A fuzz pedal can create an epic sound for lead licks, thick rhythm sections and can be used creatively to get some intense sounds. In this review we look at contenders for the title of the best fuzz pedal out there. These pedals are some of the most well known pedals on the market as well as a few cheaper alternatives if you are just starting to play or need some budget conscious options.
Like we had mentioned in our review of the best overdrive pedals and distortion pedals, the fuzz pedal is classified as a “gain” pedal. However, this effect is very unique compared to the overdrive and distortion.
It is known for a thick signal cut and was originally heard in 1961 in Grady Martin’s song “Don’t Worry”. In Martin’s song a faulty pre-amp that cut the signal from his 6 string bass resulted in a distorted “dirty” sound. However, the effect didn’t truly catch on until 1965 when Keith Richards used a Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz Tone in their hit song “Satisfaction” to create the iconic tone in one of the Rolling Stones’ greatest songs.
After the Stones popularized the fuzz pedal the effect hit the market in a rush. Manufacturers started to create effects that had unique sounds and capabilities and sounded completely different from each other.
It forces the signal from the guitar to take on the pedal’s unique characteristics due to the pedal’s circuitry. Your guitar’s natural signal and tone is pretty much washed out by the circuitry in the pedal altering it and creating its own sound.
We won’t get too technical in this review but it is important to know about two different variations of transistors, germanium and silicon, so you need to figure out how to be able to pick the one most suited to your playing style.
Historically speaking the first pedals were manufactured using germanium transistors, which are known for being warm and round. After the electronics industry developed silicon, manufacturers started using it for transistors in fuzz pedals. Silicon is known for having a brighter and crisper tone. Each type of transistor has its ups and downs and finding the best one will really depend on what is best for you.
The fuzz face is a strong contender as it was used by one of the most iconic guitar player’s of all time, Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix is known for utilizing this effect and the sounds it can create better than anyone else, in my opinion. He had a very loose & stylistic way of playing that utilized the harmonic tones, crunchy signal clipping and overall boost that a fuzz pedal gives you.
The fuzz face has many different mods that you can buy off the shelf, and not have to worry about doing it yourself and potentially breaking your pedal. Although it is one of the best pedals to DIY mod since the design is relatively simple.
The tone on the germanium fuzz face is as you can imagine a bit warmer and round sounding than the silicon fuzz face, and personally I like the warm round sound a bit better so that is why I chose this version for the review. Plus the germanium was the first version of the effect.
All fuzz face modulations have the same basic design composed of a click button switch, a level
This pedal will require a bit of learning in order to get the hang of it as it requires some solid use of the guitar’s tone controls. Some of the best guitar players I have seen who use this pedal, crank it up to the max and control the pedal only using the guitar’s volume and tone knobs/switches.
When it comes to sustain however, the fuzz face doesn’t have as much as the Tone Bender or Big Muff even, however the tone extremely on par if not better. The fuzz face can also really clean up well when the volume knob is turned down, which is probably due to the lack of sustain.
The Tone Bender is truly a piece of history, and that is why it has to be on this list. It was one of the first pedals to hit the market and was/is used by some really famous and talented guitar players including Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin. With that being said it doesn’t come in cheap, this pedal is for the serious guitar player looking to perfect their tone.
It was the British answer to the American Gibson Maestro FZ-1 pedal, the first fuzz pedal to be manufactured. However, the FZ-1 is not in production currently as Gibson discontinued the final copy in 1990.
It is warm, but crunchy and full of personality. It naturally has a ton of sustain and really makes your licks scream. You can really hear the vintage sound that is re-created by this pedal. If you are looking for a classic fuzz tone with loads of sustain then you may want to strongly consider this pedal.
You can hear a full breakdown of the pedal here:
The Big Muff is probably the most popular from a consumer standpoint. It has also been around for a long time dating back to the late 60’s early 70’s. This pedal has been used by legends like Ernie Isley of the Isley Brothers and David Gilmore of Pink Floyd, and some say Jimi Hendrix may have bought one of these pedals before he died but there is no way to confirm.
You may have heard it being used by The Smashing Pumpkins & other 90's grunge rockers as well. It has a very distinct sound as a fuzz pedal that is hard to mistake as anything else.
