Silicon vs Germanium Fuzz (for people without a physics degree)
Guitar and bass players are interesting creatures. Most of us have a deep love for things that we have little to no idea of their inner workings. But it works out for us because we have all adapted to be able to communicate sounds with words and phrases. You know them, transparent overdrives, bright pickups, punchy tone, etc. Yes, regardless of what you may think of these descriptors, they do serve their purpose. However, at one point or another, you will come across certain words that require a little digging to understand their meaning in a musical context. So here you are! Let's talk about the difference between silicon and germanium fuzz and what that actually means to you as a guitarist.
What does silicon/germanium mean?
When we use the words silicon and germanium we are actually referring to a specific component that sits on the circuit board of your fuzz pedal call a transistor. What are transistors to someone who does not own a lab coat? Truthfully, you don’t need to know how all the little elves in your pedals make it work, you just need to know their names and what they sound like (you are basically a sonic Santa Claus). Now just to clarify, germanium and silicon transistors are the same type of transistor just made with a different element as their names imply. So now that we have an idea of what these two fuzz pedal types are referring to, let's look at what's really important, silicon vs. germanium transistor + your ear = (???).
In order to accurately assess what these two types of fuzz pedals will sound like to your ear, all you have to do is go listen to one. Alright, that’s it for me, thanks for reading and… oh, what's that you say, you don’t have access to every fuzz pedal to ever exist or even one of each kind, fine, I guess I can continue then. But kidding aside, you kinda do have unlimited access to listen to different types of fuzzes. In fact, one of the most common and effective ways to start understanding how silicon and germanium differ is to listen to records. For a good sense of what a germanium fuzz will sound like I always recommend that people listen to the Rolling Stones Satisfaction. Silicon, on the other hand, makes it a much tougher task to find good examples. You can check out any later Hendrix stuff post-1968 (band of gypsies or live performance) and you're likely to be hearing silicon. While starting to look listen to these records is a good idea, you really won’t have a perfect idea of which type suits you more until you play one for yourself. Most fuzz heads I meet agree that germanium has a more pleasing tone while silicon tends to be on the harsher side if not tamed. Yet this is just others' preferences, be sure to make your own choice when it comes time to buy.
Best silicon/germanium fuzz examples
Alright, moving along nicely here! Now it's time for the fun part, pedals. If you're interested in learning more about the history of fuzz I would recommend you look into the many classic circuits that have paved the way for the effect. I am referencing your tone benders, Green Russian Big Muffs, Gibson Maestros, the list goes on and on. But, since many of these vintage pedals are expensive and near impossible to find I have assembled a list of a few modern boxes that can get you into any fuzz realm that you desire.
- Great Silicon Options
- The Pelt Fuzz - Fender
- Who knew fender would come out with one of the most refreshing pedal lines of 2018. The pelt to the fender line overall. All the controls work together to grant you every bit of the silicon greatness it possesses. Hands down, this pedals magnetic battery door makes it a winner all by itself… okay maybe a little bit of a stretch, but you should give this one a look for sure.
- High Road - Mythos
- This silicon titan is the brainchild of Joey Landreth in conjunction with Mythos effects. This small beast will make single coils sing and humbuckers growl. I was blown away with how great the sound was for a variety of different guitar configurations.
- Cloven Hoof - EQD
- This is quite the older brother of EQD’s previous fuzz endeavor, the Hoof. The Cloven Hoof has replaced four silicon transistors for the hybrid (germanium and silicon) model the Hoof had. The shift knob on this fuzz is absolutely my favorite control I've had on a pedal. This pedal in of itself is a “sweet spot”.
- Great Germanium Options
- Fulltone ‘69 MkII
- A modern take vintage FuzzFaces. Fulltone just makes great sounding pedals. This one is fat as can be and I sure don’t mind. It also has a handy feature that lets you push the circuit at lower volume levels, I’m looking at you apartment owners.
- Dunlop Germanium FuzzFace Mini
- Good ol’ FuzzFace. Not much else needs to be said here. Just keep in mind that when talking about the common modern Dunlop fuzz faces, red = germanium and blue is your silicon.
Hopefully, you're reading this last paragraph having taken a step forward on your six (or 4, 7, 8,9 … ) string voyage. Never be afraid to go down the rabbit hole of guitar “lingo”, it is ALWAYS better to come out knowing more. That said, make sure your remembering to pick up your ax once in a while. So if you're reading this hours into a Google search, why don’t you take a break? Contact Octave with any questions you have and get back to the real victory in all this, playing… or maybe just one more search.