Thursday, January 26, 2023

Sinfhoton - The Pre-Muff, Big Muff

In the late 60s an Italian amplifier company called Montarbo created one of the coolest and most saturated fuzzes ever to hit the market. It was called the "Sinfhoton" and though its sound can most easily be compared to a Big Muff, its design supposedly predates the BM by at least 1 year (I am still trying to track down actual evidence that these were released in 1968, so take the whole premise of this post with some skepticism). It also featured one of the first "gooped" circuits to be found inside a guitar pedal! 

And while it was mostly contained to Italian markets and can be pretty difficult to find an original late 60s version; when you do, they sound glorious! 

*The Sinfhoton was also briefly released under the brand Sisme, as the "Sismetone", and came in black and red.

Check em out, 3 ways...





thanks for watching!
-ed

Thursday, January 12, 2023

In Search of the Australian Fuzzmaster... Part 2.

After posting the previous article on the rare 1960's Australian fuzz, the Claybridge Fuzzmaster, I was contacted by quite a few people who wanted to help dig up more info on this otherwise forgotten brand. The results of these extremely kind persons will come in Part 3 of this series...

In the meantime, I spent the last week going through 6 years worth of magazines and periodicals looking for any additional advertisements that would help paint a more accurate story and timeline. And OHHHHHH SHIT!!!! did I find them. :)

So get ready, we're about to go year by year (and sometimes week by week) into the tail of Claybridge Sound and Ralph Bridges, the Australian Fuzzmaster.

The very first advertisement to pop up was on April 27th 1966. It was in an issue of the recently birthed Go-Set Magazine, and was a simple text that appears to be selling "Fuzz Boxes" for $20 a piece that come with a foot switch, effect control, and a 15' lead (which I am taking to mean a hardwired cable).

Here are two different scans of that ad:


The second ad came just a few weeks later, on May 4th 1966. A couple things to notice about this; in addition to the price going up $4,  and the amount of setup time increasing 6 seconds (lol), the biggest change has to be the extra control; going from a single Effect control in the previous ad to Effect AND Volume. But it is unclear is if this means it actually went from a 1-knob to a 2-knob pedal, or if he was just playing around with the copy of each ad to find something that worked best...

The next ad comes just a couple weeks later, on May 16th 1966. 

To me, this one is really important as it implies a few things; one, this is a new and updated design from the Fuzz Boxes that were available up to that point. Two, this is the first time you will see mention of an "inbuilt treble boost" which makes sense when you look at the Fuzzmaster circuit. Three, this description states that there are controls for Volume and Fuzz. That's interesting because every version of the Fuzzmaster actually has three controls; Volume, Fuzz, and Treble

All of this implies a 2-knob fuzz, with a 15' hardwired cable, that possibly had what was to become the original Fuzzmaster circuit. 

So is this the 2nd version of Ralph Bridges' fuzz design? And is this what he would later consider to be the "Mark II" Fuzzmaster???



The next two ads come about a month apart, in July and August of 1966. This is the first, and definitely not the last time we see Bridges' leaning toward classic sales tactics in his copy. Using scarcity to push that there are only a few left before he increases the price! and that "over 100 groups now use this model".

The one thing I find most interesting about these two is that they seem to imply that he had already finished designing what was to become the Fuzzmaster, and knew it was going to be released within a couple of months. 




In the middle of this marketing strategy for the Fuzzmaster release, Bridges takes out another ad, but this time with an emphasis on the Claybridge amplifiers he has for sale/rent. 

Also, I'm pretty sure he just took his business card and submitted it as an ad. Genius!


A week later, on August 14th 1966, we get to see the Fuzzmaster font for the first time, announcing that the new pedal will be available soon for the previously promised $36.


Just one month later we finally get to see the Fuzzmaster pedal in all its glory! 

A New Dimension in Fuzz Effects 

There is so much hyperbole packed into this tiny advert, that I'm just gonna let you peruse it yourself and enjoy. 


Oddly enough, after all the hype, it wouldn't be another 7 months until we saw a new advertisement from Claybridge. The above ad was actually the only one I was able to find that mentioned that first version of the Fuzzmaster. 

Also, let's talk about that.
 
The earliest ad so far was from April of 1966, describing a fuzz box with a single knob and a hardwired cable. The next ad, coming in May of 1966, described a fuzz box with two knobs, but otherwise the same as the first. The third ad describes a new and improved fuzz box, with two knobs and the addition of an inbuilt treble booster. And finally we come upon the releases of the Fuzzmaster. A pedal that clearly has 3 knobs, can be used as a treble booster and no longer has a hardwired cable (a 15 ft. lead is never mentioned again). 

