Face the Music: A Guide to Modern Fuzz Faces

What guitar pedal is more iconic than the old Fuzz Face? One can get a lot of dirt from that smiley-faced mic stand base. The first one was born back in 1966 (with NKT275 transistors inside of it), but new Fuzz Face pedals are rolling off the assembly line as we speak. Jim Dunlop bought the rights in 1993 and his pedals remain faithful to the original design and aesthetic. They still have the two-transistor circuit board inside and the look and feel of the one’s from the ‘60s and ‘70s. For players wanting to harness the sound of Jimi Hendrix, this is the ticket. Joe Bonamassa, Eric Johnson, Pete Townsend, and David Gilmour all have one on their pedalboards.

There are quite a few Fuzz Faces on the shop shelf right now. They all have the Fuzz Face look and feel, so it can be a task to keep it all straight as far as which one is which. The devil is in the details they say, so I’ve done the leg work for you. I tell you what makes each one different, and I’ll talk about what is on the inside and the outside of them. So without further ado . . .

Here is a rundown of the half-a-dozen or so Fuzz Faces in production right now:

First there is the full-sized original, the classic.

JDF2 (Jim Dunlop Fuzz 2): When thinking of the Fuzz Face, this is the first one that comes to mind—big red! Jim Dunlop has recreated the original using the same Dallas-Arbiter specs. There are two germanium PNP transistors (NTE158s) underneath so players can cop some vintage tones. Like the original, there are no frills. There’s no LED light or adapter jack, and it works only with a nine-volt battery, which you have to unscrew the bottom to change. However, you do get the authentic Fuzz Face experience with true bypass—no arguing with that.

If the original doesn’t quite whet the appetite, there are three full-sized artist signature models from which to choose.

JHF1 (Jimi Hendrix Fuzz 1): The JHF1 is a faithful reproduction of the pedal Jimi used on some of his most famous recordings. It is a deluxe model—it has a turquoise hammertone shell with cloned knobs on the outside and a hand-wired circuit board (no solder mask) on the inside of it. Dunlop has followed 1969–70 Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face specs to bring this pedal to life—it’s the BC108 silicon transistors underneath that give it its roar. Just like the Fuzz Faces of the ‘60s and ‘70s there’s no LED light or DC jack, and the bottom must be unscrewed to change the battery, just like Jimi had to. It’s true hardwire bypass. ‘Nuff said.

JBF3B (Joe Bonamassa Fuzz 3 Black): The black Fuzz Face with the top hat knobs is Joe Bonamassa’s signature model. Like the JHF1, it too is a “deluxe” model. Inside is a hand-wired circuit engineered to reproduce Joe’s humbucker-driven sound. Sure as you are born, this pedal was specially made for humbuckers, and it’s a duo of NOS Russian military germanium transistors that give it its tone. It’s like the old Dallas-Arbiters too—there’s no LED light or DC jack, and you also have to unscrew the bottom to change the battery. It has true bypass for optimum tone preservation.

EJF1 (Eric Johnson Fuzz 1): The gold hammertone box with black custom reproduction knobs is the Eric Johnson signature Fuzz Face. It’s a deluxe pedal designed by Dunlop’s master engineer Jeorge Tripps, and it’s is based on units from Eric Johnson’s personal collection. Under the hood, explorers will find a pair of BC183 silicon transistors that give it a unique Fuzz Face sound. Like the other Fuzz Faces, there’s no LED or DC jack, and you have to unscrew the bottom to change the battery. It’s true bypass.

Then, there are the minis.

FFM2: You might think this is just a mini version of the classic JDF2; yes, it’s red with black knobs like the classic one. But it’s much more than that. Modeled after the circuits of the Fuzz Faces from the pre-silicon era of 1966–68, it gets its sound from mismatched germanium transistors—the same NTE158s as its big brother. However, unlike its bigger counterpart, it comes with some modern conveniences, such as a trusty LED, a DC jack, a handy battery door, and it’s true bypass like the big boys.

FFM1 (Fuzz Face Mini 1): Some might be fooled into thinking that this is just a FFM2 painted blue. However, looks can be deceiving. It is actually modeled after a 1970 Fuzz Face from Dunlop’s own collection. Underneath are matched BC108 silicon transistors that give it a dirtier, more aggressive fuzz sound. Like the other minis, it contains an LED, a DC jack, a battery door for easy battery changes, and it’s true bypass.

FFM3 (Fuzz Face Mini 3): This is the mini version of the Jimi Hendrix signature pedal, the JHF1. It’s got the same turquoise hammertone coat and cloned black knobs.

It also has the same circuitry as the JHF1, including the same BC108s under the bonnet. It has an LED light, a DC jack, and a battery door, with true bypass included.

FFM4: (Fuzz Face Mini 4): This is the mini version of the Joe Bonamassa signature pedal, the JBF3B. Like its big brother, it’s got a black glosssy shell and top hat knobs. It also contains the NOS Russian military germanium transistors that are responsible for reproducing Joe’s overdriven humbucker sound. It wouldn’t be a mini if it didn’t have an LED, DC jack and battery door. Like every Fuzz Face, it’s true bypass.

Note: I did not forget the Band of Gypsys Fuzz Face Mini (FFM6). Truth be told, it’s not technically a Fuzz Face. The BOG is a whole other animal; it may look like a Fuzz Face with white knobs (all Fuzz Faces have black knobs) but it’s not modeled after any Fuzz Face circuit. It’s actually based on the old Octavio circuit, first developed by Roger Mayer. That said, it is a super-cool pedal and worth checking out for yourself. On the other hand, the MXR M173 Classic 108 Fuzz does not look anything like a Fuzz Face (it’s square!), but it really is one. It’s based on a two-transistor silicon Fuzz Face circuit with two BC108s inside of it.

So which one is right for you? It all depends: Do you need the size of a standard Fuzz Face or would a Mini be sufficient? Is the dirtier sound of silicon transistors what you desire or do you prefer the warmth of germanium? Which one is best for the stage? How about the studio? In the meantime, read “Perfect Circle: Life, Death, and Resurrection of the Fuzz Face” by Art Thompson—it is requisite reading for fuzz pedal hounds.

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