The Big Muff plays a huge role in the evolution of electric guitar. When I became aware of this a number of years ago I immediately went out and bought an Electro Harmonix NYC Big Muff PI. Upon first plugging in, I scratched my head quite a bit.
This didn’t sound like the guitar tones of David Gilmore, the Misfits, Sonic Youth or J Mascis. I wrestled with it. I just couldn’t get it to play nicely. I sold it.
Last year I went to a friends studio where he had an original Triangle era Big Muff. He suggested that I try his muff on the track were were recording.
My first response was, I don’t like Muff’s. He insisted I tried it. When I did, I was very surprised. It sounded very different from what I expected. This confused me as I assumed the EH version I owned was was an exact reissue.
I didn’t understand a lot about Big Muff’s when I first tried them. First off, they don’t pair well with amps like a Fender Twin (unless it’s a Tweed Twin). Because of the tendency in the Muff to scoop mids, you don’t want to combine it with an amp that also scoops mids.
They play nicer with amps that have some mid content. Try a Marshall or Vox.
Big Muff’s have also gone through a lot of revisions over the years. Depending on which era you get your hands on, they can sound completely different. Hence why the Triangle era sounded so different then the NYC PI era.
Many a guitar player have managed to make the EH NYC model work. Jack White is a prime example. Those early White Stripe records are drenched in NYC era Muff.
He seemed to have a combination of things that worked for him. The guitar, the muff and the amp. For me, it wasn’t playing nicely with my rig.
While making my video tutorial on recording electric guitars, I dug deep into the history of electric guitar tones. This would clearly require a discussion on the Big Muff.
I decided to look at boutique builders this time around. I knew I wanted more of a classic era Muff then modern.
This led me to the JHS Muffuletta. JHS has done something really clever. They managed to squeeze in all the major era’s of the Muff into one small box.
You know what? They actually did it. The tone and gain staging is on point for each era. What era’s did they cover you ask?
The Civil War: This era of Muff was but in St Petersburg Russia in the early 90’s. They tend to have more midrange and less gain.
The Russian: Late 90’s era Muff made in St. Petersburg. They had less low end and clarity.
The PI: EH started making Muffs in NYC again in 2000. These Muff’s are the most aggressive and are pretty scooped.
The Triangle: This era of Muff was made between 1969 and 1973. These were the first Muffs. They tend to have more low end and are more articulate.
’73 Rams Head: EH made the Ram’s Head from 1973-1977. The second era of the Muff. JHS classifies it as scooped mids with less gain and an overall darker tone.
JHS 2015: JHS made decided to include a setting with their take on the Muff. They explain it as more powerful and less compressed with a more haunting midrange. They suggest it would be great for bass. They were right.
Listen to some examples here:
So how does it really stack up? I compared it to some vintage units. The Muffuletta can carry it’s weight. Which is funny cause they fit all of the muff’s into a smaller box then a real muff. Something I think would have made many a Muff user happy years ago.
I’ve been using the JHS Muffuletta on sessions that have been either on the grunge or Black Keys/White Stripes vibe.
I’ve been composing a lot of music in these styles for a tv show. None of the other fuzz pedals were quite getting me there.
I do find myself testing out the different versions on the Muffuletta. I find this a great feature when pairing with different guitars and amps.
Remember earlier when I mentioned that Muff’s don’t play well with Twin Reverbs? Having the option to choose an era with a little more midrange really helps situations like this.
Now, I feel like I have a Muff that works in multiple situations.
One interesting thing about Muff’s is they way the tone knob reacts. Adjusting the tone on the pedal can really change the character of the pedal. I find turning down the tone on the pedal and turning up the treble on the amp to sound completely different then turning up the tone on the pedal and turning down the treble on the amp. Whew, that was a long winded sentence.
There is an interactive nature with the tone knob on this pedal. With that said though, I don’t find it hard to get a great tone. Even on the PI setting. This is surprising because remember when I said I didn’t like the PI?
The Muffuletta also pairs well with overdrive pedals. Often David Gilmore would place a light OD pedal after the muff to further shape the tone.
The JHS Muffuletta is a light pedal. They managed to keep weight down but make a pedal that feels durable. All the knobs and switches are top notch.
It sells for $229. This is a very fair price considering how much a vintage Muff would cost you. Yes, a new EH PI Muff runs around $80. But, <cough, cough> they don’t sound as good and aren’t made as well as the JHS.
And speaking of vintage Muffs. They’re all over the place. Not only in price but sound. Just because you buy an old one does’t mean you’re going to get “that” sound.
Even within era’s they made a lot of revisions. In fact, I think buying a vintage Muff is one of the hardest old pedals to buy.
If you google the Big Muff Page you can read about the full history of the Muff. It’s quite extensive.
I think JHS did a great job at recreating the mile marker points in Muff History.
Essential Muff Listening:
Cherub Rock – Smashing Pumpkins
Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground – The White Stripes
Mother -Pink Floyd
Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd
Mountain Man – Dinosaur Jr
TV Casualty – Misfits
Bullet in the Blue Sky – U2
Now I can take a deep breath. I didn’t make one joke in this blog about anyones muff. That’s a first. I really had to bite my lip! I know… I’m impressed with myself too.
Check out my review of the Origin Effects Slide Rig Compact Deluxe