The Unpleasant Surprise’s footswitch engages and disengages the device. The Tone switch can be set for ‘dark’ or ‘bright.’ Depending on your amp and guitar tone’s settings, the dark may seem unusually dark (not muddy), but upping treble on either amp or guitar clears it up while maintaining the pedal’s ‘dark’ nature. The brighter setting does sound better to my ears, but when you want that heavy doom and gloom sound the darker setting cannot be beat. The Onset knob opens and closes the Gate so that when turned to about 9-o’clock you can chug or play some heavy riffs, stop on a dime and not hear a bit of noise. Of course, if you allow longer chords to play openly without muting you will hear the sound sputter away quickly to nothingness. As the Onset turns clockwise the Gate is less effective and the tone becomes one of smooth and velvety distortion/fuzz. However, crank that Onset beyond 1-o’clock and you get thick saturated fuzz. The Gain function pushes the circuit harder so that you get more sustain and saturation (I like this with lead); and Crunch adds a hefty grain into the mix, ideal if you want a heavier sounding rhythm. Combined and you get a bit of nasty chaos, but all is good… depending where the Onset is. When including either Gain or Crunch (or both) the signal is clearer with Onset turned counter-clockwise and away from 12-noon; the sound goes more oddball past 12-noon (to the point of radio static when turned up full). Regardless of the settings, the output is quite clear and the wide variation of possible sounds inspirational.
The Unpleasant Surprise decent headroom, and so keep the Volume turned down upon initial powering up in case the pedal is in the ‘on’ position. You can select a darker or brighter tone with the toggle switch (labeled ‘T’). You can add Gain (G) and/or Crunch (C) as well. Gain pushes the circuit harder for even more pronounced fuzz saturation, whereas the Crunch thickens up the ‘grain’ in the signal for fatter and heavier notes. The Onset knob opens and closes the Gate. Effectiveness of the Gate depends on the sensitivity of your pickups, but also how hard you play. When turned all the way counterclockwise you likely will not hear anything no matter how much Pete Townsend’s windmill technique you muster. About 8- 9-o’clock and you get into punchy riff and chugging territory; around 12-noon or greater and there is decent sustain without worrying notes will cut off prematurely.
Measuring 60mm(D) × 110mm (W) × 45mm (H with knobs) or 2.36 (D) x 4.33 (W) x 1.77 (H) inches, The Unpleasant Surprise is a solid built pedal made from raw aluminum with engraved lettering (both certainly give an awesome hardcore and industrial look, which holds true of all Fairfield Circuitry pedals). The footswitch has a solid click when engaging and disengaging the pedal, although no popping in the signal when switched on. The two plastic knobs (Volume and Onset) are of standard and good quality plastic, and the pots feel very solid and smooth when turned. The three toggle switches (Tone, Gain and Crunch) have a solid ‘snap in place’ feel and the switches are long enough for quick and easy manipulation. The footswitch is offset to the knobs and switches and all cables (Input, Output and power supply) are far removed from the footswitch as well, thus avoiding possible damage from regular stomping and occasional foot slippage. The Unpleasant Surprise requires a 9VDC to 9.6VDC standard power supply (negative tip), drawing only 15mA of power.
An ‘experimental fuzz/gate, the Tone and settings with this pedal vary considerably; it offers up some decent Rock-type crunch and distortion, but also full blown super-saturated fuzz – and everything between. Now, although The Unpleasant Surprise can behave and provide gnarly rhythm and biting leads, integrating the Gain and/or Crunch while setting the Onset ‘just right’ does produce outlandish results. Potential sounds may be chaotic and even agitating, but also musical (although not suitable for Country and Western “my dog just died” songs… or maybe… hmmmm?). Fairfield Circuitry describes it nicely: “Reminisce about the time you got your shoulder caught in the reciprocating saw while this unit destroys your slick jazz lines; the fruit of an oddball circuit, hanging there awkwardly by some parasitic effect. Tweaked, bended and shoe-horned to optimize it's stench, its unpleasance. Time has come to turn all dynamics to ****. Strangely, it feels very natural.” At $259 CAD (about $200 USD) the Unpleasant Surprise is more costly than the average pedal, but concurrently has both very usable and oddly unique sounds. It works well with Psychedelic, Stoner and Proto-Metal type music and its clear output cuts through the mix effectively. There are no particular limitations to The Unpleasant Surprise, since it performs well, does what it claims and sounds great. However, an added bonus would be having the Gate work independently from the Fuzz, so that the Gate function could be used with other pedals or high-gain amps.