20 of the Best Compact Format Fuzz Pedals - 2018 Edition

Electric Guitar Guitar Ownership Guitar Pedals Effects Pedals Fuzz Fuzz Pedals + -
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This piece follows on from my recent 6-part overview of some of the best fuzz pedals available, and updates the 18 best fuzz pedals article from last year. In the main I’ve picked out my favourites of what I’ve noted recently and those I already have and love. Of the 20 main ones featured I have 13 already and intend to get as many of the others as I can get my hands on.

 

Some of these pedals are relatively difficult to source for UK residents, and a few have been discontinued - which means setting up feed lists and regularly scanning Reverb.com to see if any second-hand examples show up. I will mention in the individual overviews as to which pedals I have - you can work it out by the following wishlist items that I’m on the case for. So high up on the wishlist are the ThorpyFX Fallout Cloud, Monsterpiece MKI, Old Blood Noise Endeavours Haunt and Crazy Tube Circuits Constellation - which has still to be released.

 

The Boss FZ-2 Hyper Fuzz, VFE Alpha Dog V2 and Spaceman Gemini III are the discontinued ones that will be tricky to get hold of - particularly the last mentioned - which occasionally appears on Reverb.com at more than 3 times its original price. The Hyper Fuzz and Alpha Dog occasionally pop up on Reverb.com too - the latter is most recent and not really problematic, while I’ve seen some Hyper Fuzzes for sale in pretty poor condition. With second-hand pedals it’s all about get near mint versions at a reasonable price!

 

The tricky thing with Fuzzes is that you typically have to provide them with clean and isolated power, but also place them at or near the start of your pedal chain - as many Germanium fuzzes in particular pick up interference from other pedals and really don’t tolerate upstream boosts or buffers.

 

From my recent fuzz overview I selected the best in each category - which may have left out some of my old favourites - which are listed in Honourable Mentions below. I feel that this is most certainly both a diverse and wide-ranging overview which has fuzz pedals that should appeal to all - even those for whom fuzz is not really a thing!

 

Pedals are listed alphabetically by Brand:

The Fuzz Face - ProAnalog Devices MKIV Fuzz - £250+ (Reverb)

ProAnalog Devices are very much Boutique territory and in very scarce distribution. Scotty Smith is trying to increase his distribution network while he needs to simultaneously ramp up his output. I was very fortunate to come across one of these blue version ones on Reverb.com. It's not per say exactly modelled on a Fuzz Face (more Tone Bender in fact!), but it's actually very much a 1960's style fuzz which generates its tones from a hybrid mix of Germanium and Silicon transistors. When I did my Fuzz Face style overview this was my favourite sounding pedal - the above demo video gives you an excellent reference for what it is capable of.

The Muff - ThorpyFX Fallout Cloud - £185

I initially did not like Thorpy's slightly oversized enclosures, but have warmed to them of late. In particular for this magnificent Big Muff Triangle - style pedal. Essentially a very smooth over-drive sounding muff really for those who don't particularly like fuzz pedals. I was initially put out a touch by the fact that it didn't really sound like a Muff, but the tones it generate as wonderfully fluid, rich and harmonic - and surprisingly smooth. Probably Thorpy's most popular pedal.

The Boosted Muff - Foxpedal Defector - - £188

This is my mainstay regular fuzz - being based on the Green Russian Big Muff - with extra silicon and LED diode clipping. It also has a useful Mids dial to scoop or boost the mids - and a Pre-boost function which can be applied independently. Finally, its bypass switch doubles us as a momentary fuzz feedback loop trigger. So an extended range of tones in a very useful and compact pedal - and it sounds great.

The Tone Bender - Monsterpiece MKI Fuzz [Direct] - $200

I wasn't particularly familiar with Tone Benders before I carried out by recent fuzz research, and now I find I rather quite like them in pretty much all their varieties. Of all the ones I screened, this one sounded the best to me - searing, dynamic and vibrant. It also has an additional Attack dial to the original source - which gives you a few more tone-shaping capabilities.

