Before the middle 60s, the preferred sound for electric guitars was clean and pure. Sure, there were exceptions–Link Wray, Dick Dale, the Kinks–but they were the crazy ones, people who would rewire their amps or cause deliberate damage to speaker cones to create some kind of distortion.
But this fuzziness was unpredictable. Getting the same degree of fuzziness was difficult, if not impossible. It wasn’t until the introduction of distortion pedals that things became to change.
This was a device inserted between the guitar and the amp that could reliably deliver the desired amount of distortion on demand. One of the very first was the Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ-1, which, at first, was a roaring failure. From The Independent:
The patent for the device – filed in 1962 by Gibson Electronics of Kalamazoo, Michigan – describes it as “a tone-modifying attachment which will permit stringed musical instruments such as guitars [to simulate] trumpets, trombones and tubas.” Gibson had launched it back in 1962 with high hopes, producing 5,000 units which were shipped out to dealers and put on sale for $40 each. The response was muted – as the story goes, Gibson shipped no units at all in 1964. Guitarists, it seemed, just weren’t looking to sound like trombonists.
Who turned things around for Gibson? Some guy named Keith Richards who was actually looking for a horn sound for his guitar on this song. He failed miserably–and that was just what we all needed.
Read the whole story of the FZ-1 here.