Early Fuzz Faces, like the Dallas-Arbiter version favored by Hendrix, featured germanium transistors—though later designs also featured the more ragged-sounding silicon transistor. Photo by Starman1984


Analog dry-through: A feature found on some digital effects that lets you mix unprocessed analog signal with the processed digital signal in an effort to preserve more of the character of the guitar’s uneffected tone.

Bucket-brigade device (BBD): A type of analog circuit developed in the late 1960s that uses a series of identical capacitors to store and then pass along your guitar signal to create a delay or echo effect. (The name derives from the fact that it’s the electronic equivalent of a bunch of imaginary firemen passing buckets of water to reach the flames.) After being virtually replaced by digital delay processors in the 1980s, bucket-brigade devices have made a huge comeback in recent years with players who prize them for a sound they often describe as being “warmer” than digitally derived echo. Modern BBD circuits also allow for much longer delay times than their ancestors.

Buffered vs. true-bypass: Buffers are circuits that isolate one part of the signal from another to prevent audio degradation. You’ll find them in stompboxes and in the effects loops on many amps, and their mission is to prevent effects from loading down your signal and sapping your sound of high-end presence and clarity. When an effect is turned off, the buffer remains on to prevent the bypassed unit from sucking your tone down the drain. However, this means that the effect is always in your signal path.

Conversely, true-bypass refers to a circuit in which, when the effect is off, it is completely switched out of the signal path with a passive mechanical switch. The advantage is that your guitar is no longer going through the stompbox’s processing circuitry in any way, which in theory should sound more natural. However, if you have a crowded pedalboard there can be disadvantages here too, because your guitar will pass through more treble-sapping cabling without having anything to help boost it along its way. Outboard loop switchers can help alleviate this problem, as can outboard buffer pedals or line drivers. If you use only one or two stompboxes and keep your patch cables short, signal degradation won’t be much of a problem with true-bypass pedals.

The advantage (of true-bypass) is that your guitar is no longer going through the stompbox’s processing circuitry in any way, which in theory should sound more natural.

Digital control with analog signal is a feature where software operates analog hardware. The advantage is that the signal path remains in the analog domain, while letting you program the controls and store presets as you would on a digital device.

Digital vs. analog: Analog audio devices—which can use tubes, solid-state integrated-circuit (IC) chips, or both—act directly on the signal voltage generated by your instrument.

Digital devices are essentially little audio computers, so they must convert your analog guitar signal into binary digital code (known as analog-to-digital conversion) before they can process it. They must then convert the processed signal back to the analog domain (digital-to-analog conversion).

Once in the digital domain, the sound is broken up into small data packets called samples, and in general, the more samples per second (a specification called sample rate) and the larger the sample packet (bit depth), the better the sound fidelity. You can usually find this information in a digital device’s spec listing.

Germanium vs. silicon fuzz: The element germanium was the standard for audio transistors when the first pedal effects appeared in the 1960s. But in an effort to build more consistent and stable devices, designers eventually switched to silicon. Which is better? If you want that round yet gnarly sound that Jimi Hendrix got with his early Fuzz Face pedals, then a germanium fuzz is likely your ticket. That said, many later Fuzz Faces (and other fuzz stomps) used silicon transistors, which tend to yield more overall gain and a brighter, more cutting sound.