In the world of boutique fuzz pedal effects, Analog Man Mike Piera’s creations are among the most well-known and respected due to his attention to detail. His Sun Face fuzz is his most popular and based on the original Arbiter England Fuzz Face which was first introduced in 1966, but unlike the original which was built with a range of poorly matched components and haphazard quality control, Piera’s are built like finely tuned machines with every component being carefully measured and tested. Fuzz connoisseurs like Eric Johnson have reportedly gone through hundreds of Face Faces until finding just the right one. In any fuzz based around germanium transistors, proper matching, leakage testing, and biasing are all critical in order to get the most musical and harmonically rich fuzz.
In the mid 1990s, the original Arbiter England Fuzz Face was reissued by Dennis Cornell, the man behind the original. It was an exciting release and the fuzzes became collectible, but unfortunately the tone was off. Let me add emphasis: way off. For whatever reason, Cornell’s reissue fuzz not only used a different transistor type than what the originals used (likely due to unavailability and difficulty sourcing) but they were also often poorly matched. Some of the germanium transistors were excessively leaky, noisy, and couldn’t be biased, which collectively translated to delivering overall weaker fuzz tones.
After purchasing one of these Arbiter units on auction, I knew it was time to take it to Analog Man for a proper once over and let him do his modification magic. While Analog Man offers numerous transistor types with descriptions available of each at his site, I wanted to get the closest possible to the original which were NKT (New Market) NOS germanium “red dot” transistors. First step was navigating the website and visiting the Sun Face fuzz page which includes the various transistor options with descriptive information about each:
After choosing the NKT “Medium low gain” Red Dots ($55 for the transistors), I then went to the form page for modifying and sending in the fuzz.
The basic labor cost is $60 for the mod which includes adding the correct biasing resistors during building and testing.
I printed it out, sent it to Analogman and that was it. In this case however, I reached out to Mike directly because I thought readers would be interested in seeing the process and hearing some A/B tests from the man himself. He kindly obliged. Note that in his demos he is using the Fuzz in a clean setting so you can hear it in its purest form. The “magic” of a fuzz face circuit in my view is when it is being blended with an already overdriven amp. The classic example being the Marshall, and hearing the beautiful mix of harmonics between the germanium-based fuzz circuit with overdriven tubes. All said, I was thrilled with the results when the fuzz came home, so now let’s turn things over to Mike so he can share the story in the videos below!
The original board:
Original unmodded Arbiter versus Sun Face
Properly biased, but still unmodded Arbiter vs. Sun Face
After the Mod
Special thanks to you, Mike Piera of Analog Man Guitar Effects, for taking the time to share your knowledge!