The Rush PepBox: Lucy Rush on Keeping a Classic Effect Alive

In Partnership With Rushamps.
Left: Pepe and Lucy Rush. Right: John Lennon with a Rush PepBox. Photos courtesy of Rushamps.

There aren’t many pedals made today that hold the allure that fuzz pedals did in the '60s. Modern fuzzes made to vintage specs have become extremely popular with a massive range of players, from doom metal to blues rock. One such classic fuzz pedal that’s often overlooked is the Rush PepBox.

The Rush PepBox
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The PepBox was first created in 1965, making it one of the first fuzz pedals around at the time—certainly in the UK, where it was made. London-based Pepe Rush was asked to recreate the magic of one the early American fuzz pedals (likely the Maestro Fuzz-Tone), as the cost to import them from the US to the UK was incredibly high.

What Rush created wasn’t quite the same, but it was equally as special. Shortly thereafter, he’d created the Rush PepBox, which was then used by the likes of The Animals, Hank Marvin, and The Beatles. Fast-forward to today, and the Rush PepBox is alive and well, thanks to Pepe Rush's daughter, Lucy Rush, whom he taught to build them.

Sadly, Pepe passed away in 2018, but Lucy is carrying on the Rush legacy—building the PepBox to the same spec and utilising the same parts to ensure that the fuzz tone that echoed throughout the streets of Soho in the '60s is the same as what you hear today. The pedals that Lucy builds are the only official PepBoxes being made today. I recently spoke to Lucy and chatted about the history of the PepBox, her father, and what the future holds.

The Rush PepBox Fuzz Pedal

The Rush PepBox is a fuzz pedal with two knobs, an on/off switch, and a hardwired output cable, like the Fuzz-Tone.

Rush PepBox
Rush PepBox.

It’s made using germanium transistors, and it’s got that lovely, classic, chewy fuzz sound. Obviously it depends what sort of guitar and amp you’re using, but it’s got a nice, rounded warmth to the sound and reacts well to playing dynamics.

The PepBox has a good amount of spit to it and a bit of that gated sound without being too much. It also cleans up nicely when using the volume pot on your guitar. When dialed in, the PepBox can really nail the tone that lies between an overdrive and a fuzz—it’s really usable, even with the fuzz knob (or "Pep," as it’s labelled) dimed, but there’s still an element of it being wild and dangerous.

It’s a very versatile fuzz, and there's heritage of it being used by a raft of the British Invasion players in the '60s (Clapton also cites it in an interview), but Lucy knows people that use it for heavy metal too.

The History of the PepBox

Fuzz was slowly making its way onto records in the mid-'60s, becoming more and more popular largely thanks to Keith Richards’ guitar sound on the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" in 1965. Whilst working in Soho, a customer requested that Pepe make a few fuzz pedals that could mimic this sound. The first few incarnations sported a large red wedge design. Then, as he honed in on the PepBox design, the units evolved into the grey enclosure, like the ones that Lucy makes today. Pepe built these pedals by hand in his workshop and sold them directly to users.

john lennon on a stool in the studio with a guitar in his lap and his hand turning a knob of the Pepbox
John Lennon with a Rush PepBox.

Shortly after, Pepe went into business with Charlie Watkins of WEM—a brand known mainly for amps at the time. WEM wasn't set up for the production of the pedals, so Pepe continued to make them in his workshop, with Watkins helping to distribute and sell them. As such, the WEM logo was added to the pedal.

Watkins also managed to get the PepBox into the hands of none other than John Lennon and George Harrison whilst they were recording Revolver at Abbey Road, and it’s worth noting here that the pedals used by The Beatles were the ones made by Pepe. No one really knows for sure if the PepBox made it onto the record, but there are a number of fuzz tones on Revolver, so it’s fairly likely that it did.

Later down the line, there was a disagreement between Watkins and Rush and a claim was made that WEM were using part of the PepBox circuitry in their amps. In the late-'60s, Pepe stepped away from the pedal business altogether. Having spoken to Lucy and researched online, Pepe Rush did not seem like the type of guy to lay idle, however. After stepping away from pedals, he set out on other tech-based adventures.

WEM, meanwhile, began to make their own version of the PepBox in a different enclosure that utilized silicon transistors as opposed to the germanium ones favoured by Pepe (and Lucy today). Despite being sold under the guise of a PepBox, these units were essentially an entirely different pedal.

Pepe Rush Post-PepBox

After designing and manufacturing one of the first fuzz pedals in the UK, Pepe Rush turned his attention to studio gear and also helped install sound systems in London clubs. Like Leo Fender, he wasn't actually a guitar player himself, but Pepe was very active within the London music scene in other ways.

