Showing posts with label Vintage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vintage. Show all posts

Univox Superfuzz (from the 70s): history (post 1/2)

People say that I worship the Univox Superfuzz a bit too much, but they are wrong. If I could, I would already have started a sect about this pedal!

It is simply my favorite pedal of all times! First because of its amazingly cool look with the huge "Super Fuzz" rubber pad, and also for its sound that is crazy loud and heavy. Seriously, best-fuzz-out-there!

After seeing Fu Manchu live in March, I could not resist buying one. After selling a kidney on the black market, I was quite lucky because I found a non-working unit on ebay that I could repair by replacing a few electrolytic capacitors.

Univox Super Fuzz

The Super Fuzz is really the ultimate fuzz for me, so I decided to honor it by writing the most complete article about it. Here is the first part!

Let's go!

Sovtek Bubble Font Russian Big Muff (1995)

A pedal that I recently fixed and a legend in the stoner/doom scene: ladies and gentlemen, here is the almighty Russian Sovtek Big Muff!

Sovtek Big Muff Bubble Font

This lady is already more than 20 year old. Not as old as the 50 years old Maestro Fuzztone that I fixed before, but still!

Vintage Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ1-A (1966)

The Maestro Fuzz-Tone is simply the first fuzz ever! I felt a bit like an archeologist when inspecting this effect ! Someone gave me this one for repair, experiencing some issues with the built-in jack and the switch. Here it is:

Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ1-A 1966

It is quite in good shape for a 50 years old guitar pedal! The pots allowed me to date it, from 1966. There is a serial number as well, but I do not really know how they work. I think each serial correspond to the number of the unit. Thus, the lower the serial, the older the pedal is. This fuzz is not that big for a vintage fuzz, especially compared to the 1973 Supa Tonebender that I had on my bench before.

At the front of the pedal, there are two controls: Volume and Attack (translate by "Fuzz"). It is the second version of the Fuzz-tone, the FZ1-A. The two knobs are also original, and are the same "reflector" knobs used on vintage Les Paul.

Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ1-A 1966

Indeed, the pedal was made by Gibson in the same factory as the Les Pauls, in Kalamazoo, Michigan! Thus, a lot of parts are shared with vintage Les Pauls: the knobs, potentiometers and some low value capacitors. I believe that it allowed Gibson to lower a bit their prices, selling this pedal for $40 at the time (which should be around $300 today though...). Gibson even included it in some bass produced at that time, like the Gibson EB-0F, Gibson EB-SF 1250 and Epiphone Newport EB-SF!

Inside, the circuit is dead-simple. Three pnp transistors, wire on an eyelet bakelite board create the saturation. They are Motorola 2n2614, old germanium transistors. The original FZ1 used germanium 1n270 transistors, whereas the FZ1-A version used Motorola 2n2614. It has also old carbon-comp resistors, from the sixties!

Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ1-A circuit

The electrolytic capacitors had been replaced (very common, old electrolytic transistors tend to leak, and are often replaced in vintage builds like this one), the yellow Suntan capacitor is not original as well. Apart from that, all the rest is original! It feels quite extraordinary to discover a perfectly preserved circuit like this one when opening the pedal, it feels a bit like opening Toutankhamon's tumb!

Close up on one of the transistors:

Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ1-A transistors

The fuzz has only one input, and a jack allows you to connect it directly to your amp. Well, it is one the first guitar pedals, so pedalboard were not really an option at that time!

History of the Maestro Fuzz-Tone

The Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ1 was the first fuzz  pedal ever! In the early 50s, blues guitarists started to push their amps to make it distort and create a weird, unusual guitar sound: saturated guitar sound. Some players even made holes in the speaker to make the distortion even greater! In 1961, Grady Martin bought a faulty transformer creating a weird distortion, and recorded a song called "The Fuzz" with it. The name "Fuzz" was born!

