june 2009

The Fuzzy Drive goes way beyond fuzz as a versatile box of effects

Download Example 1
The big question to answer when reviewing a new fuzz box like the EWS FD-1 Fuzzy Drive pedal is, do you gauge it on its ability to faithfully recreate a tone that, in its classic form, borders on shrill, or do you judge it on what it adds to the equation in the form of warmth, nuance, and flexibility? Understandably, this author was a little nervous. Notwithstanding, we were intrigued about EWS itself, and the fact that this new player in the pedal game is a sister brand to the Xotic brand of boutique effects—a big check in the plus column before we even started. Both Xotic and EWS are owned by Prosound Communications, which is based in the US out of San Fernando, CA.

The FD-1 Fuzzy Drive is the first pedal produced by EWS (which stands for Engineering Work Store). The EWS name is not well known in the U.S., but has a fairly large following in Japan, where they specialize in guitar repairs and pedal modifications, their most well known being the Arion Chorus modification. Besides its foray into effect pedals, EWS is also introducing a line of tube-powered micro amps for the Japanese market. Like Xotic, EWS has a boutique aura about its products and service—at least in Japan where they are better known.

When you think of fuzz boxes, the first thing that comes to my mind is the theme song for Green Acres, or perhaps the Rolling Stones classic, “Satisfaction.” These early fuzz boxes had a raspy, edgy sound that, for a lot of guys, is a take-it-or-leave-it tone proposition. I'm not making this point to judge good or bad tone, but simply acknowledging that there is a pretty narrow interpretation of traditional fuzz box tones that one would rightfully expect out of something with the word “fuzz” in its name. So imagine my surprise when I plugged into the EWS Fuzzy Drive and got a range of tones from warm overdrive, to almost buzz saw. I was expecting a one-trick pony like an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi or an Arbiter Fuzz Face, but found that the EWS Fuzzy Drive is a whole lot more.

With its three knobs, the FD-1 is deceptively simple. The Gain knob on the upper right determines how hard the incoming signal gets clipped; as this dial is turned clockwise, the more “fuzz” you’ll get. Up to about half way (straight up), the overall sound is like a tube amp breaking up. The sound is warm, and invites dynamic picking. At modest settings, soft strumming and light picking—even with the guitar’s volume up all the way—keeps the signal just under the clip threshold. Pick aggressively, and it goes right into sweet overdrive. Put the Gain knob at 5 o’clock (all the way up), however, and you’re almost into Green Acres territory—only the sound is creamier.

While the Gain control on the FD-1 controls the overall character, the Tone control gives it “edge.” To the extent that the purpose of a fuzz box is to clip the signal to the point that it effectively becomes a square wave, this introduces lots of high, jagged harmonics. The Tone control burnishes this nicely, and can leave all the buzziness in tact, or smooth it out almost entirely for a pure, synth-like tone. There’s plenty of range, and I found myself keeping it between halfway, and maxed out most of the time.

The last knob in the signal chain is the Volume dial, which determines how much signal the front of the amp sees. It was fun to experiment with how hard to hit the amp—which in this case was a Line 6 Spider Valve 112 tube amp. This amp is a hybrid that combines on-board digital effects and amp models with a classic tube power amp, but for this evaluation, we ran the amp on the cleanest setting. What we found was that even with no help from the on-board amp models, the EWS Fuzzy Drive had enough balls to hit the preamp really hard. With just a modest amount of gain on the FD-1, and a moderate dose of the volume knob (2 o’clock), the Line 6’s tubes were in a really happy place.

Physically, the FD-1 is a solid, tank-like piece of equipment. The cast aluminum box is brushed, then clear coated; a black retro-style graphic and white lettering is silk-screened on the box. Three black Bakelite knobs are solidly attached to the pots with brass set screws. Power comes from an on-board 9-volt battery, or external adapter. Since the FD-1 has a true bypass switch, when it’s turned off, there is no battery drain or output variance due to battery strength. We did notice, however, that at higher stage volumes, there was a noticeable click from the switch when the unit is turned on.

Inside, a simple circuit board carries 14 resistors, 13 capacitors, one diode, and one each of a dual op-amp and a single op-amp. The board is well protected by a foam cushion sandwiched between the board and the three potentiometers. Unlike classic fuzz boxes, no discrete transistors are used, which may be a deal breaker for some. (If you’re looking for germanium transistors, you’ll need to buy an antique, since mass-produced germanium-equipped fuzz boxes aren’t made any more.)


The pots themselves have a nice damped, quality feel to their movement, and you get the impression that this is a sturdy piece of gear that’s going to handle the road nicely. The Tone control also features a slight detent in the middle.

Although the FD-1’s claim to fame is as a fuzz box, using it only for only that is a little like saying that Angelina Jolie does a good job of playing Lara Croft. The fact of the matter is that the FD-1 is more like a distortion toolbox, capable of the full range of overdrive tones, from a slight break-up, to total metal mayhem. Truthfully, at many settings, it’s more “drive” than “fuzz,” and that’s what pushes it over the top for this reviewer. In a world where I could have only one box to do a whole range of overdrive sounds, I would really have to seriously consider the EWS Fuzzy Drive FD-1.

