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Long before there were Roland Guitar Synths or digital multi-effects processors, there was the Maestro Rhythm & Sound for Guitar.
Built around 1969 by the company that brought us the groundbreaking Fuzz-Tone used by Keith Richards on “Satisfaction,” the Maestro Rhythm & Sound for Guitar is a beastly machine that can give you anything from simple fuzz tone to a tambourine that bashes itself with uniform glee every time you pluck a note. It can also convincingly simulate an upright bass and – just guessing – make a decent cup of drip coffee.
The machine operates by depressing levers that activate individual percussion sounds and guitar effects. The setup allows for any combination of effects, so you can either turn your guitar into a simple kick drum or engage all the sounds at once and mix it with your dry signal for pure cacophony.
Maestro Rhythm & Sound for Guitar comes with a foot switch for turning the device on and off, but obviously this dinosaur can’t store custom settings, so if you want to change your sound on the fly you’ll have to manually press levers and twist dials like the Wizard of Oz onstage. Given this limitation, Maestro considerately included a “Cancel” button that forces all the levers to an “off” position. Is there nothing those wily sound scientists haven’t thought of?
To hear a demonstration of all the percussion sounds housed in this strange little box of wonders, click here. Settings include:
I’ve listed all of these settings in the screaming capital letters that are displayed on the unit itself. Believe me, that’s the best way to convey the experience, as every note you play triggers the percussion instruments to crash, thump, and bang with manic glee regardless of the force you use.
But despite the limited usefulness of the percussion sounds on this unit, you’ve got to hear the upright bass simulator. It sounds fantastic and surprisingly realistic, especially considering that the Maestro Rhythm & Sound for Guitar was in production way back in 1969. The fuzz bass setting sounds like a bad circuit, similar to the accidental, sinister brilliance of the Marty Robbins hit “Don’t Worry.” It may not be a practical device for performance, but Rhythm & Sound for Guitar is a fascinating piece of guitar history.
The behemoth also includes a series of three levers marked “color tone 1” etc. These are tone filters. Color Tone 1 creates a tin can sound reminiscent of ancient recording technology. The other two levers make sounds that I’d describe as “varying shades of spanky jangle;” some with more spank, others with more jangle.
It may not be a gadget you’d lay on thick on every recording, but the Maestro Rhythm & Sound for Guitar is an interesting fossil with bass simulation sounds that the masterminds at Maestro should be proud of.
The machine’s Achilles Heel? No cowbell!