Zonk Machine fuzz boxes were manufactured during the mid-to-late 1960s by (or for) John Hornby Skewes’ now-famous musical instruments retail company in Leeds.

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.

Original Hornby Skewes Zonk Machine
Original Hornby Skewes Zonk Machine, c. 1967

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 company was also reported to have been exporting fuzz boxes,5 and the youngest examples date to 1968. It is possible that the Zonk Machine was first developed as early as in 1965, but this is still unconfirmed.

Internals of a Zonk Machine
Internals of a Zonk Machine. (Photo credit: D. Main)

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 with more similarities to the Tone Bender ‘MKI’.

Hornby Skewes were reportedly also selling their guitar effects units abroad,6 and this can be corroborated by the fact that original Zonk Machines overwhelmingly resurface in Canada.

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. These cases were painted in the same teal hammered finish that Hornby Skewes’ various treble, bass, and ‘treble & bass’ effects units also came in.

Similar to the Tone Bender, the Zonk Machines were powered by 9 volt batteries. 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.

Original Hornby Skewes Zonk Machine
The back cover was also where Hornby Skewes stamped the company’s logo. The pedal in this photo has sadly lost most of its JHS decal over time.
The ZZ.1, as pictured in a Hornby Skewes catalogue, supposedly from 1967. (Credit: VintageGuitar.com)
The Plastic Cloud's original Zonk Machine
The exact Zonk Machine that was used on the Plastic Cloud’s self-titled album from 1968. (Credit: M. Cadieux)
  1. VintageGuitar.com, Hornby Skewes Zonk Machines, 2015 [https://www.vintageguitar.com/23068/hornby-skewes-zonk-machines]
  2. https://companycheck.co.uk/company/00871459/WILSIC-ELECTRONICS-LIMITED/
  3. Ancestry.com reveals Charles Anthony Ramskir, born in September 1942, died in Doncaster, in April 1974
  4. Unknown associate of Hornby Skewes, as questioned by ‘Neil’, via John Chambers, 2008 [http://www.chambonino.com/work/miscguitar/misc4.html]
  5. Melody Maker, 20th August 1966, p. 20
  6. Melody Maker, 20th August 1966, p. 20

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*). Your email address will be kept strictly private.