Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Nomad Super Fuzz (rite)?

Back around 2011 I came across a post on an old guitar effects forum that had a photo of a random grouping of vintage fuzz pedals. Last year I made a post about one of these, the insanely rare v1 bakelite version of the Seamoon Fresh Fuzz (check it out here). But another, even more rare pedal stuck out of the blurry pixelation and looked like a Mosrite Fuzzrite but with the logo "Nomad" blazoned across the front...

Nomad Super Fuzz Mosrite Fuzzrite

Fast forward 13 years, and I now own both of the pedals from that photo. And while the bakelite Fresh Fuzz is definitely one of my grail finds, the more interesting one is actually the Nomad Super Fuzz.

What is this thing? Where did it come from? WHO is Nomad???

So let's get into what we do know just by holding one of these in my hands.

Nomad Super Fuzz Mosrite Fuzzrite

After opening it up I was met with probably the biggest surprise; that it's a germanium Fuzzrite! Either from late 1966 or early 1967. It shares the exact same guts as my longtime germanium Mosrite Fuzzrite from the same era, and pretty much the same tone.

This was surprising because as of now I don't think any other OEM versions of a germanium Fuzzrite have ever surfaced. And even later silicon versions, like the Guild Foxey Lady and the ZB Custom fuzz aren't considered true OEMs.

Nomad Super Fuzz Mosrite Fuzzrite

Now I will admit, when I first saw this pedal I considered the possibility that the "Nomad" logo was added later on. And if you've ever seen a real germanium Fuzzrite there's a great chance that all of the labeling has worn off completely. So anyone could theoretically take a blank enclosure and add to it however they wanted.

But upon closer inspection the original knob, switch, and jack labeling are all still in tact and worn exactly the same way as the "Nomad" logo itself.

So this obscurity does seem to be very real! Which  leads back to the original question, Who was "Nomad" in the first place? and what was their relation to Mosrite?

Nomad Super Fuzz Mosrite Fuzzrite

There is a Nomad in the effects world, that in 1968 would debut their first effect, the Banshee Fuzz. These were made by Applied Audio out of New Jersey and distributed by LIMMCO Inc. They then followed this up with the Rogue Fuzz, also made by Applied Audio, which was the same as the Banshee with an extra gain stage.

But these effects aside and the handful of Nomad amplifiers I have been to find photos of, none of the logos match; and other than attending some tradeshows like NAMM and AMDIE the same years, the likelihood of LIMMCO having a random bi-coastal relationship with Mosrite is very slim.

So as of now, there are still a few mysteries left to be researched. 

Nomad Super Fuzz Mosrite Fuzzrite

The final cool little detail to mention about the Nomad Super Fuzz is that if it legitimately has a 1966/67 production date then it would predate the Univox Super Fuzz by at least a year, and was just a few months behind the Marshall Supa Fuzz. Which means that this is the very first pedal ever called "Super Fuzz", if we don't count the Marshall, that is. ;)

Alright, please let me know if you have any further info on Nomad, Fuzzrite OEMs, or this pedal specifically. As always you can message me via Email or Instagram

thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Emmons Riptone Fuzz

Long misattributed to the legendary pedal steel brand Emmons, the Riptone has a much cloudier history, that even now I'm still trying to unravel...

Taking one look at the Emmons Riptone you can probably guess what's going on in there. Yep! this is another FZ-1A copy, birthed out of the mid/late 60s pedal craze that saw every guitar, amplifier, and mom-&-pop shop scrambling to jump on the fuzzy bandwagon. 

Emmons Riptone Fuzz

So if this Emmons wasn't THE Emmons, of pedal steel fame, then who actually was responsible for the Riptone fuzz?

Well the clue that got me looking deeper was just sitting right there on the face of the pedal, directly under the output jack:

"Mfd. by Emmons Industries. Belleville, New Jersey"
Emmons Riptone Fuzz

Knowing the more famous Emmons brand was based out of Tennessee, I found it odd that they would have had any association with manufacturing a pedal in NJ of all places.

So I dug a bit, and even though there's not a lot out there about this other Emmons, I was able to track down a small company profile from 1966! It seems to show Emmons Industries as an electronics and parts manufacturer/supplier.

