Fuzz is just as cherished today as it was when Keith Richards first stomped on a Fuzz-Tone all those decades ago. It was one of the first-ever effects to appear in pedal form, and, in 2021, you’ll still find brands both big and small releasing fuzz units every week. From clones of iconic pedals to nasty, speaker-ripping devices, there’s never been a better time for the fuzz faithful.
So if it’s fuzz you seek, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve compiled a list of 11 of the best fuzz pedals around in 2021 for any type of guitarist, whether you’re a beginner hoping to match Smashing Pumpkins’ fat octaves or someone with a penchant for Keiji Haino’s ear-splitting tones.
A field guide to fuzz: Octave Fuzz, Muffs and Fuzz Faces
If you’re new to the world of fuzz pedals, there’s a few terms you’ll see bandied about a lot in any discussion about the effect. So before we begin the list proper, let’s run through a quick refresher on the few you’ll see the most.
Octave fuzzes, contrary to effects like the Electro-Harmonix POG or the Digitech Whammy, don’t use any digital signal processing to add their octave effect. Instead, they take your guitar’s wave and use analogue circuitry to fold it in half, producing a signal with twice the frequency of the original. Along the way, a whole lot of overtones are added by the circuit, resulting in a thick, screaming and harmonically rich sound. On cleaner settings, octave fuzzes also take on the quacking character of a ring modulator.
- READ MORE: All About… Fuzz
For a good idea of how octave fuzz sounds, you’ll only need to listen to Purple Haze – or pretty much any Hendrix song. For a more modern example, Sunn O)))’s 2019 albums Life Metal and Pyroclasts use octave fuzz’s harmonic thickness to add a thick texture to their droning instrumental pieces.These sounds were the basis for the ultra-limited but ultra-cool Life Pedal, a Shin-Ei FY-2-inspired octave fuzz running into a ProCo Rat-inspired distortion.
Big Muff Fuzzes
The full history of the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff and its variations is for another time, but the pedal has been one of the pillars of the fuzz world ever since its introduction in the 1970s.
Less raspy and velcro-like than its contemporaries, the gain knob on Muffs is often labelled “Sustain” (if you see it on a fuzz box, chances are it’s a Muff-style clone), and that’s exactly what it offered. While some fuzz pedals accentuate the attack of your pick, Muffalikes can do almost the exact opposite thanks to their warmly-voiced tone stack. Combine this with the dollops of sustain introduced by the gain stage, it’s no wonder the sound of a Big Muff is described as “violin-like”.
One of the most notable aspects of the Big Muff is the sheer number of variations – you’ll see fuzz enthusiasts discussing Pi, Triangle, Ram’s Head, Russian, and Op Amp Big Muffs most commonly, especially as a basis for modified clones. Picking an entry point to ‘the Big Muff sound’ is, therefore, a little tricky. Variations on the Big Muff have found favour with everyone from Billy Corgan to David Gilmour.
They’re not for everyone, however – some players fall out with their scooped midrange, although this is more pronounced in some variations than it is in others. Some Muff-style fuzzes explicitly set out to solve this issue, too.
The Fuzz Face-type circuit is another closely associated with Hendrix, and it’s as dynamic and wild as his playing style.
Despite a relatively simple design, it’s hard to attribute one particular sound to the Fuzz Face-style of pedal for a number of reasons. Early models used germanium transistors; later on, that changed to silicon. The simple circuit means that drift in component values, or just differences within tolerances, are accentuated. And most importantly of all, their relatively transparent nature allows the character of the player to shine through. Alongside Hendrix, notable Fuzz Face users include George Harrison, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Duane Allman.
The most definable quirk of this fuzz is what happens when you lower your guitar’s volume. Thanks to what is presumably dark magic operating on the input stage (in other words: a low input impedance), a lower guitar volume will lead to a glassy clean tone, with dynamic picking and lots of chord definition. Whack things up to 10, and you’re back to the psychedelic rock races.
A notable downside of this sensitive input stage is that placing it after other pedals can be problematic. Some would argue that you don’t need any other pedals, but maybe just put it first in the chain if you plan on stacking.
The best fuzz pedals to buy in 2021 at a glance
- Benson Germanium Fuzz
- JHS Legends Of Fuzz Bender
- Greuter Audio Moonlight
- Phil Robinson Advanced Circuitry Silicon Phuzz
- Lateral Phonics Deadman Fuzz
- Echoline Silicon Hi-Gain Fuzz
- Warm Audio Foxy Tone Box
- Danelectro 3699 Fuzz
- Beetronics Vezzpa
- Death By Audio Fuzz War
- Electro-Harmonix Op-Amp Big Muff Pi
Benson Germanium Fuzz
+ Fantastic fuzz sounds
+ Germanium fuzz that’s finally stable
Germanium fuzzes are great. Their temperature-sensitivity, not so much. And that’s exactly what Benson Amps set out to address with this innovative little box: the Germanium Fuzz automatically corrects for temperatures between freezing and 100˚F (37˚C), providing a stable sound whatever the weather.
