The exact origins of the Zonk Machine (ZZ.1) are a little murky, but the circuitry and the shape of the pedal’s enclosure look suspiciously similar to the Tone Bender ‘MKI’. It’s likely that the designer of the Zonk Machine had an early ‘MKI’ for reference.
Skewes recalled in 2015 that Charlie Ramskir was responsible for designing the Zonk Machine, and that the reason why the Zonk Machine was discontinued in 1968 was because Ramskir died.1 This version of events is unreliable because Ramskir was still involved with Miles Platting amps in 1973,2 and according to death records, actually died a decade later than Skewes remembers (albeit still prematurely).3 It makes more sense that Ramskir was involved with Hornby Skewes’ later offerings, because models such as the (silicon-transistor) Zonk II were also being offered under Ramskir’s own ‘Wilsic Sound’ brand during the early 1970s. An unknown representative for Hornby Skewes provided an alternative version of events some time prior to the 2015 VintageGuitar interview, which fits in better with the surrounding evidence.4 Charlie Ramskir may have been involved with Hornby Skewes as early as in late-1965/early-1966, but Skewes’ own account can’t be trusted by itself.
Early surviving Zonk Machines date to 1966 (when the model was also mentioned in the press), and the youngest examples date to 1968. It’s possible that the Zonk Machine was developed in 1965, but this is still unconfirmed.
The selection of components used for the Zonk Machine gradually changed over time as the design was refined during the two-to-three year period in which it was being produced. The ‘ZZ.1’ was fundamentally a three-transistor fuzz box with distant origins in Gibson’s Maestro Fuzz-Tone, but also with more similarities with the Tone Bender ‘MKI’.
The claim that Hornby Skewes were selling their products abroad, as reported in this press cutting, can be corroborated by the fact that original Zonk Machines overwhelmingly resurface in Canada. It looks very likely that Hornby Skewes had a distribution deal in place over there.
Zonk Machines were housed in enclosures made of folded aluminium and weighed considerably less than the version of the Tone Bender, housed in steel, that inspired it.
Early examples of the Zonk Machine had a battery clasp fastened to the main chassis, while later units had their battery clasp attached to the removable cover behind the pedal’s controls.
The back cover was also be where Hornby Skewes would print the company’s logo. The pedal in this photo had sadly lost most of that decal over time.
- VintageGuitar.com, Hornby Skewes Zonk Machines, 2015 [https://www.vintageguitar.com/23068/hornby-skewes-zonk-machines]
- Ancestry.com reveals Charles Anthony Ramskir, born in September 1942, died in Doncaster, in April 1974
- Unknown associate of Hornby Skewes, as questioned by ‘Neil’, via John Chambers, 2008 [http://www.chambonino.com/work/miscguitar/misc4.html]