a family tree for effects pedals
Watkins Electric Music (WEM) market their Copicat, the first commercially produced tape-echo device. The earliest circuit drawing we've seen is dated 20 July 1961, though some say that Copicats were sold as early as 1954.
The Tone Bender, designed by Gary Hurst, is claimed as the first footswitch-type effects box. The Rangemaster tone booster, issued around this time, is another contender for the title. The Tone Bender is a crude box with pointer switches for Level and Attack. The sound was an even cruder rasping fuzz. By the following year it was priced at £14 14s 0d, and attracted use by groups like the Pretty Things and the Merseybeats. Among the first records to feature fuzzed guitar were P J Proby's "Together" (1964, guitar by J Page) and the Yardbirds' "Heart Full Of Soul" (1965, guitar by J Beck).
New fuzz boxes included the WEM Pep Box and the Vox Distortion Booster, while another tape-echo device, the Binson Echorec, could be had for 110 guineas. WEM countered with the Copicat MkIII, still powered by valves. But the most interesting echo device of the year is Arbiter's Soundimension, which featured a rotating drum coated with tape-like metallic oxide and six tape heads ranged around it — one for record, one for erase, and four for echo repeats. It suffered from signal and treble loss due to lack of tape/head contact.
Fuzz boxes still going strong, with Arbiter's Fuzz Face introduced (and used by Jimi Hendrix) and a claimed 20 seconds sustain from the Tone Bender Mk II. The ads for the Mk II optimistically suggested "simulated sitar, violin, organ, cello and woodwind effects all possible". One of the earliest wah-wah pedals, and certainly the longest surviving, the Jen Cry Baby, is marketed.
Oddity of the year is Maestro's "Brass Horn", consisting of a chrome-lacquer horn, as on an old-fashioned record player, linked to a speaker to give a piercing top-end noise when plugged into your guitar. Not an overwhelming success. More significant was the discovery of tape phasing — playing two tapes of the same track in sync and altering the speed of one — by engineers at Olympic studio in London. The result is the whooshing tape-phasing of the Small Faces "Itchycoo Park". It would be nearly seven years before experts duplicated the effect electronically.
The year of the wah-wah, with all manner of companies copying the Cry Baby original. The most devastating examples on record include Eric Clapton on Cream's "White Room" and Jimi Hendrix almost everywhere on the "Electric Ladyland" double LP. WEM launch a stop-gap transistor version of the Copicat, the H75 type, and the following year bring out the proper model, the Mk III Solid State.
Two US companies, Heil and Kustom, market Voice Bags, where an amplified signal is fed into the player's mouth by a tube. The player stands close to a mike and "shapes" the resulting sound with mouth control. Best use this year is the track "Love Having You Around" from Stevie Wonder's "Music Of My Mind" LP. Rose-Morris market a pedal called a Squall, combining wah-wah, volume, "wind and surf" effects, some seven years after most surf groups had packed up their boards and Jazzmasters.
The Coloursound company start to dominate the UK effects market, with all manner of combinations and types, including the innovative Octivider, and the Ring Modulator. Their designer has less luck with spelling on the wonderful "tremollo" unit. Wah-fuzz combinations are the big sellers from other makers, and also very popular are plug-in distortion units with treble or bass boost — most based on the original Rangemaster circuit.
Wacky UK synth chaps EMS launch their Synthi Hi-Fli, looking a little like an upside-down Hoover, and offering the bemused guitarist of the time an onslaught of effects including boost, octave shift, high frequency overtone on sub-octave, ring mod, decay, sustain, vibrato, wah-wah, and various modulation effects. It even had LEDs. It cost £280 at the time. You won't see any today.
The first phasing footswitch unit is launched by New York company MXR, the top-selling Phase 90. Apparently the unit could be bought by diligent Atlantic-hoppers in NYC in late 1973, but bulk supplies reach UK shores in April; the circuit diagram we've seen is dated 24.10.74 and lists the designer as one Keith Barr. We hope for his sake he was on a royalty. MXR put another couple of significant effects boxes on the market this year, the Distortion Plus, apparently their biggest-selling unit to date, and their efficient Octivider.
The year of two US companies: MXR and Electro-Harmonix. The MXR Noise Gate is one of the first available in box form, and is effectively an early DI box, too; also, their Dyna-Comp start a trend for compressors. Meanwhile Electro-Harmonix enter the market with their Small Stone phaser, while their Freedom Amp is probably the first battery-powered portable amplifier. Only trouble is it takes 40 U2 batteries to provide the required 60V DC current. Not quite so portable, after all. Meanwhile, Roland launch their first Space Echo, the RE101, and musicians everywhere fall victim to this clever combination of tapes, pushbuttons and marketing. And it never made a crash landing.
MXR continue to dominate the market, busily introducing more boxes to add on to the increasingly long chain between player and amplifier: the 6-band and 10-band graphics appear, and their Analog Delay is the first delay effect pedal. It was also probably the worst. Another first came from Electro-Harmonix, first on the scene with a flanger, romantically dubbed the Electric Mistress. This, according to the circuit diagram dated 25.10.76, was designed by Michael Abrahams. The story goes that a noise filter was designed for the pedal, but was left off when E-H discovered that it wouldn't all fit in the case. So it stayed noisy.
Roland disguise themselves as Boss and bring out the first Chorus Ensemble, the CE1. Their designers figure that no-one will know what chorus is, so they include good old vibrato on the unit, too. Within years everyone knows what chorus is, but are a bit hazy when it comes to vibrato.
MXR market a "new" Phase 90 with feedback loop to create more intense phase effects.
Thanks to Pete Cornish, Paul Day, and One Two Archives (Bahamas) Ltd.
Feature by Tony Bacon
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