Maxon Fuzz Elements Pedals
Price: $189 to $199
Classic fuzz pedals are some of the fine wines of the vintage guitar world. Guitarists talk like Frenchified sommeliers when discussing Fuzztones, Tonebenders, and Tube Screamers as if they were hundred-year-old bottles of Bordeaux. “Mais oui, this all-original ’67 Fuzz Face with vintage germanium NKT275 transistors sounds like Jimi with just a hint of Slowhand and a tasteful finish resembling Stevie Ray.”
Yet, just like wine, fuzzboxes don’t always improve with age. Too many have been stomped to death or now sound like a downshifting semi truck instead of retaining that bouquet à la Jimmy Page.
So, it’s little surprise that Maxon has released the Elements line of vintage-sounding overdrives. Yes, that Maxon, the same Japanese company that built those early Tube Screamers for Ibanez. Maxon used computer software to model and map the “elements” that create the sounds of seven classic effects. Then they brought them back to life in modern, sturdy, reliable pedals. Yes, these new pedals are analog, and, yes, all offer true-bypass switching.
Remaining true to the vintage vibe, each was tested with vintage gear – a ’56 Strat run directly into the pedal of choice and then into a narrow-panel tweed 5E3 Deluxe. While the Maxons can be powered by a 9-volt battery or AC adaptor, all were tested on wall juice.
First up, the FA10 Air is designed to replicate the classic 1968-’73 Univox Super-Fuzz built by Shin-ei of Japan. The Air is instant Bachman-Turner Overdrive, filling in all that annoying space articulation between notes to present a wall of fuzz. The pedal offers two distinct tones via the Scoop/Fat switch. Flipped to Fat, the distortion is downright frightening.
The FE10 Ether adds a parametric tone section to the FA10 Air circuitry. Dial in a variety of fuzz and octave sounds mimicking the Octavia that effects mad scientist Roger Mayer masterminded for Hendrix, reproducing the guitar’s signal an octave higher or lower in pitch. Add in even more aggro distortion with the Expander control.
Next up, the FEA10 Earth is based on the classic “Ram’s Head” transistor fuzz circuit of the ’70s, as made famous by Electro-Harmonix’s Big Muff Pi. For comparison, we lined up the Earth against a vintage Sovtek Big Muff, and they let forth a comparably loud, throaty fuzz with singing sustain and solid note definition.
The Earth has glorious overtones, though it’s a touch heavy on the bass balance. Turned up, it can make notes sustain until the cows come home.
The FWA10 Water adds a parametric tone section to the Earth circuit and is capable of thunderous fuzz – enough to convince the family dog to seek shelter under the nearest bed.
The FF10 Fire differs from the others in the Elements lineup in that it works more like a treble booster, emulating the late-’70s Roland AF-100 Bee Baa and giving a powerful, bottom-heavy octave-fuzz sound. It features two distinct fuzz sounds via the Notch and Effect footswitches. Both made the Strat sound like the hammer of doom.
Based on the rare ’69 Ampeg Scrambler, the FV10 Void generates even-order harmonic overtones that fashion Octavia and ring-modulator sounds. This pedal’s the hardest to classify, but cool sounds can be found with a little fiddling.
Last but not least, the FW10 Wind is the hands-down fave of the batch. Based on the legendary Vox Tonebender, it conjures pure British Invasion fuzz. Toggling between Vintage and Hot gain settings and a switchable output Buffer creates modern takes on classic tones. Dial in a killer sound with a twang on the front end and tasty distortion on the finish.
Which makes us think that maybe the fine-wine comparison rings true.
This article originally appeared in VG October 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.