We can't write a guide to the best fuzz pedals without mentioning a certain Rolling Stones guitarist. Yep, since Keith Richards first plugged into a Maestro Fuzz Tone way back in those halcyon days 1962, fuzz pedals have evolved to become one of the most varied types available. With so much choice, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly the fuzz for you.
That will soon change once you’ve read this guide to the very best fuzz pedals for guitarists. And there's lots to choose from, as the fuzz pedal movement has not only spawned octave-fuzz effects like the Octavia (think Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze), but also the high-gain, scooped grind of the comically-named Electro-Harmonix Big Muff, as heard on just about every distorted electric guitar track on Smashing Pumpkins’ masterpiece Siamese Dream.
With Black Friday on the horizon, it could be worth holding off on picking up a new fuzz pedal until the Black Friday music deals start emerging. We'll be reporting on the best offers right through to Black Friday itself.
Best fuzz pedals: MusicRadar’s Choice
To our minds, the classic choice between the best fuzz pedals is this: Fuzz Face or Big Muff? For most of us, growing up in the shadow of Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth and Mudhoney, the choice is Big Muff all the way. Starting with a Black Russian Big Muff, we've owned more fuzz pedals than we'd care to admit, and the fact that you can now purchase, in our opinion, the best model – the op-amp version – over the counter in nano, reissue form, makes it a no-brainer.
We love a germanium fuzz, and we've built a fair few over the years. Controversially though, we'd actually go for the Z-Vex Fuzz Factory over the Fuzz Face. The reason for this is pretty simple: the Fuzz Factory can emulate the 'classic' Fuzz Face tones, but the Fuzz Face can't get as extreme and as experimental as the Fuzz Factory.
Once upon a time, the prohibitive cost of the Fuzz Factory would have been a mark against it, but with the affordable Vexter versions that's no longer an issue.
Choosing the best fuzz pedal for you
In terms of choosing the best fuzz pedal for you, let your ears be your guide. There's a huge range of different tones available, and fuzz is one of the most subjective guitar effects of all. Broadly speaking, there are some things to look for, and choosing between silicon and germanium transistors is the most important decision you'll have to make here.
In circuits that derive their clipping from the action of their transistors, there's a huge difference in tone between the sharper, more clinical and modern silicon transistor, and the temperamental, woolier sound of germanium transistors. Most pedals in the Fuzz Face family tree use germanium transistors, for example the Fuzz Face, and Fuzz Factory.
The Z-Vex Wooly Mammoth is a Fuzz Factory-like pedal that uses silicon transistors, and there are modern silicon versions of the Fuzz Face that employ them, as well as oddball pedals from makers like Death By Audio, Fairfield and countless others. The Big Muff uses silicon transistors for its gain stages – although, as mentioned, its clipping action is from diodes, rather than the transistors.
A final interesting point about germanium transistors is that they differed substantially from one another even within a single manufacturing batch, which is why you'll see stories of guitarists like Jimi Hendrix 'auditioning' Fuzz Faces to find the units that sounded best.
Fuzz, overdrive and distortion: key differences
There's vigorous debate about what constitutes a fuzz versus an overdrive or distortion. For what it's worth, our rule of thumb is that most fuzz pedals work by driving transistors into clipping, rather than using diodes to 'clip' the top and bottom of the guitar signal waveform.
Except... that doesn't quite work. The Big Muff, one of the most famous fuzz pedals of all, uses two sets of soft-clipping diodes to get its distinct, square-wave fuzz tone. The ProCo RAT, one of the most famous distortion pedals, originally got its triangle-wave distortion from the LM308 op-amp inside clipping the signal.
So, where does that leave us? Well, however it's laid out in the circuit, you'll know a fuzz when you hear it. There's no mistaking the sound of a Z-Vex Fuzz Factory's trademark 'velcro' tone, for example, versus the kind of precision drive tone you'll get from a high-end drive such as the Hamstead Odyssey.
The best fuzz pedals you can buy right now
This nano-sized pedal sports the usual Big Muff triumvirate of Volume, Tone and Sustain knobs, but also includes a switch that bypasses the Tone knob. Compared with what you might get from a typical transistor-based Big Muff, there’s a little more coarseness to the sound, an underlying grainy crunch that lends itself to grungy riffing and thick ’n’ heavy chord work.