The Fuzzrite - Catalinbread Moseley Fuzzrite - £125

Another recent discovery and acquisition is this Catalinbread collaboration and recreation of the Moseley original - still with the two volume and depth dials, but in a much reduced enclosure and all-round more pedalboard friendly. Another slightly different voice of fuzz, and well worth it for proper fuzz fans. Before doing my fuzz research, I was more familiar with Catalinbread for its delays and foundation drive pedals - yet I've since discovered that it does excellent fuzz pedals too - leading to me acquiring 3 of theirs - all in this listing, and all quite different.

The Superfuzz - Boss FZ-2 Hyper Fuzz - discontinued - c£150 (Reverb.com)

I actually feature 2 Univox Superfuzz clones and both are a little out of the ordinary. The Boss is closer to the original, but has a 3-way voicing dial - Fuzz I, Fuzz II and Gain Boost, as well as separate Treble and Bass controls on dual concentric dials. This is an really fuzzy distorted octave fuzz which is pretty unusual for Boss, and which has very much come back into favour of late and is many player's favourite fuzz now. There were a couple on Reverb before Christmas, but both have since disappeared - one I believe was sold and the other removed from sale. The best quality versions of these go for £150-£200 and are much in demand. I've seen a few shoddy battered versions on Ebay, so I'll hold out until I find one of suitable quality. In the meantime I hope that Boss is clever enough to re-release it - there certainly seems to be demand.

The Octave Fuzz - SolidGoldFX 76 Fuzz - £150+ (Reverb.com)

SolidGoldFX have their own store on Reverb.com - making it relatively easy to acquire one of these as I did. Much like the Thorpy Fallout Cloud is a smoother version of a Big Muff Triangle, the 76 Fuzz is a very refined version of the Super Fuzz - and one which I really love the sound of.

The Smooth Rat - VFE Alpha Dog V2 - discontinued - $179 new (Reverb.com)

When I first heard the Alpha Dog, I was disappointed that it did not sound as much like a ProCo Rat as I expected - in fact it's capable of some pretty gnarly rat sounds if you tune it just right, but even though it uses the same core LM308N OpAmp its main tone profile as such is tuned more towards overdrive than fuzz. Even that is a simplistic overstatement as there are 3 critical small dials whose interplay sets the tone - the 'Fat' Gain EQ, the 'Hard' (T)win to (V)intage Silicon diode mix and the 'Soft' (G)ermanium to (M)osfet diode mix. This pedal has an incredible range of tones and is supremely tweakable, it's one of the most versatile fuzz/overdrive pedals on the market, and is understandably VFE's best selling pedal ever - sadly now discontinued. I've been trying to acquire one of these - they were on final offer back in November so it may prove tricky to acquire one now - but I shall persevere!

The Hybrid Rat - Catalinbread Katzenkonig - £137

This second of my Catalinbread fuzzes is an interesting blend of Tone Bender MKII and Rat - the sum of the two producing something sort of greater than each of them. The pedal features a smart 4-dial configuration with Volume and Gain fully self-explanatory, while Input acclimatises the pedal to its upstream input i.e. adjusts the signal from other pedals in the chain - and Filter alters the tone from Bright through to Dark and Creamy. So if you're not sure whether to get a Tone Bender or Rat, why not go for a little of both!

The Hard Rat - Dr Scientist Frazz Dazzler - £229

This is one of the pretty much permanent fuzz pedals in my chain - not exactly a Rat clone as such but more like an evolved and improved version of one. I describe it as an electrical storm in a pedal - it has wonderfully complex spattery fuzz combined with a separate gain footswitch and level. The pedal has a full 3-band EQ, Dry Mix, Volts control dial - a sort of bias, and a Volume dial. This is a whole next level version of a Rat as far as I'm concerned and the best of its kind.

The Gated Fuzz - Old Blood Noise Endeavours Haunt - £179

This cool gated fuzz has been on my wishlist for a while now - other things seem to have pipped it in the pecking order - so I'm still to acquire one. As I've declared this the Year of Fuzz - I will most likely have one by year end as this is another really great sounding fuzz pedal. It has 5 self-explanatory dials - Volume | Fuzz | Gate | Mix | Tone and two voicing toggles - Mode and Low. The former allows you to toggle between two different combinations of Silicon transistors, while 'Low' adds in more bass or a low end boost.

