1965 Sola Sounds Ltd Tone Bender ‘MKI’. (Photo credit: D. Main)
Original 1965 Gary Hurst Tone Bender MKI

The earliest known surviving examples of the famous Tone Bender fuzz boxes were built with a three-transistor circuit, inspired by Gibson’s Maestro Fuzz-Tone, but adapted for a 9 volt power supply. The legend goes that Gary Hurst was tasked with creating a fuzz box that performed better than the comparably raspy and thin-sounding Gibson model.1

Gary Hurst began developing his fuzz box as early as in mid-1964,2 but development was put on hold until April of the following year, after Hurst had returned to London from a period of working for Elka in Italy.3 (Photo credit: D. Main)

Gary Hurst's wooden Tone Bender

Early examples of his Tone Bender were housed in wooden enclosures. By June of 1965, the Tone Bender was being built into its familiar gold-painted, folded steel enclosure, when Jeff Beck was photographed using one for the Yardbirds’ performance on Ready Steady Go (in an episode that aired on the 4th of June.)4 By August of that year, the Tone Bender was already being marketed by Macari’s Musical Exchange.5 (Photo credit: Gary Hurst)

Close-up of a Tone Bender MKI

Metal-bodied Tone Bender ‘MKI’ fuzz boxes first came with crudely-applied Letraset lettering, which was sometimes coated with clear lacquer to protect it from rubbing away. By late-1965, Macari’s Musical Exchange began to market the Tone Bender more professionally, and the ‘MKI’ featured silk-screened graphics, denoting their ‘Sola Sound’ brand name. (Photo credit: S. Castledine)

Beat Instrumental's Tone Bender competition in September 1965
Beat Instrumental ran a promotional competition for the Tone Bender ‘MKI’ in their September 1965 issue. Of the six pedals that were given away, at least one is known to still survive, and it was recovered in recent years by the Macari family.

Production of the ‘MKI’ version continued at least into December of 1965,6 but the model would soon be replaced by one that was perhaps cheaper and easier to mass-produce.

1965 Tone Bender MKI together with a modern-day replica
1965 Tone Bender ‘MKI’, pictured together with a modern replica. (Photo credit: S. Castledine)
Original 1965 Tone Bender MKI, in sandcast housing
This particular Tone Bender features the three-transistor ‘MKI’ circuit, but has been built (or possibly re-built) into one of the earliest known examples of Sola Sound’s cast aluminium enclosure.

The long list of groups that used the ‘MKI’ includes the Beatles, to whom Gary Hurst recalled (in a 2010 interview) delivering two Tone Benders at a rehearsal.7 Photos taken by Robert Whitaker in November of 1965, showing the Beatles (as well as Hurst) with two ‘MKI’ Tone Benders, corroborate this story.8

Mick Ronson, performing with the Rats in 1968

The Who were named in the earliest advertisements for the Tone Bender,9 and indeed, Pete Townshend was still using the ‘MKI’ by July of 1966.10

Mick Ronson described in Melody Maker that Pete Townshend sold a Tone Bender to somebody at some point in the mid-1960s, and that that individual had in turn sold it to Ronson.11 The Rats’ bass player corroborated the story, making specific reference to a Tone Bender ‘MKI’,12 so it is quite likely that the exact Tone Bender that Mick Ronson used with the Rats, and with David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars, was one that the Who had performed with, years earlier.

Pictured is Mick Ronson, performing with the Rats in 1968, with a ‘grey’ JMI/Vox wah-wah, and what may very well be the exact ‘MKI’ Tone Bender that was formerly owned by Pete Townshend. (Photo credit unknown)

Ronnie Wood was a very early adopter of the Tone Bender. According to Wood’s diary, he purchased a fuzz box from Macari’s on the 16th of July, 1965.13 The Birds are also named on Gary Hurst’s register of early customers, so it’s quite likely that Wood used a ‘MKI’ on the Birds’ 1965 single, ‘No good without you baby’.

The Spencer Davis group is listed on Gary Hurst’s register of early customers, and Steve Winwood was filmed & photographed performing with a ‘MKI’ on Ready Steady Go! in 1966.14 It was reported, however, in Melody Maker that Winwood’s fuzz box was somewhat temperamental,15 and by April 1966, he was using the Tone Bender ‘MK1.5’.16

'Big Boy Pete' Miller, with a Tone Bender MKI

Singer, songwriter & producer ‘Big Boy Pete’ Miller recalled purchasing his ‘MKI’ from the Selmer shop on Charing Cross Road. Pete used the fuzz box until 1969, at which point it was discarded after getting too rusty from the climate in the jungles of Thailand.

This pedal was likely used on Big Boy Pete’s 1968 single, ‘Cold turkey’, as well as on the Magic Lanterns’ ‘Rumpelstiltskin’. (Photo credit: Pete Miller)

The Poets, performing in early 1966, with a MKI Tone Bender
The Poets, from Scotland, were pictured using a ‘MKI’ Tone Bender in early 1966. (Photo credit unknown)
Tich, of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, performing on Beat Club with a Tone Bender MKI

Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich were listed on Gary Hurst’s register of Tone Bender customers. Tich had already obtained an early Tone Bender by September of 1965, when it was used for the recording of DDDBMT’s single, ‘You make it move’.17

This pedal was likely also used on the studio recordings for DDDBMT’s ‘Hold tight’, as well as ‘Hideaway’, in 1966.

