Posts Tagged ‘Fuzz’

EHX Big Muff Pi with Tone Wicker

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

EHX-BMPwTW

What is it?
Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi w/ Tone wicker. Made in NYC, USA. According to the serial number, this unit has been manufactured in 2013.

A Big Muff with added features? Sure i had to get me one. It’s not that often that i buy pedals as new, but when my interest is piqued and the price is right, who am i to argue with the collector inside my head. And as always, i needed to rip it up as soon as i had a chance. After a epic battle with the DC jack, here it is.

EHX-BMPwTW-guts1

Otherwise all SMD, except for the aluminum electrolytics, diodes, main transistors and most interesting part of them all, the tone stack capacitors are ceramic. This could be a result of trying to recreate the feel of the old BMPs. This unit has BC550Cs for transistors. The same type we’ve seen on other modern reissues as well.

So the basic BMP is in tact, but what are the added features? First off, we have a tone bypass switch. A feature that was present in late 70’s / early 80’s IC version (also known as version 5). As the name suggests, the tone control is completely bypassed and full range of frequencies are pushed through. The old tone bypass switches had a resistor in the path of the bypass to compensate for a level boost coming from dropping the tone stack off the circuit. On this unit, there isn’t one. So the volume boost you’ll get by bypassing the tone is noticeable. The second switch is called “wicker”.

EHX-BMPwTW-guts2

The “wicker” switch is quite peculiar thing. There is a CD4066 CMOS switch added on board and it’s controlled by other half of the “wicker” switch (the other pole of that switch is unused). What this switch does? It takes the small value hiss taming capacitors off from the first three gain stages. This results in increased noise floor, but it also gives a noticeable amount of more spike to the feel. Since there weren’t a schematic or anything definite about the wicker circuit online, i traced my unit. Check out the traced chematic here. I’d also suggest reading Kitrae’s notes and info about the unit on his awesome Big Muff page.

Box features EHX modern standard true bypass. To be honest, i’m not a big fan of current EHX board design or box/chassis grounding methods, but i am digging some of the sounds…

How does it sound?
Very nice addition to the BMP family. It can be used as a standard big muff with both, tone bypass and wicker switches in off position. In that mode it doesn’t differ a lot from any other Muffs. Or not at all to be exact. Once the Tone bypass is engaged, it reminds me a lot of the V5 BMP clone i built for myself (although my IC version clone tends to sound a bit more synthy, which is not a bad thing at all). And once the wicker is switched on, it basically takes the standard muff to a new, noisier level with added bite. So basically, we have four BMPs in one box. The standard sounds are intact, the tone bypassed, roaring Muff is in there and lastly we have something new to add to our palette. Seems like too many pedals get this “versatile” word out of me. On this occasion it is well deserved. The pedal, it simply sounds good.

Danelectro DJ-13 French Toast Octave Distortion

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

DJ13-FrenchToast

What is it?
Danelectro DJ-13 French Toast Octave Distortion. Made in china around mid 00’s.

This one is one of the more classic designs in the series. The internet reveals that the design is 1:1 with a classic fOXX Tone Machine with added standard Dano Mini series electronic bypass switching. In other words, it is a four transistor fuzz that features a switchable octave up. There are a few schematics available, here’s one from Gaussmarkov.

DJ13-FrenchToast-guts

Looking at the schematic shows an gain stage at the input, followed by a transistor stage that is responsible for the octave up. This stage uses two germanium diodes to mangle the signal in octave mode. Diode arrangement isn’t completely different to one found in latter version of Roger Mayer’s Octavia, while the setup leading to those diodes is. On this point we have our “gain” control. Yup. You can call it what ever you want, but it is simple volume control setting the level for the next stage. After that there’s one more driver stage pushing the tone control, which isn’t completely different to one found in Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi. Not completely alike either. Finally, there is one more gain stage before pushing the signal to the the final volume control.

There have been numerous boutique clones of the Tone Machine around for years, but seeing one coming in this price range by big brand was new and exciting to me. This, in addition to Chili Dog Octave (and a few others), are the greatest offerings in Mini Series. Definitely recommended pedal – if you can look beyond the plastic housing..

How does it sound?
Wild and great. Amazing redesign if the Tone Machine. Mean, piercing up octaves. It’s in no way clean or dull, but lively with tons of harmonics, for both non-octave and octave modes. For the price – this is the closest you’ll get to having a classics Tone Machine sound.

EHX Satisfaction Fuzz

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

EHX-SatisfactionFuzz

What is it?
Electro Harmonix Satisfaction Fuzz from Nano series. Made in USA in early 2014.

