The studio wizard and Roger Waters road guitarist teams with the pedal outfit to expand the horizons of a famously brutish fuzz circuit.
Deceptively complex. High-quality build.
Spendy—even for a high-quality fuzz.
Jext Telez Jonathan Wilson’s Canyon Climber
Ease of Use:
Among fuzz cognoscenti, the raw and rowdy joys of the Shin-ei Companion FY-2 are no secret. But outside of fuzz-cult circles, the pedal never attained the celebrity status and ubiquity of, say, the Fuzz Face or Big Muff. There are practical explanations for the limited appeal: In both original specimens and faithful reinterpretations, the tone is very specific—and to some ears, limited. Originals are also notoriously and impractically quiet in performance, meaning few antique specimens end up in famous and well-photographed live rigs.
But if the FY-2 is perceived as narrow in its sonic scope, it’s also misunderstood and somewhat underutilized. For while the FY-2 and its derivatives can sound hectic, they are actually quite focused and typically not too loud—nice attributes in a studio when you want to slot a big, distinctive sound in a very specific harmonic space.
Colin Greenwood exploited these virtues with his fuzz-bass passage in Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For a Film).” Blur’s Graham Coxon combined the FY-2’s scooped-mid focus with RAT distortion to generate the gnarly pedal grind on the band’s more experimental late-’90s LPs. Jonathan Wilson, a gifted engineer, producer, and guitarist (who also recently had the distinction of assuming the David Gilmour role in Roger Waters’ touring band) also saw potential in the FY-2 beyond it’s most obvious applications. And his enthusiasm for the circuit led to the Canyon Climber, a collaboration with the equally adventurous Jext Telez that takes the essence of the FY-2, expands and enhances its utility and tone palette, and makes it a practical gigging pedal of considerable power and personality.
I’m a big fan of Jext Telez’s work. I use the company’s Buzz Tone and White Pedal stompboxes extensively and find them truly unique and distinctive sounding among my pedals. Like those two pedals, the Canyon Climber is exceedingly well put together. Jacks and switches are securely and independently mounted to the enclosure. The through-hole circuit board, which is affixed to the enclosure via the “biofeedback” (tone/fuzz) and “nature” (master volume) knobs, is clean and thoughtfully laid out, revealing neat, careful solder work.
The tidy board also reveals the pedal’s very simple essence. The beating heart is comprised of two 2N4437 silicon transistors that drive the signal. But where original FY-2s made do with two transistors, the Canyon Climber has a third 2N4437 that is used to boost the signal in the pedal’s invaluable “vanity” mode. You could probably count the remaining components on two hands. Canyon Climber is an elegant and streamlined circuit.
Buzzing the Canyon
It can be helpful to think of Canyon Climber as two pedals in one, which are accessed via the hipster/vanity switch. In the former setting, the Canyon Climber approximates the performance of an original FY-2—right down to the volume drop you experience when you turn on the fuzz. In most cases, the volume drop makes hipster mode problematic for performance. But there are cool workarounds. Pairing it with a boost—particularly a unit like EarthQuaker’s inexpensive Arrows or Spaceman’s Mercury IV, which can also excite the Canyon Climber’s top end and filtered/scooped midrange—yields complex and present variations on the Canyon Climber’s rich, buzzing voice.
Hipster mode’s considerable utility becomes much more apparent in the studio. In these controlled environs, the absence of megaton-rated gain means the complexity of the fuzz can shine through at low volumes, opening up options for using smaller amplifiers, desk EQ coloration, and compression to further sculpt the effect.
It’s Canyon Climber’s “vanity” mode that makes the pedal a viable stage option. It’s much louder, both in terms of actual and perceived volume boost—which seems much bigger than advertised. The pedal’s filter-derived high octave content becomes more pronounced and forceful. The low end feels and sounds Jabba the Hutt huge—especially with 12" speakers and a closed back cabinet in the mix. Vanity’s volume boost means you lose a little dynamic range—it sounds more compressed and less oxygenated than hipster mode—but the basic voice of the pedal remains very much intact.
Just as on the original FY-2, the biofeedback, or fuzz, control (which is really a tone-filtering circuit) can seem subtle to ineffective depending on your ears and patience for fine-tuning. But the subdued shifts it enables become much less so in the right context. Chords with odd intervals take on concise but fractured ring-modulated qualities when you roll back biofeedback and nature (or your guitar’s volume or tone) together. And keeping nature up and biofeedback down reveals Canyon Climber’s cool knack for sustaining frequencies in the low-mids while the high-mid content splinters and falls apart—a positively killer effect through a long delay and a touch of reverb.
In both modes, Canyon Climber’s basic voice resides on the more cultivated end of the Companion fuzz spectrum. Compared to the original Companion fuzzes I can recall, and the very accurate clones in my own collection, it is airier in the top end, less nasal, and more harmonically diffuse in a way some listeners would probably hear as “smooth.”
Another interesting byproduct of the Canyon Climber’s harmonic makeup is that differences between pickups become quite subtle. In normal circumstances, there’s no mistaking the contrast between my old Jazzmaster’s twangy bridge pickup and the honey-mellow neck unit. With the Canyon Climber buzzing away in full bumblebee splendor, it’s not always easy to discern the difference.
Jonathan Wilson’s Canyon Climber reminds me a bit of Sean Connery’s take on James Bond: a paradoxical stew of brutish, cultivated, smart, explosive, and dangerous. It’s an expensive pedal, given the simplicity of the circuit. But the build quality is excellent. And the collaboration between Wilson and the Jext Telez team means the circuit is tuned, tweaked, and honed by sophisticated listeners and engineers skilled in the art of chasing and capturing elusive, evocative sounds. Whether you’re a fan of the FY-2 specifically or fuzz in general, you’ll find the fruit of their labor a beautiful—and unique—thing to behold.