Like it or loathe it, fuzz distortion effects units have been an integral part of rock music ever since a Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone made a guest appearance on Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones. Early fuzz boxes had rather limited scope for shaping tone, but that's something the new Photon Fuzz from Fea Labs certainly doesn't appear to suffer from. The unit gets its name from an active component in the circuit which uses infrared light to control the fuzz distortion element, and features its own octave stage, high, mid and low band EQ controls and internal DIP switch tone tweaking possibilities.
The numerous control dials sitting on top of the 4.5 x 3.5-inch (114 x 88.9 mm) shiny green stomp box are the first thing you notice about the Photon Fuzz, quite a few more than my original Fuzz Face. This gives the player much more tonal range to toy around with than my unit can manage - everything from the classic raw to the processed modern. Looking from the top left, the drive and bite controls work together to define the character of distortion - the drive takes care of the overall gain, while the bite (which is controlled by the optical FET part of the circuit that gives the unit its name) determines the point where the fuzz gets its grip on the signal.
As you may have guessed, the level dial is used to adjust the overall output level. The 3-band EQ is positioned after the distorted signal and is an active two stage boost/cut design where the mid band circuit is separated from the other two to prevent any potential interaction. A boost/cut adjustment of +/- 15dB for each frequency band is said to offer "generous tone shaping capability." For the total control freak, there's a 55Hz, 110Hz, or 220Hz pre-fuzz high pass filter available which is activated using switches inside the stomp box.
The dry control is used to add or remove unprocessed signal into the mix, which is said to be particularly useful for bass guitar players who want to preserve the natural low end tone of the instrument but also experiment with some diverse tones. The path of the dry signal can also be determined with DIP switches inside the unit.
The icing on this particular fuzz cake (for me anyway) is an octave distortion stage which benefits from having its own activation switch. The full wave asymmetric rectifier is positioned after the fuzz and EQ signal stages and, as you might expect, the dial controls the amount of octave that's applied to the tone. Again, there's DIP switch control inside the unit.
The Photon Fuzz also features a true bypass stomp switch, is engineered and assembled in the U.S. and is available direct from the manufacturer for US$195.