How Rock Found Fuzz Box

Posted on: October 2, 2016

MURFREESBORO — Ever wondered how the distorted sound effect of electric guitars started? It happened in Nashville in 1960 — an accident of technology that would forever change the face of music.
And Murfreesboro’s own Glenn Snoddy was at the helm of creating what became known as “the Nashville sound,” although he first called it “a noise.”
That pivotal moment happened when Snoddy was engineering Marty Robbins’ song, “Don’t Worry,” at the legendary Quonset Hut Studios owned by music pioneers Harold and Owen Bradley. Nearly 90 seconds into the recording, Grady Martin’s guitar produced a distorted, fuzzy sound instead of the normally smooth guitar riff.
“We thought there was something wrong and something was wrong,” said 92-year-old Snoddy, a retired sound engineer and pioneer in the music industry. “The transformer in the amplifier blew up.”
But the musicians loved the distorted effect, said David McKinley, who learned the engineering craft under the wing of Snoddy.
“The musicians thought it was wild, it was cool. Nothing had ever happened like that before,” said McKinley, who started as a janitor at world famous Woodland Studios in Nashville before moving up the ranks as an audio engineer.
The recording was kept and sent to executives in New York, who “flipped out” over the sound, McKinley said.
“They wanted to keep it. It was a new innovation that never happened before,” he recalled.
The popularity of the sound meant he had to figure out how to reproduce it. For much of his life, Snoddy had tinkered with transistors and was also a radio repairman in the Army. He later became one of the first engineers at local radio station WGNS and ran live sound for WSM’s “Grand Ole Opry” as well as the Ernest Tubb Record Shop’s “Midnite Jamboree.”
So he had some knowledge of how to go about building what would become the first-ever distortion pedal.
“I had to get busy and figure out how to do this if we wanted to keep this sound. So I took apart (the console) and figured out how to make (that distorted sound),” Snoddy said.

Snoddy built a guitar pedal that was housed in a small box-like structure and musicians would press a button to distort the sound. When Gibson Guitar president Maurice Berlin heard it, he told Snoddy, “That’s what we want.”
Gibson bought the rights to manufacture what became the Maestro Fuzz-Tone, although Snoddy only received royalties from the invention for seven years.
Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards “brought the fuzz into mainstream” when he used the Fuzz-Tone for “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”
“When Keith Richards picked it up, music history was changed forever,” Snoddy said.
What started as an accident soon became a sought-after electric guitar effect that was embraced by both rock ‘n’ roll and country.
While Snoddy’s discovery of distortion changed the sound of music, he is also known for his history in shaping the industry in Nashville, McKinley said.
“Glenn was also very responsible for building so many of the great studios in Nashville,” he said.
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Genn Snoddy, who invented the fuzz box, listens to local artist Jesse Kramer play guitar, at Forrest Guitar, on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016, with the same distorted sound that Snoddy came up with. (Photo: HELEN COMER/DNJ)
Before the Quonset Hut, Snoddy helped build Castle Studios at Tulane Hotel, Nashville first full-blown recording studio, McKinley said. And even after the Quonset Hut was sold to Columbia Records, he stayed on as an executive. Then he opened the legendary Woodland Studios, which became a hot spot for recording artists like Loretta Lynn, among many others.
A plaque on Snoddy’s wall recognizes his recording of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”
“He’s also responsible for Hank Williams’ last recording (session). Glenn recorded ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart,’ ‘Kaw-Liga,’ ‘Take These Chains from My Heart’ and ‘I Could Never Be Ashamed of Loving You.’ He cut all four of those in one session,” McKinley recalled. “I don’t know anybody else who could do that. He had a great ear.”
Reach reporter Nancy De Gennaro at 615-278-5148 or follow her on Twitter @DNJMama and Instagram @LoisLane71.
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Genn Snoddy, who invented the fuzz box, at Forrest Guitar, on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (Photo: HELEN COMER/DNJ)

Repost from the DNJ online, Daily News Journal

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