If we were to, somehow, go back to the earliest days of rock ‘n’ roll, we would stumble upon numerous guitar players having a hard time achieving a distorted tone.
After years of pushing their tube amps over the limits and using faulty equipment, some even resorted to damaging their amplifiers.
This was the case with The Kinks guitarist Dave Davies who even slashed a speaker cone on his tube amp to achieve that recognizable rugged fuzzy tone in “You Really Got Me” in 1964.
Who remembers this clip?
Well, anyway, that’s too bad since the Gibson subsidiary company called Maestro already came out with an actual fuzz pedal in 1962, the first-ever commercially produced fuzz effect – the Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone pedal.
Up until then, the only actual distortion devices were custom made and you would have a hard time finding an engineer who would know how to make them.
We won’t blame Dave for damaging his amp since the pedal was only widely accepted after The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards recorded “(Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” through it.
From then on, the guitar world was changed forever and the trend of distortion pedal was initiated.
But before we get into this old piece, we’ll have to share some sort of background on the whole thing. In the old days, the distortion was looked down upon by engineers as an undesirable effect.
When distortion finally found its place in rock ‘n’ roll, Gibson, under the Maestro brand, decided to release this new device.
However, it was not originally marketed as a distortion device but more like a “multi-effects” unit for bass guitarists. It was even able to emulate horn sections and other tones with its simple controls.
After trying to break into the guitar player market, they still didn’t see any success until Keith Richards finally ended up using it. Gibson kept making them until the early 1970s with the last model being FZ-1S Super-Fuzz.
These days, it’s remembered as an important part of rock music history as it opened up the doors for the creation of new distortion pedals.
Looking at such a device these days, FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone was a pretty simple pedal.
There was one output jack on the top side, two knobs for volume and attack, and an integrated cable that takes the signal from the instrument.
Although “attack” would not be the best way to describe the control, it was essentially like a gain knob on you see on regular fuzz or distortion pedals these days.
The original versions of the Fuzz-Tone came with three germanium transistors in the circuit and were powered by two 1.5-volt batteries.
There were some changes to the circuit made with the later versions, but the overall features remained the same.
More significant changes came with the FZ-1S Super-Fuzz version with additional controls and the design. Overall, it was a pretty simple and straightforward piece.
Speaking of the design, you can clearly see that this is an old piece made in the 1960s. Wedge-shaped and dark, it’s not really an eye-pleaser.
However, no one really cared about its design but rather what tones it could make.
Despite the lack of more controls, FZ-1 is a surprisingly versatile pedal. It was a very unusual type of fuzz, unlike most of the stuff you find today.
When used on basses, you could achieve tones resembling horn sections. Used on the guitar, the fuzz is usually pretty thin. On some tube amps, you could get enough of a push to get that natural drive going along with the fuzz.
But if you were to put them directly into solid-state amps, you wouldn’t get much of a thick tone. Not that it’s bad or anything, but it’s unlike any modern fuzz pedals we’re used to.
In addition, germanium transistors were never really practical. Yes, their tone is great and you might even get some smoothness to it despite being a solid-state piece.
However, germanium transistors tend to heat up during longer playing sessions, which clearly makes an impact on the tone. It doesn’t sound bad, but it just makes your tone inconsistent. This is why later versions of FZ-1 were made with silicon transistors.
To put it simply ñ it is a very specific piece and it’s preferred by those who like vintage tones and tube amps. Don’t expect anything tight-sounding.
After the initially produced pieces were all sold out in 1965, Gibson began producing the FZ-1a version. It ran on one 1.5-volt battery and it saw some circuitry changes.
A few years later, they launched the FZ-1B version which implemented two or four silicone transistors and ran on 9-volt batteries. It also came without the integrated cable but rather regular input and output jacks.
The final version was the FZ-1S Super-Fuzz which saw a complete redesign and some new features. It was basically a completely new pedal with different tones.
Gibson reissued the old FZ-1a versions for a brief period in the ’90s. Some other smaller manufacturers paid tribute to the pedal by releasing products that replicate its sound. However, the original early 1960s versions are still valued the most among collectors.
If you’re looking to get your hands on the original version from the 1960s, be ready to have anywhere between $200 and $500 with you. They’re pretty rare to find and have a very narrow specific use.
It’s definitely not something a modern tone lover would like. It’s far from tight. In fact, it’s really fuzzy and vintage sounding. The germanium versions might be a bit warmer, but it’s still a better idea to play them through tube amps.
Fuzz-Tone is an important piece of history and it marked the beginning of the distortion pedal era, something that lasts even to this day.
However, it’s not for everyone’s taste and you really need to know what you’re looking for if you want to get your hands on one of these.
The Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz Tone is featured in the Billy Gibbons Rig Rundown