During the 1960s, Pepe Rush ran a recording studio on Berwick Street in Soho, London. He also had a workshop in a nearby mews, which was presumably where much of the ‘Rush Electronics’ studio equipment was built, along with guitar & bass amplifiers and effects.

Early Pep Boxes were reportedly sold by Rush directly to musicians.1 Later on, Pepe Rush partnered up with Charlie Watkins, and the pedals were marketed & sold under the WEM brand.

Three early Pep Box pedals
Three early Pep Box pedals, c. 1965-66

No examples of the Pep Box, built before Rush’s partnership with WEM, are known to have survived. A common misconception is that the red ‘Fuzzy’ pedals, featuring a ‘pep’ control, were early versions of the Pep Box. The red ‘Fuzzy’ pedals appear to have been built in Germany, which is where they tend to resurface, and the date codes on the components in these pedals confirm that the model was only built following the WEM Rush ‘silver wedge’ era of Pep Boxes. Pepe Rush, himself, did not recognise the model when questioned about it.2

It is not known at what point Rush began building fuzz boxes, but he became involved with WEM by August 1965, at the latest, as the Pep Box was shown off at the British Musical Instrument Industries Trade Fair of that year.3 An early version of the Pep Box was pictured and advertised in Melody Maker, at various times in early-1966.

There are currently two different known fuzz circuits that the Pep Boxes were made up with. The basic Pep Box circuit is based off Gibson’s Maestro FZ-1, but adapted for 9 volt operation, and with the first transistor stage removed. Earlier Pep Boxes were built with a germanium-transistor version of this circuit, while later models (including those manufactured by WEM) featured silicon transistors.

Rush claimed in an interview that WEM weren’t initially equipped to manufacture the enclosures themselves,4 so we can assume that these iconic wedge-shaped boxes were Rush’s work.

Early WEM Rush Pep Box

Some of the very earliest WEM Rush Pep Box pedals were finished in black wrinkle paint, and featured engraved Traffolyte panels.

The pedal, photographed here, certainly predates the known silver ‘wedge-shaped’ Pep Boxes, and features a germanium-transistor circuit, built ‘point-to-point’ on an eyelet board. This early Pep Box belonged to Roger John Cameron, who was a guitarist & collector of guitar pedals, and who sadly passed away in January 2021.

Similar examples of this black Pep Box are reported to have been built, but without the engraved panels.5

Silver germanium-transistor WEM Rush Pep Box

This is the earliest known version of the silver ‘wedge-shaped’ Pep Box. It features engraved Traffolyte panels and a germanium-transistor circuit, which has been assembled on a printed circuitboard.

The pedal in this photograph was likely built at some point in late-1965 to early-1966.

This Pep Box originally belonged to famed skiffle player, Chas McDevitt, who ran a coffee bar next to Pepe Rush’s basement studio on Berwick Street.

On a slight personal note, this particular pedal is among my all-time favourites from within my collection.

Early silicon-transistor WEM Rush Pep Box

During the latter period of production of the silver ‘wedge-shaped’ Pep Box, the model was built with a silicon-transistor circuit instead of the earlier germanium circuit. Functionally, however, the Pep Box remained unchanged.

This late-production example of the silver Pep Box was likely built in early 1966. By this stage, the Pep Boxes also came with screen-printed Traffolyte panels, as opposed to the engraved panels.

Advertisement for a late-production WEM Rush Pep Box

By July 1966,6 WEM were already producing their own enclosures for the Pep Box. These housings were made from a combination of aluminium and wood, with the same metal trim that can be seen on WEM’s Powercat amplifiers.

Predating the Arbiter Fuzz Face, these pedals also featured a rubber mat around the footswitch. The ‘long red’ WEM Rush Pep Box was pictured in product catalogues and in press advertisements. 

At some point in the mid-1960s, WEM took over production of the Pep Box altogether, and Rush’s relationship with WEM reportedly soured. Pepe Rush recalled a conflict about WEM removing his name from the product,7 and indeed, some of the earliest Pep Boxes that were housed in the WEM-built, ‘long red’ enclosures (pictured in the advert above), were missing the Rush name.

Other ‘long red’ Pep Boxes did include the Rush brand, and based on the date codes and the PCB designs of all of these ‘long red’ Pep Boxes, it actually looks more likely that WEM reverted to printing the Rush brand on their pedals, following only a brief period of claiming it as their own.

An alternative version of events was provided by a friend & former colleague of Pepe’s, who recalled Pepe’s frustration that came as a result of WEM allegedly using “inferior” components for “their version” of the Pep Box.8

The exact relationship between Pepe Rush and Charlie Watkins will likely remain unknown.

A late-production WEM Rush Pep Box
A late-production WEM Rush Pep Box, built around 1966-67, housed in the same type of enclosure that WEM would later use for their WEM Project V fuzz box.

One early adopter of the Pep Box were the Artwoods. The group became acquainted with Pepe Rush following a chance encounter in the mid-1960s, and ended up using an early version of the Pep Box on their songs, ‘I feel good’ and ‘Things get better’.9

The Venom, photographed with a Pep Box. Date unknown. (Credit: Dick Christon & www.stanlaundon.com)
John Lennon, photographed using an early Pep Box on April 14th, 1966. It’s possible that this pedal was used on ‘Paperback Writer’ & ‘Rain’. (Credit: Leslie Bryce)

The Animals likely used a WEM Rush Pep Box of some sort on their 1966 single, ‘Don’t bring me down’.

Hilton Valentine was also photographed using a ‘long red’ Pep Box for the Animals’ performance in Winston-Salem, NC, on July 26th, 1966. (Credit unknown)

The ‘long red’ version of the Pep Box even made it as far as to Malaysia, as photographed with this unknown band. (Credit unknown)

Thanks to C. McDevitt, R. Harper, D. Griffiths, M. Wilsher, S. Murphy & Pepe Rush

  1. D. Griffiths (personal communication, 31st July 2020)
  2. Pepe Rush (personal communication, 22nd July 2017)
  3. Beat Instrumental, October 1965, p. 10
  4. Simon’s Musical Den, I’m not an Italian – an interview with Pepe Rush, 02/2015 [http://musical-den.blogspot.com/2015/02/im-not-italian-interview-with-pepe-rush.html]
  5. R. Harper (personal communication, 4th June 2020)
  6. Melody Maker, 9th July 1966
  7. Simon’s Musical Den, I’m not an Italian – an interview with Pepe Rush, 02/2015 [http://musical-den.blogspot.com/2015/02/im-not-italian-interview-with-pepe-rush.html]
  8. R. Harper (personal communication, 4th June 2020)
  9. D. Griffiths (personal communication, 31st July 2020)

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