How does one encapsulate the chaos that the fuzz can unleash on guitar tone? Such is the challenge that meets a maker when they are naming a fuzz pedal.
Born in the psychedelic ’60s, the fuzz came to the fore as the sound of distortion came of age. No longer satisfied with the soulful (or even accidental) over-saturation of guitar amp tubes, guitarists sought out fuzz pedals: dedicated devices for pushing the extremes of crunch.
Since then, the sound of fuzz has evolved and the monikers that various forms of fuzz have worn over the years stick in our minds. With the help of history and a couple of experts, we’re taking a look at how these stompboxes have earned such memorable labels, while simultaneously shedding light on the art of naming a fuzz pedal.
It sounds easy, but how do you come up with a label that embodies this extreme tone? Stand by for the ultimate guide to naming a fuzz pedal.
The Olden Days
The first fuzz pedal is credited to Glen Snoddy. He cut his teeth as a radio engineer in the army before becoming a fixture in the lauded Nashville studio scene, working alongside Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Marty Robbins.
During a Marty Robbins session, he noticed a distorted tone coming from a bass amp and discovered that this was caused by a faulty component. He liked what he heard and set out to replicate it with a circuit built from scratch.
Gibson liked the result of Snoddy’s experiment so much that they sought to mass-produce this specialist device, which lead to the birth of the Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ-1 in 1962. This new-fangled device didn’t really achieve commercial success until it found the mother of all endorsements: the trademark riff from The Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.
But Why ‘Fuzz’?
Yes, this pedal is rightly recognised as a way to destroy guitar tone and rebuild it in the form of gloriously over the top distortion. Yet originally, it wasn’t conceived as such.
Though orchestral and big band music was being swiftly swept aside by smaller ensembles, its influence could still be felt in the brave new era of rock and roll. So instead of being at the vanguard of teenage rebellion, Maestro’s Fuzz-Tone was marketed as a way to ape your favourite reed and brass sounds.
The sound of fuzz means has different stylistic implications today, but it is no less appropriate when applied to the rasping, distorted or ‘fuzzy’ tones created by clarinets, saxophones, trombones and more. This marketing tactic was mirrored in the beginnings of the Wah pedal – the first VOX Wah-Wah pedal’s signature artist was Clyde McCoy – a big band trumpeter who peaked in the 1930s.
It didn’t take long for the guitar to become the owner of the fuzz effect in its own right, giving up trying to be anything other than a glorious expression of heavy rock and psychedelia. This coincided with the release of the Big Muff Pi – the most famous fuzz in history and earning its name through its creator Mike Matthews’ description of its tone: “funky, soft, muffled sound.”
Aside from this rare departure, fuzz names have been relatively conservative for such a wild effect. In the early days, there was the Fuzz Face, Marshall’s Supa Fuzz, the Univox Super-Fuzz, the Shin-Ei Companion Fuzz. Understandably, mentioning fuzz in the title is pretty important if you want to sell the damn things.
Nowadays, naming a fuzz pedal has become a more evocative exercise. New Zealand pedal maker Red Witch has invoked greek mythology with their Zeus Bass Fuzz Suboctave pedal – when you hear it, it’s hard to argue that you’re in the presence of the god of thunder.
With Hoof, Cloven Hoof and Erupter Earthquaker Devices have obviously plumbed the depths of the underworld to source their fuzz tone. Going a little further back, there’s the famous Way Huge Swollen Pickle – possibly a more confusing image, yet no less memorable.
Local legend Ivan Richards of Ivan Richards Custom FX called his venerable version the Rich Fuzz. He’s the first to admit that his choice was rather prosaic, but he also declared:
“If I were to design a brand new fuzz in 2020, I would have to pick a name that was outrageous, provocative, risqué, possibly involving a double-entendre, and almost certainly not even mentioning the word fuzz.”
And all the way from New York, Death By Audio’s Oliver Ackermann weighs into the debate over naming a fuzz pedal:
“It needs to describe what the effect does – and what the pedal does should be annihilating the world and everyone around it into a total collapse of consciousness with no hope of ever getting back to reality. So maybe name the pedal The Collapse of Consciousness or No Hope for Reality.”
Bear in mind that this is a guy who is skilled in the art of naming a fuzz pedal. In the past, he’s bestowed the following names on his fuzz pedals: Supersonic Fuzz Gun, Fuzz War, Apocalypse and Absolute Destruction. If these names don’t bring the sonic mayhem of fuzz to mind, we don’t know what will.
So, how to apply these lessons to your own creation? Should you mention ‘fuzz’ in the title? Well, it’s worked pretty well so far for many varieties. Summoning beasts from the pits of hell, or incurring the wrath of mighty gods is also a strong theme.
Above all, naming a fuzz pedal is all about lighting fuzzy fires in a guitarist’s imagination, so whichever angle you choose, no matter how opaque or obvious, it better be epic.