It’s not for nothing that there are so many Fuzz Face-inspired stompboxes on this Earth. Obviously, certain guitar legends made the Fuzz Face a cornerstone of their sound. But star associations aside, the Fuzz Face is a near-perfect stompbox. It’s simple, musical, responsive, and—from a pedal-builder’s perspective—a marvelous blank slate for tinkering and experimentation.
Stomp Under Foot’s Matt Pasquerella knows a thing or two about tweaking classics. His many variations on the Big Muff circuit are renowned among that pedal’s sizable cult. But his take on the silicon Fuzz Face, the Hellephant, suggests he also has the ears (and feel) for what makes a Fuzz Face sound great too. And in my time with the Hellephant, I found it to be a surprisingly expansive-sounding fuzz: as dynamic and singing as a good Fuzz Face, with a touch of extra aggression and range that make it exceptionally flexible.
Like any Fuzz Face-inspired pedal worth a hill of beans, the Hellephant is dead simple—just a volume knob and a fuzz control. There’s not much more to see if you crack open the back cover, either. The whole of the clean and ordered circuit is wired on a board not much bigger than a couple of postage stamps, and you can clearly see the spindly, NOS metal-can 2N222A transistors at the heart of the works. About the only component on the board that would look out of place in a vintage Fuzz Face is the voltage bias trim pot, which you can use to shape the gain and voice of the pedal.
Sweet, Singing Pachyderm Circus
If there’s any complaint that players commonly level against the Fuzz Face, it’s that, while it’s very responsive to changes in guitar volume, there’s often not a lot of range in the pedal’s control themselves. In fact, many vintage Fuzz Face players keep both controls at or near maximum and let their guitar volume do the rest of the work. The Hellephant, however, breaks from that mold to a significant degree—offering much more control without sacrificing any sensitivity to guitar volume or tone attenuation.
Because the Hellephant is hotter on the top end than your average Fuzz Face-style pedal, you get the most room to roam when the volume is in the lower half of its range. With the fuzz all the way up, unity gain comes with the volume knob at around 9 o’clock. This proved one of my favorite settings—and one of the best for exploring the way the pedal interacts with your guitar’s controls. At this level, just a little volume attenuation makes first-position and power chords sound dazzlingly charged and articulate, with just a touch of very tasty, organic compression. (The chord arpeggios from the Beatles’ “Rain” sounded especially radiant and powerful using this approach.) The same guitar and pedal settings lend extra breadth, presence, and sustain to lead tones without adding a lot of distortion, and neck pickups in particular take on a smoky but civilized singing quality that’s perfect for languid blues phrases.
Even at low pedal volume, maxing the fuzz and opening up the guitar generates the kind of vocal-sounding, super-responsive fuzz tones that everyone from Hendrix and Floyd devotees to modern stoner-rock players savor. Bridge-pickup sounds are screaming without being harsh, while neck pickups bellow with tones that are simultaneously fat and harmonically complex.
Setting the Hellephant’s controls around noon yields yet another spectrum of fuzz colors. Power chords take on a grinding, growling sonority, while lead tones both sting and sing. And if you set the fuzz to about 3 o’clock, the Hellephant generates the buzzing, circa-’66 fuzz that garage-psych lunatics dream of.
The Hellephant’s high-gain orientation does emphasize some silicon brashness at near-maximum volume and fuzz settings—especially with single-coils. And you will hear a little scratchiness in the break up when the guitar volume and tone are maxed, too. Thankfully, it takes just a tiny attenuation from each to smooth things out. And in the event that you find the Hellephant just a little too excitable in general, the internal voltage-bias trimpot enables fine tuning that can better match the pedal to your guitar or amp. The bias pot is surprisingly sensitive and effective, so you’ll want to experiment in small increments. This hidden feature is one of the Hellephant’s real assets—it’s key to its multihued versatility.
The flexibility of a Fuzz Face-style pedal is always a revelation to the uninitiated, who may equate knob count with tone options. The Hellephant takes that flexibility a satisfying step further with a circuit that’s as responsive to its own knobs as it is to your guitar’s. The extra available gain can sometimes sound a little harsh if controls are all wide open. But there is so much range in the volume and fuzz controls that many players will find little need to explore these extremes. The Hellephant’s low-gain overdrive sounds are superb for chords and leads, but it will just as happily buzz like an acid-addled bee, grind out rich, Stooges-worthy power chords, or sing like a classic Hendrix or Gilmour lead. It’s also very reasonably priced for a fuzz that’s well made and offers sonic potential beyond a simple Fuzz Face clone.
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