The “Super-Fiend” DIY Fuzz Face!

You can purchase a kit, or source your own parts.

You can purchase a kit, or source your own parts.

UPDATE [06.16.2013]: Build instructions updated to v02.

The Fuzz Face has inspired countless spinoffs since Ivor Arbiter unveiled the device in 1966. Some introduced meaningful improvements. Many didn’t.

The goal of this project, created by my friend Mitchell “Super-Freq” Hudson, is to create a pedal very similar to the original. It’s a great way to explore one of the iconic sounds of ’60s rock (and lots of ’60s-influenced rock).

The instructions are available here. [19MB PDF.]

You can order a kit from Mammoth for $45. (Disclosure: Neither tonefiend nor super-freq has any financial stake in these kits. I simply asked the Mammoth guys to create one for your parts-sourcing convenience. All necessary parts are readily available from other vendors.)

But before you attempt the project, please be aware of some of its quirks. (And if you’re curious, you can read about how I customized the pedal I used in my video demo.)

Vero board vs. perfboard. This project differs from all previous tonefiend projects in that the circuit is assembled on vero board rather than perfboard. On perfboard, the holes are coated in conductive material, but none of the holes are electronically linked — you must make all connections yourself. On vero board, each row of holes (or column, if rotate the board 90 degrees) is connected by a strip of conductive material.

Each board type has its advantages. Vero board circuits often require less soldering, and you usually don’t have to spend as much time finessing the rat’s nest of wires on the reverse side of the board. However, vero layouts can be tricky to visualize. With pertboard, you can can often just replicate the layout of the schematic. On vero, the layout can have maze-like complexity.

Vero builds are fun, and you should definitely try a few. (I made my first DIY pedals on vero, though I usually use perfboard for prototyping these days.) If you enjoy solving visual puzzles, you’ll definitely have a blast. If that sounds like a nightmare to you, you might prefer a Fuzz Face project that comes with a printed circuit board, such as BYOC’s excellent $95 ESV Vintage Fuzz.

No-knob Fuzz Face

I made a no-knob version. (Details below.) I decorated it with these stickers.

There are no sonic differences between the two approaches. They’re simply two ways of getting to the same place. I happened to make my demo model from perfboard. (Details below.)

Negative ground vs. positive ground. Almost all modern effects use negative-ground wiring. But for the sake of historical accuracy, this build, like many ’60s effects, uses positive ground. It’s not any more difficult to assemble positive-ground circuits — really, the only differences are that polarized parts are inserted in reverse, and the battery’s positive and negative terminals get connected to the circuit board in reverse. But there’s one important consequence: You can’t power the pedal with a conventional power supply. And even if you have a reverse-ground cable and/or power supply, you can’t use any those multi-outlet power supplies that daisy-chain pedals together (unless every other pedal in the chain is positive-ground, and that’s pretty unlikely).

That’s why this kit includes no AC adapter jack. It sucks to burn through batteries for both economic and ecological reasons. But this particular circuit has an extremely low current draw — it’ll run for months and months on a single battery, and will still sound cool as the battery weakens.

No modern conveniences. The project also omits other modern innovations, such as a pull-down resistor on the input (which can minimize switch noise) and a capacitor between +9v and ground (which can prevent high-frequency noise and radio interference). You can certainly add those if you like. But we decided to go minimal. For better or worse, you’ll have an authentic ’60s experience. The sole nod to modern wiring is a true-bypass switch.

Germanium vs. silicon. This is all germanium, baby. Which translates into a warm, thick, dynamic tone. But it’s a loose, sometimes flabby type of distortion, not suitable for modern metal. If you prefer a louder, tighter, brighter sound, you can use silicon. (Mitchell likes silicon 2N3904s in this circuit. Others recommend BC-108s and BC-109s because they appeared in early silicon Fuzz Faces. My opinion: germanium only, unless you have the time, skill, and patience to play with all the values in the circuit to get the best sound from silicon transistors.)

