Are you a fuzz pedal fanatic?
So much so that you are interested in making your own design?
Are you fascinated by pedal circuitry and looking for a place to start?
Or maybe you’re wanting a great sounding fuzz while working on a budget.
Whatever your reason for wanting to learn how to make a fuzz pedal may be, I’m here to give you step by step instructions on how to build one of the most iconic fuzz circuits ever – the Fuzz Face!
Before Getting Started
There are a number of great fuzz circuits out there and the steps that follow do not necessarily apply to all of those designs. The steps/parts below are only intended to be applied to “Fuzz Face” style circuits or kits.
I chose the Fuzz Face because it is one of the easier circuits to put together and it is one of the easiest fuzz pedals to modify. I will include a short section at the end of this article for ways to tweak and modify these circuits, whether you decide to build the pedal or alter one you already own.
The first part of this article is all instructions on how to build your pedal. Further history, details, and other info will follow at the end of the article.
Applying some of these circuit principles to other designs may result in damaged products, or even have dangerous results. Do your research on all electrical ratings/safety precautions before starting.
Note On Soldering
In order to build a fuzz pedal, you have to know how to solder.
Learning the basic techniques of soldering is a skillset that any guitarist can benefit from, as it is used in building patch cables as well as building pedals.
Once you purchase a soldering kit, make sure you watch plenty of instructional videos and practice on spare parts before attempting to build your fuzz pedal.
If You’ve Never Built a Pedal Before
One of the easiest ways to learn how to build a fuzz pedal is by picking up a kit. Good DIY pedal kits provide you with all the parts and directions necessary to build that specific circuit. The only thing they don’t provide is soldering tools in most cases.
These instructions are meant for those who are looking to source all of their own parts and will not directly correlate with every DIY kit.
I will provide links whenever possible throughout this article to give you the ability to order the components you will need to build this circuit.
You Will Need…
- Resistors (33K, 470R, 100K)
- Transistors (PNP Germanium)
- Capacitors (2 x 10uF, 2 x 22uF, 10nF)
- Chip (TC1044S)
- Output/Input Jacks
- DC Jack
- LED Holder
- LED Light
- Stomp Switch
- 10KB Bias Trim Pot
- 1KB Fuzz Pot
- 500 KA Volume Pot
- Soldering Iron
- Solder Sucker
- Box Cutter
- Electrical Tape
- Strip Board
- Crocodile Clips
Step By Step Instructions
These step by step directions correspond with the schematic below. With each step, be sure to refer to the schematic to ensure proper placement of all components.
1. Cut Strip Board
The first thing you need to do is cut your circuit board into the right dimensions. In this case, 17 x 9 is ideal. You’ll notice that your strip board is much smaller than the size of your final pedal.
Use your ruler and a box cuter to ensure clean, straight cuts. You may need to apply pressure to snap your board away.
2. Cut Traces
Once your strip board is cut out, the next step is to cut traces. This can be done with a drill bit.
Be careful to ensure that the traces are cut all the way to the edge, as this will allow the solder to sit securely.
3. Mount Leads
Begin with your lowest components, AKA your leads. This is where your knowledge of soldering will come in handy.
Apply heat to the component itself, ensuring not to apply too much heat and to avoid damaging temperature sensitive components. Then apply solder between the component and the board, followed by removing the iron. A little dab of solder will do you.
4. Solder the Resistors
Use the same technique as the previous step to solder your resistors into place. Your board is starting to take shape!
A standard Fuzz Face circuit will require three resistors with different ratings: 33K, 470R, and 100K.
5. Solder the Socket
We use a socket for the TC1044S chip because of its sensitivity to heat. This will ensure that it doesn’t get damaged by solder heat or from electrical heat.
6. Capacitors (Caps)
The key to attaching the capacitors properly is to make sure that they are oriented correctly. The Caps are polarized, so make sure they are positioned right before adding solder or the circuit will not work as it is intended to.
7. Socket the Transistors
Transistors have a MASSIVE impact on the character and tone of your fuzz pedal. You may find that when you plug your guitar into your fuzz that you don’t like the transistor you selected.
This is why we socket the transistors – so that you can swap these out easily. This way you can try out a bunch of different transistors to get the sound you prefer.
8. Solder the Wires
Now that the components are soldered in, it’s time to solder the wires and make the necessary connections. It is a good idea to color code your wires so that you can easily follow them and troubleshoot with ease.
See the schematic for proper wiring combinations/spots.
9. Test the Circuit
This step is technically optional, but it can save you a ton of headache should any problems arise. And let’s face it – if you’re a beginner at building pedals, you’re likely to have issues.
This is done using crocodile clips. Even though it creates a tangled mess of wires, it is well worth doing.
Pro Tip: Color coordinate your wires and your crocodile clips
Connect the input and output wires to the input and output jacks. You won’t need to worry about the bypass switch or LED light, as we are just checking to see if the pedal works when active. Make sure that you ground your wires and that your knobs are turned up.
The moment of truth! Plug your guitar in and play your favorite riff.
If the pedal sounds like a fuzz, then you’re on the right track. Now is a good time to make any adjustments to component values or to switch out the transistor if you want the pedal to sound different. It helps to have another fuzz pedal around as a reference point so you can compare tone and volume.