Noticed this unit’s release on the web and it seemed quite promising. Seems like the idea behind the design was to recreate that well know fuzz sound from one well known Rolling Stones track. According to the stompbox historians, the unit used on the original track was in fact one of the early Maestro Fuzz Tones. Solid idea to recreate that sound. These unit sell for cheap as new, so there wasn’t much choice for me but to get one. Of course i teared it right open as soon as it landed on my desk.

EHX-SatisfactionFuzz-guts1

Modern EHX design. No surprises there. Super dull and extremely boring design. But wait a minute! What are those empty pads just above the input jack? C7 and D2-D3. Print next to those holes say <++clip> and <++bass>. Now that’s something you don’t see everyday. As there are no hidden components on the other side of the board, i thought this should be easy enough to trace. So i did. Does that look familiar to you?

EHX-SatisfactionFuzz-guts2

Yes. That is, in terms of topology, pretty much 1:1 with good old Jordan Bosstone fuzz with NPN/PNP pair as the main attraction. Design here has nothing to do with Maestro Fuzz Tone. Only a few cap value changes to Bosstone and voilá, there’s your new design. Smaller values for input and output caps, plus missing diode clipping at the output are the main differences, but EHX has cleverly left us with six empty pads and clear instructions what to do. Upping the output cap for 22n (10n and 12n in parallel) and adding two silicon signal diodes for clippers makes this so close to the Bosstone that it makes this unit very, very interesting. I think this would be the greatest and cheapest way to get yourself a Bosstone. Buy yourself a cheap EHX fuzz and add one cap and two diodes.

I’ve heard stories about some synthesizer makers leaving empty pads for user to try mods on. But i’ve never before seen this behavior in guitar effects before. I do hope this is something that we may see again in the future, maybe even from other manufacturers too. This does make EHX look better in my eyes…

For my own unit, i tried on the clippers, but decided to leave them out. I did place a 22n cap for C7. Now it isn’t exactly EHX Satisfaction nor Bosstone. (Maybe i should try it with only added diodes, but no cap at some point..)But it is something useful. And to be frank, it is cool.

How does it sound?
Out of the box – not so super. It has some qualities that could be reminding some of us of that desired Satisfaction tone. Thin, loudish, but not mushy enough fuzz. With output cap value increased – wow. Added body and mush. Think of mushroom clouds viewed through a kaleidoscope. Yup. It sounds like that. Fat, massive, loud and devastating fuzz. With both, clippers and cap added, it sound pretty much exactly like all the demos of original Bosstone i’ve heard. (Yup, i haven’t had a pleasure of playing with the original Bosstone unit. At least not yet.) Overall. Satisfaction Fuzz sounds good and it is definitely worth the money.

DOD FX33 BuzzBox

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

DOD-FX33-BuzzBox

What is it?
DOD FX33 BuzzBox, made in USA around 1995.

Now here’s something you won’t see everyday. When something is worth overdoing, let the DOD engineers show you the real way of the beast. Design is just sick. The America’s Pedal article on the history of the design is a very good read. There is a schematic available online, named Leafblower. It’s drawn by Celadine and it is spread accross two pages. It’s not that complicated, but still a big design.

DOD-FX33-BuzzBox-guts1

So in fact the design has distortion and octave divider in parallel, which is nothing too special when compared to other low octave divider circuits around. But this time the voicing and gain are set quite perfectly for extreme buzz. The controls work well, even though the names are gibberish. Heavy is controlling the mix between distortion and low octave output, Buzz acts as distortion control, Saw as tone and Thrust is your overall output level.

DOD-FX33-BuzzBox-guts2

As a nice curiosity, there’s a sticker inside with ” Dana B 232″ printed on it. These units usually sell for a lot. I happened to be quite lucky and got one from a friend in a trade that was good for both of us. Thanks Markus.

Due to the circuit being more complicated than its peers, it’s not your average suspect for cloning. After all, there are three dual opamps and a CD4013 flip-flop in addition to a few transistors and clippers. But from economical point of view a reissue should be welcome.

How does it sound?
Massive low octave noise monster. Some folks claim it to sound like a Rat driving a Bluebox, but to my ears it’s not even close. Think of two DOD Grunges in parallel and blasting the resulting hyper distorted signal through quadruple bass booster that has all the frequencies divided into lower octaves ála Bluebox. Yes. It is that sick. in the same time this sounds like a mash of a leafblower, a vacuum cleaner and a demon possessed NES system on speed.

DOD FX66 Flashback Fuzz

Monday, October 14th, 2013

DOD-FX66-FlashbackFuzz

What is it?
DOD FX66 (V) Flashback Fuzz. Made in china around 2000.

DOD has only produced two fuzz pedals in all of its existence. That’s not much. Plus both fuzzes in DOD back catalog are not fuzzes in traditional manner. Neither of the designs are transistor based, nor rely on own unique design. Both of them are rehashes of previously released circuits and they share PCBs with their predecessors. Where FX52 is basically a revoiced FX50B, the FX66 Flashback Fuzz is revoiced FX66 Grunge. A few interesting details can be read at America’s Pedal website. Lack of 6 components and some value swapping can apparently make a completely new effect.

