We’re all searching for the perfect pedal board with a dozen or two pedals to replicate David’s Animals or PULSE tones. But I often go back to the basics discovering the beauty of just a handful of classics for albums like Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother. I recently got my hands on a London Fuzz from MJM Guitar FX and here’s my review.
Fuzz pedals appeared in the mid sixties after guitarists had been experimenting with everything from pierced speaker cones to broken tubes. The fuzz pedal was designed to push the loud tube amps into wild distortion and by the end of the decade every guitarist used one.
It’s interesting to see how David and Hendrix represent the two (main) ways to use the fuzz pedal. Hendrix, mainly using dark sounding Marshall stacks already cranked for a mild overdrive, used the fuzz to further boost the amp. By controlling the amount of gain from the pedal with the guitar volume knob, he could get a wide range of tones from mild overdrive to saturated fuzz. This is basically the same thing Stevie Ray Vaughan did a couple of decades later when he used the Tube Screamer to crank his amps. David on the other hand relied on clean Hiwatts and used the fuzz to create crunchy rhythms and heavy leads. The tone isn’t that much different from Hendrix’ but David’s setup gave him a much wider range of tones and a bit more control.
David used germanium based fuzz pedals from 1968-71, when he switched over to silicon based units. The London Fuzz is based on the first generation Fuzz Face with two germanium transistors (also available as the London Fuzz II with silicon transistors). Compared to silicon transistors, which has a bright aggressive tone (Live at Pompeii, Dark Side of the Moon etc) the germanium produce a warm smooth fuzz (More, Atom Heart Mother).
What makes the London Fuzz stand out from the average germanium fuzz is that it’s got a bit more gain and a generally warmer tone, which makes it work nicely on smaller amps as well as your large tube heads. The pedal has rich fat lower end and smooth top and it sound huge even on low output pickups like the CS69. It’s extremely dynamic to both your picking and the guitar volume knob and by leaving the fuzz all the way up as your main setting you can control the amount of gain from near crystal clean to screaming fuzz, depending on your amp and pickups. Unlike silicon units, the germanium fuzz can often sound muddy and lose some of its character when you max everything but the London Fuzz stays remarkably “tidy” with a well defined attack and clarity.
Fuzz pedals and germanium models in particular are extremely sensitive to combinations with other pedals. Always place the fuzz in front of the wah wah and for the best tone I recommend a minimum of pedals in the chain and ideally no one with buffers. This will in some cases dramatically change the character of the pedal. Some pedals works better than others – buffered included – so eliminate those who do the most damage (I’ve recommended some setups below). Also, be sure to always use carbon batteries. No alkaline and no battery clip converters! This will alter the tone.
The London Fuzz is housed in a MXR style (slightly bigger) box with cool retro knobs and graphics. Every pedal is handwired with matched transistors.
Fuzz pedals can be a bit tricky to use on smaller amps and transistors and normally I wouldn’t recommend using one if you’re mainly playing at home on a 30w solid state. The pedal often sound too thin with a harsh, raspy tone far from what you wanted. As talked about above, the best match for these pedals is a powerful tube amp cranked really hard but you can compensate this by adding an overdrive pedal after the fuzz like a Boss BD-2, Tube Driver or Colorsound Powerboost. The essence here is to use a transparent pedal. A Tube Screamer as similar will colour too much. As talked about above, you should try to avoid using buffered pedals with fuzz pedals but some works better than others and here’s a setup that works nicely for me:
Roll the gain all the way down to get the least amount of gain possible and likewise with the tone, – fuzz pedals doesn’t like too much treble in combo with other pedals. Roll the tone all the way down on the BD-2 and leave the treble at about 9:00 on the Colorsound and 12:00 on the Tube Driver. You can also use the gain channel on your amp (instead of a pedal). I normally advice against this but if you set it with the gain as low as possible just to active the channel, the fuzz gets the basis it needs to sound its best.
My favorite old school Gilmour setup:
MJM London Fuzz, Vox Wah Wah, Colorsound Powerboost, MJM Sixties Vibe, EH Deluxe Memory Man.
An honest review should include both pros and cons but I really don’t have anything to put my finger on when it comes to the London Fuzz. Fuzz pedals aren’t for everyone and shouldn’t be confused with a Big Muff or distortion like the RAT or Boss DS-1 but if you’re like me seeking the early Gilmour tones, Hendrix etc the London Fuzz delivers beyond my expectations. I also want to commend MJM on one of the best customer services I’ve encountered.
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