In between the extremes there are sweet spots where you use the tone knob to dial in the right amount of edgy presence, or instead go straight to a no-nonsense sound that cuts through the mix by flicking the Tone Bypass. Those specifically seeking the famous Smashing Pumpkins tone will find it here, in a reasonably priced compact pedal from the original manufacturer.
Even if that's not your bag, you will find a solid source of edgy fuzzy distortion that lends itself to all manner of heaviness. Not only is the Big Muff a real pedalboard essential, but it's one of the best cheap fuzz pedals for smaller budgets too.
Read our full Electro-Harmonix Op Amp Big Muff review
After the obvious classics born in the ’60s and ’70s, it's fair to say that the Fuzz Factory is the most well-known and celebrated modern fuzz pedal. What you get here is a five-knob fuzz that uses two new old-stock ’60s germanium transistors but offers manipulation of the circuitry like no other.
The result is a pedal that needs careful juxtaposition of its knobs to get to the sounds you want, with squeals, howls and feedback along the way while you are getting them – that said, this is a fantastic fuzz pedal for sonic adventurers.
Beyond that, the Fuzz Factory can deliver conventional harmonically rich fuzz, cool resonant droning feedback that you can tune to pitch, and gated staccato madness. Yes, it can be a beast that needs taming, but it offers probably the widest variety of fuzz-derived sounds in a single stompbox.
Read our full Z.Vex Fuzz Factory review
The Fuzz Face is one of the most iconic guitar effects pedals of all time, and its enclosure - inspired by the base of a mic stand - has barely changed since its introduction in 1966. The FFM3 Jimi Hendrix is a miniature version of the original JHF1. Circuit-wise, the FFM3 Jimi Hendrix has the same internals as the full-size version, including matched BC108 silicon transistors, designed to cover a range of Jimi fuzz tones, plus a modern, compact printed circuit board.
In terms of tone, most noticeably the FFM3 serves up a stern kick in the mid-range. Not only does this provide better note clarity than rival Fuzz Faces, but it also makes the FFM3 a fine choice for boosting an overdriven amp, not to mention slicing through a mix. If you switch to your neck pickup it’s possible to unearth some tasty octave overtones, too.
Read our full Dunlop FFM3 Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face Mini review
Death by Audio was founded by Oliver Ackermann, better known perhaps as the guitarist in seminal noise-rockers A Place To Bury Strangers. As you'd expect, they make extreme, experimental, off-the-wall pedals. In their stable they've got out-there reverbs and delays, flangers and all sorts – but they made their name with this, a velcro-y oscillating fuzz.
The Supersonic Fuzz Gun is true to the same design strategy employed for many of the early DBA circuits, which seems to have been 'throw parts at a breadboard until it sounds cool.' We're also not entirely convinced that the descriptions for the controls on the front plate really describe accurately how they change the sound of the pedal, but in that the SSFG is in good company - the same is true of the Fuzz Factory, after all.
A large part of the joy of the SSFG is that it's not the sort of thing a larger manufacturer would make; it reflects the personality of the creator in that it's unusual and chaotic. Definitely the best fuzz pedal for you if what something that's punk as hell.
The Wampler Velvet Fuzz isn’t just a basic three-knob fuzzbox. Out front you’ll also find a Big/Tight switch to change the pedal’s voicing to suit your needs. Pedal creator Brian Wampler based this model on what he describes as the 'aggressive yet smooth' sound of a vintage fuzz driving a Marshall stack.
This is most prominent on the Big setting, offering plenty of bottom end and fat, squelchy compression on your fuzzed-out notes. Switch over to Tight mode and you’ll still enjoy bags of fuzz, but in a leaner form and with a tighter bottom end. It’s more distortion than out-and-out fuzz and you’ll be able to dial in anything from Jack White riffage to smooth Gilmour leads on this setting.
Read our full Wampler Velvet Fuzz review
The Fur Coat is one of the best fuzz pedals for guitarists seeking versatility thanks to its coupling of a standard fuzz pedal with a footswitchable octave that can be blended with the fuzz in adjustable amounts.
With the EQ set fairly neutral, the fuzz is typically vintage-sounding; fat and warm with plenty of bottom end. The EQ knob covers a massive range in a similar style to a Big Muff, so can take that fuzz all the way from woolly to razor-sharp. Switch in the octave and things change dramatically.
