But First…Let’s Stomp Under Foot!
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to Matt Pasquerella from Stomp Under Foot (SUF). If you are unfamiliar with his work, Matt hand-wires pedals with vintage and new-old-stock parts out of Orange County, Florida. You’ll find many affordable options for Big Muff and other vintage fuzz pedals in his catalog. While I know a bit about the tones, characteristics, and different versions, Matt has been exceptionally helpful with the values, components, and variations.
After a few lengthy conversations about fuzz, we decided to start working together on the book. Matt has mentioned that he has thought of writing a book on Big Muffs in the past but has obviously become very busy with his successful entrepreneurship. He has been an amazing resource and friend during this process, and I look forward to what we can accomplish.
Shoutout to Matt Baker from Action Music for putting me in contact with Matt/SUF and shoutout to Matt Pasquerella for all the help!
On With the Triangle!
Electro-Harmonix established themselves with the LPB-1, Muff Fuzz, and Guild built products, however, when they released the Big Muff the company started getting a lot more attention. The “Triangle” Muff, sometimes referred to as Version (V1), was first introduced in 1969. Calling it V1/Version can be confusing because there are multiple versions within the pedal, so we’ll stick to calling it the “Triangle.” This was the first time that “Big Muff” was featured on a stompbox. The E-H Axis Fuzz was discontinued in 1969 and gave way to the Triangle. However, The Guild Foxey Lady was continued and rebranded as a three-knob triangle version and sold simultaneously with the E-H Triangle.
The Triangle has some similarities to the Muff-Fuzz, so Matthews called it “Big Muff” and Bob Myer gave it a larger enclosure, high sustain, and bigger sound. The very early ’69 Muffs are made with perforated board (“perfboard”). All of the text was screen printed to the face of the sheet metal enclosure with no LED power indicator. It is obvious when its turned on, but some guitarists may struggle with functionality on modern pedalboards without a true bypass looper. Purists deal with the noise.
Some of the popular users of early Big Muffs include Carlos Santana, Steve Howe, and Kevin Shields. Robert Fripp was known to use Triangles as well as Foxey Ladys. It’s hard to find evidence that they were using the Triangle in the studio, but you can definitely hear it in the early YES material.
The list price for the units was $39.95, but you could snag it for $30-35 at your local music shops. I’ve even heard stories of people purchasing the pedal at discount shops like Grandpa Pigeons! Supposedly you could also purchase a Big Muff “kit,” assemble it yourself, and for just $26. I would love to see how some of those are doing now. These days, you can find Triangles for about $1-1.2k on average, but I’ve seen them as low as $600 in fair condition.
For controls on the first version Triangles you have “Volume,” “Sustain,” and “Fuzz.” The fuzz knob actually controls the tone circuit and sometime in 1970 it was replaced, more accurately, with “Tone” assigned to the pot. Around this time E-H also upgraded the unit with a printed circuit and power switch separate from the volume pot. In addition to the knob labels, you’ll find “Big Muff” with the “π”/Pi symbol, “Off,” “Amplifier,” “Input,” and “Electro-Harmonix INC., N.Y.C.” on the face of the unit.
Due to the knobs being positioned in a triangular shape, it was quickly nicknamed the “Triangle” or “Triangle Muff” early on. Many different knobs were used on Big Muffs over the years but the first kind you’ll usually see are the black Bakelite pinch type that you grip with your thumb and index. That said, there were over 10 types of knobs used in production. None of the pots are in the same position. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s a bit confusing and hard to get used to if you change your settings a lot.
The volume knob turns from 10 o’clock (0) to 8 o’clock (10), the sustain turns from 1 o’clock (0) to 11 o’clock (10), and the fuzz/tone turns from 4 o’clock (most treble) to 2 o’clock (most bass). Pretty confusing, huh? The reasoning for this is that the pots were mounted directly onto the circuit board and the leads from the back of the pot need to avoid the board. The power switch was built into the volume knob and uses a standard Carling SPDT footswitch, which is of course not true bypass.
