One welcome development of the stompbox’s new golden age is that some pedal designers are looking beyond guitar effect conventions, probing music’s outer limits to imagine new ways to twist sound. One interesting subset of the freak pedal cabal is the designers who can get weird while delivering on the fundamentals. The Spacemen Sputnik embodies this ideal.
The Sputnik is one the most satisfying and sonically striking germanium fuzzes I’ve heard in a while—growling, mean, harmonically complex, and screaming-hot. It’s also one of the more perverse, capable of metamorphosing from an strutting fuzz panther to a twitching mutant insect at the flick of switch. Between those extremes lies a goldmine of fuzz sounds that will engage knob tweakers, studio tone voyagers, and fuzz surgeons for months.
The Russian Program
The innards of the Sputnik, like those of every Spaceman pedal we've seen, are a feast for circuit board fetishists. Components are incredibly well ordered, immaculately assembled, and covered in cool little details like stars, Sputnik satellite representations, Roman numeral dating, and Cyrillic inscriptions. Outside, the Sputnik uses the ’60s aerospace design motifs and construction standards seen elsewhere in the Spaceman line. These not only look cool, but also provide useful level markers, smooth knobs, and rugged switches.
The cryptic function names sound like they’re from a Cold War sonar unit: “signal” for volume, “range” for gain, “calibrate” for tone. And that just sets you up for the chaos that ensues when using the “drift/sync,” “filter,” and “scan” controls.
Retro Rocket, Ripping Tones
The Sputnik is both boss and bizarre. As long you keep your hands off that sync/drift switch, it’s easy to summon colorful and wide-ranging tones. The fuzz sounds are harmonically opulent, even silky at times. But they can also grind, with a vocal-like presence in the upper mids and highs. It’s a hot, loud fuzz, yet not too dirty or “gainy.” With signal (volume) at two o’clock, the level can match that of most loud fuzzes. Beyond that, the Sputnik exhibits almost amp-like characteristics, becoming more compressed rather than louder. Still, if you can’t cut through your band’s mix with this thing, you’re gonna need a bigger amp.
The Sputnik isn’t the filthiest fuzz you’ve ever heard. Rather than hornet-buzz assault, high-gain settings reveal a smooth, complex, organic fuzz voice that doesn’t obscure your guitar’s sonic signature.
As on most good germanium fuzzes, reducing guitar volume transforms fuzz into overdrive. The Sputnik is exemplary in this respect, delivering bright, hot, and highly defined OD tones that can kick an amp’s butt without generating excessive dirt. It can lend a 6V6 amp a Marshall- or Vox-like bite and presence, and it’s great for conjuring the melodically aggressive spirits of Pete Townshend, Paul Weller, or Dave Davies. In fact, rolling back the Sputnik’s range control to zero, cranking the signal, and lowering the volume on a Stratocaster induced some the most sweetly overdriven kerrrang I’ve ever heard from my blackface Tremolux. Chords are super-detailed, especially with the wonderfully flexible calibrate (tone) control in its middle ranges. Jangly arpeggios sound lively and dynamic. And a nudge of the volume pot takes you from high-octane R.E.M/Petty/Smiths jangle to a scorching, sustaining Led Zeppelin I lead tone.
While the Sputnik is sonorous and dynamic in straight fuzz mode, drift mode renders the pedal positively insane and erratic. The drift switch gates the fuzz output, but is highly interactive with the calibrate and scan controls. Rolling the scan knob all the way right and twisting the calibrate control into the treble reaches generates a shrill, brain-mangling screech beneath clipped fuzz tones. But as you back off on both controls, you find fascinating sweet spots.
At lower scan settings, you can use the calibrate knob to dial in cool, feedback-generating frequency peaks that make your output alternatingly sputter and sustain. Both controls near noon generate a glitchy yet relatively controlled lead tone somewhere between a vintage Atari console and Neil Young’s most mangled Deluxe tones. These sounds can be tricky for the uninitiated—adding an odd interval can turn a singing single-note lead into a tangle of scrap. A sweet setting for your Les Paul might sound like garbage with your Strat. But once located, the sweet spots can transform a plain Jane riff or lend drama and texture to an extended solo.
The filter function cuts lows and low-mids, expanding the capability of both straight fuzz mode and drift mode and providing a base from which you can sculpt focused, narrow-bandwidth filter tones or octave-like fuzz textures.
Resourceful players comfortable with riding the guitar’s volume knob could easily use the Sputnik to cover all their boost, OD, and fuzz needs, as well as their demented experimental urges. That versatility makes the heavy-duty price of $320 more palatable—as do the above-and-beyond build quality and overall attention to detail. This is a fuzz you can use constantly. It sounds great with just about any guitar, and can suit almost any musical mood, be it civilized or unhinged.