Overview

Few stompboxes have shaped the sound of rock like the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi. Fewer still have gone through as many variations while still maintaining their fan bases. From David Gilmour to Billy Corgan to J. Mascis and Dan Auerbach, the Big Muff Pi continues to be the life blood of fuzz.

read more ...

Product Specs

Brand
Model
  • Big Muff Pi Distortion / Sustainer
Finish
  • Silver / Black / Red
Year
  • 2010s
Categories

From the Price Guide

More Information

Fuzz as a tone has become so ubiquitous that many millenials grow up thinking that's just what an electric guitar sounds like. Even beginning guitarists who have their own gear and a year or two under their belts eventually have a eureka moment when they discover that fuzz is a separate effect from just turning up their amp or using an overdrive. Fuzz tones owe a lot of their omnipresence to classic recordings that defined the '60s and '70s, and the stompbox behind many of those recordings was the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi.

What started with the Fuzzrite and Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face in the mid-1960s eventually snowballed into a complete paradigm shift of how rock guitar should sound, spearheaded in large part by the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff through the 1970s. Up through 2000, the Big Muff went through no less than seven main versions, each with its own circuit variations and idiosyncrasies. Kit Rae, the reigning expert on all things Big Muff, has spent half a lifetime researching and describing the design changes and history.

Read our interview here with Kit Rae to learn more about the history of the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi.

You Know The Sound Already

Guitarists often resort to using taste or touch adjectives to describe tone when speaking or writing instead of playing. Creamy. Crunchy. Glassy. Biting. Silky. Sweet. Throaty. For some reason, fuzzy seems to match the tone more in terms of sensation than any of these other terms of art, and it's a description that has stuck. Fuzz boxes make things sound thick, warm and scratchy at the same time, like a good piece of wool. Like any classic effect, you can get a better picture of what it does by examining the work of famous artists who have used them.

David Gilmour might be the patron saint of of the Big Muff, particularly the second version known as the Ram's Head. You can learn more about this particular model by watching our Ram's Head Shootout video. Listening to his solo tones on Pink Floyd's LP The Wall, particularly on "Comfortably Numb," will give you a good idea of what the Big Muff can do when played with single note lines. Soaring, thick, and gritty, with plenty of sustain (helped out by a trusty MXR Dyna Comp).


Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins takes us to the other classic use of the Big Muff, which is cascading, impossibly thick power chords. Listening to their 1993 LP Siamese Dream is an object lesson in walls of Big Muff-powered fuzz. The track "Mayonnaise" in particular offers a nice contrast between clean and fuzz tones, and it's unmistakable when you hear it. Granted, Corgan used a distortion effect going into a Big Muff often and layered tracks to get his signature "wall of guitar" sound, but at the heart of it is still a late '70s Big Muff throttling its op-amp ICs to the limit with the tone bypass switch engaged. To hear a simpler guitar-into-Big-Muff-into-amp sound, check out "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" by Jack White.

The Extended Family

The Big Muff has been in continuous production in one form or another since 1969, with a ton of variation not only in casing design, but also circuit design, even for units that look identical on the outside. Most of the time these small internal circuit tweaks don't change the sound enough for anyone but the most attuned Muff fanatics to notice. Every version has its loyal following and legion of clones, so it's worth getting an affordable reissue and getting familiar with it so you have a starting point for comparison.

I see a lot of green and black boxes with Russian writing that say Big Muff on them. Are these clones?

Yes and no. In the 1990s, Mike Matthews moved production of the Big Muff to Saraov, Russia and began working with Sovtek due to a labor dispute back in the U.S. So these are genuine Big Muff circuits insides, crafted by the original creator, but built and cased by a different company. Most people don't consider these true clones but rather embrace them as part of the Big Muff lineage. Dan Auerback of The Black Keys is known to use this version of the Big Muff.

I see so many new versions of the Big Muff out there. Which one should I get?

While it's true that you can get a Little Big Muff, a Nano Big Muff, a Big Muff with a Tone Wicker or even a two-in-one Germanium Big Muff (not to mention all the clones and vintage specimens), it's usually a good idea to start with a standard reissue model or a compact version of it to get an idea of the baseline sound. From there you can branch out and explore the dense, wonderful forest of fuzz in all its myriad flavors.