While our columnist started out averse to the classic distortion pedal, they soon dove deep into its circuits to invent their own take.
It’s undeniable—the Fuzz Face is the most popular fuzz pedal in music history. Although it wasn’t the first fuzz ever created, nearly every stompbox manufacturer has attempted to replicate its circuitry. Furthermore, almost every guitarist has, at some point, incorporated it on their pedalboard. The question arises: Why? Is it due to its distinctive enclosure shape? Or, the eternal cliché question: Is it simply because Jimi Hendrix used it?
Well, I admit—I’m not even a Hendrix fan! My dad used to play his songs when I was a kid, but that’s precisely why I rebelled against it, countering Hendrix with Circle Jerks and Rancid! As a guitarist, I avoided the Fuzz Face for almost two decades. However, everything changed when I met Keket, my partner at Sehat Effectors. I found that he listened to Hendrix and music I’d never heard of before. Strangely enough, we still had something in common: Neither of us liked the Fuzz Face! For the first time, I’d met a guitarist who found inspiration in Hendrix’s songs, but didn’t like that pedal. And yet, there’s an expectation of me, as an effects-pedal builder, to offer my customers a version of the hallowed stomp. So, here, I’ll share my spiritual journey as a pedal builder lost in the endless labyrinth of the Fuzz Face.
In the process of creating our pedal that we came to call the Blown Face, I experimented with all sorts of variants of transistors and technology—from the highly sought-after germanium NKT275 version, to different types of germanium and silicon transistors from various series; then delving into the SMD/SMT versions that many dislike. I even took on digital emulations. In this journey, my main issue with the Fuzz Face was that its volume, at least with my simple setup, is too low for my liking (remember, I’m a fan of Circle Jerks!). This issue is even more pronounced when considering my band’s context, which also leans towards that same musical style. My ears have become accustomed to heavy and loud distortion, especially as a musician who frequently plays small gigs.
When I finally did develop the Blown Face into something loud and explosive, that still wasn’t enough. I wanted to replicate the original Fuzz Face enclosure, which, of course, I wanted to make my own using the sand-casting method. I also brought in features like the bias knob and a toggle switch that lets me turn it into a Tone Bender MkII, since, fundamentally, the Fuzz Face is descended from the Tone Bender Mk1.5. By adding a transistor to the input stage, it instantly becomes a MkII.
“Why is Stevie Ray Vaughan great? Because he’s heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix, but still manages to find his own style.”
So, what is the point? Well, I’m not a purist! I’m not trying to sound wise here. As a builder, I simply believe that being yourself isn’t a bad thing. Even though, we’re quite sure there are pedal builders out there who better understand and are far more inspired by the Fuzz Face than Sehat Effectors—legends like Analog Man with their iconic Sun Face, and other big names like Dunlop, MXR, Fulltone, Wren and Cuff, JAM Pedals…. They’re all great almost by definition at this point. Why is Jimi Hendrix great? Because he’s Jimi Hendrix! But, at the same time, why is Stevie Ray Vaughan great? Because he’s heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix, and still manages to find his own style. This kind of analogy will always go on.
In diving into my Fuzz Face journey, my objective was simple: to see where the labyrinth would lead. Fuzz Face is a temporal anomaly. In an era where guitar-effects technology is advancing rapidly and has even reached sophisticated digital emulation, the pedal has managed to carve out its own unique, lasting existence. In my opinion, it should have been included in the Voyager Golden Record, sailing through a universe that is believed to have no end and is continuously expanding. Eventually, it might reach another Jimi Hendrix, who’s billions of light years away from our beloved Third Stone From the Sun. Or, perhaps it could land in the hands of an extraterrestrial being in a galaxy we haven’t yet named. Though, that extraterrestrial being might pick it up and say, “Why is this thing coming to me?”
How the Vulfpeck picker travels the funk fantastic—with a compact pedalboard, a two-amp setup, and some classic-style axes.
