Back in December 2011, I gave my Godson, for his 21st birthday, my 1968 Gibson Les Paul gold-top guitar. Yes, I included the original case with its chips, scratches, and stickers from every place it travelled. My reasoning is, first, he’s my Godson, second he plays professionally (studio sessions, Broadway plays, backup bands, etc.), and third and most importantly, he ain’t gonna’ stick that axe in a glass case and go “Hey lookee what I got” – he’s gonna’ play it. Fourth, and not so important, I also have a 1962 model I’m keeping for myself; it has a lot of “tender memories” attached to it.
After his jaw finally loosened enough to say “thanks”, he took it out on a number gigs and, though more than ecstatic with the instrument’s playability and range of timbres, found that there’s a sonic mismarriage between the guitar’s single-coil P90 soap-bar pickups and a few of his many modern effects pedal boards. In other words, there’s some noise and hum issues with hooking the guitar into certain effect chains, most noticeable being his multitude of distortion devices.
Okay, before you offer this as a solution, I shielded the instrument’s cavities long ago. In fact, it is so well shielded that, if need be, you can stick the headstock in the ground and use the guitar as a very expensive lightening rod. And, without more than knowing eye contact, my Godson and I concur that if anyone were to so much as think about routing out this instrument for humbucking pickups they should have a date with a chainsaw, a Wendy O’Williams-approved M’Cullock BoneGrinder 90 to be exact.
Installing a buffer/noise-gate combo between the guitar and pedals helps quite a bit, however it acts as an effect in itself, making the Les Paul sound like a cross between a 1975 Stratocaster and Bulgarian bagpipes, with just a lilt of a slightly-torn 10-inch, 30W Celestion orange speaker. Unfortunately, when he plays Broadway shows, space is quite limited and placing distance between the guitar and speakers is not an option. In other live situations, the noise is not that big of a concern.
Well, all of this is not such a big deal if he were to just use one of his other guitars, but that’s not the goal. He wants to be able to use any one of his instruments in any given situation, true versatility if you will. So we sat down trying all the possible combinations derived from his six unique pedal boards. It did not take long to come up with a revelation, problem definition, and possible solution.
Revelation: the only effects pedals cranking out the noise are any one or combination of his 26 fuzz, distortion, overdrive, and pre-amp pedals. The delays, chorus, and expression pedals add no boost, so noise from those is minimal. Problem definition: gain-boosting devices early in the signal chain are the culprits and need to either be eliminated or attenuated. Elimination is not an option. Attenuation, since it will alter the instruments’ sonic qualities, is also not an option. Solution: build the world’s best fuzz box.
Subjectively, building the world’s best fuzz box, though a brave, courageous, and noble venture in itself, may not be the fastest, boldest solution to the problem. After all, there are many devices out there that fit the bill, though providing limited sonic variety. We could choose the ones we like, wire them up together and hope for the best. But that’s exactly the problem. So our mutually-agreed-upon radical solution is to build the world’s biggest fuzz box. That’s right, you heard right: the world’s biggest fuzz box, a veritable distortion pizza with everything on it and, like a real pizza, very quiet.
Actually, we are just in the planning stage, figuring out all that will go into this box. The first and most important thing is true bypass. If all else fails, we can get the guitar directly into the amplifier. So, the first parts on the BOM list are two ¼-inch phone jacks, two-conductor braided cable, and a heavy-duty DPDT footswitch. Since a lot of stuff is going into this, we’ll save the power supply for last.
My Godson uses a variety of distortion pedals, i.e., analog, digital, tube, op amp, discrete, etc., and guitars with various pickup types and configurations, all of which he can’t live without on a business level. Since we’ll have to get every flavor in there, let’s make a list of everything he wants plus a few of my own favorites.
INPUT STAGE: selectable and variable impedance matching for single-coil and humbucking pickups, all followed by a flat, zero-gain buffer amp with no noise-cancelling circuitry.
MATRIXING: a switching system to direct the input signal to or divert them from the following stages.
1. One preamp stage employing a 12AX7 or 12AT7
2. One preamp stage using silicon transistors
3. One preamp stage using germanium transistors
4. One preamp stage employing a 4558 op amp
5. (Optional) One JFET preamp stage.
All are footswitch selectable
SECOND: Six band graphic EQ stage, bypassable
Overdrive circuits: tube, silicon transistor, and germanium transistor.
High-Gain distortion circuits: 45558 op amp, JFET op amp
All with variable gain/distortion and three-band EQ (bass, mid, and treble)
FOURTH: Mixer stage for combining all distortion circuits plus clean signal.
FIFTH: Master output buffer into dual outputs with a final EQ tweaking stage.
SIXTH: An expression pedal for volume control and effect.
Of course this is just a preliminary sketch and we are open to suggestions for more circuits we can stuff into this thing. It will actually be the size of a large pizza box mainly because I happen to have chassis that size and shape, pre-machined for another project that got scrubbed. Also, it’s the perfect size for the kid.
The way we see it, schedule wise, we’ll probably have a working model by the end of the summer, maybe a little later. It may be a dauntingly bold and radical project, but the only one it will be hard on is the neighbors when we get to the testing stage; we love 100W Marshalls. Who knows, maybe by that time someone else will be marketing the world’s biggest fuzz box and I can use that chassis for something else again, like digital pizza cryogenics. Be that as it may, if I remember, I’ll let you know how it turns out later this year.