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Maestro FSH-1 Filter/Sample Hold

Maestro FSH-1

You may have noticed us covering a ton of Boss pedals laely. There’s a simple explanation that reaches beyond pure collectability. If you are into the history of pedals, even a little bit, you can appreciate Boss’s contribution to pedal canon. There are just a handful of manufacturers that carried the industry on their backs. Electro-Harmonix and MXR are two others usually associated with such a thing, but the one that everyone forgets is Maestro, and it is one of their pedals we cover today, the FSH-1 Filter Sample/Hold.

I’ve run through the idea of pedal companies borrowing items from synth players, from the first  Ring Modulator to the Korg X-911. This is certifiable fact, and why Maestro’s early pedals pack such a punch—Tom Oberheim, yes, that Oberheim—designed most of the intricate pieces. The FSH-1, one of Maestro’s quirkiest offerings, combined two guitar firsts in a compact, fashion-forward package.

Even though Tom Oberheim designed the intense stuff and Maestro’s crew handled the guitar mainstays, their design tents intersected on some curious points, and they’re certainly a product of their time.

As I’m sure you know by now, Maestro essentially kickstarted this industry when it released the FZ-1, the world’s first commercially-available fuzz pedal. But it wasn’t just any pedal, it was one of the only times in effects history that cut rate parts were used on purpose for the greater good.

Germanium transistors were relatively expensive back in 1962, and so using them in much smaller production runs not affiliated with heavy industry, defense or extremely large computers wasn’t yet commonplace. At quantities meant to fuel a production run for a market that Maestro wasn’t sure would exist, top-quality parts were a risky buy. The solution? Design your circuit around cut-rate components, slashing overhead and stoking the furnace of effects manufacturing. Oh, and then get Keith Richards to use it.

The FSH-1 took this same approach in the “SH” part of the FSH-1, using noisy, subprime parts in order to facilitate the desired effect. In this case, it was the voltage-controlled low-pass filter, a synth mainstay brought to guitar markets by none other than Maestro by way of Mr. Oberheim. In fact, he sold the same circuit under his own brand, and without Maestro’s market reach, his became much rarer.

While the concept of an envelope filter is all-too commonplace these days, the early ‘70s saw the conclusion of the hippie era; an epoch whose music was punctuated with fuzzed-out no-nonsense (ok, some nonsense) guitar rock. No genre that required the use of anything… funky had yet presented itself, but not for long.

Maestro FSH-1

One side of the FSH-1, the “F” side, contains this auto-wah effect, if you will. This effect is mostly associated with the wah pedal, though that particular filter type is a “band-pass” type while most envelope filters, including the FSH-1, utilize a low-pass filter type. While this sounds great and is a wonder unto itself, the meat and potatoes of the effect is the “SH” part, or Sample-and-Hold.

Sample-and-hold not only evokes a sound, it evokes a feeling, one of being on the set of Star Trek, and of retro-futurism. The sound is organic, bubbly and crackling, beautiful and inspiring, yet occurring in almost no songs you can recall. It sounded like how people thought computers sounded in the ‘70s, accomplishing it through an entirely analog means.

A switch on the front of the unit changes between a simple envelope-controlled filter and a complicated affair that amounts to a purposely noisy transistor triggering the filter. It’s genius, it’s truly random and it hasn’t exactly been replicated since—buying cut-rate semiconductors isn’t exactly a thing modern companies can do in commercial production quantities.

As is often the case with products of sheer innovation, numbers were limited, with a rise and fall before consumers knew they wanted one, and if you want one of Oberheim’s originals, be prepared to hunt. One of these pedals in good condition will set you back a cool four figures these days, understandable once you actually play one.