Silicon Fuzz better than Germanium Fuzz?
The first Fuzz pedals used germanium transistors. By letting the first overdrive the second etc. created their sound. Why germanium transistors? Because it was the only choice readily available and used for all consumer applications. By the 70's along came the new improved Silicon transistors followed near the end of the decade with Op-Amp chips.
...sound damn cool but they are notoriously unreliable. They can leak then die. When pushed too hard they send the signal backwards into the incoming signal causing an extreme break up. This breakup creates spitting sputtering and eventually drop outs either sporadically or permanently by causing overheating. Last but not least anything but your guitar put straight into them and the sound either gets destroyed or the whole fuzz takes a F. off pill! If a big effort is made to control this it can be used musically. On the other hand try playing EVH's Eruption with a crude germanium Fuzz just ain't gonna happen!!! LOL
...only downside is they do not sound like germanium. Do they sound worse?
With a little creative design messing with the BIAS you can add spit and sputter
back into the circuit and do a deceptive fake of a germanium circuit.
A really easy way to tell that the pedal is using silicon transistors is when the pedal does nothing what so ever to pizz you off ...count on it having silicon transistors.
BBE Windowpane Tech Focus: Germanium vs. Silicon
It all started with those early Fuzzface pedals, very simple devices which used two germanium transistors wired sequentially, the first feeding the second. Some people will tell you that germanium transistors are secret to ultimate fuzz tone. If the early fuzz pedals used them, and they’re vintage cool, that must be true, right? The reality is that germanium transistors are noisy, leaky, and very sensitive to temperature. You could have a Fuzzface that sounds amazing in the studio, but in the heat of a gig its tone falls apart as the temperature plays havoc on the transistors, shifting all the parameters and bias points. Just ask an experienced tour tech about a germanium fuzz and you’ll get nightmare stories. Even on a good day, a germanium transistor fired up to massive fuzz levels will occasionally reach the point where it will leak current and change its bias points, causing a “choking” or “farting” sound. If germanium transistors are so troublesome, why did they use them in the first place? Well, it's because that's what was available at the time.
Enter the silicon transistor. Later Fuzzface pedals and reliable fuzz pedals on the market today use silicon transistors. Some people will tell you that silicon transistors sound harsh, and indeed, they can if all you do is swap germanium transistors for silicon without carefully biasing the transistors and post-EQ. A proper circuit is engineered for a desired outcome, and parts swapping does not equate to engineering.
You’ve got to love a good working old fuzz, as it’s a cool piece of history and that means a lot to many of us. For real-world gigging, however, it’s best to leave that old fuzz at home and use a tool that sounds better, anywhere, anytime, every time. That’s Windowpane.
BBE Windowpane Tech Focus: Are You Biased?
Every Windowpane is carefully biased at the factory and configured for optimum gain, tone and headroom. Paul Gagon, BBE VP of Engineering, has repaired hundreds of old fuzz pedals and discovered that although there’s a “right” way to bias the transistors, there’s room for subjectivity. According to Gagon:
“You’ll find guys on forums claiming that a fuzz should be biased in one direction and other guys insisting it should be biased the opposite direction, but the trouble with either is you can end up with a final transistor stage that clips heavily on either the positive side or negative side. Over the years I’ve found that most people like the maximum amount of signal swing before it starts distorting. If it’s not biased right in the center zone, it never really gets that sparkly clean Jimi tone when you back off your guitar’s volume control. There’s nothing so difficult to control yet so expressive as a fuzz pedal, but proper bias is critical.
"I remember this guy who was a huge Jimi fan. He had an old Fuzzface with silicon transistors he paid a major bucks for but he’d heard on the net that germanium transistors are the ticket to ultimate tone. So he ordered these ‘magical’ NOS germanium transistors from an eBay seller in England and asked me to install them. I told him there was nothing wrong with the silicon transistors already in his fuzz, they just needed to be biased. Since he already spent a wad of cash he didn’t want to hear that, he just wanted those germaniums in there ASAP. I think he couldn’t wait to go online and tell his buddies how awesome they are! Nobody makes germanium transistors anymore, so there are these little caches of inventory that tend to move around, but it seems most of the decent germaniums were picked over years ago and a lot of them around now are simply duds. This guy was lucky in that he actually received two working transistors, so I took some time to bias them correctly, in a zone where they need to be to function as well as they could. In the end, the guy was so disappointed he asked me to install some good silicon transistors and bias them. Voila! The guy was delighted. It’s just unfortunate that he got dropped a load of money on resistors because he got sucked in by the hype.
"Aside from the lesson he learned about hype and simple parts swapping, it’s critical to consider what’s happening in the whole circuit. His old fuzz pedal had so much tolerance in the gain of the transistors, resistors and caps, it was like trying to get an old classic but road-worn Ferrari to run well: you’ve got to know what you’re doing. What’s so disappointing to me is that there are guys out there assembling fuzz pedals, just copying old designs and not even hand-biasing them, let alone hand-select components to work well together.”