Here they are in detail with more to come.
So here is a collection of notes we took during a fuzz round up. We will let them speak for themselves. And if you have any questions, arguments or suggestions please feel free to comment or send an email.
NOS NKT-275 White Dot This is a personal favourite of mine. As an admitted recovering “gain junkie” I have been trying varying levels of gain these days, and am quite content with playing completely clean in certain circumstances as well. This transistor in the right circuit, however, is a solid argument against anything less than insane fuzz levels. Offered from July, 2002 these are New Old Stock British Newmarket NKT275s from the 1960s often used in the original germanium fuzz faces (There are transistors using a similar name that were used in the 1990s…they are skinnier us made copies of the originals.) Apparently some say gain to gain these have less fuzz than the red dots…not sure about that. maybe the higher treble content can fool you? Fun fact about these: the white dot indicates a military spec version of the NKT275.
What they said: “The NKT275s have less fuzz, and less high end fizziness. They have a deeper tone and clean up better than any other transistor. If you turn down the volume on your guitar, the NKT275 sound will be totally, sparkly clean without any fuzz remnants. Normally, NKT275 transistors are not high gain, that is why they clean up so well and are so smooth sounding. However we did have some high gain NKTs we have sorted out over the years, out of the same batch. NKT275 transistors are not high gain, that is why they clean up so well and are so smooth sounding.
If you don’t need a fuzz that can get TOTALLY clean when you back the guitar down just a few numbers, the NKT275 is probably not for you. They are also tough to use with humbuckers, easily get lost in the mix in a band situation unless you play REALLY loud.”
What We said: Yup. Sure enough AnalogMan’s descriptions are pretty much bang on (he does sell them, after all.) Bright but not brash; definitely not subdued though. It can go from aggressive barking fuzz (for a germanium transistor) to sparkling clean with the twist of your volume knob depending on gain of the transistor. What they didn’t mention is the myriad of tones between that beautiful clean and full on dirt. This should be a given considering the circuit and the use of Germanium but there is just an absolute plethora of golden tones awaiting right there inside your volume knob. Can this pedal be an always on fuzz? With NKT275s, it’s a resounding yes!
***Update: Apparently as of 2011 they have run out of the white dot NKTs. That would explain prices. High gain white dots are my top choice for a Germanium Sun Face.
Red Dot NKT275 transistors
These NKT-275s are a great transistor (seeing a pattern here?) While I found it paled in comparison to my personal favourite (white dot) it stood tall with pretty much anything else. Just to clarify this statement: there is little to say about it being inferior to the white dot NKT275s; it is just a somewhat milder (though decidedly darker) variant of this fabled white dots. It likely comes down to its warmer character in contrast to the white dot’s abundance of highs…so don’t get anxiety about choosing between them. These came in various gain ranges as well but always seemed to hover around the centre of the fuzz spectrum from the examples I have tried.
It basically seemed like a warmer slightly lower gain version of the white dot NKT275 which again could be attributed to the more bass and mid focused nature of the transistor. It seems to clean up easier as well though it did have some dirt around the edges when backed way down on the higher gain variants. What was really interesting about the red dot was how sensitive it was to rigs and tone / volume control adjustments. It is even extremely selective on the how it is powered; not just between battery and power supply but what kind of battery is used. Apparently Analog Mike himself has stated that they are “quite sensitive” to temperate variations so it might lend itself more to studio work than live use. These might not necessarily be related but it does make for something to consider when choosing this transistor. It is definitely not a set and forget proposition compared to other options available.
What they said: “In July, 2002 we started offering a NOS NKT-275 version of the Sun Face, using New Old Stock British Newmarket 1960s NKT-275 transistors. These were the actual transistors used in the original $expensive germanium fuzzfaces, not the skinny US made copies used in the new fuzzfaces since the 1990s (which look and sound totally different). You can take a peek into one of our NKT-loaded pedals on the left. It also includes an additional BIAS trim pot inside to set the exact bias on these transistors, for the ultimate sound. The Blue trim pot is for Bias, which should not need adjustment often, while the big White one is the CLEAN (input adjustment) knob. The BIAS pot really helps if you play at different temperatures. You can turn it down a bit at higher temperatures, and up a bit at lower temperatures, to keep the transistors happy and sounding best at their SWEET SPOT which is about 5 volts. The Sun Face manual has more information on adjusting this. The bias control is more often found on the outside of our Sun Face pedals as the SUN DIAL knob.”
What we say: Loads of gain but not abnormally so; great all arounder without sounding bland…loads of character and a great in between transistor that finds ground that is neither too soft nor too gainy (but is that really a thing?) Great clean-up though high gain examples understandably don’t get get completely clean. Dark but not muddy. Doesn’t necessarily scream “Fuzz!” like the crackling white dots so great for more subtle textual parts; might need to have an output boost in a dense mix though. Definitely the “safest” choice among the high end Germanium options as it is most versatile among them. These are sought after for a reason.
