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When Gibson Pioneered the First-Ever Pedal Demo

In addition to inspiring modern guitarists in new ways, the guitar pedal craze in which we live has also spun out a media genre of video guitar pedal demos. Chances are, most of us burn a fair bit of bandwidth previewing pedals via YouTube demos on the countless channels that stream news of the latest releases straight to our smartphones. The genre of the pedal demo, however, is not new. In fact, it precedes the age of the internet and is as old as the very first guitar pedal itself.

On his weekly vlog, Josh Scott (the mind at the helm of JHS Pedals) discovered what he believes is the first ever guitar pedal demo. Now, it’s not an audio sample on some dusty website or even a VHS tape. Rather, it’s cut on vinyl and accompanied the world’s first guitar pedal.   

If you follow our Sunday Papers section here, you’re already familiar with the Maestro Fuzz Tone released by Gibson in 1960. (See here for the full history lesson on that crazy little gain box). One of the many marketing challenges with early guitar pedals, such as the Fuzz Tone, was knowing how to communicate to players both what the product was and how it sounded. To solve this problem, Maestro released a 45 record complete with sound samples for prospective purchasers.

The front cover features a classy looking gent in suit sporting a Gibson 335. The tagline above an image of the pedal reads: “Guttural, mellow, raucous, tender, raw: you can create a sensational new sound effect never before played on the guitar with Maestro Fuzz Tone.” Apparently, the adjective-laden marketing strategies of modern pedals goes back as these days as well! Flip the record over and there’s a sketch of this same clean-cut looking rocker with further explanations of settings and sounds for the pedal heard on the record.

As the record starts to spin, an announcer introduces the pedal using the same string of adjectives featured on the front cover before underscoring “you have to hear it to believe it!” This intro explanation demands some context: this is a day when fuzz was not only unknown, the ability to overdrive an amp without literally blasting or breaking it wasn’t possible. So priming up the listeners for what they were about to hear was essential. As the explanation continues, you get a sense that the marketing minds at Gibson are doing their best to describe the new effect (and format) in something that might be familiar to their audience. The record claims the pedal offers up new sounds that are organ-like and mellow, orchestral like reeds and brass, and bell-clear horns… which are not typically the sounds you might associate with a fuzz in retrospect. The announcer also endorses the ability to stack the fuzz with other sounds, such as tremolo and reverb to “expand even further the range of startling effects.” Before the description gives way to demo, the announcer also gives a word on the format of the effect, commenting particularly on the “built in pedal switch” that allows the user to turn the sound on or off at will.

The audio demos themselves are also significant for several reasons. First, they are multi-instrumental as the Fuzz Tone was used for sounds on both bass and electric guitar. Second, the samples alternate between stand-alone riffs and runs as well as jams in context with light drum accompaniments. Third, most samples on the record is described for claimed similarities to orchestral instruments (e.g., tuba, saxophone, cello, trumpet) while others are hailed as completely new sounds.

As Josh summed up, imagining this pedal in its time and place in 1960 is essential. Gibson dispatched shipments to dealers across the country, which were by default small music stores. These shop owners were no doubt asking themselves, “how are we going to sell this and who wants it?” Yet when the shipment also included a demo record, the pitch became easier and the pedal more acceptable.  We wouldn’t be where we are in modern guitar effects without the Maestro Fuzz Tone. With this record finally surfacing in accessible form, we can now confirm we also owe this effect for pioneering the concept of the pedal demo.


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One thought on “When Gibson Pioneered the First-Ever Pedal Demo

  • August 4, 2019 at 9:45 am
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    I had a maestro fuzz just like the one shown here. It was my very first pedal, wish I still had it.

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