From the moment "Heart Full Of Soul" started to get radio plays in 1965, guitarists all over Britain were asking what that funny guitar sound was. Jeff Beck's guitar sounded fuzzy.
I was playing in a London 'R'n'B' band at the time and I remember during a Saturday's window shopping in Charing Cross Road, calling in at a music instrument shop owned by the Macari Brothers.
From a small back room issued sounds unlike any I'd heard from a guitar before. Today the shop (in Denmark Street) is owned by another music company of a citrus hue, but then these sounds were pulling in knots of the mod-headed guitarists who regularly thronged Tin Pan Alley.
Of course it's well known now that the cause of all the excitement was a bunch of tricks put together by a gentleman called Gary Hurst under the patronage of instrument entrepreneur Larry Macari.
The fuzzing of the electric guitar sound was unlike any other sound captured before. It owed its life to the birth of the transistor and was truly the first rock child of the solid-state age. The principle now appears simple. The guitar strings reproduce a musical note when plucked — a sine wave to a technician. It took a cross between the mind of a technician and the mind of a musician to consider squaring off the top of the symmetrical sine wave and making it into a square wave. Quite where the "Eureka" stage happened is shrouded in the mists of rock time, but somewhere Gary Hurst found the circuit that produced a flat topped wave on an oscilloscope and (far more important) a bloody amazing sound with a Telecaster and a 100 watt Marshall.
From those initial attempts came the box of tricks Jeff Beck used on the "Heart" recording session — the Tone Bender. The title was (and is) of course a reference to the affect of the circuit on the wave form. The term fuzz was then something highly undesirable as the creatures of pop had only recently struggled out of the mire of badly designed 30 watt valve amps which provided a form of fuzz as an unoptional extra.
The fuzz box produced a sound very different to the kind of distorted fuzz most of us had to put up with then. It wasn't just a matter of choosing one form of distorted sound rather than another, it was more a question of being able to control the depth and existence of the fuzz at the plunge of a cuban heeled boot.
Far more than just fuzzing, the fuzz box, by the nature of the tiny pre-amp in its circuit, compensated a little for the low output of some cheaper guitars and also "souped" up some rubbishy amps a bit. Not un-naturally, it became a trifle popular.
As you might imagine, within three months eight out of ten records at the top of the chart had fuzz guitar on them. Big Jim Sullivan and his colleagues must quickly have cursed the invention adding their stock of Tone Benders and batteries (they wore out a little quicker then — a comment on advancing battery technology rather than on the fuzz circuits) to his kit and telling all the fixers who rang up "Yes, I can do a fuzz guitar".
The important thing was that the novelty of the birth didn't kill off the child. The advent of the heavy group two years later (out of the mad, acid-inspired psychedelia in 1967) provided fresh ground for the fuzz box. The principal of a tiny effect box for an electric guitar which could be controlled by a foot-switch was a good one and the "heavies" started discovering how the square wave led them into feedback and sustain situations which they made all their own. In other words, the tool was adaptable to the music and for that reason it grew with the music rather than being encapsulated in the summer of 1965 as some other tricky sounds have suffered.
A record called "The Crying Game" by Dave Berry had come out in July 1964 and the guitar solo had a "crying effect". Wah-wah was born, but it wasn't until well after the fuzz box package that it was marketed.
The Wah-Wah effect is the novel idea of providing a tone-filter operated by a swell pedal. By mounting a potentiometer sideways in a metal case and causing it to turn back and forth by the foot platform, a guitarist could boost the middle frequencies and induce a "crying effect". The "Cry Baby" pedal was born.
Before you could turn round, guitarists were linking both fuzz boxes and wah-wahs together and some incredible sound combinations were evolving.
By the end of the sixties many firms had launched fuzz boxes and wah-wah pedals, the Tone Bender, the Fuzz Face and the Cry Baby being far and away the most popular.
Larry Macari, the man at the beginning, decided to specialise in producing effects pedals for guitarists (and a few other instruments as well) and by the early part of this year he had wandered off into new waters dragging the plagiarists in his wake, producing items like Phaze-pedals and Wah-Fuzz-Swell single pedal combinations ali under his brand name Colorsound.
Of course, the Japanese rapidly decided the market was large enough for their attention and they must have produced many failing copies of things like the tone bender (which must have seemed a rather odd piece of electronics to them) before managing to produce acceptable copies of the original product. Like most Japanese musical products, the copies developed until they bore no relation to the initial Anglo-Japanese production effort and today organisations like Roland produce a wide and varied range of effects pedals.
It's still possible to buy the original Tone Bender - it's still in the Colorsound range — and many swear it has yet to be beaten, but most modern guitarists accept that a slightly more sophisticated pedal combining at least two functions (fuzz and wah-wah, for instance) is the ideal (and necessary) addition to the traditional guitar and amplifier combination.
In practice, effects pedals require very little fiddling. Batteries need changing comparatively rarely and the mechanics and electronics are not subject to reliability problems. Occasionally small things need attention - the odd pedal which persists in behaving like a radio aerial and pumping a religious programme into the amp, for example - but these are easily overcome and there are few electric guitarists today whose art has not been immeasurably improved by taking an effects pedal and working with it to discover new techniques.