Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Down on the Muff'n . . .

The second installment of the Tone Farm's ongoing feature on distortion pedals is now complete. And those that are serious about anything related to guitar distorion had best give a respectful nod and clenched fist power gesture to Electro Harmonix's esteemed ambassador of kick-ass: the Big Muff Pi.

Knowing that players' preference towards pedal effects is often a personal statement towards their approach to tone, I won't wax sentimental about the Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi. I picked up a newer NYC version awhile back on Ebay, and suffice to say - its been a go-to piece of gear ever since.

Understanding the Big Muff's core tonal characteristics often requires one to float further upstream, to the headwaters - so to speak. When the Muff was developed back in the early 70's, players weren't exactly looking to scale back volume or wet effect. Naturally, I always find it interesting that players will ultimately play the "it doesn't clean-up very well" card. My response to that is simply, "why would you want to clean-up a Muff?"

Defining the Muff's tone also elicits some interesting discussion. Is it a fuzz? Is it an overdrive? Is it both? I guess it would all depend on who you ask. David Gilmour has used it successfully as an overdrive pedal for decades. But he, too, has a trick to get the results he wants, as is described in this article at Hmmm . . . transparent overdrive. ;~)

The thick, warm, delicious fuzz-drive tones produced this giant silver brownie pan with knobs are an instant time trip back to classic rock's glory days. Hendrix, Cream, Sabbath, Santana, Trower, Pink Floyd, and ZZ Top - perhaps not all "official" users, but bands / artists whose core sound employs many of the characteristics found in the Big Muff. "Wha' - ZZ Top??!! There ain't no Muff stuff on that" Think again. Check out this You.Tube demo from Pro Guitar shop - about 5:11 in. The Muff cops that lovely "tube sag" so evident in the Rev's early 70's recordings (*and with the "sustain" turned all the way down I might add.) Mercy sakes!

On the point of versatility, it's really a simple question of what you want combined with how dedicated you are to understanding and using the effect to its best advantage. In the months I've playing a Muff, I can't say that I've ever been at a loss to find all kinds of different tones on tap. The stuff you'd expect to be there is there - in spades. However, a little exploration will yield some unexpected and sometimes very cool tones - esp. in tandem with other pedals (*say a delay or compressor). Lower settings should not be ignored, either - - as some of the pedal's more subtle offerings are equally as tasty.

Make no bones about it. If you're a player who digs vintage tones, the Big Muff Pi is an absolute must-have. Its big, bold, and in-your-face tone rocks like a truckload of bricks. Without question, an uncomprimising piece of musical history whose place in the pantheon of rock music is both fully acknowledged and revered. - - J.

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