North Effects

The Primitive

The Primitive - based on the Maestro FZ-1A
Inside The Primitive.

Pull up a chaise longue, because we're going back to the source with this one...

Guitarists have been using distortion for effect practically since the invention of electronic amplification, but it is the Maestro FZ-1 that has the distinction of being the first commercially available fuzz. Perhaps surprisingly, the FZ-1 was a product of the early 60s Nashville's Quonset Hut country music hit factory rather than the nascent rock 'n' roll scene. The story begins when session supremo Grady Martin plugged his 6-string bass directly into the mixing desk to get a backing track down on Marty Robbins' (wonderful) "Don't Worry". Martin hit a note with level turned up too high, promptly blowing the channel.

To their eternal credit and good taste, the engineers, having taken a liking to the heavily distorted sound of the damaged console, decided to roll the tape and go with the fuzz. Thus a distinctly fuzzy bass solo made it onto the resulting single which, apparently much to Grady Martin's bemusement, rapidly climbed to number 3 on the US chart.

Not being of a mind to pass on a potentially lucrative gimmick, the studios wanted more of the same. Rather than relying on "broken" equipment Glen T. Snoddy, session engineer on "Don't Worry", began working on a device that would produce the effect reliably on demand. By 1962, two years after that epochal session, Snoddy's design went on sale as the Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone. Initial sales were almost non-existent, until 1965 that is, when legend has it Keith Richard(s) used one on another epochal session - the one that gave us "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction". Music stores found them finally flying off the shelves and into suburban garages around the developed world. Things would never be quite the same again.

The Primitive

North have now decided to pay tribute to the acknowledged daddy of them all with The Primitive. Modelled after the 2nd generation FZ-1A, we've taken a pair of NOS AC188 germanium transistors carefully selected for the right gain and (crucially) leakage, and mated them with a Soviet era GT108 transistor to produce the sound of mid-60s garageland. With some fetching brown vintage amp-style knobs for the fuzz and output volume controls, it looks the part too.

We've decided to keep this one as simple as the original and stick with the single 1.5V AA battery power rather than monkeying around with charge pump chips and all that yada-yada.

The Sound

It has an exceptional abrupt brattishness that sets it apart from its Tonebender/Fuzz Face decendants, and is an excellent choice if you're after that Nuggets, Pebbles et al. sound. The germanium transistors give it a pleasingly grainy overdrive flavoured undertow that you just don't get with a silicon fuzz. Anyway, the talking's done - time to shut up and put up...

Credit must go to the excellent FZ-1 article on the freestompboxes wiki, and the amazing collection of country fuzzers at the WMFU website, both of which contributed greatly to the above.