Interview: “This is arguably the first guitar effects pedal ever” – Gibson on the return of the FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone and Maestro pedals
60 years ago Maestro’s first pedal – the FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone – was released. Kickstarting a revolution in sound, this was the ancestor of all fuzz pedals
Employing three germanium transistors, this simple circuit was slow to take off at first. But by the mid-’60s, the burgeoning electric guitar world couldn’t get enough of the new fuzz sound.
During the formative years of the effects pedal market in the 60s and 70s, Maestro was synonymous with innovation.
Besides the FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone, other Maestro firsts include the PS-1 Phase Shifter and RM-1 Ring Modulator pedals designed by Tom Oberheim – both also considered to be the first commercially available pedals of this type.
Today, these vintage effects along with other classics such as the Maestro Echoplex tape delays and the Rover rotary speaker are held in high esteem. Indeed, the demand for Maestro products has probably never been higher.
This year, after a long hiatus, Gibson has finally brought Maestro back to life by releasing a series of pedals that hark back to the brand’s rich heritage.
We spoke to Gibson’s director of engineering, Craig Hockenberry, to find out more.
For years people have asked, “Why isn’t Gibson reintroducing Maestro pedals?” We are delighted to see that they have finally arrived.
“It was definitely time. [laughs] Obviously, we recognize that the pedal market is saturated and everyone is playing it. But Maestro pretty much founded the effects pedal market in the early 60s.”
Of course, Maestro can lay claim to the first fuzz pedal, the FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone.
“It’s arguably the first guitar effects pedal. At least the first on the market was the Fuzz-Tone in 1962. That was the grandfather.”
How was the FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone born?
There is a little story. Marty Robbins was tracking Don’t Worry in the early ’60s in a studio here in Nashville and one of the mixer’s channel strips came out. But they liked the sound of the distorted bass guitar so much that engineer, Glenn Snoddy, recreated the sound through the FZ-1. He made a product out of it. It’s so cool how it happened.
“At the time, all the transistors were germanium. The FZ-1 is a super simple circuit. It only has a few gain stages.”
What made the FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone so successful?
“Because Keith Richards got himself one and used it to record. In ’65 he did a demo track for (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, but that iconic lead guitar line was meant to simulate They liked it so much they decided to keep it.
“After that, the demand for FZ-1 exploded.”
The FZ-1 inspired countless other mid-’60s fuzz pedal designs…
Oh yes. There were so many. Obviously the Tone Bender and the Fuzz Face, but there were so many others that followed suit. It exploded in the mid-60s… And then Hendrix came along.
Tell us about the Gibson EB-OF bass, which also appeared in 1962.
This has the exact same circuitry as the FZ-1 built into the guitar. It’s an SG-style bass, similar to the EB-0, but Gibson only made it for a few years. There is ‘Fuzztone’ written on the scratchplate.
The new Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ-M has a slightly different name. What does the ‘M’ stand for?
“The ‘M’ stands for ‘modern’ because it’s a modern version of the FZ-1. Everything is analog and has true bypass. But instead of using germanium transistors, we use silicon transistors They tend to be much more reliable and more readily available.
“It’s a mass marketed product, and we didn’t want to be in a position where we couldn’t source components. Plus, assorted germanium transistors [for gain, noise, leakage etc.] is such an essential part of getting a good sound and we didn’t want to take anything away.”
What are the differences between the two FZ-M modes, Modern and Classic?
“We were able to capture the sound of the original FZ-1 in a classic setting. You can really dial in the sound of the FZ-1 if you want. We’ve had a lot of feedback and people seem to like this classic. is a biting sound that rips and cuts through anything. It has a mid-high slant and it just sounds scorching. It’s awesome!
The Modern setting offers a more modern fuzz sound. There’s more of a mid-range boost and a bit more low-end. You can also dial in soft, cool sounds on the Modern setting if you remove the attack.
Different settings use different tone circuits. There’s more mid-sweep in the modern frame, so you can get that mid-range bump if you want.
It looks like two fuzz pedals in one unit…
“That’s where we are with these pedals – we wanted to give the user two pedals in one for less than $150.”
How the FZ-M sound works vary between single coils and humbuckers?
