Using Fuzz in Modern Music

Fuzz is one of those effects that a lot of guitarists kind of overlook. I was the same way…used to feel like it was kind of outdated, and that I would only use it for those rare times when I needed a retro, Hendrix-y vibe. And then I started looking into some great tones I was hearing from different bands…Coldplay, Death Cab, Elliot Goldenthal, U2, The Listening, Chris Tomlin; and I kept finding that it was fuzz pedals behind some of the best sounds.

So I did a little research, and a little playing. And I just started to fall in love with fuzz pedals. (Ya, I know, that’s probably not a surprise. I’ve fallen in love with pretty much every effect I’ve ever heard……except for flange! Yikes, I can never get into that effect! Go listen to U2′s ‘Numb’. The flange just kills that song. Wow! This is a first in my posting life! Talking bad about a U2 song! Get ready, folks, the world just might be coming to an end right now.) More specifically, the germanium transistor ones. There are also silicon transistors, which tend to be a little more straight up and down, and dryer. And they sound great, too. The germanium ones just really seemed to fit me. 

Now, fuzz can be really daunting, because it reacts to everything. That’s fair warning, because you have to find the one that reacts right to your rig, and you’ll think you’ve found it, and then you haven’t. I know that sounds odd, but that’s just how they work. It has to be first in your effects chain, it doesn’t like certain effects, it reacts to how loud your amp is, it’s picky about what overdrives you stack with it, and it’ll give you different harmonics for different stacked notes and for different octaves. Really interesting pedal, but really, really fun. And you just can’t substitute the fullness and sustain that those crazy harmonics give you. Granted, most of the time you will still want to use an overdrive pedal, but for some of the most killer tones, it’s really nice to have a fuzz every once in a while.

So I made a few videos of using fuzz in modern music, and you’ll notice that most of the chords I play over are worship-style chords. The fuzz used is a germanium transistor Hartman fuzz. And my apologies in advance for youtube’s video compression, which takes away some clarity when I have a couple loops going. 

Video 1. This one runs through the obvious, upfront and aggressive fuzz tones. It also goes into how to use fuzz in conjunction with some modulation pedals to use the fullness of fuzz to just fill up the mix in the background. And lastly, it will hit some swells. Swells with fuzz are really, really cool because of the harmonics and sustain.

 

Video 2. This will pick up with the swell tones, and do a couple more synthy-type things, and then go into using fuzz a little more aggressively, but without going into vintage or blues sounds. More so getting out of what we think fuzz is, and into looking at it as a full, harmonic, and unpredictable effect that can offer a really cool tonal palette that will really drive the parts you want to take to the next level. (Oh, ya, and there’s an unplanned tuner plug in there somewhere.)

Video 3. And this one ends by doing some more driving stuff, and also noting how the fuzz can offer some vintage blues tones by rolling off on the guitar’s volume knob.

So hopefully those give a little flavor of what fuzz can do to modern music (hehe in a good way), and more specifically, how it can really drive those parts of worship songs that need bringing up, and can really sit in the background without drawing attention to your guitar. Both of those techniques can really, really help in worship music.

And just for fun, here’s the one U2 song I can’t stand. What were they thinking.

But of course, because I have such large big boy crushes on them, or maybe just one huge collective big boy crush on the band in general (whichever one you want), I can’t end a post with a horrid song by them. So here’s the song that first got me thinking ‘what in the world is he using for that sound’ and then finding out it was a fuzz. Well, a fuzz, a vintage guitar, great amps, and a bit of talent. But, you know. And oddly enough, this is from the same concert as the above song. This is one of my all-time favorite songs by them. Just emotionally compelling…forever. Just like fuzz. I like fuzz. Fuzz. Fuzz and U2. U2 and fuzz. Doesn’t get much better than that. Here it is:

Mmmmm……fuzz.
Karl.

42 thoughts on “Using Fuzz in Modern Music

  1. aw. love is blindness. favorite solo ever. (well the solo on bullet the blue sky live, on the stay far away so close single is right next to it)

    which looper are you using?