Mullard CV7005 These were an oddity here. While Analog Mike says they could actually be the same transistor as the NKT275s, what we tried seemed different enough to warrant further examination. It seemed like most people were opposed to these; that is, until they were more available than the other transistors supplies that all but dried up. With that in mind these seemed to barely be substitutes to us here; definitely not equivalents of the more familiar and coveted options available. What can you expect when you are thrown into the game using the NKTs?
Of course this is AnalogMan and say what you will but he knows his business; he doesn’t seem like somebody who would jeopardize this modern classic anything subpar. With this in mind the Mullards have seemed to have grown on us…not the extravagant and exotic NKTs for sure but a solid option that has become known for a clear cutting sound with a distinct edge. No need for relentless adjectivity here: it is a beautiful sound…just more of an on/off sort of buzz instead of the dynamic spectrum available of the…yup…NKTs. It is a subtle distinction and oddly so considering these are apparently relabeled NKTs. We tried a few and they all had this characteristic among them. They also lean more towards the white dots than the red. This is a transistor that seemed to require less of an “effort” to make it work. Like Analog Mike says: the Fuzz Face can be a “hard” circuit to use. This transistor option makes it seem less so…
Highly recommended for the new user of fuzz.
What they said:
These are military spec germaniums from 1973, medium to low gain. We found that almost all of the NKT-275 sold, especially in the last ten years, are actually re-labeled transistors. We were able to see a CV7005 mark faintly on some of them (they rub off the old markings before re-labeling them), so we bought a bunch of CV7005 in the UK over a decade ago. We started selling these when we were running out of the red dot nkt275 in late 2015. These transistors have “KBDA 7301” on them. 7301 means 1973, 1st week. The K means that it has been manufactured to specification, the B indicates that approval was given by UK military authorities (military spec), D is the factory identification code for Mullard Ltd, and A is the Mullard Blackburn factory. We we know EXACTLY when and where these were made, and by whom. They sound like the NKT275 because they are probably the same thing. They sound more like the white dot NKT than the red dot, they are a little brighter clearer and cut better than the red dot.
What we say: while being as close as Analog Mike says I would say they are distinct enough from NKTs to have both in your collection. They seem to have the sensitivity of the red dots but the gain structure of the white dots. (They respond well to control adjustments but have more highs all around the volume knob.) Can’t go wrong with that. The “attack” seemed to be the most dissimilar characteristic from the white dots. Warm and biting it’s another great all arounder with no real downsides to it. Again they are said to be the same but from what we tried…well it’s fuzz. Are they ever really the same?
Standard germanium transistors
Standard Japanese 2SB175 (Medium) These classics are reminiscent of a B-Side Record…literally. They have a soft subdued tone that doesn’t really have a lot of grit or “edge”; definitely not a distortion but more a fuzz for somebody who wants something smoother than what a Fuzz Face is usually known for. (All relative to other Sun Faces of course.) This makes it surprisingly useful for more rhythmic work that would be required in a more dense mix. Highly recommend for collectors of fuzz and Sun Faces alike. It doesn’t scream BUZZ as much as it paints a picture of vintage tone that is a throwback to some classic tracks…and a fairly cheap option. Thanks Analog Mike! Smooth and understated at a great price. A superb addition to an already fleshed out fuzz palate. Cheap and quite smooth…
Standard Japanese 2SB171 (Low) More of the same (or less?) these are a solid reliable choice for those after the Fuzz Face / Sun Face “flavour” without the intention of letting everybody in the room know you have just activated a face rippin’ buzz box. Sits well in a track while still having a recognizable voice without being lost in the mix. It was hard going back to the classic buzz of the usual transistors. Surprisingly hard actually. There is something to be said of a smooth purr of low gain germaniums and Analog Mike has not over looked this. Hats off for covering all bases here. Again a cheap way to attain smooth understated low gain tones for the more subtle applications of fuzz. This would be highly recommended as a safe way to branch out into the world of subdued fuzz (is that a thing?) A great addition a closet full of the more brash fuzzboxes.
Vintage Low Gain A nice standard option that is different enough to warrant a description of it’s own; meaning if you can find it for cheap it is worth to have in the ***fuzz closet***. Fairly low gain and cleans up exceptionally well even considering its gain structure; not necessarily something you would want to leave rolled back but for a quick twist of the knob for a cleaner tone it is hard to beat for that … that said for some dark Blues tones this had little competition in the boutique world of fuzz.
Standard Germanium 2N USA These are pretty standard fare in comparison to the more exotic varieties offered. Not that they are boring but definielty seem be much more of a balanced character though that said it was much more reserved that you would expect a fuzz to be. The example we had seemed to be more dark than you would expect to be; again this want an issue as much as a interesting trait of this pedal.
More to come…