THE CURRENT STATE OF SMALL-TO-mid- size pedal builders seems like a parallel to bands and online music delivery: Not long ago, a few big corporations held all product and channels of distribution. Now, there are hundreds of small companies—be they pedal builders or record labels—that can directly connect with musicians via the Internet. While that may require more research from us players, the more motivated among us can immerse ourselves in this world to find the perfect product.
One of these smaller stompbox manufacturers is Wren & Cuff, located about 40 miles outside Los Angeles in Westlake Village, California. Judging from the company’s website, it seems like a reasonable, almost humble organization, making some boost pedals, some Big Muff spin-offs, and a few crazy creations. Judging by the names of the pedals tested here—the Phat Phuk B and the Pickle Pie Hella Fuzz B—the company’s California origin shines through loud and clear.
PHAT PHUK B
This Germanium-loaded Phat Phuk B bass booster is dead simple, with just a knob and a stomp switch. The Phat Phuk’s pink sparkle finish is as flashy as the pedal’s name, which is … well, maybe a little over-thetop. The build quality is excellent, with top-notch components. The circuit board is mounted with a standoff, and everything else bolts to the enclosure. (Nice!)
It’s tempting to be a little blasé about booster pedals, as they typically have little to no personality. But I’ll cut straight to it— this pedal sounds great. I found the Phat Phuk B (let’s just call it the PPB from now on, okay?) added a nice boost in the low mids, and I liked that the transistor was biased to add just a touch of clipping. The PPB had all the warmth and sonic goodness that everyone promises in a Germanium booster, but that few actually deliver. The PPB is buffered at the input, making it active-pickup-friendly and safe to place after other buffered pedals.
I plugged the PPB into a fairly neutral solid-state 1x15 combo and played it with both passive and active Jazz Basses. It was a cool booster for providing a temporary punch in the mix, but I found more joy in the “always on” applications. The pedal is capable of adding a dark, dirty vibe to a modern, clean amp. When playing driving rock music with a pick, the PPB had a natural edge that helped cut through without dominating or competing with a guitarist.
PICKLE PIE HELLA FUZZ B
Does the world really need more takes on the original Big Muff pedal? The answer is yes. Muff-style pedals can be wildly inconsistent, and small changes in the circuit can make big sonic differences. In my mind, there are two things for which there can never be too many recipes: chocolate chip cookies and Muff-style fuzz boxes.
The Pickle Pie Hella Fuzz B uses a 14-pin chip (similar to the Way Huge Swollen Pickle), rather than the much more common setup with four discreet transistors. Unlike any other Muff variant I’ve seen, the Pickle Pie uses FET transistors as clipping diodes. The pedal has the usual SATURATION (gain), SHAPE (tone), and VOLUME controls. There is also a blend knob to balance between a buffered clean tone and the fuzz, a handy feature for controlling the amount of low end in your signal. Somewhat irritatingly, this knob is side-mounted, located right by the input jack. I’d prefer to see it on the top, or at least on the back by the power jack.
Plugged in and stomped on, the Hella Fuzz has a great fuzzy, Muff-like low end, a nice bite in the upper mids, and no crowding or muddiness the lower mids. What surprised me was the refined quality of the sound. The Pickle Pie is the secret service agent of fuzz pedals: apparent, strong, threatening, but never rude, overbearing, or inappropriate. The clean blend is very welcome for pedals with this much thickness and distortion. When I cranked SATURATION, the sustain of the fuzz sounded like a synth, and that tone blended with the clean signal resulted in a nifty doubletracked or dual-unison effect. The range of the SHAPE control goes from thick and dark to having brash upper mids, but it never sounded piercing or overly bright. There are a ton of useful sounds in between, but I found neither extreme all that useful on its own. The extremes were fun when mixed with the clean signal, though.
The Pickle Pie Hella Fuzz construction seems even nicer than that of the Phat Phuk, having dual standoffs for the board, neat wiring, and a high-end battery clip. The lime green case is quite eye-catching, as well.
The small operation of Wren & Cuff has succeeded in making pedals without cutting any corners. The Phat Phuk B is as good as any booster I’ve heard. The Pickle Pie brings class and refinement to the Muff framework. They might cost nearly double that of a comparable product from the corporate big boys, but they have a quality and essence that simply can’t be found on machine-made, mass-produced pedals.
PHAT PHUK B
Pros Warm, organic sound; pleasingly mild breakup
PICKLE PIE HELLA FUZZ B
Pros Great fuzz tone, useful range of controls
Cons Side-mounted BLEND knob
Switching type True hardwire bypass
Power supply 9V battery or standard “Boss-style” 9V adapter
Made in U.S.A.
Warranty One year limited