The Tone Bender Timeline
Timeline and Event History - Page 1
This page is periodically updated to reflect new information. Do not reprint or repost without permission.
WHAT IS A TONE BENDER? - The Tone Bender was one of the first fuzz tone boxes to come out of England during the booming London music scene in the mid 1960's - the British answer to the American Maestro Fuzz-Tone made by Gibson. There are numerous versions, each with different circuits and different characteristics to the sound, and numerous re branded versions made for third party companies, and numerous clones. Tone Benders were popular pedals among guitarists in the late 1960's through the mid 1970's. They are often associated with the Vox brand, and guitarists like Jimmy Page, Jeff beck, Mick Ronson, and Pete Townshend. They are arguably the pedals with the most interesting and colourful history in the annals of fuzz, and the genesis of the UK stomp box phenomenon. The history is somewhat convoluted, with a host of interrelated individuals and companies, including Jennings Musical Industries, Vox, JMI/Vox engineers Dick Denney and Gary Hurst, the legendary Macaris Music Exchange of London, Sola Sound/Colorsound, The Beatles, The Yardbirds, and Led Zeppelin, among others.
Below is a chronological timeline of the pertinent dates for pedal releases, events, and people related to the Tone Bender fuzz pedals, spanning the 1960's, and including some dates from the 50's, 70's, and 90's that are relevant. What began as a simple release date timeline for the American Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi turned into a broader Fuzz and Muff Pedal Timeline, which in turn got me looking at the history of the American Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone, its many clones and spin-offs, and the 1970's clones of the Big Muff Pi. That inevitably led to the fantastic range of Tone Bender fuzz pedals from the UK, which had its origin as a modified clone of the Maestro Fuzz-Tone circuit, later morphing into clones of the Big Muff Pi (the Colorsound Supa and Jumbo Tone Benders) among its many iterations.
Finding no one source collecting information about Tone Bender history, I thought I would make an attempt to compile a brief one myself. This timeline originated as a resource for the Differential Audio Manifestations forum (stompboxes.co.uk) members, but I'm sure it will also be of interest to anyone wanting to l know more about the UK fuzz box history. As an attempt to correlate Tone Bender details into some kind of order, beginning with the people and companies most directly involved, note that this is also a work in progress (and is probably already out of date). It is by no means definitive, and includes a lot of guess work. As new information and documentation to confirm or correct dates and facts is discovered, I will attempt to keep it updated, just as on my Big Muff Page. Collector Graham Green (decadeoffuzz.com) has been working on a definitive book about British fuzz pedals from this era, doing massive amount of research, so hopefully one day we will have his comprehensive history available to clarify much of the unknown or confusing details.
Timeline dates and information were assembled from a variety of sources: vintage advertisements and magazine articles, vintage music equipment catalogs and price lists, Various resource books (effects pedals, Beatles history, Vox history, musician biographies), music recording and release dates, tour dates, trusted internet research sources, fellow collectors, circuit and pedal variants, pot and component dates, interviews, and a lot of guess work. A great deal of related information is scattered across various threads on the Differential Audio Manifestations forum (stompboxes.co.uk), probably the best resource on the internet for the Tone Bender and related UK and Italian pedals from the period. D*A*M is full of great folks who love vintage stomp boxes. This thread, as well as this one are a good start for anyone interested in weeding through the lineage of much of the initial discovery info. Thanks to the gang on D*A*M for help sorting through this mess and fixing errors, Roger for help rewording and writing entires, and T for website help. If you have info to verify or correct a date or fact, or see an omission, please let me know. Contact - nasnandos @ kitrae.net
JMI owner Tom Jennings (left) and Tom with Vox engineer Dick Denney (right)
•1950 - Tom Jennings, owner of the Jennings Organ Company, forms Jennings Musical Instruments in 1950. He opens his first retail store, The London Accordion Centre, at 100 Charing Cross Road in London. It would later serve as a retail outlet for Vox products and import brands such as Fender. Supposedly Tom Jennings owned the whole block where the store was located. Jennings had a long history in the keyboard industry, and both he and engineer Larry Underdown are credited as designers of one of the very first synthesizers, the Jennings Univox.
•1956 - Tom Jennings hires Larry Macari as a salesman (Anthony Macari, son of Larry's brother Joe, still posesses the dated letter offering Larry the job). Larry would eventually co-run the Jennings shop at 100 Charing Cross Road with Paul Butchard.
Jennings/Vox engineer Dick Denney
•1957 - Tom Jennings hires his wartime associate Dick Denney (1921-2001) to design a line of Vox amplifiers after hearing one of Denney's hand made amps. Jennings and Denney had worked and played music together at Vickers munitions factory during WWII. The Univox and Vox names were already in use by Jennings for organs. The new amplifier line was to be branded Vox. The first JMI made amps under the Vox brand come to market in 1957. Jennings also incorporated his company into Jennings Musical Industries (JMI) in 1957.
•1957 November - In early November a consortium is formed between JMI (Tom Jennings) ,Thomas Organ (Joe Benaren), and possibly EKO (Ennio Uncini), to work on joint ventures. JMI engineer Dick Denney is involved in these meetings. A new joint factory is set up in Italy to make organs, called EME (Elettronica Musicale Europea, or European Electronic Musical). Engineers from each company are sent to visit the others' factories to get acquainted with production methods. Setting up EME's factory, production, marketing, and retail dealerships spans the next few years. The date EME was in full production is in doubt, but likely by 1964-65. EKO's involvement in the consortium may have come later, since EKO supposedly was not formed until 1959. GEM (Generale Elettro Musica) was also contracted to produce a version of one Vox organ around this time by JMI.
•1958 - Vox AC15 amp released, designed by Vox/JMI engineer Dick Denney. One of the first amps to be branded VOX. The original version of Dick Denneys higher wattage Vox AC-30 also made, against Tom Jennings wishes.
•1960 – The legendary Vox AC30 amp (the AC-30/6 Dick Denney revised version) on market. This amp would later be associated with its famous users, including The Shadows, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Brian May of Queen, Tome Petty and Mike Cambell of The Heartbreakers, the Edge of U2, and Peter Buck of R.E.M.
