Flexible Fuzz Face variant with added controls, and hybrid circuitry using both germanium and silicon transistors
$169.95 MSRP, $169.95 "street"
By Phil O'Keefe
Up for review this time, we have the Crosstown Fuzz by Mojo Hand FX. The Crosstown (Fig.1) is a hybrid fuzz pedal that is based upon the classic Fuzz Face, but with some interesting twists.
Figure 1: The Crosstown Fuzz
First off, I'd like to share something that Brad Fee, Mojo Hand FX's head honcho said in a recent discussion on the Harmony Central Effects forum. While the topic of the thread was a different Mojo Hand FX pedal and not the Crosstown, it really illustrates their design philosophy, and thus seems appropriate to mention here.
"We're not purists. Old/original doesn't always mean better to me. If we can make something work or sound better to us, we do it." - Brad Fee, Mojo Hand FX
So while the Crosstown Fuzz is highly influenced by a classic vintage pedal, it isn't a direct clone of one, and as you'll see, it has some useful new features that depart significantly from the original design.
Just what does "hybrid" mean? Early Fuzz Face pedals used two germanium transistors, while later models tended to use two silicon transistors. Each transistor type has its own operating characteristics and "sound." While other factors can also come into play that will affect the sound of the pedal, in general, germanium is known for sounding warmer, less harsh, and having a better, fuller sounding low end. Silicon is, by comparison, known for its brighter sound, somewhat greater gain, and for having less hiss and noise. Silicon is also less temperamental and is less sensitive to ambient temperature fluctuations. The Crosstown Fuzz uses one of each type - a BC109 silicon transistor coupled with an AC187 germanium transistor. (Fig.2 A & B) These hand picked transistors are mated for optimum sound, and this hybrid approach and quality assurance allows the pedal to achieve a "best of both worlds" sound that couples some of the best characteristics of each.
Figure 2 A: The Crosstown Fuzz uses both BC109 silicon (upper left) and germanium AC187 (upper right) transistors
Figure 2B: Another view of the interior of the Crosstown. The trim control is for bias, and should normally be left at the factory setting
If you're familiar with Fuzz Face based fuzz pedals, then you know that they usually only have two knobs - one for setting the amount of fuzz or gain, and the other to control the overall output level or volume of the pedal. Even a casual glance tells you that Mojo Hand FX has doubled the number of knobs on the Crosstown to four. (Fig.3) Let's take a look at each of them.
Gain: This sets the amount of distortion or fuzz. The range is fairly broad, and can take you from very light breakup to full-on heavily fuzzed out sounds.
Volume: Adjusts the overall output level of the pedal, and is capable of providing significant boost above unity gain levels. In fact, even with the Gain knob all the way down, the Volume control can still give you at least unity gain at the output, or even considerably more, depending on how the remaining two controls are set.
Tone: A tone control isn't normally found on traditional FF circuits. The addition of the Tone control gives you added flexibility in adjusting the upper frequency range - going from wide open and edgier sounding, to rolled-off and darker sounding highs.
Body: And now for something a bit different. The Body control allows you to roll off some of the low frequency range of the pedal. This is really cool because it lets you quickly tailor the low frequencies to suit your tastes and needs. Sometimes FF circuits can be pretty "woofy" sounding in the low frequency range. Some players like the huge bottom end, while others may want to dial it back a bit. The Body control allows you to do exactly that, and offers normal, full-bodied FF tones when turned up all the way, and gradually decreases the low end and mud as you turn it further counter-clockwise, providing tones that are more refined, less fuzzy, and somewhat more reminiscent of an overdrive.
Figure 3: The Crosstown's controls are expansive, flexible and very useful, but the labels can be a bit difficult to read
The switching is true bypass and uses a standard 3PDT switch. The Crosstown Fuzz runs on 9V DC from either a user-supplied battery or power adapter. A diode protected power jack helps protect the pedal's circuitry in the event someone accidentally plugs in an AC adapter instead of the 9V DC power the pedal was designed for. (Fig. 4) The Crosstown uses a standard "Boss style" center negative 2.1mm power plug, and I had no problems powering the pedal on a daisy chain with various other pedals. The build quality is clean and neat. The manufacturer's warranty is 3 years.
Figure 4: The Crosstown Fuzz runs on 9V DC, and can be powered with a battery or standard 2.1mm center negative adapter
The die cast enclosure has a purple powder coat body with black graphics. Both are very well done, and the pedal has a rather unusual matte finish to the paint that almost makes it looks like velvet, even when it's right next to the included maroon colored velvet drawstring storage bag. The "road and traffic light" graphics look really cool and work well with the pedal's name, and the black looks cool in combination with the purple, but it does have the downside of making the labels for the controls less contrasting and more difficult to read - so much so that you can pretty much forget about doing so on a dark stage. Fortunately, there are only four knobs, and you'll memorize their location quickly enough, but it is a minor annoyance.
90 MILES AN HOUR BABY…
I have really enjoyed using the Crosstown Fuzz. While I have other FF type pedals in my collection, this is by far the most flexible, and while taste is subjective, it's arguably the best sounding too. The transistors that Mojo Hand FX selected work extremely well together and the combination offers many of the benefits of both types of FF circuits. The fuzz sound is terrific, and the pedal cleans up fairly well when you roll off your guitar's volume knob. The addition of the Tone and Body controls allows for a degree of tonal shaping and tweaking that is very unusual for this type of fuzz, and extends the range of useful sounds it offers considerably.
In short, the Crosstown Fuzz is a hit. Run down and check one out. Even if you have to drive to the other side of town, it will be worth the trip.
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.