One of the furriest, foxiest fuzz machines ever is reborn in a compact and more capable incarnation.
Rich, sonorous basic fuzz tones. Controlled but nasty octave effects. Footswitchable octave. Mid-boost option.
A few bucks on the spendy side relative to the competition. Footswitches close together.
Danelectro 3699 Fuzz
Ease of Use:
I’ve played original Foxx Tone Machines through big amplifiers a few times, and I can still feel those sounds reverberating in my gut. What I remember best was how throaty and massive the fuzz sounded—even before you activated the eye-watering octave-up function.
Danelectro’s new take on the Tone Machine, the 3699, has an interesting pedigree, because Danelectro is now owned by Steve Ridinger, the man who shepherded the original Tone Machine into existence in 1971. But Danelectro clearly didn’t rely on pedigree in executing this design. It’s burly, refined, sounds authentically vintage, and hits me with a wallop in the same spot where those originals left beautiful scars years ago.
Cut You Down to Size
The original Tone Machine was an odd bird. For starters, the enclosure was literally fuzzy. It was also big and curiously configured—with side-mounted knobs and an octave toggle, and a single, lonely footswitch on top. The 3699 reduces the footprint of the original. But it also adds two features that did not appear on the Tone Machine: a dedicated footswitch for the octave effect and a toggle that switches between the standard fuzz voice and a more mid-forward mode.
The 3699’s footswitches are close together—less than 1 1/2" on center—so you have to take care not to bypass the pedal entirely when selecting the octave. But the footswitch is a practical improvement over the toggle that performed the same function on the original. Elsewhere, output volume, fuzz, and tone controls are straight-ahead and self explanatory.
Brings the Boom
Though the 3699 is an octave fuzz, you’re just as likely to fall hard for the fundamental fuzz tone sans octave. It’s more than a little reminiscent of a Big Muff, with a compressed foghorn-like attack, honey-smooth sustain, and enough sting and definition on top to create perceptible string-to-string separation. Full chords sound surprisingly articulate.
As with many hot silicon fuzzes, you can’t readily transform the 3699 into an overdrive with guitar volume attenuation. It’s fuzzy down at the lowest ranges of its gain, and just gets more menacing and bright as you add gain. But you can coax dank, swampy, and complex sounds that bridge overdrive and fuzz by attenuating guitar tone and volume—achieving settings that can make a Telecaster sound like a Les Paul neck humbucker driving a tweed Deluxe. The tone control is the more effective means of re-shaping the fuzz’s personality, and there are many shades of buzz—from smoky and blunted to searing and metallic.
The octave effect itself dovetails beautifully with the fundamental tones. And at times the shift between straight fuzz and octave fuzz at lower tone and gain levels can be surprisingly subdued. On the other hand, the 3699 octave fuzz can generate punchy, harmonically whole, and sustain-rich chords, where other octave fuzzes collapse into chaos. Conjuring the most intense octave sounds is typically a function of adding top end, and there is plenty of range in the tone control to transform your tone from hazy to hair-singeing. At these higher-end tone levels, the 3699 retains its essential cohesiveness, but takes on an absolutely manic edge. Playing lead lines against droning strings at the 10th fret or higher can even create clanging ring modulated sounds.
The 3699 won’t back you into a creative corner. The fundamental fuzz sounds so good that you might make it your number one. And with the octave in the mix, it’s softer around the edges—even at extreme gain and tone settings—than other Tone Machine clones I’ve heard. To me that’s a good thing. It lends the 3699 a more controlled and predictable feel without surrendering its most feral side—almost as if you were sending your guitar via direct injection to a desk and cranking the gain on the console. To call the 3699 completely civilized might be a reach. At many settings, it can be downright thuggish. But its range of tones add up a multitude of musical options—making it one of the most flexible octave fuzzes you’ll ever play.
The PG Mad Professor Super Black review.
Spot-on Fender black-panel sounds. Simple and effective controls. Excellent overdrive channel.
Expensive. Nasty pop when engaging the compressor.
Mad Professor Super Black
Ease of Use:
Finland-based pedal builder Mad Professor has invented a stompbox that can dial up a range of classic black-panel Fender sounds. It's called the Super Black. Unlike a vintage amp, it won't break the bank or your back. And in a blindfold test, it might just blow the minds of hard-core Fender freaks.
At $299, the Super Black ain't cheap, but it also includes Mad Professor's Sweet Honey Drive circuit, which is about $150 on its own and can be used in combination with the Super Black's tone shaping tools or in standalone mode.
Into the Black
Here's the concept: Mad Professor says it's recreated the topology of Fender's famed AB763 circuit— the foundation for the black-panel Deluxe, Twin Reverb, Super Reverb, and Bassman, among others—within Super Black's 4 ½" x 3 ½" x 1 1/2" enclosure. Skeptical? I was, until I plugged in my Stratocaster and started playing. In no time I was conjuring spot-on duplicates of Deluxe, Twin, and Bassman tones—my favorite Fender flavors. (I run through those three voices in the demo video, using a Carr Vincent amp.)
The control set for the Super Black is simple. On the top row, there's a 3-band EQ and a gain dial. Under that are volume and presence knobs. For the Sweet Honey Overdrive section of the circuit, there's volume and drive (the “focus" control from the full-featured Sweet Honey has been omitted here). There's also a very effective bass cut toggle for moments when more chime is in order, and another toggle for compression. The compression switch is the source of my only issue with the Super Black because flicking the compressor on or off emits a popping sound. Otherwise, it's a blast to use. The Super Black can be powered with a 9V battery or DC.