Theo Katzman plays with a fluency and fire that makes this guitarist, producer, singer, and songwriter an MVP of modern, funk-fueled rock and pop. At a recent gig at Nashville’s Brooklyn Bowl outpost, Katzman—who’s also a member of the formidable Vulfpeck collective—invited PG’s Rig Rundown team to soundcheck, to see the gear that makes his tone sing. And Katzman’s tech, Nick “Turk” Nagurka, provided assistance.
Brought to you by D’Addario XS Strings.
Theo Katzman’s No. 1 is a Fender 1962 reissue that he’s had since he was 16. He stripped the Strat’s finish down to the bare wood, and then added an Ilitch Back Plate Hum Canceling system, which takes the noise out of the stock single-coil pickups. The Strat stays strung with D’Addario NYXL .010 sets. When Katzman plays with a pick, he uses Strum-N-Comfort SNC-ST/EXH/6 Sharktooth 1.5 mm Heavy Pearl Celluloids.
Katzman’s Tele is an $800 parts guitar with TV Jones pickups that he purchased on Reverb. It lives in open Eb and also has D’Addario NYXL .010s.
Black Hat Strat
This Japan-built ’62 reissue Strat has an oddball headstock, with what looks like black epoxy or resin covering most of what’s at the top of its Mike Cornwall neck. It’s tuned in open D and is used primarily for slide. The stings? Yep, D’Addario NYXL .010s.
Katzman uses two amps, sending a dry signal to his Benson Nathan Junior and a wet signal to his 1968 Fender Princeton Reverb loaded with a Celestion Greenback 12. Both amps face 90 degrees offstage, to prevent hitting the front row with a laser beam of awesome. The Princeton gets a Beyerdynamic M88, which complements the punchy midrange of the amp with a healthy proximity effect and rounds the top end out a bit.
Benson, Benson, Benson
The Benson has a bit more grind and a more controlled tone. He uses a Sennheiser 906 for a dry, clear sound with minimal proximity effect. Both amps feed into the in-ear-monitor mix, hard panned left and right. Since there’s some degree of modulation from the pedalboard, that helps Katzman enjoy a sense of space in his sound. The front-of-house mix typically uses the Benson, too, since it has a more refined sound.
Theo Katzman's Pedalboard
See how dynamic duo Megan and Rebecca Lovell dazzle and delight with a svelte signature lap steel (and its 1950s inspiration), two Fender Custom Shop throwbacks, and plenty of soulful, sweet-sounding, sister synergy.
“Our relationship is everything about this band,” conceded Rebecca Lovell to PG in 2022. “The way that we communicate, the way that we play together, the way that we facilitate one another’s musicianship. It is the air that we breathe as a band, and everything revolves around our siblinghood.”
Their symbiotic sorcery has taken them from budding bluegrass pickers in the Lovell Sisters (then alongside older sister Jessica Lovell) to real-deal rockstars as Larkin Poe with several No. 1 albums on the Billboard blues chart. Since 2010, when the sisters regrouped as an electric duo, they’ve released six studio albums, five EPs, and one live set. Each musical installment from the twosome continues to bring fresh songwriting and sonic influences, further intensifying and enlivening their core chicken-fried, boot-stompin’, roots-rockin’ sound.
On the penultimate day of their first touring leg in support of 2022’s Blood Harmony, the sensational Larkin Poe sisters, Megan and Rebecca Lovell, welcomed PG’s Chris Kies onstage at Nashville’s Brooklyn Bowl to talk tone. Megan shows off her brand-new Beard signature Electro-Liege lap steel and a 1950s Rickenbacker B6, featuring some ingenious engineering that inspired the Liege’s unique silhouette. Rebecca explains how she fell for the HSS Stratocaster and why she’s finally ready to be in a committed relationship with fuzz. Plus, we find out who’s taking who’s gear when it comes to the Lovell sisters and their significant others.
Brought to you by D’Addario String Finder.
The Slide Queen’s Loyal Subjects
After making the switch to electrified instruments, Megan Lovell has been an avid ambassador of the lap steel guitar. Her first and longest partnership with the instrument is an early 1950s Rickenbacker Electro Model B6 (top). The unusual upper-bout aluminum wing was something Megan created to help keep the instrument’s heft off her shoulder and put it in a more comfortable playing position.
