The Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone was the first fuzz distortion device to become widely available on the market for electric guitars and basses, although there had been other prototype devices made. Maestro FZ-1 (along with its almost identical update the FZ-1a) achieved a peak of popularity in the 1960s. The device was used by Keith Richards in the Rolling Stones 1965 hit "Satisfaction" and became a favorite of many garage rock and psychedelic acts of the time. Gibson re-issued the FZ-1a in the 1990s, but later discontinued the model.
In the late 1950s, Guitarist Link Wray began intentionally overdriving his vacuum tube amplifiers to create a noisy and "dirty" sound for his solos after an accidental discovery. Wray also poked holes in his speaker cones with pencils to further distort the tone, used electro-mechanical echo chambers (then usually employed by singers), the recent powerful and "fat" Gibson humbucking pickups, and controlled "feedback" (Larsen effect). The resultant sound can be heard on his influential 1958 instrumental, "Rumble" and Rawhide. In 1961, Grady Martin scored a hit with a fuzzy tone accidentally caused by a faulty preamplifier that distorted his guitar playing on the Marty Robbins song "Don't Worry". Later that year he recorded an instrumental tune under his own name using the same faulty preamp. The song, on the Decca label, was called "The Fuzz." Martin is generally credited as the discoverer of the "fuzz effect." Shortly thereafter, the American instrumental rock band The Ventures asked their friend, session musician and electronics enthusiast Orville "Red" Rhodes for help recreating the Grady Martin "fuzz" sound. Rhodes offered The Ventures a fuzzbox he had made, which they used to record "2000 Pound Bee" in 1962.
The Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone was designed by recording engineer Glenn Snoddy and WSM-TV engineer Revis V. Hobbs and manufactured by Gibson. Snoddy and Hobbs held U.S. Patent #3,213,181 issued October 19, 1965. Gibson introduced the FZ-1 in 1962, the first commercially available fuzzbox to gain widespread acceptance.
The Maestro FZ-1 sported a three germanium transistor circuit with RCA 2N270 devices, powered by two 1.5-volt batteries, and a lead cable to connect it to an instrument (bass as it was originally intended, or guitar). Germanium devices are temperature sensitive, and the effect responds to the incoming signal's amplitude (volume) consistently. Upon release, Gibson/Maestro made a demonstration disc available, featuring sound samples of the different settings of the pedal and guitar combination, emphasising the "brass-like" quality of certain tones. The circuit made its way into the body of Gibson's EB-0F "fuzz basses" (circa 1964). Before the Rolling Stones' hit, Fuzz Tone's sales were abysmal.
Initially, sales were abysmal. However, in May 1965 Keith Richards used a Maestro FZ-1 on his guitar riff in (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, later claiming it was originally meant to be played by a brass section. The song's success greatly boosted sales of the device, and all available stock sold out by the end of 1965. The pedal then became a favorite of many garage rock and psychedelic bands. Other early fuzzboxes include the Mosrite FuzzRITE, the Sola Sound Tone Bender MkI. A few years later others would follow, such as the Arbiter Group Fuzz Face used by Jimi Hendrix, the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi used by Hendrix and Carlos Santana.
In late 1965, when the original units sold out, the circuit was revised, using 2N2614 or 2N2613 transistors, with pertinent biasing network, powered by a single, 1.5-volt battery. The model was re-designated as the FZ-1a, keeping the same wedge shaped enclosure as the FZ-1. In 1968, an updated model with a different look and sound was introduced, with a circuit designed by Robert Moog using a 9-volt power supply and alternatively two or four silicon transistors, and labelled the Maestro FZ-1B. It went through three circuit revisions. In the 1970s Maestro came out with the FZ-1S Super-Fuzz, which had a distinctly different look and sound than previous models.
Gibson briefly re-issued the Maestro FZ-1A Fuzz-Tone in the 1990s, but later discontinued the model. It has not been manufactured since. Other brands have offered models attempting to replicate the sound of the FZ-1 and FZ-1A.
While most of the documentation on early fuzz boxes has been discarded or lost, the earliest such devices appear to have been introduced in 1962. The best known from that year was the Maestro Fuzztone FZ-1...