•1961 - In late 1961 (some sources date this to 1960) Vox engineer Dick Denney creates the "Top Boost" add-on for the Vox AC-30/6 amp. The Top Boost was a separate treble and bass booster circuit with an extra gain stage, created to compensate for the undesirable loss of gain and treble from improvements made to the original AC-30 circuit. It was likely the first booster unit in the UK, and Top Boost became a common name for the vast number of treble boosters offered by other makers shortly thereafter. By 1963 it was sold as a separate add on unit, as well as being built into amps. This is the version of the AC-30 the Beatles used on their early recordings. Dick Denney based the Top Boost on the tone circuit from a Fender Twin amplifier. In the November 2009 issue of Guitarist magazine, Vox engineer Gary Hurst states he also worked on the TB with Dick Denney: "There are a lot of stories that remain to be told about that particular circuit, I have to say."
•1960 or '61- Engineer Gary Hurst is hired by Vox/JMI labs in Dartford, England. He is one of five or six engineers working at the lab, along with Dick Denney, Les Hills, Doug MacDonald, Alan Harding, and chief engineer Larry Underdown. He reports to Vox sales manager and idea man, Reg Clark.
•1961 - One of the first electronic fuzz box effects (not the first) is built in California by top session guitarists and engineer/amp repairman Orville "Red" Rhodes. One was made for the Ventures in 1962, at their request. This fuzz box would indirectly have an influence on session guitarist Jimmy Page a few years later. Rhodes also made and played many other effects used on Ventures records, including an early vocoder device, as well as recording a few albums under his own name.
•1961 (circa) - Vox engineer Dick Denney states he designed a two-transistor fuzz circuit prototype around 1961. Note that Anthony Macari (of Macari's Musical Instruments) has stated the '1961' year was just a loose date, mentioned by Dick Denney to him over tea one morning. 1961 pre dates the release of the Maestro Fuzz-Tone, so the actual date Denney put this circuit together was probably broadly sometime in the early to mid 1960's, most likely later than 1962. The Colorsound Fuzz Box is similar to the circuit Denney would design for the Rotosound Fuzz in the late 1960's, the fuzz section of the Jennings Growler Fuzz-wah, and used as the basis for the one knob Colorsound Fuzz Box that was released in 1996.
•1962 - Gibson Fuzz-Tone released in the U.S.A. Sometime mid to late 1960 in Nashville, Tennessee, recording session engineer Glen Snoddy is in the studio when an early (not the first) example of electronic fuzz tone is created. A defective pre amp console causes the bass solo recorded for Marty Robbins song Don't Worry, to have a fuzzy sound. The distorted bass is kept for the final recording, and the song became a #1 country hit in 1962. Snoddy saved the console, determined what went wrong, and with friend Revis V. Hobbs (a fellow Tennesseean and engineer with the famous WSM Radio in Nashville) he created a 3-transistor circuit to replicate the bass guitar fuzz tone. Glen Snoddy 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.”
There were already many hand made fuzz boxes being used in studios at the time, but Gibson became the first to the market with a mass produced consumer fuzz circuit. Glenn Snoddy and Revis Hobbs are credited as the designers on the patent. The first production version of the Fuzz-Tone was built into Gibson bass guitars (first commercial use February 16, 1962), as that was the original intended use. later in 1962 Gibson decided to release it in a stand-alone floor pedal form that other instruments could be plugged into, the Maestro Fuzz-Tone (FZ-1). The FZ-1 is generally accepted as the first production fuzz pedal ever made, however the product was somewhat of a flop as far as sales were concerned. In general, most people were not impressed with it's farty sound, and lack of sustain created by low powered 3v circuit. Gibson sold nearly all 5000 units produced the first year to dealers. Apparently most sat on shelves unsold, as Gibson sold only a few in 1963. However, people like Frank Zappa were recording with them in 1963, and musicians were soon figuring out that the FZ-1 sounded even more interesting with the electric guitar as it did with bass. There were dozens of not so well known American garage and surf band recordings made using them with the electric guitar in 1963 and 1964, many in Michigan, Texas, and California.
•1962 - In America the Ventures use a fuzz box on their song 2000 Pound Bee. The fuzz box was a hand made effect, built in 1961 by Red Rhodes. Jimmy Page, thinking the Ventures used a Maestro Fuzz-Tone for this song, would later ask effects engineer Roger Mayer to make him a fuzz unit to create a similar sound, but with more sustain. Jimmy has often cited this song as one of his favorites, and very influential to his early sound.
•1962 (circa) - JMI/Vox engineer Dick Denney claimed he made a prototype Vox fuzz box based on the Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone for Vox, but it is not developed for production. Apparently Tom Jennings had heard the American Maestro Fuzz-Tone (Vox bought one), did not like the effect, and was not interested in producing one. Fuzz-tone was just starting to be used in the US, mostly for county songs, and it was not as popular as it would become a few years later, after the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds popularized the effect. Denney stated Vox later introduced that fuzz box circuit as the Vox Tone Bender. It was very similar to the MK1.5 Tone Bender, giving the impression in some people's minds the first Vox Tone Bender circuit is possibly Dick Denney's work, or that Denney may be responsible for the odd MK1.5 version of the Tone Bender (1965), which is a very similar 2-transistor circuit (all pure speculation). It is also not clear if the prototype circuit Denney referenced is the same one later developed for the Colorsound Fuzz Box in 1996.
According to Denney, "We had a lot of young people working in our lab, and some of them would knock off our circuits. I think that's why a lot of our early designs like the fuzz were leaked out". Denney claimed a "rogue" employee working for Vox took the schematic for his fuzz and "started making up fuzz-boxes and selling them for himself." (this is reiterated in the AnalogMan Guide to Vintage Effects book by Tom Hughes, the Beatles Gear book by Andy Babiuk, a 2007 Guitar Player article by Art Thompson, and Stombpox by Art Thompson). Since Gary Hurst was working in the JIM/Vox engineering department at the time, left shortly after this, and then started producing a fuzz box based on the American Maestro Fuzz Tone, many have have assumed the "rogue employee" Denney refers to is, in fact, Gary Hurst. The pedals he "started making...and selling for himself" would be the early wood boxed Tone Benders. Denney also stated he used "black Mullard OC77 germanium transistors" in his prototype, which is exactly what was used in the early Gary Hurst Tone Benders. However, Denney is no longer with us, so there is no way to know who he was really talking about. There were several other engineers working at Vox at the time, and a few also left Vox to work for other companies, so it could have been anyone.