10. Build the Enclosure
This is where you get to start being creative with how your pedal will look. There are a number of options for pre-cut pedal enclosures available online, but you can also cut your own if you are crafty enough.
Larger enclosures make soldering later on easier, so you may want to consider a larger pedal if this is your first time building a pedal. It also gives you more room for creative painting/designs. However, if you are more experienced, a smaller enclosure makes fitting the pedal onto your pedalboard easier.
Even if you buy a pre-cut enclosure, you will still want a 1-stepper drill bit so that you can ensure the cuts are properly sized for whatever lights and knobs you use. Start by drilling small holes before using the stepper. You then want to file your holes so that components fit easier.
11. Paint the Enclosure
The better your pedal looks, the better it sounds, right?
Consider what you want to call your pedal and then paint to your heart’s desire. Using a primer first is always a good option. When you are don’t painting your design, protect it with a clear coat so that it can stand up to traveling on the road.
12. Wire Stomp Switch
Once your pedal is looking its best with a fresh coat of paint, it’s time to wire the stomp switch and mount it to the pedal. First, wire the leads, then attach it to the pedal. Make sure you don’t damage the paint job!
13. Add the LED Light
Now that you have a bypass switch, you can opt to add an LED light to let you know when your pedal is on or off. Vintage fuzz face pedals didn’t have LED’s so if you want to be period correct you can always opt to not include a bypass light. Most of us appreciate bypass lights though!
14. Attach Pots
Attach the pots through the holes you drilled and place electrical tape on the back to prevent short circuits.
15. Offboard Wiring
Before you can add the circuit to your enclosure, you need to do all offboard wiring. This includes your input/output back and connecting wires to your controls.
16. Connect the Circuit/Close the Pedal
Once the offboard wiring is complete, you can solder your fuzz face circuit into the pedal itself. Ensure that you place everything as cleanly and with as much space as possible.
This is also where you will want to set the trim pot. This might have the largest impact on your sound, and it can be a good idea to test this setting before closing the pedal up.
This is also a great time to sign and date your pedal, that way pedal collectors can validate it 100 years from now and confirm that it is worth millions!
17. Rock Out!
If you followed the schematic and troubleshooted along the way, you should be able to plug your pedal in at this point and start creating music.
Excited that you build a fuzz pedal, but want to modify the sound to make it more your own? Read on!
Modifying Your Fuzz Pedal
Typically speaking, a great place to start when building a fuzz pedal, or any pedal for that matter, for the first time is to recreate a classic circuit. This is why I chose the Fuzz Face circuit for this instructional article.
However, part of the fun of building your own pedal is that you can make changes to the circuit to make it sound different.
In fact, Jimi Hendrix was famous for having his Fuzz Face pedals modified. Now, Dunlop sells the Hendrix Modified Fuzz Face pedal. It sounds much different than the original pedal and comes in a smaller enclosure.
The following modifications are specifically listed for Fuzz Face style circuits.
No matter what kind of parts your using, as long as they are rated for a fuzz faces these should work. No guarantees if you try and do this to a Big Muff or some other kind of fuzz circuit. You’ve been warned!
Modifications for a Fuzz Face
- Adjust first capacitor from 2.2uF
- Higher numbers add bass, lower make brighter, like treble booster
- Replace VR1 Trem pot with 1 Meg-C Potentiometer mount inside
- Allows you to adjust bias of Q1 transistor
- 1K Potentiometer on bottom is the Fuzz Pot. Max this out and mount inside.
- Turn fuzz all the way up, use your guitar volume to clean it up.
- In Q2 Collector, remove VR2 and replace with 10 K-B external pot on trimmer for Bias of Q2.
- Remove 470K Volume Potentiometer with 500 K-B.
- More powerful output
- Change the Transistors
- as long as NPN, the transistor will work.
- Germanium VS Silicon
- Germanium is what was used in fuzz pedals first. These have a wooly, edgy character to them, but they are finicky and fluctuate with temperature changes.
- Silicon – More available and more stable. These offer a smoother, high gain tone that provides great sustain.
Finally, I want to offer some tone tips for playing with your new fuzz pedal.
Fuzz pedals are their own instrument and I highly recommend playing to the pedal. This is why modifying your fuzz’s 1K potentiometer to the max is a great mod, because it allows you to fully utilize your guitar’s volume pot for a wider range of tones. You’ll be amazed at the clean tones you get when your fuzz pedal is turned on, but your guitar’s volume is rolled off.
Make sure that your fuzz pedal is placed first in your chain, especially if you are using germanium transistors. Place a boost after to take things to a whole new level.
Fuzz Pedals Are a Great First Build
There’s definitely something magical about fuzz pedals; not only do they sound amazing from one circuit to the next, but they are also incredibly simple in their design.
This is what makes knowing how to make a fuzz pedal so worth doing.
You get to learn how to solder. It allows you to flex your creative muscles. It allows you to gain a great understanding of how pedals work. It can even turn into a small business venture if you decide to make a bunch of your favorite modified circuit.
If you are wanting to get into building pedals, fuzz pedals are a great place to start.
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Davis Wilton Bader is a professional guitarist/writer based out of St. Louis, MO. He plays in the bands Lumet and The Outskirts.