“Fuzztone.” The term conjures memories of the buzzing, snarling, barely-musical sound from the 1960s that inspired hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of aspiring rock guitarists.
The Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone was a wedge-shaped gizmo with germanium transistors made by Gibson. It was the stompbox that interested most budding players, especially after Keith Richards used one to record the iconic lick for the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in 1965. However, the use of a distorted guitar sound as a gimmicky studio effect had been going on for years prior to the British Invasion; English guitarists may have picked up on distortion and perhaps even the fuzztone from earlier bands; Link Wray’s “Rumble” was released in 1958 and is often cited as a pioneering example of distorted power chords. Moreover, in a March ’97 interview with VG, the Ventures’ Don Wilson was asked about personal favorite songs by his band. “Well, one of the earliest I thought could have been a hit was called ‘The 2000 Pound Bee.’ It was one of the first songs to have fuzztone,” he said. “I read an article on Jimmy Page in which he noted that the first time he ever heard a fuzztone was on that song.”
Gibson began marketing the FZ-1 in 1962, the same year it offered a bass – the EB-0F – with a built-in fuzztone. The EB-0 was first offered in ’59. It had a mahogany body with two rounded cutaway horns a la the Les Paul Junior and Special of the era. Early EB-0s had rear-projecting, banjo-style tuners as found on Gibson’s first electric four-string, the Electric Bass (“The Bass Space,” February ’06). The headstock transitioned to the more common right-angle tuners in early ’61, and soon afterward the EB-0 acquired a thinner body with sharp-pointed double cutaways, a la the second silhouette of Les Paul guitars being made in that same time period.
In addition to a mahogany body, all configurations of the standard EB-0 had a 301/2″ scale on a mahogany neck with a rosewood fretboard, pearl-dot fret markers, and a crown-shaped pearl inlay in the headstock. The standard finish for the EB-0 was a see-through cherry color (other finishes would come along later).
One variant, the EB-0L, was introduced in the late ’60s with a 341/2″ scale, but during the initial years of the ’60s guitar boom, the short-scale EB-0 and its two-pickup sibling, the EB-3, were Gibson’s frontline instruments in the market battle against Fender’s Precision Bass and Jazz Bass.
The SG-shaped version of the EB-0 started with a black plastic-covered humbucking pickup with centered polepieces, mounted near the neck joint. The pickup cover was changed to metal in ’62. Its wing-shaped pickguard was a five-layer black/white/black/white/black, with a crescent-shaped wood fingerrest. Controls were simple Volume and Tone knobs. There was usually a handrest on the body, and the simple bridge/tailpiece was the same one that had been around since Gibson introduced the Electric Bass in the early ’50s. A string mute was added in the early ’60s, just in front of the bridge/tailpiece. The EB-0F’s fuzztone was installed under a section of a longer, two-piece pickguard. Still five-layer, the EB-0F pickguard had a seam near the handrest; the upper portion had the wood fingerrest, while the lower/extended portion, which terminated near the Volume knob, could be detached to access the fuzz unit.
Controls for the fuzztone included Attack and Volume knobs, as found on the FZ-1 stombox, and an In/Out (on/off) switch; the word “Fuzztone” was etched into the pickguard just below it. And Gibson skipped installing the string mutes from the EB-0 perhaps because they interfered with its intended sound or simply because it cluttered the face of the body.
The EB-0F was not a big seller. Shipping totals for the model were 35 (in 1962), 74 (in ’63), 64 (in ’64), and 92 (in ’65).
There is a bit of irony in the fact the EB-0F was discontinued the year “Satisfaction” brought the fuzztone to prominence. The cheesy, raunchy sound of such devices – Maestro brand or otherwise – was all over numerous ’60s singles, from the Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” to the Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night).”
The Gibson EB-0F was an ahead-of-its-time instrument that can deliver a raucous retro sound – no fancy footwork required!
This article originally appeared in VG‘s August 2008 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.