First Distortion Pedal


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Distortion has been a part of audio from the beginning. Analog storage media from wax cylinders to vinyl platters, gain stages built of tubes or transistors — there was no getting around distortion. But an interesting thing happened in the middle of the 20th century. Engineers and artists threw their energy into maximizing, rather than minimizing, audible distortion. Electric guitar and rock and roll found new ways to express themselves.

The planets aligned on this one:  An equipment failure was greeted by creative engineering wisdom during a recording session at the Quonset Hut Studio, Nashville. Recording Marty Robbins’ Don’t Worry, an input transformer on the console began to fail. The result was captured on tape and is heard today in the tic tac bass solo about 1-1/2 minutes into the tune, and again at the end.

When they first heard this odd tone, they bravely — and likely after much debate — chose not to replace the track. Instead, they just let it crackle and buzz. It has since grabbed the ears of a lot of listeners.



Fame didn’t last long for the transformer responsible for the distorted bass sound in Don’t Worry.  It fully shorted out and failed, likely not long after, but engineer Glen Snoddy and producer Don Law held on to the idea, ultimately developing a 3-transistor circuit mimicking that original sound.


Gibson made it into a product available to any musician wanting the sound of distortion:  The Gibson Maestro Fuzz Tone.



Keith Richards exploited it fully in the famous opening, and repeating riff in (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.  The unmissable new sound reached the masses, and the distortion stomp box industry was born.  A nice timeline for distortion pedals was created by the folks at Hewitt’s Garage.