FuzzHugger(fx) is a one-man operation based in Mansfield, Pennsylvania, that, true to name, has a freakish passion for all things fuzz. Head honcho Tom Dalton designs and wires all his creations, starting with a fuzzy foundation, adding a little oscillation here, sprinkling a bit of octave there, and then maybe some modulation for good measure to cook up a line of varied fuzz flavors. One of his wildest concoctions—the Phantom Arcade—captures all of the above in a single unit. Now the Phantom has a baby brother, the Pocket Arcade, which drops a footswitch and adds a few toggles to serve up much of the same bedlam on a smaller plate.
Twist Your Way to Chaos
The Pocket Arcade is housed in an unfinished, MXR-sized enclosure that can only take power from a 9V barrel adapter. On the face of the effect, you’ll find the three knobs and three switches situated atop an 8-bit-style graphic that exudes Nintendo charm. To select the Arcade’s individual modes, engage the toggle that corresponds to each function. Lo-glitch is the fuzzier of the two voice options, generating a lower octave with some ring modulation-like curve balls. The hi-ring toggle runs in the opposite direction: one octave up, with considerably less fuzz, and a hint of ring mod. With this switch engaged, you can tailor the high end of the output with the hi-score knob.
The level knob and turbo switch only work in lo-glitch mode. Once it’s on, you can use the center knob to adjust oscillation and curtail or increase the turbo treble. By turning on all three modes (lo-glitch, hi-ring, and turbo) you can access positively paint-peeling sounds—high and low octaves with fragmented fuzz and all sorts of beeps and boops.
You do sacrifice some functionality for the convenience of the smaller package. The toggles are obviously harder to use in performance than the footswitches on the Phantom. And in a performance, that can
Unleashing lo-, hi-, and turbo modes together is a blindfolded bronco ride.
Button Masher’s Delight
Starting in lo-glitch mode, I matched the Pocket Arcade up with a Stratocaster and a silverface Fender Bassman. Banging out a few chunky power chords yielded chaotic, Fuzzrite-style tones along the lines of Ron Asheton’s “I Wanna Be Your Dog” intro. The fuzz is bright but still heavy, with a touch of lower octave. Rolling off the guitar’s tone control will shave off some of the harshness, if you’re not a complete ’60s-fuzz devotee. Engaging the turbo switch in lo-glitch mode kills some of the singing sustain and introduces a dose of frazzled electronics. With the turbo knob around 10 o’clock, hard pick attack induces choppy oscillation that’s more pronounced amid higher-pitched tones. Turning turbo up to 3 o’clock increases sustain and adds a synth-like tone akin to the nasally burst of the Moog used on the White Stripes’ “Icky Thump.” An extreme setting like this mostly masks your guitar’s true voice, but you can more easily strike a balance if you use a single-coil-equipped instrument and stick to the B and high E strings. Using humbuckers or the second and fourth switch positions on a Stratocaster reduces the transparency even more, though both result in a little more sustain.
Driving the Pocket Arcade into an overdriven amp usually results in
accentuated modulation. You can also isolate the hi-ring mode for an
octave-up, Hendrix-esque Octavia-type effect. However, since the volume
output for hi-ring is fixed, there is limited use for a boosted lead
tone—it might be better suited to a nasty rhythm texture.
Unleashing lo-, hi-, and turbo modes together is a blindfolded bronco ride—practice is definitely required if you want to master a fuzz tone this hectic. Using either single-coils or humbuckers (Eastwood Alnico Hot-10s, in this case) yields an all-out fuzz battle, with stretched octaves, pitch modulations, and oscillating ghost notes. Blending two pickups usually produces a buzz-saw texture that sails over the notes, and pushing turbo past 1 o’clock generates white noise when you’re not playing. Extreme turbo settings can also introduce a lot of high-end spikiness, so be vigilant about dialing it back when you hear errant treble content.
Given how packed-out pedalboards are getting these days, it’s becoming increasingly important for stompbox manufacturers to give their offerings a lot of bang in a small footprint. Even so, it’s pretty tough to make space-saving pedals this quirky. The Pocket Arcade offers up a myriad of weird tones without giving up too much space. While it’s well suited to humbuckers, if you’re into really shaking up a tune, it’s more searing with a set of single-coils. The basic fuzz settings sound fantastic, provided you like things on the Tone Bender/Fuzzrite side of the spectrum. If you’re just into the most basic fuzz tones, 175 bucks may be a bit rich. But if you love the capacity to startle a listener, the shock potential that the Pocket Arcade serves up makes it worth every penny.