In fact, much more than just a pedal builder, Pepe was also an engineer and built a range of audio equipment, including amps and cabinets. Lucy tells me that one such amp was tried out by none other than Jimi Hendrix, though according to him, it "wasn’t dirty enough, man."

Rush PepBox.

Pepe built mixers, including two for the London Palladium that were used for decades. As a result of this, in the late-'60s, word got out to Alexis Mardas (AKA Magic Alex) who was the head of Apple Electronics and worked closely with The Beatles.

They needed a new mixer for their new studio, so Alex bought designs and printed circuit boards off of Rush and set to building them. While the results of what Alex built weren’t necessarily what was intended by Pepe, it did represent the second time within a few years that his designs had been picked up by the biggest band in the world.

Rush also used the same designs to build desks for Pete Townshend and the Top Ten Club in Hamburg. Having built Townshend’s mixer, he was commissioned to build some studio limiters and other pieces for his home studio—some of which are still in use today.

Lucy tells me that her father was encouraged to build the PepBoxes once again by his friend, Anthony Macari, who owned the (recently closed) legendary London music store, Macaris. Pepe started again to build the pedals by hand to the same spec as he did in the mid-'60s, managing to source new old stock germanium transistors. Whilst this does mean that every Rush PepBox will react slightly differently, it also means that they’re incredibly close to the original models and that they’ve got the same mojo.

As he was building these pedals, he showed his daughter, Lucy, every step of the process. Sadly, Pepe Rush passed away in 2018, but he lived to see Lucy sell her first 20 PepBoxes to Macaris.

Lucy Rush

Lucy Rush is a joy to speak to. The passion and pride she has for the product, as well as the personal connection, is abundantly clear, which makes the PepBox extra special. Lucy and her father were very close, and she says that building the PepBoxes is a way for her to remain connected with him.

Lucy Rush holding a pepbox
Lucy Rush.

Lucy makes each PepBox herself in her workshop in the UK, so when you buy an official Rush PepBox, you know exactly where it’s been made, by whom, and that a lot of attention to detail, expertise, and love has gone into its construction. Like Pepe, she uses original parts, including new old stock germanium transistors (some of these are over 40 years old).

The only official new PepBoxes being sold today are the ones made by Lucy and sold here on Reverb, not to be confused with the ones made by the British Pedal Company. Each of the official PepBox pedals also come numbered, with a certificate of authenticity.

I asked Lucy if she had any advice for others wanting to start building pedals, to which she replied, “If it’s something you enjoy doing, go for it.” It’s clear that she heeds her own advice. Building the PepBoxes isn’t just something she does as a job; there’s a huge amount of passion in every single pedal she builds. "I’m at my happiest when I’m in the workshop, with a soldering iron in my hand," she tells me.

The combination of genuine, new old stock parts, the hand-built construction, and the love that’s poured into each unit all helps create a pedal that you can be truly proud to own. It also probably helps when the builder has learnt directly from one of the most prolific and revered audio engineers of what many consider to be the golden age of music.

It’s interesting to note that Lucy doesn’t really play electric guitar. She’s a classical player, and obviously has all the gear to test the pedals out. But, by not being totally immersed in the big, wide world of effects pedals, she can remain totally focused on the original design of the PepBox without being distracted by other pedals on the market or swayed by current trends.

Pepe and Lucy Rush
Pepe and Lucy Rush.

But that’s not to say that the PepBox is all Lucy builds. When I spoke to her, she’d just had a limiter collected from her workshop that was on its way to family friend Pete Townshend, who Lucy tells me is always just an email away. Pete is giving Lucy feedback on the studio gear, with the aim of hopefully getting some of it on the market in the near future.

She’s also looking into the possibility of a more pedalboard-friendly version of the PepBox. The pandemic also meant that she was able to spend more time in her workshop, allowing her to continue building PepBoxes, whilst being able to explore new studio gear designs.

Get Your Own PepBox

In the world of pedals, the Rush PepBox is a relatively lesser-known gem. First and foremost, it’s a fantastic fuzz pedal. But it was also one of the earliest designs around, especially in the UK at that time, so it's an important part of pedal history, too, joining the likes of the Fuzz-Tone and Tone Bender.

Pepe Rush was a key part of the London audio scene in the '60s, and his work permeated a variety of art forms—from the PepBox on the Revolver sessions to his mixers being used in The London Palladium.

Now, Lucy Rush is continuing the great work carried out by her father, and is looking to build on an already incredible legacy. She’s one of a few pedal manufacturers still doing it by hand, and she’s keen to retain everything that made the PepBox so great in the first place. If you're interested in picking up a PepBox of your own, you can order one right here on Reverb.

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