In the 2012 BBC documentary Vox Pop - How Dartford Powered the British Beat Boom, Paul James of the Vox Advertising Dept had this to say about the Denney fuzz box: "Dick slumbered into our studio, because he used to sit down on the desk and have a coffee, with this Oxo box (a tin Oxo Cubes box is shown with a small circuit inside, but it appears to be a prop), and he plugged the guitar into this Oxo box and the amplifier, and he played this terrible distortion guitar...and we said Dick, all the years Vox have been trying to get a clean sound and you have devised this racket, and he said 'trust me brov, trust me'. It'l go'. An within four weeks the Rolling Stones were making Satisfaction."
The documentary implies by the way it was edited that the fuzz used on Satisfaction was this Vox fuzz, but it was nothing of the sort. Satisfaction was not released until August 1965 in the UK, and it was recorded using a Maestro Fuzz-tone. It is doubtful Denney was showing off this prototype fuzz box just four weeks prior to that since according to Denney he had already delivered protoype Vox fuzz boxes to the Beatles in early 1965, and his Vox Distortion Booster fuzz box was already being shown publicly in August. Perhaps the circuit in the Oxo tin box could have been the One Knob Fuzz circuit described above, or possibly the Vox Distortion Booster circuit, and Paul James simply has forgotten what year he actually saw it.
•1962 - Vox T60 amp head released. Paul McCartney of the Beatles was one of the first users of this amp. The input stage topology resembles the simple 2 transistor circuits, like those used in the Vox Distortion Booster, Tone Bender MK1.5, Fuzz Face, and Dick Denney Colorsound Fuzz Box. The T60 was primarily a Les Hills design (one of the solid state organ designers), but Dick Denney or Gary Hurst may have been involved since they also worked on Vox amplifier designs.
•1960 - A young guitarist in south London named Jimmy Page begins playing guitar in a local clubs, while still a student. He plays in several bands and starts doing his first recording session work in 1961 or 1962. Some of his fellow guitarists are Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton.
•1963 January - Reg Clark, sales manager for JMI/Vox, makes an endorsement agreement with Beatles manager Brian Epstien to supply the band two free AC-30 amps with the Top Boost add-on. Epstien promised the Beatles would use them on stage in public, in return for letting Vox use their images free of charge. Tom Jennings was not keen on the idea, since at the time the Beatles were still relatively unknown, other than in Germany. By Summer they would be a very popular and in-demand band in England. By the end of '63 they were the most popular band to ever come out of England. The first Vox ad featuring the Beatles appeared in June 1963. Later the deal expanded that the Beatles would use only Vox amps and keyboards on stage exclusively. The Beatles were initially given this gear free of charge. They reportedly were also later given Vox effect pedals and guitars to use. The Jennings/Vox endorsement was the first of many the band would do with various manufacturers. This arrangement ended around 1967. According to JMI/Vox engineer Dick Denney, many of the improvements to the Vox products and development for new products was inspired by feedback given to them by the Beatles, and their stage needs. Vox engineer Alan Harding (who would later work with the Macaris) was even sent on tour with the Beatles to keep their amps running.
•1963 Summer - The Kinks record You Really Got Me, release August 4, 1964. Although the fuzz tone is not produced with an effects pedal, this song was instrmental in popularizing fuzz tone in the UK, and reached #1 on the UK charts. It also made them one of the leading British invasion bands in America. Producer Shel Talmy used close miking to bring the guitar to the forefront of the mix, an early example of making guitar power chords be dominant in the song, rather than being an equal level or mixed lower than the vocals. The Maestro Fuzz-Tone was ultra rare outside of America at this time, especially in the UK. Kinks guitarist Dave Davies did not have one, but he wanted a dirty fuzz-tone sound, and tried any means to get it. According to Talmy, Dave slashed his guitar speaker cone with a raazor to get the dirty, fuzzy speaker breakup on this song, but part of this sound was also the way it was recorded. The miked guitar signal was split, with one feed heavily compressed, then mixed back together with the other feed in the mixing board.
Jimmy Page was a young and successful session guitarist at this time, often on hand as a backup musician, or booked to play guitar in place of original band guitarists. This was standard procedure due to the fact that many guitarists could not perform effectively in the expensive recording studio environment, due to nervousness and the high stress created by being required to perform perfectly and on cue, in a relatively short time. Jim Sullivan and Vic Flick were fellow session guitarist. Jimmy had worked as a session player fro Shel talmy on several Kinks sessions. Contrary to popular belief, Jimmy Page does not play on You Really Got Me, although he did play rhythm guitar in place of Ray Davies on the Kinks first album, simply because Ray Davies did not want to play rhythm and sing at the same time.
•1963 - The Beatles are spending more time in London, now frequenting the music shops around Charing Cross Road and Shaftsbury Street, including the Jennings/Vox shop.
George Harrison and John Lennon using the Maestro Fuzz-Tone in 1963
•1963 - George Harrison is photographed using the Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone in the recording studio for the Beatles' She Loves You sessions. John Lennon is also photographed using one for the Don't Bother Me sessions in September. The American made Maestro was a rare and expensive piece of gear in the UK at this time, but fuzz boxes were slowly growing in popularity in the blossoming London music scene. Many young guitarists desired to try one, even though some recording studios, and the BBC, frowned at the use of distortion. The Fuzz-Tone was used experimentaly for several takes, but does not appear in the final mix of either song. This particular unit was reportedly purchased by the Beatles at Selmer's music store on Charing Cross Road, although there are other reports that Harrison bought one in the USA in 1963.
•1963 November - Larry Macari serviced the Beatles' guitars before the famous Royal Command Performance, Prince of Wales Theatre in London, 4 November 1963.