The song became really famous, and many artists did want to use the same sound. However, the transformer died shortly after the song was recorded. Glenn Snody, the original owner of the transformer and Revis Hobbs, a radio engineer, wanted to recreate the sound of the transformer using transistors. And this is how the Fuzz-Tone circuit was created! Snody and Hobbs showed it to Gibson, who developed a prototype and commercialized a first batch of 5000 units in 1962, selling it for retail price of $40 at the time.

The original Fuzz-Tone advertisement is quite amusing, they say it can sounds like an organ or mellow woodwinds... I would rather say: a huge screaming dirty nasty sound that will crush your ears lol! Here is the record:

I do not know how they made the recording, I cannot reproduce any of these sounds at home! This record feels like listening to the really birth of rock...

The Fuzz-Tone was quite a commercial failure: besides the 5000 units shipped in 1962, Gibson did not sell any other fuzz pedal until 1965! Indeed, in 1965, the Rolling Stones issued "Satisfaction". Keith Richards did use the FZ1 on the records to make the main riff. It was used to emulate the sound of a horn, because the Stones did not have horns in their band at the time.

The Fuzz-Tone became then really famous (the hype for guitar effects was already there :) ), and Gibson sold more than 40 000 units later! It also inspired many other manufacturers that begin to create other fuzz circuits like the Tonebender, Fuzz Face...etc.

Versions and other models

The FZ1 was declined in several models. The FZ1 was quite a commercial failure, and Gibson did not make more of them... It is also the more collectible version fo the FZ-1, as only around 5000 units were manufactured (less than the Klon Centaur!). You can distinguish between these four version by looking at the front of the enclosure. Here are the four main versions of the FZ1 (spot the differences!):

In 1965, the Rolling Stones made it famous, and Gibson issued another model, the FZ1-A. It did not use the same transistors (2n2614 instead of the original 2n270), and used only one AA battery!
There was a few change to the circuit: the two 20uF coupling electrolytic capacitors were replaced by 1uF ones, and the second collector resistor was changed to 10k instead of 1.5k, maybe to compensate the lower voltage. The name of the model is clearly written on the front of the enclosure, with "FZ-1A" instead of "FZ-1".

It was first manufactured in the Kalamazoo factory in Michigan, and then, after 1968 (not so sure about the exact date though), FZ1-A were later manufactured in Lincolnwood, Illinois. The location of the factory is written below the Gibson logo. The serial numbers are also higher (see below).

Finally, the FZ1-A was a reissue in 2002, exactly reproducing the circuit and the enclosure, with the same transistors! Fortunately for us, it was manufactured in Nashville, Tennessee, which is written just below the Gibson logo. Also, the reissues do not have a serial number engraved.

The FZ1 also had successors. Later on, Maestro issued the FZ1-B, which uses silicon transistors. The circuit is thus quite different, powered by a 9V battery, and the Fuzz does not sound quite the same. It is less saturated, and a bit buzzy. It is pictured on the left here:

Later on, the FZ1-S model was issued in a huge enclosure, with a very cool looking metallic circle. It has three controls, and a switch for the tone control: you have guessed it, it has almost nothing to do with the original Fuzz Tone! It is closer to a Fender Blender or an Univox Super Fuzz (no octave though).

Serial numbers of the FZ1: date your pedal easily

Sometimes pots have been replaced, and the pedal can be hard to date. I tried to decipher the year of each serial number. This is not an official statement, however, I have emailed Gibson about it, maybe they have more infos to give me. In the meantime, if you are the lucky owner of a FZ1, you can give me the serial number and the date of your pedal. Thus, we can complete the table!
Model Year Factory Units shipped Min-Max
serial seen
between ?
FZ1 1962 Kalamazoo, Michigan 5461 870-4628 1-5461
FZ1-A 1965 Kalamazoo, Michigan 3454 6174-? 5462-8916
1966 Kalamazoo, Michigan 20943 10665-21354 8917-29860
1967 Kalamazoo, Michigan 6625 22933 29861-36485
1968 Kalamazoo, Michigan ? 42970 36486-42970
FZ1-A Lincolnwood, Illinois ? 43762-44537 43762-44537
FZ1-B Lincolnwood, Illinois ? No serial number no serial
FZ1-A Reissue 2002 Nashville, Tennessee ? No serial number no serial
The easiest way to do it is to do these steps:
  • Find the name of the model (FZ1 or FZ1-A?)
  • Find the place it was made (Kalamazoo, Lincolnwood or Nashville?)
  • Read the serial number
  • If your pedal is not in the serial numbers indicated above, open it and look at the potentiometers. The date should be on it, like on vintage guitars.

