What do you expect your modular synthesizer to sound like? Warm, bright and clean, maybe? What about harsh, destructive and aggressive? If that is your goal then a dedicated module for this task should be in your rack. In this post we are talking about some candidates that are specialists for distortion, fuzz and overdrive. And to be honest, warm, bright, harsh and aggressive do not exclude themselves. They might not always be achievable at the same time but it is all in these versatile distortion, overdrive or fuzz modules.
Let’s do a little excursion first. What is the difference of distortion, overdrive and fuzz? We won’t b looking into too much technical details but focus more on the sound. It is possible to say that an overdrive effect is gentler and less aggressive than a fuzz effect, with distortion being somewhere in-between. With overdrive you get a warmer sound that can be related to the sound of overdriving a tube amp – and it will become harsher by turning up the input volume. Distortion circuits usually sound pretty much the same with different input volumes. The result is more distinct and richer with overtones. To get even more overtones from an effects module you should choose something like a fuzz effect. These work on your input signal to bend it close to being squared. Despite these basic characteristics it is very common to find quite some overlap of overdrive, distortion and fuzz in single modules or pedals – not only in a technical sense, but mostly in the audible results.
For more information on this topic, and some historical background on the evolution of these effect types as guitar pedals there can be found an abstract from the book “Guitar Effects Pedals: The Practical Handbook” online.
(distortion and overdrive)
The Vermona VCDrive might be the most gentle and exquisite module of those presented here. It sound palette goes from mild and warm saturation to a classic distortion sound. The amount of drive can be modulated by the CV input, which gives you more creative options than using a guitar pedal for your distortion duties. The small form factor and high built quality make the Vermona VCDrive an interesting option for all kinds of saturation, distortion and overdrive tasks in your rack – except maybe total destruction of your signal.
(new-old-stock east-german germanium distortion and fuzz)
The Strakal Brulu Koavonek has been on the market for some years now and has gained a loyal fan-base. This a good indication of the quality of this module. It is a pretty unique sounding circuit that has a deep lively sound to it due to the coupling of fuzz and feedback. It is on the wilder side of the available distortion modules and wants to be played. The feedback encourages to play with the different parameters and to ride on the edge of the Strakal starting to scream. All in all the Strakal Brulu wants attention and immediately starts a conversation with you.
The Pit Viper is a circuit by the Indian manufacturer Animal Factory Amplification. Coming from developing guitar pedals, Animal Factory Amplification entered the eurorack market with the Pit Viper – an uncompromising overdrive module. It features an expressive input stage, soft- and hard-clipping, lots of tone-shaping like four different filter types and saturation options. With all these options there is a lot of sonic potential to be explored, and because of three CV-inputs the results can be very complex. And if you feel like the Pit Viper has bitten too deep into your signal there is the handy dry/wet knob to dial in just enough of the processed signal you like. … and, one important note from the manual: Please keep the Viper away from cats! – If there is not a cat in your studio, please adopt a four-legged friend!
(germanium distortion and fuzz)
ZVEX is also more a guitar pedal company than a modular manufacturer. With its long tradition in making distortion, fuzz and overdrive circuits they finally adapted an all-time classic the Fuzz Factory to eurorack. The Fuzz Factory comes with a traditional ZVEX design, these little paintings that made their pedals so easy to spot on crowded pedal boards. The original Fuzz Factory was one of the first self-oscillating germanium distortion pedals when it came out in the mid-1990s and has gained lots of fans since this time and it is used by many professional musician in studios and stages around the world. The eurorack version now lets you play with this classic effect that really comes to life with all the new CV inputs – all parameters, except the level switch, are voltage controllable, providing for a magnificent, non-static sound.
Whatever your goals are for mangling your original clean signal – these are some of the specialists in classic overdrive, distortion and fuzz territory that has been covered by guitar pedal companies for the last 50 years. There are of cause other ways to achieve similar effects or way more complex effects. Especially within modular synthesizers there a lots of ways to overdrive or clip signals or go even further and wavefold and waveshape your signal. But this is another topic with lots of different options.
This is by no means a complete overview of the available modules or a full review of the modules discussed. The what about… texts are here to give you new ideas and maybe another perspective on things. All these modules offer more features than we have talked about in this post. For further information please click the provided links or – even better – visit the shop and ask the SchneidersLaden experts in the showroom.