One wonders when approaching a new fuzz whether or not it could really be all that new. After all, fuzz pedals were among the first noisemakers that guitarists entertained themselves with, and even electric guitar antiquity is riddled with the designs of various fuzz manufacturers. And yet there is a drive in me, perhaps shared among other fuzz lovers, to explore further into the depths of fuzzed out mayhem. Even with all the time that fuzz has been with us, it remains a valid creative tool, one that my own effects arsenal would feel empty without. I was therefore quite excited though a little bit wary when I contacted Tom Dalton, the proprietor of FuzzHugger.com, about his recent ventures into not just offering a marketplace for others' pedals, but designing and selling his own creations. Excited, because I love getting to put a new pedal through the paces, but wary because of the difficult-to-overcome long history of fuzz pedals and their current market saturation. However, having had a chance to really dig into this new fuzz, I can say that it earns its place in the current fuzz renaissance.
The least important part of a pedal as far as its sound is concerned is its appearance, but many purchasing decisions are made on looks so I feel I should say a few words about the aesthetics of the 1134. It's housed in what is almost a boutique pedal industry standard-issue slightly rectangular enclosure with one input and one output jack. Most of the enclosure is unfinished, giving it a rugged appearance, but the front sports a large graphic, an interesting circular, mirrored black printing, whose interpretation could be something of a Rorschach-blot test. To me, it looks like a skull with wings underneath wilting flowers, but don't tell my psychologist and feel free to interpret it for yourself. The knobs are red with white position indicators. All in all it isn't the most spartan pedal in my collection, but it obviously isn't aiming for a lot of visual flair, either.
The control layout is simple but effective. There are only three knobs, one of which controls the output level of the pedal. The other two, labeled “Texture” and “Gain Trim” respectively, are extremely interactive in determining the sound of the fuzz, but still easy to work with (after all, how hard can it be to figure out two knobs?). The pedal is true-bypass, so when it's not on, the signal is passed from input to output without ever going through the circuit. For environmental reasons, Tom has made an interesting and possibly controversial choice in making the pedal adapter-operated only. I support him in that move: it is a greener way to operate, and the nature of the two fuzz adjustments give you all the various textures you could want, from “fresh alkaline” to “dying carbon-zinc,” so to my view there's no need to run this pedal off of batteries if sound is your only concern. However, those who are looking for the cleanest-sounding power source or have noisy power or ground loop issues might find themselves going to Radioshack to buy or make a 9V battery-to-barrel adapter.
This fuzz has a sound that very roundly fills a niche – not cramped, but not enormous – and in its own idiom I'm not sure if I've ever heard a better fuzz.
Having covered all possible angles of the pedal, I'll move on to the most important part: the sound. The instruction sheet for the 1134 Fuzz says to start with the Texture control at far counterclockwise, and the Gain Trim at far clockwise. I think this must be because Tom knows that once you hear that setting, you'll leave it there almost all the time; it is a roaring, spitting, howling fuzz with a hint of sub-octave at the beginning of notes unlike any other fuzz I've ever heard. This is the pedal's “signature sound,” to my view. However, backing off of either of the knobs puts the pedal into more traditional fuzz territory, though it never loses its unique sonic profile and remains fairly bright and cutting (a fact which might make some guitarists wish for a tone knob for more control over its frequency response, but which ensures that the pedal has a strong character all its own). I have found that my favorite results come from adjusting the two fuzz control knobs symmetrically – every position along that adjustment route gives usable sounds. And as one would expect from a high-quality fuzz, even when it's maxed out and spitting fire and brimstone, you can control the level of insanity with the volume knob of your guitar.
This isn't a fuzz that will let you dial in any texture you'd like, nor is it a fuzz that will go into the very outer limits of usability with crazy oscillations and space-man noises. Tom at FuzzHugger has products aimed at those goals, the Algal Bloom and the upcoming AB-Synth, respectively. It won't be the key to your heart's desire on every song. It will, however, give you a tool in your arsenal that isn't like the others, and with such a long and storied history of fuzzes that alone is a remarkable and respectable accomplishment, especially from a newcomer to the boutique fuzz scene. This fuzz has a sound that very roundly fills a niche – not cramped, but not enormous – and in its own idiom I'm not sure if I've ever heard a better fuzz. Whether it will be the sound for you, like the interpretation of its intriguing graphic, is a question only you can answer, but for me the answer was an easy “yes.”
Price: $99 USD Direct
Pros:A fine balance of wild, spastic fuzz. True-Bypass.
Cons: Some will lament the lack of battery operation as an option, sharp-edged tonality of the pedal might not get along as well with some guitar rigs.