The Fuzzy Mix that is the Fender Blender

Among the legendary pedals that make up the now classic typology of fuzzes—the fuzzy trinity of the Big Muff, Fuzz Face, and Tone Bender—little mention is made of other vintage pedals that started strong yet failed to catch on. To be fair, the 1960s witnessed an onslaught of a fuzz arms race. They flooded the market. Other contenders into the expanding effect game included Gibson, Mosrite, Ampeg, and Univox, just to name a few. Even among these, however, the Fender Blender stood for producing a sound all its own, which often the reason a pedal is loved or loathed. In 1968, the Fender Blender hit the market. As ads attached the pedal to players as broad as Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison—at times with some speculation over artist use or endorsement—the pedal met a degree of success.

While it bears tints of the tones of Roger Mayer’s Octavia or the Shin-ei Superfuzz, the pedal’s character is bound up in its collapsing fuzz, octave, and sustain controls. On a control panel that looks like it’s designed for the dash of the Millenium Falcon, the first Fender Blenders feature volume, sustain, tone, and tone blend knobs. While these pretty much function as advertised, there are some commonly known sweet spots, and bitter ones too. The spectrum of the fuzz tones kicked out a range from delightfully aggressive and uncontrollable to edgy and shrill.

By the mid-1970s, Fender attempted a streamline, releasing a version of the pedal featuring but three knobs. Here the sound was set to stun using a sustain, gain, and a selector knob that spun between preamp and fuzz stages. Unfortunately, this retake on the already contestable original didn’t catch on. By 1977, the pedal was pulled and lingered in Fender’s back catalogue for decades.

In the early 1990s, the stage set for a resurrection of Fender’s fuzz relic. The renewed interest was catalyzed by some of the decade’s greatest innovators of rock. First there was Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, then Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins, and eventually Fender decided to revisit their fuzzy past. In the fuzz-filled anthologies of both bands, you’re likely to hear the Fender Blender most on Shields’ riffs on Loveless and Corgan’s playing on Gish.

Both bands contributed to a fuzz revolution that is ongoing until today—just take a look at Electro Harmonix’ recent release of the Pumpkins inspired Big Muff Op Amp. 2005 marks the most recent time Fender caved to the popular vote and released a reissue of the original four knob version. While the germainium components of the reissue produce a darker sound than the original’s largely silicon diodes and transistors, the 1960s soul of the original remains.

If you’re reading this over your Sunday morning coffee, chances are a blender is something you’re more likely to make a smoothie in than to generate a wall of fuzz. Whether your gear is relic or reissue, whatever you’re playing, have a great #RiffCitySunday.

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