Years ago, I became aware of the legendary (and then-unobtainable) Way Huge Swollen Pickle. It was worshipped by many, but also was synonymous with the Big Muff fuzz, to the point that I wasn't particularly interested in hearing the Swollen Pickle because I was already well-versed in the way of Muffs. However, shortly after the Swollen Pickle was reissued, my band went on tour with another band, and one of the guitarists had a Swollen Pickle. I gave it a spin at soundcheck and was thrilled to find that Way Huge had imbued its fuzz with some very interesting characteristics (and controls), notably a gated texture that was reminiscent of some germanium classics.
I've never had a chance (or need) to revisit the Swollen Pickle, so I was excited when the opportunity to review the Russian Pickle came up. However, a quick search dampened my enthusiasm: the Russian Pickle is a three-knob fuzz—just like a Muff—and unlike the Swollen Pickle, it's based on my least-favorite iteration of the Big Muff, the wooly, compressed, Russian-manufactured take, which was all that was available when I started playing guitar in the early '90s. I'm pleased to report my cynicism was unwarranted.
Yes, the Russian Pickle has but three knobs—Volume, Distortion and Tone—but there's a lot of texture to be had in there. With the fuzz rolled back, the Pickle sounds like a compressed JCM 800—articulate and aggressive. However, even with the Tone control cranked, the top end was subdued (but not dull). When I rolled the Distortion up the presence returned and, with the Distortion below noon, the Pickle cleaned up nicely with my volume knob. It won't provide the sparkle of a Fuzz Face, but you can definitely control the saturation with your volume knob.
But dynamic, amp-like tone isn't the reason you're interested in the Russian Pickle, is it? No, you want fuzz, and you want it all, and the Russian Pickle has gobs of it. Like the Russian-built Big Muffs, the Russian Pickle is both woolly and compressed. However, like the Swollen Pickle, the Russian Pickle has a very interesting gated texture to it. Indeed, at most normal settings, it sounds like a cocked wah running into an old-school two- or three-transistor fuzz. Now, that's a sound I absolutely love, and I have to go through some contortions to get that sound out of my rig. The billowing low end of the Russian Muff is there, as is the endless sustain, but the dark-but-nasal resonant peak of the Russian Pickle cuts—and compels—in a way that the Russian Muffs never did.
Immediately, I dove into my favorite Mick Ronson and Cream riffs, but no mater how I tweaked the knobs I couldn't seem to dial this (excellent) character out of the pedal. Interestingly, the effect was greatly minimized with P-90s, which have their own mid-range honk when used with dirt. I assume the respective mid-range characteristics were complementary, adding up to a kind of evening out of the EQ response.
The other means by which I was able to minimize the Russian Pickle's (still-excellent) midrange character was by running an overdrive into it. What was unusual about this is my OD has a flat—if not scooped—EQ curve, so why the pedal would smooth the Russian Pickle's response, I don't know. It also tightened the fuzz's low end and, of course, added compression and sustain, resulting in a more traditional Muff tone that still maintained enough of the Russian Pickle's basic characteristics to sound distinctive.
What We Like: The corpulent fuzz and singing sustain that you'd expect from this type of fuzz, married to a distinctive attack that's relatively unique among fuzzes.
Concerns: None, really, but users should make sure they appreciate this fuzz texture as much as I do.