Effect Origins: Tracing the Earliest Recordings of Famous Sounds and Gear

Whether the Big Muff sound was perfected in the signal chains of David Gilmour, Jack White or Billy Corgan is a matter of taste. Did you know, however, that before it found its way into “Comfortably Numb,” “Ball and Biscuit” and “Cherub Rock,” the Muff could be heard on a Carpenters' record? For every piece of musical gear, no matter how obscure or ubiquitous, some musician can lay claim to being the first pioneer to enter that sonic frontier. Here’s a look at some of the earliest known recordings of five famous audio effects and pieces of gear.

1. Flanging - Les Paul “Mammy’s Boogie” (1952)

Unlike any one-trick pony effect, flanging has lived a few different musical lives. Flanging is the modulation that occurs when two duplicate signals, one of which is delayed by a gradually changing amount, are mixed. The resulting sound is a swept comb filter which creates the recognizable jet-plane “whooshing” effect. Flanging gave Miss Toni Fisher’s pop tune “The Big Hurt” (1959) a seasick feeling of unrelenting movement. The Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park” (1967) stuck flanging with an explicitly psychedelic connotation also implied by the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath and others.

In the late ‘70s and ‘80s, hard rockers including Iron Maiden and Van Halen paired flanging with their distorted guitar athletics for a more extreme and hard edged alternative to mellow, subtle modulation. Les Paul is credited with inventing flanging by using two disk recorders with variable speed controls on a densely echo-laden instrumental track called “Mammy’s Boogie,” released in 1952 on Capitol Records.

2. Tone Bender MKI - The Yardbirds “Heart Full of Soul” (1965)

The American made Maestro Fuzz Tone FZ-1 may have been the first commercially available fuzz pedal, but British audiences would have heard their native Tone Bender MKI first. The Yardbirds’ “Heart Full of Soul” single featuring Jeff Beck’s blistering Tone Bender riff was released in the UK two months before Keith Richards’ FZ-1 driven “Satisfaction” hit the airwaves. In the US both songs were released in June of 1965.

Former Vox engineer Gary Hurst built the first Tone Bender in April of 1965 when he modified the FZ-1 circuit and housed his design in a wooden enclosure. The MKI and FZ-1 pedals were widely copied and modified following their success with British Invasion guitarists and many garage rockers on both sides of the pond. The Rangemaster Fuzzbug and the more popular Arbiter Fuzz Face of 1966 were both based on the circuitry of the Tone Bender. More recent boutique pedals like the Fulltone Soul Bender and the JHS Firefly have updated the classic germanium transistor circuit of the Tone Bender with internal trimming and EQ options to better control the evocative sound of the mid-60s.

3. Moog Minimoog - Sun Ra “Night of the Purple Moon” (1970)

Robert Moog’s early modular synthesizers were capable of creating futuristic machine music seemingly free of any human fingerprints. The rhythmic pulses and pure tones of the modular synths were used to construct utopian sci-fi atmospheres and vanguard experimental compositions throughout the mid-to-late 1960s. The Minimoog, with its compact monophonic keyboard and revolutionary pitch bending expression wheel, brought the extraterrestrial sounds of Moog’s invention into the hands of performing keyboardists. It was intended to be a portable alternative to the large and expensive modular synthesizers which were nearly impossible for musicians to take on tour.

Free jazz bandleader Sun Ra visited the Moog plant in Trumansburg, New York in 1969 to test out Moog’s prototypical analog minis. It wasn’t until 1970 that the Minimoog became commercially available, but by then Sun Ra had already taken off with Moog’s prototype Model B and put it to use both live and in the studio. “Night of the Purple Moon” (1970) showcases the sonic capabilities of the early Minimoog synthesizer alongside a Rocksichord. By 1970 the Minimoog was in high demand, and Sun Ra had picked up a Model D so that he could play the two instruments simultaneously. The Minimoog was discontinued in 1981 and redesigned as the Minimoog Voyager in 2002.

4. Electro-Harmonix V1 “Triangle” Big Muff Pi - The Carpenters “Goodbye to Love” (1972)

Believe it or not, there was a time before every guitarist and their mother had a favorite Big Muff variant (I prefer the V4/V5 Op-Amp models). Two years before David Gilmour’s backline tech introduced him to the V2 “Ram’s Head” Muff, Tony Peluso plugged into a V1 “Triangle” Big Muff for his lyrical and soulful solo on the Carpenters’ “Goodbye to Love.” The song is a straightforward pop ballad until the Big Muff breaks in and unleashes the velvety, harmonically rich sustain that has continued to captivate guitarists across genres for over forty years.

EHX has continued to release new variations on the classic fuzz, all the way up to last year’s V10B Deluxe Big Muff. Aside from the American designs, there are also the Russian Sovtek Big Muffs, some of which are particularly sought after by bassists due to their pronounced low end frequency response.

5. Ebow - Genesis “Carpet Crawlers” (Live 1976)

The Energy Bow (commonly called the Ebow) is a handheld electromagnetic device that vibrates individual guitar strings for an otherworldly, infinite sustaining effect. Jerry Garcia was the first customer when the Ebow debuted at NAMM in 1976, but Robert Fripp and Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett were also experimenting with similar sounds around this time. The earliest recording of the Ebow in existence is likely the 1976 Ebow cassette tape demo recorded by People! guitarist Geoff Levin.

For the long swells of guitar on “Carpet Crawlers” (1974) Hackett may have used a Gizmotron, a bridge-mounted motorized wheel apparatus yielding a similar sustaining effect. The first non-commercial Gizmotrons date back to 1973 were possibly available to Hackett during the 1974 recording of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The Gizmotron was notoriously difficult to use, but made its way onto the recording of Led Zeppelin’s “In the Evening” (1979) before bankrupting its manufacturer and fading into obscurity.

During his career Hackett has owned both Gizmos and Ebows and was using the Ebow to perform “Carpet Crawlers” live as early as 1976. David Bowie’s 1977 hit “Heroes” is popularly believed to feature Robert Fripp playing an Ebow for the droning guitar lead, but Fripp denies ever using one in the studio. Instead, he marked the studio floor with tape indicating where he needed to stand with his Les Paul to generate natural amplifier feedback loops for each note of the melody.

Photo by Rafmax

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