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Monday, August 5, 2013

The Accident That Changed Modern Guitar Sound

Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone image
Distortion and the guitar go together like peanut butter and jelly, but did you ever wonder how the combination came about? Believe it or not, the sound that everyone loves was a product of a country music session in Nashville in 1960.

According to an article in The Tennessean by Peter Cooper, the first recorded distorted guitar came about as an accident when the 3 channel console malfunctioned during a Marty Robbins session for the song "Don't Worry." According to the engineer of the session, Glen Snoddy, the transformer on one of the console's mic preamps failed, causing it to distort, but everyone loved the sound.

The song went on to be #1 on the country charts and #3 on the pop charts and suddenly everyone was coming to the studio (Owen Bradley's famous Quonset Hut Studio) looking to replicate the sound. The only problem was that the channel with the lovely distortion had by that time failed completely, which caused Snoddy to hastily build a pedal that replicated the sound.

Now keep in mind that this was the very first guitar pedal!

Snoddy then offered the pedal to Gibson, who issued it as the Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone in 1962. The problem was that it didn't catch on. In fact, it was only when The Stones' Keith Richards used the pedal on the world-wide hit "Satisfaction" that the world finally appreciated the wonders of the distortion pedal, and sales took off.

Snoddy collected royalties for 7 years on his creation, but continued to engineer and recorded hits for Loretta Lynn, Jimmy Buffett, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Johnny Cash ("Ring of Fire"). He's 91 and retired now, but hopefully people will remember him as the architect of the modern distorted guitar and the guitar pedal.

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1 comment:

CaptainVictory said...

If you take the tour at Sun Studio in Memphis, they'll tell you that the first recorded guitar distortion was on Jackie Brenson's "Rocket 88." Supposedly, the amplifier fell out of the truck on Highway 61 (great reference there, too). They stuffed newspaper into the damaged unit. Ike Turner (who played piano on the track) says the amp got wet in the rain. Anyway, this happened in 1951 -- nine years before Marty Robbins's session.


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