In 1960, a Nashville session musician, Grady Martin, accidentally stumbled upon the fuzz sound during a recording session for Marty Robbins' "Don't Worry 'Bout Me", due to a faulty guitar amplifier. The fault soon reproduced by an electronic circuit, which was first marketed as the Model FZ-1 under the "Fuzz Tone" brand name.
Early fuzzboxes used germanium transistors. By the end of the 1960s, these were replaced by silicon transistors. Silicon transistors are desirable for a number of reasons. They are generally less affected by changes in temperature and offer more reliable performance than germanium ones. Warm conditions (such as the heat generated by stage lights or sunlight in outdoor performances) can adversely affect the tone of germanium fuzzes. Also, fuzz boxes that employ germanium transistors do not work well when placed after another effect pedal that uses "buffered bypass."
This is because the buffer on effect pedals converts the guitar's signal from high to low impedance (to retain high frequencies and signal strength). Low impedance signals that pass through germanium-equipped fuzzes tend to suffer from a pronounced drop in volume and bass response. In the 2000s, some boutique fuzzbox builders offer pedals with germanium transistors. Additionally, some units employ both silicon and germanium transistors.
In 1962, The Ventures, having heard the earlier Marty Robbins cut, asked friend Red Rhodes, a steel player and electronics wizard, how they could obtain that sound. A couple of months later, Rhodes presented them with a custom fuzz box, reportedly the first, which The Ventures used to record '2000 Pound Bee'. That song charted in December 1962 and is identified by multiple sources, including The VH-1 Music First Rock Stars Ecyclopedia, as the first single to use actual fuzz box guitar. The story of The Ventures use of that custom box is conveyed in the April 2007 edition of Guitar Buyer magazine in an article titled 'Caught By The Fuzz'.
Fuzzboxes gained wider popularity after a distorted sound was popularised by Dave Davie of the band The Kinks. He played through a small amp whose speaker cone had been slashed with a razor blade, distorting the signal. In 1964 he plugged the doctored amp into a VoxAC30 to record You Really Got Me, the band's first No. 1 single and the first popular rock & roll song using a distorted power chord riff. Fuzzboxes became popular as a much easier way to create a distorted sound.
In May 1965 Keith Richards used a Maestro Fuzz-Tone to record "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction". The song's success so boosted sales of the device that all available stock had sold out by the end of 1965.