Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Maestro Fuzztone - The Granddaddy of All Guitar Pedals

I recall hearing (I Can’t Get No, Satisfaction) on the radio for the first time when I was around 14 years old. I was already playing guitar.

I could not figure how The Rolling Stones achieved that trombone-like lead guitar line. My guitar sounded way to clean to achieve such a tone.

Later I heard The Yardbirds playing I’m A Man and Beck’s Boogie, with a sustained and dirty sound.

The Kinks came out with a couple of songs that sounded similar to each other.

One of their hit record was called You Really Got Me and the other song was All of the Day and All of the Night. Both songs used a distorted, fuzzy guitar sound to get that power riff.

No matter what I did to my 1965 Fender Deluxe Reverb, I could not figure how Keith Richards, Jeff Beck and Ray Davies got that sound.

I was told by a friend they were all using the latest invention for guitars and it was called The Fuzztone.

I did not have a clue what a fuzztone was, how it worked or even what it looked like. I even went so far as to get 6 of Mom’s bobby pins and attach them to the strings to get a fuzzy sound. (Don't laugh Philip Glass was doing this with his piano concertos.)

The sound I produced sounded exactly like a guitar with 6 bobby pins on the strings.

At the local dance a band was playing and the guitar player had a small brown box plugged into his guitar. The cord was coming out of this box. I asked him what sort of device he was and he told me it was a Jordan Bosstone.

I sure wanted one of those. I never got a Jordan Bosstone. But I did obtain a Fuzztone.

During a class trip to New York City I had some free time, so along with some friends, we headed to the music shop district. Our destination was Manny’s Music.

Manny's was guitar Mecca. THE guitar store!

All the instruments seemed to be less expensive than what Cincinnati music stores prices were for the same products. Manny’s had all the latest guitars, basses, combo organs and drum sets. It was better than Disneyland.

We walked back to the Hotel Edison where we were staying and I spotted Rudy’s Music. I had to stop there.

Rudy’s had an off brand Fuzztone of unknown origin for only $20.

It was not a Bosstone and it did not plug directly into a guitar. It was a floor unit with a volume and tone knob on either side and a push-push switch on it’s face. I plunked down my $20 and took it home.

My unit, simply called a Fuzztone, ran on 1 AA battery. An input and an output cord was built into the unit. These were the cheap, gray cords that were prone to shorting out. So I was continually cutting the plugs off the end and re-attaching new plugs.

About a year later, I purchased a Maestro Fuzztone.

The Maestro is the granddaddy of all fuzztones. There were other methods of achieving a distorted guitar sound before the Maestro unit.

But the Maestro Unit was the first commercially produced distortion device. This is what Keith Richards used on Satisfaction, along with a lot of studio reverb.

The Maestro Fuzztone was produced by Gibson/Norlin. It had a tone and fuzz potentiometer on the units top as well as a push on-push off footswitch. The unit had a grey output cord that went to the input of your amplifier, however it also had a female input plug.

This way you could use your own cord to the guitar. This was great, since I only had to repair one cord. The cheesy gray cord from the Maestro kept shorting out.

The instructions that came with the Maestro congratulated me on purchasing this fine guitar synthesizer which would enable me to achieve trombone and trumpet like sustained sounds from my guitar.

Maybe P.T. Barnum was running the advertising department at the time since I never did achieve the promised horn sounds. However the unit did distort my guitar’s signal by clipping it and changing it from a sine wave to a square wave. In that respect it was a synthesizer.

The Maestro Fuzztone was a Fuzztone, but to me the sound was closer to distortion than fuzz.

The Jordan Bosstone produced a sound that I will describe as being similar to an electric circular saw.

Vox had a floor unit called The Tone Bender. It’s sound can be described as an electric razor sound. If I had a need for a fuzztone the Vox sounds better.

In looking at a brief history of guitars and related products, fuzz guitar sound had been used early than the mid 1960’s.

In fact in 1961 (a year you can write right-side up or upside down and get the same result) a Nashville studio guitar player named Martin Grady recorded a solo for a Marty Robbin’s recording. The songs playback yielded a fuzzy guitar sound due to a loose tube in the recording console preamplifier. Robbin’s liked the sound and it was left in the mix.

The Ventures also picked up on this song's unique guitar sound and asked steel player and inventor Red Rhodes to come up with a device to get that sound. This was possibly the very first fuzzbox.

Ray Davies and Jeff Beck both took small amplifiers and cut the speaker with a razor blade. They then fed the signal to a large amplifier. This is basically what a fuzztone does, but the signal is smaller than what comes out of a 4 or 5 watt amplifier.

Maestro’s Fuzztone was the first commercially available unit. This lead to a myriad of other Fuzz boxes manufactured by many other companies.

In fact the invention of the fuzztone started a whole industry of pedals that modified a guitars sound. Before the fuzztone, we had reverb, tremolo or vibrato and echo if you could afford to buy an expensive Echoplex tape unit.

The first available fuzzboxes used germanium transistors. Starting in the 1970's the manufactures of floor pedals used cheaper and more durable silicon transistors, which could withstand heat and cold temperatures.

Germanium transistors are preferred by some purists that say these transistors provide a purer and superior tone. However germanium do not work well with other pedals. In the days before pedal boards, when a guitarist used only a fuzztone and tube amplifier distortion, this was not an issue. Because germanium transistors drop the guitars’ signal from high to low impedence the signal is deminished. Most pedals today do not drop the signal to low impedence.

I had two Maestro pedals back in the day. Unfortunately both were stolen.

I never did own a Bosstone, but came across a plug in fuzztone called a Frizzy-Fuzz. The circuitry in this unit is amazingly simple. There are no wires. The transistors, capacitors and resistors are all soldered together by their wires.

The housing on the Frizzy-Fuzz is aluminum which is superior to the Jordan Unit.

I've been told many Jordan units broke because during those days coiled cords were popular and if you strayed to far from your amplifier the Jordan Bosstone would be pulled out of your guitar by the spring action of the guitar cord.

You can hardly hear it, but look close Keith has his Maestro Fuzz


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