Quixotic is probably the best word to describe guitarists' long and mainly frustrating quest to create or successfully control synth tones. Devices come and go, but all leave something to be desired. MIDI guitars have never been able to solve tracking delays completely, dedicated "stringless" guitar controllers don't really feel like guitars, and devices to make guitars sound like synths have had only limited success, at least up until now.
The latest entrant to throw its hat into the ring is the Seymour Duncan Fooz Pedal, which the company calls an "Analog Fuzz Synthesizer." It brings with it a clever concept — using a square-wave Fuzz effect applied to the input signal (guitar, bass or any hi-impedance instrument) as the basis for sound creation, which can be sent through a filter, and modified, like on an analog synth, with an LFO and envelope follower.
Because the Fuzz turns your instrument signal into a rich sound with lots of sustain and overtones, it makes it a good stand-in for a waveform created by a synth oscillator.
Size-wise, the Fooz Pedal is on the large side, measuring in at 5.6" by 5". The front panel is divided into four sections: Fuzz, Filter, LFO, and Env (envelope follower). The back panel features mono 1/4" I/O and a 1/4" jack for a standard expression pedal (not included). The pedal runs on 9 or 18V DC; you have to supply your own adapter or connect it to your pedal board's power supply.
Also on the back is a bank of eight DIP switches, which allow you to activate a variety of features both for standalone operation and for when you're using an expression pedal (not included). Being DIP switches, they're very small, and the manual suggests using a small screwdriver or your guitar pick to adjust them. I was able to use my fingernail, albeit with some difficulty, so perhaps it's wise to give your plectrum a go.
The top panel features two footswitches: Bypass and Tap. The latter is very responsive and lets you override the speed settings for the LFO with your foot, which is handy.
IT'S THE FUZZ!
The first stop in the signal path is the Fuzz section, which contains two knobs, Level and Gain, and a 2-way toggle to switch the Tremolo on or off.
Depending on the setting of the Gain knob, the Fuzz effect can create everything from mild distortion to über-gain that's high enough to generate feedback on sustained notes. The Fuzz is a tad on the bright side, and while there's no tone control, per se, you can adjust its frequency content if you send the signal through the Filter (see “Almighty Filter”).
Also in the Fuzz section is a switch to turn on the Tremolo effect, whose parameters are controlled by the settings of the LFO (and also by the Tap Tempo pedal if you use it). I'm not sure why that switch isn't located in the LFO section, instead, as the Trem is not directly related to the Fuzz.
While the LFO and Envelope Follower are modulators, the Filter controls let you directly affect the tone. To send signal through the Filter, you need to select one of the filter types using the 3-way toggle switch on the left of the section. Turning the switch in its upper position activates the bandpass filter (BPF) and to the lower position the lowpass filter (LPF). In the middle position, the Filter is off and has no impact on the signal.
For those unfamiliar, a lowpass filter rolls off frequencies above its cutoff point but passes what’s below through unaffected. The Frequency knob sets the filter's cutoff point and Resonance adds gain at that frequency. Not only is each knob consequential on its own, but the interaction between the two has a significant impact on the tone. You have to be careful with the settings, as it is easy to make it sound overly bright and harsh.
A second 3-way toggle switch in the Filter section lets you choose the modulation source, which can be the LFO, the envelope follower, or neither.
The LFO section includes knobs for Depth, Speed, Wave (type) and (wave) Shape. The Wave knob lets you choose between Sine, Triangle and Square waves, and you can blend between the adjacent choices: Sine and Triangle or Triangle and Square.
The Shape knob determines how the selected wave (or blend) will rise and fall. You can set it for a short rise and long fall, a long rise and short fall, or anywhere in between. The short rise causes a staccato rhythm, while the long rise produces a more legato rhythm.
