1965. The year where African-American’s were given the right to vote in the USA, Gemini Space Program continued working towards getting man to the moon and of course, the year that the Sola Sound MK I Tonebender was released.
The Tonebender was designed by Gary Stewart Hurst. The MK I was a three transistor circuit based on the Gibson Maestro Fuzz-tone that Hurst modified to produce more sustain. The first version of this Tone Bender is referred to as the Tone Bender MKI. The story goes that guitar legend Vic Flick, the man responsible for the James Bond Theme, brought a Fuzz-tone (FZ-1) to Hurst and requested the sustain to be increased. The Tone Bender was one the first ever British made Fuzz box available to the public and sold for 14 guineas. It was housed in a folded steel chassis and finished in gold & black Hammerite paint with some of the very early units housed in a wooden and steel enclosure.
The first few available Tone Benders were sold as Gary Hurst designed units and were not sold as Sola Sound pedals. These pedals had what appears to be dry letter transfers for the labelling which was hand applied, note how little labelling is actually left intact on the above example. Probably only a very small number were made before the pedal was labeled using a silk screened approach. These silk screened MKI’s did state the unit as a “Sola Sounds Ltd” pedal.
You can hear the sounds of Jeff Beck’s MK I on the Yardbirds track “Heartful of Soul”.
As well as that, Mick Ronson used the MKI Tone Bender in David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars band and it was also a Tonebender MK I that Paul McCartney used on his bass track for The Beatles 1965 “Think for Yourself”.
Next Monday we’ll take a look at 1966, and the countless fuzz pedals that were released over the course of 12 months, as well as some of pedals that still exist in some form today.
Welcome back to the journey through the history of the fuzz pedal. We’ll pick up in 1962, the year where things started to happen…
Ah, 1962. The year that the Maestro Fuzz-Tone (FZ-1) was born. In the US, engineer Glen Snoddy, seeing fuzz tone becoming increasingly popular since it appeared in the bass solo (caused by a faulty tube preamp) on Marty Robbins song Don’t Worry, creates a transistor circuit to replicate the fuzz tone. Glen states (in the book Fuzz and Feedback by Tony Bacon) : “Later when I found out what it was, I set about trying to develop that sound using transistors. We fooled around with it and got the sound like we wanted. I drove up to Chicago and presented it to Mr. Berlin, the boss at the Gibson company, and he heard that it was something different. So they agreed to take it and put it out as a commercial product.”
Gibson becomes the first to the market with a mass produced consumer fuzz circuit. The first production version was built into Gibson bass guitars, then later in a stand-alone floor pedal form (FZ-1). The design is credited to Snoddy and fellow Tennesseean Revis V. Hobbs, an engineer with the famous WSM Radio in Nashville. Many other fuzz pedals that would follow were knockoffs or modifications of this first transistorized fuzz circuit. The FZ-1 is generally accepted as the first production fuzz pedal ever made, and the pedal that would later spawn the British fuzz tone craze. Gibson expected the pedal to be very popular and made over 5000 units on the first run. It was a disappointingly poor seller, but sales would finally come later in 1965.
The first chart-topping track recorded using a commercially available fuzz box was the Rolling Stones 1965 track “Satisfaction” using the Gibson Maestro fuzztone.
Despite the availability of the Maestro Fuzztone, Dave Davies of “The Kinks” achieved his fuzz sound using an old school blues method, a torn speaker cone. In Davies case he had purposely slashed his speaker cone with a razor blade. He ran his “modified” amp through a AC30 to record the 1964 track “You Really Got Me”.
Next up on the journey through fuzz is the year 1965, so stay tuned (or whatever the online equivalent is…) for more fuzz based knowledge. Post number three will be up next Monday!
1950s – The Rise of Distorted Guitar in Blues, R&B, and Rock and Roll
Distorted guitar sounds have been around since the first electric guitar was created and cranked to maximum through an amplifier. No one accidentally ‘discovered’ it, although occasionally accidents caused amplifiers to distort, which were then intentionally recorded because people liked the sound. While initially musicians desired clean guitar amplification, thus distortion was frowned upon, in the growing rock and blues arena of the late 1940s through the 1950s distorted guitar was becoming something very intentional. This timeline focuses on the first electronic circuits created specifically to make a guitar sound distort, but there are many earlier examples of people doing this by driving amps to the maximum levels in order to make them distort. Fuzz boxes were specifically created to make it easier to achieve these sounds. Here are a few early, pre fuzz box examples of recorded guitar/amp distortion.
