Presenting one of the most interesting pedals of 2021, Earthquaker Devices recently released Hizumitas: a jackalope-laden three-knob fuzz pedal designed in collaboration with guitarist Wata from Boris.
If you're into experimental rock or metal and you haven't been under a rock for the last thirty years, you probably know Boris: a shape-shifting band that has slowly evolved from albums of hardcore punk and doom-like sludge to a polystylistic outfit incorporating elements of drone, industrial, ambient, shoegaze, and more. Comprised of multi-instrumentalists Takeshi (guitar/bass/vocals), Wata (guitar/keyboards/accordion/vocals), and Atsuo (drums/vocals), their work seems to take a new turn with every release...and given that they have released over twenty studio albums, pinning down a clear idea of what the band is like is, well, challenging.
What's fair to say is that they favor dense, heavy, dark textures with spitting, crusty, feedback-laden guitar tones, sludgy riffs, and expansive soundscapes from doomy drones to dreampop-like cavernous spaces. So when Earthquaker started teasing videos that implied an impending collaboration with Wata, we were thrilled to imagine how that might take shape...and Hizumitas doesn't disappoint.
What the Heck is a Fuzz Sustainar?
Hizumitas aims to recreate the sound and behavior of one of Wata's best-loved tone-shaping tools, the Elk Super Fuzz Sustainar. The Elk Super Fuzz Sustainar is itself part of a curious chapter of effect pedal history: an early clone of the "triangle" era Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi, produced by the Japenese company Hoshino Gakki, under the brand name Electro Sound, and later, Elk. In those days, there were a lot of imitations of brand name circuits produced by different companies—and the Elk Super Fuzz Sustainar is a favorite go-to in conversations surrounding such clones of the early Big Muff.
In teaming up with Wata to produce Hizumitas, Earthquaker Devices compared several vintage Big Muffs and several variations of the vintage Elk clones...only to realize that internally, there were significant differences between all of them. As such, Wata provided her personal Elk Sustainar to EQD...and according to their own site, they realized that her Sustainar was unlike all of the others they had tried. Having her specific unit on hand, they were able to get it under the microscope to produce as true and authentic a recreation as possible...complete with its peculiar combination of grittiness, low end, and the clarity needed to stand out in even the densest and darkest of mixes.
Hizumitas's three controls are fairly straightforward: V (Volume), S (Sustain), and T (Tone). The volume knob is a simple output volume control, which, given the intensity of its other controls, you'll be grateful for. Sustain is, in classic Big Muff fashion, a control for the amount of sustain—bringing with it a continuous blend of unique saturation characteristics. One of the most profound ways to vary Hizumitas's sound, though, is through the Tone control, which left of 12:00 boosts high frequencies and right of 12:00 boosts lows. Finding even a single setting for Sustain and varying the Tone, you can approach everything from building-shattering bass tones to snarling, slippery high-end break-up. This is where it becomes blatantly obvious that Hizumitas isn't just a clone of a Big Muff clone: it has its own bizarre, unique, and vast range of colors that nothing else we've used can accomplish with such a minimal set of controls.
Providing tons of sustain and everything from smooth distortion textures to ripped speaker fuzz, Hizumitas's most stand-out feature is that it somehow maintains a fizzy sonic edge...providing a clarity that you typically wouldn't assume possible of something so sludgy and aggressive. Whether you're playing power chords, leads, single-note riffs, or relatively open chords, the sound of your playing will come through clearly without significant undesirable mud. Unlike some fuzzes, it works great with an enormous range of pickup configurations—and every guitar we've played it with so far sounds unique and fantastic. We've also tried it out with synths, drum machines, and bass—and holy crap it sounds amazing on all of them (see EarthQuaker's own demo video for further proof). It's hard to imagine that I'll ever want to hear a bass again without it—there's so much high-end spit and fizz that it makes it a breeze to get your bass lines to stand out in a mix.
Hizumitas is a testament to both Jamie Stillman (founder/designer of EQD) and Wata's genius: both of them took notice of a special sound and have turned it into something more. For Wata, the Elk Sustainar is one of many little factors that have helped create a meaningful, personal, and just outright fun listening experience for countless listeners over the course of the last several decades...and for Stillman and Wata together, Hizumitas will no doubt prove a defining part of many more musicians' as-of-yet unheard sounds. It will prove an inspiration for plenty of aspiring guitarists, bassists, and noise music weirdos—and hearing what they do with it is gonna be a hell of a ride.
Note: If you haven't heard it yet, check out Boris's "Reincarnation Rose" video on EarthQuaker's YouTube channel—it'll give you a taste of what Boris is all about and what Hizumitas can do!