Fuzz pedals are like the unnoticed middle child in the family of distortion-type effects. Their achievements are often overshadowed by their older sibling, Overdrive, and they don’t require as much attention as Distortion, their misbehaving younger brother. However, Fuzz does have its place in the family due to its very unique sonic characteristic. There is not a Distortion or Overdrive pedal that can get you the same sound as a Fuzz pedal. However, some Fuzz pedals can be tweaked to sound similar to a Distortion or Overdrive pedal, which makes Fuzz pedals highly versatile. If you’re a Blues-Rock guitarist, then having a good Fuzz pedal is almost essential to get those Hendrix, Jack White, and Gary Clark Jr. style tones.
Fuzz pedals first came about in the 60s, and they are actually very simple-to-make pedals (some Fuzz pedals only use two transistors!), which explains why there are countless different models of Fuzz pedals made by different companies. The unique sound of a Fuzz pedal is said to sound a lot like an amp with a broken speaker, which can sound full, aggressive, and very in-your-face. However, many Fuzz pedals “clean-up” nicely, which can get you some nice Overdrive or Distortion tones. All you have to do is roll back the volume knob on your guitar so less gain is being fed into the pedal.
The tones you get out of Fuzz pedals can sometimes vary quite a bit. Your guitar’s pickups will play a huge roll in how your Fuzz sounds. Generally, single coil pickups will sound clearer in Fuzz pedals than humbuckers. It’s also important to remember to place your Fuzz pedal right at the beginning of your effects chain as Fuzz pedals have a low input impedance, which can cause them to have an oscillating sound when placed after another effects pedal.
With so many different types of Fuzz pedals on the market, we’ve created a short list of popular Fuzz pedals to help you with your search. So if you’re looking for a pedal to help you play Hendrix’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” continue reading!
1. Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi
Brand New: $80
Used: $45 - $65
No other Fuzz pedal is recommended as much as the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi. This legendary pedal can be found on Smashing Pumpkins and Jack White records, and the low price of the pedal makes it so that almost anyone can get that same sound. There aren’t that many pedals out there that can provide such a unique and great sound, while still maintaining a very low cost.
The Big Muff Pi is also a very simple to use pedal. On the face of the pedal, only three knobs protrude out: one for Volume, one for Tone, and one for Sustain. Volume controls the volume of the effect coming out of the pedal. Tone is like an EQ parameter that allows you to adjust the brightness or darkness of the sound: roll the Tone knob all the way down, and you’ll have a woofy and very bassy sound, turn it all the way up and it will be loud, harsh, and piercing. Sustain works exactly like its name describes, turn the Sustain knob up and you can have your notes sustain for decades. This helps a lot for David Gilmour-style solos!
The pedal comes in a large and sturdy encasing that can keep its internal components safe for a long time. However, if you’re looking to save pedalboard space, Electro-Harmonix does have a small version of this pedal. If you’re wondering whether the large and small versions sound the same, it’s actually one of the many topics that guitarists like to argue about on online forums, so really, it’s anyone’s guess. There are some good comparison videos on YouTube that you can check out, so that may help you decide if there is a difference, and if there is, whether the difference is noticeable.
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2. Dunlop Germanium Fuzz Face Mini
Brand New: $129.99
Used: $70 - $90
Here is another legendary Fuzz pedal popularized by Jimi Hendrix and Eric Johnson. The Fuzz Face Mini is a smaller version of Dunlop’s Fuzz Face Reissue, which itself is based on a mid 60s Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face that used a pair of mismatched germanium transistors to get that unique warm and full sonic characteristic.
Of course, since we’re no longer in the 60s, Dunlop has added some modern tweaks to the Fuzz Face Mini. First, its size is obviously a lot smaller. The original Fuzz Faces were large contraptions that were hard to transport. An additional LED light, AC power jack, and 9v battery compartment were also added to help make this pedal a little more convenient to use in a modern pedalboard setting.
The Fuzz Face Mini is also another extremely simple to use pedal, and it boasts only two parameter knobs. One controls the Volume, while another controls the Fuzz. And that’s pretty much it! You may be concerned with the lack of a Tone knob, but turning the Fuzz knob up actually provides a boost in the higher frequencies.
