Pawn Shop Scores: 9 Cheap and Awesome Fuzzes

Fuzz is arguably the most ubiquitous effect in the pedal industry, and for good reason: Almost anyone can make one. A classic Fuzz Face circuit contains only 11 parts, which hardly fills up a breadboard. DIY projects centered on fuzz are often the first tried by nascent builders. And yet, finding a good fuzz in our nation’s pawn shops is a mountainous task. How could it be, that every company under the sun has at least one fuzz pedal in their line, yet these never trickle down to the hawk shops? Thankfully, I’ve done the legwork on the subject and compiled a robust nine pieces for which to keep one’s eyes peeled.

DOD Classic Fuzz

Hilariously, nothing about the DOD Classic Fuzz warrants such a title. Even though the ad copy says that it “duplicates” the sound of “early ‘60s distortion boxes, such as the Fuzz Face and “Fuzz Tone” (whatever that is, Maestro? Kay?),” nothing in the internals suggests such a replication is possible. In fact, the circuit topology is unlike anything that had previously existed, as it contains two op-amps and not a single transistor. As such, the Classic Fuzz actually teeters on the edge of fuzz and distortion. With the Fuzz knob set on literally anything other than full-blast, the Classic Fuzz sounds more like a really nice overdrive than any fuzz you’ve ever heard. True to Fuzz Face form, though, players will likely want to keep the Fuzz control dimed at all times. The Classic Fuzz doesn’t clean up nearly as well as a Fuzz Face, but for $30, there’s not a whole lot to complain about.

Jimi Hendrix fuzz unit

There were three fuzzes released under Dunlop’s fledgling “Jimi Hendrix System” series. This isn’t the most common one, in fact, it’s probably the second rarest, and like the middle child, it is often the most overlooked. Of the line, the “Classic Fuzz” is ok, it’s billed as a germanium unit but uses reproduction germanium transistors, and the Octave Fuzz is a decent attempt at the “O-sound.” However, the Fuzz Unit is the pinnacle of the series, as it’s a bizarrely voiced silicon Fuzz Face-type. The first transistor is an old stock MPSA18, which is known for super high gain. A couple resistors have been tweaked to make the fuzz sound slightly broken, which yields some really fierce tones when a note is sustained. On chords, the pedal sounds gnarly and out of control, but the thing just sings on leads, you know, like a real fuzz should. As I said, these are rare but getting one for $50–60 isn’t unheard of.

Danelectro cool cat v1

I will sing the praises of this small orange box until I pass away; it’s a near part-for-part recreation of one of my favorite fuzzboxes of all time: the Frantone Peach Fuzz. This box, much like the aforementioned DOD Classic Fuzz, is all op-amp with not one transistor. The Frantone version makes no bones about what op-amps it uses, as it’s a through-hole topology. The Danelectro is all surface-mount, so we may never know if it uses the same parts as the Peach Fuzz. The sound is remarkably similar though, but the Cool Cat is missing about 10 percent on each side. That said, the Peach Fuzz sounds remarkably better, but for the price, suck it up. As for the sound, it’s huge, it’s fuzzy, it’s absolutely loud and in your face. And it’s worth every penny.

Ibanez 60s fuzz

Here’s some chronological confusion for you: The original Big Muff pedal was released as the Guild Foxey Lady, as a two-knob modified Mosrite Fuzz-Rite. Eventually, the Foxey Lady was heavily modified and became the original “triangle” Big Muff. Some few revisions later, Electro-Harmonix released the “ram’s head” version around 1972. Right around then, a budding Hoshino-Gakki of Japan got ahold of the ram’s head and released two slightly-modified clones of the Muff: the Ibanez Overdrive OD-850 and the Maxon D&S. Years and years later in 1990 this circuit was released as the Ibanez SF5 ‘60s Fuzz, which came in a metal enclosure, and following that, the FZ5 ‘60s Fuzz was released in a plastic enclosure. Got all that? This ‘60s Fuzz in the plastic enclosure is an absolute pawn shop staple and can be yours for around $20. Not bad for a classic (yet overlooked) Muff circuit.