So what does this all mean? To me, it means that the Fuzzmaster is potentially what Ralph Bridges actually considers to be the "Mark III" of his fuzz designs.

But, let's move on and you can decide for yourself...

Ok, so the next two ads were a bit of a surprise for me. In what seems to be yet another attempt at marketing his products differently, in 1967 Claybridge becomes all about Kits. And from the looks of this ad from March of 1967, for just $10 you too can build a Fuzzmaster of your very own!

The interesting distinction of the below ad, from July of 1967, is that it also mentions a kit for a treble booster! We will see a production version later on, but up until now we hadn't heard about one from Claybridge at all. Additionally, Bridges drops "Systems" from the company name, simply going with Claybridge Sound

This next ad, coming in October of 1967, is pushing kits for amplifiers and PA systems, and is also the unintentional announcement of a new location for the company, going from 60 Beddoe Ave. and moving right up the street to 163 Clayton Road.


While 1967 was a rather slow year for Claybridge advertisements, 1968 was just weird. 

For almost every weekly issue of Go-Set Magazine that year Claybridge ran ads like the two you see below; rather unremarkable and simply stating that they're an audio equipment rental and sales service. No mention of Fuzz pedals at all would show up again until the Fall.



On October 23rd 1968 we get introduced to the Fuzzmaster Mark IV for the first time! 

After 10+ months of mindless text-filled ads we got this monstrosity of sloppily laid fonts, big ridiculous proclamations, and a somewhat confusing announcement about the newest member of the Claybridge fuzz family. Also, the price went down $16 from the previous model. Which was most likely the reason for the less complicated "update" to an already existing pedal.







Later that December we again see an ad announcing the new Fuzzmaster Mark IV, which also marks the first time Bridges runs with Electronics Australia magazine.


Just a couple of weeks later, December 18th 1968, Bridges goes with this ad below; that again features the new Fuzzmaster Mark IV, but also mentions the amplifiers and general PA equipment they have for rent/sale. Additionally he tries his hand at "art". :)



Apparently he was on a bit of a roll by the last week of 1968, and this ad actually made it into a national publication... 

And then we enter into 1969. The most prolific and ridiculous year for Claybridge advertisements. 

I left out any redundant ads from this section, but I think you'll have no problem painting your own picture of what business must have been like for Bridges at this time.

The first thing we see is this awesome photo ad that shows not only the Fuzzmaster Mark IV, but also the wide range of amplifiers, cabs, mixing boards, microphones, etc. that Claybridge had to offer.

Then a month later, in April of 1969, we see what is definitely my favorite ad of the whole bunch. Clearly Bridges was getting help with graphic design at this point, and more clearly he's trying to capture what Spring of 1969 in Australia was all about, but look how awesome this is! If it was a shirt, I would 100% wear it. ;)

For Way Out Sound

For WILD Sax Sounds

Long Sustain

Also, Claybridge was really pushing that tagline by this time, "For Prestige Sound". Which while I don't really know what that's supposed to mean, it does sound nice.

In July of 1969 he releases this 4 part ad campaign, spread over 4 separate pages of Electronics Australia magazine, to announce their display at the upcoming Melbourne Audio & Visuals Fair. 

I would love to find photos of this! I'm picturing a weird 60's proto NAMM with electronics geeks and audio nerds hanging out everywhere. You know, like today's NAMM!

All four of these ads are the most professional and striking ones Claybridge ran in the 60s. The other thing I've noticed is that I was not able to find any version of these without the "Stop Press" stripe added to them; meaning that Bridges was probably doing even more advertising in different publications that I have yet to track down.

       

Then in December of 1969 Claybridge released this double-full page ad that probably has the best photos of not only the amplifiers and PA's they had to offer, but also an echo/tremolo unit, the Wildcat version of the Fuzzmaster makes its first appearance, and this is also the first time we see what I call the "Pick" logo, that appears on the production version of the Wildcat.

This is most likely a condensed version of the Claybridge Catalogue, but obviously there's no way of knowing until I find an actual copy.



The Wildcat announcement surprised me, and as the timeline goes, will be the major correction to the previous article. I thought for sure it came before the Mark IV, but I feel like Claybridge had done well for at least part of 1969, and with that growing popularity Bridges decided to re-release the original 3 transistor Fuzzmaster design. The overall build seems a bit more cost/time effective, and while it was still not as expensive as the original Fuzzmaster, he was able to sell this at an increase of $7 over the Mark IV. 

