Stomp boxes were essential for guitarists to innovate sounds during the evolution of rock and roll. During the early to mid-1960s, most guitarists didn’t have any kind of effects for their playing: they simply plugged into the amp, and whatever tones could be produced directly were used. This meant that bizarre sounds like the distortion on The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’ were created through amp manipulation.
But starting in the ’60s, guitarists began to utilise more creative outputs of technology. Originally created to simulate the tone of a violin, the Maestro Fuzz Tone pedal first came to prominence through its use on The Rolling Stones’ ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’. It wouldn’t take long for guitarists to begin flocking to these wondrous new devices called pedals, and with each new advancement came a legendary player who was eager to create otherworldly sounds from them.
Perhaps the biggest boom in stomp boxes came from Jimi Hendrix, whose favouritism towards the wah-wah pedal and octave fuzz stomp boxes could be heard in songs like ‘Fire’ and ‘Purple Haze’. By the time he reached compositions like ‘Machine Gun’, the stomp boxes were as essential to producing his barrage of distortion and noise as his fingers were. Other players took notice, and from then on it became rare to have a guitar player without their own personal arsenal of pedals and stomp boxes.
Jimmy Page was no stranger to the evolving technology. As a session musician in the ’60s and during his tenure with The Yardbirds, Page was able to experiment with different pedals to create uncommon sounds and tones. By the time Led Zeppelin were recording their first album, Page had a relatively modest but powerful set up that included a Supro amp (later exchanged for a more power Marshall), a Tone Bender fuzz box, and a Cry Baby wah-wah.
As Led Zeppelin began exploring sounds beyond their blues roots, Page was ecstatic in his search for new effects. An echoplex tape delay became a favourite, as can be heard on tracks like ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’. The MXR company soon found a permeant place in Page’s arsenal, with the otherworldly sounds of ‘No Quarter’ and ‘The Rain Song’ coming thanks to the Phase 90 pedal. But in terms of one and done spectacles, Page used another MXR pedal for another legendary solo.
‘Fool in the Rain’ came as a part of In Through the Out Door, a recording session that found John Paul Jones largely supplementing Page as Zeppelin’s boundary-pushing creative director. Jones’ push of synthesisers and keyboards certainly changed their sound, as can be heard on tracks like ‘All My Love’ and ‘Carouselambra’, but Page himself still had some innovation up his sleeve. When it came time for his solo, Page reached for a stomp box that he hadn’t used before.
Compared to the company’s other pedals, the MXR Blue Box pedal was a relative failure. While the Phase 90 and Distortion+ found an immediate audience due to their relatively smooth sounds, the Blue Box made an octave fuzz that was fat, fuzzy, and chunky. Without the cutting factor that most octave fuzzes normally use, the Blue Box can sound muddy and undefined when not used properly. However, Page was always gifted with a good ear, so when it came time to play his solo after the breakdown on ‘Fool in the Rain’, he knew the Blue Box would be the perfect fit.
He was right, and those fat fuzzy tones could only have been produced by the Blue Box. Nowadays, the pedal is largely associated with that solo, as the sound produced is so distinctive that Page almost put a monopoly on it when he used it. Page never really found another proper setting for the pedal, and today it’s hard to find a usage more iconic than Page’s legendary ‘Fool in the Rain’ solo.