We also get a look at the name of the owner, Donald R Emmons; which definitely puts to rest any association with Buddy Emmons' pedal steel company (who released the Fuzz Machine and String Machine in the 70s).

Emmons Riptone Fuzz

Emmons Riptone Fuzz

As of now there is little to no additional info that I have been able to find regarding Emmons Industries. But if we look at other electronics companies of the time; Lafayette, Olson, Allied, etc. then it's not so surprising that Emmons was also getting in on the action.

Now, what I don't know is if they offered any additional guitar effects, amps or accessories, so if anyone out there has an old Emmons Industries catalog, I would love to see it!

Emmons Riptone Fuzz

So how does it sound?

Well a friend of the blog has an original, and it definitely sounds like an FZ-1A (as you would expect). And just like most 60s germanium fuzzes, it is heavily affected by temperature changes. 

A little colder, the tone tightens and is less aggressive; warm it up, and you get a full-on gnarly garage, spitting, classic 60s fuzz!

One could say, it sounds like the tone is being, ripped...🤓🤔

Emmons Riptone Fuzz

There's a few things you'll notice when looking inside the Riptone; 1. is that it's clearly an FZ-1A style fuzz. 2. the components match those found in other fuzzes from late 60s NY/NJ manufacturers, and 3. all of the boards have been cracked in half!

The photo above is the only unit I have been able to find still sporting all of its original caps and transistors (which were later replaced by its next owner).

So at this point, the only 3 Emmons Riptones known to exist all have had some parts replaced:

Emmons Riptone Fuzz

Emmons Riptone Fuzz

Emmons Riptone Fuzz

It's also safe to assume the consistently broken pcb is a result of the switch being threaded directly through the board and then attached to the enclosure.

Just a handful of stomps from an over-excited delinquent fuzz fiend probably was enough to crack the board like we see here. But what's most surprising is that it apparently didn't affect the functionality at all???

While this is an obvious flaw, it is again though not super surprising coming from an electronics company that probably wasn't regularly making guitar equipment; and the poor design is also a possible reason why we don't see too many of these floating around nowadays.

Emmons Riptone Fuzz

Emmons Riptone Fuzz

So that is the Emmons Riptone fuzz!

As is with a lot of pedals we feature here, there are still a ton of unknowns.

Who actually built these?

When did they come out?

How and where were they sold?

Is it actually called the "Criptone"? 

So if you do happen to own an original Emmons Riptone please reach out to me via Email or Instagram. I would love to hear from you, especially if you bought the pedal new in the 60s!

Thanks as always,

Sunday, June 2, 2024

History of the Gray DOD 250

Continuing on with the NO Demos video series, the newest episode looks very, VERY deeply into the origins of the best overdrive pedal of all time, the DOD 250 Overdrive Preamp.

This is something I have been breaking my brain researching over the past few years, and decided it was finally time to put all of these facts, theories, guesses, and conjectures out there in the form of a two-part video series.

So here is Part 1! It's really for the true nerds, so get ready...🤓

*Update! Here is Part 2 //

Thank you for watching!

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Jansen Fuzzman (NZ)

When it comes to vintage effects from New Zealand there sadly isn't a huge pool to dive into. And while we've taken a look at brands like Gunn and Holden in the past (who both put out some really awesome pedals) the majority of 60s/70s effects from NZ are still relatively unknown outside of Middle Earth.

Within this hidden world is yet another brand that most likely slipped past your radar until today, and that is Jansen; a guitar and amplifier company that was based out of Auckland. And while their main forte was amps, in the mid 60s - early 70s they took a stab at the effects market with two pedals; the Twin Wow-Wow & Volume, and the perfectly named Fuzzman

Jansen Fuzzman

A little digging around online revealed that the Jansen Fuzzman went through a few cosmetic, and at least two circuit alterations over its lifetime.

There are the grey and black tooled enclosures, and the two rectangular project box enclosures (that look less like pedals and more like table-top units, à la the Rangemaster).

Jansen Fuzzman

As it is with these older pedals from the other side of the planet, it's usually quite difficult to track one down outside of the home country. So I have yet to find one, but with multiple iterations and the amount of photos floating around of existing units, they don't seem to be overly rare.

