A Sovtek-styled Muff clone and a cool boost propel a surprisingly flexible and ferocious fuzz machine.
Though he’s far from the only Big Muff maven on the planet, Matt Pasquerella and his company, Stomp Under Foot, have become a sort of trusted corner shop in the Big Muff community. Eleven of the 15 pedals SUF builds are Muff-inspired. And though Pasquerella maintains a low-key presence, his recreations of Ram’s Heads, Civil Wars, and “bubble front” Russians are toasted among Big Muff cognoscenti as some of the best boutique clones in the business.
Ben McLeod, guitarist for Nashville heavies All Them Witches, is among the players who’ve embraced Stomp Under Foot’s work. And the Alabaster fuzz and boost that he and Pasquerella concocted to serve as a foundation for the band’s fuzzy, muscular sound is a practical marriage of Muff clone and boost that works well outside of heavy rock styles.
Carved from Stone
Every Stomp Under Foot pedal that’s crossed our transom in the last several years has been impressively well built. Those standards are very much intact and easy to see at work under the hood of the Alabaster. The through-hole circuit board is compact for a two-effect pedal, but the layout is still ordered and even spacious. The four Russian KT3102 transistors (housed in white-dot TO92 cases) that are the heart of most Sovtek Muffs are situated at comfortable intervals from each other, lending the reassuring sense that, unlike a lot of boutique fuzzes, the Stomp Under Foot looks relatively easy to service.
Jacks and switches are all chassis-mounted, leaving the circuit board (which is mounted on plastic posts) well insulated from the blows of real-world use. Even with such an accommodating layout, there’s plenty of room for a 9V battery. And while the horizontal orientation of the enclosure might freak out pedalboard space control freaks, it’s nice to have the bypass switches for the two effects set well apart from each other. For while the Alabaster has a lot of potential beyond heavy rock applications, we’re guessing many customers will be players that approach performance with abandon.
Russian Spoken Fluently
You don’t have to spend a lot of time with the Alabaster to hear Pasquerella’s research and hyper-attention to Big Muff minutiae pay huge tone dividends. The Alabaster’s fuzz side is basically a Stomp Under Foot Green Russian, which is modeled on the “bubble font” Sovtek Big Muff, and I’m not sure I’ve heard a more accurate sounding clone of that circuit (which is the favorite—and longest serving— fuzz in my collection).
There are a few subtle but audible differences between my own Sovtek and the Alabaster—all of which could be more appealing than the Sovtek to the ears of many users. The Stomp Under Foot is generally a bit smoother—nodding ever so slightly in the direction of Stomp Under Foot’s also-awesome Civil War fuzz. It has a little less of the Sovtek’s buzz saw attack—but only a little. And the tone control provides more than enough top end to make sure that the clearer, smoother enunciation doesn’t mean the Alabaster goes missing in a mix. There’s also more than enough top end and buzz to tap into a Sovtek-style Muff’s unheralded ability to summon the acerbic but sonorous biker fuzz tones more associated with Fuzzrites or BossTones.
The impressive range in the tone and gain controls also mean that the Alabaster is an awesome chord machine. And while you can easily generate hazy, sub-stoner bass chug with the tone knob at full counterclockwise, extra high end adds air and harmonic detail—lending clarity to complex and dissonant chords that less articulate Muffs turn to sludge. Are there more cutting fuzzes out there for heavy two-guitar bands? Sure, but it’s a safe bet that few will have the balance and color of the Alabaster. I’d also bet that more than a few producers and engineers—live and in the studio—will want to fine tune arrangements and mixes to accommodate the Alabaster’s sonorities rather than complain about a lack of high-mid presence (particularly because, to my ear, Alabaster has a lot of that).
Like most Muff’s, the Alabaster doesn’t exactly excel at responding to guitar volume attenuation. But it’s not a poor performer on that count, either. And you can hear the pedal’s slightly-smoother-than-Sovtek qualities pay off when you turn down, yielding tones that are more harmonically cohesive than splatty.
The Alabaster’s simple boost circuit is actually a boost/cut circuit. And while that concept (at least the “cut” part) might be anathema and an affront to deafened stoner rock meatheads, it opens up a lot of tone-shaping options. When the boost is in true boost mode it’s relatively transparent and loud, and when used by itself it adds considerable body with a slight de-emphasis of top-end tones and a little extra focus on the midrange. On the receiving end of the fuzz circuit, however, that harmonic profile showcases the fuzz in a most even-handed manner—delivering all the extra body without any discernable loss of presence. The boost circuit is also useful in cut mode, working almost as a master volume control so you can set up the pedal for quieter passages in songs or arrangements that still call for the scuzzy textures the fuzz side generates.
If you’ve never owned a Big Muff but would like to get acquainted with both the breed’s classic brutishness and less celebrated pleasures, it’s impossible to go wrong with the Alabaster. In most respects it’s a dead-on sonic replica of a bubble font Sovtek with a smooth side that enhances its airiness and complexity. Better still, the well-matched and useful boost/cut circuit genuinely enhances the pedal’s utility, making it full of sonic surprises and protean powers that could surprise the most stubborn Muff skeptic.
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