“What the heck is that?” You might say. Well the short answer is that Big Muffs are fuzz guitar pedals designed and released by a company called Electro Harmonix. Mike Matthews started the company in 1968 and they have produced many different effects and instruments. Although the Big Muff Pi (BMP) was not the first fuzz box, it took off in the ’70s instantly creating a classic melty sound that many musicians waited for.
In 2017 I purchased a Version 9 2001 NYC Classic Big Muff π (shown below). It was the first in Big Muff’s history to have “True Bypass,” and the second edition V9. I had no idea it was any of those things at the time, I just knew that J Mascis, Frank Zappa, and Ty Segall use them. I bought it through the internet and met with the guy in person. He told me it was a 1981 V6 and sold it to me for $50.
A few years later, I was doing the dishes in my apartment late one night after eating burgers with my wife, co-editor, and partner in crime. I wondered if that was true or not and how many versions of that pedal there were. I could see fresh bird shit sliding down the window, luckily on the outside. I’m not sure what was worse to look at: the disgusting puddles of wet beef or the berry delights on the window. The boredom of every day life had gotten to me and I was looking for something new and exciting to draw me in. I had a brief moment of existential crisis and decided in order to feel something again I needed to understand the history of Big Muffs, specifically the Russian Muff. I sat down at the computer and tried to figure out where to start and which Big Muff(s) was worth pursuing.
I spent a good deal of time researching the circuits, enclosures, sound differences, and prices. I decided that I would purchase a Black Russian Muff of some variant, again not really knowing the differences. They were in the ballpark of $100-150 but during this time there were not many for sale. I found myself making an appointment to look at a forty year old fuzz box during the biggest pandemic of my life (so far): COVID-19. This was a time of absolute confusion and uncertainty, but I knew that this was a personal quest that I needed to complete. I purchased a 1979 Op Amp Big Muff Pi w/ an EH-3003 circuit board, tone-bypass, and a virtual 9v battery mod. I went into this thinking I’d spend $150 and here I was at the counter purchasing a $300 pedal. What would my wife think?
My wife, Dagney, came up with the lovely idea of me writing articles and short pieces on my field research of the Big Muff that would ultimately lead to a book… with hopes of a thumbs up from Mike Matthews. I’ll be posting weekly about the history of Big Muffs, my own collection, video demos, audio samples, and watching my collection grow to an unmanageable size.
My goal with these articles is to give the long answer, breakdown, thesis, dissertation, and eternal search for the best sounding fuzz pedal.