    I’ve stayed away from fuzzes in the past, I think only because I’ve only ever demoed them in a guitar center setting, and they’ve always sounded like crap. Now I’m more interested to hear how they sound in a better setting. My wallet hates you.

  2. Oh, seriously!! That Bullet the Blue Sky one gets me every time. And I love that every version of it, he does something slightly different. Man, it’s nice to meet someone who shares my affinity for U2 solos. ;)

    And I’m using the looper in the Damage Control Timeline. It’s not a dedicated looper, and you can’t store loops, but it has the best quantize function of any looper I’ve tried. Meaning, I don’t have to be exactly on tempo with my recording (which, unfortunately, I’m often times not. :) ) And I don’t loop all that often, so when I’m not using it for a looper, I’ve got another delay pedal to use, which can never be a bad thing. hehe

    And ya, fuzzes are so picky, it’s one pedal that you really have to get a good one for it to sound right. And sorry about your wallet. Fuzzes kill mine, too! I’ve just been obsessed lately.

  3. Nice job as always. BTW, your previous Fuzz Shootout is on Hartmans main webpage. Congrats, huH?

    I’ve been playing with my EH Muff, but am thinking the fuzz faces are the sound to have…
    hmmm….

    nice..

  4. Larry–thanks, man. And no, that’s the first I’ve heard about my shootout being up on the Hartman effects site. Guess I shouldn’t have hit so many clunker notes on those things! hehe

    And no, I haven’t gotten my hands on the Analogman fuzzes yet. Hopefully soon, though. The BJF is finally done, so maybe I can shootout with i and some Analogman stuff.

    Dan–the Hartman changed my life. No, literally…hehe ;)

  5. I love Love is Blindness. Sadly, I had never heard it until I heard Sixpence None the Richer’s cover of it (which I love). I will admit, a tear was shed listening and watching that particular video. That was beautiful.

  6. Right on. Good to know I’m not the only person who cries on that song. It’s seriously beyond words. And I’m sure that’s all because of the fuzz. ;)

  7. I agree on Numb. Not their finest moment.
    But Stay on Zooropa is pretty amazing.
    And there is a flangy sounding lead part that sounds a lot like a Lovetone ? flanger.

    This U2 b-side kills me. It should have made the last album.

    Happy New Year!

  8. haha Totally. Ya, Stay is a great song, though. A bit more of a toned down flange sound; which totally works for the song, even though I’m really not a flange guy. And ya, Edge seems to love his Lovetones.

    And Mercy is a cool song……I had heard rumors of it on the next album or something?

    Happy new year to you, too, and nice blog by the way! I tried to post a comment on it, but it looks like I failed. hehe I suck at computer stuff. :)

  9. What are you current setttings on the Hartman Fuzz?
    Are you setting it like a classic setting where you get a clean sound at guitar volume 5, and extra fuzzy at full guitar volume?

    And… battery— or 9v? ;)

  10. I do use it as a classic fuzz every once in a while, but then I just change the settings. Most of the time I’m using it un-traditionally as an overly harmonic overdrive/distortion; so my normal settings are the volume all the way up, level/bias almost all the way up, and then fuzz at about 3 o’clock. :) Hope that helps!

  11. Numb is PERFECT the way it is… composing that song after albums like War or T.J.T. is … just unreal , Magnificient ;P

  12. Javier–welcome, bro!! :) Great to have you here. And I do agree, it is pretty incredible that they can be diverse enough to write Numb, Magnificent, and songs like Streets. I like them a lot. hehe ;)

  13. Sounds sooo good.

    Your playing on the 2nd video is really pretty. I really like it. Will have to try my fuzzes with a looper too.

    If I can find that Hartman fuzz, I’ll get it.

    Thanks for blogging, really enjoyable. GBU

  14. Thanks for the kind words, Cunchy. Great to have you here! :) And that Hartman fuzz is totally worth it. Switch to the neck pickup, and whoa. Beautiful pedal. Cheers!

