What’s one thing Keith Richards’ fuzz-laden guitar on (Can’t Get No) Satisfaction and the shoegazer grunge of the early ’90s (e.g., Sonic Youth) have in common? They heavily rely on the fuzz effect.
What started as a faulty connection on a mixing board gave birth to fuzz—the effect that defined the sound of rock guitar. Fuzz works by completely clipping your signal so that it compresses the distortion. The sound is like you’ve turned your amp up so high that it’s broken. It sounds awesome.
In this article, we walk you through the main options.
- Best Fuzz Pedals: Product Guide
- The Fuzz Effect Explained
- Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
Best Fuzz Pedals: Product Guide
Dunlop FFM3 Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face Mini
The Dunlop Fuzz Face is one, if not the, most famous fuzz pedals ever, played by legendary rockers of the ’60s and ’70s.
This FFM3 Jimi Hendrix is a miniature version of the original JHF1, with the same internal circuitry as the full-size version, including BC108 silicon transistors. It delivers a massive kick in the mid-range. It can even conjure up some tasty octave overtones from your neck pickup.
If you’re looking for a ’60s Hendrix sound, it’s definitely one of the best fuzz pedals money can buy, and you gotta love how it looks.
- Thick, smooth fuzz face tones ala Jimi Hendrix style
- Same circuit as the JHFL but in smaller housing
- AC power and convenient battery door
- True bypass switching
- Bright LED status
Read our full Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face Mini FFM3 Review
Electro-Harmonix Op-amp Big Muff Pi
The Op-Amp Big Muff from EHX is what you want if you’re looking for that early ’90s fuzz sound (think the fuzz sound as heard on the Smashing Pumpkins epic 1993 album Siamese Dream)
With this pedal, you get a recreation of the Op-Amp fuzz circuit squeezed into a die-cast chassis stompbox at a reasonable price.
It’s a sound that’s been described by noted Big Muff collector and historian, Kit Rae, as: “a huge, crushing Big Muff sound with more crunch… great for grungy, wall-of-sound distortion, heavy rhythm playing and heavy leads.”
- A faithful reissue of the original classic circa 1978
- Controls for Tone, Sustain, and Volume
- True bypass switching for maximum signal integrity in bypass mode
Read our full Electro-Harmonix Op-amp Big Muff review
ZVEX Fuzz Factory
The Fuzz Factory is considered one of the best fuzz pedals of the modern era. It’s massively versatile, too, and offers manipulation of the circuitry better than any other.
It uses two new ’60s germanium transistors, and with its five knobs, you can create all the howls, squeals, and feedback you could ever wish for. It needs a bit of taming, but the results are worth the tweaking. It’s arguably the widest selection of fuzz-laden sounds any pedal can conjure up.
It comes with gate, compression, drive, and stability controls. The volume controls the output, the drive controls how much distortion you use, and the stability controls the pitch of the feedback.
The gate crushes your sound as soon as the sustain has finished, eliminating any unwanted feedback, and the compression can be used to pinch the tone or to tune in loud, squealing fuzz.
It’s also one of the coolest-looking fuzz pedals out there, with groovy writing – totally in keeping with the 1960s, man.
- The most versatile fuzz in existence. No other fuzz offers manipulation of the circuitry as well
- Volume, compression, gate, and stability knobs give the pedal excellent controllability
- 1960s style design is in keeping with the effect
- Germanium transistors offer a vintage tone
Wampler Velvet Fuzz
Pedal maker Brian Wampler describes the Velvet Fuzz as the ‘aggressive yet smooth’ sound of a vintage fuzz driving a Marshall stack, making it perfect for chasing down the tones of David Gilmour (a worthy goal, indeed).
While it looks just like a basic three-knob fuzzbox, looks can be deceiving. It’s actually a very versatile little fuzz pedal. Its big/tight toggle lets you choose between two completely independent clipping circuits: pure fuzz or a fuzz-like distortion, not just the basic silicon or germanium option like most pedals.
The big setting gives you plenty of bottom end and compresses massively across the bottom. Tight mode has a tighter bottom end and lets you tighten up the tones and have the pedal respond like a distortion.
As it’s true bypass, you don’t need to worry about it muddying your signal, and as they’re hand-built in the USA, expect quality.
- A big/tight toggle lets you switch between two completely independent clipping circuits: pure fuzz or a fuzz-like distortion
- Completely true bypass (soft relay switching)
- 9V battery OR 9V DC power jack
- Hand-built in the U.S.A.
EarthQuaker Devices Hoof
The EarthQuaker Devices Hoof is a hybrid silicon/germanium pedal that is based on the character of the classic green Russian muff.
