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Colorsound Jumbo Tone Bender

Colorsound Jumbo Tone Bender

Though the cabinet is stocked with a myriad of goods, it is unfortunately not rounded out with a vintage Tone Bender of any “mark.” This highly praised (and valued) fuzz unit was of course developed by one Gary Hurst, and may or may not have begun its lineage with a young Hurst modifying Vic Flick’s Maestro FZ-1 in the back room of Macari’s of London on Denmark Street. Macari’s is a downright legendary institution, responsible for the entirety of the Sola Sound and  Colorsound lines and we are not without representation. This is the Jumbo Tone Bender.

There was a time in the early to mid ‘70s when germanium was banished to the outer realms. Much like the period in time when digital gear dethroned analog and exiled it from the gear kingdom, silicon discretes pushed germanium to the sidelines. They were temperature-stable, reliable, and above all, much more inexpensive. Folks were having a heyday riffing on the popular silicon fuzzes of the era. And when you get down to brass tacks, that means one thing: the Big Muff.

Engineers from all corners of the globe took turns with the Muff circuit once it proved it was a viable property. Companies in the USA such as Jordan were modifying and releasing clones of the Big Muff as early as 1971 Japan was right there in the thick of it around the same time, with several different manufacturers offering their takes. In Europe, there was no shortage either; Germany’s Hohner released the Tri Dirty Booster, which was a Muff masquerading as a utilitarian amp nudger. Spain’s Jen released the Jumbo Fuzz, one of the most unique takes on the circuit.

Meanwhile in the UK, Macari’s stepped into the ring with the Colorsound Supa Tone Bender and eventually built the rare B&M Champion Fuzz. It was a true cross-continent free-for-all.

Colorsound Jumbo Tone Bender

Almost every company tried to make the circuit their own. Japan’s Elk and Ace Tone juiced the tone circuit and added a booster, respectively. Jen added a germanium-based gate circuit for a truly inspired take. Macari’s clipped the diodes from the second gain stage, defeating compression and changing the circuit into a real fire-breather.

At some point in the waning ‘70s, Macari’s built two more; the B&M Champion Fuzz and ours, the Jumbo Tone Bender. It’s unclear which came first, but our guess is the Champion. While both featured the same tweak—removal of the recovery stage with clipped diodes to make up some of the gain—it seemed it was Macari’s that really grasped the thrust of the circuit’s potential. While the Champion’s name promised supremacy over all others, the Jumbo figured it out—this is one of the best bass fuzzes around.

Macari’s released a dedicated Bass Fuzz, yes, which was another tweaked Muff circuit featuring enormous filter caps for a squishier low end. But the Jumbo Tone Bender was something of a happy accident. While today’s players make great use of “blend” circuits to regain picking dynamics, bass players use them to retain low end while most of it gets chopped up within a pedal’s gain structure.

Colorsound Jumbo Tone Bender

Back in the mid to late ‘70s, this wasn’t found on many distortion devices. However, the Jumbo’s simultaneous elimination of the recovery stage and the first set of clipping diodes gave players the illusion of a clean signal mix, and so it let through just the right amount of low end in parallel with a sustain-packed dirt circuit. Paydirt.

While this made the Jumbo nearly unusable for dynamic guitar, Macari’s produced them until the ‘80s, making it one of the longest running Muff variants around. The guts are relatively humdrum, featuring lots of parts found in many UK-made pedals; Mullard tropical fish caps, Radiohm potentiometers and other assorted bits and bobbins. The values are almost taken exclusively from the first “black and red” Muff of the late ‘70s—a great sounding circuit in its own right.

Just this year, Macari’s closed up for the final time at its Denmark Street location and is planning on moving to Sussex. As readers that undoubtedly obsess over this kind of stuff like I do, this is a great loss. Consider yourself lucky if you made it there, and I hope to see you at the new one.