The famous Arbiter (later, Dallas-Arbiter) Fuzz Face was originally developed by J & I Arbiter Ltd., and was presented in August 1966 at the British Musical Instrument Industries trade fair.1 Date codes on the potentiometers of surviving examples suggest that production was only properly ramped up by September of that year (units with pot codes earlier than September are particularly uncommon), and the Fuzz Face was already available in the shops by November 1966, when Jimi Hendrix was photographed performing with one.2
Enclosures for the early Fuzz Faces came finished in options of either red, silver or dark grey Hammerite, and they were printed with one of two different sets of silkscreened graphics. Some early Fuzz Faces were fitted with black ‘top hat’ shaped knobs, and others were fitted with dial knobs. There is currently no consensus among collectors about how to ascertain which version of the early Fuzz Faces came first, or indeed, how to identify a particularly early Fuzz Face that might have been built in 1966 (as opposed to one from 1967).
The two silver pedals pictured above were both built during the early period of Fuzz Face production. The pedal on the right has been printed with the same set of graphics as those which Arbiter continued to use for several years on the various later revisions of the Fuzz Face design that followed these early models. Compared with it, the pedal on the left has a thicker typeface for the ‘Fuzz Face’ lettering, and the ‘volume’ & ‘fuzz’ labels have a wider kerning.
The set of graphics printed on the pedal to the left was only used for some of the earlier (‘pre-Dallas’) Fuzz Faces, but there is not enough evidence to prove whether the pedals with this thicker & wider lettering decisively predated Fuzz Faces with the more conventional graphics, or whether the different versions may have been built in parallel for some time. For now, it is impossible to determine which of the two pedals pictured above were built first.
Fuzz Faces were initially sold in the UK for 8gns, but even during the early period of production (c. 1966-1967), these British-built pedals were being exported around the world. This is evidenced by the large number of original Fuzz Faces that regularly resurface in the United States, as well as around continental Europe. Some early Fuzz Faces even bear official stickers denoting their status as “export models”.
Arbiter apparently bought a large supply of potentiometers in late 1966 for use in the Fuzz Faces. The majority of early Fuzz Faces were built with potentiometers dating between the months of September to December of 1966. There are currently no known surviving Fuzz Faces equipped with potentiometers bearing 1967 date codes, and so it appears very likely that Arbiter only finally restocked in early 1968.
The only concrete evidence provided by date codes on components is the date by which the pedal cannot have been built before. An early Fuzz Face bearing ‘12-66’ (December 1966) codes on the potentiometers can only be determined not to have been built prior to that month. Bearing in mind the time that it takes for a potentiometer to travel from the RadiOhm factory, to Arbiter’s assembly lines, in addition to the likelihood that Fuzz Faces weren’t built during the winter public holidays, a Fuzz Face with 12-66 date codes might not necessarily have been built until the following year.
More than simply being based on a ‘textbook’ shunt-series feedback amplifier circuit, the Arbiter Fuzz Face is almost part-for-part a copy of a particularly early version of the two-transistor Tone Bender ‘MK1.5’. Early instruction papers supplied with Fuzz Faces even describe the model as producing a “tone-bending” effect.
Earlier Fuzz Faces were built with a pair [Newmarket] NKT275 germanium transistors, while later Fuzz Faces featured pairs of a number of different types of silicon transistors. Contrary to popular belief, there is no known unmodified surviving example of a vintage 1960s germanium-transistor Fuzz Face that has been built with anything other than NKT275’s.
A long-standing assumption has been that Arbiter modified the Tone Bender circuit to allow for a better bass response, by increasing the value of the volume pot. More recently, however, it has been discovered that some of the earliest Tone Bender ‘MK1.5’ pedals were also built with a 500kΩ level pot, and that this is most likely the specific version of the Tone Bender that the designer of the Fuzz Face used as a reference. Some early Fuzz Faces were also built with 5µF input capacitors (as opposed to the more often seen 2.5µF value), which again, coincides with a feature of the Tone Bender.
The only electronic differences between the Sola Sound Tone Bender ‘MK1.5’ and the Arbiter Fuzz Face are the 20µF (and sometimes 30µF) emitter bypass capacitor, the NKT275 transistors, and 33kΩ resistor from Q1’s collector to the power rail as opposed to 47kΩ.
These similarities between specific versions of the Arbiter Fuzz Face and the Sola Sound Tone Bender ‘MK1.5’ have been highlighted on the table below:
The (Dallas-) Arbiter Fuzz Face features an almost identical circuit to another earlier fuzz box offered by Dallas. The 1966 [Dallas] Rangemaster Fuzzbug was manufactured by Sola Sound, and briefly featured the same electronics as Sola Sound’s Tone Bender ‘MK1.5’. The Fuzzbug was part of the same family of early two-transistor fuzz pedals, but this should not be interpreted as evidence that the two models are related. The Fuzz Face was first and foremost an Arbiter product, and it was designed and introduced to the market well before Arbiter merged with Dallas. There is no evidence to suggest that Dallas had any involvement in the designing of the Fuzz Face, and the fact Dallas’ Fuzzbug bears electronic similarities is merely an indication of how widely Sola Sound’s products were being distributed in 1966. There is currently also no known surviving example of a Rangemaster Fuzzbug that was built with the Fuzz Face’s aforementioned 500kΩ volume potentiometer.