As for the name change, we can see from all this advertising that Bridges was constantly trying something different to attract a bigger audience and sell his products. I haven't mapped out the circuits for both pedals, but my hunch is that they are very very similar in design. 


Well, after that big push in 1969 we don't see another ad pop up until July of 1970 for a "Monster Catalogue" (which I have to find!) that shows just about everything from the previous ad but all condensed to a single image. *edited for size


Again Claybridge goes cold on the advertisements, this time for almost a year, and the final ad (posted in the previous article) came out in March of 1971. It's an announcement of the Grand Opening of yet another new location, a new logo, and a new name "Claybridge Audio". 

The most important part of this ad to me is the photo of the Treble Booster which we hadn't see until now. But there's no mention of a fuzz pedal anywhere, and Bridges is still offering discounts, and using hyperbole and scarcity to generate excitement for his brand. 

After this, the ads disappear. It is possible that more came later on, but when it comes to the sources I was referencing, this was it.


Thank you to anyone who read this far and came along this nerdy journey with me. :)

A lot of conclusions can be made from looking through this mountain of ads and seeing the progression from week to week. I won't spoil this with my own conclusions, so I'll just leave it up to you to interpret it anyway you'd like.

What I will say is that the Claybridge Fuzzmaster is an amazing pedal that perfectly captures a moment in history, and learning more about its origin only increases the fuzzy joy it brings every time I plug into it. 

*If you haven't read part 1, go here and check it out. There's photos of the actual units, gut shots, and all the pedal porn you could ask for.

Also, part 3 is coming soon...

Thanks for reading,
-ed

Thursday, January 5, 2023

In Search of the Australian Fuzzmaster...

I'm writing this post in hopes that we can finally unlock more info on the rare, illusive, and fairly mysterious Claybridge Fuzzmaster series...

Here's what I know, plus what I've heard/read, plus what I suspect:

'Claybridge Sound Systems' originally started out (most likely in the early 60's) making PA systems out of Clayton (a suburb of Melbourne), Victoria, Australia. Builder, Ralph Bridges, then pivoted into making tube guitar amplifiers shortly afterwards. *As of now, no surviving amps or PA systems have surfaced from Claybridge, but there are multiple accounts of them existing from past owners and people involved in the company. 

In 1966 (which we can infer from the above advertisement taken from the September 1966 edition of Go-Set magazine, and also a few of the components inside) he released his first fuzz pedal, a 3-silicon transistor (2N-3565) unit called the "Fuzzmaster". It came in a beautiful wedge enclosure with a green hammerite paint job and deep cherry red knobs. It's sound is closest to a Big Muff, but with the raw and unhinged nature of a MKI Tonebender. Circuit-wise, it shares characteristics with the Fuzzrite, but that's about where it ends. 

Other than this, we know very little about it. As far as I have seen, only two units have ever surfaced. They came onto my radar around 2009, and I have been on the lookout ever since... Not one has popped up for sale in that time.


Some vague rumors have suggested that there is a Fuzzmaster Amplifier that Claybridge made, although I have never seen a photo of one to confirm, nor do I know if it came before or after the green Fuzzmaster pedal. So let's just move on, shall we!

Ok, next up is the "Fuzzmaster Wildcat". Another 3-transistor fuzz, with a somewhat different layout and components; most notably the transistors themselves (BC-109).

I don't have much information on this one, and just the two low-quality photos that you see below, so a breakdown of the circuit is still up for debate. But it is interesting to look at this unit and notice a few important cosmetic alterations to the original: first, the change from "Claybridge Sound Systems" to simply "Claybridge" inside what looks like a little pick logo. Now this does potentially screw up my theoretical timeline I'm working on, but hear me out... Ok, next is the enclosure, which is similar to the MKIV, but it appears to be more rectangular in nature, as is the metal plate with the logo. It still has a nice hammerite paint finish, but instead of green it's a deep black with that light blue face plate. Also it's interesting to see the change in knobs, that you'll find on the MKIV's as well. Finally, is that odd name change; the "Wildcat" which I'm assuming is a reference to The Ventures song from 1966, even though that has no fuzz on it, The Ventures had broken onto the Australian pop charts as early as 1963, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that Ralph Bridges was trying different schticks to market his fuzz boxes and thought this would do the job? 