The Oscillated Fuzz - Subdecay Harmonic Antagonizer [Joe's Pedals] - £169

This is my most recently acquired fuzz pedal - as the user guide states - Fuzz | Oscillation | Chaos Synthesizer. It's been on my wishlist of quite the while - and another of my recent acquisitions from 'Joe's Pedals' - the UK's leading purveyor of boutique pedals - with an incredible near 70 brands stocked. There are a few Trem-Fuzzes or Oscillo-Fuzzes out there, but this is the coolest at this form factor. 5 dials control the action - Frequency (Oscillation) | Sense (Envelope Control Level) | Volume | Blend (Square Wave to Oscillation mix) | Sustain (Input Gain). Has a plethora of tones and weird moments on hotspots along the Frequency, Blend and Sustain dials. This a real fun pedal to use.

The Velcro Fuzz - Zvex Fuzz Factory Vertical - £180

The 5 dial Zvex Fuzz Factory is a legendary pedal which I always loved the sound of but disliked its elongated horizontal form factor. The introduction of a a new vertical version meant that I snapped one up pretty quick. This Germanium-loaded fuzz can sound like a Fuzz Face if you wish, but is much better known for its more gated and velcro-style tones. You need to be careful with it as it can yield all manner of weirdness depending how you set its dials. I'm a big fan of St Vincent and she uses these particularly well.

The Woolly Fuzz - Side Effects Woolly Mammoth 7 Clone - £145

Aside from the Fuzz Factory and Fuzz Factory 7, Zvex is almost equally well known for the very aptly described Woolly Mammoth 7. While scanning Reverb.com I came across this wonderful Mammoth 7 clone from Greek boutique pedal maker Side Effects. Side Effects manages to squeeze everything into a compact enclosure and add an Oscillation toggle to give you even more texture. So I have a great cross section of 'Zvex' type fuzzes - to which I will soon add the Fuzzolo. I hear rumours that more of its classic will soon be released in compact form factor - so there may be a couple more I snap up there.

The Experimental Fuzz - Catalinbread Antichthon - £135

The Antichthon is probably the weirdest fuzz you don't yet know. It has 4 control dials - Gravity | Time | Volume | Space - which all react wonderfully to your guitar volume - both individually and all together. At its core it is another Tremolo Fuzz, but it's quite a different beast really. It is recommended you start with just the Volume and Time dials active - the latter sort of sets the Tremolo rate - which you can then vary with your guitar volume control. Gravity is the crazy WTF sort of voicing dial which delivers all manner of weird tones from synthy sweeps to squelchy and chirpy sort of dolphin sounds. Finally the Space dial is sort of 'Depth' control but gives you some odd warps within its sweep. The tiniest movement of the Gravity and Space dials can yield something uniquely weird and wonderful - there are all manner of 'hot spots' along the dial sweeps which produce interesting sounds. This is definitely an acquired-taste experimental pedal - for the studio really rather than playing live. Presets might have been useful on this pedal as you may struggle to recreate found sounds the second time around. For me - this pedal is just for inspiration and texture really - it's not a regular playing fuzz at all more for the studio.

The Fuzz-Mixer- Spaceman Effects Gemini III - discontinued - c$1,000 ($349-$389 new)

