Still potentially the most radical guitar effect out there when used in anger, the fuzzbox is also one of the earliest transistorized pedals available, landing on the scene long before milder forms of overdrive and other relatively polite effects. And the Maestro Fuzz-Tone is the granddaddy of them all.
First released in 1962, the Fuzz-Tone evolved from a circuit designed by Nashville studio engineer Glen Snotty, who was inspired by one of recording’s great “happy accidents” in the studio. Snotty first devised the circuit to produce a transistorized re-creation of the sound he’d heard when recording Marty Robbins’s 1961 hit record “Don’t Worry,” when the tube preamp in the mixer channel that Grady Martin’s short-scale Danelectro bass was plugged into went on the fritz and started producing an appealingly distorted sound. Maestro’s rendition carried just two controls, one for Attack—a.k.a. fuzz—and one for Volume, with a cord hard-wired to the input to connect to your guitar (After all, who carried two guitar cables back then?).
Inside, three juicy germanium transistors did the dirty work—two are more common in the majority of fuzz circuits—along with a mere handful of other components, and two 1.5-volt batteries to power the lot. In the mid ’60s, the circuit was altered somewhat from the original FZ-1 to the FZ-1A, seen here, although the look remained essentially the same. Until 1968, that is, when a new enclosure was introduced, aligning the Fuzz-Tone with other Maestro pedals.
Pedal and Photos Courtesy of Matt Baker, Action Music.
The fact that the producer decided to stick with Martin’s fuzzed-out bass track rather than re-record the faulty take, as most would have done, speaks volumes of the fuzz box’s potential appeal. Soon these things were all the rage, and, alongside the wah-wah pedal that came along later, the fuzz could arguably be considered the sound of ’60s rock. It’s interesting to note, then, that these were not usually marketed as weapons of rock-warriorhood, at least at first, but were sold as a means of allowing guitarists to replicate saxophone and trombone parts. That’s purportedly how Keith Richards intended his use of a Maestro Fuzz-Tone in 1965, too, when he tapped one to lay down a “holding place” for what was eventually to be a brass part on the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” As with the haired-up bass part that originated the sound four years previous, though, the resulting track was just too hip to ditch; the legendary Richards fuzz riff remained, and the fuzz box became a must-have for any aspiring rock ’n’ roller, or for that matter, any session guitarist tracking on the latest spaghetti western tune.
Wide tolerances within any run of germanium transistors meant that no two Maestro Fuzz-Tones were likely to sound the same, even two that came off the line on the same day. As a result, some fun can be had comparing a handful of vintage units—if you can get your hands on them—to find which is warm and creamy, which is edgy and raspy, and which is just all-out mayhem. Gibson reissued the FZ-1A briefly in the ’90s, and several boutique pedal makers such as Smitty Pedals, Analog Man, Catalin-bread, and Pierce Custom Instruments have produced clones (or near-clones) of the circuit. That being said, aside than the earliest examples, vintage originals are often less insanely priced than some other vintage gear from the era. However, given their temperamental and inconsistent nature, it’s always best to try out any Fuzz-Tone in person before purchasing.
> Controls for Attack and Volume
> Three germanium transistors
> Raunchy sustaining fuzz sound
> Hard-wired guitar cord for input