  15. is the hartman true bypass? their website says it is, but on your shootout you said something about them all sucking tone. and i’ve seen them for all sorts of different prices from 160 brand new to 200 on the site. im trying to fiugre out if there is a non and tb model. any ideas?

  16. It is true bypass. I mentioned the tone suck in the video because there were 7 or so pedals; so there was a lot of cable length and circuitry, even for true bypass pedals. I don’t know however, what the price differences are on the site. I know he does have a couple made with some very rare chips, so maybe those are the more expensive ones? And he also has some dual switch ones…that’s all I can think of for the price difference.

    But the Hartman is a great fuzz. Plus it looks really cool with the gold vintage fade thing…which in turn helps the tone, of course. hehe ;)

  17. Hey Karl! I’m interested in a Fuzz pedal…I’m just having a hard time deciding what will sound good with my rig. Im running it through a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. I’m looking at the ZVex Vextron Mastotron Fuzz because it is moderately priced and seems to have good features. I also have a ts-9 tubescreamer for my overdrive, so I obviously want something that will be significantly different from the sounds I can make with that. Thanks a ton man! I love your blog!

  18. Hey Blake. Thanks for the kind words on the blog. As for fuzz, what types of sounds are you going for? With the Fender, I;d suggest a germanium type, as silicon tends to have scooped mids, which the Hot Rod already has a bit. But the Mastotron may still sound great through it, especially if that silicon Big Muff type sound is what you’re after. :) Hope that helps a bit! I can advise further once I know what sounds you want out of the fuzz. :) Cheers, my friend!

  19. Hmm…. well like I said, I don’t know have a lot of knowledge of fuzz pedals, but I want it to be noticeably different from my overdrive. I like the almost messy sound, a little muffed, so I may like the Mastotron. I will defintely be using it for swells as well. But, what is a decently priced germanium type? Then I can compare the sounds. Maybe the Zvex fuzz factory? Thanks a lot!

    -Blake

  20. Well, of course I’m partial, but I love the Hartman Vintage Germanium Fuzz. And I got mine for like, $115 used. Also, Monsterpiece makes some great and very well-priced germanium fuzzes. And the MJM London fuzz. The germanium ones tend to be the messier sounding ones, and the ones that stand out in a mix more. The silicon ones overall tend to be more articulate, a little cleaner, and sit further back in the mix.

    If you are set on silicon though, the MJM Foxey Fuzz is the best I’ve played. :) Cheers, bro!

  21. Well, i don’t feel bad anymore about making you spend money on your matchless, because tomorrow i will be purchasing a hartman fuzz. i played one today at sam ash, and i couldn’t stop playing and smiling. it sounds so stinkin thick and creamy and any other adj. you might use to describe the best milkshake ever. but at the same time was so nasty and in your face sounding. SO great.
    my question for you is off the top of your head where should i put it to experience the least unnecessary insanity? before every overdrive right? and before or after tuner which is first. thanks man.

  22. Really?! That is so awesome! I adore my Hartman fuzz. Everything you described. And it likes to be first in the chain, even before the tuner and/or wah.

  23. Karl, great blog and great shootouts, tests, and practical guides/ideas on how to use gear to enhance and color music. Injust purchased a Hartman Fuzz and was trying to figure out the sounds you were using (I see you pared your settings above). However I did have a question about volume. When I have my volume all the way clockwise on my hartman it is the same volume I would have with the pedal off, which i found unusual as I’m used to dealing with overdrive pedals. Is that normal, or l should my pedals volume be louder?

  24. Thanks for the kind words, Anthony. And yes, that’s totally normal for fuzz. It’s actually an effect, rather than a drive, in that it ‘fuzzes’ your signal but does not necessarily boost it. The harmonic structure can sometimes cause certain frequencies to cut through more, making it sound like it’s boosted. Very interesting pedals. You’ll find that it’ll do different things (get louder and softer than your clean tone) depending on where your amp’s volume is. Hope that helps!