•1963 - Vox/JMI engineer Gary Hurst is moved to the Vox technical and promotions center (Tom Jennings called it the "Laboratory") on New Compton Street, London. This was a promotion center and showroom for all Vox products. According to Gary Hurst, he ran this center, handling visitors, customers, and repairs. Reportedly, Tom Jennings owned a whole floor in this building, just around the corner from his Jennings/Vox shop on 100 Charing Cross Rd, where Larry Macari worked as chief salesman (the Vox shop would later became a Macaris Musical Exchange shop in 1967). Many working musicians, including the Beatles, frequented this shop.
•1963-64 - Tom Jennings, in order to raise capital for JMI's expansion, and pay off debts, sells controlling interest of JMI to military contractors The Royston Group, who were developing a black box recorder for use in airplanes. He also sells American rights for the Vox name to the California-based Thomas Organ Company, who would distribute all Vox amps/organs in the US. Unfortunately the Royston Group would later siphon money from JMI, rather than invest in its expansion.
•1963 or '64 - At this time Larry Macari was chief salesman, running the JMI/Vox shop at 100 Charing Cross Road with Paul Butchard, just around the corner from the Vox laboratory on New Compton Street. Around 1963-64 Larry and his brother Joe open the first musical storefront on Denmark Street, Macaris Musical Exchange (various sources cite other dates). They eventually open three store locations by 1965. Macaris would become the primary outlet for Vox products and JMI exclusive import products, like Fender. The addresses for these first three shops are in MKI Tone Bender advertisements from 1965.
22 Denmark St, London W.C.2.
•1964 - Vox closes the promotional center on New Compton Street. Gary Hurst resigns (Hurst has stated he left because Vox wanted him to work Saturdays) and moves into a new location, 2 floors above the Macaris Musical Exchange shop on Denmark Street, to run his own business. Although now independent, he continues to do work for JMI/Vox. According to Gary, he was also on call as a fix it man for the Beatles at this time, often called for repairs by their road manager.
Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck
•1964 mid year - Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck supposedly play on the Screaming Lord Such & the Savages sessions for Come Back Baby, the B-side of Dracula's Daughter (released in October '64) in London. There are various accounts about who played what, but it appears Page plays rhythm guitar and Beck plays lead using a fuzz box. Presumably this is a Maestro Fuzz-Tone, or possibly the Roger Mayer fuzz box mentioned below. This is one of the earliest recordings in the UK using a fuzz box. (Note that there are some accounts that completely contradict Jimmy or Jeff being involved in these sessions at all)
•1964 September - Gary Hurst is hired to work for the Elka organ company, and travels to Italy. While there, he helps Elka design the Capri organ, as well as to doing some research for JMI/Vox on solid state amplifiers. Elka would later get into the effects pedal business.
•1964 October - Jimmy Page plays fuzz tone guitar for producer Shel Talmy on The Who's Bald Headed Woman, the B-side to the I can't Explain single. Shel frequently used Jimmy as a backup for his sessions. This B-side was written by Talmy and included as a B-side so he would get a royalty payment on the single, which was something producers did back then (Talmy had the Kinks record the same song for one of their B-sides). Who bassist John Entwistle confirmed this on the liner notes to The Who's Two's Missing compilation in 1987: "The fuzz guitar droning throughout is played by Jimmy Page the reason being, he owned the only fuzz box in the country at that time."
Reportedly, Shel got Page to play lead guitar because Pete Townshend did not own a fuzz box. Presumably this is a Maestro Fuzz-Tone, since sessions are said to have occurred in October 1964. Page had a custom fuzz box made, but he seems to have aquired it later in 1964 or January 1965.
•1964 December - Larry and Joe Macari form Sola Sounds Limited (based on original bank notes from 1964). The new brand was to be used for a range of exclusive products made for and sold by the Macaris Musical Exchange shops, as well as distributing nationwide. The line started with fuzz and effect pedals, later expanding into amplifiers, mixers, spring reverbs, and microphones under their Colorsound brand, among other musical products. Advertisements in 1965 show the name as Sola Sound Ltd and Solor Sound Ltd. Sola was intended to be a play on the word Solar, but spelled the way it is pronounced with a British accent.
Electronics Engineer Roger Mayer
•1964 (probably late in the year) - Roger Mayer, a young man working for the Admiralty Research Laboratories in Teddington, makes his first fuzz pedal for session guitarist Jimmy Page, an improved version of the Maestro Fuzz Tone. According to Roger he also made fuzz pedals guitarist Jeff Beck, and Jim Sullivan, another session guitarist working the same circuit as Jimmy at the time. Both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck have confirmed that Roger Mayer did make a fuzz pedal for each of them.
Here is Jimmy Page's recollection of his Roger Mayer fuzz box from the film It Might Get Loud, Jimmy states: "Knowing that there was a threshold in volume, I wanted to get more sustain out of things. I'd bumped into this chap, Roger Mayer...'did I have any ideas?' I had this record at home of a guitar that had a lot of sustain on it, and I got him to come down and have a listen to it, and I said, 'can you get that?'. And he went away, and came back with this phenominal thing." In a 1977 interview Page elaborated more - "Anyone who needed a guitarist either went to Big Jim (Sullivan) or myself.... It was all just flooding in because they didn't have any other young guys playing guitar. I had just started to do a few sessions (reports vary, but Jimmy played sessions from 1961 - Spring1966) and he (Mayer) said, 'I work for the Admiralty in the Experimental Department and I could make any sort of gadget you want'. So I said why didn't he try to make me this thing I'd heard years before on this Ventures record, 'The 2000-Pound Bee'. We had one in England, but it wasn't too good. In actuality it was a disaster. So I said, 'Why don't you improve on this with the Admiralty's facilities?' Which he did." (The Ventures actually used a hand made fuzz box on that tune, but presumably Page is thinking they used, and is referring to, a Maestro Fuzz-Tone, the only production fuzz pedal available in America)
This is Roger Mayer's recollection - “The first pedals that I made for Page and Beck ran off a six-volt battery and were housed in a custom-made casing. There were controls for gain and biasing as well as a switch that modified the tonal output. They were rather unlike the pedals that you see today in that they had a separate foot switch attached to the box by a length of cable. I built a treble booster for Jeff Beck, and I was told that he borrowed Page’s fuzz box for some of the Yardbirds’ stuff.” Mayer has also stated: "The one I originally built for Page was loosely based on the Gibson Maestro". "Right from square one, Pagey and I wanted something that sustained a lot, but then didn't start jittering as it went away. One of the things that became very, very apparent early on was that you didn't want nasty artifacts. It's very easy to design a fuzz box' - anybody can do it - but to make one sound nice and retain articulation in notes, now that's something else."
