Fuzz Pedal Investigation

Italian version here

While Fuzz may not have been the first guitar effect ever invented—preceded by effects like echo and reverberation—it forever revolutionized the way guitars are played.

The first built Fuzz was the Maestro FuzzTone FZ-1, designed in 1962 in the USA by Gibson Electronics of Kalamazoo. Initially, FZ-1 sales were unimpressive until Keith Richards used it to record the riff for ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ in 1965. Subsequently, reissues such as FZ-1A and FZ-1B were produced. Detailed information on FZ-1, including audio samples of various models, can be found here.

Although Americans designed the first Fuzz, it was the British who revolutionized its circuit.

In 1965, Gary Hurst, now residing in Italy, modified one of these FZ-1s to provide more sustain, based on requests from musicians around the Macari brothers’ shop (Solasound, later Colorsound) in London. This led to the creation of the first Tonebender MKI. Successively, various modifications were made to the Tonebender circuit, resulting in MKII, MKIII, and MKIV.  Accurate reproductions of Tonebender (MK I,5, and MKII) have been crafted by David Main of DAM effects.

A famous relative of Tonebender is the Fuzz Face, developed in 1966. Its circuit is similar to the 1966 Tonebender (MKI,5 model with two transistors), producing a less piercing and darker sound. A detailed history of Fuzz Face is available here.

The circuit of a fuzz is straightforward, but component choice and assembly make a difference. Initially, germanium transistors were used, but they were later replaced by more reliable silicon transistors from the early 1970s, albeit with a different tonal quality.

In 1970, Electro Harmonix began designing the ‘Big Muff,’ introduced in 1971. Jimi Hendrix is said to have collaborated in its design. The Big Muff has a more complex circuit with 4 transistors, offering a ‘bigger’ sound with extended sustain. It gained popularity in the indie rock scene in the late 1980s (Mudhoney, Dinosaur Jr., Smashing Pumpkins). For enthusiasts, everything about this famous fuzz can be found here.

The 1970s saw a surge in pedal construction by guitar and amplifier manufacturers (Fender, Gibson, Guild, Mosrite, De Armond, Maxon/Ibanez). The first pedals with integrated circuits (op-amps) emerged in the mid-1970s. In 1973, the MXR Distortion + and the Dod 250 Overdrive were introduced, marking a shift from fuzz to distortion and overdrive. In 1977, Roland launched the Boss brand, introducing pedals like the OD-1, and Ibanez introduced the Tubescreamer.

The late 1970s also witnessed the advent of ‘multi-effects’ pedals combining wah, fuzz, and volume. In Italy, Gary Hurst launched his ‘Electronic Sounds’ brand in 1976, producing stompboxes. However, the 1980s marked a departure from single-pedal effects, with a shift towards rack systems, both analog and digital.

Towards the end of the 1980s, there was a resurgence of interest in analog effects, notably in the American indie rock scene (e.g., Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff), later labeled as ‘grunge’ in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

During this period, DIY pioneers began making strides. The advent of the internet and forums like Aron Nelson’s DIY Stompbox Forum facilitated the exchange of information, leading to the emergence of boutique pedal builders in the early 1990s, such as ‘Way Huge,’ ‘Zvex,’ ‘Prescription Electronics,’ ‘Analog Man,’ and ‘Lovetone.’

Fuzz Chronology (A timeline of ‘significant’ fuzz pedals that have influenced the market or brought about a notable change. A comprehensive global chronology is not the aim, considering some fuzz models merely change names and cases while replicating other circuits.)

1962 Gibson Electronics Maestro FuzzTone FZ-1

1965 SolaSound Tonebender MkI
1965 John Hornby Skewes Zonk Machine (or 66?)
1965 WEM PEP fuzz
1965 Vox Distortion Booster

1966 Vox Tonebender MK I,5 MkII
1966 Dallas-Arbiter fuzz Face
1966 Marshall Supa FuzZ
1966 Mosrite Fuzzrite
1966 Roger Mayer Octavia
1966 Burns Buzzaround
1966 John Hornby Skewes Zonk Machine

1967 Astro Amp Astrotone
1967 Aul Instruments Foxy lady

1968 Guild Foxy lady
1968 Electro harmonix Axis fuzz
1968 Univox Super fuzz
1968 Fender Blender
1968 Sola sound MKIII
1968 Montarbo Synphoton

1969 jennings electronic industries FUZZ (cyclone?)
1970 Tycobrahe Octavia
1971 Electro Harmonix Big Muff
1972 Roland AF100 Bee Baa
1972 Colorsound overdriver
1972 Foxx Tone Machine
1973 Roland AD50 Double Beat Fuzz/Wah
1974 Colorsound Jumbo Tone Bender
1975 Roland AF60 Bee Gee Fuzz
1979 Silversound Fuzz
1993 Boss FZ-2 Hyper Fuzz
1995 Lovetone Big Cheese
1995 Zvex Fuzz Factory
1996 Way Huge Swollen Pickle
1997 Boss FZ-3 Fuzz
2002 T-Pedals T-Fuzz
2004 DAM Meathead