SUPERFUZZ pt.3: Guyatone TZm5 Torrid Fuzz

Guyatone TZm5
Torrid Fuzz

I've already looked at two of Guyatone's earlier fuzz pedals, so it's about time I got around to the third part in this series and featured the TZm5 Torrid Fuzz from Guyatone's most recent range of pedals - the Mighty Micros.

Torrid - (adj.) Intensely hot and dry; passionate.

Fuzz - (n.) A fluffy or frizzy mass.

While the PS-030 and TZ2 shared some characteristics and are part of the same lineage, the Torrid Fuzz is totally unrelated and - as Guyatone say - "a new take on the classic three transistor fuzz circuit". The TZm5 was designed by Toshi Torii of HAO pedals.

The TZm5 is unique among the Mighty Micros in that it is a new effect for Guyatone, whereas all of the others in the range are improved versions of - or derived from - their counterparts from the Micro Effects series.

How does it sound? Without giving too much away, it sounds very good. If you like fuzz, you should be able to find plenty you like within this little box... It's very versatile.

What controls does it have?

It has the usual Level, Tone (a low-pass filter; turning it down reduces the treble content and also alters the texture of the fuzz to an extent) and Depth (gain) controls, but also features an input attenuator (the mini trimmer) and a 'Phase' +/- switch.

The biggest factor in defining the overall tone from this pedal is decided by the 'Phase' switch. In the positive (up) position, the fuzz has a much thicker, chunkier sound; good for 90s-esque alternative rock and much more besides. In the negative (down) position, the fuzz is thinner with much less bass, more treble and more of an old school fuzz flavour to it. It is also noisier in the negative phase position, but most of the noise can be dialled out using the Tone and/or Input controls.

The Input Attenuation control is supposedly there to allow you to match the effect to your guitar's pick-up strength but, it too plays a big part in determining the vibe of the fuzz; it's basically a pre-fuzz volume control and has the same effect as turning down the volume on your guitar - less volume going through the circuit equals less gain and a change in character...

With no attenuation, your notes will ring out long and true - even with something like my Epiphone Casino (which isn't the most sustaining guitar in the world). It won't quite rival an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi in the sustain stakes, but then it doesn't try to. When fully attenuated, the fuzz can be really gated and sputtery, especially when the Phase switch is set to negative; perfect for ripped speaker sounds and vintage, garage rock tones.

The Depth (gain), Tone, Input Attenuator controls all have an impact on the amount of fuzz this kicks out, and it is the interaction between these controls that makes this pedal so versatile.

While it doesn't have masses of gain/distortion on tap, I've never really found it lacking gain in any situation I've been in; lots of people tend to use too much gain anyway! The TZm5 is very responsive and rewarding to play through; encouraging you to really attack the guitar strings.

* * *

This is a small pedal with a big sound. It's just a shame - in my opinion - that for whatever reason (such as the high street price in the UK, maybe) it - like the rest of the range - is still very much under the radar of most guitarists.

Compared to the Guyatone PS-030 or TZ2 fuzzes, the Torrid Fuzz is not as wild, but I'd say that could actually be in its favour and this could be the pick of the three.

The TZm5 could easily be your main fuzz pedal, whether you use it for playing rhythm, lead or everything.

Mighty Micro to the rescue!

All of the Mighty Micro pedals share the same layout; with three full size pots for the main controls, a mini toggle switch (either two or three position depending on the pedal) and a mini trimmer control. There is a striking, imposing and very welcome aluminium 'Stomp Guard' which protects the controls from accidental adjustment and stray feet.

The input, output and DC power jacks are top mounted, and the pedals have quick access, top-mounted battery compartments; you just loosen the two thumbscrews and the battery cover pops off.

All of the Mighty Micro pedals use true bypass switching if that sort of thing is important to you... But now isn't the time to get into the whole true bypass vs buffered debate.

* * *

Finally: I haven't looked inside all of them yet, but the MCm5 Chorus and VTm5 Veri-Trem have hidden attenuator switches which are accessible via the battery compartment. These allow the use of these pedals with a variety of instruments and input signals. I'd imagine most (if not all) of the other pedals in the range have them too - the TZm5 doesn't as it has an external input attenuator control.

* * * Notes about the video * * *

Gear used:
  • Guitar - Epiphone Casino
  • Recording set-up - 1980s Roland Cube 20 amp (DI'd through a Palmer PDI-09), to Cubase 5 (via a MOTU audio interface) with no additional processing.

Nobels TR-X Tremolo

Nobels TR-X Tremolo
(Discofreq’s Effects Database page.)