Recording session engineer Glen Snoddy records Marty Robbin’s hit Don’t Worry in Nashville, Tennessee USA. So the story goes (there are several versions), an accident causes a Langevin tube amp module in the mixing console to blow a transformer, making Grady Martin‘s bass guitar on the song have a fuzzy, distorted tone. The decision is made to keep this unique “fuzz” bass solo as part of the final song, supposedly recorded in late 1960, but not released as a single that year. It first appeared in January 1961 on a greatest hits album. It shot to the #1 spot in the country charts in February. This is generally accepted as the first recorded “fuzz tone” circuit, although Sanford Clark’s Go On Home also featured a fuzz box and was actually recorded earlier that year. Grady Martin continued to use this fuzz tone effect in his recordings, including an instrumental called The Fuzz in January 1961. Country musicians, mostly from the Nashville area, picked up on the fad and featured fuzz tone guitar on various recordings for the next few years. These included songs recorded by Carl Butler, Claude Gray, Darrel McCall, and Glen Garrison.
California pedal steel player, session musician, and electronics technician Orville ‘Red’ Rhodes creates a fuzz circuit for use in the recording studio, housed in a small metal box with a distortion level knob and bypass switch. No production version of the pedal was ever made, although Red made several of these Rhodes fuzz boxes for fellow musicians, including Nokie Edwards of The Ventures and Billy Strange. Some sources state the Rhodes fuzz was actually made in 1962, and that Red was inspired to make it after hearing Marty Robbin’s hit Don’t Worry. However, Billy Strange used it on a recording in 1961, and Nokie Edwards of the Ventures stated he was also using it 1961. Other reports say Rhodes actually made the first one in 1960. You can listen to it here, the fuzzy goodness starts at about 1:26:
This however was just the start. In the next post, we’ll look at the developments that took place in 1962, and the release of the first commercial fuzz pedal.
To further expand on the NI Science Festival, Thom interviewed another musician who will be performing on the 28th of February in the Black Box.
Adnan Marquez is a saxophonist, improviser, researcher, computer musician, composer, and sound artist. He received his PhD from the Sonic Arts Research Centre, Queen’s University Belfast. His research mainly focuses on the development of skill with digital musical interactions and how this process informs the design of new musical devices. His music involves improvisation and electronic manipulation of sounds in real-time. His first recording, “The Paradox of Continuity”, was released in 2007 under the Californian label, Circumvention Music. As a producer under the alias duplex helix, he released the “Bonds EP” in 2011. He has participated in numerous projects with musicians from California, Mexico and Northern Ireland. He is a co-founder of the Mexican improvisation collective Generacion Espontanea and the multimedia collective N0R73 (now OpenL4B.Norte_Hackerspace).
1) Adnan, can you tell me a bit about yourself and your musical background?
Well, I’m a Mexican native that landed in Belfast to start a PhD in sonic arts some 4 years ago. Now, I’m a postdoc at the Sonic Arts Research Centre (SARC). I am trained as a saxophonist, both Jazz and Classical, but I’ve always had improvisation as a focus in my practice. In my university studies I began doing Free Jazz/improvisation. I have also a master’s degree in music technology from CCRMA. So I’m very keen in exploring the spaces between a lot of musical practices, particularly those involving technology and improvisation.
2) How would you describe the music you make?
It’s a hard question to answer, to be honest. I think that I have a lot of musical facets. I mean, I can do straight ahead Jazz and properly written Classical music. But in recent times I’ve also developed a persona for beat-making (February is Dilla month!). That’s in addition to my improvisational music. So I guess it come down to trying to somehow blend some, if not all, of these elements into my own music. It can be noisy and loud or it can be soft and contemplative. Or it can be neither, it depends.
3) What would you say have been your biggest influences on the music you make?
It’s another hard question, since I’ve had different influences at different points in my life. Reducing this to a single person or work would do injustice to all parties involved.
4) Could you briefly describe your setup and instruments you use?
I will use both of my homemade bass clarinets. One uses an embedded speaker and microphone to create feedback and process that with an outboard FX unit. The second clarinet has multiple pipes, so it’s a weird one to play because it’s so unstable. But because they are keyless, the music is drone-like. In addition to this, I use a small (4-8 chan) mixer, as well as a few homemade sound making circuits.
5) Do the instruments/setup you use influenced your compositional approach?
Definitely. As I mentioned before, the keyless nature of the wind instruments makes playing drones easy. But I also want to add a bit of variety so that there’s more motion to that. There’s where the other trinkets come into play. Not sure if I will play the saxophone, but you never know. That adds another layer of sound and of ideas.
6) Do certain elements of your setup allow greater or less freedom when improvising?
Sure. Some of my instruments are very limited in terms of the things they do. But at the same time, being limited in that sense gives me the challenge to make something interesting out of very simple means. I subscribe to the idea of being free by having very strict constraints.
7) Are you looking forward to playing the Blackbox as part of the NI Science Festival on Sat 28th Feb?