The 'Dual Fuzz Generator' was originally released in 2012 in Black (50), Blue (15), Copper (20), Silver (90), and White (40) - a total of 215 pedals with the silver version the lowest cost at $349 and the Copper version the dearest at $20. Unlike Analog.Man Mike Piera who regularly makes ongoing limited release pedals like the King of Tone - which anyone can still get by going on the waiting list - which may be a year long! Spaceman Effects' Zak Marting though has a different approach where the pedals are discontinued once produced in limited pedals. This means that a lot of Spaceman users are collectors rather than players - and many of these pedals sit permanently on the shelf somewhere. My first introduction to Spaceman was by way of its Orion spring tank. I was obviously way too late for the Gemini III which is now 5 years old. There was a black version on sale on Reverb just before Christmas for nearly $1,000 - although that seems to have been removed from sale eventually. What makes the Gemini III so great is that it has 2 separate Germanium and Silicon circuits that you can control via a mixer dial - taking you from all Germanium to all Silicon and everything in between. Each circuit also has a 3-way gain switch to you can mix together gain and degree of each circuit. Hopefully Zak can introduce a Gemini IV - where he replaces the 3-way toggles with gain and tone dials for each side - for the ultimate fuzz pedal! Currently - unless I win the lottery I am kind of unlikely to acquire a second-hand one - they rarely come up for sale. So the nearest alternatives for me are the JDM Pedals Union Fuzz, Amptweaker Tight Fuzz Jr or Monsterpiece PNP DLX - each of which mixes up Germanium and Silicon transistors in their own way. I had initially thought I might go for an Amptweaker Tight Fuzz Jr or the JDM Union Fuzz, but am currently leaning more towards the Monsterpiece PNP DLX.

The Fuzz-Modulator - Dr Scientist BitQuest - £229

I funnily acquired this pedal initially as a Bitcrusher, and then secondarily as a multi-modulation fx pedal as it features - Flanger | Envelope Filter | Bitcrusher | Reverb | Notch Filter | Ring Modulation | Pitch Shifter | Particle Delay. However this pedal was initially conceived as a Fuzz Modulaiton pedal - where you can select to assign Clean or Fuzzed up signal to each of those effects. And this is a pretty decent sounding fuzz pedal with lots of tonal variations through all the modulation effects. This is one of the most versatile and clever pedals you can acquire in this form factor. Its slot in my pedal chain is currently occupied by a synth pedal - namely the DigiTech Dirty Robot - but both of these get swapped around quite a lot.

The Dual Fuzz - Chase Bliss Analog Brothers - £349

This is another one of my 2 permanent Fuzz pedals - along with the Frazz Dazzler - regularly the BitQuest is in the chain too - so I end up with 4 fuzz pedals in the chain. The 4th fuzz slot is where most of the swapping occurs - with the Foxpedal Defector getting the most days in that slot, but numerous other pedals getting playback time there too. As for the Chase Bliss Brothers pedal - this is functionally very similar to the Strymon Riverside, but where one of the 3 flavours on each channel is a Fuzz. So I almost entirely use the Brothers as a Fuzz pedal - mostly with its 2 fuzz voicings, but mixing those up also with the drive and boost voicings - lots of fuzz toneage on tap therefore.

The Multi-Bender - Crazy Tube Circuits Constellation Fuzz - €267

This is the one pedal not released yet - announced at Winter NAMM 2018 this is a Germanium Muffuletta-style pedal with 6 different voicings - Fuzz Face | Vox Tone Bender | Tone Bender MK1.5 | Tone Bender MKII | Dallas Range Master | Range Master > Fuzz Face. Not a lot of demos on this one yet, but what I've heard sound pretty good - in understand this one is out in April/May - and Crazy Tube Circuits have a great track record with fuzzes - to this should be gold - definitely planning to add this then.

The Multi-Muff - JHS Muffuletta - £209

This was the first of the 'Heritage' pedals as I call them - now followed by the JHS Bonsai and above Constellation Fuzz. Josh Scott pioneered this category by 'curating' 6 classic Big Muff circuits within a single pedal - namely : the Civil War | Green Russian | Pi | Triangle | Ram's Head | JHS. All decent and workable flavours and all of which I use pretty regularly - with possibly the original Pi and Ram's Head getting the least use. If you're into Big Muff -style fuzzes then there's no excuse for not getting this - all the voicings are pretty spot-on and you get a lot of variety here. I'm sure we'll see a few more of these 'Heritage' pedals in forthcoming years.

Honourable Mentions

The above listing is my sort of top 20 desirable fuzz pedals - which cover as wide a range of key types as possible - with a few quirky ones thrown in too for good measure. As with all effects pedals there is never just a single solution - there are always alternatives - which is why I always state 'among the best' rather than 'the best'. In compiling the various recent fuzz pedal articles I must have scanned though a few hundred pedals - no doubt I've overlooked a few other worthy ones.

