In the 1960s, electric-guitar players were looking for something more than the twangy country sounds of the Fender Telecaster, the tremelo effects produced by a Bigsy whammy bar on a Gibson Flying V, or the reverb that was built into many amplifiers. They wanted to be able to boost their volume, distort or delay sounds, and filter their notes and chords to replicate everything from background choruses to jet airplanes.

One of the first commercially available stompboxes was the Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz Tone, a distortion pedal that debuted in the United States in 1962 but became the sound everyone had to have in 1965 when the Rolling Stones released a 45 of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Countless kids disturbed the peace of countless neighborhoods trying to replicate Keith Richards’ in-your-face riff. As it turns out, his choice of stompbox, and even his guitar, was not as important as his five-string, open-G tuning.

Another British-American sonic collaboration occurred in 1966 when Seattle-born Jimi Hendrix, living in London at the time, got his hands on an effects box called the Octavia (Hendrix routinely referred to it as his Octavio, so both spellings can be found). As its name might suggest, the Octavia added a second octave to the notes the musician was playing, which Hendrix took full advantage of on his debut album in tunes such as “Purple Haze” and “Fire.”

In fact, when it comes to stompboxes and pedals, Hendrix is in a class by himself. For distortion, he played through another 1966 device, the Arbiter Fuzz Face, and he was all over a wah-wah pedal called the Vox CryBaby when it was introduced in 1967. Toward the end of his brief career, beginning in 1969, Hendrix also used the Univox Uni-Vibe, whose effects can be heard on his live “Band of Gypsys” album, which was recorded during the last hours of the 1960s at the Fillmore East. Hendrix also used his Octavio during that legendary performance.

Another guitar wizard famous for his virtuosity and love of effects was Jeff Beck, who favored the 1967 Vox Tone Bender over the Stones’ Maestro Fuzz-Tone. In the early 1970s, Beck also played through a Colorsound Overdriver, which was designed to roughen the edges—a lot—of clean notes.

Other stompboxes from the early ’70s include the Musitronics Mu-Tron III, which is probably very familiar to fans of Stevie Wonder’s song “Higher Ground”—Wonder plugged his clavinet into the pedal. By the end of the decade, the Mu-Tron III was a mainstay for funk bands, but musicians as diverse as jazz guitarist Larry Coryell and the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia also used it.

As metal gained prominence, so did distortion. Ozzy Osbourne’s short-lived lead guitarist, Randy Rhoads, used an MXR Distortion + on classics like “Crazy Train,” which made that box one of the best-selling effects pedals of its time. Rhoads also played through a Maestro Echoplex, which was so vital to Eddie Van Halen’s sound later in the decade that he played through two of the machines...

Van Halen elevated the sounds that could be created through stompboxes to high art, building what he called a “brown sound.” In addition to his pair of Maestro Echoplexes, Van Halen used an orange MXR Phase 90 from 1973, which made his notes and chords swirl and sweep throughout the sports arenas where the band typically played. By the 1980s, he had added an MXR Flanger to give his lightning-fast leads a rich, lush undertone.

More recently, guitarists like Kurt Cobain of Nirvana have been associated with devices like the Tech 21 SansAmp, which apes the sounds of numerous amplifiers and allows a musician to play clean, distorted, and just about everything in between. While some like such can-opener devices, others are traditionalists, although that’s not really the right word for a guitar god like Buckethead, whose setup includes an Ibanez RG550 20th RFR, ISP Decimator, Krank Krankshaft, Boss BF-2 Flanger, and BBE Sonic Maximizer, to name but a few of the pedals at his feet.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Vintage Guitars Info

