stoner guitar circles, the Super-Fuzz is synonymous with Scott Hill of Fu Manchu, who has used the Super-Fuzz in tandem with Marshall amps and Ampeg Dan Armstrong Plexiglas guitars for 30-plus years and 11 full-length Fu Manchu albums. An original Univox model will set you back about 600 bucks, but there are several excellent clones of the pedal available for more modest sums of cash, with the Wattson Electronics Classic Fuzz being the most notable.

Faustone Valve Klipper

The Faustone Valve Klipper was a tube-based pedal built in Spain by Fausto Perez, and its circuit was based partly on the distortion circuit of Tony Iommi's early Laney Klipp amplifiers. This is significant, as Black Sabbath's 1971 classic Master of Reality is generally regarded as the first stoner rock album, and Iommi's tone on songs like "Sweetleaf" laid the foundation for every stoned tone that came after. This handwired, dual ECC83-powered beast delivers a righteous 300 volts to the plates, generating genuine British tube doom in a (very large) pedal format. Unfortunately the Valve Klipper is no longer in production, and the chances of finding a used one for sale for less than a small fortune are pretty slim.

ProCo RAT

The RAT is a classic fuzz/distortion pedal, widely available in many forms, used and new, and for rather small change. The RAT has been widely used for stoner/doom/sludge purposes, and has most famously been a key component of Buzz Osborne of the Melvins Boris-era tone, as well as being used extensively by Greg Anderson of Goatsnake for the Flowers of Disease album. Most stoner dudes prefer the early RAT with the LM308 chip, but these can be mighty expensive. Luckily there are many other excellent versions available from ProCo, as well as many quality RAT clones from smaller builders.

Earthbound Audio Supercollider

The Earthbound Audio Supercollider is an absolutely crushing modern fuzz-distortion pedal that has developed a fanatical following among today's progenitors of the slow-and-heavy. At its heart it's a Muff-based design with humongous low end and versatile tone controls, including a mid-switch for scooping. Its depth control can take the Supercollider from wooly fuzz to a tight, crunchy distortion, letting the user get a wide range of heavy tones from a single pedal. This pedal may actually be more popular with bassists than guitarists, thanks to its reputation for mid-treble clarity and thick low frequency sounds. Production of the Earthbound Audio Supercollider seems to be somewhat sporadic, but they are fairly easy to find on the used market, and generally go for under 150 bucks.

comments powered by Disqus