The birth of stompboxes and other similar effects units is closely linked to the 1947 invention of the transistor (Bell Labs). It replaced the vacuum tube and was much more compact in size and offered more stability. First applied in military, business, and medical technology, by the early 1960s the transistor was being utilized in music to produce the first transistorized guitar effect known as the Maestro Fuzz Tone pedal. Fuzz effect boxes quickly became very popular among musicians. They were used as an expressive tool by garage bands, and helped define the sound of the musical genres associated with the anti-establishment culture of the era. The successful launch of the fuzz pedal was followed in the late 1960s by an emergence of manufacturers specializing in effects pedals.
The development of stompboxes is part of a longstanding tradition to manipulate sound in music. However, before the relatively recent application of electricity to music, the means for manipulating sound to achieve expressiveness was strictly mechanical in nature. For example, a string player could use a bow, pluck the strings, or slide between notes; wind instrument players could use breath vibrato techniques or devices such as mutes; keyboard and percussion players could apply different levels of pressure to control the volume. The application of electricity, along with the invention of effects pedals and sound processing devices introduced an unlimited range of sound possibilities to all musical instruments.