FOLLOW THAT ENVELOPE
By flipping the toggle switch to Env, you're selecting an envelope follower to control the filter. The envelope controls the filter based on how hard you play. One type of effect that's easy to set is an autowah. Activate the envelope, and set the Env knob halfway as a starting point. Set the filter to BPF, start playing and experiment with different settings on the Env, Freq and Resonance knobs. You can get everything from classic wah sounds to sharper, synth-like sounds.
If you flip the Invert Env DIP switch, it reverses the polarity of the envelope, inverting the effect.
By using either, or both of the other two Env control DIP switches, you can set the Env to modulate the LFO Rate and Depth. This provides even more touch control of the Fooz Pedal's effect, although it's not easy to control because every change in how hard you play affects whichever parameters you've enabled with the DIP switches.
DIPPING EVEN FURTHER
The other five DIP switches are used to configure the Fooz for foot control if you have an expression pedal. The switches include Invert EXP Polarity, which lets you flip the operation of your pedal, so high becomes low and low becomes high.
The Volume switch let the pedal control the overall output of the Fooz Pedal. The Freq switch sets it to control the Filter, which is your manual wah setting. The other two switches, Depth and Rate, control the LFO.
You can turn on as many of the switches at a time as you want, which creates a lot of different possibilities with either the Env control switches or the expression pedal. It’s a lot easier to control the effects with an expression pedal than with your playing dynamics.
The pedal looks complicated, and for me required a read of the manual and a lot of messing around with the controls before I felt comfortable with what was going on with in it. I found its architecture to be most understandable when I thought of it in terms of the signal flow, and how each section (Fuzz, LFO, Filter and Env) affects the others.
The short version is that your basic tone comes from your instrument going through the Fuzz section. You can modify its amplitude with the LFO and adjust its frequency content with the Filter section controls. These can both be on at the same time if you want.
The Filter section is controlled either by the LFO or the Env follower or by an expression pedal. The LFO is controlled by its four knobs, as well as by the expression pedal or the Env.
I was able to create a variety of synthy tones with the pedal. It's excellent for generating filter sweeps, especially when you use the knob or pedal to adjust the frequency in real time. The LFO-controlled Tremolo makes it easy to add pulsating effects to your patches. Overall, you can get some pretty wild effects happening from your guitar or bass.
The pedal definitely sounds more synth-like with the Fuzz turned up high. With it low, you're able to dial in more standard wah and tremolo effects. I wish that there was a way to completely shut off the Fuzz, which would make the Fooz more suitable to function as a standalone trem or wah. As it is now, even with the Fuzz Gain turned all the way down, it's not totally clean.
By using the Fooz in conjunction with other pedals, you can, of course, expand your sonic horizons even more. I connected it after my pedal board. Using it along with some high-gain overdrive and another modulation pedal, I was able to create even an even wider range of tones, and at times, sonic mayhem.
CHOOSE THE FOOZ?
The Fooz Pedal succeeds in its prime objective, which is to offer analog-synth-like tones. It allows you to create a range of cool effects that take your guitar or bass sound into fresh sonic territory. What's more, you can use it for standard guitar effects like fuzz, wah and tap-controllable tremolo (albeit not totally clean).
There is one caveat: Unlike a synth, which has oscillators capable of producing a variety of sounds, the Fooz pedal has only the signal from your instrument running into the Fuzz effect as the basis for its tones, so you don’t get the kind of variety you’d get from a conventional synthesizer.
But, if you’ve always wanted to get synth tones from your guitar or bass, the Fooz Pedal is an excellent-sounding solution. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun to mess around with.
Create synth-like tones from guitar or bass. Great for filter sweeps and pulsating sounds. DIP switches allow you to set Env or expression pedal control. Responsive tap tempo switch. Can be used for fuzz, wah and tremolo in addition to synth tones
Power adapter not included. No way to completely turn off Fuzz effect. Tonal palette limited to Fuzz-based sounds
Mike Levine is a composer, producer, and multiinstrumentalist from the New York area, and is the Technical Editor — Studio for Mix. Check out his website at www.michaelwilliamlevine.com