Ironically, the weakest point in the Fuzzy Drive’s repertoire is the classic mid-’60s buzz tone that can only come from discrete germanium transistors. We’re talking about the cheesiest tones in the speaker-slit-by-a-razor-blade category. Try as we might, we could not coax an ice-pick buzz-saw sound out of the FD-1. It came close, but always maintained a decidedly warm nuance. That’s just as well, because that’s a sound this reviewer would never try to find unless paid to.

The EWS box offers a lot of versatility, good build quality, and a boutique tone. Yet with a suggested retail price of $149, it’s squarely in average Joe territory. It’s interesting to note that sister company, Xotic, offers no fuzz pedals, so by entering the market first with the Fuzzy Drive, EWS is carving out a nice niche for itself that has little risk of impacting Xotic sales. We imagine some guys will be searching for a classic Tone Bender sound, and will try out the Fuzzy Drive, only to find that it’s more flexible, and a whole lot warmer. If it hits them like it hit us, the FD-1 will surely stoke the fires of creativity. We can’t wait to see what EWS comes out with next.
Buy if...
you're looking for a distortion toolbox that will kick your creativity with overdrive.
Skip if...
you're the guy they hired to create the soundtrack for Green Acres, the movie. Only an old Vox Tone Bender will do.

MSRP $149 - EWS - ews-us.com

Can Flaxwood''s particle-based guitars live up to solid wood?

Watch Video Review:
Guitar makers have been searching for ways to make guitars out of things other than wood for quite some time now. From Torres building a back and sides out of papier-mâché back in the 1860s, to Dan Armstrong’s plexiglass bodied electric—not to forget masonite Danelectros, graphite-composite Steinbergers and assorted other things—the search for a stable, good-sounding material continues. Enter Flaxwood Guitars from Finland.

These guys decided that by using “small wood particles in a binding agent” they would avoid the obvious problems guitars have with moisture (or the lack of it), and a good, consistent sound would be obtained, because the wood particles would face randomly in all directions, so the soundwaves would resonate with equal force in all directions. They named the material flaxwood and a guitar company was born. Flaxwood tells me that although they use this flaxwood material, and the parts are made by injection molding, there is old-style luthierie going on, too. The neck is glued in, and the bodies are finished by hand, just like a wood guitar.

How’d They Do?
All the current Flaxwood models have the same body shape and look clean and modern. You can get them with a variety of pickup choices, different humbuckers, lipsticks, or H/S/H, and with or without the whammy bar. Our sample guitar is the Liekki (Finnish for flame), which is their P-90 pickup model featuring Seymour Duncan Vintage Soapbars SP90-1 pickups, with one volume control and two tone controls, one for each pickup. The Liekki also features a Schaller Les Paul Tremolo and Gotoh tuners.

The sculpted archtop body is hollow, with one F-hole, and the back is a large ported plate they call the resonator. The finish on our test model reminds me a bit of a bronze casting, and is beautifully done. The whole guitar (body, resonator and neck) is made of the Flaxwood material. When I picked up the guitar, the first thing I noticed was the straight string pull from the nut to the tuners; this has always seemed like common sense to me, and I am surprised more guitars don’t do this. All the models are 25.5” scale, and I assume, because of the consistency of the materials, they all weigh in at just over seven pounds.

Ring Them Bells
Previous non-wood guitars I have played have seemed to me to go with the idea that the guitar should be as resistant to vibration as possible, theoretically to maximize sustain. The Liekki I found to have a pleasant, alive vibration to it which feels quite natural and wood-like, and yet, it has a sustain like a piano, incredibly smooth in response. The P-90 sound is one I like very much; I regularly play a Gibson ES330, so I’m in familiar territory here. The Liekki will give you a broad palette of sounds, from a sweet Lenny Breau type of jazz sound to a Tele-esque twang. Click on some distortion, and you can go from roots slide to death metal and anywhere in between. Because it is hollow, Flaxwood cautions that you may have some feedback issues, but I had none (though I never got it up to arena volume). The Schaller trem bar did well with staying in tune, and I was able to take the strings slack and back several times before there was any tuning error—and that’s without a locking nut. The nut is graphite, so this may not be your whammy if you need to go slack a lot, but for most players it will work very well. For my tastes, the bar rides a bit high, but I imagine that could be tweaked by bending the bar if it were a big issue for the player.

Now, what I really want to rave about here is the neck, wow! It feels absolutely rock solid and smooth—like buttah! The fret job is excellent, and those of you who are non-stop guitar junkies know that great fret jobs on a new guitar out of the box are few and far between these days. The Liekki comes out of the case ready to hit the stage, and I am finicky on this topic. I don’t think that in my 40 years of guitar picking I have had more than a handful of guitars that didn’t at least need the action worked a bit, but this one didn’t—perfect set-up and intonation from the git go. The company tells me they are considering Fender-style replacement necks as a possibility, and I would buy one of those right now.

