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August 18, 2010

MXR pedals from 1974 to 1984

MXR, also known as MXR Innovations, was a manufacturer of guitar effects units, founded in 1973 by Keith Barr (founder of Alesis) and Terry Sherwood, and based in Rochester, New York. MXR Innovations, Inc. was incorporated in 1974. The MXR trademark is now owned by Jim Dunlop.

The first MXR effects pedal was the M-101 MXR Phase 90, widely used on the first two Van Halen albums[1]. A milder version of the effect was also released, the MXR Phase 45, and a programmable version, the Phase 100'’. A single 9 volt battery powered these effects; and could give them life for 500 hours of use. The input was directly connected to the circuits power supply (which is very common in effects pedals, such as the Crybaby wah). When through playing, players were instructed to remove the cable from the pedal’s input to conserve battery life. When the battery finally did run out, in order to change it out, one had to unscrew the bottom plate. Each of the pedal’s enclosures had 4 screws attaching the bottom plate.

Like many other pedals of the day, MXR pedals prior to 1981 did not have LEDs, ac jacks, or true bypass. Over the years, there were two distinct periods the reference series went through. Each of these periods however, had two phases, which will be explained below. First was the script period. This is in reference to the cursive writing found on the pedals cases. The earliest MXR script pedals were housed in BUD boxes. These "Bud” boxes were cast out of aluminum, by the Bud Box Company out of Willoubhy, Ohio. Later, MXR still made script logo pedals, but they were housed in zinc die cast casings made in house. When compared side by side, the “Bud” boxes are considerably lighter in weight than the zinc boxes. The earliest script logo pedals were actually made in the basement shop of the founders of MXR and the logos were silk screened by hand. These very first pedals can be identified by a slightly larger font “MXR" on the case. These script pedals had carbon film resistors and are regarded by vintage gear collectors as the best of the best.

The full line of mxr pedals to bear the script logo are as follows: Phase 45, Phase 90, Phase 100, Dyna Comp, Noise Gate / Line Driver, Distortion +, and Blue Box. These pedals routinely go for $300.00 to $1000.00 US depending on which one it is and in what condition it is in. As the script-logo era was coming to a close and the box-logo era was beginning, there was a bit of a transitional period. The Box logo period 1 was next. This began to happen around 1975-6 and lasted until 1981. The main way to tell a script logo versus a box logo is the usage of carbon film resistors. These resistors look cylindrical in appearance and have old school tape lines on them which are color coded to tell you the value of the piece.

Around the time the company logo changed, the resistors and other parts such as capacitors, and diodes changed as well. Metal film resistors are easy to spot because they resemble the bodies of ants, and are not perfectly cylindrical in shape. They are less noisy, and are smaller than carbon film resistors. During this transitional period, some script logo pedals had box logo circuits, and vice versa. This is why it is important to check the circuits of every vintage MXR pedal you are prospectively thinking about buying. Sometimes what your buying isn’t what you think it is, which can be good or bad. The box logo is the MXR logo in which we are all familiar with today. The list of pedals included in the box logo era are the same as above with the addition of the micro flanger, micro chorus, loop selector, envelope filter, six band equalizer, 10 band equalizer, and micro amp. These pedals did not have LEDs, ac jacks, or true bypass either. The next phase changed that though. These box logo pedals are very collectible too, many collectors seek out these pedals as they are cheaper than the script logo pedals, and if they get lucky, they may even end up with a script logo circuit in the end. The second phase of the box logos took place from 1981, to 1984 when the company chutes it’s doors. The main change in this era was the addition of LEDs and ac jacks. These pedals used 1/8th inch power jacks and were exactly the same circuit board wise as their pre 1981 box logo brothers.

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