Spanning the AB763 Family
The Super Black's ability to approximate the dynamic range and characteristics of low- to high-powered black-panel circuits is remarkable. The pedal's most Deluxe-like tones (attainable with EQ controls at noon and volume and presence in a tight V) have lots of boxy, small-combo definition. In a more Bassman-like mode (bass and mids cranked, a little less treble, and the compression on) the mellow lows and hard-punching midrange are prominent. And as a stand-in for a Twin (which you get by backing off the gain and keeping the EQ controls between 11 and 2 o' clock) it was a dead ringer for the beloved 1966 black-panel I parted with last year, as a gift to my back. It's articulate and rich, with beautifully crisp mid range, clarion highs, and wonderfully fast response. It made me sentimental. If I'd been able to fit that amp in the palm of my hand, I'd still own it today. Toss in the Sweet Honey's growling overdrive and the age-old problem of pushing a high-powered Fender hard enough to get amp breakup is solved—all at very civilized volumes.
The Honey Drive, by the way, is a sweet deal all by itself. It's a medium-gain OD that is touch-sensitive and really shovels on dirt the harder you dig in. When its drive dial is cranked, that's an estimable amount of soil, and it's good at getting loud and filthy. But blended with the Super Black section's control set, however, there are lots of possibilities for fine-tuning the balance of clarity and distortion.
Sure, it's costly, but the Super Black lets you carry the taste of about a half-dozen classic black-panel Fenders to a gig or the studio with one hand. And with the Sweet Honey Overdrive included, it's a two-fer that solves the too-much-headroom issues of bigger Fenders while putting a great overdrive at your disposal. Needless to say, you need a relatively clean amp for this pedal to do its job right. Gainy or grainy amps don't let the Super Black's palette breathe its own rich voices. But the richness of these sounds proves there's genuine method in the madness of this pedal's creator.
Watch the Demo:
Mad modulator? Dipsy delay? Flipped filter? Slippery sequencer? Maybe it’s a tuneful popcorn machine in a box! The PG Alexander Superball review.
Recorded via Shure SM57 and Apogee Duet to Garage Band with Guild X-175 and Fender Vibro Champ.
The first set of arpeggiated passages is played in LFO mode at various rates, depths, and filter settings.
At 0:51, the pedal’s “high” range is altered to generate a bouncier delay.
Capable of switching from conventional to demented sounds. Provokes unorthodox creative decisions.
Learning curve can be steep. It can be hard to return to identical settings without presets.
Alexander Superball Kinetic Modulator
Ease of Use:
I don’t know about you, but I think the superball is the greatest bang-for-the-buck toy value ever. Just drop a couple quarters in the gumball machine and you’ve got hours of endless hilarity, mischief, and good times—at least until it bounces across six lanes of boulevard and down the storm drain.
Alexander Pedals’ aptly named Superball often behaves with the randomness and high-energy potential of those manically elastic little spheres. At its core, the Superball is a digital delay. But its onboard sequencer and LFO make it a very unique delay—one that often sounds nothing like delay at all.
Blink ’Til Yer Batty
The Superball isn’t the kind of pedal that you plug in and get precisely the sound you expect. It can feel alternately chaotic and thrilling. But as musically freeing as the Superball can be, dialing in sounds you hear in your head can be elusive and complex without a lot of practice. In most settings, Superball is lit up like a busy international airport tarmac at night, largely because it relies on different color LEDs—some static, some blinking—to relay information about your control mode, modulation rate, wave shape, and more. It adds up to a lot of information to take in at any given time, and you really have to engage simultaneously with abstraction and logic to bend Superball to your whims.
Bouncing from Base Camp
In the included manual (and in an excellent tutorial video), Alexander prescribes a method for dialing up a baseline delay mode. It’s an effective jump-off point. And from this setting you can use the delay quite conventionally, adjusting repeats, delay time, and mix to fairly predictable ends.
As you stray from the baseline delay, it’s important to pay close attention to how the knobs affect the signal in different control modes (which you change using the small red pushbutton in the center). Two of Superball’s four basic control modes, “lo” and “hi,” determine the characteristics of the two delays that Superball modulates between. (You can think about them as the points at which a superball hits the ground and the apex of its arc.)
In LFO mode, these knob functions shift. Rate determines how fast the pedal modulates between the two delays. Depth controls the modulation intensity. Wave selects sine, square, ascending and descending saw tooth, or random modulation wave shapes. The sync knob, meanwhile, determines whether the pedal continuously modulates between the two delays, or modulates in bounce mode, in which each successive modulation loses intensity (a nice way to tuck some of the Superball’s more radical textures into more mix-friendly spaces).
In sequencer mode, the controls regulate how many steps make up a sequence and enable selections from five different sequencer patterns. You can also control the rate at which those patterns percolate and whether the sequence is continuous or activated by the bounce switch.
Given how tricky it can be to craft specific sounds, the presets are critical to returning reliably to a pattern you like. Thankfully, the set-and-recall functions are simple—involving just a few fast maneuvers with the right footswitch and center control button.
The Superball isn’t all randomness. Some LFO mode settings can deliver the smooth undulations of a rotating speaker. Delays can have a warm, round fundamental sound, and gently rise in intensity before cycling again. With the presets you can move between these more sedate sounds and weirder fare. And using the pedal in this way opens doors for conventional players that like a blast of randomness in an otherwise predictable musical setting.
The Superball is chock-full of possibilities for ambient and improvisational guitarists, and players that perform in electronic music settings, as well as aspiring Jonny Greenwoods. Given the vast variety of available sounds, it’s a shame you can’t get more presets without bringing MIDI into the picture. But the ground you can cover with just four presets, and the almost infinite number of sounds you can make, give Superball fantastic potential for sparking song and riff creation, spicing up mundane passages, and re-shaping whole musical moods.