66 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2009 www.premierguitar.com
Hey fuzz freaks! Welcome back to Stomp
School. This month we’ll continue our rivet-
ing discussion of Tone Benders. First a bit
more history, and then we’ll explain how it’s
relevant today. Last time we covered the early
Tone Bender era, circa 1965–1966, which
included the Tone Bender MKI and the MKII
Professional Tone Bender. But there’s much
more to the story, so check it out…
The early Tone
by Sola Sound
were actually very
few in number.
were the Tone
the company was
build for other
brands, such as
Vox. Although they were all much the same
under the hood, the only one of these to
actually bear the name Tone Bender was the
Vox MKII. By 1967, Vox had begun making
the Tone Bender themselves, moving produc-
tion to Italy. The Italian-made Vox became the
most widely available and recognized of all
vintage Tone Benders, but it was also quite a
different beast than its predecessors, using a
two-transistor circuit design that more closely
resembled a Fuzz Face. The Italian subcon-
tractor was Elettronica Musicale Europea
(EME), who made the Vox Clyde McCoy wah-
wah and Vox combo organs as well.
In 1968, Sola Sound released the Tone
Bender MKIII, which was a three-transistor
fuzz, much like the MKII, with the addition
of a tone control and a different cast-metal
housing. Only a handful of these were actually made, although a later Vox-branded MKIII
was much more common. In 1969, Sola put
the MKIII into a new enclosure and called it
the Tone Bender MKIV. That enclosure was
the now-familiar stamped metal case that
Sola Sound would subsequently use for their
Colorsound brand of effects.
The year 1970 brought us the acclaimed Tone
Bender Fuzz, again very much like the MKIV but
with a different name and graphics. Although
it bore no brand, the Tone Bender Fuzz had all
the hallmarks of the early-70s Colorsound line.
The earliest versions used three germanium
transistors like the MKIV, but the circuit was
soon revised to use the increasingly cheaper
and more reliable silicon transistors that had
recently become available. Another three-transistor fuzz, the Colorsound Power Boost, was
added to the line at this time as well, and then
renamed Colorsound Overdriver in 1973.
In addition to expanding their Colorsound
brand, Sola Sound continued to manufacture its
effects pedals for other British companies, such
as Barnes & Mullins (B&M) and Carlsbro, but
they reserved the name Tone Bender for their
own products. The early 1970s saw the introduction of the Colorsound Jumbo Tone Bender and
Supa Tone Bender. By this time, the circuit had
been revised to such an extent that it was nearly
identical to the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi.
Thus ended the era of the true Tone Bender.
For more than two
decades, the Tone
Bender as we know
and love it today lay
dormant and forgotten. There was a
used an IC and clipping diodes—this is
not a Tone Bender.
Sometime in the
early 1990s, the
Vox Tone Bender
Fuzz (model V829)
ing itself as “Germanium Charged.” It did
indeed use a pair of modern generic germa-
niums, but it’s still not what we consider a real
Tone Bender. Of more significance was the
mid-90s Sola Sound Tone Bender Professional
MKII reissue, which was reportedly hand-built
by the late Dick Denney, legendary designer of
the Vox AC30. Now that was a Tone Bender!
The example I have was built using three
NOS metal can Mullard OC42 transistors.
Unfortunately, the reissue was short-lived.
With so few origi-
nal Tone Benders
in circulation, how
do we account for
the current Tone
Bender craze? As I
said in last month’s
column, the phe-
nomenon can be
to the DIY effects
has grown expo-
nentially over the
last 10 years. The
two-knob and three-knob classic Tone Bender
circuits are among the most popular for
DIY’ers to build. The momentum was building
as Tone Bender intrigue took hold.
Parallel to the DIY movement has been the
rise of the micro-boutique and individual pedal
builders. Here’s where it gets good, because this
odd little microcosm of music gear manufacturing has fostered more than a handful of skilled
pedal builders with the passion and dedication required to track down rare and tuneful
components, and then assemble them with the
patience and precision required to bring you
something like… well, like a hand-built, point-to-point wired MKII Tone Bender. And that, my
friends, is a very good thing.
It’s a great time to be pedal freak, it really is.
We’ll see you next time. Until then, keep
Stompbox Classics: Tone Bender, Part 2
(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.
Photos by Tom Hughes
Colorsound Jumbo Tone Bender
Colorsound Power BoostBender
Colorsound Supa Tone Bender