The iconic Big Muff pedal has an interesting history and many variants available today.
About the Big Muff
The term “Muff” was first used to describe a specific type of fuzz/distortion effect created by the Electro-Harmonix company in the late 1960s.
The origin of the name is somewhat unclear. It is believed to have been inspired by the sound produced by the device. The pedal’s name is a reference to its unique sound because it is “fuzzy” or “muffled.”
The original pedal was called the “Muff Fuzz”. It became popular among guitarists for its thick, heavy sound.
Below is a bit of history:
- Late 1960s: Electro-Harmonix introduces the Big Muff, one of the first fuzz/distortion pedals. Its unique sound quickly gains popularity among guitarists.
- Early 1970s: Other companies begin producing similar fuzz/distortion pedals, most famously the russian manufacturer Sovtek.
- Late 1970s: Big Muff is discontinued due to declining sales.
- Early 1990s: Big Muff is reissued by Electro-Harmonix. These include the Little Big Muff and the NYC models.
- 2000s: The popularity of these style pedals continues to grow. Many boutique pedal builders offer their own take on the classic circuit. Variations and modifications of the original circuit become increasingly common.
- Today, “Muff” style pedals remain popular among guitarists of all genres. The circuit has been used on countless recordings over the years.
Why were there “good” and “bad” pedals?
In the 70s and 80s the quality and stability of electronic components were less good than today.
This is because the component values that shaped the sound had a fairly wide tolerance. The values then “drifted” over time, to give a specific characteristic to the sound. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. It also contributed to a lot of sample variation between units.
Many of today’s manufacturers who are looking to recreate a particular sound will reverse engineer the pedal. This is not just from a circuit diagram and its theoretical values. They make detailed analyses and take measurements of the components from a “good” sounding original pedal.
What’s the difference between the various pedals?
The Triangle Muff is named because the control knobs form a triangle!
Despite its popularity, it was only produced for a short time in the late sixties and early 1970s (1969-1970 – V1).
Original units are now rare and highly sought-after by collectors and guitarists alike.
The Triangle Muff features a slightly different circuit than the later Big Muff versions.
It has a more aggressive and raw distortion tone. It also has a slightly more prominent midrange, giving it a distinct character.
The Triangle is known for its ability to produce thick, creamy distortion with sustain for days, having more low-end response and being more articulate.
There are many famous users including Santana, David Gilmour, John Lennon, Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine), and Jimi Hendrix.
Rams Head Muff
The Ram’s Head Muff is a variation of the classic pedal, named after the ram’s head graphic that was used on the original enclosure.
It was produced in the early 1970s (1973-1977 V2 ) and is highly regarded by many guitarists for its warm and smooth distortion tone.
The Ram’s Head features a slightly different circuit than the earlier “Triangle” Muff. It has a more complex tone control section and slightly less gain.
It has a smoother, more rounded distortion tone that is popular for classic rock and blues guitar playing. The tone control section allows for a wide range of tonal options, from scooped to boosted mid sounds. It is overall darker than other models.
Several reissues and clones of the Ram’s Head have been produced over the years, with varying degrees of accuracy in replicating the original circuit and tone.
Today, the Ram’s Head Muff remains a highly sought-after and coveted pedal among guitarists. Classic, warm and smooth distortion tone.
Famous users include David Gilmour (main Pink Floyd recordings), Ernie Isley (Eisly Brothers), and J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.)
The Pi (1977-1978 V3) gets its name from the instantly recognizable red Pi symbol on the top.
It also refers to the circuit configuration. A Pi electronic circuit, also known as a Pi filter or Pi network, is a type of electronic filter circuit that consists of three components arranged in the shape of a Pi symbol (π). The components are typically capacitors and inductors. These are connected in a specific configuration to filter out unwanted frequencies from a signal.
The Pi is known for its more aggressive sound.
Famous users include Frank Zappa, Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Jack White, The Edge (U2), Beck, and Pete Townsend (The Who).
The Sovtek Muff is a variation of the classic Big Muff guitar pedal, originally produced by the Soviet Union-based company Sovtek.
Sovtek produced models:
- Civil War (1991-1993 V7 )
- Russian (1999-2009 V8)
The “Civil War Muff”, which had a slightly different circuit and a more compressed sound, with more mid-range, a brighter overall tone and less gain.
Famous users include Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), John Fogerty, Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), Mike Mills and Peter Buck (REM).
The Russian Muff or the “Green Russian” has a distinctive green enclosure, and “Made in Russia” text found on the back.
The Russian Muff has a slightly scooped midrange, less clarity and less low end, and a smoother, less aggressive distortion.
Famous users include Dan Auerbach (Black Keys), Chris Wolstenholme (Muse), and Robin Finck (Nine Inch Nails).
Sovtek style pedals available today:
IC Based Muffs
Variants and Evolutions
What is the best Muff Pedal?
The “best” pedal is a subjective matter and ultimately depends on personal preference and playing style.
Ultimately, the “best” Muff pedal for you will depend on your personal playing style, tonal preferences, and the specific sound you are looking to achieve.
We are very lucky to work with manufacturers of the best “top-end” pedals.