Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

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[Rating: 3.5]

The first fuzz pedals, like so much in the annals of rock history, were an accident.

Legend has it that Grady Martin, one of the rotating members of Nashville’s top session men, The A-Team, first happened upon the effect after running his guitar direct to the console on a bunk channel. This would have been around 1961, and you can hear Martin’s fuzz tone on Marty Robbins’ cut “Don’t Worry” from the same year. The boys across the pond got in on the secret only a few years later.

Roger Mayer, a naval underwater warfare researcher in southwest London, started building effects for a pre-Zep Jimmy Page, while he was still a session hack on the London studio scene. Not long after his Page association, Mayer moved on to working with Hendrix, with whom he is generally associated. As Mayer states in the biography on his company’s website: “I met Jimi Hendrix first in 1967 in a club and in two weeks time we were in the studio overdubbing the solo to ‘Purple Haze’ using the Octavia that I had invented.”

For BOSS’s FZ-5 Fuzz pedal, they’ve chosen three quintessential fuzz pedals to replicate, including Mayer’s Octavia. To achieve this, the FZ-5 uses Roland’s proprietary technology COSM™, an acronym for Composite Object Sound Modeling. What the technology does, in the company’s own words, is “isolate and emulate all the various components in the signal chain, from the input of the amp, to the final vibration of the speaker cone.” The end result, Roland contends, represents a pure model of the original analog sounds. And though some vintage nuts will scour Ebay and gear message boards, holding out for the analog originals, the truly nice thing about the FZ-5 is that you are getting three for the price of one—without having to deal with fussy, old electronics.

The FZ-5 has two knobs—Level and Fuzz—plus a Mode three-way switch to select “F” for Fuzz Face, “M” for Maestro and “O” for Octavia. Halfway up the Fuzz dial the knob turns into a Boost control, which pushes the pedal into a more overdriven and dynamic tone. The Level and Boost knobs react quite differently in each mode. For example, with both knobs set in the middle, the output is far greatest in Octavia mode. Performing guitarists should make note of this for stage use.

The first pedal BOSS tackles is the Fuzz Face, made famous by Hendrix, and originally produced by Arbiter Electronics. (The Dunlop Company now owns the rights to the Fuzz Face and Dallas-Arbiter names and produces a line of their own Fuzz Face pedals.) The FZ-5’s Fuzz Face mode is the pedal’s finest moment. It’s classic distortion with just an edge of fuzz, the sound made famous by Duane Allman and many other great ‘70s classic rock guitarists.

In “M” mode, the FZ-5 replicates the Maestro FZ-1A pedal. Maestro’s was actually the first mass-produced fuzz pedal and has the exquisite claim to fame for being responsible for Keith Richard’s tone on “Satisfaction.” The FZ-5’s Maestro emulation is the crunchiest of the three modes. It produces the short, cutting-out tone (with maybe a not-quite-intended digital clipping sound) and also creates some strange undertones. It’s quite cool, especially if you like the type of raggedness that Buddy Miller could appreciate.

Finally, in “O” mode, BOSS offers the aforementioned Octavia, an effect that doubles the tone an octave higher and adds fuzz. Though it seems an simple enough concept in today’s world of effects overload, in 1967 Hendrix’s idea must have been truly revolutionary. The FZ-5’s Octavia is the most dynamic mode, reacting very aggressively to how hard you play, which could be a plus or minus.

For a three-in-one, the FZ-5 nails the Fuzz Face and delivers a solid and entertaining Maestro. Though it might be wise to go with a true (analog) version of the Octavia, the advantage of having all variations of fuzz under one roof really outweighs any small gripes.


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