 

And while the above are my top 20, there are always more to be considered and so many fuzz specialist around now. I should do more too to support UK pedal makers like Magnetic Effects who do stellar pedalboard-friendly fuzzes at really reasonable prices - like the Solar Bender and White Atom. We also cannot overlook Analog.Man Mike Piera who is a renowned master of fuzz - I just don't particularly like the waiting lists. I ordered my first waiting list pedal in January - The Ethos TWE-1 from Custom Tones - due for completion / dispatch in March or April - which for me is a long way away - although not nearly as much as some of these other made-to-order pedals. So that is the maing thing that puts me off Analog.Man - actually same goes for Monsterpiece Fuzz I believe, although those are more stock items so possibly there is less of a wait.

 

So here are my next 11 (alphabetical):

  • Amptweaker TightFuzz Jr - £169 - Hybrid Separate Germanium and Silicon Circuits
  • Analog.Man Sun Face NKT275 Red Dot - $260 - Fuzz Face Style : Rare Germanium Circuit
  • Blackout Effectors Fubar - £189 - Tone Bender Style : Experimental Tone Bender Circuit with Oscillation
  • EarthQuaker Devices Erupter - £155 - Super Simple Single-Dial Silicon Circuit
  • EarthQuaker Devices Park/Colby Fuzz - £185 - Recent-ish renewal of old Jim Marshall Park Fuzz (Tone Bender Circuit)
  • JDM Pedals Union Fuzz - $139 - Separate Germanium and Silicon Circuits
  • Magnetic Effects Solar Bender - £109 - Tone Bender Style : Germanium + Silicon Mix
  • Magnetic Effects White Atom - £109 - Versatile Modern Germanium + Silicon Mix
  • Matthews Effects The Whaler Fuzz - £159 - Versatile Modern Fuzz of unspecified circuit
  • Monsterpiece PNP DLX - $185 - Fuzz Face Style : Hybrid Germanium + Silicon Mix
  • Wampler Velvet Fuzz - $189 - Modern Smooth 2-way clipping circuit

Final Thoughts

Who would have thought Fuzz was such a broad field - these are usually such simple circuits - but changing out different transistors, resistors and capacitors can yield hugely variable results. I never realised that there were quite so many boutique fuzz specialist out there! There are lots of different kinds of boutique builders - of course hand-wired vs PCB and various routes to speeding up the build process.

 

I have so many different pedals on my wishlist that in most circumstances I can't be bothered to wait around. Rarely is there a pedal with no direct alternatives - yet there are a number in the above listing. As reported previously my pedal preferences are a mix of tone, versatility, practicality, build quality, form-factor and of course pricing and availability. My favourite form factor would have to be the compact pedal size in a Chase-Bliss style arrangement - 2 banks of 3 with multiple toggle and dip-switches and dual footswitches for tap-tempo, individual channel selection etc.

 

I try not do be too disparaging about pedal - as most of them are capable of achieving your perfect tone, albeit not always in isolation. For instance by Boss GE-7 EQ pedal just happens to be a big part of my tone. Switch it off or take it out of the circuit / chain and you loose some of the vibrancy I have become accustomed to.

 

In the pedal world there will always be one or two discontinued or hard-to-obtain models which you might struggle to get for several months. So you quickly adjust your approach to the next best thing - which could even be better for you than what you perceived to be your original and first best thing. You often find the most inconsequential purchases cam still yield something of high worth, and sometimes you will prefer an instantly available pedal over something you have to wait and indeterminable period for.

 

I will remind you that I'm just going through an exploratory phase - sampling all those different flavours, see what sticks and what inspires me. Hopefully there will be some useful overlap between my interests and others who are looking into the same subject areas. I just want to help them broaden their horizons and then be able to saliently narrow their choices. There are other sites that list out every type of Klon ever available - yet for me there will be a sub-set of only 10 or 12 that will be of interest to me. So this is a learning curve as well as an exercise in curation - and I don't expect anyone to like all my choices - just to be aware of what the options are - so they can add further choices or otherwise opt out.

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