Clips recorded with a Fender Telecaster Deluxe and Fender Bassman.
Over the course of my fun and deeply satisfying sessions with Bigfoot’s King Fuzz XL, I paired it with a lot of other fuzz pedals. But it wasn’t because the XL needed re-enforcement. Far from it. The King Fuzz XL is a fuzz/overdrive/distortion combo that left me wondering if I needed anything besides this one pedal for loud, gnarly tones.
Something elusive in the XL’s unique voice compelled me to find a sonic equivalent, and it wasn’t easy. Because while the Big Foot hints at a lot of classic fuzz voices, it manages to be quite different from all of them, thanks to wide-screen harmonic complexity and airiness that seems to channel everything from Big Muff to Tone Bender to Fuzz War. Oh yeah. It also features a sweet and very-versatile Marshall-inspired overdrive/distortion channel that you might never switch off.
Old-World Fuzz Craft
The guts of the King Fuzz XL are refreshingly old-school. They’re also surprisingly economical given that the circuit is home to two very rich-sounding effects. (I counted 21 components on the board itself, including the three BC109Cs transistors that power the fuzz). The entire through-hole circuit board measures about 2½" x 1½", and almost floats within the enclosure, suspended by connecting wires. Given how securely some circuit boards are affixed these days, you might find this approach suspect. In fact, the circuit board couldn’t be better insulated from jostling. It’s protected on one side by a soft insulating tape, and all vital transistors and capacitors sit safely and well away from the switchwork and the enclosure cover. And if you give the pedal a good knock with your palm, the circuit board barely moves—save for a little useful structural elasticity provided by the wires.
All pots, switches, and jacks are mounted independently in the enclosure, which means that in the unlikely event of failure, each can be replaced with ease without disrupting the works elsewhere in the pedal. On the whole it’s an almost crudely elegant design that inspires the confidence you get looking at a Dodge Slant 6 or a small-block V8 under the hood of a ’60s Ford. You know where everything is, how it works, and can get to parts easily to fix them in a pinch.
The King Fuzz XL’s control set is conspicuously without tone controls. Such a layout is not uncommon on vintage fuzzes. It’s less common on overdrives. But as we’ll find out, Bigfoot’s brilliant knack for voicing a circuit means you don’t miss the extra control much.
Several Shades of Filth
Though the King Fuzz circuit gets top billing in the XL, the overdrive section comes from Bigfoot’s own Thunder Pup circuit, which is a lovely—and powerful—slice of Marshall-in-a-box on its own. On the full-sized, full-featured Thunder Pup, you can switch between a higher-gain Marshall voice or lower gain Bluesbreaker-inspired sounds. On the King Fuzz XL, you only get the higher-gain side of the Thunder Pup. But that doesn’t mean the overdrive is inflexible. On the contrary. It’s deliciously wide ranging—running from near-clean boost and very-low-gain overdrive shades that strike a rare balance between transparency and high-mid coloration, to organically crunchy and clear sounds at higher gain settings. Dynamic responsiveness to guitar volume attenuation is impressive. The pedal’s own volume range is expansive, too, and you can set up the Pup side for a very mild gain bump or a slap-upside-the-head, multi-decibel leap. Indeed, the King Fuzz may be the XL’s focus of attention, but the overdrive is no mere wallflower or afterthought.
The King Fuzz circuit, meanwhile, is a mean and wonderful machine. The three-transistor design suggests inspiration from, and origins in, the Tone Bender circuit. And to be certain, you can hear traces of the Tone Bender MkII’s aggro’ gain profile and sizzle at high gain settings. But where a Tone Bender MkII (and, to a lesser extent, MkIII) can sound mid-focused to the point of nasal and claustrophobic, the King Fuzz is much more open, with blooming harmonic overtones and a spaciousness that enhances the clarity of fundamentals—especially at lower-gain settings. The extra air also translates to a sense of extra mass that’s much more like a four-transistor Big Muff (and the Sovtek versions in particular). But while the King Fuzz delivers the meat of a Muff at many settings, it has a comparatively “hi-fi” personality, with a more open and present high-mid profile at all but the highest gain and volume levels, where natural compression strips the signal of some dynamics and air. The closest relative I could find among my own fuzz collection was Death By Audio’s Fuzz War—a famously open and loud four-transistor Big Muff derivative. Even still, the King Fuzz made the Fuzz War sound comparatively brash at most settings.
The King Fuzz’s voicing is not without drawbacks. Those hi-fi qualities can make Fender single-coils sound sizzly at high-gain settings, where a Sovtek Big Muff might get smoother and more compressed. And in general, you get the feeling the King Fuzz was voiced with a bias toward humbuckers, for which it is a perfect fit. (Single-coil users may be better served by the germanium version of the XL).
The only real gripe I have with the King Fuzz and its magical overdrive and fuzz sections is that you cannot use them together. (Perhaps an XXL version with stacking functionality looms down the road?) There are also times I would trade some of that clarity for more purring single-coil tones. In general, though, the King Fuzz XL is an absolute killer that can range from always-on, warm-and-mellow boost tones to colorful, organic crunch to scathing and blazing fuzz sounds. It’s beautifully built, and possesses a real musical spirit that, despite the high price, will be worth the investment to many.