Roger Mayer discusses transistors and the original Fuzz Face in this interview with Tom from 2003
Greetings, fuzz freaks! Welcome back to Stomp
School. We have a real treat for you this month:
an interview with legendary effects pioneer,
Roger Mayer. I was recently sorting through
some old files and found interview material I
had left over after writing Analog Man’s Guide
to Vintage Effects. Among the discoveries was
part of a conversation I had with Roger Mayer
in 2003. As many of you know, Roger invented
the Octavia and was the personal gear guru for
Jimi Hendrix. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation in which Roger and I discuss transistors and the original Fuzz Face.
What do you think is the most essential element of a fuzz pedal?
Mayer: There isn’t one element. I mean, obviously, the overall sound. But that’s not an element, that’s a result of the element. There are many different ways to create the sound, and so many interactive things in the pedal. You can’t really say there’s one thing.
So it’s how they all interact with each other?
Absolutely! In the old days, the thing with the germanium transistors was the huge spread of each transistor. You couldn’t take a hundred out of a box and use the same components for each one.
Because they were inconsistent?
The gains would be all over the place, I guess.
Oh, all over the place. The leakage is all over the place. Are you familiar with the way transistors are made? Basically, the transistors are going to use a silicon or germanium wafer, and it goes through a bunch of processes—chemical etching, doping, and so forth. And then they’re put into an oven. Now, they’re gonna make quite a few transistors on a wafer, depending upon their size. And after these transistors are made, they’re all kind of diced up, almost like slicing a pizza into small squares.
Now, out of one die shape they might get, say in the case of the silicon transistor, 20 or 30 numbers out of it. But you’ve got all these variables—the temperature will be inconsistent across the die, the impurities of the doping, and all that. So they test each transistor and categorize it for low noise, high voltage, current gain, and so on. That’s how you get a whole series of numbers that are all the same. In the early days, the control process wasn’t as perfect as it is today. So consequently, there was quite a bit of a spread in the manufacturing. Especially with germanium, it was not quite as tightly controlled as silicon. It’s nothing to have a transistor selected for low noise, and then have the gain vary anywhere from 100 [hFE] up to 800 [hFE].
This was something, I guess, Arbiter didn’t know about.
Well, it’s not that they didn’t know. If you’re talking about the Fuzz Face, I’d say it certainly isn’t a device that’s the best example of a fuzz box, you know? Even though Jimi [Hendrix] made them very successful, the actual design is a complete disaster when it comes to temperature stability and everything else.
That’s why there were so few of them that actually sounded good.
That’s right. We make a version today, but we take a thousand transistors and select them out, and then we group them into pairs, and then we have a little preset on the card, just to tweak it to make it work properly.
You were probably the first to propose the idea that all the components needed to work together in this particular circuit for it to sound good.
Well, Jimi would buy half a dozen of these pedals, find one that sounded great, and then we’d mark it, right? One day it would work and another day it wouldn’t work so well in a different environment. Jimi would say, "What’s going on?" and I’d say, "Well, it’s got to be temperature, Jimi. That’s the only thing that’s changing." So that’s what got me to look inside the box. We got a good sounding one at a certain temperature, but as the temperature changed you could see the biasing completely shift. I started analyzing them a bit more carefully to find the combinations that work well. You might buy 20 pedals to find a really good one, but then it wasn’t stable at all temperatures. If you took it out of the trunk of a freezing car in the winter and brought it into the club, it wouldn’t sound too clever until it warmed up a bit.
I’ve heard stories of people putting a heat- er next to it.
Yeah, as I’ve said, the early ones were basically crap. Then they went on to the silicon ones, which had a bit more gain and high end, but they were terribly prone to pick up radio and start oscillating and were bloody unstable. We used to get around this in the studio by putting different buffers in front of the pedal. A Fuzz Face does not particularly like looking at the coil of a guitar where the output impedance is rising continuously, or it may squeal when it looks at a wah-wah pedal. It could be best described as a minimum parts circuit, for sure. It wouldn’t be something you’d deliberately go home and design, you know?
