What’s the best thing to do with a classic fuzz sound? Sometimes the answer is, “let it be,” and other times, the answer is “let’s experiment with the circuit, shall we?” The results are in, and Shoe’s new Pixel has made an exciting debut. The Pixel combines both a traditional fuzz circuit and an “experimental” circuit. The latter produces some wild, synth-like tones that are reminiscent of those from an 8-bit video game.
Although the Pixel is ostensibly a pedal for bass players, guitarists ought to check it out—it’s simply one of those pedals that encourages experimentation and refinement of basic guitar techniques such as string bending and vibrato. This is part of the pedal’s learning curve, which designer and builder CJM Venter mentions in his notes on the pedal’s history.
The unit features two fuzz modes, each of which is selectable with the flip of a single toggle. The Easy mode tends toward a softer, more traditional fuzz. The alternative Hard mode is loud, and it delivers the sort of massive low end that many bass players cherish.
The Hard Mode provides the sort of exciting sound that promises hours of experimentation with one’s technique. That’s probably what’s best about this effect: it’s not a gimmick, but it’s also not going to do its job while the guitarist plays as usual. The Pixel has some of the most convincing synthesizer tones this reviewer has heard. Adjustments of the Low Pass knob resulted in true trebly chiptune tones, or warmer, cello-like swells. Turn back the Pinch knob just a bit with the Low Pass on the warmer side (below noon) and the Pixel will sustain for a long time. In this sort of setting, it was fun to play around with hammer-ons and pull-offs. In fact, the Pixel’s sustain was so good that this writer could play up and down the neck on a single low string without needing to pluck the string more than a couple of times. This is why the Pixel is so fun to use: it encourages the sort of playing techniques that seem to work best at high-gain settings.
High gain usually highlights sympathetic string vibrations and sloppiness of technique. However, the Pixel can “clean up” after its user with its handy noise gate, a feature that is essential to the synth-like quality of the distortion. The gate is sensitive enough to block single-coil hum, but it’s also capable of really clamping down on the signal to achieve a more staccato effect. In tandem with the Input Level control, the noise gate offers a wide range of tonal possibilities.
One thing to note: the Pixel does not use batteries, so a good 9VDC jack is necessary to power the thing. Some people might complain about this, but Venter says that he avoids batteries for environmental reasons. It’s a commendable stance and move, particularly because power adaptors are both readily available and in many ways preferable to short-lived batteries.
At least for this reviewer, the Pixel has been probably the most enjoyable and interesting fuzz pedal he’s tested in many months. It’s definitely going to enter his personal “best of 2016” list. Readers are strongly encouraged to have a listen to the Pixel while it’s hot.
What We Like:
Fun, genuinely synth-like fuzz that encourages experimentation with fundamental guitar techniques such as bending, vibrato, hammer-ons, and pull-offs.
None! Actually, knob labels would be nice, but they’re not essential.