Definitely! I love the space and the crowds there. I’m also keen on meeting the other people performing in the event and see/hear what they do. I think it’s an exciting opportunity, so I’m glad for the invite.
If you fancy learning a bit more about Adnan, you can have a read of his website here: https://duplexhelixmusic.wordpress.com
Oh, and don’t forget! On February 28th Maker present a night of handmade music in The Black Box, Hill Street in Belfast. It’s £8 in and you’d be crazy to miss it. (Geographically depending, of course.)
Following on from the previous post about the super cool NI Science Fest, Thom interviewed a few musicians who will be taking part in the handmade electronic music night. All information can be found here: http://www.nisciencefestival.com/event.php?e=196
First up is Anthony Kelly, who gives us an insight into the kind of music he makes, his influences and how he goes about getting his sound…
1) Anthony, how would you describe the music you and David Stalling make, and how long have you been working together?
We have been improvising together for around 5 or 6 years in different combinations. Often as a duo and sometimes with other artists. Sometimes the performances can have passages that are intensely quiet which can then be balanced by outbursts of pure noise. We have also performed with other sound artists such as Danny McCarthy, Mick O’Shea, Irene Murphy, Steve Roden, David Toop, Jennifer Walshe, Stephen Vitiello amongst others.
2) What would you say have been your biggest influences on the music you make?
I am interested in the works of Nam June Paik, Agnes Martin, Rolf Julius, Robert Ryman, John Cage and the Fluxus movement.
3) Could you briefly describe your setup and instruments you use?
The instruments on my floor & table surfaces include found objects, radios, various types of paper, table guitar and various small percussion instruments. Often I like to incorporate field recordings into the unfolding improvised composition.
4) Have the instruments/setup you use influenced your compositional approach?
I try to vary the instruments and devices that I use within each performance. Before a performance I try not to think too much about what devices I might want to use but often I find the very first sound(s) that I (or we) generate can set the tone for some of what is ahead.
5) Do certain elements of your setup allow greater or less freedom when improvising?
Sometimes restriction can be a good thing and as David suggests; “it can be exciting to work with more resistant or robust setups or materials, as the challenge often produces stronger results.”
6) Are you looking forward to playing the Blackbox as part of the NI Science Festival on Sat 28th Feb?
I really must get better at keeping this blog up to date with cool happenings. There’ll be more stuff on it soon, I promise!
The inaugural NI Science Festival run for 11 days between 19th February – 1st March 2015 and offers a stimulating and wide range of events focusing on the wonders of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
During the day the festival will present a whole host of workshops, talks and interactive activities for young people, parents and schools. In the evening the festival will come alive with an eclectic mix of scientific debates, talks, theatre, comedy, music and film for adults. All the details you could possibly want are located at this here link: http://www.nisciencefestival.com/
On February 28th, Maker present a night of handmade music in The Black Box, Hill Street in Belfast.
What happens when the musician is also an engineer? The creative use of technology has been a driving force for innovation in art and music since the dawn of the 20th century. From the Theremin to the modern digital synthesiser, the application of technology has created sounds that have become embedded in our cultural landscape.
By manipulating the physical materials and electronics involved in music production, the artist has unprecedented control over their instruments’ timbre and the music they produce.
Featuring performances by Ed Devane (Limerick), Mischa Grae AKA Infotoxin (Belfast), plus guests. Visuals provided by Barry Cullen (Belfast)
This event is suitable for those aged over 18, and will cost you only £8 to attend. Sure why wouldn’t you?!
Happy almost December! No idea where 2014 has disappeared to, but sure look…
Ally here once again, with a rather belated blog post about a really cool workshop I took part in recently. Here’s how it went…
Be under no illusion – before this workshop, I had no experience with DIY Electronics. I was aware that there were components called resistors, I had a vague idea what a circuit board was and I knew soldering was a thing. Beyond that, I was clueless.
Sometimes it’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone, and this was a clear example of such a situation. Despite my lack of knowledge, I made a mini amp AND a fuzz pedal. Yes, I made mistakes. Yes, they were easily fixed. And most importantly, no, I did not severely burn myself with a soldering iron.
Initially, I was hugely apprehensive. Fears of failure loomed over me, and it was pretty much all that I could think about. But the experience itself was the opposite of what I had assumed. It’s easy to say you’ll do something, but it’s not so easy to actually get up and do it.
Five of us took part in the mini-amp workshop, and we all came out of it feeling godly as our amp actually functioned. We gained an extra body for the pedal workshop. And guess what? They all worked too! The five of us were varying degrees of inexperienced, but it didn’t really matter in the end.
I went into the workshop crushingly pessimistic of my own abilities, and came out of it feeling competent, which is always a nice thing. I couldn’t recommend a workshop like this more highly. Straightforward instructions, a stress free environment and the expertise of Thom all contributed to a pretty kickass day!