Flexible bias and gain controls extend the Maestro FZ-1 voice to awesomely utilitarian ends.
Awesomely enhanced, extended, and expanded variations on Maestro FZ-1 tones. Very cool clean-to-low-gain capabilities.
Higher-gain tones may be off-putting for vintage purists.
Crazy Tube Limelight
Ease of Use:
If I was a betting fella, I’d wager that the twenty-teens will be remembered as a platinum-gilded age of fuzz. It’s been fun to watch and listen as boutique builders and garage-soldering-loner maniacs have resurrected every last weirdo ’60s scuzz machine with the vigor of mad scientists bringing dinosaurs back to life from amber. But as I test the made-in-Greece Crazy Tubes Circuits Limelight fuzz, I’m compelled to ask: Is it me, or does it seem like the mother of all fuzzes, the Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone gets sorta lost in the mad rush?
I know there are a number of great clones and derivatives out there, including scads of home-builds based on its very simple germanium three-transistor circuit. But it’s easily the classic circuit I’ve interacted with the least over the last 10 years. Now that I’ve spent quality time with the FZ-1-inspired Limelight, my interest is pretty ragingly piqued. And while I’m sure more concerted exploration of the Maestro Fuzz-Tone’s offspring will reveal many gems, it’s hard to imagine a more versatile branch on the FZ-1 family tree than this one.
Crazy Tubes says the Limelight isn’t an FZ-1 clone. And with the circuit board inverted, it’s hard to say how close or distant the design is. What I can say with certainty is that Crazy Tubes has managed to capture the honking voice of an FZ-1, give it more body and gain, extend its range in low gain settings, and provide the means to strip back the enhancements and tap into the FZ-1’s more feral and ragged essence. At both ends of its performance envelope, it’s a joy to work with. And if it isn’t an FZ-1 down to the letter, it’s certainly an exponentially more useful pedal.
Because it’s a ’60s-inspired fuzz, the Limelight’s controls are silly simple. But they’re also deceptively simple when you consider the range of sounds you can extract from them. The volume and gain controls mimic what you’d see on a vintage Maestro, or an early Tone Bender or Fuzz Face, for that matter. But the gain control has way more gain and range here, and though it retains much of the fizz and buzz of an FZ-1, progressively hotter gain levels yield more muscular versions of that voice and much more sustain than an FZ-1 can generate.
The Limelight also differs from vintage fuzzes in its ability to conjure near-clean tones at the most subdued end of its range. On most such specimens, low-gain settings result in thin, sputtering, and generally joyless and monochromatic tones. But when you use high volume settings and the lowest possible gain settings, the pedal takes on the qualities of a growly germanium overdrive. Better still, the pedal remains responsive to guitar tone and volume attenuation at these settings, and you can generate lively, clean, and jangly tones with just a touch of guitar volume reduction.
The other real difference-maker in the Limelight is the beam control: a bias control that starves the circuit of voltage at counter clockwise settings and juices the works at the other end. The beam knob is the key to unleashing the most savage side of the Limelight. But it also enables you to rein in the gain and explore the colors of the more humble, original, 3-volt, AA-battery powered Maestro FZ-1. These tones probably won’t find tons of fans among fuzz freaks predisposed toward modern, full-frequency, high-gain fuzz. But they are brimming with character. And if they don’t always work for full-throttle live applications, the recording possibilities are thrilling. I loved doubling looped rhythm parts with high-gain and near-clean tones, and peppering a loop with dusty, crumbling low-voltage lead lines. And the process really underscored the fantastic range in the Limelight.
If, like me, you’ve neglected the possibilities of the Maestro FZ-1 tone palette, the Limelight is a superb point from which you can launch your explorations. Vintage purists will probably argue that the Limelight circuit deviates too radically from the original. But for me, that assessment misses the point. Limelight takes some of the very best attributes of the FZ-1—particularly it’s honking, splattery and fractured voice—to more aggressive and restrained places than the FZ-1 ever could. And if the Limelight is a bit dear, the breadth of its voices make it a very fair deal.