What is awesome however, is that someone was gracious enough to record a demo of his later version and load it up online:

In addition to the cosmetic differences, the two component photos I have been able to find show what appears to be an earlier germanium Fuzz Face inspired circuit, and a later modded/souped up silicon version. 

The original Jansen Fuzzman was designed by Bruce Eady and reportedly modified later on for more gain and stability. 

*As of now I have yet to see any circuit images of the table-top units, but I'm guessing they're pretty similar inside???

Jansen Fuzzman

Jansen Fuzzman

So as you can see I have been able to gather a bit of information on these, but there are still a lot of unknowns...

Exactly how long were they made? How many? Why the different enclosures? Were they exclusively sold in New Zealand? etc.

Jansen Fuzzman

Jansen Fuzzman

So if you happen to own one, or have any additional info on Jansen as a brand, or even just the Fuzzman itself, please reach out to me via Email or Instagram

Thank you as always,

Friday, April 26, 2024

The Randall FX Line (Late 70s)

For just about 3 years (1977-1979) Randall Amplifiers got into the effects game with a set of 5 pedals; the RP-1 Phase, RP-2 Phase, RP-4 Phase, Notch Generator, and the Envelope Generator

Randall RP-4 Notch Generator

Randall RP-1 Phase RP-2

So where did these come from and were they any good?

In late 1976 Seamoon engineer Jerry Pynckel decided to part ways with the brand, where he had developed a few of their best products; the Funk Machine II, the Controlled Tone Preamp, and the Studio Phase.

Seamoon Studio Phase

His first solo venture into the effects world was starting a brand where he could really flex his engineering skills. It was called Design Technology and featured an innovative roster of pedals; including the Flange Delay Line, the Notch Generator, the Phase Delay Line, and the VCO-VCA(*as of now it is unknown whether this came before or after Seamoon)

If you look at the photo below I'm guessing you'll notice that the Design Technology pedals look strikingly similar to the Randall line. And also, some are literally the same exact product; the Notch Generator, the Phase Delay Line (RP-4), and the VCO-VCA (Envelope Generator).

And you would be 100% correct in your observation! Because in late 1977 Pynckel landed a deal with Randall to build their pedals, and it was a fairly easy transition as he simply adapted the Design Technology effects to the Randall aesthetic (or more accurately, the other way-around). 

In fact, the Notch Generator was an even earlier design he utilized during his Seamoon days, as the Controlled Tone Preamp (albeit, the Notch Generator kicks out a much grittier and crunchier tone). And the RP-2 Phase is supposed to be an adaptation of the his design for Seamoon, the Studio Phase (which was later modded and rereleased as the Studio Flanger, which itself was further adapted by Analog Digital Associates and released as the famous A/DA Flanger... but that's another post entirely).

Both the Design Technology and the Randall pedals are pretty rare, and some of them I can't even find photos of. But I do have the Envelope Generator, which is a super fat sounding auto-wah, and the Randall Notch Generator, which sounds amazing! It's like a giant cookie monster sounding fuzz with a fairly unique tone control.

Randall Notch Generator

In addition to the elusive Design Technology pedals, one effect from the Randall line I have not been able to find even a photo of is the RP-4 Phase. So if you happen to have one please reach out via Email or Instagram, or comment below and let me know! I would love to document their existence beyond just a catalog image.

thanks as always for reading!

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Wait, who invented the Tone Machine ???

So last week I finally broke down and bought a copy of the classic 1997 book "The Stompbox" by Art Thompson, and came across an interview with Steve Ridinger (who you probably remember from our last post on the Liverpool Fuzz, as the founder of fOXX). 

The book is actually pretty great; showing tons of old dealer ads, pedals that are still quite rare today, and a whole bunch of interviews with legendary effects builders. And while most of the information is stuff I had heard before, the quote below from Steve Ridinger hit me like a nuclear bomb...

I was involved in the design of our first wah-wah, but we got help from some other people for the rest of our products. The Tone Machine was designed by a classmate of mine from Hollywood High School. His name was Rob, but I don't remember his last name. As far as I know that was the first fuzz unit with a switch-able octave effect. I didn't even know how to spell octave then-that's why it's written "octive" on these boxes.

