6 Potent Pairings – High Calibre Germanium and Silicon Compact Fuzz Face Type Pedal Pairs

This article was sparked by a number of different recent occurrences – I’m obviously a big fuzz fan and consider these sorts of things all the time – with no less than 135 fuzz pedals now in my Fuzz collection or Fuzz Tone Library as I like to call it. In a series of conversations with Sof Tebboune of Expresso FX, the subject came up as to why I happened to have one or several fuzz pedals from one builder while none from another builder of equal if not greater presumed stature/renown.

As with many things, pedal acquisitions are a confluence of various complex factors including timing, opportunity, exposure, budget availability and serendipity. Pretty much all of the pedals here are made to order or small batch manufacture. I myself acquire pedals via various means – new, used, pre-order, waiting-list, auction and commission – sometimes I’m prepared to wait, while other times I am less patient. More often than not though there will have been some trigger or catalyst – possibly I was exposed to something new on That Pedal Show or one of the other gear channels – that happens a lot – or else something magically materialized within one of my many feeds. Many a fantastic demo has also been a key influence and I follow all of the greats in that area – but I typically have to triangulate too and seek further sources to confirm and corroborate the status quo.

Of my 135 Fuzz pedals, I currently have exactly 25 Fuzz Face style ones already – 14 Silicon ones of various Transistor Types and 11 Germanium varieties. I also have a number – probably around 10 sort of Fuzz Face ’Hybrid’ fuzzes which are part Fuzz Face but also part something else – Tone Bender, Tremolo etc. So the question is why do I have quite so many – and why would I want to add more?

Of the 12 listed above I have 3 to date, with another 3 likely candidates for imminent acquisition – which will make up 3 complete pairs – and which I will reveal as I focus on each builder here. Of these 6 builders featured here – some are obviously better known and have a higher ’Fuzz Cachet’ as such, but weirdly those sort of things don’t typically influence me that much – I tend to ’audition’ the pedals first and foremost – and see whether those individually or collectively appeal to me and my specific / peculiar preferences. Also – if you happen to have bought one pedal from a builder that you really end up loving – you are far more likely to buy more from that same builder – of course depending on how obtainable those pedals are – price and availability, waiting list/times etc.

The interesting thing about Analog.Man Mike Piera is not so much the very many options he lists for his Sun Face type pedals – in fact currently a choice of 21 different Transistor options – 14 Germanium and 7 Silicon, but rather those transistors no longer on offer, like the Newmarket (NKT) 275 and Mullard CV7005 which several other fuzz builders still have on their books. Obviously supplies are limited of each New Old Stock Germanium type – and certain builders will prefer theirs to be of very particular current gain values (often hFE≈100) – so it’s quite understandable that certain specific types will run out permanently eventually and not in the too distant future. We must remember that RoHS restrictions now prevent many of these vintage components from ever being made again – so once supplies are gone – they’re gone for good.

For Silicon Fuzz Faces you tend to have 3 main common and readily available Silicon Transistors – BC108, BC109 and BC183 – with the first two more strident, brighter and aggressive – inherently ’more fuzzy’, while the 183’s can be extremely ’Germanium-like’ and warm in tone and response – but with a much more even temperament. In fact Kyle Chase of Chase Tone Pedals has made a career out of Germanium-like Silicon Fuzzes (BC183 of course) – and I have two of his best examples – the Roadster Fuzz and newer ’68 Red Velvet Fuzz. All of the Silicon Fuzz Faces listed here are of the warmer BC183 type.

For Germanium Fuzz Faces the field is far broader than Silicon – with builders using a huge variety of different Germanium Transistor types – in fact in this listing alone we have NKT Red Dot, NKT275 x 2, CV7005, 2N388 and 106NU70. Some builders also use 2N404, 2SB175, AC125, AC127, AC128, ASX12D, CV5416, CV7003, CV7007, GT2308 and OC42. In fact there are several dozen types with many military spec ones still turning up in Eastern Europe in particular. As these Transistors become ever scarcer Fuzz makers will be looking to unearth further types yet to be ’discovered’ or which are currently being used for quite different purposes.

Even though I have BC108, BC109 and BC183 Fuzzes I tend to look at those as just two main groups – I don’t always get the immediate distinction between 108 and 109 for instance. While for the Germanium ones – I simply go by ear – and if I hear a great demo and it triangulates properly – then the transistor spec is far less important to me. For instance when I acquired one of my more recent Fuzz Faces – the Expresso FX Germanium Fuzz – I would typically gravitate towards NKT275 – but much preferred the tone here of the CV7005. So part of me now just weirdly wants to get as many different Transistor types as I can to see if I can figure out the key differences and establish a proper ranking of my own preferences. Buying every type out there is of course an entirely impractical exercise – so I will rather choose to go wherever my ears and eyes take me.

Pedals are listed in alphabetical order by brand as usual: