Boris: Fuzz for the People – demo & review

Full disclosure: I am friends with a couple folks at Nordstrand Audio, including the designer/builder of this pedal. I have received no compensation for this review and purchased my pedal at full retail price.

Price: $219 +tax

Available at the Nordstrand Audio website.

Rocket Surgeon is the new pedal division of Nordstrand Audio, known for their pickups. The first pedal in the lineup was the Seratone Mood Altering Fuzz, a bass fuzz, but their second outing is Boris: Fuzz for the People. The pedal is an attempt to create a fuzz that self-corrects the massive mid-scoop fuzz pedals typically have. In the studio, this isn’t an issue, as tracks will be extensively EQ’d and tweaked to sit properly in the mix anyway. It can be a problem in a live setting though, especially when used for solos. The obvious fix is to pair your fuzz with an EQ that brings the mids back, but it would be a lot easier if those mids just weren’t sucked out to begin with!

But before we get to the sounds Boris makes, let’s take a look at what comes in the box. Boris comes with more box swag than I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure if all this goodness is a special bonus for folks who got one of the first few or not, but there’s some cool stuff in here. My box included the following: two Dr. Von Fuzzbrauer stickers, two different Rocket Surgeon stickers, a mini Boris logo pin, a Nordstrand Audio pin and sticker, four self-adhesive rubber feet, and a piece of Velcro (hook side). The pedal itself was inside a silk pouch, and the box was filled with some shredded red paper. The black and red motif makes a bold statement that really gets you excited to plug this thing in. One thing I noticed is conspicuously missing is any warranty info. This may just be an omission for the first batch, however, and I’m sure one could just contact the company with any troubles. Including both the rubber feet and some Velcro is a nice consideration, especially since I don’t need to remove the feet myself, which is often the first thing I’ve got to do when putting a new pedal on my board.

Okay, that’s all great, but how’s it sound? Honestly, it’s a lot less fizzy and noisy than I expected. That’s probably got more to do with my inexperience with higher end fuzz pedals than anything else, but it was a pleasant surprise. The pedal sports three knobs (volume, tone, and fuzz) which behave how you would expect. Even with the fuzz control maxed out, Boris doesn’t push the noise floor up much at all. Most other fuzz pedals require a noise gate or constant tap dancing to keep it from filling any empty space with feedback and white noise, but I found myself sitting in near silence whenever I muted the strings. I anticipated something more akin to the Big Muff or the Fuzz Face, with a lot of high end crackle and pop, but Boris creates a really musical distortion that never once conjured up mental images of a VU meter about to snap off or the clip light on a mix channel begging for my attention. I’d actually put this in some sort of weird fuzz/overdrive hybrid category. It’s definitely a hard clipped sound, but there’s a smoothness to it that makes me less reticent to use it in situations where I might otherwise be reluctant to use such an aggressive effect.

The pedal cleans up great too. At lower fuzz levels it creates a sound similar to a blown speaker, and at the minimum setting it adds a nice bit of saturation and a pleasant mid-hump to your tone (especially with single coils).

The real thing that sets it apart is a control I haven’t mentioned yet: the Nuclear/Doom switch. A toggle switch beneath the tone knob allows you to flip between Nuclear and Doom settings. The Doom setting sounds more like a typical fuzz EQ: no mids and a ton of bass. I haven’t spent too much time with this setting, as I often found the Nuclear setting to yield more useful tones. The Nuclear setting reshapes the EQ, taming the bass a bit and bringing the mids back into the mix. The result is a much fuller sound that should do a good job cutting through when solo time comes around. I keep a Boss GE-7 on my board that has a mid-boost and a slight low-end roll off. I use it as my “solo button”. Switching between the Nuclear and Doom settings resulted in a comparable change in tone.
Overall, I’m more than pleased with the pedal. I anticipated it would be something I kept on my board for the occasional moment where a ridiculous amount of noise and buzz was just what I needed (like the heavy part in Creep), but after spending the afternoon toying with it, I have a feeling I’ll be using it a lot more than I initially intended to.