Vox’s Distortion Booster typically also featured a circuit sharing the same shunt-series feedback amplifier topology as the Fuzz Face, but because there isn’t any overlap at all in terms of parts values between the two, it’s very unlikely for either model to have been inspired by the other.
J. & I. Arbiter & Dallas Music Limited were apparently still two distinct organisations when they demonstrated their respective products at separate booths, at the March 1968 Musikmesse trade fair. It was reported, however, in April 1968, that Arbiter had been taken over by Dallas.3 The merger of these two companies was reflected in the branding of the Fuzz Face, and from 1968 until the mid-1970s, these Arbiter pedals were rebranded as products by ‘Dallas-Arbiter — England’.
Following the merger of Dallas & Arbiter, the Fuzz Faces were still being built with the same PNP germanium-transistor circuit that was introduced almost two years earlier. According to potentiometer date codes, however, by late 1968 (or early 1969), the Fuzz Face circuit had been updated for operation with NPN silicon transistors instead. The youngest of the known surviving germanium-transistor Fuzz Faces date to 1969, and so there is a reasonable probability that the germanium & silicon-transistor Fuzz Faces were being built concurrently for a period of time.
Early silicon-transistor Fuzz Faces featured BC183L & BC183KA transistors, and were housed in enclosures featuring the same three colour schemes that Arbiter had been offering pedals in since 1966. By around late 1969 (or possibly early 1970) Dallas-Arbiter apparently abandoned the BC183L & BC183KA circuits, and began using BC108C transistors for the Fuzz Face. It was at this point that Dallas-Arbiter also began offering fuzz boxes in various blue paint jobs.
Dallas-Arbiter later split back up into ‘Dallas Music Industries’ (DMI) & ‘CBS/Arbiter’, but the Fuzz Face continued to be manufactured under both names in the UK until at least 1976 (according to potentiometer date codes). During the 1970s, the model was offered in a variety of different colours, and with a variety of different NPN silicon transistor configurations.
After production of the British-built Fuzz Face was discontinued, there was a period in the late 1970s when DMI manufactured pedals in the United States. The model lay dormant until Crest Audio (a subsidiary of DMI) started building Fuzz Faces again, and this was soon followed by Jim Dunlop’s reproductions, which are widely sold around the world to this day.4
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7 thoughts on “Arbiter Fuzz Face”
Great info, I have a 90’s Arbiter FF that has been tampered with by swapping out the AC128s for old NKT275s, the fuzz pot is shot and no matter how much contact cleaner I hit it with it won’t stop scratching, the volume pot is ok but I want to get new pots, is there a recommended make of pot I should get or can I just put in ones with the correct values?, Thanks.
P.S it sounds incredible with the 275s!.
Omeg makes pots which are pretty good modern replacements for the old RadiOhm types typically found in vintage Fuzz Faces (including the last of the germanium pedals), so they’d certainly look right in your Arbiter reissue 🙂
Those two silver fuzz faces are mine, and that’s my photo.
They’re not identical — the one with the small hole in the front is an early germanium, the other one is a Si transistor with BC183Ls — see the later pic of mine you’ve branded with your website address. I odn’t know who J. Logan is or why they get photo credit for my photos of my pedals.
The silver Fuzz Face with the hole was indeed one of yours (and before then, Electric Warrior’s), but the photo isn’t — J. Logan is the person you sold it to some years ago, and this is a photo he took and shared on Facebook last year. The other Fuzz Face in that photo is germanium as well, and if I didn’t know the internals of it already, then there are various visual clues that indicate it. BC183L Fuzz Faces come in a slightly different enclosure style from those particular two 1966-67 germanium units (which can be recognised by the size & shape of the ‘brow’). By the time DA was building BC183L Fuzz Faces, they had also settled on using the version of the graphics as on your old pedal with the hole in the face (compared with the thicker ‘Fuzz Face’ print, with wider kerning for the control & jack socket labels, on the second pedal in Logan’s photo). DA also tended to use a thinner style of control knob compared with the ‘top hat’ style Bulgin knobs.
The photo of the BC183L Fuzz Face circuit board on this page is one that I took of a pedal in my own collection.
Actually those are both my pedals and I took that picture. Those are both Arbiter FuzzFaces I have. I did get that one with the ‘Marilyn’ hole from you though.
I’ve got a blue one with BC108Cs. Any tips to narrow down the year even more? Looked for data stamps and the like but nothing is jumping out. Thanks!
They made Fuzz Faces with BC108C’s for quite a while during the 1970s. The earliest blue ones came with screen printed graphics, and they typically have 1969 pot codes. Later blue ones had slightly different graphics with several different types of decals instead, and those typically have 1972 pot codes. There are also some really late blue BC108C Fuzz Faces that are branded ‘Dallas Musical Industries’, which would date to around the mid-1970s (after Ivor Arbiter split from Dallas).
We can put the blue BC108C pedals into some sort of chronological order based on graphics and parts selection, but I don’t think DA restocked pots in 1970, 1971 or 1973 (or at least I haven’t seen any pictures of pedals with original pots bearing those codes), so it’s difficult to pin-point an exact year to specific examples. Feel free to email me some pics of your pedal and I’ll take a guess!
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