The Fuzz Face Mini also cleans-up very well with your guitar’s volume knob, which can lead to a whole range of different tones with just a simple adjustment in your volume knob.
While the Fuzz Face Mini may sometimes be unapologetically “Fuzz,” it’s unique characteristic makes it a must have if you’re looking to play some Hendrix or Eric Johnson style solos!
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3. BOSS FZ-5 Fuzz
Brand New: $99
Used: $45 - $65
The BOSS FZ-5 Fuzz pedal comes in BOSS’s modern rugged and sturdy housing while providing three distinct vintage Fuzz sounds. The way this pedal manages to provide three Fuzz sounds is by using BOSS’s proprietary COSM technology. COSM, which stands for “Composite Object Sound Modeling,” is a high tech digital modeling technology that drives many of BOSS’s famous digital pedals including the GT-10 Guitar Effects Processor and the Roland “V” instruments. In the FZ-5 Fuzz, the same technology is used to model the sound of the Maestro FZ-1A, Fuzz Face, and Octavia Fuzz pedals. The Maestro FZ-1A can be famously heard on The Rolling Stones’ track, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” the Fuzz Face is the previous pedal on this list, and the Octavia Fuzz pedal can be heard on several of Jimi Hendrix’s songs including “Purple Haze” and “Fire.”
Three simple-to-understand knobs can be found on the face of the pedal, and a very wide range of Fuzz tones can be achieved with just these three knobs. The first knob labeled “Volume” does exactly what you think it does, which is control the volume of the effect. The second knob labeled “Mode” allows you to switch between the three Fuzz models, and the last knob labeled “Boost” can help you dial in a more aggressive Fuzz tone.
Considering the relatively low price and the tonal options you can get from this pedal, it’s hard to see how you can go wrong with this Fuzz pedal!
4. EarthQuaker Devices Hoof Fuzz
Brand New: $179
Used $95 - $130
Here is a Fuzz pedal produced by boutique maker EarthQuaker Devices. Every single one of their pedals are handmade in the USA so you can be confident in the quality and durability of their products. The Hoof Fuzz pedal is no exception to that rule, and on top of that, the pedal comes with a really cool graphic design on the face of the unit.
The Hoof Fuzz was actually designed to emulate the sound of the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Fuzz pedals that were produced in the 90s. While it does that job really well and it’s often hard to tell the difference between the two pedals, the Hoof Fuzz also has an additional feature that can give it a much more unique tone compared to the Big Muff. While the Big Muff has only three knobs for controlling the Fuzz tone, the Hoof Fuzz has one additional knob labeled “Shift” that will accentuate the midrange frequencies. This boost in mids can help your Fuzz tone cut through the band mix so you don’t get lost in all the noise.
The face of the pedal provides us with four knobs. One labeled “Shift,” which was previously mentioned, one labeled “Level” which controls the overall level of the Fuzz, one labeled “Fuzz” which controls the amount of distortion in the effect, and one labeled “Tone” that works like any other “Tone” knob.
One of the great things about this pedal is its sensitivity to the guitar’s volume knob. When the volume knob is turned down to about five, the tone out of the pedal sounds almost like a clean amp edging into tube saturation. This can be really useful for those of you that like to have several levels of distortion with just a quick adjustment of the volume knob.
While the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff may be the most recommended Fuzz pedal currently on the market, it’s easy to argue that the Hoof Fuzz is the second most recommended Fuzz pedal thanks to its similarity in tone to the Big Muff, and the additional function of the “Shift” knob. Additionally, this pedal can be found on Dan Auerbach’s (of the Black Keys) pedalboard and he does an excellent job in showcasing its tonal possibilities.
5. ZVex Fuzz Factory
Brand New: $199
Used: $105 - $140
Here is one Fuzz pedal that really stands out from the rest of the pedals on this list. While most Fuzz pedals are really simple to use and have really intuitive control knobs, the Fuzz Factory can be a little trickier to dial in a sound, and you will often find that the tones you get out of this pedal can sound a little wacky. This pedal has been described by many as strange, wacky, crazy, and brilliant; and after spending some time with it, you can see why it has so many conflicting descriptions.