The Nobels TR-X has more features than most other low-to-mid-priced tremolo pedals. It offers a choice of four waveforms - although, there are actually only two available waveforms (sine and square) with two variations of each (soft and hard)... And there is a lot of overlap across the waveforms, to the point where I don't think many people would complain if there were only two choices. Plus, the square wave settings aren't that choppy - there is a definite ramp up/down to the waveform (particularly evident at slower speeds), so I'd describe this as more of a retro tremolo pedal.

It scores points over other pedals by having a volume control. [I've read other reviews which claim that, even with this all the way up there is a volume drop, but that isn't the case with mine (unity with the bypassed signal is at around 2:00, thereby giving plenty of scope to boost level).] A very interesting, noteworthy feature is the 'Tone' control. This doesn't work as you'd expect, and the manual doesn't go into any great depth to offer an explanation.

The Tone control acts on the high frequencies, so at it's minimum position, you will get a standard, full-range (tonally transparent) tremolo. As you turn the Tone up, you will notice the treble frequencies are less modulated and seem to sit on top of the effect. At the maximum position, the treble frequencies are practically untouched and the bass will be pulsing away. It's a great feature.

The metal casing and general construction inspire confidence, but the potentiometers are of the plastic-post variety (and are not chassis-mounted), so I could easily envisage them getting broken if you're not careful.

Guyatone Flip AD-X Analog Delay... with Tube Power!

Guyatone Flip AD-X Analog Delay The Flip AD-X uses a Panasonic MN3101 multi-tap BBD for the echoes; this is a short delay chip (the specs I've seen say 150-200ms max) which was typically used in analogue reverb units in the 70s and 80s. Apparently, this pedal was only officially available in Japan, and is now discontinued.

This pedal is full of quirks, so I'll start by running through the features.

Like most delay pedals, it has the usual 'Delay Time', 'Repeat' (feedback) and 'Level' (effect volume) controls, but in addition, it has 'Input' (gain for the tube section) and a Mode switch; 'Mode I' being a single delay line, 'Mode II' a double tap delay line.

There is a single input and dual outputs; unconventionally, when using both outputs, Output 1 (which carries the effect signal) is only active when the pedal is engaged - Output 2 carries the direct sound. This - plainly - isn't the most useful implementation of a dual output system; it would have been better had the pedal been equipped with a buffering system allowing both outputs to be used constantly, regardless of whether the delay was on or off.

When used in a mono, one-in/one-out arrangement, Output 1 is a mixed output.

* * *

The first thing that strikes you when using this effect, is that the available delay time is so short, with much of the range on the Delay Time dial being pretty much useless. Up to about 7 on the dial, the echoes are imperceptible and the resulting doubled, comb-filtered effect may not be to everyone's taste. There is a definite sweet spot around 8 on the Time control; this is a good slap-back echo setting, and is the longest delay length before the repeats start to degrade too much and generate too much noise.

Noise? Yes, this thing can get noisy. Perhaps due to the lo-fi analogue technology, the AD-X can be quite noisy. With the delay time above 8, things quickly deteriorate with an increas in background noise and audibly distortion of the echoes. Also, if you set the Delay Level control too high you will fell like you're swimming in a pool of hiss and hum.

It is a balancing act to get the Level and Time controls just right; you have to compromise on either or both to get close to the desired effect.

Uses for this pedal?

It's good for slap-back echoes - if you play muted notes or in a staccato fashion, but in most cases the effect will be lost behind what you're playing. And you can forget about using this for any kind of rhythmic delay effects.

What I will say though, is that as subtle as the AD-X can be, it does add a lovely fullness and richness. It doesn't come across very well in the video I made, but it is definitely apparent when using the pedal. It's almost as if your tone is breathing.

Much the same as the Danelectro FAB Echo I reviewed a while back, the AD-X is at its best when used to provide a touch of ambience and depth to your sound.

Like many delay pedals, the AD-X oscillates very easily when you max the Repeats, and the oscillation sounds VERY different in each Mode. (See the end of the video, around 3:56.)

* * *

The Flip AD-X is an enigma. Put this in the hands (or at the feet) of someone wanting a 'delay' pedal and they're likely to be very disappointed. The tube factor is no doubt an enticing proposition for many guitarists, but in all honesty it adds very little - except for noise - and comes across as quite a gimmicky add-on.

Yet, dial it in just so, forget that it's a delay pedal at all, and it'll add a touch of fairy dust and life to your sound.

* * * Notes about the video * * *

Gear used:
  • Guitar - Epiphone Casino
  • Recording set-up - Award-Session JD10 as a preamp (DI'd) through a Palmer PDI-09. Recorded to Cubase on PC (via a MOTU audio interface) with no additional processing.