PNP vs. NPN. Since this is a positive-ground circuit, it requires PNP-style transistors. Even though positive-ground hasn’t been used much since the ’60s, you still encounter many new PNP Fuzz Faces, mainly because there’s a much greater supply of vintage PNP transistors. In fact, many germanium pedal projects (including this site’s Fiendmaster, a Rangemaster derivative) use wiring tricks to deploy PNP transistors in modern, negative-ground circuits, just because those transistors have been easier to acquire. But now we’re seeing new-production germanium transistors, such as the ones used in current BYOC kits and sold by parts suppliers such as Mammoth — which means NPNs are suddenly much easier to acquire.

I’ve had great luck with these new-production transistors. And unlike 40+-year-old transistors, you don’t have to go through bags of them to find good ones.

Transistor selection. You’ll find online claims that certain transistor models are essential to get the most out of the circuit. I couldn’t disagree more. After extensive studio experimentation with many transistor types, I’ve concluded that there’s not much sonic difference between properly performing germanium transistors. (Example: I had the opportunity, under exacting studio conditions, the compare the $95 BYOC ESV Fuzz and a $600 British boutique pedal I won’t name that boasts the “definitive” NOS transistors. They two pedals weren’t just similar in sound — they were identical.) However, unlike with most modern components, you can still encounter variation from transistor to transistor, so it may help to audition multiples. (If a newly purchased transistor sounds defective, reputable suppliers will replace it.)

The Mammoth kits includes two AC-128s, the most commonly available PNP transistors. They sound awesome in this circuit.

Other components. Resistor and capacitor values matter, but their composition does not. There’s no harm in using pricy carbon-comp resistors or vintage capacitors for “mojo” or period accuracy, but there are no sonic advantages to doing so. (And I challenge all anyone to provide repeatable audio evidence to the contrary.)

To LED or not to LED. The advantages of an LED are obvious: You can tell whether the thing is on before you start playing! On the other hand, it’s easier to build the pedal without an LED. Omitting it greatly extends battery life. Originals didn’t have LEDs. And hey — I’ve played countless gigs with no-LED fuzzes such as the Z. Vex Fuzz Factory and Prescription Electronics Experience, and somehow survived.

Playing with others. More than any other circuit I can think of, the Fuzz Face performs differently according to the effects you combine it with. It hates buffers — placing a buffer (or buffered effect, such as most Boss or Ibanez pedals) before the Fuzz Face yields a thin, harsh sound. Fuzz Faces almost always sounds best first in the signal chain. Also, they probably shine brightest with vintage-output pickups. (I don’t own any active-pickup guitars, but I suspect the Fuzz Face sounds dreadful with them.) Some say the Fuzz Face works best with single-coils, and the best-known Fuzz Face users are Strat players. But I also dig how it sounds with vintage-style humbuckers. (And remember — the Tone Bender Mk1 is really just a Fuzz Face. So Mk 1 user Mick Ronson, for example, was basically just plugging a Les Paul into a Fuzz Face — to spectacular effect!)

My Fuzz Face build. I built my demo model on perfboard, and simplified it even further. Since I prefer to control the gain from the guitar, I replaced the gain knob with a board-mounted 1k trimpot. (And next time, I’ll just use a 1k or 1.5k resistor.) I also omitted the volume control, because I feel the effect sounds best hitting the amp at maximum level. It’s not a particularly loud fuzz, so I rarely feel a need to tame the level.

Here are the guts of my perfboard Fuzz Face. The tone is identical to the vero board version.

Here are the guts of my perfboard Fuzz Face. The tone is identical to the vero board version.

Summary. Every adventurous electric guitarist should probably own a good Fuzz Face, and this project is a great way to acquire one. But I only recommend the project if you can get behind its minimalist/retro attitude. If you desire modern circuitry, higher gain, or rare mojo parts, consider alternatives. A vintage Fuzz Face is a wild, often unpredictable effect, best approached with a spirit of adventure and a sense of humor.

Recommended reading:

• R.G. Keen’s 1998 article “The Technology of the Fuzz Face” has inspired countless boutique and DIY Fuzz Faces.

This Fuzz Central article traces the evolution of the effect and includes great photos of the interiors of vintage units.

