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    

Strymon TimelineVintage Electro Harmonix Big Muff Rams Head Rare VersionRare Vintage Early 1970s British Csl Colorsound Fuzz Wah Guitar Pedal Awesome!Pedaltrain Classic 2 Pedalboard W/ Flight Case, Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2 (2)Pedaltrain Classic 2 Pedalboard W/ Flight Case, Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2 (1)Moog Mf Minifooger Delay Analog Guitar Effect PedalHammond Leslie 002 Rotating Tremolo Electric Guitar Effects Fx Pedal W/ Extras!Catalinbread Dirty Little SecretEventide Reverb Space Effects Pedal, Guitar, Synth (strymon)New Earthquaker Devices Palisades Mega Ultimate Maximum Pedal *free* Shipping!Line 6 Helix Rack Multi Effects Processor Modeler Guitar Unbelievable Tone Strymon TimelineStrymon Blue SkyStrymon Timeline (no Other Pedals / Timeline Only)Strymon El Capistan Ardx20 Analog Delay Pedal Mint!Rare Vintage 1970s Colorsound Supa Fuzz Wah Swell British Guitar Pedal SolasoundBoss Dd-7 Delay Guitar Effect PedalTc Electronic Looper Pedal - Ditto X4 Guitar Pedal Set Artec Line 6 Danelectro Washburn Lovepedal Nux Behringer LotJhs Pedals Morning Glory V4 Transparent Overdrive Guitar Effects PedalTc Electronic Hall Of Fame Reverb Guitar Effect PedalTc Electronic Hall Of Fame Reverb Guitar Effect PedalLine 6 Pod Hd500x Guitar Effect PedalStrymon El Capistan Dtape EchoMxr Carbon Copy Analog DelayTc Electronic Flashback Delay Guitar Effect PedalTc Electronic Flashback Delay And Looper True Bypass Guitar Effects PedalRoland Gr-55 Guitar Synthesizer With Pickup And 13 Pin CableBoss Re-20 Space Echo Guitar Reverb Delay Effects PedalBoss Me-70 Guitar Multiple Multi-effects Pedal Cosm Gator Carry Tote Case BundleLovepedal - Kanji Eternity - Overdrive Pedal GuitarFulltone Obsessive Compulsive Drive Overdrive Guitar Effect PedalGuitar Effect Pedals Lot Wah Distortion Flanger Acoustic Chorus Fx Boss IbanezMoog Mf-102 Moogerfooger - Ring ModulatorElectro Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb Electro-harmonix Vintage Big BoxVick Audio '73 Ram's Head Big Muff Fuzz Guitar Effects Pedal, Mint In Box!Line 6 Pod Pro Guitar Multieffects Rack Mount Processor W/line 6 FloorboardBoss Gt100 Multi-effects Guitar Effect PedalEventide H9 Harmonizer Multi Effects Pedal -- **mint**Fishman Aura Spectrum Di Preamp *look*nice*Line 6 Pod Hd500 Guitar Effect PedalBoss Ce-2 Ce2 Chorus Guitar Effect Pedal Made In Japan 80'sEarthquaker Devices Ghost EchoIbanez Ts808 Tube ScreamerDunlop Mxr Evh Flanger 117 Flanger Guitar Effect PedalDigitech Rp500 Multi-effects Guitar Effect PedalDigitech Trio + Plus Band Creator And LooperTc Electronic Hall Of Fame Reverb Guitar Effect PedalTc Electronic Hall Of Fame Reverb And Biyang Fuzz Star PedalBoss Rv-5 Digital ReverbElectro-harmonix Eh Freeze Sound Retainer Guitar Effect PedalVoodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus Power SupplyTc Electronic Flashback Delay Guitar Effect PedalBoss Fbm-1 Fender 59 Bassman Amplifier Modeling PedalFredric Effects Deeply Unpleasant Companion Fuzz Boutique Fx Pedal Bass Shin EiStrymon Big Sky Multidimensional Reverb PedalKlon Ktr Overdrive Distortion Boutique Guitar Effects Pedal - Transparent OdFulltone Ocd Distortion Guitar Effect PedalDunlop Swollen Pickle Mkii Fuzz Guitar Effect Pedal Way Huge Whe401 Original Box