An important thing you must remember about this pedal is that it really isn’t a plug-and-play pedal like the others on this list. You will have to spend a bit of time playing around with the knobs provided to understand how each knob affects the Fuzz tone. While this may turn off many players who are new to Fuzz pedals, it actually isn’t too difficult to dial in a useable tone. In fact, the vast range of sounds you can get from this pedal may be a good reason to get it as your first Fuzz pedal! It can go from your typical, Big Muff style of warm fuzzy tones, all the way to strange alien-like screeching noises.
The knobs provided on this pedal are labeled Vol, Gate, Comp, Drive, and Stab. Vol and Drive work similarly to the Volume and Fuzz parameter knobs of other Fuzz pedals. Comp works as a compressor which minimizes the volume dynamics of your sound.
Feel free to check out our article on compressor pedals to get a better understand of how compression works.
Gate works as a noise gate that only allows sound above a certain threshold to pass through. This means that you can effectively remove any unwanted hiss or noise. The Stab (or Stability) control is where this pedal really steps away from the pack. This parameter can send the signal into oscillation which opens up a whole new world of squealing Fuzz tones. Playing with this parameter is where things can really start to get weird and noisy.
While this pedal may be a little trickier than the rest on this list, it can definitely get you some sounds that will otherwise be impossible with the other options. Notable guitarists that use this pedal include Matthew Bellamy from Muse, John Frusciante, and Josh Klinghoffer.
6. Electro-Harmonix Cock Fight Talking Wah/Fuzz
Brand New: $112
Used: $65 - $90
Here is another really unique Fuzz pedal, this time from Electro-Harmonix. When we think of a vintage Fuzz sound, we’re often thinking of a Fuzz that’s actually matched with a Wah pedal. Guitarists like Jimi Hendrix often used a Wah pedal to make their Fuzz have an additional element of expression that can’t be achieved with just a single Fuzz pedal. Electro-Harmonix have long known of this perfect pairing, which led them to creating the Cock Fight Talking Wah/Fuzz pedal. While this pedal doesn’t come with an expression pedal like a typical Wah unit, it achieves the same Wah-Wah effect by using an auto-filter. You can also set the effect to stay on a specific frequency, without the sweeping filter, so that it sounds like a megaphone. Of course, you can always use the Fuzz or Wah sounds individually with this pedal, and you can also switch between having the Fuzz before the Wah in the signal chain, or vice versa. Having the Wah before the Fuzz gives you the vintage sounding combination, while having the Wah after the Fuzz produces a more modern sounding Fuzz and Wah combination.
Four main knobs rest on the face of the pedal. The first one is labeled Vol which controls the overall volume of the effect, the next one is labeled Freq which controls the accentuated frequency of the Wah effect, the Tone knob works the same way it usually does, and the Drive knob adjusts the amount of distortion in the Fuzz tone.
This unique pedal can be found on the pedalboards of Karl Hyde of Underworld and Mike Kerr of Royal Blood.
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If you’re looking to play some crazy Blues-Rock riffs that will blow your bandmates’ faces off, or you’re looking to post an Instagram cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child, a Fuzz pedal will fit nicely in your toolbox of tone-shaping pedals. The use of a Fuzz pedal will very quickly fill up the sonic spectrum too, which can help many of you who only play along with a drummer. With only one guitarist and drummer, very often we will find that a lot of the low-end frequencies are missing, but with the use of a Fuzz pedal, that will no longer be an issue. Just check out Jack White and Dan Auerbach to get an idea of what I mean.
Many of the Fuzz pedals you will encounter will seem very similar to each other, and the truth is, they are likely using very similar electrical components. After all, most of the Fuzz pedals currently on the market are modeling their sound after the original Big Muff. So unless you’re looking to buy a Fuzz pedal that has some unique characteristics, a good Fuzz pedal should come relatively cheap in comparison to the other categories of effects pedals.
Is there a unique Fuzz pedal you feel should be included in this list? Please feel free to let us know in the comments section!
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Ze first began his journey playing original music and top 40s pop tunes around the country's popular venues. Eventually, through the music of John Mayer, he found a strong attraction to blues music. Ze has years of experience teaching beginners and intermediate guitarists. Currently with Liberty Park Music he is teaching Introduction to Guitar Playing for Complete Beginners, Rhythm Guitar to learn about strumming, chords and more, Guitar Essentials as a fast-track review course, and lots of Song Lessons on pop and rock hits.