Maximum thanks to Mitchell Hudson for creating this project. Do yourself a favor and check out his cool DIY site.

56 comments to The “Super-Fiend” DIY Fuzz Face!

  • Litos

    Yay!! I recently built another Face kit for a friend, and after some testing was really sad to let it go. And the radio interference was an interesting extra, if you ask me!

  • I think the bias against humbuckers is largely due to those who don’t use their volume and tone knobs. Amazing things happen when you twiddle those things, fuzz or no.

  • NickL

    That’s great. I’ll build one in the summer. What comportment should I change to get more distortion?

  • el reclusa

    Oh man…I’m thinking that I could wire one up with the volume permanently dimed, and replace the volume control with the 10K pot you mentioned for “broken” sounds and…yes. Yes yes.

    I have a feeling if I can successfully build this one, this could be the start of a very, very fun habit.

    • joe

      Oh, yeah, that should totally work. But if you have the means, try a couple of different pots in that location. I suspect you’ll find one value you like best. 🙂

  • Matt

    I recently built a low gain silicon fuzz face and now I’m interested in trying out different transistors. My question is, if I put together this board with all the caps socketed, could I use it to audition pnp and npn transistors just by flipping the orientation of the caps and the power supply?

  • Jon

    What an awesome project! I put it together on a breadboard the other night and fell in love as soon as I plugged it in. I tried it with all my guitars, my ’78 Rhodes piano and my P-bass clone. I agree that it seemed best suited to the strat, but I really dug the fuzz bass sound as well. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only nerd/guitarist out here!

  • Kenneth

    I recommend finding the parts yourself. I recently ordered the tonefiend fuzz face kit from Mammoth, and for some reason they only sent me half of the parts. I emailed them several times, and they still haven’t replied.

    I’m sure they will rectify this, but it will probably take forever.

  • Kenneth

    I just found out they had some pretty rough weather yesterday, so now I kinda feel like a douche for complaining.

  • camaro guy

    As a heads-up, I noticed an error in the instructions on page 15 (Solder a 33K resistor between rows J and K in column B). The picture shows the resistor between rows I and J (not J and K), and I / J matches with the circuit diagram on the schematic (and also worked correctly when I assembled it). I was following the text and originally put it between J and K, but realized later in the build that this couldn’t be right, so I pulled it out and put it where it was supposed to go. Hopefully, this will save others having to remove and reinstall the 33K resistor.

  • I’m finally getting around to building this (thanks a ton for putting everything together I can’t wait to try it) and found a minor error in the instructions. The wiring diagram and the list of parts have a 20uF cap, but page 17 (and beyond) show a 47uf cap getting installed.

  • Mateo

    Hi Joe,
    I was wondering when I began my adventure with bulding effects and It’s the date of your post about a Fuzz Face build. Throughout this year I build couple of dozens of various pedals and learned a lot from forums, by practice and your mentioned adventurous aproach. I basicly build and modified each pedal I wanted to have form fuzzes and ODs to phasers and delays. I curently use my builds only and I’m cured of most brand and particular elements-conected mojo 😉 I made few units for my friends and they are absolutely happy with their sound and look. Few days ago I made yet another great soundiing Fuzz Face on Russian Germaniums with Pre-Gain pot instead of typical 1k pot and no LED. It’s fun to play my Tele only with FF and a bit of delay to an amp.
    With this post I wanted to thank you for inspiring me and encouraging to go DIY. Fantastic hobby from soldering, to sound sculpting and swapping values to boxing and fancy painting.
    Modding circuits often leads to countless hours of experimenting and eventualy ending with the classic circiut. But then you are really aware why the classic happened to be classic 🙂
    Cheers!

    • joe

      Hi Mateo! Thanks for the note, which made me very happy. First, I’m delighted you find some of the things I post useful. And I love your attitude about building effects. 🙂

      The pre-gain pot works great on many effects, especially Fuzz Faces — though the Percolator is one example of an effect that included this function on the original.

