Morley takes their iconic fuzz sound – as used by Metallica bass legend Cliff Burton – and splits it off from the wah-wah that it usually rides with. Peter Hodgson asks the vital question: does it stand on its own?
The sounds that Metallica bassist Cliff Burton wrung out of his Rickenbacker and Aria basses through his Morley fuzz wah in the band’s early days ignited a revolution. As precise and powerful as Burton’s clean tone was, it was on tracks like “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth” that Burton cemented his metal legacy; these were standout bass moments where his tone took on all the aggression of his six-string chums, and then some. Just think of the iconic footage on the Cliff ‘Em All tribute film: Burton really owned those sounds, those effects, those licks and those spotlight moments.
Morley released the Cliff Burton Tribute Series Power Fuzz Wah a little while ago, taking inspiration from the ‘70s Power Fuzz Wah that Burton used with Metallica. It incorporates independent wah and fuzz sections, and is voiced to be able to handle any instrument: guitar, bass – hell, Morley even recommended plugging a keyboard into it. It’s a killer-sounding pedal, but Morley realised they were onto something special with the fuzz circuit, which often gets overlooked due to the monstrous power of the wah. So now, with the blessing of Burton’s estate, they’ve taken the fuzz circuit, wrenched it away from the wah and released it as the Cliff Burton Fuzz Box by Morley Man FX.
First thing’s first: I’m not sure I buy Morley’s marketing angle that “if you’re looking for Cliff Burton’s growly Fuzz tone, but don’t need the Wah – or don’t have the space on your pedalboard for a footpedal – this is all you need. The Cliff Burton Fuzz Box simply gives you the Fuzz side of the Power Fuzz Wah in a compact stomp box.” This thing isn’t compact. It’s about the size of a VHS cassette, so there’s no way to apply the word ‘compact’ to this unit when there are pedals out there as tiny as Mooer’s range of mini stompers and the like. I think a more appropriate way to market this pedal is something like, “This thing is chunky and solid as hell, and there’s no way you’ll miss it because it takes up the width of about three regular pedals!”
Okay, so it’s not compact. But what is it? It’s a re‑housing of the fuzz from the Power Fuzz Wah, with the same Intensity and Vintage/Modern controls, but in this case, Morley has turned the Vintage/Modern switch into a chunky footswitch instead of a little toggle switch. They’ve also added a Tone knob for shaping the character of the fuzz and tailoring it more to your personal sound. And there’s a Level control for matching the dirty volume to your clean one, or slamming a tube preamp with extra power for even more grind. It’s housed in a cold-rolled steel case with a Quick-Clip battery compartment on the bottom (or a nine-volt power supply, not included), and is hand-built in Carey, Illinois.
FOR WHOM THE FUZZ GROWLS
Since Morley recommends this pedal for guitar and bass, I tried it with both, and through a variety of amps. As a bass fuzz, the Vintage mode goes from a really satisfying treble toothiness to a chunky distortion, then to a really extreme, angry, stoner‑approved fuzz with more dirt and filth than you’ll ever need. Flip it into Modern mode and it has a clearer type of distortion. It’s really great to have the two on hand (or at your feet) with the footswitch, because you can go from a clean tone to Modern mode for a big distorted metal or rock riff, then kick in the Vintage mode for a really pissed off vintage fuzz vibe.
Once you get up to those more extreme Intensity levels, this pedal seems to perform more or less the same regardless of which pickup you use or what kind of bass you’re playing – but it’ll reveal some nice subtleties at lower Intensity levels. And it’s great when used in a split signal chain with a clean tone and this growling monster side by side. The Tone control is a great addition to the circuit, letting you tame some of the hairiness for a smoother and warmer sound, or crank it right up for much more of an aggressive sizzle.
And it’s a monster on the guitar. The folks at Australian Morley distributors Innovative Music recommended trying it into an already overdriven amp, so I dialled in my best crunch tone on a Marshall DSL50 clean channel (which reaches JCM800 levels of grind when pushed), strapped on an Ormsby SX GTR seven-string and let ‘er rip. Again, the two modes provide similar levels of tight (Modern) and loose (Vintage) fuzz tones, but when recontextualised by the guitar and running into an already overdriven preamp, this thing sounds part Mastodon, part Sleep and all brutal.
Sure, you can get some great vintage tones by running into a clean channel and using some more moderate fuzz Intensity settings, but to be completely honest, it’s just more fun to let this pedal get really ugly. And it goes without saying that it has no problem handling the low notes on a seven-string.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Those who are seeking to emulate Burton’s iconic tones would probably rather stick with his signature Fuzz Wah – after all, how else are you going to play the “Bells” intro? But if you’re after a bass fuzz that can go from edgy to goddamn filthy, and that you can maybe forge your own signature sound out of, this one will do it for you.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Vintage/Modern footswitch
• Exclusive tone control
• Great for guitar or bass
• Sturdy steel housing
• Approved by Cliff’s father
• Flexible sound options
• Equally suitable for guitar or bass
• Mode footswitch is very useful
• Sizeable footprint!
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