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.

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