Fuzzhugger Effects Algal Bloom

Saturday, February 28, 2009| by Jeff Baker

As I mention in my review of their 1134 Fuzz in this issue, FuzzHugger Effects - or, as the logo puts it, FH(fx) – is a relative newcomer to the fuzz scene, and like any newcomer to what is certainly a crowded market, the burden of proof is on them to show that their pedals are innovative and exciting to guitarists who, by now, may think they've heard it all. Having started their company by making a high-functioning bypass loop & dual booster (called the Hugger), it might seem like a strange next step to break right into the fuzz arena, but after getting a chance to use these two pedals I am impressed.

The Algal Bloom is a true-bypass pedal sold in a standard-sized rectangular box with one input and one output. Like its cousin the 1134 Fuzz, and for the same reasons, it lacks any built-in battery operation. The graphical presentation of the “stock” pedal is a predominantly green, swirly design which recalls a sea covered in the simple organisms for which the pedal is named, but apart from the typical artwork FuzzHugger offers an apparently continually changing set of very limited graphics for those with a taste for something visually unique.

When you buy one, Tom from FuzzHugger sends along a pamphlet explaining the operation of the Algal Bloom which I found quite helpful (and I'm sure you will, too). Tom is a clever builder and he understands that there are a lot of pedals with a standard “gain, level, tone” control setup – not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's good to see builders branching out into new tonal directions. The pedal's control structure is more complex than the 1134 Fuzz; where it has two controls (apart from the level adjustment) working in tandem, the Algal Bloom has three, and there is a strong relationship between them in dialing in your own fuzz sound. The first non-volume control is “Starve,” described also as (texture) on the pamphlet. It lets you adjust how much power gets to the circuit, which makes it easy to get “dying battery sweet spot” tones without wasting dozens of batteries, but which is also useful as a sort of gradient between big round fuzz and thinner-sounding, edgier fuzz. The second control is “Bloom,” which is a more straightforward gain knob but which in the context of this pedal's unique tone shaping controls actually goes farther than your usual fuzz knob. While you do get more gain when you crank it up and less when you roll it back, it also has the effect of changing the relative brightness of the fuzz. In terms that the fuzz world will understand, as you crank it up it gets hairier, but it also changes the “color” of the hair. The last fuzz control is the “Trim” knob, which controls how much of your signal is getting through to the circuit. This has the effect of letting you dial in a range of fuzz types, with big, open roaring fuzz tones when the knob is all the way to the right, and thinner, even gated sputtery sounds when you cut the signal back.

...there are a lot of tones to be had from this pedal – it's the sort of fuzz that will keep a tweaker busy for some time before getting anywhere near exhausting the sonic possibilities...

As you might imagine giving how much interplay there is between the functions of the three fuzz adjustments, an adjustment of any one of the controls can change the character of the sound quite radically, which means a few things. First, it means that there are a lot of tones to be had from this pedal – it's the sort of fuzz that will keep a tweaker busy for some time before getting anywhere near exhausting the sonic possibilities. Second, it means that the fuzz works very well regardless of your surrounding gear. It isn't a chameleon by any means, as it has a very distinctive, full-throated innate sound that sounds fat but defined with chords and which makes lead lines thick and smooth, but you can adjust the pedal so that its sound “clicks” with nearly any gear you like. None of my guitars sounded bad with it, and I've got quite a variety of body and pickup combinations. Third, it means that you might find yourself torn between two or more favorite but mutually exclusive tones, getting out the marker so that you can quickly recall the settings for that other great sound (or sounds). What else would you expect from a pedal which has a fully useful range of sounds from sputtery, gated micro-buzz to massive, saturated open fuzz? Heck, if you dial it in with the right mixture of Starve, Bloom, and Trim, there are even some impressive overdrive tones to be had which extend the usefulness of the pedal that much more.

In my review of the 1134 Fuzz, I remarked that it isn't a “do-anything” fuzz, but rather a somewhat more specific tonal tool. The Algal Bloom seems to be Tom's contribution to guitarists and other noisemakers who want to get a lot of mileage out of one pedal. This is FuzzHugger Effects' entry into the world of your everyday use fuzz, the one pedal that's supposed to get your very own sound every time you turn it on, to be just right for the tune you want to play next as well as the one you're playing now. Its control layout is non-traditional for that niche, as many fuzzes (and overdrives, as well) try to accomplish versatility by offering you a straightforward tone control to complement a regular gain knob. That isn't Tom, though, and that isn't FH(fx): he's taken the road less traveled to provide the community with fuzzes with both method and madness, and while that comes with something of a learning curve, this pedal provides a very enjoyable education, and I'll go one better than your pre-calculus teacher to promise you that you'll want to use this information in the real world as soon as possible.

Price: $115 Direct
Pros: Wide range of useful tones, true bypass
Cons: Some will find the lack of a built-in battery connector inconvenient.