What is that warm sense of bliss and reassurance that overcomes us when we see a one-knob stompbox? It’s almost primal. Perhaps in this age of overflowing pedalboards and stompboxes with a thousand knobs and blinking LEDS, a one-knob fuzz whispers to our cluttered subconscious: “Be calm, my child—this time, you don’t have to think.”
And with Stomp Under Foot’s Sonic Warfare, you don’t have to think—not much anyway. It’s a silicon fuzz with a Fuzz Face pedigree. And while that single knob might instinctively seem limiting, it’s a meaty, many-hued fuzz that’s highly responsive to guitar volume changes and picking dynamics, providing a spectrum of sonic color.
Mod Roots, Siliconized and Simplified
The Sonic Warfare is closely related to the ’90s Colorsound Fuzz Box, which was derived from the Jennings Fuzz of the late ’60s, which was a simplified cousin of the Fuzz Face, Tone Bender “MK 1.5,” and Vox Distortion Booster.
To say the Sonic Warfare is rooted in a proven circuit is an understatement. When you look inside, you understand the appeal for builders and players alike. It’s elegantly simple, with just two BC109 transistors and a thimbleful of capacitors and resistors, all on a board about the size of postage stamp. There’s not a lot to screw up, nor a lot of tone-robbing circuitry. Like every Stomp Under Foot pedal we’ve seen, it’s a neat, professionally executed circuit.
Dumb It Down, Turn It Up
Basically, the Sonic Warfare is a fuzz with the volume fixed at maximum with a variable fuzz control. As such, unity gain occurs far down the single knob’s range. It’s a somewhat counterintuitive arrangement at first—but with so few other distractions, we trust you’ll get the hang of it.
One knob might suggest that there are few sounds to extract from the Sonic Warfare, but that’s not the case if you’re willing to work with your guitar’s volume and tone knobs—the pedal is highly sensitive to such adjustments. And even if you can’t get the near-clean tones you might source from a germanium variation of the circuit, guitar-setting changes profoundly reshape your results.
High fuzz knob settings add a touch of high-mid sizzle and compression. Like Stomp Under Foot’s Fuzz Face-inspired Hellephant, it’s on the higher-gain side of the Fuzz Face spectrum, which means less dynamic wiggle room. With large amps that have less natural compression, pedal-to-the-metal settings can be just a hair crispy, especially with single-coil pickups. But a little guitar volume attenuation gives the wide-open Sonic Warfare a slightly woolier and more controlled personality that’s a great fit for chords and lyrical lead lines. With small tube amps, the sizzle and compression are a better fit. Led Zeppelin I fans take note: This pedal and a 15-watt amp are an explosive combination. (Yeah, it’s not the fuzz circuit Pagey used, but it yields similarly powerful results.)
At lower gain levels the reduced compression makes high-midrange and top-end harmonics sing (a beautiful combo with single-coils). Variations from volume attenuation are more subtle at these relatively subdued fuzz levels. Lower guitar volume makes the output less splatty and more dynamic (though again, you can’t quite reach the near-clean tones you’d get from a germanium Fuzz Face at similar levels). With both guitar volume and fuzz amount lowered, chords are airy yet punchy and harmonically detailed. It’s an ideal voice for overdubbing rhythm parts without reducing your mix to a muddy mess.
The Sonic Warfare is a beautifully uncomplicated affair. Turn the single knob all the way up, and it sounds glorious—a rowdy but slightly civilized fuzz amalgam of harmonics, light, air, and punky attitude. But there are also lovely—and even more civilized—fuzz and overdrive shades within the range of the minimal control set. It’s hard to not wonder how much more dynamic range we might hear from a germanium version of this circuit, especially given how much nuance Matt from Stomp Under Foot has extracted from this silicon version. Then again, a softer, more nuanced Sonic Warfare might mean less of the savage punk grind that makes the Sonic Warfare such a delightfully uncomplicated adrenaline rush.
Watch the Review Demo: