It was 1979, and I was about to plug my first electric guitar it into an amp I’d just borrowed, from a boy I’d just met – things were certainly moving fast these days. I’d spent the preceding years and weeks and months listening to all kinds of records from T-Rex to The Adverts. Their electric guitars sounded full and gritty; they growled at the lower end and snarled at the top. I plugged the guitar in and turned the amp to the “on” position, I braced myself, and played a well struck and determined E major, expecting it to launch itself out of the speaker at me like a sonic missile of howling barbed wire, all bared teeth and claws. Except it didn’t. If anything, it tripped politely out of the speaker apologising as it went, and sounded exactly like the guitar did before I’d plugged it in…only much louder. It didn’t sound like the guitars I’d grown up hearing; it sounded bald, weedy, and naked. “You might need a fuzz-box” my helpful bass guitaring friend suggested. A “fuzz-box”? What on earth was a “fuzz-box”?
The next day I made it my mission after school to detour past the only “electric” music shop in town, thinking that they might have one of these boxes in the window. It was much worse than that, as I peered through the side of the shop, I could see that they kept small electronics under the counter in a glass fronted cabinet. I was going to have to go into the shop, possibly talk to the man with the beard who ran it, and maybe even listen to someone playing “Stairway to Heaven” in the corner. As the owner of the cheapest possible guitar, played with a home-made plectrum, through a borrowed 15w practice amp and with absolutely no budget for any further purchases, I didn’t feel as if I was in any position to chew any musical related fat with the guitar shop guy for fear of blowing my cover as an amateur and a charlatan and the seeker of a quick fix solution to my barely understood problem.
I crept through the smoked glass door of the shop and wandered over to the cabinet of delights, playing for time as I fake admired some of the guitars as I nonchalantly walked past them, hoping not to attract any attention. “Can I help you with anything?” the man said as he spun helpfully round on a drum stool. “Errr, I have a guitar, it’s electric, but it doesn’t sound right…err do you have any “fuzz-boxes”?” “Well you could always bring it in and we could check the intonation for you” he offered. I felt as if the only way he would have to “check” the guitar, would involve taking a one second look at it from a great distance, and then recommend that I bought a proper one, along with some lessons once he’d heard me play. “Yeah, maybe…” I replied even though this was the last thing I wanted to do, I was in a hurry to get on with Punk Rock, but I also didn’t want to be rude, I just wanted to know if he had any fuzz boxes and how much they cost. “What sort of amp have you got?” he asked as his hand hovered over the brightly coloured boxes under the counter-top. “I don’t really have an amp” I almost whimpered, “I’m borrowing one at the moment”. “Come and look at this” he said and led me over to the corner where he kept all his amplifiers. “If you had something like this” he continued as he plugged one of his good guitars into it “You wouldn’t need a pedal, this has got a pre-amp built-in, it’ll give you all the distortion you’ll ever need” he chuckled as he chugged through a distinctly meaty sounding riff. This was indeed bombshell information, this was a special kind of amp that could do the work of a fuzz box, and so much more…I was all ears.
I did a Saturday job, I did chores, I saved my dinner money, I negotiated an advance on Birthday and Christmas and within a couple of months a Peavey Studio Pro 40 was on its way home with me in the back of my cousin’s car. I finally had fuzz…good fuzz…and I had every intention of using it.