One of the best parts of this pedal is that no matter if you have the tones & knobs set to the extremes or anywhere in the middle, you will be able to know it is a big muff pedal due to its thick fuzz & high amount of sustain.
Before we get down to business discussing the Big Muff Pi, it is important to mention that the Big Muff has many modern day variations that we may discuss in a future article. We will be focusing on the classic Big Muff Pi for this review.
The Big Muff Pi’s sound is known for having a crunchy high-end fuzz tone with a high amount of sustain to carry each note into a fuzzy abyss. The pedal has three control knobs for volume, tone and sustain so you can try and tame the sound to your liking.
Like we mentioned earlier the Big Muff is known for having loads of sustain, even when you back off the sustain knob completely it still carries the sound a long way. It is also fairly heavily geared towards the high end on the frequency spectrum so you can really cut through the mix if you are playing with a band.
The fuzz factory is a pedal that was designed more recently then the previous three and has some great tones that shine through. Due to its more recent design, it has a few more customization options then the previous three as well.
It has 5 control knobs on the face of the pedal plus a click button type switch. The knobs from left to right are as follows: volume, gate (noise gate), comp (built in compressor), drive and stab.
The volume controls the overall output volume. The gate controls a built in noise gate to help keep the pedals buzz under control. There is a built in compressor when dialed in can result in some pretty crazy synth like sounds. The drive knob obviously controls the amount of drive and finally the stab knob controls the stability of the fuzz.
Incredible for rock'n'roll, clearly. The one issue is that it's either on or off. There's no halfway point where there only a tad bit of drive, for maybe a few blues songs. Really mental pedal for nailing out some enormous riffs though! If coordinated with some nice delay it sounds great. You will learn to adore it. I kind of wish it had a MIDI out though. It is incredible to have the capacity to control the wavering or a pot by means of a lace controller or something but for now I would say it is a pretty solid pedal if you are looking for something a bit different!
All and all the tone on the fuzz factory can be altered quite a bit and is a very versatile effect. The fuzz is thick and punchy and due to the germanium transistors is warm as well.
The Velvet Fuzz is on this list because it is an effect that is not as intense as the others listed above but is still of great quality. The reason it is not as intense is because it doesn’t totally deconstruct the tone of the guitar, instead it lets it shine through the fuzz. Which can be a nice touch for some types of playing, like if you wanted the tone and sustain of a fuzz pedal over an overdrive or distortion pedal, but didn’t want it to over ride the sound of your guitar.
I can truly understand why they named this pedal the “velvet” fuzz pedal because the tone it does carry is smooth, warm and fuzzy. It has a decent amount of sustain as well for the type of tone that comes through.
It can be said with confidence that when it comes to fuzz pedals you get what you pay for since the internal circuitry is such a crucial element in creating the best sound. Do be warned that these pedals may sound a bit empty and in some cases can be tinny compared to their higher end counterparts. But, if you are just starting out playing the guitar and want to have some fun with the dynamics and thickness of fuzz, then a cheap one may be the way to go.
Behringer is the king of the budget conscious guitar pedal. You get a lot of bang for our buck with these pedals. The one major downside to Behringer pedals though is the cheap plastic casing that houses the electronics. They are not meant for a touring guitarist who may abuse the pedal because they will definitely break.
However, the tone is fairly thick for a cheaper option, which is nice to see. Also, the control options on this pedal are a real added bonus.
There are four control knobs on the face of the pedal: volume, treble, bass, and gain. Plus there is a switch on the left hand side of the pedal that offers 2 different fuzz options and a boost option, which is still pretty fuzzy.
The Donner fuzz is another signature cheap pedal. Donner offers many different pedal varieties that have essentially the same body style and amount of controls. I imagine this is an aspect of why they can manufacture these pedals so cheap and then pass the savings along to the consumer.
The Donner pedal is a smooth sounding fuzz pedal with a volume, tone and sustain knob to control the signal in the pedal. The construction of this pedal seems a bit more sturdy then the Behringer option but with less controls as well.
The Danelectro FAB Fuzz is definitely the sturdiest of the three cheap fuzz pedal options in this review. It has a pretty standard sounding fuzz tone and is a very good option for starting out.
Listen to the Danelectro Fuzz in action below: