Die-hard tone nerds get pretty wrapped up in minutiae these days. For instance, in fuzz-freak circles it doesn’t take much provocation to start a debate over whether the silvery sustain of NKT275s transistors or the raunchiness of silicon BC108s is the key to the perfect Fuzz Face.
What’s easy to forget is that a pair of these legendary transistors doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a great-sounding pedal. Quality control, execution, and a circuit designer with a great ear are still crucial, and little touches like individual testing and pairing of transistors—no matter what the type—can be the difference that sets a fantastic fuzz apart from the crowd. French effect builder Buffalo FX understands that equation, as demonstrated by the Germanium Fuzz—a limited-edition, new-old-stock-transistor-fueled, classically voiced fuzz that could make a lot of die-hards think twice about how essential vintage specs truly are.
The Germanium Fuzz is housed in a taller-than-average rectangular enclosure that looks as much like a space-age pyramid-building brick as a circuit enclosure. Aside from the wah on my board, the Germanium Fuzz is the tallest effect of the batch. The size may be a bit awkward to get used to if you’re accustomed to slimmer profiles, and it might complicate your tricky heel/toe maneuvers between effects unless you’re sporting size 13s. Part of the reason for the tall case is the cool, side-mounted 9V battery door that enables you to switch out a battery in seconds. There’s also a 9V barrel adapter on the opposite side, although it requires a dedicated supply that’s center negative—like many vintage fuzzes, the Germanium Fuzz is a center-positive circuit, which means daisy-chaining it with other center-negative effects may damage the unit.
Four controls dial in the Buffalo’s many flavors of sputtering, popping bliss. F controls the amount of fuzz. P controls the amount of pre-gain. L (level) uses a reverse-taper potentiometer, meaning the resistance tapers as you turn the pot clockwise—an effect a lot of audio engineers consider much smoother and more natural. B (bias) enables 3.5–8.5V of bias adjustment, which is useful because germanium transistors are notoriously susceptible to natural variables like temperature fluctuation. So a simple clockwise twist to this knob can give the pedal a bit more jump if it’s feeling flat, while a counterclockwise turn can coax a dying-battery effect.
Horns of the Beast
With a Fender Twin Reverb at the end of the line, pre-gain around 2 o’clock, fuzz at maximum, and bias around noon, the single-coils in my Danelectro Innuendo produced a heavy, bulbous lead that wasn’t too hairy. Going up against the wall of sound from a full band can require bumping level to around 2 o’clock to cut through the mix for leads. And a bias increase helps you maintain cutting levels while lending a glassy, Gilmour-ish wail. The smoother pickups in my Fender Stratocaster did an even better job of highlighting the tone-shaping versatility you get from the bias control—they summoned smoothly screaming “Saucerful of Secrets” tones, walking the line between hairy and crystalline in the way that sets a good germanium fuzz apart.
In a quieter setting, I paired the Germanium Fuzz with a Fender Pawn Shop Special Excelsior amp. At half volume, the 13-watt Excelsior gets very saturated without breaking up entirely. Increasing the Buffalo’s pre-gain and bias to around 3 o’clock and backing off the level just a touch inspires a much nastier disposition that’s perfect for spiting forth lead tones soaked with the Nuge’s foul-mouthed swagger. Rolling off the guitar’s volume eases the Buffalo into a cool overdriven tone that’s very nearly clean but still potentially explosive, depending on your attack.
The Buffalo FX Germanium Fuzz is a beautifully musical pedal that conjures the sounds and feel of a really nice Fuzz Face. It’s also exceptionally well built, with thoughtful additions (such as the bias control) that make the sound much more tailorable. The new-old-stock B175 transistors will raise the eyebrows of some germanium purists, but the circuit is dynamic, smooth, and responsive beyond question—with the excellent control and range of buzzsaw tones that drives vintage hounds to spend whole paychecks on an original Fuzz Face. If you like big, ’70s-style leads and boomy Big Muff tone isn’t your cup of tea, the Germanium Fuzz is an alternative that’s classic and individual all at once.