It has four knobs: tone, shift, level, and fuzz. As with the other items on this list, the tone allows you to shape your highs, mids, or lows, while the level controls let you choose how long the sustain lasts.
The shift control works with the tone control by setting the frequency response, so you can choose whether it’s highs, mids, or lows you emphasize.
With true bypass, you can be confident that it won’t make unwanted noises while not in use.
- Hybrid silicon/germanium, pairing maximum tone with maximum temperature stability
- The wide gain range provides everything from amp-like overdrive to monstrous fuzz madness
- Smooth, natural, and harmonically rich sustain
- Generates real clarity and distinctiveness that provides a tight and controlled signal that will surely be heard through the mix
- Made in Akron, Ohio
Walrus Audio Janus
The Walrus Audio Janus is a high-end fuzz pedal, that is actually a dual-pedal (doubles up as a tremolo.)
The tremolo and fuzz are controlled via joysticks, making it fun to use and easy to control.
The tremolo joystick adjusts the tremolo rate, while the fuzz joystick controls both the amount of fuzz and the tone of your sound.
Both effects have a level of control beneath them, and there’s also a blend so you can mix unaffected signals with your fuzz-driven signal.
The Walrus Audio Janus is perfect for creative musicians who like to dabble with various effects.
- Dual joystick-controlled Tremolo/Fuzz pedal
- Separate level controls
- Joystick controls make it an option for vocals or keys too
- Handmade in Norman, Oklahoma
Catalinbread Karma Suture Harmonic Fuzz
The groovy-looking Karma Suture looks like something straight out of a B-movie.
At the heart of the pedal’s circuit is a NOS PNP germanium transistor coupled with a silicon NPN transistor they call a ‘Harmonic percolator circuit.’ This pairing produces sweet harmonics and a dynamic playing response.
It’s capable of heavily saturated fuzz tones, big and open overdrive, and a sparkling boost.
- Harmonic percolator circuit set-up
- Germanium transistors give it a warm sound
- Far-out ‘60s design
The Fuzz Effect Explained
To get this effect, they use transistors to add gain to your signal which adds harmonics to your sound as soon as it is amplified. The electronics can be germanium or silicon; those made of germanium generally offer a warmer tone whereas silicon produces a brighter effect.
As we’ve already mentioned, the main reason people use them is to make their guitars sound dirty.
These pedals venture where distortion doesn’t and create sounds that overdrive wouldn’t dream of. If you have some killer single-note riffs, that you need to stand out and screech as they’re saturated in filth, these are your ticket.
They also offer incredible amounts of sustain – you can hold feedback-drenched notes on for an incredibly long time as they play as though they can’t stop.
Of course, most have an option that lets you reduce this amount of sustain, but it’s exactly what some players want.
Finally, if you’re into your 60s or 70s rock sound and want to emulate the sound of some of the classics, these are essential.
If you want the squealing distortion of Hendrix’s ‘Star-Spangled Banner,’ or The Stones’ riff on Satisfaction, and countless others, you’ll love them.
Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
Types of Fuzz Pedals
There are two main kinds: germanium transistor-based ones and modern alternatives that use silicon.
- The germanium variety gives you a more ‘vintage’ tone and are typically warmer, rounder-sounding pedals. The one downside is, that they’re prone to be unreliable (in terms of tone) as no two sound exactly the same.
- Silicon-based ones, on the other hand, are a newer design and much more predictable in terms of tone. They are cheaper to build than germanium transistors, which is one of the reasons they’re so popular, and they create a purer, brighter, and more defined signal. Many people prefer silicon to germanium due to its reliability and punchiness.
However, there are hybrid options that let you toggle between germanium and silicon settings, allowing you to effectively have both effects in one box.
Some of these products include a noise gate feature.
Gates allow you to set a threshold under which sounds are not allowed through. When you’re distorting everything that comes through your signal to the max, a gate can help you to ensure that nothing unwanted is getting maximized in this way.
For more on this, check out our roundup of noise gate pedals.
Again, this comes down to how much control you need.
EQ can be covered externally, as can a gate as we saw above, but you might need to shape the sound that’s actually leaving your pedal.
If you’re going to use it for recording, or if you don’t have a separate EQ unit, it might be worth looking out for a product with EQ settings.
How much of a dynamic range do you want? Perhaps you’re after a squashed sound that, although it’s noisy, sounds squashed and under control.
Compression allows you to reduce the dynamic range of your signal and can be used creatively to encourage some steady, sustained sounds.