Posted by Dave Fox on 9/12/2014 to Effects
The FuzzFace Reissue Story
I started working for Crest Audio in fall of 1984. I was 21 years old and I had the job of QC technician for their Mixing Console lines, which included new Crest Audio consoles and Kelsey consoles. One day while I was looking for parts in the one of the stock rooms, I came across a FuzzFace. It was blue, nearly two inches tall in height and it said Dallas Music Industries on the mouth. The next day I brought in my Fender Strat and Fender Backstage 30 practice amp. I put a battery in the FF and tried it out. It sounded like crap. At low levels, it didnt pass signal. If I hit the strings hard, I got a farting noise out of it. I wrote it off as a piece of crap and moved on. Meanwhile, I found an article in Guitar Player magazine by Craig Anderton which was all about the FuzzFace. From what he wrote, I figured there must be something wrong with the FF that I had tried out. I decided to do some research. It turns out that Crest Audio used to be Dallas Music Industries. My paychecks said Dallas Music Industries on them. Dallas Music Industries ( DMI) used to be Dallas Arbiter. I was working for the company that manufactured FuzzFaces in the mid-late '60s! How cool is that! By this time the company had moved on to manufacturing professional high-end mixing consoles and power amps, which they still do today.
I tossed around the idea of the FuzzFace for awhile. Being a Hendrix-head, I wanted one. I tried messing around with the blue FF again and found that by changing the 8.2K resistor to 6.2K, I was able to get a decent sound out of it. I cranked it up and I sounded like Hendrix. It turns out the FF that I was checking out was a reissue from 1976. It was the NPN silicon version. It was about a half inch taller than the original FuzzFaces and the transistors were BC109C. I thought it would be cool to start making them again. I went to the President and owner of Crest (a wonderful English man named John Lee) and presented the idea. He liked it. So I start to put the wheels in motion for the new FuzzFace reissue. Meanwhile, I also came across two boxes containing Dallas Arbiter TremFaces. These things were original stock, still in their boxes from the late '60s. I got them working and sold them off for something like $30.00 each.
In mid-1986, I got the word around that we were going to start making FFs again. I got lots of input from different guitarists and effects collectors all over the country and in England. I was able to borrow some vintage FFs from people. Other people sent me transistors to try out. I had AC128s, NKT275s, BC108Cs, BC109Cs and a bunch of others. I made a bunch of prototypes. I wanted to use the PNP germanium circuit, if possible. I ran into problems. I just couldn't get them to sound good. They sounded dull and lacked sustain. Most of the vintage samples sounded good one day and crappy another day. I didn't know what to make of it. I built up some NPN silicon prototypes and found that they were kind of noisy and very bright. But they had stustain and fire to their sound. I figured I had to go with the NPN version because customers would probably be disappointed with the wimpy tone of the PNP germanium version. Important note back then, the vintage guitar effects market wasn't what it is today. The FF was barely considered vintage at the time. It was just old. At that time we didn't have a hundred different companies making vintage reissues. My philosophy was that if I wanted it, other people must want it too. And it had to sound good. Being 100% faithful to the original wasn't going to cut it. Obviously people weren't too interested in the original; that must have been why Dallas Arbiter stopped making them. It seemed that the 1976 reissue was short-lived. I figured we'd make 100 of them and see how it went. We tried different colors. We did gray, blue, red, yellow, green. We settled on gray blue and red. There were only two yellow ones and one green one. They are now part of my personal collection.
So we started making them. We bought a nice supply of BC109Cs, graded them all by gain and matched them up. I kept my guitar at work and tested each one of them by playing through them. There I was, at a test bench, in a factory belting out Hendrix licks every 15 minutes all day, every day. It was cool. I was running ads, people were sending money and calling on the phone. I had many long conversations with tons of very cool people about FFs, vintage effects, guitars, amps. One day in mid-1986, I got a call from Eric Johnson. I had read about him in a cover article in Guitar Player magazine. He was just a super nice guy who really seemed to know about sounds, effects and playing. We chatted for quite a while. He had an old FF that sounded like crap, so I sent him some transistors and written instructions on how to mod his FF for more sustain and a hotter tone. He later sent me a post card thanking me for helping him to get his FF to sound good.
In May 1987, I went to the NAMM show in Chicago to exhibit the new FF reissue. I met and gave away FFs to people like Leslie West, Dweezil Zappa, David Bromberg, and the guy in Blue Oyster Cult. As I worked at the FF booth at the '87 NAMM show, people kept coming up to me and asking if my FFs were the same thing as what they had at the Dunlop booth. Knowing nothing about what Dunlop was up to, I went to their booth to check it out. It turns out they were making something called the Jimi Hendrix Fuzz. It was black and very similar to the FF. I went back and told my boss, John Lee. Next thing I know, he's at the Dunlop booth having a lengthy conversation with Jim Dunlop. To make a long story short, lawyers got involved and in the end, the lawyers made most of the money. As you would expect, John Lee and Jim Dunlop were both good business men and they came to an agreement that Dunlop would manufacture FFs with permission from John Lee. As far as money, I'm sure an agreement was made that worked out well for both parties. Crest was in the Pro Audio business and Dunlop was in the guitar gadget business, so it made the most sense. During Crest's FF production period, we made probably around 2000 of them (it's only a guess). Ivor Arbitor took large numbers of them and sold them in the UK. There were some slight variations in the style of the aluminum casting. The units had such high gain that we had to start putting shielded wires inside to prevent oscillation. The entire first run was Gray. We did a couple batches of blue, a couple batches of red and gray, and then when Dunlop started making them, they stuck with red.
So there you have it, the story of the 1980s FuzzFace reissue. I'm sure that there are a million details I left out, so if anyone has questions, feel free to ask. I also have a hundred more stories where that came from. I hope you found it an interesting read.