  25. Good stuff Karl! What’s your take on Octa-Fuzz? I’ve avoided Fuzz pretty much my entire life as a guitarist but lately I’ve been thinking about an Octa-Fuzz. Not necessarily for the pretty worship sounds (although I’m sure you could tell me how to use it for that too) but really just for that nasty blues-rock solo tone. I’m thinking like “Blue on Black” by Kenny Wayne Shepherd and I’ve notice John Mayer using it sometimes on “Where The Light Is.” (Well, I think that’s what it was anyway. Don’t ask me which song, but I know he did at least once).
    I’d love to hear your take on them and if you have a suggestion of a good one. I know exactly 0.0 about Fuzz.

    Thanks!

  26. I think octa-fuzz can be cool. Most of them though, don’t really sound like octaves. Fuzzes are so harmonic, that a good one will start to make subtle octave sounds. So the ‘octave fuzzes’ have just tuned them towards that end a bit. Personally, a lot of them start to sound kind of burly to me, and I prefer a good harmonic regular fuzz. But I can see where both could be an advantage. :)

  27. Hmmm…

    Ones where the recording sounds like they’re using fuzz:

    -Ready Now by Desperation Band…the bridge and guitar solo
    -Let God Arise by Chris Tomlin
    -Tear Down the Walls by Hillsong…the intro swells
    -Beautiful Exchange by Hillsong…swells, although I use it the whole time :)
    -Go by Hillsong
    You’ll Come by Hillsong intro

    I use it for those ones above, as well as:

    -Always Forever by Phil Wickham…background texture
    -Your Arrival by Phil Wickham…big ‘Doves’ power chords
    -This is our God by Hillson intro
    -Freedom is Here by Hillsong…the riff if there’s no keyboardist or loop

    And lots of times when I need swells, violin-like notes, background textures, and big soaring lead stuff. I like fuzz. :)

  28. I feel so enlightened right now :D
    Your arrival the bass definitely has a fuzz on it strong, I knew that the first time I heard it ;)

    I have a Cool Cat Fuzz v2, and it is searing! I am really digging it, now I know how to use it with guitar tastefully!
    Thanks for the examples, makes so much sense now. Ready now is very distinct as you can almost hear them click it on, and can totally feel when its turned off!

    Hers a serious question, couldn’t the same texture be gotten with a heavy distortion pedal into swells?

  29. Ya, Ready Now…you’re totally right.

    And a heavy distortion will do a really nice swell, too. What I like about fuzz is its harmonic content. There’s a lot going on within each note, which gives it a real saturated and cello-like quality that I haven’t found in any distortion pedal. Fuzz also stacks notes much differently…because its so saturated already, chords and stacked sevenths produce a sound almost on the verge of feedback. Also, one of the coolest things about fuzz is how it reacts so unpredictably. You’re never 100% sure what’s going to happen while you’re playing it. :)

    And in my humble experience, these things are unique to fuzz, but not necessarily every fuzz pedal does them.

  30. Karl, does your Hartman Vintage Germanium fuzz use NKT275 transistors, or something else? I’ve owned a few Hartman Ge fuzzes, but they were slightly different sounding than yours. Thanks for the help!

  31. Ya, I believe those are the chips it uses. Those chips are kind of inconsistent though, which is some of their charm. Not all of them sound the same, and even just one of them can change sound depending on the temperature.

  32. Request: “Using Modulation in Modern Music”

    Recently picked up a great mod pedal that does chorus, phase, flange, trem, vibrato, leslie etc really well (source audio: orbital modulator. Like a Strymon Mobius, but cheaper :) ), but realised I have no clue how and where to use it :S

    So far I’ve been cloning famous sounds. Okay, maybee just Pink Floyd… But I’m not quite sure how to incorporate it into P&W, except for the mandatory subtle chorus on the calm/cheesy parts of songs. Would be totally awesome with some inspiration on how you’ve used different modulation effects!

    And btw, thanks for a great, entertaining and very inspiring site!

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