The group were filmed in 1966, performing ‘Hold tight’, for the German ‘Beat Club’ broadcast. Visible on the floor is Tich’s Tone Bender ‘MKI’. This pedal was reportedly stolen at a different concert, on a later date.

Original 1965 Sola Sound Tone Bender MKI
This relatively late-production ‘MKI’ originally belonged to an enigmatic guitarist, known simply as ‘Bonk’, who played with a group called the Diddley Daddies. I’d be grateful to hear from anybody that has any knowledge of ‘Bonk’ or the group(s) in which he played.

At least one Tone Bender ‘MKI’ made it over to the Netherlands. The Nederbeat group, ‘Het’, is listed on Gary Hurst’s register of early Tone Bender customers, so it’s very likely that Het used a ‘MKI’ for their 1966 single, ‘Kejje nagaan’. Unfortunately there is no known photographic evidence of their pedal in use.

Los Bravos, performing with a MKI Tone Bender
Los Bravos, from Spain, obtained a ‘MKI’ at some point in the 1960s as well. (Photo credit unknown)
The Pussycats, performing with a Tone Bender MKI in 1966

The Tone Bender ‘MKI’ also found its way to Norway. In the mid-1960s, Pussycats’ guitarist Trond Graff took advantage of a regular ferry between Bergen and Newcastle, and brought the fuzz box back to Norway with him.

Before a battery leaked, and the pedal was consigned to the trash, Trond Graff’s Tone Bender fuzz box was used on the Pussycats’ 1966 single, ‘Purdy patsy’.

Pictured are the Pussycats during a performance on the 1st of May, 1966, with the Tone Bender ‘MKI’ visible in front of guitarist, Trond Graff. (Pussycats photo by Ukjent / CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Terje Rypdal tuning up, with a Tone Bender MKI visible in the signal chain
At least one other Tone Bender ‘MKI’ ended up in Norway, where it was used by Terje Rypdal (and Sveinung Hovensjø) in the 1970s. (Photo credit unknown)
The Rondells, performing with a Tone Bender MKI

Gary Hurst’s early Tone Bender even made it to Australia. The Rondells, famously Bobby & Laurie’s backing group, obtained a ‘MKI’ from Terry Britten of the Twilights, who in turn had brought it over to Australia from England.18

The Rondells’ fuzz box was used on Bobby & Laurie’s 1966 single, ‘Hitch hiker’, and the group were also photographed performing with their pedal. (Photo credit unknown)

Terry Britten, with the Twilights, in late 1967
Terry Britten, photographed performing live in Australia with the Twilights, in late 1967. Visible is a Tone Bender ‘MKI’, as well as a JMI/Vox wah-wah (which corroborates the date of the photo). The date of this photo creates an inconsistency with the fact that the Rondells had supposedly already recorded ‘Hitch hiker’ with this exact pedal in the previous year. The reason for this inconsistency is still unclear. (Photo credit: Robert Davies)
Original 1965 Sola Sound Tone Bender MKI
This late-production ‘MKI’ resurfaced in Australia, in mid-2021. Its provenance sadly remains unknown.

Thanks to D. Main, S. Castledine, P. Johnston, G. Green, T. Graff, P. Miller & Gary Hurst

  1. Guitarist, “Bend it like Beck can”, November 2009, p. 62
  2. Beat Instrumental, September 1965, p. 30
  3. Guitarist, “Bend it like Beck can”, November 2009, p. 63
  4. Tony Gale, June 1965, Yardbirds on Ready Steady Go [https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-yardbirds-on-ready-steady-go-june-1965-from-l-chris-dreja-jim-mccarty-29460384.html]
  5. Beat Instrumental, September 1965, p. 22
  6. Original logbooks held by the Macari’s archive reveal that Gary Hurst was still being paid for Tone Benders in December 1965
  7. Shinko Music Mook, The Effector Book, vol. 7, 2010
  8. Robert Whitaker, November 1965, Beatles at the Donmar [https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/paul-mccartney-is-pictured-at-the-donmar-rehearsal-theatre-news-photo/554329921]
  9. Beat Instrumental, September 1965, p. 22
  10. Pictorial Press, 30th July 1966, Pete Townshend smashes his guitar & amp at Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival [https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-the-who-pete-townshend-smashes-his-guitar-amp-at-windsor-jazz-blues-25781142.html]
  11. Melody Maker, 9th June 1973
  12. Keith ‘Ched’ Cheesman, interviewed in 2007 for Whotabs [https://www.thewho.net/whotabs/gear/guitar/tonebender.html]
  13. Wood, Ronnie, How can it be? A rock & rock diary, Genesis Publications, 2015
  14. Reelin’ in the years, Spencer Davis Group RSG 1966 [https://photos.reelinintheyears.com/storage/uploads/RITY-MH-000679%20Spencer%20Davis%20Group%20RSG%201966.jpg]
  15. Melody Maker, 15th January 1966, p. 4
  16. Tête de bois et tendres années, 27th April 1966, Le Spencer Davis Group “Keep on running [https://www.ina.fr/video/I07146761/le-spencer-davis-group-keep-on-running-video.html]
  17. https://web.archive.org/web/20161111134502/http://davedeedozybeakymickandtich.nl/september-1965/
  18. Hunt, R. & Nankervis, B. (Host), 17th August 2018, Bobby Bright, Back Story: Bobby and Laurie Bring the Fuzz on Hitchhiker, ABC Radio Melbourne [https://www.abc.net.au/radio/melbourne/programs/thefridayrevue/bobby-laurie-hitchhiker-back-story/10133418]

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