DOD-FX66-FlashbackFuzz-guts

Note that the board has FX69 printed on it. Funny how tweaking the board really changes the characteristics. This doesn’t share anything else with the Grunge, except for the PCB, electronic switching and power filtering. Don’t know how the engineers at DOD pulled this off, but the result isn’t that bad.

In reality i was after the first production run US made unit, but this one was the only one i could find. And it suited my wallet too.

How does it sound?
Not bad at all actually. There is definitely some of that Fuzz Face analog feel in there, but it’s not really that close. It sounds more clinical than simple FF circuits, while still remaining quite musical. There is a lot of fuzz character in its sound, which is amazing as it still has nearly the same topology as FX69 Grunge. Quite usable, even though the uncontrollable overtones and glitching scratches are limited to minimum with all opamp and clipping diode design. I would personally recommend trying one out if you get a chance.

Dunlop JH-F1 Fuzz Face

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Dunlop-JHF1-FuzzFace

What is it?
Dunlop JH-1F Fuzz Face. BC108 Si transistors and branded as “Authentic Hendrix”. Manufactured around 09-11.

The Fuzz Face is one of those that everyone should play at some point. Because if they haven’t, they’re really missing out on a lot. Fuzz is not a distrtion as in Overdrive/Distortion. Not at all. Usually your standard fuzzes are created by pair of transistors driving the hell out of each other, or shunt-series-feedback amplifiers. The basic schematic is very simple (courtesy of GEO). It’s a nine component circuit, plus two pots. As for the origins of Fuzz Face, well. The Vox/Solasound Tonebender had been released earlier in the same year, 1966. So there’s a chance that the Fuzz Face may be the first known example in a very long history of a company ripping off other company’s design.. But let’s get back to this particular unit.

Dunlop-JHF1-FuzzFace-back

Backplate has “Athentic Hendrix” stamp right next to all the common modern day labels. Yes. It’s lead free. Reportedly, mr. Hendrix used original germainum version until he got fed up with unreliable behaviour that comes naturally with Ge-devices. So he later on used only the version with Si-transistors. In which point the microphone stand bottom inspired enclosure turned blue, i really can’t tell. Must be earlier than when Arbiter reissues were assimilated by Dunlop as i’ve seen couple of old Arbiter units in blue for sale (needless to say that you’ll buy a car for that amount of money..). Anyway, the transistors in JH’s unit were BC108Cs. A lot higher in hFE gains than original NTK275 versions. Nowadays commonly loved Fuzz Face transistors, the AC128 were introduced much later in a Dallas Arbiter reissues.

Dunlop-JHF1-FuzzFace-guts1

Insides look like they are true to the original unit. Board layout and resistors are as expected. There are no modern day luxuries here! No indicator LED, nor power jack. Just a crude place for a 9V battery. 26mm pots and big semi-closed jacks. At first glance, in all the simplicity it is quite beautiful.

Dunlop-JHF1-FuzzFace-guts2

Board has everything laid out neatly. Four carbon composition transistors, two Philips electrolytic caps and one non-polar. which looks to me like it is 100nF and not 10 as in basic schematic. Looking deeper in to it, there are different versions of Fuzz Face. So hold the press. There should be trimmers, hidden caps and resistors.. And there are…

Dunlop-JHF1-FuzzFace-guts3

Unscrewing the board shows the Borg. The face is still there (and it is blue), but inside there’s the Locutus. SMD bias trimmers and tamer caps and so on. At first this unit sounded like it was slightly misbiased, but i thought that was a feature with BC108 transistors. In fact the trimmers were misbiased. No wonder the guy i got this from couldn’t get it thing to sound right. Tuned them by ear and got it running like it probably should. And just look at how the short on the right edge is fixed. You may now have a better idea why i sold off all my Dunlop made MXRs. I’m wondering if i should sell this off too as it gives me more reasons to dislike Jim Dunlop Manufacturing. Their plectrums are very good though… Sad thing you can’t score these for cheap. If you could, you should really think about getting a reproduction PCB and rebuilding the insides to match the 60’s specs with NKT275s. Maybe even repaint the enclosure to get your Picard back.

How does it sound?
Just as i expected. Harsher and colder than germanium versions i’ve played with. Actually. The guy i got this unit from told me that he bought it when he was after that “Fu Manchu” sound and got dissappointed. At that time i didn’t know that the unit was blue and it puzzled me a bit. Once i opened up the parcel, i wrote him back saying, “no wonder you couldn’t get it to sound right”. It sounds almost like a fuzz face, but in reality it is the day of the undead. Resistance is not futile. I’m thinking that i should probably stick with pedals with through hole components. You know, to stay organic. If you are looking for this exact sound, you should probably seek for modern chinese clone called “Blue Faze”. It is 1:1 and does not try to hide that it is the Borg. Plus it has all the modern day luxuries in miniature enclosure that sort of looks like three cubes in attack formation..

