It has been my discovery that Fuzz boxes are an interesting breed of effect pedal. At times, they can be the right tool for the right job, and at other times they can lay dormant in your chain of signal flow.
However, the fuzz box has found its way in many recordings, and has been used by many artists. Before trying this unit out, I had very little prior knowledge of fuzz boxes and what to expect.
For a little background, I have traditionally never really been much of a high-gain type of guitar player. If I do use a high-gain sound, I lean more toward a ZZ top type of tone, rather than modern music’s high gain trends that are currently popular. I was under the initial impression that the Frantone The Sweet fuzz box was going to be a high gain, “TV static” type of tone, when in actuality it wasn’t.
This fuzz is more of a low frequency fuzz-buzz rather than an ear piercing shred fuzz. Personally I found the most desirable setting to be one in which the Sustain, or the amount of fuzz, was turned all the way down. Anything above that and it got a little too fuzzy and my guitar would feedback. Perhaps I did not use the proper guitar for fuzz (a 1959 Gibson ES-330).
The construction on the pedal is of very high quality. It is simple, just like it should be. One on/off switch, in, out, Volume, Sustain and Tone, and there is the option to have external power should you choose. I have complete confidence in the switch craft switch and casing / knob choice for this unit, and do not fear that the pedal will break down on the road or with regular working man’s abuse.
The Frantone fuzz units are made by hand in Brooklyn, New York by hand, and there is definitely something to be said about items that are made by hand. For me, it is much more satisfying to know that a real human did all of the soldering, wiring, and construction involved in making this unit, versus a PC board with a computerized robot doing all of the internal work.
Aesthetically these units have a very retro vibe. The slick black casing is silk screened with green and white lettering that is timeless and classic. Again, adhering to a theme of simplicity, this unit does not try to impress anyone with its graphics or casing, rather, it gets straight to the point with its tone and versatility. The top of the switch is flush with the knobs, so when you are using this unit when standing up there is no awkwardness to switching the unit on or off. I would even adjust the “TONE” setting with the edge of my shoe while standing up to brighten or soften the overall tone. Another classic feature I appreciate with this unit is the side inputs, rather than the more modern pedals which have all of the inputs and power jacks on the top of the unit. The green LED that lights up when the unit is on is clearly visible across multiple lighting situations, and does not cause any confusion as to whether the unit is on or off, as is the case with some units such as Tube Screamers and their inconspicuous red LED.
There are no plastic battery holders or access plates to break or loose with this unit. Instead, four simple screws open this baby up to the beauty that lies inside. Another feature that I enjoyed about The Sweet as opposed to other pedals is how the battery was not attached to the bottom plate that I removed; rather, it was neatly tucked into the top of the pedal. There was no need to worry about pulling the back plate off too far because of an attached batter compartment. All of the wires are very neatly routed, soldered, and tucked away. This is another example of the meticulous care that goes into making these units.
Enough about the aesthetics and components, let’s chat about the tone. This pedal yielded quite a wide variety of sonic possibilities. The first thing that caught my attention was the dynamic control that this fuzz pedal had. With soft pick attack, all notes and finesse would come through, but when a heavy pick attack would be used, the Frantone would kick in. This is what instantly set this fuzz box apart from other fuzz boxes. All other fuzz boxes that I have used always had an inherent “fart” to them, regardless of the settings or picking dynamics. This is something that I always look for in a stomp box, and try to avoid. If a unit can not keep up with a good range of pick attacks from hard to soft, then I generally do not approve.
The sustain that this pedal is capable of is also quite intense. It’s like Nigel Tufnel says in the classic movie “Spinal Tap” …”You can play a note, and go grab a bite and when you come back it will still be singing yaaaahhhH!!!” This was a cool tonal setup to have when playing slide. Notes would sustain into one another and bring a whole new musical venture into the mix.
Some folks use fuzz boxes for deliberate feedback sounds, others use them for playing chords, and others use them for individual string solos and even bass! Whatever the job calls for, this pedal can do the job. Individual string definition and clarity was definitely noteworthy when playing chords, and things got even more ‘sweet’ with simple lead playing. Integrating the feedback sustain into teasing bends and vibratos can be very fun!
Some fuzz boxes accentuate either the bass spectrum or the treble spectrum too heavily, which causes an off balance tonal characteristic to take place. This is not the case with the Frantone. Instead, there is a healthy balance of low bass fuzz combined with treble sparkle and mid range punch. The “Tone” knob *really* allows for a wide variety of brightness, bite, punch, and jangle to the fuzz. This pedal can be as tame or out of control as you choose.
I did notice that when the unit was on, the noise floor would rise to a noticeably audible level, however I think much of this is to blame on the particular guitar that was being used for the trial. I have noticed other fuzz boxes on the market that have just an ungodly amount of inherent noise that almost becomes unmanageable at certain levels. This fuzz box is smooth, quiet, and manageable at all levels. The germanium transistors help contribute to the warm fuzz tones of the likes of Hendrix and other classic 60’s fuzz tones. Overall this unit is with out question the best fuzz box that I have had the pleasure of playing. More diverse than a Fuzz Face, fuzzier than a Morley, and it definitely smokes my Line 6 “Fuzz” patch! Swing by www.frantone.com and check out the online audio samples as well.