Another Mayer quote from an Iconic Axes interview in 2012: "...I never saw a Gibson Maestro first of all. I’ve never had one in my hands, in fact, to date; I’ve never had one in my hand [laughs]. We listened to the sound of it you see, on the early Ventures records. I think they had a record out called “The 2000 Pound Bee” and it seemed like an interesting sound. The problem with the early Maestro fuzz tones were I guess quite percussive in nature; they didn’t have a lot of sustain. So I built, when I was working with the Admiralty, a version of a germanium fuzz box loosely based on the Maestro. It gave more sustain and it had a richer sound. That became quite popular amongst the session players around London. Big Jim Sullivan used it on a couple of Proby records. The Nashville Teens had one, Jimmy Page had one, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, I think Ritchie Blackmore. There wasn’t that many, I didn’t really make that many of them, only for the session guys and a few bands."
Mayer has at times stated his fuzz box was used by Sullivan for the recording of the hit Hold Me by P.J. Proby, however Jim Sullivan has stated it was a Maestro Fuzz-Tone he used, borrowed from Eric Ford. I have also never found an interview with Sullivan where he mentions Roger Mayer or a hand made fuzz, but there are many where he references using an FZ-1. Often times these makers create a fuzz box for a certain musician, then hear a fuzz effect on the record and assume (or hope) it was their device, but no one really knows for sure what was actually used in the studio other than the people who were there at the time.
Roger Mayer famously went on to work with Jimi Hendrix in 1967 and 1968, modifying existing effects and creating new effects pedals for him, and referred by the Jimi The Hendrix Experience as their 'secret weapon'. He is credited as the designer of the first Octavia effect. Mayer made a modified replica of the Page fuzz pedal to sell to the public in 2004 that he called the Page-1, which does appear to be based on the Maestro Fuzz-Tone.
•1965 January - Jimmy Page uses a Roger Mayer fuzz box in a January 15, 1965 session in London, playing on two tracks for the Mannish Boys, an early David Bowie band, back when he was just 17 and known as David Jones. Bowie and others have stated that page just got this new fuzz box at the time, indicating that the hand made fuzz effect Page asked Roger Mayer to create for him in mid to late 1964 was finished at this time.
Here is a quote from Bowie on the session: "When I was a baby, I did a rock session with one of the bands, one of the millions of bands that I had in the '60s – it was the Manish Boys, that's what it was – and the session guitar player doing the solo was this young kid who'd just come out of art school and was already a top session man, Jimmy Page. And he just got a fuzz box and he used that for the solo. He was wildly excited about it, and he was quite generous that day and he said "Look, I've got this riff but I'm not using it for anything so why don't you learn it and see if you can do anything with it." So I had his riff and I've used it ever since [laughs]. It's never let me down." Bowie did use the riff for The Supermen on his third album The Man Who Sold The World, then again in 1997 in the song Dead Man Walking from his Earthling album.
Reportedly the band rehearsed the song I pity the Fool (written by Bowie) at a coffee bar before the session, where they were introduced to Page, who was scheduled to play on the session. Page mentioned he was bringing his "brand new fuzz box" to the session. In a 1997 interview Bowie sated "He was wildly exited about it". Some sources state this was a Tone Bender, and Jimmy mentions having a non factory/hand made Tone Bender in a 1968 Hit Parader interview (Gary Hurst is credited as the maker in the piece). Jimmy was often seen and photographed using a Tone Bender MKII and a Rotosound Tone Bender MKIII in 1969-71. However, the fuzz used on this session was likely the fuzz box hand made by Roger Mayer in 1964, since the wood boxed Gary Hurst Tone Benders did not even exist yet.
•1965 - Vox/JMI engineer and Vox Distortion Booster designer Dick Denney claims that he personally delivered Vox Tone Bender prototypes to the Beatles in early 1965. Reg Clark of Vox had established a prior relationship with the Beatles to supply them gear to use in public in return for letting Vox use their images in marketing materials.
•1965 - Jimmy Page, at the age of 21, is asked to join the Yardbirds to replace Eric Clapton, at Clapton's suggestion. He had a good paying job doing session work around three times a day, five days a week, so he declines. He recommends his close friend Jeff Beck for the job. Jimmy reportedly takes job as staff producer for Oldham's Immediate Records in 1965.
•1965 Spring - JMI/Vox and EKO set up a factory in Recanati Italy to help meet the demand for Vox guitars.
•1965 April - Jeff Beck, now a member of the Yardbirds after being recommended by friend Jimmy Page, uses a fuzz box on the Yardbirds single Heart Full of Soul, recorded in April 1965. Sources vary about which fuzz box this was. Many sources state it was a Gary Hurst Tone Bender. This is unlikely since the date of the first Tone Benders seems to place them after this was recorded, and other reports contradict this. Gary Hurst has stated he thinks it was his Tone Bender, but also states "I could be wrong, but I think he used Jimmy Page's Tone Bender... Forty years have passed it is difficult to remember so well." In the book Jeff Beck: Crazy Fingers By Annette Carson, which includes interviews with Beck about the session, it is stated that the fuzz box used on Heart Full of Soul was actually Jimmy Page's hand made Roger Mayer fuzz box. A tabla and sitar player had been used to record the main riff on the track before Jeff arrived in the studio. Beck thought he could do a better job with the riff using his guitar. Jimmy Page was in the studio at the same time doing session work, so Beck borrowed his Mayer fuzz for the main riff.
•1965 - Jeff Beck plays his first live gig with the Yardbirds.