The Final Mojo
At $3K the Liekki isn’t an entry-level instrument, and Flaxwood so far only has a few dealers in the USA. I have played guitars many times the cost of these that can’t touch them for playability, fit or finish. The sound is good and versatile, and the neck is probably the best feeling neck I’ve ever had my hands on. I would encourage you to seek one out and try it for yourself; I am sure you will be as impressed as I am.
Buy if...
you want a great playing, great sounding axe that won't warp.
Skip if...
you need a locking trem for never-ending dive bombs.

MSRP $3093 (fixed bridge); $3269 (with tremolo) - Flaxwood - flaxwood.com

Jeff tackles a Sears Twin Twelve 1484 paired with mismatched ohms and a Crate that resets itself

Hey there!
I just bought a Sears Twin Twelve 1484 head, and I am using the speakers/wiring and cabinet of my Fender Red Knob Evil Twin combo amp. The speakers are 8 ohms 100 watts each. Is this cool? It works, but I’m not sure if the ohms are matched right, and I don’t wanna mess up anything.

Hi Tom,
While two twelves is the correct speaker configuration for that Silvertone amp and most typical Fender Twin speaker configurations would be a perfect match, your Red Knob Evil Twin is not. Most standard Twins, both blackface and silverface, are typically loaded with two 8-ohm speakers wired in series (plus to plus, minus to minus on both speakers), providing a total load of 4 ohms. This, according to the schematic, is the proper load for the 1484 head. Your Red Knob Twin, however, utilizes two 8-ohm speakers wired in series (plus of one speaker to minus of the other), totaling a 16-ohm load.

You can rewire the speakers in your Twin for proper operation by connecting them in parallel. Remove one of the wires coming from the amp on only one of the speakers. Connect it to the opposite speaker so that you have both speaker wires from the amp connected to two terminals (plus and minus) on one speaker. You should now be left with one additional wire connected between the speakers. You’ll need to connect this wire to the same terminal on both speakers (pick either the + or -). You will need an additional wire to connect the opposite terminals on both speakers. You should now have the two speakers connected by two wires, one from + to + and the other from – to – , and the wires coming from the amp should be connected to the + and – on one speaker. You can now use your Twin speakers with the Silvertone head with a proper impedance match and maximum power transfer. Should you want to reconnect the speakers to the Twin chassis, simply select the 4-ohm setting and rock on!

Hey Jeff,
I have a Crate amp. It will stop playing—like it’s kicking out a breaker—then reset itself. As long as I don’t play it loud, it’s ok.
Thanks, T Moore

Hello T,
Thanks for your question. Since I don’t know the exact model of your amp, or have a complete description of the failure, I can’t be as specific as I’d like to be, but I’ll attempt to provide you with possible causes. My instinct here is that your problem is possibly heat related.

Because you say it seems like it’s kicking out a breaker, then resets itself, I assume that the unit actually loses all power: no sound, filaments in the tubes are not lit, and possibly the pilot light extinguishes. If this is the case, and the unit actually needs to cool down a bit before it will come back to life, the first thing I would suspect is the presence of a resettable thermal circuit breaker in the mains transformer. Playing the amp at a relatively low volume may draw less current from the transformer than playing loudly. The more current is pulled from the transformer, the warmer it can get. Once it reaches the temperature of the thermal breaker, the breaker will open, disconnecting the AC mains input to the transformer windings. If this is indeed the cause, the problem is not that the breaker is doing its job, but why. What is causing the unit to overheat? Does it lack proper ventilation? Most amps can get pretty hot if they’re not given enough ventilation space. If it is a relatively closed unit with a fan, maybe the fan has stopped working, or the unit is extremely dirty and unable to ventilate. Whether this is the cause of the failure or not, it’s certainly worth checking out.

Another possible cause of a loss-of-sound failure may be an intermittent effects loop jack, if the unit has an effects loop. In most amps that have a passive series loop, the full signal passes through the switching contacts in at least one of the effects loop jacks. If this set of contacts is either dirty or oxidized, the signal will become intermittent. This can also happen from a temperature rise in the amp causing the metal contacts in the jack to expand, possibly just enough to make a compromised contact intermittent. Cleaning or possibly replacing the jack(s) will cure the symptom, if it is indeed the cause.

Yet another possibility is the speaker, which could manifest a problem due to heat. Playing at lower volumes, the voice coil in the speaker will not generate much heat. Once higher power is applied to the speaker, the voice coil dissipates that power in the form of heat. This is especially true with overdriven or distorted sounds. The distorted or overdriven signal to the speaker, instead of being a pure sine wave, contains many forms of square wave. The speaker sees parts of these square waves as a form of DC voltage, which causes the speaker voice coil to generate more heat. The heat could then cause a winding or connection to open, causing loss of sound. If it’s possible, disconnect the current speaker from your amp and connect the amp to another speaker. If the symptom disappears, a speaker replacement is in order.

There you have some starting points. I hope it helps bring your Crate back to life.
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