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Volume Max, Fuzz Max
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Volume Noon, Fuzz Noon
|Clips recorded with a Fano JM6 with P-90s through Silverface Fender Champ.|
Joe Bonamassa, who’s no stranger to the sources of sweet sounds, jumped on the Fuzz Face train in 1995 when—well aware of the pedal’s role in the sounds of the aforementioned masters—he stumbled upon a ’70s model that became an indispensible part of his arsenal. In the years since, Dunlop, who have made the Fuzz Face since the ’90s, worked with Bonamassa to create the ultimate Fuzz Face for his searing blues style and humbucker-centric approach. The end product—the handwired, germanium JBF3 reviewed here—is tailor-made for any guitarist interested in walking Bonamassa’s blues-rock path. But it can also expand the fuzz and distortion options of any rocker who’s interested in a singing, but aggressive and growling fuzz.
Gleaming Like a Newly Minted Penny
Players who have a soft spot for the elegant symmetry of the Fuzz Face’s cone shape will be stopped dead in their tracks by the Bonamassa edition. The gleaming copper shell will repel some purists and thrill more flash-fascinated fuzz freaks. Either way, it’s certain to be the shiniest pedal on your board—at least until it patinas in the fashion of Bonamassa’s much-travelled prototype. The blinding copper shine aside, there’s little to differentiate the Bonamassa signature fuzz from a stock model. There’s a knob for Fuzz, one for Volume, and an on/off footswitch—that’s it.
The real differences are inside. Any fuzz user who’s despaired at the claustrophobic guts of digital boxes and smaller analog units will be delighted by the JBF3’s interior. Like a vintage Fuzz Face, it’s as uncluttered as the engine compartment of a ’62 Chevy with a straight six. You can discern the route of every wire, and every component—including the array of transistors, capacitors, and resistors (laid out just like an Arbiter original) and the British-built Omeg potentiometers used for the Volume and Fuzz controls—is accessible and in plain sight. And in keeping with the period-correct construction and design, this is a strictly 9V battery-powered affair.
Barkin’ and Growlin’
If you’ve only experienced a contemporary Fuzz Face, the JBF3 will be a distinct sonic departure. It takes a little work to find the pedal’s sweet spots, and setting the controls to 12 o’clock and expecting aural bliss can leave you a little underwhelmed. I gave the JBF3 a run with a Fender Jaguar with Seymour Duncan Hot Jaguar pickups, a humbucker-equipped ’90s Les Paul Studio, and a 1986 E-Series Fender Stratocaster running through a silverface Fender Twin Reverb and Vibro Champ, and a Fender Bassman 4x10 reissue. And with each guitar/amp combination the high-noon settings on the JBF3 sounded less full and aggressive than what you’d expect from, say, similar settings on a Big Muff or a Rat.
But if the JBF3 does anything, it rewards the tinkerer—especially the knob twiddler unafraid of getting a little aggressive and dirty with their tone. That doesn’t mean the JBF3 won’t do damage or lend grit and girth to your sound at less wide-open settings. Setting the Fuzz to maximum and dialing the volume way back can give you a great strangled and stinging mid-’60s garage-punk fuzz—particularly when cranking a Les Paul through a little amp like the Vibro Champ. Even the Strat and Jag bridge pickups could be coaxed into a delightfully filthy David Hidalgo-inspired sax-like zone by using the same Volume and Fuzz settings, rolling off the pickup tone and kicking up the volume and bass on the Vibro Champ and Bassman.
More middle-level Fuzz Face settings gave me sweet growling fuzz that worked great with the Les Paul and the hotter single-coils on the Jaguar for chugging rhythm work. You’re still not into a sweetly singing lead zone at these levels on the JBF3, though playing through a higher-wattage amp like the Twin and adding some treble at the amp end of things will start to get you there.
The real payoff from the JBF3 comes when you’re willing to crank the sucker wide open. Bonamassa himself uses this pedal with the Volume and Fuzz set to maximum. David Gilmour got his gritty sustain in the early ’70s using similar settings on his vintage silicon Fuzz Faces. And it’s here that I found the JBF3 speaks with the fire its flashy shell suggests it’s capable of.
At a rehearsal with two guitars, a grinding Hammond-style organ, and drums, our other guitarist ran the Duncan-equipped Jaguar through the JBF3 and the Twin. Each time he kicked on this copper monster, the amp seemed to grow threefold in size and power. The Fuzz Face not only lent a ton of kick, it brought the Jaguar and Twin’s basically clear tones alive with a muscular grit and dimension. Sustain became available in whatever quantity and duration a phrase or passage required. And singing stacatto picking was replete with detail and a cool balance of note-to-note clarity that was surprisingly creamy for all the husk in the signal. It’s a unique and balanced tone for chords that, to my ears, was a welcome deviation from the super-smooth and sustained violin tones a lot of players look for in a cranked, vintage-flavored fuzz. It’s also an interesting convergence of tones that would be considered typical of both germanium and silicon Fuzz Faces of old. If you’re a Gilmour fan who can’t decide whether you’re feeling the germanium tastes of Ummagumma or the silicon shades of Dark Side on any given day, this Fuzz Face might be your ticket.
The JBF3 marks a welcome return of many of the qualities and quirks that made the original Fuzz Face a fave of the greats. It’s not as forgiving, smooth, or harmonically even as many boutique pedals that claim the Fuzz Face for inspiration. But to this reviewer’s ears at least, that’s where the magic of this particular Fuzz Face lies. Even the sweetest sounds lurking within the JBF3 are colored by a little grit that can grab you by the throat, cut through a mix, and snarl with attitude. It’s equally at home with hot humbuckers or single-coils, particularly if you’re willing to explore the potential of a guitar’s tone knob. Subtle it is not. But this Fuzz Face can certainly sing. And if you’re willing to stake out some tone turf on the rougher side of town, this pedal will pay your adventurism back handily.
the dirty-but-smooth flavors and occasionally chaotic nature of a vintage Fuzz Face float your boat.
super-smooth woman tone and harmonically uniform distortion is your cup of tea.
Street $199 - Jim Dunlop - jimdunlop.com