Circuit analysis: how does it work?

As mentioned before, the circuit is based around three transistors:
Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ1A schematic

Like usual, let's divide it in functional parts:

Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ1 schematic

It has a negative polarity because of the PNP transistors, and use only one AA battery, so 1.5V only!

Input stage

The input stage is basically a small buffer that also cuts some bass.

input stage FZ1

First, there is a coupling capacitor of 0.01uF. It avoid parasitic DC current to enter the circuit, and also filter some low frequencies: you loose a bit of bass. A 1M resistor connected to ground prevents noises when the pedal is switched on.

The first transistor is wired in emitter follower (not really common in guitar pedals), in order to adapt the impedance of the guitar signal. The emitter is indeed connected directly to the power supply. Thus, it has a gain of around unity, and does not amplify the signal.
There is another electrolytic coupling capacitor after this capacitor.

Saturation stage

This is where the fuzz happens! A transistor is pushed beyond its limits and saturates because of the gain that it too high.
saturation stage FZ1
The bias of the base of the transistor is defined by R4, R5 and R6. The fuzz knob is wired as a variable resistor, in parallel to R6. So when the Fuzz knobs changes value, the bias of the base of the transistor varies. Basically, the more you turn the "Fuzz" potentiometer to the right, the higher is the current going through the base of Q2.

Basically, there is too much current going to Q2, which creates saturation: the fuzz is there!

Note that the emitter of the transistor is wired directly to ground to make the gain of Q2 maximum! 10k is also quite a high value for the collector resistor, and it helps increasing the saturation even more. If you replace it by a bigger value, you can increase the saturation even more!

C3 is a coupling capacitor that prevents any parasitic current from the collector to go in the circuit.

Output stage

This stage amplifies the signal and can even boost it a bit to get a nice volume output.
maestro FZ1 output stage

It is very simple : the Q3 transistor amplifies the signal a lot (and saturates as well : there is no emitter resistor, plus a high value collector resistor = very high gain!).

The C4 capacitor is a coupling capacitor that prevents parasitic DC current to go out. C4 also cuts some bass, as it is quite a low value (10nF). If you use a bigger value, the pedal will be more bassy and muddy. I actually like it with a higher value, it really changes the character of the fuzz.

Finally, a volume knob sends more or less signal to ground. If you turn the potentiometer to the right, the resistance increase, and more signal goes out the circuit instead of going to ground: higher volume output! It is the same control that is used in the Fuzz Face.

There it is! I hope that this post was helpful and fun to read! If you have any remark or question, post a comment below!
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To go further

ProCo RAT White Face (1985)

Here is a pedal a customer sent me for repair: a vintage ProCo Rat from 1985! This 30 year old little monster had some troubles with switching, happens that the switch that had been changed made some false contact with the (rusty but still conductive) metallic enclosure. 

It is a classic RAT2, produced in 1985. It is called "White Face" RAT because of the white background of the "RAT" logo. Later versions have a dark background with white lettering.
ProCo RAT white face 1985
The RAT is one of the first distorsions ever made. It was created in the late 70s by Scott Burnham. He was a tech working at ProCo, a super small sized company in Kalamazoo. He was working in his basement, with the rats, hence the name of the pedal!