“It depends on what you’re trying to get out of it, but I’d say the FZ-M fuzz works equally well with both. this biting.”
Such a range of sounds can be very useful for recording…
“Heck, yeah! We think the Maestro pedals will work great in the studio. The design team worked hard on sound quality and background noise reduction. We have a lot of experience in professional audio design and silent circuits.”
Tell us about the Ranger Overdrive…
“Again, it’s like two pedals in one; there are two styles of overdrive. It has op amp circuits with diode clipping, but the Hi and Lo modes are two separate circuits. We use different diodes on each setting for a different flavor of overdrive.
“With the Lo setting, we mix in some of the clean signal, giving the sound extra range and breadth. The Hi mode gives you an extremely expressive amp-like drive. has no clean signal. [signal] mixture.
“The Ranger’s controls are very responsive. Even though it only has three knobs, you can dial in just about any overdrive tone you need. That’s because there are so many game in the buttons.
“The Ranger Overdrive’s Hi and Lo settings share the same tone circuit, but due to the different styles of overdrive we have in there, it reacts quite differently. It’s a very responsive pedal. If you switch between the two settings – from one style of diode to another – the harmonics are quite different. And the tone circuit reacts differently with those harmonics.”
Is it symmetrical or asymmetrical? Or both?
Where does the name Ranger come from?
“It comes from the name of an old Gibson amp. For all these pedals, we tried to find old names that Gibson or Maestro used in the past. Obviously there’s the Fuzz-Tone, but the Ranger, the ‘Invader, Discoverer and Comet are all vintage amp names.
The Gate On/Gate Off modes on the Invader Distortion are interesting…
“Originally we were going to do the ‘two pedals in one’ thing with the Invader Distortion. Our original idea was to have attack and destruction settings – one being very high gain and the another extremely exaggerated. But when we designed the extremely exaggerated sound, it became hard to control the feedback (I mean it was ridiculously high gain!) so, we started building a noise gate.
“The lower high gain setting sounded so good and is so rich in harmonics, we thought ‘why not just make this switch a noise gate instead?’ “In the end, we turned up the gain a bit more on the upper end of the Gain knob and added a noise gate in case someone needed to control the feedback.
“You can dial the [noise gate] threshold using a potentiometer inside the pedal. So the Invader Distortion really shines for blowing and muting. I mean you can dial it to be silent which is a nice feature.
The Discoverer timeframe looks great. It’s nice to see that a Modulation on/off mode has been included. Are there potentiometers inside the pedal to adjust the modulation parameters?
“There are two knobs to adjust the speed and level of modulation in the Discoverer Delay. The modulation is so cool. It ranges from a nice little band like wow and flutter in the lower settings to an extremely offbeat effect. has an extreme adaptability.”
What is the difference between Orbit and Earth modes on the Comet Chorus?
“We really wanted to dial in a classic Maestro vibe with the Comet Chorus. Like the Discoverer Delay, it’s a bucket brigade circuit, which gives you that classic analog chorus sound when in Earth mode. It gives you a pitch modulation which works really well, especially at slower speeds.
“Orbit mode adds amplitude modulation which gives more of a rotary speaker-like effect. When you close your eyes, it’s like standing in front of a Leslie speaker. At the time, Maestro created a rotary speaker called the Rover and it’s the kind of sound we were looking for.
“The Mix knob also helps give the Comet Chorus a unique flavor. It mixes the amount of chorus signal, but the other neat thing is that when you crank it it gives you a very slight boost. We have a million guitarists here at Gibson and someone else recommended this feature to make the guitar sound punchier We put a little kick in the end it’s only one decibel or two, but that makes all the difference.
Are there any other Maestro pedals on the way?
“We have five more coming soon that follow the same space age theme. The sky is the limit for what Maestro is going to do. We have a roadmap for the next five years and we will definitely be doing some cool re-releases. We’re going to make essential pedals like these, and we’re going to get back into the innovative side of Maestro.
“In the 60s, Maestro was synonymous with innovation and we want to bring it to today’s world. We’re going to push the boundaries of it all and the whole team is super excited about it.”
For more information on Maestro pedals, go to Gibson.