At its minimum setting the octave adds a small degree of tonal shift, increasing the presence slightly. That shift becomes more pronounced as you crank the octave until a distinct second tone, an octave up, makes itself more apparent. It’s a lovely octave fuzz sound, especially at higher levels of fuzz where single sustained notes take off into feedback and the upper note sings out.
Read our full Orange Fur Coat review
Before founding OBNE, Brady Smith produced a number of units of a gated fuzz called the Gatekeeper under his Little Axe Effects moniker. Based on the sound clips online of the Gatekeeper, it seems likely that a tweaked and refined version of this pedal went on to become the Haunt, one of the first pedals released by OBNE.
As a circuit from a smaller builder, we're not a hundred percent sure as to what the exact topology of the Haunt is, other than that it's transistor-based, and probably in the extended family tree of the Big Muff or Tonebender as a result. Regardless of what's under the hood, the Haunt is a versatile pedal with more than enough crazy on tap in case you want to get really wild.
OBNE also recently launched the Alpha Haunt, which also has a parallel 'enhance' circuit and a three-band active EQ with sliding controls, should you want even more control over your fuzz tone.
The Colby Fuzz is the result of a collaboration between EarthQuaker Devices and Colby Amps. A little history: Park was Jim Marshall's alternative company back in the ‘60s and the original Park Fuzz Sound was a branded version of a Tone Bender.
This new iteration takes that design, complete with matched NOS Germanium transistors, and packages it in a more practically sized fuzz pedal with extra gain and tone control range, plus all of the expected modern facilities, including standard nine-volt power, true bypass, and so on.
What you get from this stompbox is a great-sounding late-60s fuzz that's surprisingly versatile in its range - thanks mainly to the tone control, which offers buzzy, ripped-Velcro rasp when cranked to the left, and low-end warmth for fat vocal leads that'll sustain forever, when shifted to the right. We like it best with the fuzz maxed and controlled with the guitar volume knob.
Read our full EarthQuaker Devices Colby Fuzz Sound review
Okay, so the Walrus Audio Janus isn't quite a fuzz. It's a fuzz and a tremolo, with joystick control over some of the parameters of each. On the fuzz side, the joystick controls the fuzz level and tone, and on the tremolo side, the joystick controls the depth and rate of the trem.
For studio use or experimentation, the joysticks are surprisingly useful - for getting strange effects when re-amping, for example, or by having a bandmate manipulate the controls as you play. We've seen some players put the Janus up on a table, or on a music stand for use live, and obviously if you happen to be a keys player as well, then it could prove useful for that, where you could stick it straight on top of your synth.
The fuzz side of the pedal is a Walrus Jupiter, a Big Muff based fuzz with switches that allow you to change the bass response and clipping options. On its own, the Jupiter is a decently modded Big Muff, but it's in the Janus that it really comes into its own.
The Royal Jelly fuzz pedal is a collaboration with Howard Davis, a circuit designer known for his work with Electro-Harmonix in its hugely creative 1976 to ’81 period. The pedal offers overdrive and fuzz in parallel, but rather than delivering that with separately footswitchable fuzz and overdrives side by side, it presents them as two adjustable preset blends that you can switch between.
This means you not only have a massive range of hybrid overdrive/fuzz sounds on offer, but you can also have separate overdrive and fuzz by setting each blend to be totally overdrive or totally fuzz. Add in Low and High EQ and a knob to blend in your dry guitar sound, and there’s quite a sonic landscape to explore.
This pedal takes an individual, perhaps unusual, approach to the double-dirt pedal genre, but it can work really well, offering the ability to instantly switch between two hugely or subtly different sounds. With three combinable elements (overdrive, fuzz, dry) to sculpt those sounds, it’s a very versatile tone resource.
Read our full Beetronics Royal Jelly review
Best fuzz pedals: what else do you need to know?
What all fuzzes have in common is a lower clipping threshold than a distortion pedal, resulting in an almost totally square wave. That’s why some fuzzes sound almost like a synth at times.
The key differentiator between fuzz sounds lies in the transistors used: vintage-voiced fuzzes such as the Fuzz Face use germanium transistors, producing a warm, mid-gain sound. Raunchier fuzzes, like the Big Muff, tend to employ silicon transistors, which produce a harsher, more compressed tone.
Because fuzz circuits are relatively simple, pedal builders will often employ a host of other tweaks, from multiple modes to noise gates and beyond – just listen to Matt Bellamy’s use of a Z.Vex Fuzz Factory on Muse’s Plug In Baby to hear how far this effect has come.