Roland Cube 20

Roland Cube 20
Roland's current range of Cube amplifiers are COSM-based and feature a host of DSP effects. They are favoured by many a new guitarist for home practise and are a common sight at the feet of buskers all around the world. Back in the 1970s and 80s, the humble Roland Cube was something altogether different.

The particular model here is the Cube 20: a small, solid state, 20 watt combo with an 8" speaker - made in Japan in the 1980s. Here are the main conrols and features:

  • Two inputs; 'Normal' and 'Overdrive' (but no channel switching)
  • Volume (input level/gain)
  • Master Volume
  • Reverb (level)
  • Bass, Middle and Treble EQ control
  • On/Off toggle switch
  • Headphone Output (which disables the speaker)

Depending on which input you use, the amp has a slightly different overall character.

Using the 'Normal' input the amp is very clean with quite a round sound. Turning the 'Volume' (gain) up doesn't really change the sound in any way (other than boosting the level, obviously), but towards the top of its range, there is a subtle-but-noticeable compression taking place.

The 'Overdrive' input is much the same but much louder. Turning it up doesn't do a lot (in terms of adding distortion) and the amp stays pretty clean until near the top of its range when it starts to distort. [The point at - and the extent to - which it distorts will depend upon the instrument and its output level.] Even with the gain all the way up, there isn't a great deal of distortion - I'd say it's comparable to a low-gain overdrive pedal such as a Barber LTD. The Cube 20's overdrive is fairly un-compressed and a little lacking in sustain. [NOTE: To get the most overdrive out of this amp, you need to crank up the gain AND tone controls.]

Cube 20

I have to admit that I don't really like the way this amp breaks up. It sounds quite 'cheap' to me. The good news though, is that the 'Overdrive' channel - with the gain up to 5 or 6 - produces a nice jangly clean sound.

I always think it's a good sign when you can put all the controls at halfway and it sounds good, as is the case with this amp. Although - as is the tendency with combos equipped with small speakers - there is a pronounced midrange focus, so I tend to roll the mids back a little to get a more balanced, pleasing tone.

One noteworthy - and surprising - addition is the built in reverb; it's really good. I've used small amps before where the reverb was often terrible and made me wonder why it was even included. The Cube 20's reverb is a delight; it's dead quiet and almost splashy enough to satisfy the most ardent of surf-freaks... and it's usable at any setting. The Cube 20's reverb is more than a match for most reverb pedals I've used.

The Cube 20 has a lot of Roland's famed Jazz Chorus character (less the chorus part, obviously) and for someone like me, where having a good clean sound is of paramount importance, this is a fine little amp.

How does the Cube 20 take pedals?

In short: with mixed results.

It takes all of the modulation and delay pedals I've tried with it beautifully; the clean-ness of the amp making a great platform to work from. But, as the Cube 20's overdrive is barely worth talking about, there is little choice but to use pedals for any dirty tones you want.

This is where things may get complicated. Of course, it's purely subjective and a matter of personal taste but already I've concluded - not surprisingly, given the amp's midrange focus - that mid-heavy pedals are out of the question.

Using an old tubescreamer-alike, I gave up pretty quickly. It was just too nasal and brought out a brittle quality in the speaker. I persevered long enough with my early 90s Rat 2 to get a passable sound; but that was still a bit too raw and biting.

The next thing to try was my Award-Session JD10. This has a 3-band EQ section, so I was able to dial the mids down on the pedal to get a very nice natural break-up and (upping the gain) full-on overdrive and distortion. Turning down the mids further I could get a surprisingly big, heavy, scooped sound. (Not that I'm in the habit of doing such things!)

The key to success seems to be to avoid mid-heavy overdrives, such as tubescreamer-derived pedals (as my initially experiences suggested), but almost anything else seems fair game.

The Cube 20 is perhaps happiest with tonally 'transparent' overdrive pedals or with distortions and - especially - fuzzes. This little amp can sound BIG with the right effects.

As with many solid state amps, the addition of some subtle compression will help improve the overall 'feel' when playing the amp clean, as it will smooth out the strong transient peaks that can occur at times.

Choral Music

The original Roland Cube series consisted of various sized amps to suit instruments from guitars to keyboards, and for use anywhere from your bedroom to an arena stage.

There was also the Cube Chorus range (Cube 40 Chorus pictured) which incorporated Roland's trademark chorus circuit. The chorus settings were preset (no continuous control) but took you a step closer to Roland's flagship Jazz Chorus range.