Review of the Big Muff Pi by Electro-Harmonix : King of Fuzz Pedals?
Big Muff Pi by Electro-Harmonix
Finest Harmonic Distortion Device Developed
I became a fan
of fuzz on guitars when I first got into Hendrix and the indie band scene -seeing
Mudhoney play at the Big Day Out festival in the early 90s convinced me I had
to have a Big Muff Pi fuzz box. As it turned out, I had quite a wait ahead of
me before I got my hands on one and it didn’t disappoint. It was dangerous and sexy, transforming my guitar into a howling electro-orgasmatron.
The instruction manual that comes with the legendary Big Muff Pi states:
“Congratulations! You have just purchased the finest harmonic distortion-sustain device developed to date for the electric guitar player. The Big Muff Pi will give you a sweet violin-like sustaining sound. It’s the same legendary sound created by Jimi Hendrix.”
A bold claim, no doubt, but the fame of this pedal is not in question – its place in rock as an incomparable fuzz distortion effect pedal for guitar has been well established for nearly 40 years. The tone it delivers is instantly recognizable for its thunderous, bone crunching hugeness coupled with rich harmonics and singing sustain – think ‘Lithium’ by Nirvana or ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’ by Mudhoney. In fact, Mudhoney were so in love with the tone of the Big Muff that they named an EP after it – Superfuzz Bigmuff.
Did Hendrix Ever Play with a Big Muff?
Despite claims that the Big Muff was first released in 1971, the first Big Muff was out by 1969, albeit in a fairly basic format – a hand made “perfboard” (electronic circuit board) – which was modified to an etched pcb (printed circuit board) in early 1970.
The founder and owner of EH, Mike Mathews knew Jimi Hendrix and claims that Jimi used the early Big Muff in the Electric Lady Studios not long before his tragically early death in London, September, 1970. Others say that Jimi may have had a Muff Fuzz or Axis/Foxey Lady fuzz in the studio for Electric Ladyland – which were predecessors of the Big Muff. In Guitar Effect Pedals - The Practical Handbook by Dave Hunter, Mike Matthews says, “I saw he had the Big Muff on the floor of the studio. I know early on he used Fuzz Faces, but he did eventually use a Big Muff.” Mike stated in interview that the heavily overdriven sounds Hendrix extracted from his Strat and Marshall stacks served as inspiration for the sound of the Big Muff.
When EH went under in 1982, copy-cat versions were released by competitors and pedal techs. Original Big Muffs were highly sought after and fetched high prices. Big Muff Pi were back on shelves by the 1990s when EH was resurrected, and were again a star performer for the company.
Today the Big Muf Pi is manufactured in New York as well as in Russia by the sister company, Sovtek. While a little cheaper, the Russian version is thought by many to lack the gritty, powerful tone of its US counterpart. The Big Muff Pi was a big success for EH and the best seller in their range of pedals. The pedal represented terrific value for money and gave guitarists a powerful weapon in their arsenal of guitar effects in the quest for tone that made audiences stand up and take notice.
A bunch of great bands have used the Big Muff Pi on recordings, especially Indie bands, including The Black Keys, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, John Martyn, Ben Folds Five, the White Stripes, Wolfmother, Sonic Youth (Russian issue)…..the list goes on. Santana and Pink Floyd and Pete Townsend of The Who also plugged in a Big Muff from time to time.
Electro Harmonix Fuzz Pedals
The Big Muff Family of Fuzz
Variations on the Big Muff Pi for guitar include:
The Big Muff Pi with Tone Wicker - Wicker switch accesses three high-frequency filters for raspy, sustaining distortion with top-end bite. The tone switch bypasses the tone control. Switch off the Wicker and turn on the Tone for the original Big Muff Pi sound. Reviews claim that the wicker switch provides more clarity and definition.
Germanium Big Muff Pi - Combines four germanium transistors with independent overdrive and distortion - each with two germanium transistors as well as independent controls providing ultimate control flexibility.
Little Big Muff – little brother to the Big Muff Pi
Metal Muff- with 3-band EQ and distortion
Mogwai Big Muff – made for the band with a more extreme fuzz – limited run of 100
Deluxe Big Muff Pi – includes a built in compressor
Two pedals that are often mistaken for being in the Big Muff family are these guys:
English Muff'n –grabs inspiration from legendary British guitar amps using vacuum tubes to generate the richness and natural saturation of amps like the Marshall, VOX, and HiWatt amps. "Its clean tones are nothing but inspiring. Delivers tea-riffic Brit-tones that turn your amp into a British classic." -- Art Thompson, Guitar Player
Double Muff - classic dual fuzz/overdrive based on the 1969 Muff Fuzz which sounded like a vintage amp with a slightly torn speaker (back in the old days musos would actually tear little holes in their cones for a distorted effect).The Double Muff recreated this sound for a hint of smooth distortion, or engage the second Muff for creamy overdrive.
The Big Muff has a very high maximum gain, which helps provide that super-long sustain – it can also mean that if you don’t have well shielded and grounded pickups and cables you can have quite a bit of noise going on when the sustain is dialed up high. My vintage SG needed to be shielded with copper foil to get this hum down to an acceptable level.
To check out the specs of the Big Muff family and see videos of them in action check out the EHX website.
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