History

The earliest known version of the famous Tone Bender fuzz boxes was 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 by a session guitarist 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

Gary Hurst's wooden Tone Bender
1965 Tone Bender ‘MKI’, housed in an early wooden casing. (Photo credit: G. Hurst)

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

Two 1965 Sola Sound Tone Benders. (Photo credit: D. Main)

Pictured above are two 1965 Tone Bender ‘MKI’ pedals. The pedal on the left is an early example of Sola Sound’s metal-bodied ‘MKI’ fuzz boxes, and has been crudely decorated with Letraset lettering. These primitive graphics were applied to the enclosures by the then-girlfriend of Gary Hurst (also the niece of Larry & Joe Macari) and who also coated the lettering with clear lacquer to protect it from rubbing away.6 By the end of the year, Macari’s Musical Exchange began to market the Tone Bender more professionally, and, as pictured on the right, the ‘MKI’ then featured silk-screened graphics with the ‘Sola Sounds Ltd’ brand name. (Photo credit: D. Main)

Production of the ‘MKI’ version continued at least into December of 1965,7 but the model would soon be replaced by one that was perhaps cheaper and easier to mass-produce.

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.

Notable users

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.8 Photos taken by Robert Whitaker in November of 1965, showing the Beatles (as well as Hurst) with two ‘MKI’ Tone Benders, corroborate this story.9

The Who were named in the earliest advertisements for the Tone Bender,10 and indeed, Pete Townshend was still using the ‘MKI’ by July of 1966.11

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.12 The Rats’ bass player corroborated the story, making specific reference to a Tone Bender ‘MKI’,13 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.

Mick Ronson, performing with the Rats in 1968

Pictured above 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, 1965.14 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 1966.15 It was reported, however, in Melody Maker that Winwood’s fuzz box was somewhat temperamental,16 and by April 1966, he was using the Tone Bender ‘MK1.5’.17

Singer, songwriter & producer ‘Big Boy Pete’ Miller recalled purchasing his ‘MKI’ from the Selmer shop on Charing Cross Road. This pedal was likely used on Big Boy Pete’s 1968 single, ‘Cold turkey’. 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.18

'Big Boy Pete' Miller, with a Tone Bender MKI
‘Big Boy Pete’ Miller, performing with a JMI/Vox wah-wah and a Sola Sound Tone Bender ‘MKI’. (Photo credit: P. 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)

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

Tich, of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, performing on Beat Club with a Tone Bender MKI

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.

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 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’.20

The Pussycats, performing with a Tone Bender MKI in 1966

Pictured above 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)

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.21 The Rondells’ fuzz box was used on Bobby & Laurie’s 1966 single, ‘Hitch hiker’.

The Rondells, performing with a Tone Bender MKI
The Rondells performing in Australia with a Sola Sound Tone Bender ‘MKI’. (Photo credit unknown)

Terry Britten was, himself, photographed (below) in late 1967, using a ‘MKI’ in Australia, with the Twilights. 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.

Terry Britten, with the Twilights, in late 1967
Terry Britten, performing with the Twilights, and a JMI/Vox wah-wah & Tone Bender ‘MKI’. (Photo credit: Robert Davies)

Significant surviving pedals

“Goldie”

This particular Tone Bender ‘MKI’ is unusual in that it has been built into one of the earliest known examples of Sola Sound’s cast aluminium enclosure. The construction of the electronics is also unique (at the time of writing) in that the parts have been assembled on perforated circuit board, as opposed to on strip board, or point-to-point on a dedicated board.

Having been through various generations of repairs & restoration, it is uncertain whether the type of construction is original to the pedal, or indeed whether the electronics might originally have been housed in a conventional steel-bodied case and have been re-built to fit the cast model.

“Goldie” spent a significant portion of its life in Germany, with former owners including Hamburg-based producer (and musician) Jochen Petersen22 and session guitarist Frank Diez.23

“Bonk’s” MKI

Featuring silkscreened graphics and the ‘Sola Sounds Ltd’ branding, we can ascertain that this Tone Bender was built towards the latter period of production of the ‘MKI’. Despite its enclosure being in rather poor condition, this particular pedal has miraculously retained all of its original parts inside. The battery connector was at some point, however, replaced, and the Bulgin ‘chicken head’ control knobs are also non-original.

This pedal was sold in 2021 by musician & sound engineer Laurie “Lol” Beeching, who performed with it through the 1980s. Lol acquired the pedal from an enigmatic London-based guitarist known only as ‘Bonk’, who reputedly bought the pedal brand new in 1965, from Jim Moore’s music shop in Hornchurch, Essex.24

‘Bonk’ played in the 1960s with a group called the Diddley Daddies. I would be grateful to hear from anybody that has any further knowledge of ‘Bonk’ or the group(s) in which he played.

The “Groundhogs” MKI

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

This ‘MKI’ surfaced during the 2000s, when there was very little information available about the model. The vast majority of the modern copies of the Tone Bender ‘MKI’ are based off a schematic that was drawn by David Main (D*A*M Stompboxes) from this particular exemplar. (Photo credit: D. Main)

It has changed hands several times over the years, between collectors, but this pedal’s provenance is rumoured to span to Tony McPhee, of Groundhogs fame.25

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. https://stompboxes.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?p=138374#p138374
  7. Original logbooks held by the Macari’s archive reveal that Gary Hurst was still being paid for Tone Benders in December 1965
  8. Shinko Music Mook, The Effector Book, vol. 7, 2010
  9. 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]
  10. Beat Instrumental, September 1965, p. 22
  11. 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]
  12. Melody Maker, 9th June 1973
  13. Keith ‘Ched’ Cheesman, interviewed in 2007 for Whotabs [https://www.thewho.net/whotabs/gear/guitar/tonebender.html]
  14. Wood, Ronnie, How can it be? A rock & rock diary, Genesis Publications, 2015
  15. Reelin’ in the years, Spencer Davis Group RSG 1966 [https://photos.reelinintheyears.com/storage/uploads/RITY-MH-000679%20Spencer%20Davis%20Group%20RSG%201966.jpg]
  16. Melody Maker, 15th January 1966, p. 4
  17. 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]
  18. P. Miller (personal communication, 4th February 2012)
  19. https://web.archive.org/web/20161111134502/http://davedeedozybeakymickandtich.nl/september-1965/
  20. T. Graff (personal communication, 9th September 2018)
  21. 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]
  22. F. Reinke (personal communication, 17th April 2016)
  23. F. Diez (personal communication, 1st September 2018)
  24. L. Beeching (personal communication, 1st July 2021)
  25. https://web.archive.org/web/20100104231754/http://pedalporn.blogspot.com/2006/05/1965-sola-sounds-ltd-gary-hurst-tone.html

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