The RAT has been declined in several versions. The first version, "The Rat", was handmade in Kalamazoo, in a small production manner (like you and me making DIY pedals!). The demand rapidly increased, and the production was switched to an industrial process. "The Rat" was produced from 1979 to 1983. In 1983, the enclosure was changed to a smaller sized one, and the ProCo RAT2 was issued. It is this one!
ProCo RAT white face 1985
It has three controls: distorsion, volume and filter. The filter knob acts as a reverse tone knob. The more you drive it to the right, the less trebles you will have. Input and output are on the top of the pedal (top mounted jacks is the best!). The DC jack input is an old style one, not really useful today where most of the power supplies uses 2,1mm Boss-style jacks.

Since its realease, the RAT pedal has been used extensively by many guitarists. Among the most famous are Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Jeff Beck, Radiohead et Sonic Youth guitarists or Graham Coxon (Blur). You can see that it has been used a lot in the indie scene. It is an agressive distortion sound, full of harmonics that suits very well grunge music for instance!
ProCo RAT white face 1985
The RAT is still in production, with a red LED in the "RAT" logo. It has been declined in several versions. The original RAT uses standard 1n914 silicon diodes, whereas the turbo RAT uses LED for the clipping. Finally, the "you dirty RAT" latest version of the RAT uses 1n34A germanium diodes... You can use a rotary switch to have all the versions in one pedal!

ProCo RAT white face 1985 
Inside this black box, we can find the classic Motorola LM308 chip, that is now quite difficult to find, and quite expensive too! It is a simple double OP-amp, which provides some of the unique characteristics of the RAT pedal. Today, RAT pedals features a different chip, the OP07DP from Texas Instruments.
ProCo RAT white face LM308N IC
The vintage RAT was reissued with the LM308 chip. In 2010, ProCO even reissued this precise 1985 white face RAT!

Here is a great schematic that sums up all the differences between the different versions of the RAT pedal (click on the image to read it better):
ProCo RAT versions schematic
I hope to release a video soon to show you the sound of this vintage RAT!

To go further
History of RAT pedals (official RAT website)
Scott Burnham interview in 2012 (New York Time magazine)
Circuit analysis by Electrosmash: excellent! Really detailled analysis of the circuit and its variations.
History of RAT pedals: pictures of all the models of the RAT pedal. (here is the RAT2 page)
Manual of the RAT2 (pdf)

Vintage Colorsound Supa Tonebender (1973)

A nice reader of the blog lend me this super cool Colorsound "Supa" Tonebender, from 1973! Someone he knows found it in his garage and gave it to him (true story!). Colorsound is an old English brand that produced pedals during the late sixites. One of the most famous pedals they have produced is the Tonebender.

The Tonebender is a fuzz that existed in several versions: Mk1, Mk1.5 (yes!), MK2 (famous because used by Jimmy Page a lot), MK3 (with a third knob)... All versions are really different, and the circuit changed a lot from one version to another. You did not know the Tonebender? Read my post about the different types of fuzz! This "Supa" Tonebender is a version of the tonebender that appeared in 1973. Here it is:
Colorsound supa tonebender fuzz
Nice looking pedal huh? The enclosure is huuuge! At that time, guitar players did not have pedalboards, and circuits were rather big (we will see it later). Manufacturers preferred to make reliable, kick-proof pedals made for the stage and live situations.

It has 3 knobs: volume, sustain and tone... Does it evoke something to you? Yes, you are right: Big Muff! This "Supa" Tonebender is indeed a Big Muff clone! It is a slightly modified Big Muff Ram's head "violet era" as we will see later.
Colorsound supa tonebender fuzz
(note the inverted "amplifier" and "instrument" input, like on vintage fuzz faces).

Inside, we find a nice vintage brown circuit! Pots are "made in UK" (globalization was not really happening in 1973 ^^), carbon-film resistors, and some funny old film capacitors! Everything is wired with a 2PDT, with no LED (that were not available commercialy yet!)
Colorsound Supa Tonebender circuit
We can see 4 transistors, 470pF capacitors, everything that is included in a classical Big Muff circuit. Transistors are BC169B, silicon transistors with a hfe of about 200-250, which is quite a good range for a Big Muff (nice intermediate between high and low gain). You can still find some on ebay, contrary to EHX 2n5133, but are a bit expensive (2/3 euros for one transistor...).

