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Univox Uni-Fuzz

I don’t care how full the cabinet gets, there will always—and I mean always—be room for more fuzz. Like many pedal folks, fuzz is my favorite effect. There’s something beautiful about it in an interconnected Eulerian way, in that such great variance, such seemingly countless varietals can all be derived from such a meager, concise bill of materials. It makes sense; after all, the first fuzz effect contained just one part; a faulty console tube, or a razor-altered speaker. The first commercially-produced fuzz circuit contained 18 components, but some enterprising gentleman soon decided that the number was perhaps better at 11. Rarely do parts counts hover higher than 20. They definitely do in this one—this is the Univox Uni-Fuzz.

It seems weird to say that the wave of innovation within fuzz circuits crested in 1967, but the Uni-Fuzz circuit was perhaps the most heavily engineered example of the craft with 53 parts. It wasn’t short on features either, offering a built-in 1KHz mids cut, with notes of octave-up and ring modulator at certain settings and picking strengths. But perhaps its most ambitious endeavor was undertaken at its inception, when engineer Fumio Mieda placed it alongside what would become the Shin-Ei Uni-Vibe in one of the coolest (and most expensive) effects ever made: the Honey Psychedelic Machine. These effects soon went their separate ways and the fuzz circuit eventually became known as the extremely unsexy FY-6.

Through an extremely lengthy and incestuous chain of custody, the Uni-Fuzz ended up being the second iteration of the effect, and by far the strangest. Quite possibly the strangest feature of the Uni-Fuzz is its dedicated AC power cord that is connected to a somewhat noisy transformer inside the chassis. Oh, that and there’s no footswitch.

In what is almost definitely a nod to the Uni-Vibe in aesthetic and function, the Uni-Fuzz doesn’t actually have its own footswitch. It’s hard to imagine that the FY-6 circuit, previously housed in an enclosure with a standard switch, was thought to benefit from the omission of an onboard means to turn the effect on and off. In reality, it functions just like the Uni-Vibe, which also omitted a switching mechanism, offering players remote access—the footpedal for the Uni-Vibe and a small, doorstop-like footswitch for the Uni-Fuzz. They look super cool next to one another, have dedicated control mechanisms for a little extra retail juice and sound completely excellent.

Of course, the humble FY-2 and Uni-Fuzz eventually became the Univox Super Fuzz, considered to be the finest and most well-known expression of the circuit despite the internals being congruent throughout the lineage. Perhaps compensating for its forebears concerning lack of control, the Super Fuzz’s surface area was composed of approximately 80 percent footswitch. 

The sound of the Uni-Fuzz is almost completely unique in the fuzz pantheon. Though the controls are the same as any vintage fuzz (volume and fuzz, called “balance” and “expander” here), the caveat is that there are some rather eccentric quirks built right in, with no ability to adjust. The Uni-Fuzz makes you play around it, rather than the opposite. It forces you to write Uni-Fuzz riffs that would sound frankly uncouth with any other circuit. More often than not, these riffs are a bit on the hairy side. The first time I can remember a documented, verified use of this box was in the music video for the Beastie Boys’ “Gratitude” where it produced one of the meanest bass sounds ever recorded. There’s a good reason for that.

While the Uni-Fuzz does contain a 1KHz mid scoop, it does so on just one mode. However, all the octave-up snarl is present on both modes. This is due to the differential pair [of transistors] found in the design. Simply put, these transistors act as a simple rectifier while the one before it splits the phase. It’s a pretty nifty trick to generate flavors rather than changing the feel of the device. 

Andy Martin of demo video fame once showed me a really cool trick where he would slap his entire palm against the strings and quickly mute it for this unreal drowning-in-quicksand tone that sounds straight out of Buckethead’s playbook. “The only thing,” he told me, “is that it only works with really spongy fuzzes.” He’s right. Spongy. Perfect. Though it’s not exactly everyone’s cup of tea, the Uni-Fuzz is a positively unique and killer take on my favorite effect type of all time.