It’s worth noting that pot dates on vintage E-H should be taken with a grain of salt. There are pot codes that date as early as 1966 and as late as 1973, but this is only because when E-H began they purchased an excess of pots that they used through the Triangle production as well as for other products. In fact, many of the vintage Electro-Harmonix products have pot codes dated outside the production year of the unit.
The pedal, being sold as model number “EH-3003,” has a 4-stage silicon transistor circuit board. One stage for input, two for clipping, and one for output. Using soft-clipping diodes, the Muff’s distortion had smooth characteristics with high gain fuzz. It does not sound like other vintage fuzzboxes and is easier to compare to distortion pedals. Myer said he used Fairchild 2N5133 on the very early Triangles but claims that other component values may have had a larger effect on tonal differences. Matthews claims to have had a lot to do with designing the vintage circuits, but some folks speculate that Bob Myer did most of the design and work under the hood.
Electro Harmonix produced the Triangle from 1969-1972. That said, “3003” is something that would continue through many of the Big Muff circuits. Even on the op-amp models which have a drastically different sound. The only way to get power from the unit back then was with a 9-volt battery, since there is no external power out. These days you can get yourself a battery snap and be in business. The ’69 models were sold in stores, but more often sold as prototypes to friends and performing artists. By 1970, E-H was selling them with a fast-growing dealer list and mail order ads.
In general, a lot of the Triangles can cut through a mix well, have note clarity for leads, and chug for rhythm. The ‘69 Muffs have a wooly low end and sustaining high notes. There are variations on the sound from each version that year due to circuit tweaking. From version to version there are significant changes in the balance, gain, and mid scoop. There was such inconsistency in these models that you could lay out several of them side-by-side and hear some differences. By the end of the year, the sound from one to another would be the same. That said, the component values in ’69 Muffs were never used by E-H again.
The office for E-H was a tiny place that was supposedly so hot that Mike Matthews and company were damn-near naked as they were soldering boards. During this time, they often ran out of parts and would have to send someone to a local electronics store to restock. But sometimes those resistors and caps would have different values. Often, they’d be using 10k resistors and the local store would run out of them, too, so they would buy them with different values. Later on, they might be out of those different values and start using 10k again. Depending on where they sit in the circuit, you can hear differences from unit to unit, causing a disruption of consistency.
A lot of characteristics of the ’69 version carried over into the ’70 Muff, but historically, Mike Matthews wanted to get the products out the easiest, fastest, and cheapest way possible. That said, some of the sonic variety may just be due to how difficult or easy the parts were to obtain. The biggest difference you can hear with the ’70 is more blooming fuzz, higher mid boost, and a wider band tone-sweep. This way you don’t lose so much bass going clockwise and keep some of the sharp highs going counter-clockwise. However some of the ’70 models, especially the last version (due to the use of 2uf caps) are very tough to find.
The ’71 Muff is drastically different than the first two years and is comparable to a Ram’s Head. They lose the previous year’s woolliness a little and become a bit more balanced. There are very few versions from the 1971 Triangle and the difference in sound is not significant.
Moving into the last year of the Triangle Muff, the ‘72 Muff brings back the woolliness with some new tonal characteristics as well. The ’71 showed us a little bit of the light that the Ram’s head would later shine. At this point you could take any version from ’69, ’70, ’71, or ’72 and find differences in each of them. Ultimately, they will not be identical. Keep in mind how they do on their own and how they play well with amps and other pedals.
Here’s a clip of a Stomp Under Foot 1972 v6 Tri-Muff. Using a 2015 American Standard Tele, a Hot Rod Deluxe IV, and an Orange Micro Dark. The Micro Dark is being fed to a Marshall 1922 cab. This demo focuses solely on the Tri-Muff and how it does running through two clean tube amps. The ’72 Muff has a massive wooly low end, low/mid gain drive tones, and sharp yet smooth leads. Sounds fantastic with single coils, humbuckers, p90s, as well as jazzmaster pickups. I think this particular model sounds best with my telecaster. Lots and lots of gain but the pedal does sound good with low gain after a drive or another fuzz.
Editor: Dagney Hatfield