•1965 April - In April Gary Hurst returns to London after working in Italy for Elka, and resumes his freelance electronics business, "Gary Hurst Electronics", from the back of the Macaris Musical Exchange shop on Denmark Street (Note some sources state that, with the help of Vox sales manager Reg Clark, Gary was given work space in the back of the JMI/Vox shop at 100 Charing Cross Road, not the Macaris shop)
Gary Hurst and one of the first hand made Tone Benders
• 1965 after April (or 1964 before September) - The very first Tone Bender is hand made by Gary Hurst. The Tone Bender is a three-transistor circuit based on the Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ-1, with a few additional components and minor value changes to increase the voltage and add more sustain. It was one of the first pedals to feature true bypass switching. Gary admits he copied and modified the Fuzz-Tone circuit, allowing the Tone Bender advertisements to state "A Gary Hurst Design". He followed this practice in later years as well, making modifications and adjustments to existing circuit designs to alter the sound, and naming himself as the designer. Gary (or Sola Sound via their later advertisements) was actually one of the first engineers to promote his name to the public as an effects pedal designer. Note that copying and modifying these simple amplifier circuits was common at the time, and similar amplifier circuit topology already existed in GE and Mullard transistor manuals specifically for this purpose (and to sell more transistors!). It was not really theft so to speak, no more than any auto maker back in the heyday of automobile manufacturing was "stealing" by making their own version of the gasoline powered combustion engine. The FZ-1 Gary copied was not completely original either. Similar hand made fuzz circuits already existed and were in use in recording studios prior to the FZ-1 production. What Gary did here was basically tweaking a cloned circuit. The MkII Tone Bender that would come later was more of an advance to the next level.
Gary states that in early 1965 he built the original wood cased Tone Benders in the back of the Macaris’ 22 Denmark Street shop, and at home in the evenings (Note, some sources state he made them above the Macaris shop at 100 Charing Cross Rd, but that was still the address of the Vox shop in 1964, and the Macaris did not move into that address until the Vox shop closed, in 1967). Larry Macari was paying Hurst for each unit, one at a time, as they were made. Gary has stated he made about ten wood boxed Tone Benders a day for a few weeks, probably less than 100 units in all (he states 68 in a Guitarre magazine interview), and all were sold through Macaris. He custom made some of these for top musicians in London, like Jeff Beck (the Yardbirds), Jimmy Page, and Mick Gee (Tom Jones band), prior to them being offered to the public. An interview with Jimmy Page from this time period seems to confirm that one was made for him, and those artists were also listed in the Tone Bender advertisements from the time.
In 2000 Gary told the story about the origin of the Tone Bender in Kevin Bacon's book, Fuzz and Feedback, and in a Guitarre magazine interview from 2003. It is also included in Gary’s four page “Tone Bender Fuzz Unit Story as told by Gary Hurst” included with his hand made Tone Benders in 2005. He states that in April 1965 Guitarist Vic Flick brought a Maestro Fuzz-Tone to Macaris Music Exchange on Denmark Street to have it modified. Vic was an acclaimed and in-demand English session guitarist at the time, famous as the player of the James Bond theme for the film Dr. No in 1962, lead guitarist of the John Barry Seven, a member of the Beatles' Hard Days Night soundtrack orchestra in 1964, as well as session guitarist for numerous other recordings with British pop stars, including Tom Jones.
According to Gary, Vic wanted something that could do the same thing as a saxaphone, like the horns section that fills in the gaps in a Tom Jones' song. He could not do that with the Maestro because the fuzz was short and raspy sounding. It woud fart a note and that was it. He wanted longer sustain (a common complaint about the Fuzz-Tone at the time). Gary states it was impossible to change the Maestro because it was only fed 3 volts. He claims he told Vic he could build him a better one, and that became the circuit the original Tone Bender was based on. Gary simply took the Fuzz-tone circuit and increased the bias from 3 volts to 9, and tweaked a few component values. Although they still sound very similar, the difference in sound is very apparent when playing the two side by side. This allowed notes to be sustained for up to twenty seconds according to Gary, so Vic enthusiastically left the shop with it. Gary has told this story on many occasions, and claims he still owns Vic's original Maestro Fuzz-Tone, since Vic did not like it and did not ask for it back.
In early 2013 I asked Vic Flick about his recollection of his custom made fuzz box. He said he had only recently been made aware that Gary and JMI were using his name in the promotion of their Tone Bender replicas with this story, was never contacted by them about it, nor had he granted them permission to do this. Surprisingly, he said he does not remember a person named Gary Hurst, asking anyone at Macaris to modify his Maestro Fuzz-tone, nor why he would have wanted it modified. Also, Vic said he is still in possession of his original Fuzz-Tone. It is pictured on top of his Vibrolux amp (shown below) from his 2008 autobiography, Vic Flick: Guitarman - From James Bond to the Beatles and Beyond. This seems to be a straight contradiction, but also note that collector Graham Green has sated he has seen email correspondence circa 2000 between Gary and Vic that does confirm Gary's original account, adding to the confusion.
Vic Flick's Fender Imbroglio amp and his original Maestro Fuzz-Tone
Assuming memory has not failed either Vic or Gary (can't blame them - this was a long time ago!), there is another explanation for this contradiction. Gary is simply confusing Vic Flick with another session guitarist in London from that time. Jim Sullivan was one of the top session guitarists, who was also known to own a fuzz pedal in 1964 or '65, as was Jimmy Page. This is pre Yardbirds, so Page was not yet a well known name. Both Jim Sullivan and Jimmy Page were very in-demand session guitarists, along with Vic Flick, Eric Ford, and others in the 1964-65 period the Tone Bender would have been developed. They all knew each other, played the same sessions together occasionally, and reportedly the two Jims even borrowed each others gear from time to time. On one occasion, Big Jim, Jimmy Page, and Vic Flick all played on the same session together at Decca studio 2 in North London. To avoid confusion of the two 'Jims', Sullivan was nicknamed 'big' Jim, and Page 'little' Jim, and both were favorites of producer Shel Talmy. Big Jim and Vic owned a Fuzz-Tone, and Page owned a hand made Roger Mayer fuzz box. Gary always mentions Vic Flick as the creator of the James Bond theme when telling this story, so he clearly knows who Vic is now, but at the time, he may have simply confused any one of these three session guitarists as the person who walked into Macaris that day.
