Saturday, February 28, 2009


Ladies and Gentlemen, feast your eyes upon my new Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi fuzz pedal. I bought it on Ebay a few days ago.

Fuzz is a new thing for me. I've had other distortion pedals, mind you, but that's quite a different aesthetic. Most distortion pedals are designed to emulate the sound of an overdriven tube amplifier, or simply to push your amp's tubes into overdrive. That's the ubiquitous electric guitar sound: rich, singing, saturated with overtones. (Incidentally, the highly musical way tubes distort an audio signal is the reason why twenty-first century guitar amp technology still uses them. Most solid state amps are sad, buzzy things.) My go-to distortion pedal is one of the best, a Fulltone OCD. It's known for being extremely touch-sensitive -- I can control the amount of distortion with my guitar's volume control or by varying how hard I play -- and for how little it colors the tone of the guitar.

By contrast, a fuzz pedal like the Big Muff makes your amp sound like it's about to vomit its guts across the room.

Fuzz is the earliest form of distortion effect. It has its origins in the 50s and early 60s, when guitarists like Link Wray and Johnny Burnette were doctoring their amps to get the sound: slashing their speaker cones with razor blades, removing a tube here and there, maybe plugging the speaker output of one amp into the input jack of another (which must have sounded amazing until they exploded). That's the kind of thing a fuzz pedal emulates. It's the sound of damage, chaos, and violence. Of shoplifting, driving drunk, and having unprotected sex with heavily tattooed strangers. It's a horrible, horrible thing.

As a recovering classical guitarist, having spent so many years refining my tone, obsessing over the fine details of string gauge and fingernail geometry and angle of attack and other nuances of technique, I'm finding this thing more fun than a bathtub full of guppies. I've been spending hours in my music room, ladling out earfuls of primitive audio sludge and giggling like a madman.


mike said...

I can't wait to hear Carrickfergus on this.

Melissa said...

Now I wanna go out and buy another 'lectric guitar.

Rob said...

One issue I have with the Muff is that I can't fine-tune it with my guitar's volume knob, which from what I hear is typical of fuzzes using silicon transistors. It's just a big, rude, nasty, uncompromising thing. Which makes me love it even more of course. But someday soon I'm going to build BYOC's ESV Fuzz Kit, which has gotten good reviews as a real old-school germanium-based fuzzbox. It will be interesting to have a little more flexibility. Ideally I'd like to not have to have to use another pedal for more traditional distortion.

Rob said...

Yes, this is high, high dorkiness I'm getting into here.

pleasurefromthethorns said... with heavily tattooed strangers. i dig it. i never had a fuzz pedal. i had a distortion and a reverb and a vox tube amp that caught on fire but never produced anything even remotely close to anarchy. alas

An Briosca Mor said...

Rob, I hope the reason we haven't seen much blogging from you lately isn't because you're contemplating doing something like this.