The Fuzz Face Pedal: Germanium VS Silicon
To an untrained ear, the differences between germanium vs silicon fuzz may seem minute. However, the two kinds of transistors produce a really different tone from one another. Traditionally, fuzz pedals used germanium transistors. This is because silicon is a more recently found element. Germanium transistors have been described as more vintage sounding tone because of this.
The tone quality to a germanium transistor is warm and round with a vintage quality fuzz. But, don't take my word for it! Below is a quote from Robert Keely of Keely Electronics. Although they are one of Dunlop's competitors, he describes the sound of a germanium transistor really well.
Subjectively, the sound of Germanium offers a smoother, more ear pleasing distortion. Whether that’s technically due to greater capacitances, lower bandwidth (Germanium can’t handle those higher frequencies that can sometimes lead to harshness) as well as lower gain, can sometimes lead to more gratifying sounds. There’s another phenomenon called Miller capacitance, which is the capacitance between the pins and the internal structure of transistors or tubes— which leads to smoothing and roundness, attributes that sound better to us guitar players." - Robert Keely, Keely Electronics
It can be concluded the Germanium Fuzz face has a warmer and rounder feel and sound than the Silicon Fuzz Face. If you are going for a vintage sound and want something that is a bit warmer then definitely consider germanium as your go to transistor.
Germanium was the primary transistor for fuzz pedals until silicon came around. Not all germanium transistors are born equally. What I mean by this is that each germanium transistor sounds a bit different from the next. Germanium transistors can occasionally be faulty right from the factory as well, so it is important to make sure your fuzz pedal is tested. Fuzz Face pedals, for example, are all tested in the factory so you won't have much to worry about.
Silicon is a much more precise material when it comes to transistors and creates a much purer signal. Also, it is a better material for ensuring quality so you won't ever have to worry about it not working. It is also cheaper than germanium, which obviously helps out the pocket book.
In terms of sound quality, a pedal made with silicon transistors will sound much brighter and will have a bit more edge to it. Silicon Fuzz Face pedals typically have higher gain as well,
A Brief History Of The Fuzz Face Pedal
The Fuzz Face pedal is a classic fuzz pedal. If you have read our previous article, The Best Fuzz Pedal, then you may know it was first built in the mid-1960's at a time of revolutionary rock and roll. A period when artists, inventors, and engineers were working around the clock to develop new sounds and electronic abilities. The fuzz pedal, although a fairly simple development, blew the minds of many of the first people who heard it. It's dirty and distorted fuzz compiled with the warmness it produced led many artists to experiment and write with these new pedals.
One of the most influential guitarists who helped the fuzz pedal blow up in popularity was Jimi Hendrix. His use of the fuzz pedal and the harmonics that it is known for was one of the most creative uses at the time. Hendrix's fuzz pedal of choice was the Fuzz Face.
Throughout time, the fuzz face has been modded and developed to include different tonal elements. One of the most common mods is changing between silicon and germanium transistors. There are two main types of Fuzz Face pedals due to this fact, the germanium fuzz face and the silicon fuzz face.
Below we describe the differences between germanium and silicon fuzz face pedals so you can know what one may suit your style of playing better.