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The fuzz guitar effect and how to use it

It is strange that so many guitar players are afraid of the fuzz effect.

Fuzz, be it from a cheap pedal, mid-priced pedal, expensive pedal or pretty much any multi-effect unit like the DigiTech RP360 (what I use) or the ZOOM G1Xon, is something that's cool...

...if you understand the nature of how it works.


The absolute best use of fuzz is taking advantage of what I call its blare. Fuzz, unlike distortion and overdrive, really doesn't have a tonal range. It's either on or it's not. When it's on, you know it.

I consider fuzz to be an "ugly" effect that destroys the tonal character of whatever guitar is plugged into it - and that's what makes it so fun to use.

Low treble ceiling

Fuzz is pretty much all bass and midrange with not much top end. You're not going to hear a lot of treble. This serves as a big advantage if you have a guitar with a high treble response. And that basically means Fender and Squier guitars.

I'm playing my Jazzmaster above which is, along with the Jaguar, a ridiculously bright-sounding guitar. Both those guitars with traditional wiring have 1meg pots. To put that in perspective, that's 1,000K resistance. A normal Stratocaster has a 250K pot. There's a lot more treble going on with the Jazz and the Jag...

...and the fuzz effect totally kills off that treble even with volume and tone on 10.

How does this benefit the player? If you have a guitar with super-bright pickups, a stomp on a fuzz pedal easily cuts the treble without having to touch the guitar's tone knob. It also makes for a fantastic lead solo tone - even when using the rear (bridge) pickup.

A famous guitar player that uses fuzz often is Eric Johnson. Yeah, that guy who wrote Cliffs of Dover. That guy with the signature Strat. He uses fuzz so much that he even has a signature fuzz pedal. Listening to EJ's sound, you'd never think he uses fuzz, but he does and it's very much a part of how he gets such a "smooth" sound.

One requirement

I only state one rule when it comes to which fuzz pedal to get. If it's a standalone pedal, make very sure it has a treble or tone knob. Without that specific control, you really can't "tune" a fuzz pedal to a guitar.

This is, incidentally, why I don't like Dunlop's Fuzz Face. There is no tone nor treble control present on that effect. I don't like that. Even the itty-bitty (and cheap) Donner Stylish Fuzz has a tone control on it.

When using a multi-effect pedal like the DigiTech or ZOOM mentioned above, both obviously have built-in controls for tone/treble so you don't have to worry about it. But for standalone pedals, that tone or treble knob has to be there or else you're 100% relying on the effect's circuit to have a treble response that "agrees" with your guitar - which it may not.

Why styles of music are fuzz good for?

For soloing that requires a high amount of gain, any style. Switch your guitar to the front (neck) pickup, kick on the fuzz and go.

For rhythm play, fuzz works well with surf (obviously), '60s acid rock, '70s ZZ Top style sound and '70s punk.

For the '80s era, fuzz is best for soloing and pretty much just that.

For the '90s era, fuzz works with just about all grunge music.

For 2000s music and beyond, the genre known as stoner rock (a cross between metal, doom, psychedelic and acid rock) uses fuzz tone quite a bit.

Fuzz allows you to be lazy

Generally speaking, you do not use palm mutes when using fuzz, meaning everything is open-string. And because fuzz blares so much, playing fast while using the effect really doesn't work that well.

The advantage of this is that your sound is really "fat" with loads of bottom end and midrange with no rushing required. You can slow down, be lazy, don't mute anything and just enjoy the sound.

Remember, you play guitar to have fun and enjoy. Sometimes a lazy, fat sound is just perfect.

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