Wait, did Steve Ridinger just say that someone he went to high school with was actually the one responsible for inventing fOXX's greatest pedal? And also that he can't remember the guy's last name?!!!

Well after reading this my curiosity kicked in to overdrive and I immediately found the Hollywood High School yearbook from 1969. I honed in on anyone named Robert, and also Ridinger himself just to make sure I was looking in the right place.

well, the internet came through as it always does. :)

Ok, step two was to find anyone named "Robert". But this was going to be a much more difficult task, as apparently in 1951 naming your baby "Robert" was stupidly popular (in fact, it was the 2nd most popular name of that year). 

So it looks like my work's cut out for me; now having to sift through each one and tracing their lives via Google, 50+ years later to see if there are any engineers among them and who the most likely candidate could be.

But I actually feel pretty good that soon enough we will find who the true inventor of the Tone Machine really was.

wish me luck, and stay tuned...

Friday, April 5, 2024

Liverpool Fuzz Tone (fOXX)

In November of 1968 a new fuzz box was introduced to the world through the pages of Billboard magazine. The pop publication ran a little blurb proclaiming a new fuzz-tone that "shatters sound" and can "last more than 1,000 hours without a battery change".

Known as the Liverpool Fuzz Tone, from Ridinger Associates, it was a fairly unique circuit for the time that utilized 3 germanium transistors and ran off of 9v. Primitive and raw, it was a hidden gem of American 60's fuzz. 

One month later the Liverpool Fuzz was given a similar treatment in the UK publication Beat Instrumental. Although lacking in classic American hyperbole, this small write-up served as the European introduction to one of the most prolific builders of the 1970s.

And finally, a few months later we would get to actually see the Liverpool Fuzz highlighted in a photo ad, seemingly associated with New England distributor Harris-Fandel, showing a small table-top unit with a hardwired output cable and an on/off switch. 

And while the late 60s were flooded with unoriginal copies and clones, the Liverpool Fuzz Tone immediately stood out, and still holds a very significance place in the history of guitar effects...

So what's the deal with this thing and why is it so important?

Well for those unaware, this is the first effect built and released by Ridinger Associates, or better known as Steve Ridinger of Danelectro fame, Gorilla Amplifiers, and most importantly fOXX!

The story is that he originally built the first Liverpool Fuzzes in 1966 when he was just 14 yrs old. The lore goes on to say that as a young teenager he didn't have the money to buy a fuzz pedal, nor did he have access to any fuzz schematics, so he came up with a fuzz/drive circuit of his own. These early units were all hand-wired using stripboard. Around 1967 he did a deal with a US distributor and also outsourced the manufacturing to a third party who paired it down to a small black enclosure and incorporated a printed circuit board for a cheaper/faster build. 

Ridinger estimates between 500-1,000 were produced in this time (1966-1969). And while that seems like a large number compared to some other pedals we have discussed, the nondescript nature of the blank black enclosure combined with no labeling of any kind, has made it near impossible to track one of these down. And at this point I have only seen 2 in my 20+ years of collecting. 

Following the Liverpool Fuzz, Ridinger created and released the Fox Wa Pedal, which would be the first time he would use the "Fox" name, and ultimately lead to him starting the fOXX brand just a year later.

In the world of vintage guitar pedal collectors these two effects mean a lot. Without Steve Ridinger deciding to dip his toes into building, marketing and distributing stompboxes at such an early age, we may never have heard of fOXX or the best fuzz of all-time, the Tone Machine!

And it all started in 1966 with a little hand-built effect called the Liverpool Fuzz Tone.

As always if you happen to have one of these or any additional info, please feel free to hit me up via Email or Instagram

thanks for reading!

Monday, March 18, 2024

Crawdaddy Magazine Vol. IV No. 14 (1970)

I'm hoping you can help!

A few months back I posted an article about one of the earliest Big Muff ads I have ever found. It came out of Crawdaddy Magazine, from either March or April of 1970, and features a nice quarter-page photo ad from Electro Harmonix. 

And while I have been able to acquire most of the Crawdaddy issues from that year, I am missing one. Volume 4, Issue 14 from October 1970.