There is also some contention about the date the first Tone bender was built. Gary has stated on several occasions that he made the first Tone Benders in early 1965, after his return from Italy. Two magazine articles from the time imply this date was either in 1964, prior to September, or after Gary returned from Italy in early 1965. Beat Instrumental was one of the UK's leading monthly music magazines, covering the growing rock scene throughout the 1960's and 1970's, along with its weekly competitor, the Melody Maker newspaper. BI and MM featured interviews with the top musicians, covering everything from the gear used to the studio production methods. The latest gadgets were always talked about here, and BI was where you would find the advertisements for all of those gadgets. Hit Parader and New Musical Express were two other popular music newspapers in the UK, although they were less focused on gear. An article in the September 1965 issue of BI about the new Tone Bender's being made by Sola Sound states this: "Gary Hurst is the technician behind the new fuzz box, he calls it the Tone Bender. He perfected it last year but had to shelve it when he went to work with an Italian firm making organs." 'Last year ' would be 1964, indicating that Gary made the first wood boxed Tone Benders in 1964, before going to Italy, not in 1965.
However, an article from the weekly Melody Maker newspaper in late 1965 or early 1966 states this quote from Larry Macari: Electronics consultant Gary Hurst was the first to design a British model, which was manufactured by Musical Exchange of London..."we decided to build our own, with a better circuit. This happened about eight months ago and we started selling about 20 to 30 a week. We decided to go into production." Since this press release article was likely not printed earlier than September '65 (when the TB MKI was first advertised), Larry Macari saying 'eight months ago' places the wood boxed Tone Benders in early 1965, not 1964 as the Gary Hurst comment in the Beat Instrumental article implies.
Larry Macari also states a different origin for the Tone Bender in that Melody Maker article: Exchange managing director Larry Macari told the MM: "The first American tone benders had no sustain - you couldn't sustain the distortion effects. Where I worked we loaned out an American unit (the Maestro Fuzz-Tone, the only production American unit available) for record sessions. When this got faulty we decided to build our own, with a better circuit. This happened about eight months ago and we started selling about 20 to 30 a week. We decided to go into production. It has sold hundreds and records by groups like the Yardbirds and Merseybeats, have helped enormously. There have been fuzz records by Spencer Davis, The Walker Brothers, Pretty Things, Who, Ivy League, and Dave Dee. We sent one over to Tom Jones in the States. Jeff Beck of the Yardbirds used one with his bottle-neck and gets a sound like violins - really tasteful.". Note that Larry's version of the original Tone bender origin is the Musical Exchange needed a replacement for their faulty Maestro Fuzz-Tone, so they built one. Also note that there is no mention of Gary Hurst, even though his name was being used in the advertisements at the time. Strange contradictions, but editing can often change the meaning of what was actually said. All we can get from this is that the first Tone Benders were built by Gary sometime in this period. It is also interesting that 'tone bender' was used generically in this article as a term for any fuzz pedal. It is unclear who first came up with the name Tone Bender, but the Macaris owned the rights to it at the time.
One funny quote from that MM article: Warns Steve Winwood: "It should be used sparingly. It's a good commercial sound but you've got to look after them. If you leave the button down and pack it away the battery keeps going and the next time you want to use it, the battery's flat."
•1965 June - Yardbirds single Heart Full of Soul, released in the UK June 1965 and in the US July 1965, marking the beginning of the rock and roll fuzz tone era in the UK. It reaches #2 on the UK singles charts.
•1965 June - Keith Richards records the Rolling Stones #1 hit (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction with the Maestro Fuzz-Tone (FZ-1) on May 10, 1965 in RCA Studios, Hollywood, California. It was released in the US in June 1965, marking the beginning of the rock and roll fuzz tone era in America. By July it held the #1 spot on the US Billboard charts, and stayed there for four weeks straight. It was the first #1 hit in the US charts for the Stones. Satisfaction shook the fuzz tone world, and to this day it is still considered one of the greatest rock 'n' roll songs of all time. Although Richard's has stated he did not like the Fuzz-Tone effect, he did use it when performing Satisfaction on-stage, and it was used again later on the Stones track Think, recorded December 1965 for the Aftermath album. A report in the February '66 issue of Beat Instrumental states that Gibson sent the Stones several Fuzz-Tones because Keith often trampled them with his big boots on stage.
Here is a quote by Keith from a 1992 interview in Guitar Player by Jas Obrecht: "Oh, vintage fuzztones? Well, there's the first one (points to the Colorsound Tone Bender). But where's that @#$%& "Satisfaction" one? They bunged me. I mean, it was a miracle. Whatever it was, it was the first one Gibson made. I was screaming for more distortion: "This riff's really gotta hang hard and long," and we burnt the amps up and turned the shit up, and it still wasn't right. And then Ian Stewart went around the corner to Eli Wallach's Music City or something and came around with a distortion box. "Try this." It was as off-hand as that. It was just from nowhere. I never really got into the thing after that, either. It had a very limited use, but it was just the right time for that song. The riff was going to make that song or break it on the length that you could drag that [sings fuzz line]-unless you wanna get horns, which didn't work. We didn't have the time, and it wouldn't sound right. Yeah, it was one of those fortuitous things."
NOTE - The event of the release of Heart Full of Soul and Satisfaction, while certainly not the only factors (The Kinks, Peter Green and Eric Clapton being just a few of a handful of others), were perhaps singularly responsible for the beginning of the explosion in the effects pedal business in the UK and in America. What young guitarist could not imagine himself playing the riff from Satisfaction after hearing it for the first time? Budding guitarists everywhere wanted to create those same sounds, and there was a huge influx of young people learning to play the guitar because of the escalating music scene. From 1965 through the early 1970's, expansion in the UK effects pedal business seemed to move incredibly fast, with new products coming out monthly, if not weekly. Much of it involved copying or slightly modifying pre existing effects circuits, whether they be fuzz or modulation type effects. Effects makers were even painting or covering their circuits with epoxy to hide the components from copycats. Most of the core circuit designs for all areas of the guitar effects spectrum that are still going strong today were developed in this time period. They would be refined and further developed throughout the 1970's, but the seeds were all planted in this short span of a few years. As anyone who has studied effects pedal schematics will find, there are very few truly original circuit designs. Most are simply reworkings of what was created in the 1960's and 1970's, and much of that, at least in the fuzz pedal area, was based on preexisting amplifier circuit designs from General Electric and Mullard transistor manuals from the 1950's and 1960's.
