Gear Review: Spiral Electric Effects Black Spiral II Fuzz

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Videos by American Songwriter

It’s pretty likely that if you use effects, one or more in your collection was the brainchild of my friend Tom Cram. For 20 years he was a top dog at Harman/Digitech and was personally responsible for the reintroduction and redesign of several of their classic pedals as well as completely new modern classics such as the brilliant Rubberneck delay and Trio loopers. Alas, Digitech was bought and the new owners decided to close their doors (though they continue to sell existing stock) so who knows what was in the works in Tom’s mind?

Well, we do know. Somewhat anyway. Tom decided bravely to start his own effects company, Spiral Electric Effects, and it’s not hyperbole to say it’s been a wild success. The support in the pedal world has been overwhelming, especially since Tom makes every device by hand in his small Utah workshop.

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The first pedal he released, the “Black,” is a new take on the classic Maestro FZ1-S fuzz but with many modern improvements. It’s one of the best recording fuzzes ever and sold out quickly. Never one to rest on his laurels, Tom has now released his Black II, which he titles a “Modern Silicon Fuzz,” with even more tweaks that should send tone seekers’ brains into the stratosphere. 

One of the key elements to Tom’s early fuzzes was his implementation of nanotechnology as one of the gain stage choices. This provided a particularly open and less compressed sound alongside LED and silicon choices that were switchable in the original Black. For Black II, he has employed a hybrid tone stack similar to his recent Brute and Allora fuzzes, which is darker than the original FZ1-S. This may be preferable to those who dig the classic but find it too cutting or bright. Simply turn the detail counter-clockwise for a darker tone or if you like the classic, biting tone then turn it up past noon. The bias control has also been redesigned so you can get more sputtery and gated sounds. Yes! This pedal roars! It’s so inspiring to play and I couldn’t put it down. I got lost for hours. 

The clipping section via the three-way switch is Tom’s proprietary 80n Asymmetrical Diode Network in position 1 (up), the “Blower,” which is straight transistors in position 2 (middle), and 1N914 Diodes in position 3 (down).  These are significantly different from the choices in Black V1 so anyone who loved that pedal but wanted something darker with different clipping choices, this is your new toy. Not to completely relinquish the past, he uses BC549c’s in Q1 and Q2 of the circuit (for you fellow nerds) instead of 2n5089 for a more vintage vibe.

So, I think you get the idea that this guy really knows his stuff and tinkers and experiments constantly to offer new and exciting offerings that are really unlike anything else on the market. I can tell you this unequivocally, and not because we know each other either, the Spiral Electric devices record better than any other I’ve ever tried and I’m not alone in that verdict. They are built like tanks and have beautiful aesthetics to book. They just look dang cool on your board. Speaking of aesthetics, also new with the Black II are black chicken head knobs, knurled aluminum bias, shredded black powder coat, and laser-etched graphics. Check out the whole line HERE and get on his mailing list for the heads-up on new offerings.

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