If you look carefully, you can see that there are only 2 diodes... Three components are missing: 2 diodes and the coupling capacitor of the first gain stage. However, there are still holes for them on the board!
Colorsound Supa Tonebender circuit transistors
It seems like Colorsound staff wanted to copy the Big Muff circuit entirely, and then changed their mind (ethics?), and remove the 2 diodes and coupling cap of the first gain stage. However on the first versions of the PCB like this one, the holes are still there!

Beneath the PCB, it is quite funny looking! It is a really curvy PCB, traced by hand, that evokes the first PCB of the 60s/70s. The PCB of the first Dallas Arbiter Fuzz face looks like this PCB.
Colorsound Supa Tonebender circuit
Nice looking pedal, vintage and all original!

How does it sound?

The gain potentiometer is a bit noisy, and there is a slight volume drop when pushed to max. It is probably a small deffect of the pots, that are usually the first components that get damaged. Unfortunatelly, these potentiometers are no longer in production, and not easy to replace without damaging / definitely alterate the pedal. I would rather have a bit of noise when turning the knobs than modifying heavily this cool vintage pedal!

It sounds a lot like a Big Muff: compressed, heavy sounding device! The removed diodes of the first stage make it louder in volume, but it is still quite compressed and heavy sounding. Lot of bass too! Like a lot of Big Muff, it does not clean very well with the volume knob.

Tracing the circuit

Ok, lets trace the circuit of this wonderful pedal! We want to trace the circuit schematic with the component's nature and values. Usually, I use GIMP (or photoshop, as you want), to make this kind of pictures:
Supa tonebender circuit
To do that, I take a picture of the top and bottom of the circuit. I make the top part transparent a bit, reverse the colors of the bottom part, and adjust with the different tools of GIMP (scale and perspective)

You can see that the empty spaces with the holes let for the missing components are still connected to the circuit via the PCB. Thus, it should be possible to "mod" this Supa Tonebender to transform it into a Ram's Head violet era! However, I prefer to let it as is, all original!

Ok, so let's go! let's trace the global circuit:
Supa tonebender circuit

OK know that we have all the values, the ground and +9V buses marked, we can start tracing the circuit. As we know that it is inspired by a Big Muff, we can look at the classical schematic of the Big Muff to help us.

The input goes through a 33k resistor, then a 0.1uF capacitor. The capacitor is then connected to a 100k resistor connected to ground, that is also connected to the first transistor collector and a 470k resistor... It is the first gain stage of a Big Muff!
Beware, BC169B have a weird pinout layout!
BC169B pinout
So the 100k resistor is connected to the base of the transistor. Here is the traced schematic:
Colorsound Supa Tonebender schematic
Yes, it is a slightly modified Big Muff... Nothing really new! You can easily make one with a Big Muff PCB, just remove the clipping diodes and capacitors on the first stage. That is exactly what Colorsound did after all ;)

I hope that this will be useful to you!
If you want to know how it works, read my article about the circuit analysis of the Big Muff.

Boss Hyper Fuzz (Boss FZ2) : wall of fuzz from 1993

1993 is the year when Jurassic Park came out. I think it is no coincidence that another monster appeared this year: the Boss Hyper Fuzz! This pedal, produce from April 1993 to June 1997, is a Univox Super Fuzz clone, with some added features. Mine is from August 1993!

The Univox Super Fuzz is a pedal produce in the late 60s, famous for its apocalyptical sound! It was used by Pete Townshend during live performances of the Who, and then used by many bands with a heavy sound like Kyuss, Fu Manchu or other stoner rock bands. In particular, the Hyper Fuzz is used by Electric Wizard, a band famous for its subtle and thin sound (or not!)... In short, as you understood, this fuzz is a war machine that will crush your ears once activated! It is so evil that legend says: each time you step on it, someone dies...

