Words by Luke Shields
Fender Australia | RRP: $159
We may think it unimaginably prehistoric, but many moons ago, at the dawn of rock and roll, if you wanted anything other than a crystal clear electrified signal from your instrument, one of two things needed to happen. If you wanted reverb or vibrato you had to buy an amp with those effects already firmly soldered into place. If you wanted dirt, you had to all but destroy the thing you’d most likely scrimped and saved for across dozens of pay cheques.
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We here in the future owe much to the conjecture that the pioneers of amplifier design were, for all intents and purposes, terrible at their jobs. These machines, originally intended to give guitar players an abundance of clean headroom to wander around in, inevitably took the merest of nudges to max out said headroom by the grace of a few minor wiring oversights. Equally, the players that firmly cemented the limitations of these designs into the annals of history seem to have been hell-bent on destroying the amplifiers that helped launch them into infamy.
Once the roar of burning vacuum tubes had been thoroughly explored, in most cases at several shows a week, the next inevitable step was for speakers’ paper cones to tear from the pressure of such unabashed abuse. Upstarts like Junior Barnard, Goree Carter, Chuck Berry, Link Wray, Dave Davies, and a raft of slick-haired ne’er-do-wells pushed their amps as hard as they could, certainly beyond the point of warranty coverage, and in doing so, inspired millions of others to seek that fuzzed-out sound for themselves.
This particular fuzz, the Hammertone Fuzz, is a spirited descendant of the super squelchy, velcro-tearing squawk that we all know and love, with a few choice nuggets from the decades since its inception included for the sake of limiting anachronism in favor of reliability and practicality.
Put bluntly, “tearing velcro” is the best way to describe what is going on here. Based on a dual silicon diode design popularized in the ’60s, the Hammertone Fuzz is perfect for those looking for the sputtery gristle of legends like Tony Iommi and Brant Bjork as opposed to the creamier, more woofy end of the spectrum. That signature screech is underpinned by a hefty waft of low end, customary of most fuzzes, harnessed by a particularly broad sweeping tone knob that will bring you from royal blue, through electric purple, out the other side to blinding yellow syn, aesthetically speaking.
One thing that is undeniably rare in Fuzzbox World is a certain subtlety usually reserved for lower gain overdrives. I was pleasantly surprised to find, not only a good amount of variation in tone and texture but also that I was able to reign this wild beast in quite a way. Down around one on the fuzz knob, I was surprised to discover such transparency and low-level grit, as though Fender had been clever enough to blend a healthy dollop of clean signal over the top of the obvious wall of heck. Once my ear tuned in to this aspect of the tonal fingerprint I noticed how much this fuzz maintained, or more accurately relished, the character of the guitar I had feeding it heat. More so than other fuzzes I’ve tried recently, this one chewed on riffs just to the point where I was able to clearly distinguish tonal variation depending on where on the pick-up selector I’d landed. In my mind, this is a massive tick in the ‘pros’ column. There are precious few pedal designers clever enough to realize that it is not solely Kyuss fans and bong-lords that dig that fuzzy sound. So too do tasteful players like Eric Johnson and more than a handful of jazz cats for whom a heaving wall of thickened, woolly muck is not the most desirable item on the menu.
Having said that, rest assured that people with faded copies of Cheech & Chong DVDs and tie-dyed t-shirts strewn across their parents’ basement floor are well and truly catered for. Drop the needle on Axis: Bold As Love, flick on the octave switch, and play along with the unadulterated, creamed-across-the-roof Octavio sound that Jimi graciously left us all. There are also internal trim pots to help custom fit the Hammertone Fuzz to the specific tonal ecosystem of your rig, yet another thing to remind you that Fender is not just trotting out another line of pedals scraping under the $200 mark.
Given that it was among the first effects introduced to the language of modern, western guitar playing, fuzz is understandably a well-tilled field in 2022. The enduring popularity of bands and artists like Queens of The Stone Age, Black Sabbath, Hendrix, Clapton , and everything that Jack White has ever touched ensures that words like ‘silicon’ and ‘germanium’ remain firmly entrenched in the guitarist’s lexicon. Why then would we need another fuzz in the cabinet? Simply because each one of these tidy circuits seems to do something indescribable that the others don’t. As opposed to bringing on waves of option paralysis, there are countless colors in this rainbow for us to choose from and collect.
The Hammertones are shaping up to be a bag of heretofore underexplored tricks that, once added to your arsenal, are sure to set your playing apart from the pack. The Hammertone Fuzz, as well as the Space Delay (reviewed elsewhere in these hallowed pages), both walk a fine line between reinventing their respective wheels and emitting a familiar, essential sound destined to slot neatly into just about every board.
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