Glenn Snoddy, 1922–2018
The engineer who accidentally invented rock’s ‘fuzz tone’
Audio engineer Glenn Snoddy was recording a Nashville session with country singer Marty Robbins in 1961 when something went very wrong. Ninety seconds into a song, the bass guitar began producing a fuzzy, abrasive sound instead of a clean tone—the result of a blown transformer in the mixing console. Snoddy wanted a re-record, but the musicians loved the distortion, which became an in-demand effect. When the console finally died, Snoddy took apart its faulty transformer and built a foot-operated pedal to duplicate the sound. Gibson bought the rights to what became the Maestro Fuzz-Tone, and its distinctive buzz went mainstream when Keith Richards used the pedal on the Rolling Stones’ 1965 hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” “When Keith Richards picked it up,” Snoddy said, “music history was changed forever.”
Born in Shelbyville, Tenn., Snoddy “became an engineer after serving as an Army radio technician in the Pacific during World War II,” said The Washington Post. He moved to Nashville in the late 1940s and engineered Grand Ole Opry shows for radio and TV. Snoddy later became chief engineer at the Quonset Hut studio, where he mixed Johnny Cash’s 1963 hit “Ring of Fire” and hired an aspiring songwriter named Kris Kristofferson—as janitor.
In 1967, Snoddy opened Woodland Sound studio in East Nashville, said The New York Times. It became “one of the city’s premier recording studios,” producing hits including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Grammy-winning album Will the Circle Be Unbroken (1979). But he remained most famous for the fuzz tone. “It was such a wild and unrestrained sound,” said Peter Cooper of the Country Music Hall of Fame, “created by this quiet, gentle, and scholarly fellow.”