Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Roger Mayer -- "He's an effects wizard, Harry!"

Roger Mayer was probably the first of the custom effects pedal builders.

In 1963, he began building fuzz boxes in his spare time as he worked for the British Navy's sound and vibration analysis division (read: submarine warfare science) and his pedals soon found themselves at the feet of Yardbird's guitarists Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck who were, coincidentally, his childhood friends from the same neighbourhood.

But it was his meeting Jimi Hendrix at London's Bag O' Nails club on 11th January 1967 that was to establish Mayer as the primo effects guru of his time. Primarily a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face user, Mayer introduced Hendrix to his newest creation which he dubbed the Octavia.

A pedal that produced a randomly generated higher octave depending on how hard the string was struck, the Octavia was deployed by Hendrix on Are You Experienced on the songs 'Purple Haze' and 'Fire' three weeks after their first meeting.

It is interesting to note that the pedal used on this recording was a prototype (dubbed Evo 1) that did not incorporate a fuzz or drive circuit -- another custom unit provided the distorted signal for this purpose. Mayer also claims he consigned this prototype to the 'trash bin' after that historic recording!

We should clarify that the Octavia produced by Tycobrahe Engineering in the '70s was not the same pedal invented by Mayer but copied from a '69 variant of a Mayer Octavia owned by Keith Relf of the Yardbirds. It is also not clear why Mayer has not taken legal action on what he claims is a copy of his original Octavia concept and name.

Joining Hendrix on his 1968 US tour, Mayer took care of Jimi's onstage sound, his effects and his guitars. According to Mayer, Hendrix's 'effects rig' for the tour consisted of a Cry Baby wah, an Arbiter Fuzz Face and/or a Mayer-designed fuzz and an Octavia.

During Hendrix's short career, Mayer and Hendrix experimented with five or six different fuzz designs with Mayer building numerous fuzz units and Octavias in the process since pedals were always getting stolen -- sometimes taken directly off the stage by audience members or sometimes vanishing into the overcoat pockets of stage hands, roadies and various hangers-ons. On occasion they were given away as gifts by the guitarist.

In 1968 Mayer began working for Olympic Recording Studios -- where Are You Experienced was recorded -- before venturing out on his own. In 1973 he established Roger Mayer Electronics to manufacture effects pedals and custom studio electronics.

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