by Robert Witmeyer (Blue Skool Records)
Without fear of hyperbole, its safe to say the Big Muff Pi is one of the most popular fuzz pedals of all time
The stompbox was a stalwart on the pedalboards of many guitar legends including: David Gilmour, Carlos Santana, Frank Zappa, and Ronnie Montrose. That said, the Big Muff Pi might be best known as THE sound of the 90s Grunge movement, and was used heavily by Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Nirvana, Bush, NOFX, the Melvins, and Mudhoney, who named their 1988 debut album, Superfuzz Big Muff.
As legendary as the Big Muff pedal he created, Electro Harmonix's Mike Mathews resume reads like a chapter in the history of rock and roll. Mathews was friends with Hendrix (yes, Jimi!), was asked to join the Isley Brothers, and Mike played keyboards for acts like: The Byrds, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Mamas and the Papas, The Rascals, and Chuck fucking Berry! Instead of dropping out of Cornell to join the Isley Brothers, Mathews stayed in college and ended up at IBM. After leaving the tech giant and designing a successful fuzz pedal for Guild, Mike went on to found Electro Harmonix in 1968. Released in 1969, the Big Muff Pi was about to make rock history.
Once considered trivial minutia, the myriad variants of the Big Muff Pi now have their own cult following, complete with online bickering from each camp over which iteration of the Muff is the paramount version. To keep things simple, the most famous versions that are copied and cloned include: Triangle (1969), Ram's Head (1973), Red & Black (1977), Civil War (1992), Green Russian (1994), Black Russian (1998), and the NYC (2000). Today, reissues and clones of all the mentioned pedals are ubiquitous, as are multiple mods designed to change one version of the pedal into another. Moreover, there are also innumerable mods for anyone that owns one of the original muffs, and would like their pedal to #BeBest.
The core Big Muff circuit is based around 4 transistors and two sets of clipping diodes, giving the pedal a high gain, and compressed fuzz tone that has gobs of sustain, and lots of sonic saturation- the pedal truly lives up to the name! Much like the Tube Screamer's loved/hated mid hump, the Big Muff Pi has the opposite problem in that the mid scoop, while lovely sounding by itself, gets lost in the mix on recordings and live settings. Most mods include tone cap swaps for better bass response, more mids, or even an additional pot for separate bass and treble controls. Due to the popularity of iconic Muff tones from Billy Corgan and David Gilmour, two of the most common muff mods today are the "Creamy Dreamer" (Siamese Dream Tone) and the "Gilmourish" (Animals, The Wall Tone), which claim to make your muff sound like those epic timbres.
All the folklore aside, the best Muffs for modding are the Black Russians and new NYCs, if for no other reason than the older iterations demand enough money on the used market that you would be better off to sell your old version to a collector, and buy three different inexpensive reissues with your profits. Secondly, the Black Russian and NYC iterations of the muff are widely regarded as sounding, to use the technical term, shitty. Most people want their NYC or Black Russian to sound like a Ram's Head or Triangle, not the other way around. As a result, most mods out there are designed to work within those two circuits. Below is a list of the mods we can execute to give your Black Russian or NYC Muff pedal the epic tone you deserve.
- Smashing Pumpkins Tone
- Pink Floyd Tone
- Full Fuzz
Lo Fi Mod
- sputtery and crushed
Blue Skool Mods:
- switch for 3 clipping options ( LED, None, MOSFET)
- Better tone response
- more mids
- more bass
- fuller clipping
- less gain all the way down,more gain all the way up
- Creamy gooey fuzzy goodness!