Like a lizard on a window pane… Earlier this year, the guys over at BBE released a slew of brand new and redesigned pedals. We’ve already taken a look at two of these new pedals in the last couple of weeks – the Blacksmith Distortion and G Screamer – and now we’re ready to take the BBE Windowpane Fuzz pedal for a spin! First off, the this pedal is essentially a tweaked version of the BBE Free Fuzz that features hand biased silicon transistors along with a new name and paintjob. If you’re a fan of Jimi Hendrix, you’re most likely a fan of one of his most used effects – fuzz. The fuzz effect is essentially a slightly meatier, muddier form of overdrive and sounds, well, fuzzy. Fuzzes were among the first of the transistorized guitar effects being built back in the early 1960s—which is no surprise when you discover the simplicity of most of them, or why many of them sound a bit too similar, not helped by the fact that most are going after Jimi’s sound. In a world with no shortage of effects pedals, does BBE’s Windowpane have what it takes to supplement the offspring of the famed Dallas Arbiter Fuzz (e.g.: Dunlop’s Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face) as the reigning king of the fuzzy overdrive – or at the very least – worthy of your pedalboard?
When I first heard about BBE’s Windowpane Fuzz, I immediately thought of the Beatles – more specifically – a certain song’s lyric from which I believe the pedal takes its name, so naturally, I fired this baby up and went headlong into the breakdown guitar lead for Happiness Is A Warm Gun. Sure enough, I was able to dial in a very similar tone once I cranked the Fuzz knob to a healthy10 o’clock– and boy, was it warm. I’m not a huge fan of fuzz pedals as I tend to much prefer classic tube-like overdrive (such as BBE’s Green Screamer or the venerable Ibanez TubeScreamer) but I have to say, I liked what I was hearing. Much like the Fuzz face or numerous other fuzz pedals, there are only two knobs on the Windowpane -- Fuzz and Volume. Volume is self explanitory and Fuzz is, well, also self explanatory; you simply dial in the amount of fuzz and there you go.
Sure, it can do slight pieces of a George Harrison lead, but more importantly, can it do Jimi? Definitely, Hendrix is there alright, albeit a slight bit harsher than the original, with a brighter tone and more gain, most likely due to the Windowpane’s silicon transistors as opposed to the Fuzz Face’s germanium ones. It has that almost ripping speaker sound, yet is still somehow musical in its own way. In fact, the Windowpane sounds much more like MXR’s Classic 108 Fuzz – which is essentially a silicon transistor based clone of the Arbiter Fuzz. And therein lies the problem; almost every fuzz pedal out on the market seems to be based off the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, down to the sparse two knob control scheme. Well, problem is probably a strong word for it as I wouldn’t automatically see these similarities as an inherantly bad thing. Fuzz is limited in its sounds compared to other effects and if you happen to be looking for a fuzz pedal, chances are that Hendrix sound is probably the one you’re looking for. And if you so happen to be someone who is looking for that Hendrix fuzz, the Windowpane easily delivers. Conversely, if you’re looking for a pedal that packs tones with a lot of dynamic varieties – this pedal is not for you.
Inside the Windowpane you’ll find two sequentially-wired silicon transistors that BBE touts are able to dial in a tone with a carefully selectable treble roll-off on the second transistor in order to imitate the slightly mellow top end of early germanium fuzz pedals (i.e.: the Fuzz Face). You’re probably thinking if the original germanium models are so prized, why not just use the original type of transistors? The reason for the move to silicon based transistors over the originals had to do with one thing: consistency. Those old germanium fuzz boxes were notorious for sounding great in one location and completely off the next. Not only that, two identical make and models might sound slightly different as well! According to Roger Mayer, Jimi’s guitar tech, Hendrix would buy half a dozen Fuzz Faces and mark the one he liked best only to find out that he didn't like in a different environment. Silicon on the other hand is remarkably consistent, as is the Windowpane. Also included are high-voltage poly caps to make sure that circuit board stays reliable after prolonged use. And yes, the Windowpane features true hard-wired bypass with no noticeable lag when switched off.
If you’re looking for a pedal that can dial in a huge variety of tones for a great deal of situations – the Windowpane (or most other fuzz pedals) is not for you. But if you’re looking for a consistent and reliable pedal that can easily call out the well known Hendrix fuzz tone with a simple turn of a knob, the Windowpane can easily deliver. It might have just one job on a pedalboard, but what it does, it does excellently.