As a bonus, the notoriously sensitive input stage of a germanium fuzz has been tempered with an Impedance knob. This allows you to adjust the pedal’s expectations as to what its input will receive, be that a guitar pickup or another pedal’s buffer. A sparkly clean tone can still be achieved when rolling off the volume no matter where you place this pedal, but of course at high fuzz settings things can get nice and nasty, even adding in some octave overtones at maximum.
Description: Germanium fuzz pedal with temperature-controlled automatic biasing
Controls: Volume, Fuzz and Impedance knobs
Bypass: True bypass
JHS Legends Of Fuzz Bender
+ Classic Tone Bender sounds
– Enclosure is potentially inconvenient
There’s already been a fair share of fuzz history in this guide, but safe to say that this pedal from JHS pays tribute to a hugely important part of the story: the Tone Bender, first developed at Macari’s on the legendary Denmark Street in London.
It’s based on the Mark III Tone Bender, with silicon transistors recreating every bit of grainy old-school bite. The Attack control takes the place of a gain/fuzz knob, and lets you dial in everything from soaring leads to crunchy overdrive. The Bender’s tone knob is less concerned with treble content and more with colouring the upper midrange, while the overall EQ characteristics of the pedal resemble a slightly thicker-sounding Fuzz Face.
Description: Fuzz pedal paying tribute to the Mk III Tone Bender
Controls: Volume, Tone, Attack (fuzz)
Bypass: True bypass
Greuter Audio Moonlight
+ Vintage tones with modern conveniences
+ Extra input and bias controls
– Not for those who need super high-gain fuzz tones
The Moonlight is aimed at modernising the germanium Fuzz Face archetype, with Input and Bias controls joining the comfortably large knobs for fuzz and output. Notably, the Input control can both reduce the volume of the signal hitting the fuzz as well as increase it – so if you want the articulate sound of PAFs hitting an old-school Fuzz Face, but all of your guitars are loaded with high-output pickups, just roll the input stage back to reintroduce some clarity.
Retaining that signature response and with a crunchy, occasionally overdrive-like sound, the Moonlight might not work for extreme sludge. But as a modern update to the classic format of a Fuzz Face, it comes highly recommended.
Price: £220/€270 Description: Germanium fuzz pedal with matched Russian transistors Controls: Input, fuzz, output, bias knobs. 3-way bass cut mini-toggle switch Bypass: True bypass
Phil Robinson Advanced Circuitry Silicon Phuzz
+ Vintage tones with modern conveniences
+ Exceptional Fuzz Face sounds
– No extra added controls like some modern takes on the style
Phil Robinson knows a thing or two about tone, and his modern update of the Fuzz Face shouldn’t be ignored by the discerning fuzz fan. It’s a love letter to the fuzz tones of David Gilmour – as well as the size of his pedalboards.
Importantly, the Phuzz comes with a unique output stage that isolates it from any active electronics that follow it, allowing it unfettered access to an amplifier even on a larger ’board. Another modern update is the level of the output, which is higher than vintage units, meaning that it’s able to push amps just that bit harder.
Description: Handwired silicon fuzz pedal, made in the UK
Controls: Volume, Phuzz
Bypass: True bypass
Lateral Phonics Deadman Fuzz
+ Adds clarity to a muddy circuit
+ Lots of punch and aggression
– Textless design might frustrate some
The Deadman is a deliberate reworking of a Muff-style circuit that hopes to clear things up while still providing the anger and bite that some crave from the effect. Famously, high-gain Muffalikes are no friends of chord definition, but that’s not the case here thanks to the hybrid silicon/germanium design and low-cut control. It’s got a healthy amount of midrange, but also a healthy amount of volume, meaning ‘Fuzzstortion’ tones are easily coaxed out of the pedal, especially with an overdriven amplifier.
Price: $250/€195 Description: Handwired silicon/germanium fuzz pedal, made in Russia Controls: Volume, fuzz, low cut Bypass: True bypass
Echoline Silicon Hi-Gain Fuzz
+ Wide range of sounds despite the name
– Volume-knob cleanup is a little muddy
With a sound as straightforward as its name, this pedal has no shortage of distortion tones. But avoiding your tone’s accidental arrival in Mush City, Echoline has tailored the tone control to tame overzealous high-end while leaving midrange clarity intact.
In terms of actual fuzz character, it resembles a boosted silicon Fuzz Face that’s perhaps been hanging around a lot of Big Muffs lately and is starting to get some ideas. Cleanup with the volume knob doesn’t give the signature Fuzz Face Glass, but low gain settings on the pedal itself do give you some interesting crunchy and dynamic sounds.
