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The First Guitar Distortion Pedals

by admin on July 4, 2011


The sound of a distorted guitar is so commonplace today in a range of music from rock, to blues and metal that it’s sometimes taken for granted that the electric guitar didn’t always sound this way.  Early electric players in the 50s didn’t have distortion pedals or fuzz boxes and generally they played with a clean tone.

This all changed in the 60’s with the development of fuzz boxes of distortion pedals that were designed to create the sound of an overdriven or distorted guitar amp. Back in the 50’s it was discovered that a valve (tube) guitar amp turned up too loud became overdriven and distorted the sound coming out of the speakers. This sound led to longer sustain of notes which guitarists fell in love with.

In the 50s people achieved the distorted guitar sound by either cutting the speaker cones with razor blades or by luck having the valves damaged on the guitar amp like with the guitar sound from Link Wray.

As a result of this Fender started designing their amps to overdrive the valves in the 60s to allow for a slightly distorted tone. Following this Marshall developed amps that offered even more overdrive / distortion which became the foundation of the sound used by hard rock and heavy metal players.

In 1962 the American instrumental rock band the Ventures released a song “2000 Pound Bee” which is thought to be the first example of a fuzz box (guitar distortion pedal) to be used on a recording.

The pedal was developed by a friend of theirs Red Rhodes who was an electronics whiz. They were inspired to create the fuzz box after hearing the sound in the Marty Robbins 1961 tune “Don’t Worry”. The guitarist on this tune Grady Martin had produced the sound due to a faulty recording console preamplifier circuit.

Following this the Fuzz box became extremely popular and was used by many guitarists and bands. Some famous examples include the guitar riff in “Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones . Keith Richards used a Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone pedal. This hit song success so boosted sales of the fuzz pedal so much that all stock sold out by the end of 1965. This led onto Jimi Hendrix who used the Fuzz face distortion pedal on top of overdriven Marshall Amplifiers.

Today there are hundreds of guitar distortion / overdrive / fuzz pedals offering a vast range of tones in the world of guitar distortion.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ernest May 17, 2011 at 4:33 am

Hendrix would even have his fuzz face pedals modified by roger mayer, to get more gain out of them.

Will May 18, 2011 at 5:16 am

I remember when the Rolling Stones came out with “Satisfaction” and over night every guitarist was buying their first fuzz box soon after.

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