Ibanez FZ5 60’s Fuzz

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

FZ5What is it?
Ibanez FZ5 60’s Fuzz from Soundtank series in plastic enclosure, made in Taiwan. Manufacture date unknown due to missing label that’s been ripped off by velcro at some point before this landed to my care (Grrrrr!).

Techically pretty close to Ibanez OD850 and OD9 (which are damn close to BMP), with some value changes to every single spot of the design, plus completely rewritten tonestack and output driver. The design has remained, but the 60’s Fuzz has been around as metal boxed SF5, then plastic uniform typefaced FZ5 and finally this – FZ5 with its own font and Soundtank “logo”. I’m thinking about getting another one of these, preferably metal boxed one to keep as original and tinker around with this individual. Mainly because i can’t trace this unit back to it’s origin without the serial number. I could take closer look at date codes on components, which should give out estimate that should suffice. Either way, this one is from newer manufacture date, probably from 96-98.. I’m quite interested about modding one to OD850/OD9 specs. This time that won’t happen with just swapping components. The board will need some work too.

FZ5-guts

Good thing there’s room on that board. Note the sticker placed on the PCB label. As stated above, the design used to be SF5, so the PCB type remains as such – only with a sticker saying that it is now “FZ5”.

How does it sound?
Not too great i’m afraid. May be because of the tonestack, but it literally sounds like BMP held down by pack of wild horses. The fuzz is in there, but it’s on the brink of choking to scon at five o’clock tea. It’s a Fuzz. Wich is a good thing. Modding some other companys work should always mean that the end result should be better than the original. This is not the worst effect i’ve had, not even the worst i’ve seen this year. Still nothing to write home about. Probably marketing guys at Ibanez wanted it to sound more mainstream than BMP/OD850, which resulted in adding modified tone control that sucks the life out of it – and other fault is leaving the recovery gain too low. Funny thing is that you can get modern BMP reissue for a lot cheaper than this. One of the few bad (re)designs in Soundtank series. Good to have, but as it is.. Don’t see myself using it a lot.

DOD FX52 Classic Fuzz

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

DOD-FX52-ClassicFuzz.resized What is it?
DOD FX52 Classic Fuzz, Made in USA in early to mid 90s. Yup. It seems almost like yesterday when boxes of this series were in every young guitarists hands. It’s been 20 years already, but i wouldn’t exactly call it “vintage” for another two decades though.

This model was discontinued in 1998, and my units serial number points to manufacture date being close to first quarter of 1994. It’s not a perfect pedal in any way. The most interesting thing is that this one has the same PCB as FX50. Only a few component values differ and one clipping stage is omitted. There’s a lot of good info available on this circuit on the America’s Pedal site. You can find the schematic hosted at Experimentalists Anonymous, if you want to see it. Schematic shows a few things one would want to mod. Not going into that right now – as i would need another unit in my collection before i would dare to ravage one of these. Things i would do to her would be; adding a diode pair to the feedback loop of LF353, tuning/upping the gain on the tone driver half of that IC and probably doubling the hard clipping diodes and removing the 1n cap taming it. One could also tune the 22n and 10µ caps to their taste of tone control. Maybe even rethink some pot values and tapers.

DOD-FX52-ClassicFuzz-Guts1.resized

Chips not affiliated with bypass switching are LF353 for the gain and tone stages and JRC1458 as in and out buffers. Also. Note the unconnected components left from LF353. As you can see from the shot above, the model is marked on the board with permanent marker. Here’s another photo that shows what’s under the filter cap:

DOD-FX52-ClassicFuzz-Guts4.resized

So it’s built on FX50 PCB. According to internet, it seems that there are other models sharing the same board too.

How does it sound?
To be honest. I’ve heard a lot of better circuit designs. Where DOD advertised this with the spiel “The FX52 Classic Fuzz duplicates the sound of the early 60s distortion boxes, such as the Fuzz Face and the Fuzz Tone. A must for musicians looking for a more nostalgic sound.” – I Do not find the resemblence to Maestro or Arbiter fuzzes mentioned. It’s more compressed than Big Muff, while that would be the closest vintage circuit. I still can’t hear the Fuzz in there. It’s much closer to being just muddy distortion than a real Classic fuzz. It has decent output level and better-than-average sustain. Might keep it in my collection, just in case. But i don’t see myself fastening this to my pedal board anytime soon. Or maybe i should mod it after all…  Good thing you can get still these for cheap, at least at the time of writing.