Four Gnarly Fuzz Pedals You Need to Try

So just what is a gated fuzz? It’s the sometimes synthy, Velcro-ripping fuzz with a strong attack and an abrupt decay. If you’ve ever under-biased your Fuzz Face or run your Big Muff with too few volts, you’ve likely experienced this fun and addictive tone. Sure, it isn’t the stuff of soaring lead tones, but in the right context and in the right song, a gated fuzz can be perfect. Gated fuzzes are one of those things that fall under “cool” tone more than “good” tone. But for those of us that aren’t just chasing the tried and true classic rock “holy grail” tones, these fuzzes open the gate to another dimension.

EarthQuaker Devices Dirt Transmitter

The Dirt Transmitter from EarthQuaker Devices is a two-transistor fuzz pedal that isn't dissimilar to Fuzz Face. According to Jamie Stillman at EarthQuaker Devices, this design came about as an accident:

“I guess it's kinda like a Fuzz Face, but it started as two gain stages running into each other with an input gain control and a sag on the second stage (Bias). Voltage feedback was added and it became similar to a Fuzz Face in topology but it sounds nothing like one in my opinion.”

Maybe because of this accident, and the added controls for Bias and Tone, the Dirt Transmitter is much more than your average Fuzz Face—not that there's anything wrong with your average Fuzz Face.

The heart of the Dirt Transmitter’s magic is the Bias control. As you turn the Bias control counter-clockwise, you begin to under-bias and starve the transistors of voltage. As this happens the Dirt Transmitter spits out awesome ripping Velcro and dying battery sounds. According to EQD, it's "properly biased" around 2 o'clock on the dial. Properly biased fuzz is all well and good, but today we're talking nasty tones, so let's focus on the left side of the dial. The Dirt Transmitter is capable of some seriously high-gain sounds, so even as you under bias it, it still has plenty of grit and output. This means you can experiment with rolling off the volume on your guitar and get infinite shades of synth tones, upper octave and ring modulator freakiness, and classic 8-bit Nintendo sounds.

Z. Vex Mastotron

With five knobs and one three-way switch, the Mastotron from Z. Vex has all of the tweakability of the Fuzz Factory without any of the unpredictability. It can go from a thick “more Muff than Muff” wall of fuzz, to thin and acerbic 8-bit video game synth sounds, and just about anywhere in between.

Derived from the hand-wired and hand-painted Wooly Mammoth, the Mastotron started life as a booming, sludgy fuzz pedal that was perfectly suited for bass players. However, with the Mastotron, Z. Vex added a 3-way toggle (Subs) for switching between the original amount of bass, a middle point, and virtually no bass. You also have a control for Pulse Width (PW) which runs from classic square wave fuzz tones counter-clockwise to narrow pulses when turned clockwise. The interactivity between these two controls makes the Mastotron one versatile little beast. Setting the Subs at 1, the Fuzz and Tone full up, and the PW all the way to the right makes a sound that is like a dentist drill. It’s not a pretty sound, but it is effective for a part that you want to stand out in a mix. Leaving all settings the same and switching the Subs to 3 brings us into serious video game territory. Using the neck pickup and rolling off the tone knob on my guitar had me rocking out to the Super Mario Bros. theme. Plugging in a bass and keeping the Mastotron at this setting creates a sound that could conquer the world and probably blow out quite a few speakers and ear drums in the process.

Electro-Faustus Guitar Disruptor

The Guitar Disruptor isn't billed as a fuzz per se, but the sounds it spits out are certainly fuzzy. With knobs for Volume and Flux and a switch for sub-octaves, the Guitar Disruptor looks simple. But the Flux knob runs from simple grit at the left side of the dial to synthy and glitchy craziness at the right side.

I have two favorite settings on the Guitar Disruptor. The first occurs with the Volume at 11 o'clock, the Flux at 10 o'clock, and the octave switch to the left. These settings yield a super squishy, gated Velcro fuzz tone. The attack has that light saber stabbing quality and the decay is sudden and extreme. Notes sustain briefly and then cut off abruptly with a short crackle; the sound is reminiscent of some of the nasty digitally clipped synth tones on early Nine Inch Nails albums.

My second favorite setting leaves the Volume knob and Octave switch in the same locations and moves the Flux control to about 2 o'clock. At this setting, the tone is a cross between the fuzz sound mentioned above layered with an envelope filter. The initial attack sounds like a wah opening up and then it slowly closes as the note decays. Once again, it's a very synth-like sound. Using the neck pickup on your guitar and rolling back your tone control emphasizes some cool upper octave harmonics that further emphasize the filter sweeping nature of the pedal.

Switching to the sub octave setting brings about classic video game tones.

Bearfoot Effects Candiru Apple Fuzz

Bearfoot Effects has a range of three Apple fuzzes and the Candiru is the ugly stepchild (or maybe demon offspring) of the bunch. When exploring the Candiru, it’s all about the nature knob. To the right of the dial, the Candiru can get into Fuzz Face territory. But to the left, it’s a nasty little beast. When palm muting chords, it adds a very cool analog synth texture—think of the cool Moog tones on The Rentals’ Return of The Rentals. It has a great “ripping Velcro” attack and a cool mosquito like fade at the end of a sustained high notes. Playing on your neck pickup with the tone rolled off brings about cool upper octave tones. It’s also super dynamic and responsive to touch—light picking can create the synthy tones, and digging in more aggressively creates the ripping attack.

Whether you are just opening to the world of gated fuzz or looking to deepen your collection, any of the above should provide hours of fun and plenty of good (at least in the ears of the beholder) tones.

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