Monday, July 23, 2012

The Fluffy Fuzz Cake

The Big Muff Pi (~3.14) was the first major fuzz pedal by the NY based company - Electro-Harmonix (EHX). The legend says that the first units were brought in 1969 to Manny's Music Store on 48th Street, NY, and a week or so later Hendrix picked one up. The circuit was aimed to recreate some of the fuzz tones conceived by Hendrix using a more complicated design than that of most fuzzes from those days. It was supposed to do everything the FuzzFace did with some extra features and a nicer sustain.

Over the years, a lot of Big Muff variants appeared, each with it's own characteristics and subtleties. Some due to part changes by EHX and some by the fact the the company went out of business and other manufacturers issued they're own versions. Gilmour switched from the Silicon FuzzFace to a BigMuff Pi somewhere around 1977. All the solo guitar work on Animals and The Wall incorporates a Big Muff. Santana also used this unit during the mid 70's. During the late 80's and early 90's the vintage Big Muffs and other variants, most notably the Russian Sovtek version, were a big part of the grungy alternative sound of the bands which defined the genre like Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana. Mudhoney went as far as naming their Ep "Superfuzz Bigmuff". Having so much legacy and history around this pedal, I had to try it but I couldn't decide which version to go for. It was actually the first fuzz pedal that was named a distortion pedal.

The original circuit I built was taken from the GeneralGuitarGadgets site shown here. Some of the changes made by EHX over the years as well as the designs made by other manufacturers can be found on the same website here. Although they rely on the idea of cascaded gain stages with diode clipping on each stage, they all sound a little different (tonestack, caps, trannies etc.).

The most gratifying unit I built around the Big Muff concept was the ROG 22/7. The ROG team did it again with a super cool design to get the entire pie in one bite. The name comes from the number pi, but the sound is the fluffy triangular pie which we love so much (How did EHX ever get a way with such a nasty name for a pedal?). The most notable thing about the pedal is that it is based around a CD4049UB IC which makes up the gain stages, and the fact that you have 3 variants in a single circuit!!! the original classic sound, the flatter Russian Sovtek sound and the scooped Ram's Head version. What a great pedal. Every guitarist I played with loved it. It's sustain is super smooth and you can get a very heavy Billy Corgan/Thurston Moore sound easily. Very very cool. The circuit can be found here. A lot of info on this pedal can be found on the Pistones website.

I admit that I did not intend to dwelve so deep into Big Muff territory when I first started my quest for the ultimate fuzz, but this is a great versatile fuzz unit and could easily satisfy grunge heads and fuzz heads alike.

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