Before this current fuzz tone quest, I was not that familiar with the Tonebender style of fuzz and its 5 different iterations - MKI, MK1.5, MKII, MKIII and MKIV - much like the Fulltone OCD - each version sounding different to the other. This is a rather raw sounding fuzz - which I really like, at it’s most aggressive in the MK1 version and then sort of evolved and smoothed out somewhat as it progresses in later versions. I recall seeing these large wedge-shaped pedals in guitar stores - selling for £300 and upwards - and mostly still having odd power requirements - which is why you will find none of those listed here.
I’ve gone with modern alternatives - each of which gives you something pretty special. Alas the listing has no MK1.5 or MKIV for sake of completeness - these are all Is, IIs and IIIs - which seem to be sort of inversely popular in terms of remakes. I pretty much like all the following for how they sound, although I will always prefer a compact enclosure - so the Britbender is really a highly unlikely acquisition. The discontinued JHS Bun Runner is medium sized - but then it has 2 independent and stackable fuzzes, and since I have 2 of my fuzz pedals together in my chain - I could easily swap those out for this dual version.
I really like the look of the Bun Runner, but it is pipped by 4 preferences - the Blackout Effectors Fubar, Catalinbread Katzenkonig, Lovepedal Bonetender and Monsterpiece MKI. Each of the others has something to recommend it, and seeing how all these are different circuits and ’tuned’ somewhat differently you may quite likely prefer another one of these varieties - the Fulltone Soul-Bender for instance has lots of fans.
I was always intending to get the mini Lovepdal Bonetender, I just have another handful of Tonebender-style pedals I also really like now.
Pedals listed alphabetically with Tonebender [MK] versioning number in parenthesis.
The Fubar is certainly the most versatile in this list, and no doubt the most 'out there'. It's great for dialling in all manner of strangely flavoured and oscillated fuzz tones and will certainly not be one for the purists. If you are a noise-smith and enjoy creating otherworldly sounds and textures then give this one a go. It has my preferred control layout too - two banks of 3 dials and dual footswitches. Really not the most 'musical' of fuzzes necessarily but truly a great tool for more experimental players - I definitely want one - just not sure how I would use it.
I'm a huge fan of Catalinbread pedals - who almost always seem to get things mostly right. I could have listed this pedal under the 'Rat' category too, as it cleverly combines the Tonebender and Rat voicing for a rich and saturated fuzztortion style pedal - which is still beautifully musical throughout its range. 4 simple and self-explanatory dials and some clever internal processing which gauges the input signal and reacts accordingly - making for a very dynamic experience. This is another pedal that was little-known to me until recently, but I rather like it.
While the original compact Tone Reaper bender MKIII type is no longer actively with us, it is still actively available as part of the larger dual EQD Hoof Reaper pedal (Muff + Tonebender). This is a pretty faithful homage to the original 3 knob version - and sounds exactly as you would expect - high quality, but no frills! I of course prefer compact versions - the Hoof Reaper is a touch large for my liking.
I've included quite a clever comparison video above which compares the older larger Soul-Bender to the newer more compact version. Sounds like they have quite different transistors, although the internal circuits could be slightly different or set with different default bias. If you like the smoother creamier tone - seek the older version - if you want a rougher and more aggressive tone then the new one is better. The Soul-Bender is supposed to be a MKIII-alike - but the compact pedal at times sounds even a little MK1. So just as with original Tonebenders - it is absolutely critical which version iteration you acquire - in order to get your preferred tone. I actually like both pedals here as they're good for different things. It is quite evident though that the older version is voiced smoother and more 'vintage' as such - creamy and even - while the newer pedal is a more modern take on fuzz - and a little rougher around the edges. Both of these are great pedals, but neither has made my wishlist.
A fairly rarely seen pedal these days, nothing currently on Reverb, but tends to go for around £150-£350 when up for sale. It combines JHS's Astro Mess with a modified version of a Tonebender MKIII. A highly versatile pedal with a tonne of different fuzz flavours on board. You could also try to track down the solo version JHS Tonebender - which was called a Firefly - Reverb has a pretty decent second-hand one going for c£135 currently. I would not mind getting my hands on a Bun Runner, but there are other Tonebenders in this listing that I prefer.
This is the one I most covet in this list - neat and tidy - and tiny - with just the properly representative 2 dials of a MKII Tonebender style circuit. These have been in short supply of late- I thought they were discontinued, although I spotted a few still available for sale at Musik Productiv - must get one before they all disappear from regular channels and we have to wait and see what turns up on Reverb.
Overlooked by some, but Maxon has a great series of 7 Fuzz Elements Pedals which include the 4-knob Ether Univox Superfuzz clone, and this MKII Tonebender -alike circuit. Quite similar sounding understansably to the Bonetender above (but with 2-way Hot|Vintage voicing dial) - it comes in slightly less dear, and you may prefer its voicings, while the added benefit of form-factor makes me much more likely to get the Lovepedal version - both are great.
This is a glorious sounding vintage style Tonebender, which though unfortunately comes in a slightly over-sized enclosure. It has the authentic twin dials, and a very accurate replication of the original circuit. Considering that the two pedals that precede it do roughly the same for half the money may figure into your decision process. There's no doubting that the Britbender sounds great - and it has numerous famous fans. Yet there are other pedals here that do a lot more with the format in more clever ways. This ideally suits the no-nonsense purists who actually like the reassurance of a substantial hunk of metal. My modern leanings though mean that despite superlative tones, I would have to give this one a miss - lots of you will love it though no doubt. Could not find video demo of the above, but there is a great sample soundfile on the main website - here .
Probably my favourite sounding pedal in this listing, and next on the list to get after the Bonetender. You will need to order direct from Monsterpiece website - as they are currently not widely distributed if at all. A lovely sizzling sort of fuzz tone - and as I said - one that I really like.
Full and rich sounding Tonebender MKII style circuit with classic 3-dial layout and tone toggle switch with 'normal' to the left, and 'bass-cut' when flipped - which sort of gives you two extremes of tone. This is quite a warm sounding pedal, at times muff-ish even, and does not have the degree of molten sizzle that the above MKI does - still sounds pretty great.
Another great MKII pedal with the standard twin dials, but has a Tone Treble-cut toggle switch on the front-face to take a little edge off the top, and a Pre-Gain toggle on the side to boost up the gain. Of course this one also sounds fantastic and gives you another slightly different take on the Tonebender - certainly worth consideration.
A pretty vanilla MKIII Tonebender style pedal - with the customary 3 dials and little else. It's been engineered for a little higher gain than normal and is the lowest cost option in this listing. The tone stack is slightly enhanced though to provide touch more modern overdrive tones as well as the vintage style fuzz. It's certainly a marginally different sounding Tonebender-type which may well appeal to some players.
As I said in the intro - I was not particularly familiar with the Tonebender fuzz family - I really only knew the Lovepedal Bonetender (II) - and knew nothing about the various iterations. It turns out that I like the Tonebender style of fuzz just as much as the others, and I really appreciate its range.
Beyond the Bonetender, I have interest in the Blackout Fubar (MKII), Catalinbread Katzenkonig (MKII) and Monsterpiece MKI - so mostly IIs and a I. It's very unlikely that I will get all those 4, but you never know.