The FZ-2 is really different from a FZ-3, which is a fuzz with more classic sounds. The Boss FZ3 is close to a silicon fuzz face, whereas the Boss fz2 is really peculiar, really close to a Super Fuzz.

The pedal has 5 controls (the second potentiometer is a double one, and allows you to set bass and trebles). Level sets the volume, second potentiometer sets bass and treble amounts and the gain potentiometer sets the fuzz amount. The last knob lets you choose between three modes: Fuzz I, Fuzz II and Boost that a simple clean boost.
Boss Hyper Fuzz FZ-2 FZ2
Once activated, the pedal delivers all the loudness and heaviness of the Super Fuzz. There is an octave down that is added to your guitar tone, which provides you a huge bassy sound, and a slight octave up, more hearable when playing near the 12th fret. The octave up sounds a bit like an octavia, but with less octave. The saturation is extreme, especially in "Fuzz II" mode that is a scooped mids setting.  I really like it, it is a riff machine that makes you wants to tune down your guitar. It is easy to play powerful and heavy riffs. It is also really interesting on bass guitars.

Here is a nice example on a bass:
The boost mode is a clean boost with quite a lot of gain (+25 Db!), and you can set the bass / treble amount with the second potentiometer. Nice to boost an overdrive pedal, or to make your amp crunch, but nothing really new.

After opening the pedal, we can see a monolayer PCB, with shapes that look a bit like the Boss DD2:
Boss FZ2 PCB circuit inside
Nice conception job! Boss engineers are monolayer PCB experts!
Here is the most interesting side:
Boss FZ2 PCB circuit inside
Vintage style! Old film capacitors, lots of 10 uF electrolytic capacitors, lots of transistors, 2 diodes (D4 / D5) to create saturation, this is definitely a Super Fuzz! In the middle, the two black bars are in fact ICs, operational amplifiers, old school version! They are used to set bass and treble content of the circuit. We can also notice 1/8W resistor to make the circuit fit in a Boss enclosure, and the high number of components, it goes minimum to R62 and C35!

If we take a look at the transistors:

Boss FZ2 transistors
We can see that they are 2SC3378, old transistors that are not produced anymore, which have a really small amplification factor (hfe) of 50. For instance, MPSA18 that are modern transistors have a hfe of nearly 1500!! Indeed, the Super Fuzz has a lot of transistors, and if the gain is too important, the sound will be "mushy" with no sustain. Whereas with low gain transistors, the sound is smooth, heavy and saturated. When the circuit was conceived in the 60s, there were no such things such as high gain silicon transistors, this is why low gain transistors are required to make it work correctly.

Lets take a quick look at the circuit schematic:
Boss Hyper Fuzz FZ2 circuit schematic
First, we can recognize the famous buffer from Boss ("flip flop" circuit in the bottom left corner) that allows the signal to be transformed into low impedance signal. The Super Fuzz circuit is clearly recognizable (from the "gain" inscription to the right side of the image), with the two transistors Q13 and Q14 that are facing each other with a common emitter: they will create the octave sound. Then, there is the bass and treble control circuit with 4 OP amps, and the switch that allows you to choose between Fuzz I, Fuzz II and the boost.

Other added circuits (before and after the Super Fuzz circuit) reduce the signal/noise ratio (evenif it has a lot of gain, this fuzz is not that noisy), and increase the final signal. Indeed, in vintage Super Fuzz, the output signal was really low, and generally lower than the bypassed signal...

It is not a simple circuit, maybe it is even overcomplicated! However, it is true that the vintage Super Fuzz already have a lot of components...

Anyway, I am really happy to have it, it is quite complicated to grab one now, and it is a nearly indispensable tool if you want to play stoner / doom music...

To go further:
Boss Fz-2 manual (pdf)
Boss Area Hyper Fuzz page