Words from Luke Shields
Fender Australia | MSRP: $159
We may think it’s unimaginably prehistoric, but many moons ago, at the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll, if you wanted anything other than a crystal clear electrified signal from your instrument, two things had to happen. If you wanted reverb or vibrato, you had to buy an amp with those effects already soldered firmly in place. If you wanted to get dirty, you had to destroy everything but what you most likely cut and saved for dozens of paychecks.
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We owe a lot here in the future to the suspicion that the pioneers of amplifier design were bad at their job anyway. Originally intended to give guitarists an abundance of clean headroom to roam around, these machines inevitably took the slightest push to maximize that headroom through a few minor oversights in the wiring. Likewise, the players who cemented the limitations of these designs firmly in the annals of history seem determined to destroy the amps that helped put them in disgrace.
After the roar of burning vacuum tubes was thoroughly examined, in most cases at several shows a week, the next inevitable step was for the speakers’ paper cones to tear from the pressure of such unabashed abuse. Upstarts like Junior Barnard, Goree Carter, Chuck Berry, Link Wray, Dave Davies and a whole host of slick-haired layabouts pushed their amps as hard as they could, certainly beyond the point of warranty coverage, inspiring millions of others to look for themselves. to get to that fuzzed-out sound.
This particular fuzzthe Hammertone Fuzz, is a spunky descendant of the super squelchy, Velcro ripping squawk we all know and love, with a few choice nuggets from the decades since its inception included to limit the anachronism in favor of reliability and usability.
Put bluntly, “tear Velcro” is the best way to describe what’s going on here. Based on a dual silicon diode design that became popular in the ’60s, the Hammertone Fuzz is perfect for those seeking the sputtering cartilage of legends like Tony Iommi and Brant Bjork as opposed to the creamier, more floaty end of the spectrum. That signature screeching is supported by a hefty low-end, common to most fuzzes, harnessed by a particularly wide, sweeping tone knob that takes you from royal blue, through electric purple, to the other side, to blinding yellow syn, aesthetically speaking.
One thing that is undeniably rare in Fuzzbox World is a certain subtlety usually reserved for lower gain overdrives. I was pleasantly surprised to find not only a good amount of variation in tone and texture, but that I was able to rule this wild beast in a decent way. Down around one on the fuzz button, I was surprised to discover so much transparency and low graininess, as if Fender had been smart enough to mix a healthy blob of clean signal over the top of heck’s obvious wall. Once my ear was tuned in to this aspect of the tonal fingerprint, I noticed how much this fuzz retained the character of the guitar, or rather enjoyed the character of the guitar I warmed it up. More so than other fuzzes I’ve tried recently, this one chewed on riffs to the point where I could clearly discern tonal variation depending on where I landed on the pickup selector. In my mind, this is a huge tick in the “pros” column. Few pedal designers are smart enough to realize that it’s not just Kyuss fans and bong lords who appreciate that faint sound. So do tasteful players like Eric Johnson and more than a handful of jazz cats for whom a heaving wall of thickened, woolly dung isn’t the most desirable item on the menu.
That said, rest assured that folks with faded copies of Cheech & Chong DVDs and tie-dye t-shirts scattered around their parents’ basement are well and truly cared for. Drop the needle Ash: Fat as love, hit the octave switch and play along to the unadulterated cream Octavio sound Jimi mercifully left us all. There are also internal trim pots to tailor the Hammertone Fuzz to your rig’s particular tonal ecosystem, just another thing to remind you that Fender isn’t just trotting another set of pedals scraping under $200.
Considering it was one of the first effects introduced to the language of modern western guitar playing, fuzz is understandably a well-worked field in 2022. The enduring popularity of bands and artists like Queens of The Stone Age, Black Sabbath, Hendrix, Clapton, and everything Jack White has ever touched keeps words like ‘silicon’ and ‘germanium’ firmly entrenched in the guitarist’s lexicon. Then why would we need another fuzz in the cabinet? Simply because each of these neat circuits seems to do something indescribable that the others don’t. Unlike causing waves of option paralysis, there are countless colors in this rainbow for us to choose from and collect.
The Hammertones form a pack of hitherto underdeveloped tricks that, once added to your arsenal, are sure to set your game apart from the pack. The Hammertone Fuzz, as well as the Space Delay (discussed elsewhere on these sacred pages), both walk a fine line between reinventing their respective wheels and emitting a familiar, essential sound destined to fit neatly into just about any board.
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