Monday, November 20, 2023

Is This The Earliest Big Muff Ad?

There has been quite a bit of debate over the years about when exactly the Big Muff was released...

I first started collecting back in the early 2000s and most people thought then, based on Triangle Muff pot codes, that 1968 was the definitive answer to this question. But as collectors and other fellow nerds dug into it a bit more, 1969 seemed much closer to the actual year. 

But now with the endless amount of archived print media that exists there has yet to be a single ad or mention of the Big Muff before May of 1970 that anyone has been able to find; making that 1969 guess seem kinda wrong. And it's not just that the Big Muff didn't appear until that date, but that there are plenty of earlier EHX ads that show their full offering, minus the Muff.

Well, a few months ago I started buying up old copies of Crawdaddy, which was a bi-weekly Rock n' Roll newspaper out of New York that started in 1966 and ran through to 1979. And right there, on page 39, issue number 6, was the earliest ad I had seen showing a Big Muff! 

Big Muff ad 1970

Being bi-weekly this issue either came out in the middle of March or beginning of April 1970, depending on when they started that year. But there are a few good clues, like ads for the upcoming releases of the "Isaac Hayes Movement" album and Booker T & the M.G.'s "McLemore Avenue" album, which were both released on Stax in April of 1970. 

But as cool as this is, in terms of Big Muff history, it does still leave the question unanswered as to when the legendary fuzz actually came out. I'm hoping to some day find an even earlier ad proclaiming the wonders of the "NEW BIG MUFF!!!", or something equally obvious. 

Until then I'm going to keep digging through old magazines, newspapers, and pdf's...

Crawdaddy Vol. IV no. 6 1970

Thanks for reading! And if you happen to be sitting on potentially earlier Big Muff history, please reach out via email or an Instagram message.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Sam Ash Fuzz-Stainer (The Return)

12 years ago I found a mysterious red pedal while sifting through ebay at 1am. I had no clue what it was, but the inside looked fuzz-esque so I went for it... After a few months of digging and extensive internet chatroom debates, I realized that I had actually stumbled upon an original Sam Ash Fuzz-Staineran insanely rare pedal from the early to mid-70s. 

If you've followed this blog for a while you may have come across the first article I wrote on that very pedal shortly after figuring out what it was. (HERE'S THE LINK)

Well, after this discovery I sent it off to the incredibly talented pedal-builder Jerms, who traced and cloned it for me. (maybe some of you are lucky enough to own one of his copies?)

Later on we both decided to make his schematic public; so I went back and added Jerms' work to the end of my article. Shortly afterwards the diy pedal scene exploded with Fuzz-Stainer clones! And while I was initially surprised at the reaction, this is pretty typical for discoveries of any "new" circuits that have been hiding in almost complete obscurity for the past 30+ years.

Since then I only knew of one other original unit that existed, owned by Matt Wright of Wright Sounds. He had one for over a decade and ended up cloning it and releasing his version in 2010 as the Fuzz-Stang.

Well, after 12 long years of hunting, searching, and scouring, I have finally found a 3rd Sam Ash Fuzz-Stainer!

And while I was hoping to finally crack the code of the exact history of these pedals, I now have even more questions...

We still do not know (even after reaching out to the Ash family) just how or why these exist. We don't know when they were sold, how many were made, which stores they were available in, who invented/built them, etc.

So hopefully at some point in the future more info will begin to pour in. But what we can do now, at the very least, is look at the 3 existing units and compare them: 

The first thing I noticed is that the same pcb was used for all 3 pedals. And for the most part, it is the same effect in each. But there are definitely differences between them, some more glaring than others.

For a while I thought that my red pedal, since it was missing the original label, was most likely an updated version of the circuit; a "Mark III" possibly. And my main reasoning was based on the open holes in the pcb and the internal trimpot. It's easy to see this and conclude that there must have been an update to the circuit design at some point.

And if you look at my new Fuzz-Stainer, that conclusion seems even more plausible, as it's clearly the same pcb but with components in every slot and no trimpot in sight... 

