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April 29, 2022

Vance Powell experimenting with fuzz distortion pedal




There are some pretty unusual fuzz distortion pedals out there, as you’ll see in this excerpt from Start to Finish: Vance Powell - Episode 11 - Guitar Overdubs Part 1. In it, Izaac Short, guitarist for The Weird Sisters, is getting ready to overdub a double of a repeating and heavily distorted guitar riff from the song “Live and I Learn.”

Izaac used a Malekko B:Assmaster, a Harmonic Octave Analog Distortion pedal on the track he already recorded, which is essentially a fuzz distortion with an octave effect. But for the double, Vance wants him to try out some different pedals to find the best fuzz distortion box for this overdub. He tells Izaac that he’s got “a couple of things that are pretty cool.”

What the Fuzz?

Vance walks away briefly and returns with three fuzz distortion pedals. First, he has Izaac try out an original Ace Tone Fuzz Master. It’s a pedal that was first brought to market in the late ’60s by Ace Tone, a company started by Ikutaro Kakehashi, who later founded Roland. Often imitated by other pedal makers, the Fuzz Master features two distinct tones, one bright and the other more bass-heavy. Vance says he prefers the latter for this part.

First, Izaac tries out an original Ace Fuzz Master (highlighted).

Izaac continues riffing through the Fuzz Master but isn’t sold on it. He puts it aside and tries another of Vance’s fuzz distortion effects, the Gamechanger Audio Plasma pedal. The manufacturer describes this unique fuzz pedal’s distortion-creation method on its website:

The blue light visible on the pedal’s front panel is the actual electrical arc created by the audio input as it travels between two electrodes on either end of a specially designed xenon-filled gas discharge tube.
These continuous bursts of electricity are then instantly converted back to the analog audio level using a specialized analog rectifier circuit. The result is a rich and saturated distortion texture, with screeching sharp overtones, harmonics and sputtery bursts.

The Gamechanger Audio Plasma pedal features a unique fuzz-creation method.

After auditioning it, Izaac then turns to the Swarm pedal, which the pedal builder Beetronics describes like this:

It basically turns your input signal into a square wave, then multiplies and divides the frequency of that wave, giving you nine possible harmonies in two different octaves. Modulation is applied to the harmonies, making them go from a nearly perfect tracking harmony to a wild and uncontrollable swarm of mad bees.

Izaac tweaks the Swarm while playing, and both he and Vance agree they like it the best for this overdub. When listening to Izaac record the part, you hear it on the left and the original on the right. The two parts in stereo sound huge, and you instantly realize why Vance wanted him to double it.

The Beetronics Swarm pedal creates distortion with up to nine harmonies

The Choice is Yours

In the excerpt, we saw, or should we say, “heard,” just a few of the multitude of fuzz distortion boxes on the market. Virtually every major pedal manufacturer makes at least one model, if not several.

What distinguishes fuzz from distortion is the amount of harmonic content in the signal. Fuzz produces a lot of sustain and alters the tone pretty significantly. Distortion pedals also gives you sustain but tend to retain more of the original guitar and amp tone. When turned up high, fuzz effects also tend to soften the transients. You have to be a little careful that the guitar tone doesn’t lose its rhythmic edge.

Opposites Attract

Even if you don’t own a fuzz distortion pedal, you can get some pretty authentic fuzz sounds from plugins in your DAW. If you’ve got a guitar amp-and effects-modeling plugin, chances are it features a fuzz effect you can put in your signal chain.

If you’re working with DI guitar tracks, putting the modeler first in the signal chain makes sense because it’s creating the amp and cabinet emulations. If you were recording an amp with a mic or mics, would be its tone established already before passing through a fuzz plugin or any other effects.

In the following example, you’ll hear two DI-recorded guitar lines: A four-bar riff and a double. They are panned almost hard left and right.

On the left side, the DI signal is going through Muramasa Electrum for amp and cabinet modeling (the Blue amp with the Green cabinet) and a touch of spring reverb. It then goes through Logic Pro X’s Pedalboard plugin with the fuzz Machine effect selected. Finally, it passes through the Waves EV2 channel strip, where it’s getting a slight high-end boost at 8kHz and a high-pass filter roll off of low-end below 200Hz.

The signal chain for the DI guitar panned left in the first audio example.

The right side double goes through Logic Pro X’s Amp plugin with the Mini-Tweed amp and the 4x10 cabinet models selected. Next in the signal chain is a Waves GTR Stomp plugin fuzz effect. Finally, it also goes through an EV2 for low-end roll-off and a slight high-end boost. A hall reverb from Softube’s Tsar-1 plugin gets applied to both parts via an aux send.

Parallel Thinking

Because fuzz effects can reduce the impact of transients, sometimes it makes sense to use a parallel approach to fuzz, to better maintain the punch. In the following 8-bar example, you’ll hear a single part with the same fuzz settings as the right-side track in example one, but this time panned left to about 10:30. After four measures, an electronic double of the part comes in, panned to about 11:30. It’s got the same effects, but with the Sustain knob (which governs the intensity of the effect) on the Waves fuzz effect turned significantly lower.

The signal chain for the DI guitar in the second example with the higher fuzz setting.

The double in bars 5 through 8 has more substantial transients, which helps to beef up the overall sound. The idea for the slight variation in panning between the original and doubled parts is to make the combined guitar part sound a little wider.