Quick Hit: Rocket Surgeon Codename: Black Hat Review

A utilitarian fuzz that refuses to play the copycat game and ends up being totally predictable … and yet somehow also refreshingly unique.

Recorded using an Eastwood Sidejack Baritone DLX with Curtis Novak Jazzmaster Widerange pickups going into a Catalinbread Topanga, then the Black Hat, then an MXR Reverb, all routed to a Jaguar HC50 miked with a Royer R-121 feeding an Apogee Duet going into GarageBand with no EQ-ing, compression, or effects.
Clip 1: Effect bypassed first, then engaged (with Black Hat volume at 10:30 and fuzz at 2 o’clock) with bridge pickup full up, then bringing guitar volume down. Repeated with middle pickup setting, then neck.
Clip 2: Effect bypassed first, then engaged (with Black Hat volume at 3 o’clock and fuzz at max) with bridge pickup, then neck pickup (at approx 1:14 mark), then middle middle pickup position (approx. 2:35).
 

Ratings

Pros:
Wonderfully responsive to playing dynamics and guitar-volume manipulation. Incredibly useful range of lean-and-mild to muscular-and-bristling sounds.

Cons:
Visual vibe isn’t for everyone (although the mini cigar-tip LED is clever). Too staid for tonal anarchists.

Street:
$169

Rocket Surgeon Codename: Black Hat
nordstrandaudio.com



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Whereas many twin-knob fuzzes aim for vintage Tone Bender, Fuzz Face, or Fuzzrite vibes, Rocket Surgeon’s new 3-transistor affair (two silicon, one germanium) infiltrates a less-explored—and intriguingly practical—middle ground that offers shades of all three while eschewing those designs’ quirkier, less-predictable aspects. Codename: Black Hat won’t avail squealing gated sounds, corpulent octave overtones, or busted-AM-radio fizz. Instead, it offers uncommon touch sensitivity and handily linear fuzz tones that are still refreshing amidst a sea of yesteryear wannabes.

Codename: Black Hat … offers uncommon touch sensitivity and handily linear fuzz tones that are still refreshing amidst a sea of yesteryear wannabes.

Twist Black Hat’s volume control to its unity-gain point (around 11 o’clock), set the gain knob at minimum, and bask in a crisp, articulate fuzz with wonderful treble and high-mid clarity—almost like a Fuzzrite exorcised of its shrieking demons. Turn volume up, and saturation and harmonic complexity increase in a way that won’t earn it a Weirdo Fuzz of the Year award, but that makes it a hugely adaptable utility pedal. Meanwhile, the fuzz knob changes the character of the effect from lean and muscular to a warmer, more filled-out response that never sounds flabby or indistinct. At max, it takes you to the threshold of singing sustain. Even cooler, no matter how you dial it, Black Hat cleans up like a killer tube amp when you rein in your guitar’s volume knob.

Test gear: Squier Vintage Modified Tele with Curtis Novak Tel-V and JM-V pickups, Eastwood Sidejack Baritone DLX with Curtis Novak Jazzmaster Widerange pickups, Catalinbread Topanga, MXR Reverb, SoundBrut DRVA MkII, Jaguar HC50 and Fender Rumble 200 amps


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