But here's where it gets really interesting; the 3rd unit seems to be a hybrid of the other two, and the board is facing downward!!!

AND it's labeled as "Mark II", just like my newer unit. Which leads me to believe that all three pedals were "Mark II" Fuzz-Stainers. 

So then the question becomes, why were all three made differently? Was there a "Mark I" of the circuit? Were these possibly kits of some kind? Did Sam Ash have a pedal building class and this was the project? Or was each pedal really just built to sound its best based on the available components at the time, regardless of consistency?

Well, as you can see there is literally a ton of information that's still very unknown about these. Obviously they came from Sam Ash (who, until this pedal, had outsourced all other branded gear to a 3rd party manufacturer). At least two of these have stories from original owners who remember buying them from the legendary 48th St. Sam Ash in NYC. And they are most likely from the early to mid 1970s. 

But other than what we've touched on above, I got nothing! We've reached out to members of the Ash family, who have kept meticulous records and paperwork all these years, but as of yet no mention of the Fuzz-Stainer anywhere.

So if you happen to come across this article and happen to own, have owned, or know anything about the Sam Ash Fuzz-Stainer, please contact me via EMAIL or INSTAGRAM. I would love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Sentry Fuzz-A-Tort (1968)

By the late 60s the sweet sound of fuzz was in full bloom, and it seemed like every music magazine had a an endless supply of stompbox-related ads, articles, and reviews. A popular offshoot of this hysteria was the diy guitar fx project; which outlined for the layman exactly how to piece together their own gear.

And one of the true gems of this era came in the form of a small rectangular desktop fuzz box, the Fuzz-A-Tort, designed by Sentry Manufacturing Company and released to the world January of 1968.

The first real introduction of the Fuzz-A-Tort was actually a month earlier, when Elementary Electronics magazine ran this teaser ad in their December 1967 issue; proclaiming that the new "way out" project will bring the reader "way in weird sounds"...

The article itself explains the circuit, essentially how it works, and how to build it. 

Any interested person with a bit of soldering experience could order one of these kits and build themselves a working FZ-1A style fuzz. It was a cool idea for the time, and one that pops up quite a bit throughout the late 60s and early 70s (see our article on the Knight Fuzz Box).

In fact, many brands from the 2nd wave of pedal makers site these magazines and do-it-yourself projects as being the catalyst to looking deeper into pedal design, and ultimately starting their own companies.

I won't post the entire article here, but if you're interesting in checking it out, HERE IS A LINK

So you're probably wondering how it sounds...

Well as we mentioned above, and if you know fuzz circuits at all, you probably recognize the 3 transistor / 1.5v configuration as being a Maestro FZ-1A. And in this case, it's bit closer to the LRE Fuzz Sound, which itself was an early FZ-1A clone of sorts.

And if you know how those ratty little bastards sound, then you pretty much know how this sounds. One thing that's fun to experiment with, when it comes to germanium transistors, is how the pedal reacts to temperature changes.

At a cold/room temp the Fuzz-A-Tort is a cross between a lower gain classic 60s fuzz and a nice crunchy primitive overdrive, i.e. the Astro Amp Astrotone

But when you start warming it up, things get real interesting... It begins to morph and take on all of those classic characteristics of an FZ-1A; hairy, gnarly, 60s Garage fuzz! 

So who was Sentry Manufacturing Co.? I asked myself this question because other than the Fuzz-A-Tort, that's not a name I recognize from anywhere else in the guitar fx or amplifier world.

Well it turns out that Sentry is mostly known to ham radio enthusiasts for their crystals (which I will let Wikipedia do the explaining HERE), and other radio related parts.

So the tie-in to electronics hobby magazines makes total sense. And I'm sure if I did a bit more digging I would come across other collaborations between Sentry and Elementary Electronics.

But as it stands, this seems to be the only time they did anything guitar related.

I feel like I'm always encouraging you to collect and hoard this stuff, but I swear, the Sentry Fuzz-A-Tort is a cool find! And I do recommend picking one up if you come across any; if for no other reason than it's an important, but often overlooked part of fuzz and stompbox history.

thanks for reading,