The Secrets Of Germanium Fuzz Revealed

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fuzzFuzz pedals and worship music doesn’t always mix, but when it does, it’s a beautiful thing.

Worship music is a very refined type of music. Everything is suppose to sound neat and tidy. Fuzz pedals are the opposite. Because of this, when we are putting our pedalboards together we often forget to leave room for one of the most legendary effects of all time.

Believe it or not, fuzz pedals and church can, and do. mix. Fuzz pedals give us an opportunity to introduce different textures and colors to our sonic palate, giving us another tonal tool to work with.

Personally, I have had a love/hate relationship with fuzz pedals. For a long time I didn’t understand them or how to use them. The last couple years have put me in close quarters with fuzz fanatics, and in that time I have grown to appreciate fuzz and learned how to use them in the context of worship.

This post is everything I know about Germanium fuzz so far. Buckle up, take a deep breath and get comfortable. We are going to be here a while.

History Of Germanium Fuzz

With so many iconic fuzz tones in Rock-N0-Roll and Blues, used by the legends like Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones and Pink Floyed, it’s a little surprising where it all got started: Country music. Like most innovations in music, it was a happy accident.

In 1960, an influential session guitarist named Grady Martin was working on a project for Marty Robbins. Along for the ride was a clever recording engineer named Glen Snoddy. For some reason, Grady Martin’s tone on the bass strings of his guitar were producing a distorted sound in the recording. Both Martin and Snoddy like the “fuzz” tone they had stumbled upon and decided to use it on the song they were working on called Don’t Worry.

There are differences of opinion about what caused the distortion. Some credit it to a malfunctioning channel in the mixing board while other believe it was a flaw in Martin’s amplifier.

You can here the fuzz tone in the video down below. It starts at 1:26si

People loved the song and the sound. Don’t Worry spent ten weeks at number one on the country charts.

Gibson_maestro_fuzz_tone-1Now either Glen Snoddy or the producer Don Law brought the idea to Gibson to but the sound in a stomp box so guitarist everywhere could reproduce it. Gibson liked the idea and in 1962 was selling the Fuzz Tone FZ-1 under their accessory brand Maestro.

Even though the original conception was to distort the signal, Gibson marketed the pedal as a way to mimic brass instruments. Even today, you can still find new fuzzes being marketed as having that splatty “trombone” sound.

Even with the success of songs like Don’t Worry and other country songs featuring the new effect, Gibson didn’t sell a lot of FZ-1s, until 1965 when the Rolling Stones released I Can’t Get No Satisfaction featuring the FZ-1.

After being adopted by Rock-N-Roll, the FZ-1 had found it’s muse and was becoming a huge seller for Gibson. With success comes copy cats and other fuzz pedals started to appear.

In 1965 it was easy to find a Maestro FZ-1 in the US but pretty hard to find one across the pond in the UK. To meet the demand for fuzz tones in Britain, the company Sola Sound introduced a fuzz pedal called the MK-1 Tone Bender. The company was later named Colorsound and the next year they released the MK-2.

Germanium fuzz was know for being temperamental and easily effected by weather. Because of this, the 70’s gave birth to a new breed of fuzz based on the silicon circuit. But we don’t have time for that story now.

How To Use A Germanium Fuzz

Germanium Fuzz is the type of fuzz I have the most experience with and the one that I prefer. Fuzzes can be finicky, but there are couple tricks to get the most of a fuzz.

Fuzz Needs A Side Kick

There are a lot of really great fuzz tones from the 60’s but what’s interesting to note is that very few of those tones was a fuzz pedal through a clean amp. Most of the time, the amp was cranked to the point of break up.

Now most churches don’t take too kindly to the idea of an old Marshall JMP half stacked cranked to 11, but there are ways to get great tone while still preventing hearing loss.

Using your master volume, set your amp to an ever so slight breakup. Just enough so you get a little dirt when you strum hard on the strings. Then turn on your fuzz. The combination of your amps overdrive and the fuzz makes for some very interesting tones.

If your like me you don’t like running with a dirty amp because it means you either have to settle for broken up delay repeats or use and effects loop (and who wants to mess with two extra cables?).

Instead of driving your amp, use your favorite overdrive pedal. Put it right after the fuzz in the chain and set it to a low gain setting as I described earlier. Remember that fuzzes can be pretty picky about the amp and pedals they like to play with, so you may need to go through a couple before finding that magical combination.

Remember Your Volume Knob

Germanium fuzzes have an interesting characteristic about them. They tend to be very responsive to the volume knob. When I found this out, this is what really turned me on to fuzz.

Plug in a fuzz and set the gain a little higher than what you might normally be comfortable with. Make sure your volume is set to 10 on your guitar. Play for a little bit. Then set the volume on your guitar to 9 and play some more. Then try it at 8.

There is a drastic difference in the tones you get just from some minor changes in your volume knob. This in combination with an overdrive pedal or a slightly broken up amp can make for some very cool tones. I like to keep the volume at 8 for rhythms tones than turn it to 10 for an Eric Johnson-like tone for a solo.

Drain Your Battery

True story. Hendrix loved the way his fuzz sounded when the battery in it was half dead. You would think that it shouldn’t matter, but we are talking about fuzzes. Everything matters.

This is why many pedal board power supplies come with SAG features that allow you to lower the amount of voltage going to a pedal. If you have a power supply that has this feature make sure to try it on your fuzz pedal of choice. It makes a world of difference.

Jump In

Fuzz is finicky. It always has been and if it ever isn’t then it’s probably not fuzz. Plug in and start messing around. You may find some brand new tones that will create a how new world of possibilities for you.

Keep sharp,

-Jed

Maestro Fuzz photo credit

2 Responses to "The Secrets Of Germanium Fuzz Revealed"
  1. rhoy says:

    Nice history lesson :)

    Never tried a germanium fuzz but I would really love to try one. Maybe not to play at church but mostly for fun at home.

  2. Jed says:

    Blog about it if you do. There are some cool tones from these pedals.

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