Is Nancy Sinatra the Mother of the Fuzz Pedal?

Nancy Sinatra (1960). Photo by: RB / Staff, Getty Images.

Fuzz aficionados know the origin story well: in the course of a Marty Robbins recording session in 1961, a busted transformer cast a wooly, distorted tone over guitarist Grady Martin's 6-string Danelectro bass.

Robbins and engineer Glenn Snoddy recognized the novelty, opted to keep it, and the first fuzzed-out solo took flight. Though it was with a bass and on a country record, the sound nevertheless came roaring through radios in the form of The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" soon enough, remaking rock guitar in the process.

Except, how did the fuzz effect become standardized? How did a recording console's defective circuitry come to be replicated, made controllable, and packaged into a convenient pedal? That's where Nancy Sinatra comes in.

After Robbins' "Don't Worry" became a hit, "People were calling in to find out what it was," Snoddy told NAMM in 2014. "They couldn't understand what this sound was."

The novelty spread through Nashville, with everyone wanting a bit of the console's fuzz on their own records. But it wasn't until that well ran dry that the fuzz found its footing.

Original Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz Pedal.
Original Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz Pedal. Photo by The Groove.

At the time, effects units took many forms. One of the earliest boxes was DeArmond's Tremolo Control, available around 1941, but the box was not for stomping. More like a small metal lunch pail, the Tremolo Control was a desktop unit, complete with a handle on top.

Reverb units like Fender's original Reverb Tank housed its electro-mechanical springs and pickup in an amp-like cabinet. No standalone distortion or overdrive effect had yet been invented—with guitarists merely cranking amps or taking matters into their own hands to slice speaker cones for dirtier sounds.

Because Snoddy's original fuzz tone was a byproduct of bad electronics, there was always an expiration date. One day, the Quonset Hut mixer's faulty circuitry finally gave way for good.

"We had an artist, Nancy Sinatra, that called and wanted to come in and make a record. When she got there, we had to tell her that the console that was causing that sound, the amplifier had quit, and we couldn't do it anymore. They didn't like that at all. [Laughs.] I told [Quonset Hut owner and producer] Harold Bradley that I'd have to see if I could make one and get it going."

So it was because of Sinatra—the pop scion whose "These Boots Were Made Walkin'" was released in 1965—that Snoddy called Revis Hobbs, intent on achieving the console's sound, which had been the result of a transformer, through transistors instead.

Snoddy and Hobbs placed the circuitry in a wedge-shaped pedal, encapsulating the fuzz tone in what was now officially the Fuzz-Tone, sold under Gibson's Maestro brand, first as the FZ-1 and then as the FZ-1A. While others worked in parallel to create a similar effect—Orville Rhodes' handmade fuzzbox propelled the guitar of The Ventures' "2000 Pound Bee"—it was the Maestro Fuzz-Tone that Keith Richards managed to get his hands on.

"Satisfaction," became, well, "Satisfaction." The fever for fuzz pedals was well and truly lit. And who knows if any of it would've happened, or happened the same way, if Nancy Sinatra hadn't simply asked.

This story is told in Reverb's The Pedal Movie, our documentary film that covers the past, present, and future of effects. For many more enlightening tales, rent or buy The Pedal Movie now.

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