As you can see below, the B6 was a big inspiration on Megan’s new Beard Guitars Electro-Liege lap steel. The Electro-Liege is built for comfort and speed, with a lightweight poplar body, Jason Lollar Horseshoe pickup, and a shape that was hand-drawn by Megan to emulate the same curves in the homemade body extension she uses for her Rickenbacker.
“Against Megan’s will, I have been calling her ‘the slide queen’ for a long time,” Rebecca said to PG in 2022. “I’ve sorta forced the issue and now she’s kinda stuck with it. So, she wanted to make a play on that, so liege is referring to the royalty angle. Megan went into granular detail about this. It was really cool to see these little paper cutouts on cardboard of what it was gonna look like, and hats off to Paul Beard for really taking all of her information and going for it.”
The result looks like a futuristic cross between her Rickenbacker and a Dobro. And the Liege carries half the weight of its forefather. “It was really cool that he had the trust to just take all of the measurements from my drawings and just make it,” Megan told PG. “It’s exactly what I wanted.” Both lap steels ride in open-G tuning, she puts Ernie Ball strings on them, and attacks both with Dunlop Zookies thumbpicks.
“The first electric guitar I ever bought, is my seafoam green Jazzmaster. I got that because we were playing with Elvis Costello, and that was his main guitar and I just thought it was so badass,” Rebecca detailed in PG in 2018. However, you won’t see any of those instruments in this Rundown. So, how did Rebecca come to love and appreciate the Strat?
Well, she’s married to Rig Rundown alumnus Tyler Bryant, who’s had a long association with that particular Fender. She snagged one of his Fender Custom Shop 1960s Stratocaster HSS’s and took it on tour. She loved its smaller, lighter profile and thicker tone. So, she enlisted the good people at the Fender Custom Shop to build her a clone of Bryant’s 1960s copy.
“I love humbuckers,” says Rebecca. “It’s so beefy, and having toured as a four-piece for so many years, that extra chunk has been helpful.”
Rebecca keeps all her electrics in standard tuning, they take Ernie Ball Slinkys (.010–.046), and she hammers against them with Dunlop Tortex .60 mm picks.
(It’s worth checking out Bryant’s Rundown to hear the story behind his two main “Pinky” Strats that are now immortalized in a Fender signature model.)
A Silvery Stunner
Rebecca’s other main Fender is this Custom Shop 1950s “blackguard” Tele that she requested be bedazzled in a silver-sparkle finish.
“This is the most bling thing I own. I’m not a big girly-girl, but come on! I love it because it’s spanky as hell,” admits Rebecca.
The Stolen Special
Here’s the gateway drug that introduced Rebecca into the specialness of Strats. She still tours with it and keeps it stocked and ready for any backup duties.
The ladies are vintage small-combo aficionados, but the rigors of the road make traveling with them a nerve-wracking endeavor. Their collective solution is to tour with a couple of Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverbs. And both plug into the amp’s vibrato circuit.
Double Trouble—Megan Lovell & Rebecca Lovell’s Pedalboards
As with their onstage amp choices, the sisters have nearly identical pedalboards. Both rely on a Line 6 HX Effects, a Strymon Iridium, and a Rodenberg Custom Amplification TB Drive. The drive is Tyler Bryant’s signature pedal that stacks a pair of TS-style circuits into one box. He had a custom enclosure made for both Megan (“Slide Queen”) and Rebecca (“Habibi”) that has their respective nicknames on it (top). Megan has an Ernie Ball 40th Anniversary Volume Pedal and Peterson StroboStomp HD Tuner, while Rebecca (bottom) has some added firepower with a Beetronics Royal Jelly and a limited edition MXR Sugar Drive in a “brown sugar” coating. Additionally, Rebecca has a Boss TU-3 Chromatic tuner to keep her guitars in check. Both Lovells have a Strymon Zuma power supply and a Xact Tone Solutions routing box under the hood.