Vox v829

This is the only germanium entry on this entire list, because tone miners the world over have sought to snatch up every ounce of germanium in the used market. Yet mysteriously, the v829 winds up in a lot of hawk shops. Nobody can seem to make heads or tails of the v829, and this is likely due to poor quality control: many examples of the pedal fail to reach unity gain, and just as many have to be absolutely dimed to sound useful at all. However, don’t let this dissuade you, as there are just as many that sound excellent. Buyer beware: most people equate the term Tone Bender with the Sola Sound models, which are three-transistor fuzz monsters. The v829 is based on the (you guessed it) Vox model, which resembles a Fuzz Face more than its English brethren. However, the $80–100 these command is still a paltry sum for a germanium Fuzz Face.

Guyatone tz2

Guyatone tz2

Part of the now defunct Micro Effect pedals line, the TZ-2 is just about the smallest Univox Superfuzz pedal one can find at this size and price point. However, unlike the original Superfuzz, which has an inherent subtle upper-octave snarl, the Guyatone utilizes a diode ring on the circuit board, which deliberately creates a brash upper octave effect. It does this by implementing a crude tracking circuit that fails in the most musical way. Guyatone itself called this pedal a "multi-effect" due to its propensity to sound like a ring modulator when hit with chords. These Guyatone Micro pedals are very interesting; the lid is held on with a piece of rubber, and the enclosures are unlike any I've ever seen. Unfortunately, nearly all the cool ones aren't cheap anymore; the TZ2 is one of the few left that is both cheap and pawn bait. This pedal changes hands for around 50 bucks, pick one up before the legend of the cheap Guyatone Micro is extinct.

Zoom UF-01 Ultra Fuzz

Zoom UF-01 Ultra Fuzz

Before the groans start rolling in from the people that own these and love them, allow me to pre-empt the hissing with the fact that the mere brand name ensures these will continue to show up in pawn shops for the foreseeable future. That said, the secret of the Zoom Ultra Fuzz has been out for quite a while now; players the world over laud the box for its ability to sound like a “more controllable” Z. Vex Fuzz Factory. In fact, it even has one more knob. Knowing this, it isn’t a stretch to call the Ultra Fuzz one of the most versatile fuzzes on the planet; there isn’t one flavor of fuzz the Ultra Fuzz can’t dip its toes into. From raw, open fuzz to strained, violin-like leads to ear-splitting oscillation, the Ultra Fuzz can do it all. They can be had for $120–140 via the standard channels, but due to its affiliation with unsavory Zoom boxes of years past, pawn shops may offer them for closer to $80.

Nobels FU-Z

If you’ve spent any amount of time on internet gear forums, you’ve likely ducked into a thread asking for fuzz recommendations. Kick around in such a topic long enough, and sooner or later, you’ll happen upon someone asking about fuzzes with good “string definition.” Strange as it seems, not many people can agree on a bona-fide answer to this request. Let it be known that I am here to deliver the final word in this search: the Nobels FU-Z. I’m not sure there is a fuzz out there better suited to this application. This isn’t to say that the Nobels falls apart during fast passages, but it sounds great on single notes and chords alike. Unfortunately, sellers can’t really decide how much these cost; some are priced upwards of several hundred dollars, and some sell for relative peanuts. Hopefully, your local pawnbroker sides with the latter.

Ibanez FZ7 Fuzz

Likely the only fuzz in existence with a Damage switch, the FZ7 is one of the gnarliest on the list, despite its deceptively simple name. It earns its gnarliness crown through the implementation of its Fuzz control. Even with this control on zero, the FZ7 will outgrind many fuzz pedals specifically engineered to make amps cry. It is this strange juxtaposition of the name “Fuzz” and its unbridled demeanor that saw these pedals carted off to the hawk lockers en masse back when the “7” series was all the rage. Many players seeking the classic fuzz tones on the cheap were likely overwhelmed by the nuttiness of the FZ7, but this doesn’t mean that modern players can’t come to appreciate it. Although the manual won’t come out and say it, I suspect the Damage switch is some kind of voltage starvation, as the manual says the “100%” setting sounds like a “broken radio.” And it does! That’s pretty cool.

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