  • Richard

    Hi Joe,

    Just finished this proj. and must have missed something cause I have no sound at all when the pedal is active, the bypass works fine though. I would have loved a diagram on the boxing part since I couldn´t find any instructions on the wires comming from the PCB, where they should be connected to the 3DTP (just tried to see the wires from the pictures and think I did it right). Also, would be great to have the numbers on the lugs on the Gain/Fuzz and Volume pots in the layout pics.
    Now it´s time for some reverse engineering 🙂 Great job with the site/blog!

    • joe

      Hi Richard — thanks for the kind words, and sorry it hasn’t come together correctly yet. Did you do Project #1 before trying the fuzz? I tend to encourage folks to start there, because it includes all the boxing wiring and techniques, which are pretty much identical for most stompboxes. But better still, I’ve just created a new and improved version of that project for Premier Guitar. You should find the info you need here: http://www.premierguitar.com/articles/21291-build-your-own-stompbox

      Regarding pots: Anytime the pot works the opposite of how you want (i.e., a volume control that gets quieter when turned clockwise), just reverse the connection to lugs 1 and 3. Most often, the straight signal goes into lug 3, and the adjusted one comes out on lug 2. Lug 1 may or many not connect to ground.

  • Derek Ferrier

    Hey Joe and everyone else! I’m going to build one of these just about exact to the way it should be with no LED, however I’d also like to build one with a tone control. If I were to put one into the vero board circuit where should I solder it to? What additional parts would be needed? This is my first go at this. Thanks guys!

    • joe

      Oh, sorry I missed this! My first suggestion is, do this on breadboard first, so you can try a few things before committing. A standard passive low-pass filter after the transistor sucks tone — you may lose more than you gain. A good Fuzz Face SO responsive to the guitar’s controls, and it may just sound better to use your guitar as the tone control. But if you really need one, I suggest using a pot to fade between two different-value inout caps. I discuss something similar in the “ultimate Lipstick-tube” story. Another idea: look at the Fuzzrite circuit, which has a simple but effective tone control.

  • If you're not using an LED would you solder the -9v wire from the PCB and the -9v wire from the battery snap directly to the top center tab of the switch?

  • Riido

    Hey! Amazing guide bro, I’m loving it.
    But i have a problem, I can’t get a 3pdt anywhere near my city.
    How can I use a 2pdt like the one in the last image?
    Do i really need a 3pdt to use a LED or can I do it with a 2pdt too?

    Thank you for this guide and for the time you take to anwer and red these comments.

    • joe

      Hi Rido! You can absolutely make the pedal with a 2PDT switch, but you lose two things: The ability to have the footswitch trigger the LED, and true-bypass switching. I happen to think true-bypass isn’t as big a deal as everyone makes it out to be, at least in most cases. (And there are non-3PDT alternatives — just google “millennium bypass.” Not having an LED can be a drag, but it’s not the end of the world — no pedals had them till the ’70s. So while the 3PDT is preferable to add those details, not having one shouldn’t stop you from building a great-sounding pedal. Hope that helps! 🙂

  • Nicolas

    Hi Joe !

    Quick question : What should i do to have this circuit in negative ground, since i would like to use my power supply instead of going throught batteries? Should i search for 60’s Negative ground fuzz face? Will it sound the same?

    Thanks, keep up the good work,

    Nicolas

    • joe

      There are two ways to “go negative”: Acquire a negative-ground (NPN) transistor, or use the positive ground transistor (PNP), but invert a few parts so that it can function in a negative-ground circuit. (Some people caution against the second approach, but I’ve use the trick many times and encountered no problems. Yes — just google “fuzz face negative ground PNP schematic” and “fuzz face negative ground NPN schematic.”

  • Blues 72

    Hi Joe, i am new to DIY community? Today i finished the Fuzz Face and it works,but in very low volume compare to the clean channel! The only thing that it is deferent from the parts is B1K pot,i did not have and i put A1K !
    So,could this be a problem,or i have to look for something else?
    Best regards!!

    • joe

      Hi! Thanks for trying the project.