Originally the main story was an interview with Ray Davies of the Kinks. But right as they were about to send it off to the presses, Jimi Hendrix tragically died. And so the cover was changed and a small tribute was added.

Crawdaddy vol. IV no. 14 1970 Hendrix

Interestingly I am looking for this issue not so much because of the Hendrix tribute, but because it contains a couple of ads that I'm desperately trying to track down.

If you happen to have a copy of Crawdaddy vol. IV no. 14 please contact me via Email or Instagram

Thanks for your help!

Saturday, March 16, 2024

NO Demos. 📽️

Well I went and did it, I started a YouTube channel that's essentially a video version of the blog.

And I wanted it to be just that, deep dives into obscure old pedals. But instead of my poor writing skills, you'll get my much poorer verbal communication skills. 😂

The show is called "NO Demos" and the first two episodes are live now! 

>>> Here's a link to the channel. <<<

So I hope you like em, and thanks so much for watching. 🙏

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Vintage Guitar Pedal Print Media


For about as long as I have been collecting pedals, I've also been collecting pedal related media; catalogs, ads, books, brochures, warranty cards, magazines, etc.

They were always just cool to look at and experience a small taste of what it was like when these were originally being released.

But it wasn't until this past year when I started writing again that I realized how much I actually relied on this old media to help tell the stories of when and where many of these pedals came from.

The further you go back, the harder it is to determine exact dates with any of this stuff. And even some of the most important fx of all time, like the Big Muff, still have their true release dates shrouded in mystery. 

Which is exactly why I began to properly catalog all the media I have lying around; by date, publication, brand, and model. The stories of these pedals have been told and retold thousands of times over the years, and many of them are inaccurate at best, but oftentimes the most repeated pedal lore is a complete fabrication. So having an accurate database of images that show the Big Muff was available to buy in April of 1970, for instance, helps a lot in narrowing down what is true vs. what is not.

I assume that if you're reading this that you have a similar interest in the history of guitar effects pedals. And while there aren't too many of us out here digging for that history and making it freely available on the internet, we wouldn't be able to tell these stories accurately without this forgotten media.

So my ask for you all, is if you have any physical or digital copies of catalogs, trade journals, order forms, brochures, magazine articles, ads, warranty cards, etc., and would like to contribute to this site (and eventually a fully public database), please contact me via Email or Instagram.

I keep Tone Machines completely sponsor/ad free and make no money from doing this. It's purely a passion project. And while I love tracking this stuff down myself, I feel as though I have hit the end of what is currently available online. So any new scans or photos could be the missing key that helps unlock the true history of guitar pedals.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, March 11, 2024

Claybridge (pre) Fuzzmaster!

Last month I received an email asking about a mysterious little fuzz box that had made its way into an Australian guitar shop. Neither the shop owner, Chris, nor the seller had any idea of what it could be or if it held any type of significance. And even though it looked like something somebody cooked up in a high school electronics class, it sounded great! 

And that was just enough motivation for Chris to buy it and enlist some local friends who could maybe help figure out what this thing was. Well after a couple months of digging, he was pointed in the direction of this article we wrote last year about the elusive Claybridge Fuzzmaster. And a few paragraphs in, it seemed as though they had cracked the case...

This is where I came in. 😁

On February 21st Chris' email landed at my inbox, and because of the time difference it arrived around 4am. Luckily for me, I had a terrible sleep that night and happened to glance over at my phone shortly afterwards. Seeing the notification, in a sleepy daze I opened it and began reading. 

After the first line of text I was hit with so much adrenaline that I jumped out of bed and immediately responded. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, and part of me thought that it had to be some kind of hoax (a very niche and oddly obscure hoax). 

I quickly went back to my original article and pulled two ads, one from May 4th of 1966 and the other from May 16th of 1966. Both advertised different versions of the Claybridge Sound Systems Fuzz Box; one was describing a pre-Fuzzmaster circuit while the other seemed to be describing the Fuzzmaster, but before it was given that name.

I wouldn't know until I looked inside, but with what I was seeing this mystery pedal could be either.

So we exchanged emails for a few days and more photos starting pouring in. And after getting the all-important gut shots, it really seemed like this was indeed a PRE-Fuzzmaster, Claybridge Sound Systems Fuzz Box!

