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Best Tone Bender Reissues and Replicas
Best Fuzz Face Pedal Evolutions (Extra Features)
Click here for a Brief History of the Tone Bender
The original Sola Sound Tone Bender, click image for video, check for used units on Ebay and Reverb.com.Released in 1965 in London, the Tone Bender was the UK’s answer to the Gibson Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz Tone, the very first mass-produced guitar pedal. There was a need in Britain for something similar to the FZ-1, because fuzz guitar could be heard all over recordings by popular bands such as The Yardbirds, The Beatles, and The Kinks.
Jimmy Page, an in-demand session player at the time, loved his Fuzz Tone and played it on numerous recording sessions around this time. To meet the demand amongst guitar players, Vox engineer Gary Hurst designed a three transistor fuzz circuit based on the Fuzz Tone, but cranked the voltage up from 3v to 9v to achieve more sustain and volume.
The Tone Bender was also one of the first pedals to use true bypass switching. It had just two controls: level and attack, or fuzz. Hurst went into business with Macari’s music shop on Denmark street in London and created the brand Sola Sound, which still manufactures Tone Bender reissues in their classic wedge-shaped enclosures to this day.
In the coveted niche of fuzz pedals, the Tone Bender is nothing short of royalty, being one of the most cloned fuzz circuits in history, together with a few other influential designs like the Muff and the Fuzz Face.
How Does A Tone Bender Fuzz Sound?
The signature sound of the Tone Bender is hairy, spitting, and aggressive. It doesn’t have problems cutting through a live mix like scooped Muff-style fuzzes, and while it doesn’t clean up as elegantly as a Fuzz Face, it has a unique compression and bloom when responding to pick attack. Players such as Mark Ronson, Jeff Beck, Brian May, Ernie Isley, Syd Barrett, Kevin Shields and of course Jimmy Page have all used the Tone Bender to create iconic recorded and live guitar tones.
Best Tone Bender Clones
The Tone Bender has birthed clones that have become almost as famous as the original, such as the Zonk machine and Buzzaround fuzzes. Today you can find countless variations on the Tone Bender, some hand-wired using rare NOS parts, and some made affordable for the masses.
Without further ado then, here are some of the best Tone Bender pedals you can buy, aggregated from best sellers on Reverb and reputable Best Of lists on the internet.
1. Boss TB-2W
In collaboration with Sola Sound, the originators of the Tone Bender, Boss has created a faithful replica of a vintage Mark II model (serial number 500) as part of their Waza craft series. Boss brings the Bender into the modern era with switchable buffered / true bypass, and a voltage switch that allow you to select 7v for starved gated fuzz, the standard 9v, or 12v for more headroom.
The branding of the Park Fuzz sound has a complicated history involving clones of clones, but at its core it is quite simply a Mark III Tone Bender. Using NOS matched Germanium transistors and a Fuzz knob with twice the gain range as the original, the EQD Park Fuzz Sound is an elegant modern way to get vintage British fuzz on your board.
Macari’s has tapped UK fuzz veterans D.A.M. to create their Tone Bender reissues. These go on sale in very limited runs every so often, hand-wired using NOS parts. They aren’t cheap but this is as close to the original as you’re going to get. For the nerdiest completionists among us, they also do unique limited runs of hard-to-find Tone Bender variations.
These may be sold out by the time this article is published! Mike Thompson of Seeker Electric effects makes beautiful one-of-a-kind pedals by hand using rare parts. These Mark II’s were made for Mass Street Music store and use NOS AC125 Germanium transistors. If they’re all gone, look for more Seeker pedals on reverb or get in touch with Mike on his Instagram page to custom order a pedal.
5. JHS Bender
This entry in JHS’ legends of fuzz series is based on a 1973 Mark III Tone Bender (which added a tone control) from Josh Scott’s personal collection. The Bender keeps it simple with the three-knob layout in a classic wedge enclosure, but also includes a “JHS Mode” switch that adds a gain and mid-frequency boost for solos.
6. PigDog JUJU
Another vintage-accurate boutique option, PigDog has a reputation for building dead-on Tone Bender replicas. The JUJU is a Mark III Tone Bender, nothing more, nothing less. It uses NOS OC82 transistors from builder Steve William’s personal stock and is not cheap but is pretty much perfect in its construction.