      No — the problem is not due to using a B1K instead of an A1K. I’d double-check all the part values — a difference of one decimal point is enough to ruin everything. I’d also double-check eery connection using a multimeter’s continuity function (the beeper) Pay extra attention to all connections at the transistors and all connections to ground. Let me if that helps! 🙂

  • Hawk

    Just finding this for the first time. I was in search for a fuzz with no controls, just a foot switch and found it here. I know you mention changing the pots for resistors, but I am completely new to wiring electronics and layout.

    I do not want volume, or gain controls. I’m a little confused given each of the controls have three connection points. When adding a resistor in lieu of a pot, do I just connect to the 1 & 3 locations? Also, do I need a resistor for both pots, or just the gain? Apologize if this is elemental stuff.

    • joe

      Hi, Hawk — glad you found me. 🙂

      I know what you mean! No knobs is my favorite Fuzz Face mode. (The circuit is so dynamic, you can control the gain with your guitar volume pot.

      To replace a volume control with a fixed resistor — don’t! Just leave it out for maximum output. But if you must, the resistor would replace lugs 2 and 3 of the pot. (Lug 1 is ground, which isn’t needed for a resistor.)

      Gain controls are usually wired in reverse orientation, so the resistor would replace lugs 1 and 2. In this case, lug 3 would be ground, and again, you don’t need that with a fixed resistor

      One tip: To reverse the orientation of any pot, simply swap the connection between lugs 1 and 3. For a control that lowers the signal as you turn it counter-clockwise, lug 3 is your input and lug lig is your ground. For the opposite, lug 1 is your input and 3 is your ground. In all cases, lug 2 is the output from the pot.

      My unsolicited advice: Look over my project #1. Not only is a very cool distortion, but it covers all the needed electronics basics. (Which I didn’t recap in every subsequent project.)

  • Hawk

    Awesome. Thanks for the response. I printed out the project and gathered everything for it today. Still have to order a box. Looking forward to getting it together.

  • Hawk

    When I picked up the capacitors, the .01uf was only available in 100v. I figured it would work fine, but want to make sure? It looks a little big, but I know that doesn’t always matter.

  • Hawk

    Wired everything up. This is with no pots. No volume, or effect, but I do have bypass when the switch is turned off. Looking through the instructions, it gets a little ambiguous regards to the wiring from the board to the switch. I did not put an LED on it either.

    Had to look at the pictures more than what was explained (pgs 35-40). Think I have it right though. Big question is, with no volume pot, does there need to be a jumper wire for the .01uf capacitor? Will probably give it another go, but with pots. Any advice would be helpful.

    • Yup, without the Volume pot in place, one end of the 0.01uF cap is connected to the junction of the 470 ohm and 8.2K and the other end connects just to a piece of copper track, as does the output wire. You would need to link those two tracks together to hear any output. Or just move the output wire over to the same track as the 0.01uF.

  • Small typo I think – Page 28 – The post will hold the PCB in place.

    Shouldn’t that be – The pots will hold the PCB in place. ?

  • Hawk

    Thanks for the help. When I first tried it I took the .01uf out, but realized it needed to be in there. So I went back and wired it up like I thought it should be, which is exactly how you stated.

    So, following what Joe recommended, I went back to the project #1 and printed everything out. Comparing the “Boxing” portions it explains how to the wire the 3pdt switch. However there are some differences. The “jumper” wire on the FF kit goes from lugs 3 to 6, while the Project #1 goes from 3 to 9, with 2 & 8 going to the input and output, and 1 & 7 going to and from effect(circuit). Again, its a little different comparing the two, and the FF instruction are kind of not clear when it comes to this. I want to make sure which one is correct before I go rewiring the switch following the #1 instructions.

    • Since there are three identical sections to that switch there are an number of ways it can be wired to do the same thing.
      Something to watch for is getting the orientation of the switch wrong (I mean do not rotate it 90 degrees).

      What you need to do is to understand what the switch is doing and how to visualize it and match that with the physical mechanics and appearance of the switch.

      With the width of the tags arranged horizontally you have three single pole, two way switches arranged side by side, exactly as shown in the instructions PDF. The switch poles should be the second horizontal row from the top. With the top row of tags being one ‘way’ for all three switches and the bottom row the other ‘way’.

