Greetings, effects aficionados, welcome to
another installment of “Stomp School.” This
month we’re going to take some time to talk
about Tone Benders. Nearly 45 years after its
introduction, this iconic fuzzbox is one of the
most coveted and revered of all vintage guitar
pedals. Most recently, the Tone Bender has
experienced a resurgence in popularity, thanks
in part to the availability of some highly regarded boutique clone benders, a seemingly bona
fide reissue, and perhaps most significantly, the
sudden reappearance of the reclusive designer
of the Tone Bender, Mr. Gary Stewart Hurst.
Tone Bender was subject to a succession
of revisions that yielded two different versions of the MKI, a “transitional” MK1.5, and
finally the classic Tone Bender Professional
MKII. An excellent history of the early development of the Tone Bender is recounted
by David Main, builder of the D*A*M
(Differential Audio Manifestations) line of
pedals, on the D*A*M website.
Stompbox Classics: Tone Bender
Suffice to say, the Tone Bender is a hot commodity at the moment, so a good discussion
is well warranted. But let’s first clarify what
we mean when we refer to a Tone Bender.
Over the years, the name “Tone Bender” has
The various iterations of the Tone Bender have
had many circuit configurations, but it’s best
known as a three-transistor germanium design,
typified by the Professional MKII. This is the
pedal associated with Jimmy Page during the
early days of Led Zeppelin, and was a key component of Eric Clapton’s “Woman Tone” on the
Disraeli Gears album by Cream. The MKII featured three germanium Mullard OC75 transis-
Bender design and kept the love alive. By its
very nature, the germanium three-transistor circuit is a finicky design. It seems to sound best
with components that are obsolete and difficult
to procure. It begs to be tweaked and optimized and fussed over, and does not lend itself
well to mass production. The major manufacturers won’t even touch it, and very few makers
have attempted extended regular production
runs, the Fulltone Soul Bender being one of the
Many of today’s small boutique pedal builders actually cut their teeth in the DIY scene
and have apparently taken their Tone Bender
appreciation with them. A Tone Bender clone
will thrive on the individual attention given
by a skilled and dedicated builder, and will
reward a builder greatly. Players are catch-
appeared on more than a dozen different pedals, some of which hardly resemble the others in appearance or design. From its earliest
beginnings, the Tone Bender underwent continuous circuit revisions, was sold under numerous
brands, and received more cosmetic alterations
than… well you get the idea.
Mid-nineties Sola Sound reissue of the Professional
MKII, hand-built by the late Dick Denney.
Legend has it that the Tone Bender was born in
1965 when British guitarist Vic Flick (best known
for playing the famous “James Bond Theme”
riff) walked into Macari’s Music Exchange on
Demark Street in London with a Maestro FZ- 1
Fuzz Tone that was not to his liking. He made
the request to the shop’s proprietors, Larry and
Joe Macari, that something be done to give
the pedal more sustain. The Macari brothers
gave the assignment to the young electronics
wiz who worked for them, Gary Hurst.
The very first Tone Bender (later christened
Tone Bender MKI), was based on Hurst’s modified Maestro fuzz. In the course of a year, the
tors (although some rare examples are reputed
to have used Mullard OC81D transistors).
Late-sixties Italian-made Vox Tone Bender.
While the earliest American fuzzboxes seemed
to have been created as sound effect novelties,
there was no mistaking that the Tone Bender
was there to make fuzz, and it meant business.
It had a complex, saturated fuzz tone that was
loud and in your face, making its American
counterparts sound anemic, thin and buzzy.
With minor alterations, the MKII was also sold
as the Marshall Supa Fuzz, Park Fuzz Sound,
and Rotosound Fuzz Box. This briefly summarizes the “classic era” of the Tone Bender. There’s
quite a bit more to the story, but that will have
to wait for another time.
This has all been a very nice bit of history, but
it doesn’t answer the pertinent question: why
Tone Bender, why now? Simply stated, it’s my
opinion that it all started with the DIY community, which over the course of the last decade
has fueled a growing interest in the Tone
So rare, so fuzzy – the Sola Sound Tone Bender MKIV.
Photos by Tom Hughes.
ing on, and the demand has been growing,
evidenced most recently by a series of Limited
Edition reissues from JMI, with the participation of none other than Gary Hurst. It’s been
a long time coming, but the day of the Tone
Bender has finally arrived.
Well, that’s enough fuzz for one day. Check
back with us next month. Until then, keep
(a.k.a. Analog Tom) is the owner and proprietor of For
Musicians Only ( formusiciansonly.com) and author of
Analog Man’s Guide To Vintage Effects. Questions or
comments about this article can be sent to:
( analogman.com) is one of the largest boutique
effects manufacturers and retailers in the business,
established by “Analog” Mike Piera in 1993.
Mike can be reached at AnalogMike@aol.com.