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,

Friday, March 1, 2024

Elk Big Muff demo time / /

This has been online for a few years, but never featured here.

So check out one of my favorite mid 70s Japanese Big Muff copies, the ELK Big Muff Sustainar!

Thanks for watching!