It’s tricky to make an impression that lasts for decades, harder still to make one that sets the standard for years to come. Yet with iconic gear such as the Roland Space Echo Delay and Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble, Roland and Boss set up a dynasty in the east that still looms large in the history and ongoing innovation of guitar gear. But what about the pedals that attained a cult following yet live in the lower tiers of their pedal pantheon?
There’s no way around it, the 1960s and 1970s saw an explosion of fuzz pedals. Of course, we all have our favorites and could argue that most pedals fall within the bounds of a “typology” of three or four main fuzz categories. Far be it from Roland back in the day to not have a horse in this race. Or, as it turns out, many horses. While the more famed gear of their past has seen recent reissues for a new generation—such as in the forms of the Boss CE-2w Chorus or Boss RE-20 Space Echo—their fuzz boxes have remained relics. If you ask me, however, Roland released three fuzz pedals in the 1970s that are ready for a resurrection in our own day.
Roland Double Beat AD-50
These days, we’re accustomed to the idea of pairing up two effects in a single stompbox. It’s economical, strategic, and just makes sense if you’re dealing with a set of effects that are a timeless duo. Surprise, surprise, Roland was way ahead of the curve on this one.
The Roland Double Beat AD-50 married wah and fuzz in a single effect pedal. It included a footswitch for fuzz and a rocking pedal for wah so the two effects could be used solo or in tag-team. The controls for the effects were simple yet brilliant. You get a knob for sustain, output level, and a “tone selector.” This last control was a wave form selector, giving you the option to choose between a sine, triangle, or square wave for the effect. Have a look around at a handful of modern fuzz, synth, and modulation pedals, and you’ll see exactly this sort of idea. Turns out Roland prophesied and pioneered this feature four decades ago.
Roland Bee Gee AF-60
Contrary to the pedal’s name, this was not a signature fuzz of the Bee Gees, though that would have made things a lot grittier! This is yet another mid-1970s take on fuzz offered up by Roland.
Compared to the Double Beat, this one is streamlined for use under feet. You get footswitch and two knobs to control output and tone. Classic. What I love about this design philosophy is it assumes you would never want anything less than a full-bore gain level from your fuzz. With a sweep of the tone control you get surprisingly broad spectrum of EQ coverage. With a twist of the output you’ll find a stepped wall of fuzz that’s aggressive no matter its size or volume.
Roland Bee Baa AF-100
This pedal is another early installment of Roland’s double-effect designs. This time it was another natural pair, fuzz and a treble boost, yet this go around offered another chance to innovate pedal user controls.
Up front, you’ll find three footswitches that relate to a set of knob controls on the top of the pedal. This allows you to set up a two channel fuzz effect with carefully crafted tones on each channel. The knobs on the top of the pedal include three dials for the fuzz (sustain, tone, and volume) and a single knob to adjust the level of treble boost. With the treble boost you get a nudge of grit, which turns into a drop kick of fuzz when the effects are doubled. Here too, if we want to look at the recent surge of dual-sided overdrive/fuzz and boost pedals, there’s a case to be made that Roland planted their flag on that territory decades ago.
Whether you’re a fan of old school fuzz or an aficionado of the modern takes of this classic effect, it might be that boxes like the early Roland effect pedals show that some of the best new ideas are anchored in something very old.