Jimmy Page has spoken about his own contributions to the history of guitar tones and techniques. Among the more out-there approaches he pioneered, such as using a violin bow, he was also one of the first to do something most guitarists now view as commonplace – as he played on sessions in the mid-1960s, before his work in Led Zeppelin, he starting carrying a distortion pedal around with him.
When asked by Rolling Stone about the techniques he established, Page discussed how “one of the things I brought into the equation, as a session musician, was the distortion box, the overdrive box. It was called a fuzz box at the time.”
His own unit was built for him by electrical audio engineer Roger Mayer, famously demonstrated by Page in the film It Might Get Loud. He described to Rolling Stone how the box came about: “I met Roger Mayer at a session, and he said, ‘Is there something in electronic music, with the guitar, that you could think of that would be a good asset to have?’ And I said, “Yeah, absolutely.’ I played him music with overdriven guitar, and I said, ‘That’s what it needs.’”
Once Page had possession of the early fuzz box, he brought it along to sessions: “I was doing studio work at the time, and I had this thing [he made] in the back of my amplifier. It was quite small. Normally, session producers would say, ‘Have you got anything for this song?’ And I’d just come up with riffs. This time, I said, ‘Let’s see if [the fuzz box] works.’”
He also described how the older guitarists at the session reacted to the extreme sound: “So I put it in, and the faces of the other guitarists, who were seven years older than me, turned ashen white, because they thought, ‘Oh, my God. This little punk is really filling all the different roles of guitar playing, and now he’s got this thing.’ Anyway. It got established immediately, and I was getting called up to do sessions. ‘Bring your own fuzz box,’ et cetera.
Page played on sessions for countless bands in the ‘60s, including for songs by The Who and The Kinks, so while he didn’t invent distorted guitar alone, the presence of his distortion pedal in his session gear most likely had a huge impact on the kinds of guitar sounds heard on the radio. Page himself tells Rolling Stone: “You can hear the fuzz box on the Kinks’ first album. I think on the B side of the Who’s I Can’t Explain, Bald Headed Woman, I think there’s a few phrases on the fuzz box that come out on that.”
So next time you pack up your pedalboard for a session, in part it’s Jimmy Page you’ve got to thank for the required overdrive, fuzz or distortion that’s on there.
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