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Learn about what fuzz effect pedals do
Learn the origins of fuzz and how different designs and components affect the sound
A definitive list of 7 of the best fuzz pedals (under $100)
Continuing into our discussion of guitar pedals you should probably have on your pedalboard (or available in your studio), today we’re talking about fuzz.
Fuzz pedals, as the name implies, add plenty of grit and aggression to your clean guitar signal, but in contrast to distortion, fuzz is known for being a more vintage style sound.
With that being said, every style of music has a use for fuzz, whether it’s for creating fat aggressive single-note riffs or helping a lead pop out over the top of a crowded mix. Here are 7 great fuzz pedals you can find for less than (or around) $100.
Our pick goes to the EHX Op-Amp Big Muff Pi. The Op-Amp circuitry does a phenomenal job of providing authentic vintage Muff tones, at a price that won’t break the bank. The EHX Satisfaction is a great option for those on a super tight budget, and the MXR Classic 108 Mini is perfect for those chasing the tones of the classic Fuzz Face (but without the price tag or size).
That being said, here’s our list of the 7 best fuzz pedals under $100:
There have been so many different variations on the Big Muff Pi circuit through the years you could devote an entire article just to talking about them.
While the Big Muff is one of the quintessential fuzz pedal designs, the Op-amp Big Muff Pi reissue is a unique option. This pedal was designed “in collaboration” (air quotes because it’s not really an endorsement or signature pedal) with Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, and is designed to replicate the sound a Late 70s Big Muff. Corgan famously used the late 70s iteration to create the sounds on the classic early SP albums Gish and Siamese Dream.
This Big Muff uses op-amps as opposed to transistors to distort the signal, which results in a somewhat more nasal and more buzzsaw type sound. The pedal also features a tone bypass switch which removes the tone from the circuit, which also results in a nice volume boost for creating big fuzzy tones.
If you’re looking for a big muff that does 90s style rock, this is your box.
Featuring a germanium transistor design, this pedal couldn’t get any simpler, with the attack knob controlling how much fuzz your signal gets, and the volume controlling the overall volume of the effect. This pedal is somewhat limited in its sound, but if you’re looking for the fuzz sound of the mid to late 60s this is definitely going to get you there.
3. MXR Classic 108 Fuzz Mini (Best Premium Option)
The MXR M108 mini fuzz is a similar option to Dunlops Fuzz Face mini pedal for those who don’t want to have a face on their board.
Circuit-wise, it’s pretty much the same as the Fuzz Face Mini, though MXR describes it as a “mini version of their 108 Classic Fuzz“ (which, if you read the description, is a standard housed Fuzz Face…. so it’s the same?).
The Classic fuzz does feature a switchable buffer that is designed to help reduce some of the high-frequency suck that can happen when you combine the fuzz with a wah (which is a fantastic tone combination!).
While it sonically doesn’t really deviate from the tone of a Silicon Fuzz Face, the classic fuzz is a great option if you’re looking for smaller and more standard-sized housing.
While many fuzz pedals help add sustain to your guitar signal, the Conquistador does the opposite, in what’s known as a “gated” fuzz tone. This means that when you stop playing a note, the sound tends to spittle out and stop, much like if you were using a gate.
It’s definitely not a subtle effect, and it might not work as a catch-all fuzz pedal, but it’s still a great sounding pedal. If you’re looking for something that sounds like a swarm of bees or a giant strip of velcro being torn apart very quickly, this is your pedal.
The Ibanez 850 fuzz was originally conceived in the mid-70s as the 850 overdrive pedal (even though it wasn’t an overdrive at all!). This modern reissue is a faithful recreation of the original in a sleek and modern miniature package, great for today’s crowded pedalboards.
As for the sound, the 850 was loosely based on a Big Muff, but the biggest difference is the fact that it doesn’t have nearly as much of a mid-scoop, which creates a much more usable tone for a full band setting. This made the original a highly desirable and collectible pedal, so Ibanez reissued it so all of us normal players can still access the great tone.