There appears to have been much competition and plagiarism among the various players in the UK effects industry, paralleled in America, but many of these companies were also very intertwined together in business relationships (Vox and Macaris Musical Exchange, for example), and the personnel involved crossed from one company into another often (Gary Hurst and Dick Denney, for example). Effects pedals were in huge demand and would be flying off the shelves as soon as they were made, prompting many companies to expand and outsource production to meet the demand. Every company was watching what the other was doing closely, trying to stay on top of the trends, and there was a lot of re branding and repacking of the same effects for multiple shops. Trying to sort out who did what and when these days is a confusing mess, but it is also what has made the history so colorful and interesting to effects aficionados.
•1965 (mid year) - Larry Macari partners with Gary Hurst to have Tone Benders manufactured for Macaris Musical Exchange. The Macaris created the Sola Sounds brand the previous year, so the pedal is manufactured as the Sola Sound Tone Bender sometime in mid to late 1965. An article in the September issue of Beat Instrumental (probably written a few months earlier due to typical timeframe to edit, print, and distribute) makes the mention of Gary Hurst and his Tone Bender, stating "We can report now there is a unit being sold in London now and that nationwide distribution is being arranged."
•1965 June/July – Sola Sound MkI Tone Bender (sheet metal enclosure) in pre production or possibly in production, built in the back of the Macaris' Denmark Street shop. According to Gary Hurst in the September '65 issue of Beat Instrumental magazine, the Sola Sound MKI Tone Bender started production a few months after his return from Italy, which would be June or July, possibly later. This would indicate the TB was the first true production fuzz pedal made in the UK. Even though it was shown earlier, the Vox Distortion Booster was apparently not actually in stores until October or November due to production delays.
•1965 late - Maestro Fuzz-Tone (FZ-1A) on market, made in Kalamazoo, Michigan. A revised version of the 1962 Maestro Fuzz-Tone (FZ-1). All of the old FZ-1 stock had sold out near the end of 1965 due to the popularity the Rolling Stones #1 hit Satisfaction, which features the Fuzz Tone effect for its main guitar riff, so Gibson returned to production with this version. For some reason Gibson decided to revise the circuit, changing from the two battery 3v to an even lower powered single battery 1.5v circuit. Many players preferred the original version. Based on serial numbers, Gibson went from making and selling zero Fuzz-Tones in 1964, to over 3000 in 1965, and over 20,000 units in 1966. By 1969 they had sold over 45,000 units.
•1965 (before November) - Vox/JMI engineer Dick Denney visits Thomas Organ Lab company in California/USA. Maestro Fuzz-Tone (FZ-1A) version was on the market in the USA at this time.
•1965 August - The Rolling Stones song (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction is released as a single in the UK. By September it had reached #1 in the UK charts and stayed there for two weeks.
•1965 August - Vox Distortion Booster first shown. Designed by Vox/JMI engineer Dick Denney. First shown publicly in August 1965, listed in the US Vox September 1965 price list (as model number V87, and V816 in the UK Vox catalog), and in stores by November/December. In the October '65 issue of Beat Instrumental there is an article on the Musical Instruments Trade Fair, which started August 23rd, 1965, in London. "Fuzz boxes were surprisingly plentiful. Watkins showed their Pep Box at 16 gns, Barnes & Mullins had the Tone Bender at 14 gns, and Vox showed what they call a distortion booster, one of a range of input attachments which they have recently brought out. As well as the distortion booster, there is a bass booster, a mike booster and a treble booster all at 14 gns."
•1965 September - The Sola Sound MKI Tone Bender on market. It was being advertised in print by September 1965, shortly after Heart Full of Soul and Satisfaction are released in the UK. Ads promote Gary Hurst as designer. This semi-production version of Gary Hurst's modified Maestro Fuzz-Tone is housed in a folded sheet metal enclosure, rather than wood like the originals. It was assembled in the back of the Macaris Musical Exchange shop and sold exclusively through the storefront. The lettering was hand pressed on early pedals by Gary's girlfriend Rosita (daughter of Larry and Joe Macaris' sister Rosa) using Letraset press on letters, then coated with nail polish. A few different Letraset fonts were used, then the art was changed to a silk screen with the Sola Sounds branding. Only a handful of these are known to still exist today. Some of the surviving examples have a paint or epoxy coating covering the circuit components, presumably to hide the circuit from competitors interested in cloning it. Early Letraset units had no Sola Sounds branding. Some of the very first units also have no battery door on the bottom as later units had.
An “Instrumental Corner” article in the September issue of Beat Instrumental (probably written a few months earlier due to typical delay timeframe to assemble, print, and distribute) referencing Gary as the Tone Bender designer states this: "Gary Hurst is the technician behind the new fuzz box, he calls it the Tone Bender. He perfected it (this would be the wood boxed version) last year but had to shelve it when he went to work with an Italian firm making organs. He started making his Tone bender in large quantities as soon as he came back to this country a few months ago, and is now selling them through the Musical Exchange Shops in the London area. He says he is sorry in a way that he went to Italy because the current in-trend then was R&B and his Tone Bender would probably have gone a bomb with guitarists who were searching for new, earthy sounds.". A ‘few months after his return’ from Italy would be around June or July, so that is likely when the Sola Sound version was beginning to be set up for production at Macaris.
The September Beat Instrumental ad for the Tone Bender lists several artists who were using Gary's early wood boxed version of the MKI, including The Who, The Ivy League, and the Yardbirds. Musical Exchange/Sola Sound addresses listed on ad: 22 Denmark St, London W.C.2. / 155 Burnt Oak Broadway, Edgware, Middlesex / 46b Ealing Road, Wembley, Middlesex. Note there is no 100 Charing Cross Road address listed, indicating that address was still the Vox shop at this time, but Larry Macari was apparently still working there as the sales manager.
•1965 September - The Thomas Organ Company begin to make Vox amplifiers in the US, in the Los Angeles suburb of Sepulveda. Tom Jennings expresses his dislike in having Vox amplifiers made in the US. Soon after these tube amps were changed to solid state circuits, cheapening the brand in Tom's opinion.
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