Black Arts Toneworks Pharaoh & LSTR Fuzz Pedals
By Scott Auld
We’ve been pretty busy here at the Official TGP Pedal Test Drive Facility – also known as Scott Auld’s House. We received some extremely interesting pedals last month, and have had a chance to send them for a few laps around the test track. Here’s what we found.
Mark at Black Arts Toneworks (blackartstoneworks.blogspot.com)sent us their brilliant Pharaoh fuzz pedal, a stunning “tuxedo” model, which is a sharp black and white color scheme that just pops off the pedalboard. He also included his amazing LSTR fuzz in a gorgeous, powder coated maroon enclosure.
The Pharaoh is, in a nutshell, a tricked-out hot-rodded version of the classic muff-style fuzz circuit, sharing the general overall circuit topology, but with three major areas of differentiation that offer functionality and tonal options not found on any of the production versions of that famous pedal. Let's start with input resistance switch, the "Hi/Lo" switch, which toggles between two resistors that dictate the level of guitar output signal that gets amplified by the first gain stage. The Pharaoh's "Lo" setting reduces the input stage gain quite a bit more than any of the known muff-style versions. The "Hi" setting is identical to what is present in the several of the major muff-style production versions commercially available.
Also provided is a diode selector switch – labeled "Ge/Si". It is three-position switch that selects between 1) silicon diodes (symmetric), 2) germanium diodes (asymmetric), and 3) no diodes, used as feedback clippers in the third gain stage. A stock Big Muff (all known versions) will have silicon diodes in symmetry for both the second and third gain stages. Opting for the germanium diodes will give more compression, sustain, and fuzz, but will also drop the volume and reduce dynamics. Opting for no diodes in one of the gain stages offers a fair bit more output volume, less clipping, and more dynamic response.
The Pharaoh's "Tone" and "High" filter controls appear to have been born from the original muff-style filter network, but they end up being quite a bit different. Most obviously, there are two controls instead of just one, with the extra control adding the ability to fine-tune the high end portion of the tone stack.
There is an overall emphasis in the filtering of the Pharaoh, from input to output, for maintaining low end. It is also designed to be a louder, lower-gain pedal than a typical muff-style fuzz, especially when set to "Lo" with no clipping diodes for the third gain stage.
That’s all great, but how do they sound?
The Pharaoh is a very versatile workingman’s fuzz. It produces excellent clipping sounds that are harsher than your mild OD, but not into insane shredder distortion. The “LSTR” pedal, with its gorgeous ruby-red powder coat and stunning scarab beetle graphic, is a stripped down, Mr. Hyde version of the Pharaoh. No toggle switches, just a straight-ahead silicon diode fuzz with a lot more gain available than the Pharaoh. It’s prettier to look at, but it will just knock you over with its insane gritty nasty fuzz tone. If you’re looking for massive rock tones, the LSTR is your beast of burden and turmoil. Talk about low end, the pedal seems to absorb tone straight out of the basement.
So look, It’s simple: if you’re just looking for a cool, easy to use fuzz that’s a little more aggressive, lean towards the LSTR. If you want a bit of variety and more control, get the Pharaoh. Or, if you absolutely have to have the best stuff on your board, just get both.