      Unfortunately there is no circuit diagram in the instructions which shows either the LED or the switch.

      The leftmost section of the switch switches the input of the circuit (on the middle tag of the switch) between the input jack and ground (via the link to the centre section). The centre section of the switch switches ground between the LED and one side of the first section. And the third section switches the output jack between the output of the circuit and the input jack (bypass).

      I hope that helps rather than confuses.

  • Hawk

    I think I figured it out. I had to use a different type vero board and I switched the order of things around a little. I am going to rewire it and follow the circuit to make sure it follows the path. I’m sure this is the problem. When I went back through, it’s the only thing that makes sense. I thought as long as I have them on the same line, it would be okay. Once I followed the path of the signal, it made sense what was wrong.

  • Hawk

    Okay. I scratched everything, ordered the fuzz kit through Mammoth. I followed the instructions to the “T”….Plug it in, LED lights up, no fuzz (zero sound), bypass signal is weak. What gives? This is honestly the most troublesome, simplistic circuit I have experienced. I am convinced it’s in the switch wiring, but I see absolutely nowhere where my wiring differs from the instructions. Again, any help is appreciated.

  • Hawk

    There is sound from the pedal, but it is very low, and does not sound fuzzy. I have to dine the amp to get any sound and it minor when everything is maxed. Bypass is a little better, but still low volume…… I was going to bread board it, but didn’t feel I needed to. It’s a pretty simple curcuit that I have become pretty intimate with the last few weeks. Just wish I could get it to work. About to burn all my pedal building equipment and stick with just buying them. It’s a lot cheaper at this point.

    • Joe Gore

      The first step after boxing is aways to make sure the bypass signal works. Since it doesn’t, you either have a poor soldering joint, two wires touching which shouldn’t be, or some other damn thing. I recommend using a multimeter (you can get cheap but workable ones for less than $20) and use the continuity function (the beeper) to verify that the connections are in fact making contact. Don’t bother doing any work on the circuitboard until you have the bypass thing figured out.

  • Hawk

    I get bypass, just low volume. It’s not really low, just a little bit lower than what it should be. In my previous diagnostics, I found the wiring of the 3pdt switch as described in the #1 kit works for bypass and is explained well compared to the “Super Fiend” kit instructions, which I’ve had problems with. Trying to stay true to the instructions and get it to work as it should. Not convinced so far. I’m sure it’s my error, just pain in you know what to find it.

    • One of the most useful tools I have is one of the simplest. It consists of a low voltage light bulb mounted in a tube with a couple of batteries. One side of the bulb goes to a metal probe and one end of the batteries goes to a length of cable with an alligator clip on the end. Whenever you connect the clip and the probe with a direct circuit connection between them the bulb lights up. This is very useful for circuit tracing and you can even test LEDs and diodes with it.
      An alternative is a multimeter with either a low resistance setting or with a ‘continuity’ buzzer setting.
      With any pedal that has true mechanical bypass switched to bypass you should get a direct very low resistance between the tip of the input jack and the tip of the output jack. This is easily tested with either of the previously described forms of continuity tester.
      If you don’t bet bypass continuity then leave one end of the continuity tester connected to the tip of either the in or the out jack and follow the circuit point to point with the other connection to the continuity tester. Lets say you start at the tip of the in jack. Follow that wire across to the switch tag. Do you still get continuity? If yes keep tracing, if not you have a either a broken wire or some very bad solder connections. There should be only the two jack tips, four switch tags and three pieces of wire involved in the bypass circuit so there isn’t much to trace.
      The other possibility apart from open / semi open circuits due to bad joints or broken wires, is that the bypass circuit also includes a connection to something it should not be connected to.
      Also be very sure you have the switch the right way around.

  • joe

    Bypass should be viritually indistinguishable from no pedal at all. There’s something wrong with your wiring in the bypass portion of the circuit.

  • Oh … and if you have applied a lot of heat to the switch tags – perhaps from repeated attempts at soldering to them – you could have a damaged switch.

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