Stompbox Classics: Tone Bender, Part 2
Tone Bender variants are explored
Hey fuzz freaks! Welcome back to Stomp School. This month we’ll continue our riveting discussion of Tone Benders. First a bit more history, and then we’ll explain how it’s relevant today. Last time we covered the early Tone Bender era, circa 1965–1966, which included the Tone Bender MKI and the MKII Professional Tone Bender. But there’s much more to the story, so check it out…
Colorsound Jumbo Tone Bender
In 1968, Sola Sound released the Tone Bender MKIII, which was a three-transistor fuzz, much like the MKII, with the addition of a tone control and a different cast-metal housing. Only a handful of these were actually made, although a later Vox-branded MKIII was much more common. In 1969, Sola put the MKIII into a new enclosure and called it the Tone Bender MKIV. That enclosure was the now-familiar stamped metal case that Sola Sound would subsequently use for their Colorsound brand of effects.
Colorsound Power BoostBender
In addition to expanding their Colorsound brand, Sola Sound continued to manufacture its effects pedals for other British companies, such as Barnes & Mullins (B&M) and Carlsbro, but they reserved the name Tone Bender for their own products. The early 1970s saw the introduction of the Colorsound Jumbo Tone Bender and Supa Tone Bender. By this time, the circuit had been revised to such an extent that it was nearly identical to the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi. Thus ended the era of the true Tone Bender.
For more than two decades, the Tone Bender as we know and love it today lay dormant and forgotten. There was a late-70s Colorsound Tone Bender Distortion, which used an IC and clipping diodes—this is not a Tone Bender. Sometime in the early 1990s, the Vox Tone Bender Fuzz (model V829) appeared, announcing itself as “Germanium Charged.” It did indeed use a pair of modern generic germaniums, but it’s still not what we consider a real Tone Bender. Of more significance was the mid-90s Sola Sound Tone Bender Professional MKII reissue, which was reportedly hand-built by the late Dick Denney, legendary designer of the Vox AC30. Now that was a Tone Bender! The example I have was built using three NOS metal can Mullard OC42 transistors. Unfortunately, the reissue was short-lived.
Colorsound Supa Tone Bender
Parallel to the DIY movement has been the rise of the micro-boutique and individual pedal builders. Here’s where it gets good, because this odd little microcosm of music gear manufacturing has fostered more than a handful of skilled pedal builders with the passion and dedication required to track down rare and tuneful components, and then assemble them with the patience and precision required to bring you something like… well, like a hand-built, pointto- point wired MKII Tone Bender. And that, my friends, is a very good thing.
It’s a great time to be pedal freak, it really is. We’ll see you next time. Until then, keep on stompin’!
(a.k.a. Analog Tom) is the owner and proprietor of For Musicians Only (formusiciansonly.com) and author of Analog Man’s Guide To Vintage Effects. Questions or comments about this article can be sent to: email@example.com. Analog Man (analogman.com) is one of the largest boutique effects manufacturers and retailers in the business, established by “Analog” Mike Piera in 1993. Mike can be reached at AnalogMike@aol.com.