Vintage Guitars Info

This great reference site features detailed sections on vintage guitar makers, including Gibson, Fender, Martin, Gr… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Want to see all the old brochures and ads for your favorite vintage axe? Check out this great site, which showcases… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Line 6 Helix Guitar Multi-effects Floor ProcessorStrymon Timeline Effects Pedal Free Shipping!Used Digitech Trio+ Band Creator Plus Looper Guitar Effects Pedal! Mel 9 Tape Replay Machine Guitar Pedal Line 6 Dl4 Delay Guitar Effect Pedal - No ReserveWampler Ego Effect Pedal CompressorLot Of 6 Guitar Effects Pedals, Mxr Phase 90, Blue Box, T-rex Chorus, Zoom, MoreBoss Rc-30 Loop Station Dual Track Looping Guitar Effects PedalDigitech Trio+ Band Creator + Looper Guitar Effect Pedal Trioplus-v-04 Trio +Hermida Zendrive Overdrive Distortion Pedal Early VersionMxr M300 Reverb W/adapterElectro-harmonix Big Muff V1triangle 1972, Fs37000 Pnp TransistorsEventide H9 Multi-effects Guitar Effect PedalStrymon V2 El Capistan Dtape Echo Tap Tempo Delay Guitar Stereo Effects PedalStrymon Bluesky ReverberatorStrymon Blue Sky Reverberator Digital ReverbTc Electronic Flashback X4 Delay & Looper Pedal Exc Condition, Original PackageXotic Effects Ep Booster Guitar Effect PedalStrymon Lex RotaryAnalogman Bi-chorusElectro-harmonix Ehx B9 Organ Machine Guitar Effect Pedal Boss Dimension C - Dc2 Chorus Guitar PedalZ.vex Vexter Fuzz Factory Fuzz Guitar Effect PedalBoss Me 70 Multi Effects Pedal Board With CaseLine 6 Pod Hd Pro XIbanez Tube Screamer Ts9/808 Analogman Classic ModLine 6 Pod Hd500x With Extra Pedal And BagVoodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus Guitar Effect PedalOcd FulltoneEventide Space Multi-effects Guitar Effect Pedal Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dark Star Pad Reverb Pedal. MintBoss Rc-20xl Loop Station Guitar Effects Pedal No ReserveDigitech Trio Band Creator Plus Looper Like New Comes With Power Supply & BoxMosrite FuzzriteTc Electronic Flashback Flash Back Delay Looper Stereo PedalElectro-harmonix Cathedral Reverb Guitar Effect PedalWampler Pinnacle Deluxe Ver 2 Marshall Plexi 800 Brown Sound Boutique OverdriveWampler Clarksdale Overdrive Guitar Effect Pedal Boutique Tube Screamer® StyleWampler Pedals Faux Tape Echo Delay Guitar Effect PedalMxr M-102 Dyna Comp Compressor PedalDigitech Rp1000 Guitar Multi Effects Pedal Power Supply, Manual, Perfect!Earthquaker Devices Talons Overdrive Line 6 Dl4 Delay Modeler Programmable Delay & 14 Sec. Loop Sampler Used WorksBoss Rc-3 Loop Station Looper PedalMxr Carboncopy Delay Guitar Effect PedalLine 6 Firehawk Fx Multi-effects Guitar Effect PedalBoss Gt-10b Multi-effects Bass Effect Pedal With Power SupplyEarthquaker Devices Dirt TransmitterElectro Harmonix Bass Micro SynthEhx Vintage 1970's Big Muff Rams Head Guitar Fuzz Pedal David GilmoreBoss Me-70 Guitar Multi-effects Looping Pedal With Boss Power SupplyLine 6 M5 Multi Effects Stompbox Modeler (s03024457)Boss Octave Oc-2 Effect PedalTc Electronic Ditto Looper Electronics Guitar Effects Looping PedalChicago Stompworks 2 In 1 Rat V2 And Ts-808 Tubescreamer Dual Distortion PedalLine 6 Helix Multi-effects Guitar Effect PedalOld Blood Noise Endeavors Black Fountain Delay W/ Box And AccesoriesTc Electronic Guitar Ditto Looper Effects Pedal Mint Condition! Used Line 6 Dl4 Delay ModelerDigitech Rv-7 Reverb