So there we have it, straight from the man himself. It’s good to remember that, thanks to the pioneering efforts of Roger Mayer, many boutique pedal builders today are familiar with fine-tuning component values to optimize a fuzz circuit.
See you next month. Until then, keep on stompin’!
(a.k.a. Analog Tom) is the owner and proprietor of For Musicians Only (formusiciansonly.com) and author of Analog Man’s Guide to Vintage Effects. Questions or comments about this article can be sent to: email@example.com.
(analogman.com) is one of the largest boutique effects manufacturers and retailers in the business, and it was established by "Analog" Mike Piera in 1993. Mike can be reached at AnalogMike@aol.com.
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This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
Belltone Guitars, as part of their Custom-Select System curated offering of pickups, has partnered McNelly pickups to create a one-of-a-kind retro-vibe P-90 pickup in the standard Filtertron size format. This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl, and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
The McNelly P-90 Foil-Coil comes housed in a ‘raw’ nickel outer casing with a dull nickel foil face with metal mount screw gromets to complete the ‘new-vintage’ aesthetic, making it a perfect choice for your signature Belltone custom build. Available exclusively through Belltone Guitars.
Check out the Custom-Select System belltoneguitars.com to preview the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons and all our standard and selectable components available to create your own signature Belltone. Then visit the Dream Lab on our website and select either model B-Classic ONE with its top binding or B-Classic TWO with its arm and body contours select your body color from our wide range of offerings, select your neck profile of either standard ‘C’ or thicker ’59 Round Back and either Maple or Rosewood fingerboard followed by your tuners, pickguard, and strings. Finally, review our curated custom-designed, and unique pickup selection to locate the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons to complete your signature build.
Builds start at just over $2,300.00 with a custom case and shipping included.
For more information, please visit belltoneguitars.com.
McNelly P 90 Foil Tron video Sep27
Belltone P-90 Foil-Tron Pickup
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses.
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the release of the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses. The new Relentless P and Relentless J series pickups feature the Relentless cover designed in collaboration with Billy Sheehan.
As with the Relentless pickups, we removed all the hard edges from the standard P Bass and standard J Basspickups, and added an arch to the top of the pickups to bring the sensing coils and pole pieces closer to the strings. These improvements increase the dynamic range and make active circuitry unnecessary.
The Relentless P and Relentless J pickups incorporate Neodymium magnets and produce 70 percent more output than traditional passive pickups, and they’re dead quiet due to the incorporation of metal covers and foil-shielded cables. To dial in (or fine-tune) the individual string output, the Relentless P and Relentless J include eight adjustable pole pieces. These pickups also have a broad magnetic field so you can even bend notes without volume dropout.
DiMarzio’s extra shielding makes the Relentless P and Relentless J better for both recording and stage performances. We’ve mounted them onto robust .09375” thick circuit board base plates to eliminate the annoying protruding mounting screws — ultimately creating a more comfortable and consistent foundation to rest your fingers on.
The new Relentless P steps beyond the traditional P-Bass sound and can only be described as massive. It has more of everything: more volume, beefier lows, a growling midrange, and crispy highs with better individual string definition.
The Relentless J incorporates a new invention, (patent pending) parallelogram-shaped coils, offering an expanded mid-range punch, snappy highs, precise lows, and a new dimension to the sound of the Relentless series pickups.
Relentless P and Relentless J pickups will breathe new life into any bass, increase playability, and work well for any style of music from Motown to metal.
DiMarzio’s Relentless P, Relentless J Bridge, Relentless J Neck, and Relentless J pair are made in the U.S.A. and may now be ordered for immediate delivery.
Suggested List Price for the Relentless P is $169.00 (MAP $119.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Bridge and Relentless J neck is $155.00 (MAP $109.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Pair is $296.00 (MAP 209.99).
For more information, please visit our website at dimarzio.com.