Fuzz Face

 

Fuzz Face 1966 first edition

 

 

    

History of the Fuzz Face

 

Fuzz Face was first issued by Arbiter Electronics Ltd. inautumn 1966. The unique idea of its unusual shape was captured by the famous Ivor Arbiter himself, when he saw a classic microphone stand with a cast iron base on its bottom. By mimicking this metal microphone base and using it as a pedal box he designed this pioneering effect-pedal model.

    The design and architectural concept behind this pedal was pretty simple. It has two large knobs, one for volume level and one for the amount of fuzz effect in the output. The arrangement of controls on the case is similar to this of a smiley face where the volume and fuzz controls are the eyes, the stomp-switch resembles the nose, the company’s logo is the smiling mouth and the wedge-shaped rubber-mat is the beard.

     The first models in 1966 were painted in red and light or dark gray Hammerite paint with the Fuzz Face logo in white either black color.

     An easy way to recognize the original first edition (1966) of the vintage Fuzz Face and distinguish them from later releases (1969) or later “clone” versions, is to pay attention of the “smiling” logo in the picture above and see if all the details are similar.

 More precisely the logo in the first press was “ARBITER - ENGLAND”, where the later release (after the union of Arbiter-England & Dallas Musical Instruments in 1968) was replaced by the logo “DALLAS - ARBITER -ENGLAND”.

     Another, more sophisticated way to verify this is to open the pedal and look in the circuit enclosed within. By looking into it, you should be able to track some of the original vintage transistors having the following code names:

 

-           NKT 275

-           AC 128

 

If you can locate the above components within the pedal this is probably the original version of the Fuzz pedal !   

 

 

                                                

Fuzz Face Arbiter – England, NTK 275 1966                     Fuzz Face Dallas - Arbiter – England, BC108 1969

 

In the beginning of the seventies, the smile changed again for the third time and the text was: DALLAS MUSIC INDUSTRIES LTD.

 

From ’66 to ’69 Fuzz Face used the germanium transistors which provide the unique and rare (because of these transistors NKT 275 or AC 128) valuable sound. In the early 1970’s, more quality pedals produced with the use of silicon transistors (BC108CBC183Letch.) made it more stable and suitable with all types of pickups. The original production of the Fuzz Face ceased in 1975. In the late 1970’s they moved to the United States. The company bought Crest Audio in the 1980s and reissued the Fuzz Face in 1986 using the Dallas-Arbiter name. They produced about 2000 Fuzz Faces until 1990.

Nowadays, a wide variety of clones and Fuzz Face pedals are available. In 1993 Dunlop Manufacturing, Inc. took over production. In the late 1990s Arbiter reissued the pedal as well. Dunlop Manufacturing Inc. currently owns the Fuzz Face and Dallas and Arbiter trademarks which still make the pedal. Germanium and silicon transistor versions are available. But which actually is the original Fuzz Face pedal? Although plenty of companies produce stomp boxes with the name “fuzz face”, even DIY kits are made from plenty of companies, but there is no connection to the original one, using completely different components. For example, Jim Dunlop produces a “Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face” pedal which is popular to many, but doesn’t make it the original one. Like the Dunlop model, many manufacturers produce a reissue or “reconstruction” of the classic Arbiter English version but there is not the original classic pedal. Although some of these “remakes” are very good none are as revered as the original English version. Even the Dallas-Arbiter version is slightly different from the original English model; it’s the specific “bite”, the “spark” that initiate by sound the listener to love this pedal is lost and makes difficult to describe the majesty of the vintage Fuzz Face. Of course there are great versions of the Fuzz Face but just not quite as great as the original.

 

 

Technology of the Fuzz Face

 

 

NTK 275 Germanium transistors

 

The original circuit has eleven components, with the battery. The unique sound of the Fuzz Face is mostly dependent on the selection of transistors (type, hfe and leakage for germanium transistors).The circuit is based on the shunt series feedback topology. Sola Sound had been using the same topology for some versions of their Tone Bender pedals in 1966.NKT275 or AC128 are the original PNP germanium transistors used in the first series of the Fuzz Face. Newmarket Electronics was producing NKT275 in England. Most people loved this “can” transistor, characterizing it as the “magical” transistor with the tone of a tube (also, some still do!). Now days the NKT275 is long gone, original production terminated years ago and it’s almost certain that you will not find even an original sample. There was also a third type of germanium transistor, SF363E. This was rarer but had almost the same sound characteristics as the other two. The significant thing about germanium type transistors in this pedal is when matched properly produce tube-like responsiveness and fat harmonics. Proper matching and biasing was the problem that made pedals differ in sound, even from the same production period, guitarists had to pick a dozen and chose which one is the best. The tolerances of the other components make the difference too. Also, germanium transistors are sensitive to temperature adjustments and the stability of the pedal’s function could change as the equipment heated up; sometimes stops playing. According to Roger Mayer, Hendrix’s guitar tech, Jimi would buy half a dozen Fuzz Faces and mark the one he liked best only to find out that he didn't like in a different environment.

BC 108 silver metal can silicon transistors

 

In an attempt to make better the pedal, the germaniums were replaced in about 1969 by the new and also more stable NPN silicon transistors. Comparing the tone of old and new versions, this was the start of a new age for the most popular fuzz effect. The first NPN silicon transistors used were the BC108C and the BC183L, which produces more gain. Also, BC183KA, BC130C, BC108C. The American made versions used BC109, BC109Cand BC209C which was the final type of transistors before the original production of the Fuzz Face ceased in 1974 - 1975. Silicon transistors were silver casing and only half the size comparing germanium ones, but soon all silicon got the black plastic look they still have today. Arbiter reissues used AC128s.

 

                                                                                     

                                                                             

                BC 108 black plastic silicon transistors

 

 

Silicon transistors used for Fuzz Face have huge amounts of gain, compared to a germanium. Increasing treble and decreasing bass, weakening midrange but makes it work well with all types of pickup-positions. Silicon transistors will not offer the same warmth as its predecessor but will keep their original sound for years, something which is always the problem with germanium ones, in fact that was the reason that kicked out from production. It’s very hard to find an original Fuzz Face from the original production that still sounds great today because transistor deterioration is certain due to germanium transistors.

 

Famous Users of the Fuzz Face

 

The Fuzz Face quickly from early sixties became popular. Jimi Hendrix soon discovered its tonal qualities, many more followed like: David Gilmour, Pete Townshend, Eric Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan and George Harrison. We must be honest to say that there wasn’t that many different fuzz pedals to choose back then, but the facts shows that this equipment was right there at the epicenter, it was unique and as it shows it is more unique now days as an original one  costs more than 1000$. Among well-known Swedish players were Claes Yngström and Staffan Astner using Fuzz Face. Swedish guitar-legend Kenny Håkansson could during one period be seen with two Fuzz Faces plugged in series.