FULLTONE '69 MK II = FUZZFACE ON STEROIDS
by Mark King for proworkshop.com
I like Fulltone products. They are very solidly built using the finest components from around the world. Each box is designed by Mike Fuller the man behind the Fulltone brand. These little jewels of tone mayhem are each individually handcrafted in the USA by the small Fulltone factory located in Los Angeles, California. I really like products that are designed and manufactured by the same company, this almost always results in products that provide superior performance to those jobbed out to contract manufacturer's.
This review is going to focus on another great Fulltone distortion, the '69 MK II. This model replaces the original '69 pedal by Fulltone. The original had four knobs in a row while the MK II has reduced two of the knobs to small shafts that poke out under the two larger control knobs. The original design required a lot more hand wiring inside which limited production from the factory. The MK II utilizes a new smaller enclosure so it takes up less space on your pedal board. It has a new circuit board design that is faster and easier to build while enhancing reliability and improving the tone.
Mike Fuller is the design genius behind the Fulltone brand and this is his take on the Fuzzface which was made so popular by Jimi Hendrix. One of the principle hallmarks of the Fulltone brand is durability and reliability. They go to a lot of trouble to have the control pots supported so in case someone accidentally steps on one they won't destroy the pedal. This is superior engineering at work and it's one of the biggest reasons I keep coming back to this brand.
|FROM THE FULLTONE WEB SITE, HOW THEY MOUNT POTENTIOMETERS|
What was in the Fuzzface that made it so yummy sounding? During my 50+ years playing guitar I've tried many different Fuzzface style pedals including the current Jimi Hendrix model from Dunlop (who owns the rights to the Fuzz Face name). I thought about building one from a kit but which kit is the best? The tone of this pedal and what Jimi really used is the subject of wide ranging and continuous debate. All the drama about what is correct and which tone is best caused me to delay choosing this style of distortion pedal until recently. After stalling off adding a Fuzzface for so long I discovered the '69 and immediately bought one. I'm very glad I finally added this tone to my grab bag of distortion producing gadgetry.
HOW IT'S BUILT
The '69 is packaged in an all steel enclosure. Knurled knobs on the sides provide access to the battery inside without tools or screwdrivers. It came with a battery installed. The footswitch is Fulltone's own design and they are custom made. Fulltone started the industry trend of using complete bypass when the pedal is off, they call it "True Bypass". True-bypass means the pedal is not in your signal path at all when it's not in use.
|The 5th knob is the dark-knob rotary-trimmer located between the two large pots|
On the top of the '69 you'll find four knobs instead of the traditional Fuzz Face two-knob layout. Here's a rundown of the knob functions:
VOLUME = output level from the box when the pedal is on.
INPUT = Controls the input impedance of the box, full clockwise is stock Fuzzface sounds, lowering it lets the '69-pedal work better with wah-wah pedals according to the directions that came with it.
CONTOUR = This is a tone knob of sorts, it adds midrange clarity and overall gain when turned clockwise, it's out of the circuit when turned fully counter-clockwise.
FUZZ = This is the knob you bought this for, it adds distortion and fuzz when rotated clockwise. According to the directions it's best at the full clockwise position, that's pretty much where I leave mine set.
WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT THE FULLTONE '69
This pedal cleans up as you back your guitar volume control down. If you turn the guitar down to almost off the '69 produces a very usable clean sound, albeit with a little extra background noise.
Turn your guitar up and the '69 takes you into magical distortion territory, long hang'in-on lead notes, awesome feedback and all controllable by your playing dynamics and instrument volume control. This is no ordinary overdrive, this is a full-on distortion monster. I plugged it into my hot-rodded Bugera 1960 (which was wide open) and the sound is lead guitar bliss. If you have the amp turned up so it's getting crunchy without the pedal, the '69 will take it into the stratosphere with soaring tones.
I love the way you can control the distortion right from the guitar. This provides a lot of usability because the musician can change the effect within the context of the performance. Some distortion effects like the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi just ladle on the distortion regardless of the guitars output level. The '69 can create bad-ass singing distortion sounds too and with a little adjustment of the guitar volume it's like a whole different animal that is more tame. When you're ready for more distortion just turn the guitar up more and here it comes. The tone is great for rock music and a real classic sound you've heard on records for decades.
The power supply connection on the '69 is reversed-polarity from Roland and industry norms so you must use a reversed power supply. Fulltone recommends their supply but they also state that it works well with the Voodoo Labs power supplies if you get one of the Voodoo reversed-polarity power cables. This power supply situation is caused by the nature of opposite-polarity PNP Germanium transistors which are used in the Fulltone '69.
OLD-SCHOOL GERMANIUM TRANSISTORS AT WORK
You can't make old school sounds without old school transistors and the Fulltone '69 is loaded with a pair of Mike Fuller's favorite Fat-Body germanium transistors. These are what are at the heart of the coveted Fuzzface sound. How each manufacturer comes up with these parts and how they match them has everything to do with how these pedals sound. Fulltone has crafted a process to match up pairs of these transistors to yield the best performance in the '69 MKII.
THE SECRET 5TH KNOB
The '69 has a trim pot inside that adjusts the bias. From the factory the pedal is set to produce a smooth, softer tube-like tone with less compressed fuzz and more midrange but the user is invited to twist this knob and find their own tone.
NOT A TEAM PLAYER
OK there is a problem with the '69 and every real Fuzzface for that matter. The PNP circuit used in this pedal can have polarity matching problems with other pedals that don't have true bypass switching. To make this problem go away don't use it with pedals that don't have true bypass or put those pedals after the '69 in the signal chain. The owners manual for the '69 refers to these pedals as "buffered" and mentions Tuning pedals, Ibanez, Boss and Digitech brands specifically.
I love distortion and have lots of distortion pedals. With the '69 in my collection I've got my Fuzzface territory covered, this pedal does it all and then some. I have several Voodoo Lab power supplies but in the studio I like using 9-volt batteries in pedals because it lets me grab a single pedal and start playing sooner rather than later.
The creative muse is elusive and needs to be fed quickly when it pops up, the Fulltone '69 is a great one to feed it with. This pedal is organic and delicious sounding, it can be mild or wild at the discretion of the artist. In a world of boutique pedals that seems to expand more every day the Fulltone '69 MK II stands tall and proud for a price that is very fair.
Good music to you!