Maestro Fuzz-Tone Demonstration Record (1962)
Gibson introduced the first ever Fuzz-Tone pedal under their Maestro brand in 1962. The initial retail price was $40. They were optimistic about the prospects of selling a lot of Fuzz-Tone effects and produced over 5000 that first year.
The original hope for the Fuzz-Tone was less about distortion and overdrive and more about emulating string and brass sections. Gibson marketed the pedal as a simple way for a guitarist (although many believe the Fuzz-Tone patten was originally designed for bass, not guitar) to pull off trumpet or cello lines without having to play with a brass section or a string section; by using the Fuzz Tone, a guitarist/bassist could become a saxophonist, violinist, or any number of melodic players in an orchestral arrangement. However, as history has shown, the Fuzz-Tone garnished a reputation for something quite different than emulating orchestral instrumentation.
Gibson’s dealers bought 5458 pedals in 1962, confirming Gibson’s sales forecast. Unfortunately, the buying public wasn’t as eager as they expected. Gibson only shipped 3 Fuzz-Tones to dealers in 1963 and none in 1964, suggesting dealers still had an ample supply of inventory in their music stores. This changed when in August 1965, when The Rolling Stones released ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ and it shot to the number one spot on the UK and US charts. By late 1965, the Gibson dealers sold all their remaining inventory of Fuzz-Tones and received another 3454 to sell by December 31st of that year. The Fuzz-Tone became the “go-to” sound of 60’s rock ‘n roll, featured heavily in recordings by The Kinks, The Troggs, The Guess Who, The Yardbirds, The Ventures, The Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Who, and just about any other fuzzed-out guitar you’ve ever heard on a recording from the mid to late sixties.
The sound of fuzz and distortion is so stylistically engrained in music culture that it’s easy to forget its origins. Fuzz is the sound of dirty rock ‘n roll debauchery – the must have guitar effect for anyone in a garage-rock, punk, or psych-rock band. It’s funny to think that the sound itself came from an accident; a malfunctioning channel on a mixing board that caused Grady Martin’s bass guitar to distort while recording on Marty Robbin’s song, “Don’t Worry,” in Nashville, TN circa 1960. Even more so, this accidental effect was originally intended not for guitar, but for bass.
So how did a blown pre-amp in the recording console evolve into a way for bassist to emulate string and brass sections which evolved into a way for guitarist to distort their signal to create walls of sonic static? Most credit can be given to Keith Richards, who used the Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ-1 on the 1965 hit single “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” His opening guitar lick has become part of the bone marrow of rock ‘n roll, and exposed the sound of fuzz guitar to a mass audience for the first time.