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Book Excerpt: "Rolling Stones Gear"


The Gibson Firebird came in four variations with different pickup and tailpiece configurations. The Firebird I, II and III had nickel-plated hardware, while the deluxe VII model’s was gold-plated. The 24 3/4"-scale Firebird VII was built with solid mahogany wings affixed to its neck-through body, which was made by laminating narrow strips of walnut between five layers of mahogany. It also had a bound ebony fretboard with white pearl block inlays, Kluson banjo-style tuners, an adjustable Tune-o-matic bridge, and Gibson’s Deluxe Vibrola system. The Firebird VII was fitted with three of Gibson’s newly designed mini-humbucking pickups with gold-plated covers and a 3-way toggle switch mounted on a laminated white pickguard with four gold top-hat knobs and a top-mounted input jack.

One additional item Gibson presented to the Stones was an effects box called a Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone. The Fuzz-Tone was invented by Nashville studio engineer Glen Snoddy. In the summer of 1960, Snoddy was working on a recording for Marty Robbins with session guitarist Grady Martin. During the recording of the Robbins’ song “Don’t Worry,” Martin’s Danelectro 6-string bass guitar was plugged into a Langevin tube amp module that malfunctioned and started to distort. The novel effect was left on Martin’s guitar for the lead break, and when the single was released, it became a No. 1 hit.

Snoddy immediately realized the commercial potential of this studio mishap and set out to build a device that could reproduce this sound. “Later, when I found out what it was, I set about trying to develop that sound using transistors,” Snoddy recalled. “We fooled around with it and got the sound like we wanted. I drove up to Chicago and presented it to Mr. Berlin, the boss at the Gibson company, and he heard that it was something different. So, they agreed to take it and put it out as a commercial product.”

Gibson introduced the Fuzz-Tone FZ-1 pedal under the Maestro brand in 1962 and produced more than 5,000 units, which were all sent to their dealers that first year. Unfortunately, consumers didn’t understand the device, and the Fuzz-Tone pedals sat idly on dealers’ shelves. Gibson intended the Fuzz-Tone to be used with a bass guitar to emulate the sound of a tenor or baritone saxophone, and the company even added the Fuzz-Tone circuit to some of their bass guitars. When Keith Richards used the Maestro Fuzz-Tone on the soon-to-be released “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” he revolutionized the gadget, making it a mandatory piece of equipment for nearly every lead guitarist.

From the Author:

The sound that launched a million effects pedals. Anything small in the Stones camp back then was handled haphazardly. Maybe it was put in a locker in London or just left somewhere. Ian Stewart, who was an original band member and later their road manager, was in charge of their equipment until his death. We were able to find Dave Hassinger, who was the engineer at RCA studios, and interview him at length a number of times.

Although Dave was older, he was sharp and remembered quite a bit. The Firebird that Keith is holding in the picture was given to Dave, and then it was stolen. According to Dave, he had to really work the EQ on the board to get a certain tone from the Maestro for it to stick out in the mix. Even when you grab an old Maestro fuzz and plug it into an amp–and I’ve tried it with a Firebird and everything–it will sound close, but you really have to EQ it to get that “Satisfaction” sound. We were very fortunate to have Dave tell us that story. There are other pictures from the same session in the book where you see the box that the Maestro came in sitting under Keith’s chair. When you watch him on Ed Sullivan you can see him turn it on before “Satisfaction.”