The knob/controls layout stayed the same, and the Fuzzmaster logo itself stayed the same, and while Bridges did not include the logo of the guy playing the guitar on the original unit, it was on the 1966 advertisement, so that's not a particularly odd or unlikely addition. When it comes to the circuit, what stands out the most is that the third transistor is actually situated on the "Treble" control pot. I can only assume that this is the "Treble Boost" function that the original advertisement was referring to? Without better photos it's really difficult to tell if this is the same circuit as the original Fuzzmaster, but if any of you can figure that one out, definitely let me know!



Lastly is the Fuzzmaster Mark IV, which I happen to own a unit myself. And while this is the most common version, it is by no means anywhere close to readily available. I have seen only 6 of these pop over the years, 2 in gold and 4 in silver. 

Now, this version is where things start to change a bit. The circuit inside goes from that 3 transistor style to a 2-silicon transistor (BC337) fuzz; removing that additional transistor on the Treble pot. Again, taking inspiration from the Fuzzrite, but with more low and midrange available. The sound is really nice! It's not too dissimilar to a Rosac Distortion Blender, which is basically a Fuzzrite that gets beefier than normal, but overall it's more raw sounding and unique. Actually the best way to describe it, and this is going to sound like a weird comparison, but try to imagine an Ibanez Standard Fuzz, with no octave, and a bit of that FZ-1/MK-1 gating, and you're beginning to get closer to how this thing really sounds! It definitely sits right in the realm of that classic 60's fuzz tone, but with a unique twist.

As for the enclosure, it's more of a trapezoid shape than the previous two pedals, but just like the Wildcat, it sports the same metal faceplate and knobs. You'll notice the Claybridge logo has changed, again. Abandoning the idea of the pick image, and going for a cleaner text that simply says "by Claybridge Sound", Bridges really seemed to be trying to find the perfect combination of words and imagery. The little guy playing guitar is still present, and the knob/controls layout has remained the same, but the distinction of Mark IV (which most likely predates the Tonebender Mark IV by a few years) is there to let us know that this is something NEW!


Now, to address that "Mark IV" statement.

Fuzz pedals from the 1960s are already relatively rare. Fuzz pedals from Australia and from the 1960s are extremely rare! And while we have been able to find photos of three different Fuzzmaster versions, it is highly possible/likely that there are more that have just never surfaced. What we do know is that each version seemed to come fairly quickly after one another, with the v1 and the Wildcat looking seemingly close in design and component choice. But what is unclear is if there was a missing link, Mark III(?), that came in between the Wildcat and the Mark IV.

By the time the Silver MKIV came out Claybridge had begun putting serial numbers on each unit, which sheds some light on just how many were possibly made. The below pedal is numbered "467", which is currently the highest serial number I have seen so far. I would wager that these came after the gold units, as those tend to not have the serial plates and have shown up in lower numbers overall. 

By 1971 Bridges had again changed his company's name and image, going to "Claybridge Audio", as is evidence by the below advertisement from a March 1971 edition of Electronics Australia magazine. 

Also, interestingly, he either abandoned the Fuzzmaster by then or just wanted to spotlight a new product, the Solid State Treble Booster (which I would love to find!). Another cool thing about this ad is that it shows what looks like a front panel to one of the Claybridge PA amplifiers, and also boasts a new and larger show room! So I can only assume that things were going quite well for Claybridge Sound, I mean Claybridge Sound Systems, er, I mean Claybridge Audio by 1971.

After doing the digging for this writeup and going through everything I was able to track down, what I see is the story of a talented builder who struggled to find his "brand" and his place in an emerging industry. Like so many of us who create, he has a product he believes in but doesn't quite have the skill to market his ideas for mass appeal. So we get what we see here; someone trying out new concepts, new logos, new framing, labels and identities with each successive product release, all within a span of just 5 to 6 years. But ultimately failing, with reports of Claybridge finally going bust over money wasted on radio ads that had little to no impact on sales.

So I'm not sure how long Claybridge existed, or how many pedals were produced, but I can bet that Ralph Bridges never would have thought that almost 60 years later some guitar pedal nerds would be meticulously scouring photos and articles trying to find any morsel of information about his awesome and timeless creations. 

If you happen to have any additional details not discussed here, or have an original Claybridge unit, please reach out to me via email or instagram.

*Check out Part 2 here for way more history, details, and a few corrections to this article.

Thanks for reading!
-ed