France’s Jacques Effects enjoys the distinction of being among the most highly regarded boutique pedal makers outside of the United States. The company’s line of compact, handmade stompboxes are known for their wild tones and over-the-top voicings and are favorites of adventurous players from Reeves Gabrels to Jerry Donahue. Even with that track record, they tout their newest pedal—the Black Mamba Fuzz—as their masterpiece. And its design intent, which is to simulate Jimi Hendrix’s classic Fuzz-Face-and-cranked-Marshall combination, takes aim at one of the holy grails of guitar sound. It’s also likely to be the company’s rarest pedal: With nearly unobtainable new-old-stock NPN Valvo OC141 transistors at the heart of this monster, Jacques will only be able to build five.
The Black Mamba has a sparse control layout, to say the least. And with little reference to how its three knobs work and an unconventional layout that deviates from the common Volume/Fuzz/Tone array, I found myself wishing they’d been labeled. On the Black Mamba, two knobs control the gain levels— one for the germanium transistors and the other for a cranked plexi Marshall emulation. The bottom knob sets the pedal’s output level.
Jacques based the Black Mamba, to some extent, on his Mercer and Wercer distortion pedals. The primary difference is the Valvo OC141 germanium transistors and a polarity flip that comes with the change from PNP to NPN transistors, which Jacques says enables a burlier tone. The sonic payoff is considerable.
At nearly 500 bucks, Jacques’ mean little machine isn’t a cheap one, which is why I had some concerns about the build quality. The input jack is a plastic barrel type like you see on Vox AC30s, while the sturdier output jack is metal. The wiring inside could’ve been routed more neatly, and the circuit board was wrapped in a leatherette pouch that had been stapled shut. In addition, the wiring connected to the LED was well soldered, but covered in red electrical tape wrappings instead of shrink tubing. Everything worked properly without a hitch, but for a pedal that commands this type of price—and one with such rare components inside—I expected tighter quality control under the hood.
However things may look inside the Mamba, the tones within are to die for. With a 2011 Fender American Stratocaster and a Fender ’65 Twin Reverb Reissue, the fuzz tones that poured out of my neck pickup were thick, juicy, and blistering with harmonics. Sustain was incredible, allowing me to hold notes bent above the 12th fret and have them sing for what seemed like an eternity.
I had to explore some slightly unorthodox settings to get these tones, however. Jacques recommends that you max out both Gain controls and use the guitar’s volume to sweep through the pedal’s sonic palette. While I found this technique truly effective—and got some fantastic sounds ranging from razor-sharp fuzz to gritty cleans—it did leave me wishing there was a little more nuance available from the Mamba’s onboard controls.
Still, the Black Mamba cleans up better than most fuzzes I’ve come across. And dropping my Strat’s volume control to slightly above halfway yielded a crisp rhythm tone that was perfect for fast, 7th-chord vamping.
The Jacques Black Mamba packs some of the most fluid and dynamic Hendrix-style fuzz sounds I’ve heard in quite some time. The build could be better, but the incredible searing, psychedelic tones on tap cannot be denied. The big question is whether the cost is worth it, no matter what transistor is inside. But given the price of vintage fuzz units and the potential collectability of the Black Mamba, it could well prove to be worth every last cent to the right player.
you’re jonesing hard for old-school, ’60s psychedelic fuzz that can sustain for days.
you need more range in your fuzz and need to mind your budget.
Street $498 - Jacques Effects - jacqueseffects.com
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