Eric Johnson is the ultimate tone connoisseur. He’s as famous for his refined tonal palette and discerning selection of effects as he is for his phenomenal technical prowess. For decades, he’s trusted only his collection of vintage Fuzz Faces to lay the fuzz over his sweet, singing lead tone. He’s built this collection over the years, having gone through hundreds of the famously inconsistent original Fuzz Faces to find those that met his high standards. We set out to create a Fuzz Face that recreated the vintage sounds of those vintage pedals while delivering modern consistency. Eric allowed our own Fuzz Face expert Jeorge Tripps to get inside his prized late ’60s Fuzz Faces in order to produce a Fuzz Face worthy enough to bear the tone connoisseur’s own name.
We sat down with Jeorge and Eric to talk about the development of the Eric Johnson Signature Fuzz Face.
Jeorge, you’ve earned yourself a reputation as a Fuzz Face expert. Can you tell us a bit about the development of the iconic fuzz pedal’s sound?
Jeorge Tripps: Well, over the course of its history, the Fuzz Face has been built with six different transistors. First they used germanium NKT275 transistors, which produce a very warm fuzz sound. By the late ’60s they used silicon transistors, which produce higher gain for a more searing fuzz. Overall, five different types of silicon transistors were used by the time they were discontinued in the ’70s, and all produced varying amounts of gain. Fuzz Faces are known for their inconsistency year to year.
How is the Eric Johnson Signature Fuzz Face different from the Hendrix Fuzz Face? The Bonamassa Fuzz Face?
JT: The goal with Eric’s was to faithfully recreate the sound he gets from his original, prized 1969 silicon Fuzz Faces and make it available to the public so players don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on vintage pedals that may or may not sound the way they’re supposed to. He let me open his up and measure every single component, including their BC183 transistors, which produce more gain than the BC108 inside the Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face. The Joe Bonamassa Fuzz Face uses NOS Russian military germanium transistors, making it a warmer, lower gain fuzz. All in all, Eric’s has the most gain.
Eric Johnson: Yes, highly saturated, but still very smooth. It is as close as I’ve ever heard to the originals.
JT: We’ve also biased each of the signature Fuzz Faces differently, which affects the pedals’ headroom. Eric has the lowest headroom of the three, which works with the way he uses it, with a Strat through a Marshall amp.
Eric, how do you have your amp set for your Fuzz Faces?
EJ: Mildly distorted—I don’t crank it too hard.
Do you step on it more for rhythm parts or lead parts?
EJ: I mainly use it for leads, but I do sometimes use it to create fuzzy rhythms.
Can you recommend any classic recordings featuring the Fuzz Face by yourself and by others?
EJ: “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and “Love or Confusion” by Jimi Hendrix definitely. You can hear how I use the Fuzz Face on “Desert Rose” from my album Ah Via Musicom.
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