The Octavia, as the name implies, is a fuzz that also adds an octave up to your signal, evoking the classic lead sound of Jimi Hendrix, while the F mode is a faithful Fuzz Face tone, and the M mode has more midrange bite.
If you’re looking for versatility and variety in your fuzz tone, this pedal has got you covered.
Dunlop later produced the pedal, which switched to more reliable silicon transistors from the original germanium design. Dunlop now has a mini-sized reissue of the pedal that still features the classic “face” shaped design.
One thing that sets the fuzz face apart from most other distortion boxes is it’s lack of tone control. The Fuzz Face was designed when guitarists mostly did their tonal variation with the volume and tone on the guitar itself, which still rings true for the modern reissue.
That’s not to say this pedal isn’t versatile, with the gain on the pedal and your guitar volume you can go from clean boost to nice overdrive all the way to vintage sputtering fuzz tone.
This pedal also features a few modern features compared to the original, such as an LED status indicator and a standard AC adapter jack.
If you’re looking for the best iteration of the classic fuzz tone from the 60s and 70s, the fuzz face will definitely get you there.
Fuzz Pedal Buyer Guide
How Do Fuzz Pedals Work?
Fuzz pedals operate in the same wheelhouse as overdrive and distortion pedals, in that they use transistors or op-amps to clip your guitar signal, creating distortion. However, while an overdrive pedal might just give your signal some light soft clipping, fuzz pedals almost always use much harder clipping for your signal.
This is done by using more, and more aggressive clipping stages within the pedal. Fuzz pedals are also known for having somewhat simpler overall designs than distortions and overdrives, since once you’ve hard clipped the signal there is only so much you can actually change about the tone.
That’s not to say that fuzz pedals aren’t useful or versatile, but just a common thread that most fuzz pedals feature 2-3 controls rather than the more expansive controls you’ll find on overdrives and distortions.
Fuzz pedals also don’t quite work as well with playing full chords, since the hard clipping makes all of the harmonic content of a full chord sound a little mushy and muddy. Generally, fuzz pedals work best with single chords or power chords, and usually, the tone of the pedal makes up for the simplicity of the notes you’re playing.
Germanium vs Silicon vs Op-Amp?
Germanium and silicon transistors are the most common type of transistors used in fuzz pedals, and they harken back to what was used in some of the earliest fuzz pedal designs.
Germanium transistors are generally used in vintage-styled pedals, and generally are somewhat lower in gain than their silicon counterparts. They also produce a more smooth fuzz sound. Some classic pedals that feature germanium transistors are the Fuzz Face and the Maestro Fuzz Tone.
Germanium transistors are also known for not being the most reliable transistors, with some vintage models actually burning up when used too much. These circuit issues have largely been fixed in modern guitar pedals, but it also explains the reason why most later pedals moved to silicon transistors, which were a more reliable and cheaper transistor.
Most late 60s and 70s fuzz pedal designs shifted to silicon designs, including designs that were originally made from germanium, like Dunlop’s 1970s Fuzz Face. One of the quintessential designs that incorporated silicon from the start was the Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi, whose design has influenced countless other fuzz pedals.
Silicon transistors also tend to give a much harsher and more aggressive fuzz tone, but their cost-effectiveness and overall reliability make them the most common choice for fuzz designs.
Op-amps, while less common than either germanium or silicon transistors in fuzz, are an even later design that is essentially multiple transistors combined into a single circuit. These circuits were much more clean sounding because the design of the op-amps optimized the gain that the transistors featured, which both allowed for more gain, but also smoother gain. Op-amps are much more common in overdrives than fuzz for this reason, but Electro Harmonix did use op-amps in their V4 Big Muff Pi from the late 70s.
All in all, the key here is that germanium transistors will provide a lower gain and a more vintage tone to silicon. Germanium pedals also tend to be more expensive due to the fact that germanium transistors are less common and more unreliable, so they require a little bit more circuit testing and design to build.
Robert Keeley (of Keeley Electronics pedals) does a great in-depth look at germanium vs silicon transistors here.