Add Fuzzstortion To EMGs

Posted: January 22, 2014 in Effects, Guitar Wiring Mods, Ideas To Be Developed
Tags: , , , ,
An easy variable fuzz/distortion.

An easy variable fuzz/distortion.

An easy variable fuzz/distortion.

An easy variable fuzz/distortion.

I like both active and passive humbucking pickups for different reasons.  Quality passives have a creamy, “I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Butter” character that actives usually do not have, but actives have clarity and punch that passives usually do not have.  Then there’s the EMG JH James Hetfield Set.  It doesn’t sound as compressed and hi-fi as many other actives while retaining the punch and clarity.  I love using them and recommend them to anyone for almost any humbucking sound.

I got the idea to add on-board fuzz, but looked around and found nothing for EMG or the Solderless System.  So I grabbed some LEDs and diodes and started playing around.  It didn’t take much trial or error, since the passive equivalent is documented on the interwebz, but the ability to mod and experiment it is greatly increased since no soldering needs to happen.  There is also a greater flexibility since the output of EMGs is up to 4.5V peak-to-peak versus about 1.5V peak-to-peak for high output passives.

Version 1 was my first foray and is good, but I find Version 2 to be superior.  Having the Mix function ahead of the Volume lets the diodes get a better signal; clipping is easier to achieve and is not dependent on the volume control being maxed.  The neck humbucker is not included in this example.  On my guitar, it runs to it’s volume pot, then to the bus.  The bus runs both pickups to the tone control.

Observations, notes, and advice:

  1.  There is a possibility of having the pickups too close and sending such a strong, square signal that the diodes do little, but make a BLAT tone.
  2. The lower the clipping threshold of the diodes, the better this works for variety/touch/dynamics. I ended up changing to two diodes in parallel to make the response easier to control, but I prefer the asymmetrical sound. I have some germanium diodes on order and will experiment with them as soon as they arrive.
  3. I tried swapping the order of pots, swapping connections on the tabs, moving the pickup height, and placing the diodes on the other pickup. I ended up back at the version 2 wiring with the above change in diodes.
  4. The pickup height is crucial to determining if the character of the clipping will be soft, hard, fuzz, buzz, or BLAAAAAATT! These are small adjustments. 3 turns of the screws moved me from Softville to BLAT Land. It requires some tinkering and finesse.
  5. String action also will determine your clipping character and dynamic range.
  6. Having it always on by removing the mix control and placing the diode’s wiring on the tone sounded really, really good, but the flexibility of mixing it in and out seems like a more useful feature.
  7. This is not exactly a “Plug-and-Play” kind of mod.  While my opinion can be a good starting point, you might like other options better (diodes, pickup height, control routing) and it will probably take some experimenting to find your particular sweet spot.  The upside is: when completed, it will provide you with clipping that can’t be duplicated with any current pedal on the market.
  8. While the choice of amplifier and preamp/power amp distortion will not completely change the sound, I found that there is a very organic, touch sensitive balance that can be achieved by turning down the gain on the amp and letting your picking dynamics determine how distorted the sound is.  It makes your playing more dependent on your own hands than on what your amp can do.
  9. Alternatively, if you crank up the gain, this mod can reduce clarity.

Ideas for experimenting:

  1. Remove mix control and put LEDS on Volume and other diodes on Tone for two tiered distortion.
  2. Put LEDS on Tone with either of the mods.  When the mix control is turned down, clipping can still occur, but at a larger voltage.
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