Price: $181/£129 Description: High-gain silicon fuzz, made in the UK Controls: Volume, tone, gain Bypass: True bypass
Warm Audio Foxy Tone Box
+ Much cheaper than an original Foxx Tone Machine
+ Reissue goes the extra mile with the looks
– Idiosyncratic control layout makes it pedalboard-unfriendly
Following Warm Audio’s search for a stash of the correct NOS Fairchild transistors used in the original, the velvet-covered oddity that was the FoxxTone Machine is back from the beyond.
Featuring a switchable octave effect, the Foxy Tone Box’s core voice is as thick and wild as the original; engaging that octave adds some extra harmonic oddness to the mix. While the core approach is wild and psychedelic, the controls have enough range for a number of applications.
Its design is very faithful indeed to the original Foxx Tone Machine, but how much that’s a selling point depends on your personal taste. Just don’t spill any beer on it.
Price: $149/£155 Description: Octave fuzz pedal that takes after the Foxx Tone Machine Controls: Volume, sustain, octave on/off switch, tone Bypass: True bypass
Danelectro 3699 fUZZ
+ Pedalboard-friendly update of a classic fuzz
+ Wild, exciting tonal palette
– Might be too wild for some
Speaking of the Foxx Tone Machine, the 3699 fUZZ comes from Danelectro, whose president Steve Ridinger got his start in the 1970s making that very iconic pedal. So while this reissue might not bear the lovely absorbent velvet of the original, sonically, it’s pretty damn close, with all the unhinged madness that separates it from a run-of-the-mill Fuzz Face.
Modern appointments include a dedicated footswitch for the octave switch, top-mounted jacks (admittedly, the original also had these, but it was pedalboard-unfriendly for other reasons), a mid-boost mini-toggle, and controls mounted on the face of the pedal rather than on its side.
Price: $199/£159 Description: Octave fuzz that takes after the Foxx Tone Machine Controls: Volume, fuzz, tone knobs, stock/mid boost mini-toggle, on/off and octave footswitches Bypass: True bypass
+ Two unique fuzz voices, both perfect for experimentation
+ Utterly gorgeous design
– Double-tapping on the footswitch to change modes takes some getting used to
It’s tiny and angry, just like its namesake (“vespa” is Italian for “wasp”) but with a few surprising layers of complexity. Inside the pedal are two modes, both as insane as each other. Fuzzzz delivers a thick, raspy velcro sound, while the other mode, Stinger, is a harmonically-rich octave fuzz. Either way, they are primed for tones that worship at the altar of St Vincent and Jack White.
Aesthetics, of course, aren’t everything. But Beetronics’ ‘whole package’ approach is hard to ignore, elevating a quirky design choice to a full-on obsession with insects. The PCBee is even adorned with a huge black and yellow wasp, so you know it means business. Sorry, beesness.
Price: $199/£215 Description: Dual-voice op-amp fuzz with digital switching Controls: Fuzzzz sustain and Stinger high-octave knobs, Smart momentary footswitch Bypass: True bypass
Death By Audio Fuzz War
+ Perfect for when you need all-encompassing sonic chaos
+ Wide-ranging controls
– Not for fans of more restrained, vintage fuzz tones
When you call your pedal Fuzz War, you’re letting people know that you’re not messing around. And as soon as you plug in Death By Audio’s creation, it takes no prisoners. There’s no space for subtlety and nuance in this three-knob box of dirt – what you get is a bludgeoning onslaught of glorious noise.
It’s still a versatile beast, however. Every minor tweak of the knobs jolts you into a new world of aural aggression. Sure, it’s not the most polite pedal around, but if you’ve suffered enough vintage, low-gain fuzzes and just want to blast some air about, the Fuzz War will win any battles you throw at it.
Price: $180/£179 Description: Thick-voiced high-gain fuzz pedal, made in USA Controls: Volume, Fuzz, Tone Bypass: True bypass
Electro-Harmonix Op-Amp Big Muff Pi
+ Perfect for 90s alt-rock sounds (Billy Corgan-approved!)
+ Extremely affordable
– Its aggressive, biting tone might not please transistor Muff purists
The original 1970s EHX Op-Amp Big Muff has long been revered by fans of grunge and alternative rock for its uniquely aggressive and biting fuzz style compared to transistor-based Muffs – as used famously and devastatingly by Billy Corgan on some of the Smashing Pumpkins’ biggest hits.
Now, however, EHX has revived the pedal in compact form, and it even enlisted Mr Corgan to ensure that this new model delivers all those classic 90s alt-rock sounds – and a whole lot more besides.
If you’re not a fan of the Op-Amp style, EHX has also recently reissued the Ram’s head, Triangle and Russian Big Muffs.
Price: $86/£69 Description: Op-amp-based Big Muff fuzz pedal Controls: Volume, sustain, tone, Op-Amp selector mini toggle switch Bypass: True bypass