How to Use Big Muffs to Dial-In the Tone of Five Famous Guitarists

The Big Muff has long been one of the most ubiquitous fuzz boxes on pedalboards and in the gear market. Scores of iterations on the original circuit have been released over the decades, tweaked to suit a wide variety of different players and music styles.

Some prefer the smooth “violin-like” sustain of the original Triangle models, or the wooly power of the Ram’s Head, or the edgy attack of the op amp version. But here at Reverb, we’re sweet on pretty much every variety of Muff.

To help you find your own signature fuzz tone, we decided to show you how some of the pedal’s most famous fans carved out their biggest sounds with the help of a beastly Big Muff. And once you've reached the searing heights the Big Muff offers, find out how to use a Tube Screamer to nail the tones of five guitarists too.

David Gilmour

Only someone with David Gilmour’s keen ear for dynamics could look into the Ram’s Head Muff and use it to make the soft-spoken powerhouse solo on “Comfortably Numb.” The Pink Floyd axeman isn’t one to max out knobs, and the only control he really pushes is the tone—adding a searing bite to the Ram’s Head, with enough treble to cut through the mix. He also kept the sustain low to avoid cluttering the mix with all the delay, flange, vibe, and phase that he routinely layered during his melodic lines.

Related Article: Potent Pairings: Achieving the Tones of David Gilmour

Model: Ram’s Head
Volume: 12 o’clock
Tone: 2 o’clock
Sustain: 9 o’clock

John Fogerty

Like most other bands in the ‘60s, Creedence Clearwater Revival got the bulk of their drive tones from pushing tubes and speakers. But John Fogerty has been an outspoken proponent of the early Russian Big Muff—nicknamed the “Civil War” because of its blue and grey graphics and old-timey lettering—since at least the ‘80s. Nowadays, he deploys the Wren and Cuff Box of War (a faithful recreation of the Civil War Muff) inside his rack unit to help him nail the dark lead tones on “Born on a Bayou” and “Susie Q.”

Model: Civil War Russian Big Muff
Volume: 9 o’clock
Tone: 3:30

J Mascis

No guitarist embraces the power of a wide-open Big Muff like Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis. Playing through three towering full stacks and a vintage ‘70s Ram’s Head Muff with the volume and sustain dimed, his tone is truly gargantuan. The Ram’s Head is the foundation for Mascis’ live dirty tone, though he often uses other fuzzes like Rangemasters, Tone Benders, and (for a period) even a modern Big Muff Pi in front of his Ram's Head to coax all manner of different flavors out of his favorite box.

Related Article: J Mascis and Lou Barlow Explain the Dinosaur Jr Sound

Model: Ram’s Head
Volume: Max
Tone: 11 o’clock
Sustain: Max
Billy Corgan

When The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan talks about his discovery of the Big Muff, it sounds akin to a religious awakening. The late-‘70s op amp Muff has an explosive sound somewhere between fuzz and distortion, which Corgan employed extensively on Siamese Dream. Almost all of the album’s blooming, gnarled fuzz tones were recorded through that pedal using the settings described above. The sound was such a hit with alternative rockers that the op amp Big Muffs reportedly quadrupled in price a year after the album dropped, much to Corgan’s chagrin.

Related Article: Video: Billy Corgan's First Look at the Electro-Harmonix Op Amp Big Muff Reissue

Model: Op Amp Big Muff
Volume: 1 o’clock
Tone: 1:30
Sustain: Max

Dan Auerbach

Without basslines to fill out the sound in a guitar-and-drum duo, Dan Auerbach faced some unique challenges in the early days of The Black Keys. The fat low-end and smoother gain of the Green Russian Big Muff solved many of those problems, as evidenced by albums like Thickfreakness and Rubber Factory. The distortion is nearly cranked, while the tone is set at 9 o’clock to emphasize lows and low-mids. This is why the band sounded so heavy even before they fleshed out their sound with additional musicians on later records.

Model: Green Russian
Volume: 11:30
Distortion: 4 o’clock
Tone: 9 o’clock

Bass Player Bonus: Bootsy Collins

Known for their scooped and singing tone, it’s no surprise that the Big Muff is a favorite of bassists that want to add a little oomph to their rigs. Before bassists like P-Nut and Juan Alderate fell in love with the bassier Russian models, Bootsy Collins was rocking earlier versions of the fuzz in Parliament-Funkadelic and James Brown’s backing band. The original apostle of space bass is even photographed on the EHX website holding a Deluxe Bass Big Muff Pi with the settings described in our graphic, which are guaranteed to tear the roof off.

Model: Deluxe Bass Big Muff Pi
Volume: 3 o’clock
Blend: Max
Tone: 2 o’clock
Sustain: Max
Gate: 9 o’clock
HPF: Max
LPF: Max
Input Toggle: 0 dB
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