Everything was matching up: the two controls, the 15ft lead (or output cable), the sticker on the side that read the earliest name of the company; it was all there.

I was still a bit skeptical because this truly has to be as close to a 1 of 1 as possible, in terms of it "currently existing in the world".

So I went back over my old articles and database of photos. And then, all of the sudden, two major details jumped out as being definitive proof of its validity:

A. The small white knobs used on this "prototype" were also found on a legitimate v1 Fuzzmaster, in addition to appearing on the original Fuzzmaster ads!

B. The same label-maker seemed to be used on the MKIV Fuzzmasters!

So a deal was made, and now it was time to wait.

Unfortunately, and for reasons I can't figure out, getting mail from Australia always takes 10X longer than any other country. I can get packages from Japan in 2-3 days usually, and most parts of Europe a week/week and a half at most. But who knows?

Well, it's March 11th and the wait is finally over, because it is here!!! And holy shit this is cool.

The very first thing I did was open it up and take a look inside. It was hard to tell from the emails exactly what was going on in there, so my anticipation was insanely high.

Well, Ralph Bridges must have known he had something really special here because the circuit is completely encapsulated in an opaque epoxy resin.

This is not unlike the infamous "brick" inside of an Ampeg Scrambler, and also not any less of a kick in the stomach for pedal nerds like myself. 

That initial disappointment aside, what is notable about the guts is that the enclosure seems entirely too small to hold a true Fuzzmaster circuit (which is essentially a 2 transistor fuzz that's smashing a treble booster). So even though this pedal matches most of the details described in the May 16th ad, I can't see how it would be possible to fit both the "improved" fuzz circuit and the "inbuilt treble boost" into such a tiny space.

The other thing to note are the components we can see, like the two resistors and that big yellow cap hiding below the wires. Including the pots, jack and switch, everything matches up pretty well with a 1966 release.

So, let's see how it sounds.


Well the first thing to note is that this generates an enormous volume boost. Even with the fuzz set to its lowest, this is loud as hell. I compared it to my original MKIV Fuzzmaster and my d*a*m Fuzz Supreme, which is a clone of an original green Fuzzmaster. And when it comes to pure volume it blows both away.

The actual tone is different too. 

Against my MKIV, this is much more aggressive. In addition to being louder, it's also gainier, fatter, and kicks out more midrange. The MKIV also gates in a really cool way, sort of in the vain of an FZ-1; but this other pedal sustains for days, not unlike a Big Muff or a Rat.

Compared to the d*a*m Fuzz Supreme, the overall tone is bit closer, but still pretty different. There is just something "organic" about this that's hard to describe. The closest thing maybe, would be how a real MKI Tone Bender would sound if it had a baby with a perfboard Muff; just raw, pure, and a bit unhinged. The d*a*m version is much more articulate and does a bit of that scooped-mids thing we associate with a Civil War Muff, while this pre-Fuzzmaster spews its thick crunchy midrange from every orifice.

No joke, and hyperbole aside, this is one of the best fuzz pedals I have ever heard.

While I have you here, I wanted to take a second and point out something that I noticed recently.

This is my MKIV Claybridge Fuzzmaster. As you can see it's gold. And I have always thought that Claybridge used gold, in addition to the silver hammerite paint. But then I really looked at it again, and this very spot made me rethink my original assessment.

Notice how the gold paint goes up over the metal plate? And how you can see silver peaking out underneath. Well, I'm an idiot, and this has almost certainly been repainted at some point.

I will throw myself a bit of grace as only 3 of these have surfaced over the years. Although the other 2 are definitely silver. :) So I apologize for any confusion my gold Fuzzmaster has caused.

Alright, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Aria Distortion Sustainer RE-102 (1975?)

Aria, a brand that is mostly known in the stompbox world for their 80s Dual Stage Series (which happen to be some of my favorite vintage effects), initially began manufacturing pedals in the mid-70s with their RE Series. Releasing different types of phasers, boosts and distortions, arguably the greatest of them all was the RE-102 Distortion Sustainer.