At the highest end of the market we have German builder Dan Querner, who sources premium components to hand-build his beautiful fuzz pedals. The germanium transistor Secret Machine is his take on the Zonk Machine, a circuit inspired by the Mark I tone bender with even more bite and the ability to produce an upper octave on lower gain settings. Comes with a bias knob and midrange toggle.
A made-to-order tone bender with top-quality NOS parts. You can hand pick the enclosure, knobs, and additional quality-of-life mods such as an external bias knob. You can even specify modifications to the circuit, such as if you want your bender to be more gated or have more sustain. See also the MkII and iii versions.
Monsterpiece makes vintage accurate fuzzes at a reasonable price point. Their Mark I Tone Bender is the same as the original, except with a bias knob on the front for a wide range of possible fuzz tones. See also the Mk 1.5 and Mk II models!
Best Tone Bender Fuzz Pedal Evolutions
Just like top-notch chefs try to improve (or give their own spin) to even the most delicious and established recipes, so do pedal builders when confronted with redesigning a classic vintage circuit. Here’s a list of the best Tone Bender-inspired fuzzes that use the original’s character as a starting point but expand on it in different directions.
Not necessarily made to be a Tone Bender clone, Robert Keeley’s Fuzz Bender instead adds an active EQ after the three-transistor fuzz circuit for extreme versatility. With 20dB of gain at 100hz or 10khz, plus a voltage bias control, the Fuzz Bender allows you to create your own perfect hairy fuzz tone for any situation, from bass-heavy stoner metal to octave-like Hendrix style effects.
Born from the desire to create a fuzz that is versatile enough for all guitars and all amps, Catalinbread have cleverly combined a Mark II Tone Bender with a ProCo RAT style circuit. Knobs for input sensitivity and a RAT-style hi-pass filter make this distortion/fuzz highly tweakable and useful in the studio and on stage.
Known for their recreations of legendary studio gear designed by the late great Rupert Neve, BAE has started building their own British-style fuzz pedals. The Royaltone has that classic spitty Bender sound, but adds a separate switchable tone stack circuit for more versatility, with treble, mids, and bass controls. This is useful for adding a mid-push or scoop to your fuzz tone.
The Canadian boutique builders Union Tube and Transistor wanted to make a Tone Bender that cleans up like a Fuzz Face, so they did just that! Sitting tonally between those two titans of fuzz, the Sone Bender also was designed to work before or after buffered pedals, which fixes a classic issue with vintage-style fuzzes. See also the Tour Bender, a silicon version of the same pedal.
This modern Bender solves all of the issues with vintage fuzzes and adds unique features. You get two Bender circuits in one: the Mark II and Mark 1.5, which has one less transistor engaged. The impedance control allows the pedal to be placed anywhere in your chain and the bias knob can starve the voltage or just be tweaked to adjust for temperature. Plus, you get a three-way EQ toggle for a fat boost or mid boost.
An amazingly creative take on the Bender circuit, the FUBAR stays true to its name with 6 knobs to royally screw up your fuzz tone. With three different voltage controls and expression pedal capabilities, the FUBAR can go from classic British fuzz to self-oscillating, pitch shifting madness.
A Mark II Tone Bender for modern players, the Rosie has a combination JFET and silicon transistor circuit, which nullify any temperature issues and allow you to place the pedal anywhere in your chain with no problem. The tone switch cuts that accentuated low end that can come from humbucker guitars.
This hand-built pedal is based on a Mark II Tone Bender, but offers a bevy of tone shaping options. The input knob adjusts the pre-gain, allowing for overdrive tones on low settings up to thick fuzz at higher settings. A three-way bass switch contours the low end response and a hi cut switch prevents the fuzz from getting too harsh on the ears.
One of the more affordable Benders available, Maxon’s take on the circuit features a “Hot” switch that will kick the already-nasty fuzz into a higher gain mode. It also comes with a buffer switch that is intended to cut down external noise from other electronics that vintage-style fuzz pedals can sometimes pick up.
TONE BENDER FUZZ PEDALS VIDEO SHOOTOUTS