A lot of fuzz flavors in one box

Download Example 1
Volume: 10 o'clock, Vig: 2 o'clock
Download Example 2
Volume: 3 o'clock, Vig 10 o'clock
All tracks recorded with a humbucker-equipped Gibson Les Paul and a 1966 Fender Bassman.
The guitar-playing citizens of Portland, Oregon, may know Jack Deville as the man who can fix their amp in a pinch. But elsewhere in the world, this esteemed Northwest amp repairman is fast making a name for himself as designer of two unique-sounding pedals, the Dark Echo delay and the all-germanium Buzzmaster fuzz reviewed here.

All Business
The Buzzmaster’s bold, gold text and matte black box has a utilitarian, let’s-get-down-the-biz-of-heavy-rocking look—something Lord Vader would have in his rig, perhaps. The control set couldn’t be much simpler— at least on the face of the pedal. There’s a Volume knob and a gain labeled Vig, which is short for "vigor." The latter is appropriate, given the pedal’s potential energy and range, but maybe not quite as suggestive of the evil this dial can introduce to your tone. Inside the casing, there’s a miniscule bias trim knob that helps you fine-tune the pedal’s first stage and can assist in overcoming the inherent instability of germanium transistors in varying climates.

The footswitch is a clickless, true-bypass switch of Deville’s design (you can also buy it as an aftermarket product for retrofitting other boxes) that eliminates popping—particularly at super high-gain settings—when you kick the pedal on.

A Rangy Voice

For a pedal that looks so straightforward, the Buzzmaster has a very complex personality. I got to know the Buzzmaster using a blackface Fender Bassman driving a 2x12 cab, a 50-watt Ampeg SuperJet 1x12 combo, a Marshall 1987 Plexi, a Fender Jaguar, Rickenbacker 330, and a Guild Starfire with DeArmond humbuckers.

With the Vig control rolled almost entirely off and the Volume kicked up a bit past unity, the Buzzmaster was gritty, but not buzzingly overdriven. It inhabited a bluesy territory, but a plot much more akin to Cream-era Clapton making a Marshall sing than SRV and a Tube Screamer. Though the Buzzmaster gave the Bassman a nasty, cutting quality on top of its rubbery low-end signature—particularly with the semi-hollow Rickenbacker and Guild—I sensed the pedal wasn’t quite in its comfort zone.

But with a twist of the gain knob, now set just short of noon, I felt the Buzzmaster was working in the manner its creator intended.

The Jaguar’s neck and bridge pickup took on a nasty, nasally snarl with detectable low-octave tones that flirted with octave fuzz territory and sustained mightily with the help of some aggressive finger vibrato. The harmonic spectrum was even wider when using the semi-hollowbodies. The Rick’s top-end detail remained intact and floating above the burly, low-mid growl and heavy low-octave traces that offered more than a hint of vintage Univox Super Fuzz. The Guild’s DeArmonds drove the Buzzmaster further into the ice pick zone on high single-note lines, but with the same traces of low octave booty, and first-position chords roared almost like a vintage Big Muff with a dry, high-end bump.

The Buzzmaster can get delightfully unruly too. Maxing the gain knob and dialing up the volume induced a very useful, killing-my-amp kind of breakup where high end decayed chaotically over a bed of sustained low-end grumble. And while it isn’t a setting that’s suited to sustained Townshendian power chords, it works well for faster single-note picking, enabling you to relay a lot of melodic data without too much mud.

The Verdict

The Buzzmaster packs a lot of fuzz flavors in a single box. Fans of vintage Big Muffs, Super Fuzzes, and even the crispy, crackling sounds of Mark I Tone Benders and old Maestros will find familiar and friendly tones within. The biggest surprise, and perhaps the pedal’s strongest point, is the heavy octave sound that emerges in the Buzzmaster’s fuzz voice at high-gain settings. The pedal is likely to work best in front of a clean amp (things can get hectic fast in front of hotter Marshall circuits). But if you need the kind of fuzz that can punish with personality and cut through any mix, the Buzzmaster is more than up to the task.

Buy if...
you like a bossy, multi-voiced fuzz.
Skip if...
you’ve begun to embrace subtlety in your ripping leads.

Street $250 - Jack Deville Electronics - jackdeville.com

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