Aria Electronics (aka Arai & Co. Inc.) has an interesting history when it comes to effects. In 1968 they released their first pedal, an unlabeled OEM version of the infamous Sekova wedge fuzz. The following year they released another OEM series, this time built by Thunder Electronics, that utilized the Royal Fuzz and Wah/Fuzzes. And finally, under the Aria Diamond label they contracted Maxon/Ibanez to build another set of Fuzzes and Wahs, which are probably recognizable to even the casual pedal collector.  

All of this jumping around does make sense for the time, as Aria had been a guitar brand since the mid 50's. And just like countless others in the late 60s, they decided to dive into the burgeoning pedal game in the easiest way possible, by paying to have their logo slapped on someone else's creations. 

That is of course until the mid 1970s...

In 1974(?) Aria released a new line of effects known as the RE Series. No longer outsourced, and going with the trend of the time (lead by brands like MXR, Univox and Maxon), they featured enclosures with a smaller footprint. And while they initially came in a generic yellow-colored project box, Aria quickly wised up and switched over to a much cooler custom metal enclosure that had a textured black paint job similar to Electro Harmonix. 

*One odd fact to note is that Aria not only began building their own pedals at this time, but they completely flipped the script and began licensing them out to other brands! There was even at least one Royal branded pedal, in addition to a few other notable OEMs like Arbiter and Vox.

So how good was the RE Series?

Their phasers aside, the first distortion effect they put out was called the Distortion Booster. It was much closer to an overdrive / Distortion+ than a full-on fuzz. Cool, but unfortunately nothing to write home about. 

Then came the Power Booster, which was pretty much exactly what it sounds like. And while it's not going to take the place of your Uni-Drive any time soon, it does do a nice job of slamming the front of your amp (i.e. an LPB-1). 

And finally a Treble and Bass boost were both added to the mix. Again, no Rangemasters here, but both pedals accomplish what it is advertised.

So this brings us to the first real fuzz in the RE Series; the Big Muff-inspired RE-102 Distortion Booster. *this release date is a bit of a mystery, but my best guess is 1975, and at the very earliest, late '74. It featured a modified Triangle Muff circuit that removed both the recovery gain stage and the tone control found in a typical Big Muff. This created a beautiful, crunchy and wooly fuzz that sounds like a lower gain Muff going into a dirty tube amp. To me it's closest sonic cousin isn't even a Muff at all, but one of my other favorite fuzzes, the Italian Vox Distortion Booster

So after completely nailing a very cool interpretation of the Big Muff you would think that Aria would just have stopped there.

But obviously they didn't, because released at the very same time as the RE-102 was the RE-203 Super Fuzz Sustainer.

This was essentially the same exact pedal, but contained the missing tone control portion of the circuit, complete with a "Tone" pot (just like a real Big Muff!).

Unfortunately in doing so it did affect the overall sound a bit. The Super Fuzz Sustainer lacks in both the volume and gain that the Distortion Sustainer seems to kick out in the final turn of the knobs. And it is precisely in this spot where the real Muffy magic happens.

So while the cooler looking, bigger boxed, better named pedal (that also happens to be much more common) is fun, it just misses the mark on BIG fuzziness and playability. 

What is really cool/interesting is that both pedals share the same circuit board. But even though the Distortion Sustainer was first in serial numbering, it actually uses the RE-203 board and not the other way around!

Another thing to note about the board is that they both have a series of unused holes. Which raises a couple of questions: 

-Was there a 4 transistor/true Big Muff version that has just not surfaced yet? 

-Was it a financial/business decision where they decided they could get 90% of the way there and save some cash on less parts? 

-Was yet another 3rd party responsible for this Aria line, and did they produce a "true" Big Muff for someone else???

It also could very well be nothing. 😂

What is true is that by the mid 70s Japan was flooded with Big Muff style pedals. Brands like ElkGuyatone, Mirano, Sekova, and Ibanez all had their version of the circuit. And while most of them took a more straight-up approach, Aria and Guytone where the two stand-outs, with their modded lower gain offerings.

I'm definitely more of a "more gain is better" kind of person when it comes to fuzz. But when done well, a pedal can really shine in the lesser of extremes. And the Aria Distortion Sustainer is 100% that.

If you happen to come across one, don't hesitate because they are not easy to find. But they are pretty damn awesome when you do!

thanks for reading,