Arbiter Fuzz Face Reissue

Psychedelic tones of the past
Psychedelic tones of the past

If you’re a fan of vintage ’60s fat-bottomed fuzz, nothing sounds better than a vintage Arbiter/England Fuzz Face… when it’s operating right. The pedal is highly regarded among players and collectors alike, especially when it’s equipped with NKT-275 transistors.

In an attempt to recapture the pre-Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face sound, Ivor Arbiter recently reissued his original mid-’60s Fuzz Face.

From the mic-stand casting to the smile that reads “Arbiter/England” to the PNP Germanium transistors – Arbiter’s reissue is the closest-sounding/looking pedal to the real deal. After all, it’s made by the same company that started the Fuzz Face craze of the ’60s.

Re-creating the pedal meant including Dennis Cornell, one of the original engineers, and locating original components. These components include Germanium PNP transistors from the same vendors’ batch used to supply the originals. The re-creation includes details like the die-cast casing molded from an original Arbiter case, and hammer-finished in silver-grey.

“Each pedal is hand wired in England,” said Tom Lanik, North Star Audio’s (U.S. distributor of the reissue). The attention to detail in recreating the Arbiter-England Fuzz Face pedal is overwhelming.

But as with the original, there’s a catch – inconsistent sound. Due to the Germanium transistors, each Fuzz Face sounds slightly different, though for the most part, they all sound amazingly close to the originals.

At low settings, the Fuzz Face reissue offers sweet, smooth overdrive-flavored sustain and distortion. At high gain and output settings, it pedal roars with fuzzy tones that crackle and feedback, but can be controlled by simply rolling back your guitar’s volume. At mid settings, it offers a Hendrixy thick fuzz and distortion that re-creates the psychadelic guitar sounds of the ’60s.

Most modern reissue fuzz pedals don’t come this close to the sound of a real mid-’60s Fuzz Face. But the Arbiter-design unit produces very rich, warm harmonic overtones and endless sustain – a real Hendrix vibe.

The Fuzz Face’s classic appearance includes knobs that look vintage (but are numbered, unlike the originals). The paint is similar, with teardrop markers on the casing and the controls labeled in paint, rather than decals. The construction is solid, with solid rubber feet mounted with screws. The modern updates – the numbered knobs and screwed-on rubber feet – don’t detract from the ’60s look. The circuitboard, wiring, potentiometers, jacks, and footswitch are all high-quality, rugged components, soldered immaculately.

If you’re serious about getting a fuzz unit to replicate Hendrix sounds and ’60s fuzz tones and you don’t want to spend a lot of money for a vintage NKT-275 Germanium transistor-equipped Arbiter/England Fuzz Face, then this reissue is a first-class ticket. You may want to try a few to get one that sounds the way you want – the Germanium transistors sound nice, but they have a tendency to vary slightly.

Arbiter Fuzz Faze reissue
Type of pedal: Fuzz/distortion
Features: Classic appearance, teardrop markers on casing and controls, numbered knobs, screwed-on rubber feet, high-quality circuitboard, wiring, potentiometers, jacks, and footswitch,
Price: $185.
Contact: Northstar Audio, (773) 782-9666.

This review originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’97 issue.

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