Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Real Muff Pie

The Big Muff Pi clone
OK, you guys, we are very close to getting FuzzQuest blog on a climax this time.

If I had to choose 3 fuzz pedals to achieve the widest spectrum of fuzz sounds I would say that the 3 top pedals would be the Maestro Fuzz Tone, The Fuzz Face and the EHX Big Muff Pi (of course I could have chosen 3 other pedals if you asked me that question tomorrow morning). The Maestro Fuzz Tone is what you would call an early fuzz sound (1962-1966), similar in many ways to the early Tone Benders, raspy, buzzy, noisy and grainy like the Fuzzrite, Orpheum and the Super fuzz. The Fuzz Face is the legendary Hendrix or Gilmour fuzz sound (1967-1973), very fat, smooth and much heavier. However, when you take fuzz a step  further (1971-2013) into metal, doom, grunge, acid blues and other heavy rock forms, there is one fuzz to rule them all. It's almost the end of the journey for you if you are after that kind of sound. After that you can maybe chain 2 fuzz pedals in a row, have boosters in front, make some mods to the design, but it doesn't really get any heavier than this (there are some attempts, though...).

The Big Muff Pi pedal is the holy grail of fuzz pedals for many rock guitarists. It's very much like the Tube Screamer in its legendary reputation. Both designs were pretty simple and became the source for numerous versions, clones, re-issues and variants. Both designs became cornerstones in rock history and made a huge impact on the development of rock and guitar sound. You could say that the Tube screamer is the overdrive in the same way that the Big Muff is the Fuzz pedal and it's what many people would describe as the sound of fuzz, without going into details too much.

The Big Muff designed by Bob Myer and Mike Matthews was originally based on the earlier designs of fuzz pedals heavily used by the late great Jimi James, a.k.a. Jimi Hendrix, and was first issued in NYC around 1969. The fuzz that roared out of this pedal was so thick, rich, creamy and heavy that once people started using it, there was no way back. The name Big Muff with the PIE sign is obviously a sex related name (see the 22/7 fuzz post on this blog), based on the association of the word muff pie (oh boy) with the words fuzz, fuzzy, fuzz face and the general habit of pedal designers to name pedals after sexist male associations (Ever heard of the Merkin fuzz?). The pedal retained sound consistency due to the use of Silicon transistors and the use of 4 of them meant you had a buffer pre gain stage, a dual gain stage similar to older designs and an active tone control. Luxurious design! throughout the history of this pedal, various transistors and a lot of the passive parts values changed. Sometimes for getting different sound, but mostly due to changes in the parts inventory of the factory at the time. This resulted in a huge amount of variants. The most famous versions became the Triangle (for the arrangement of the knobs) which is the original design with its silver enclosure, the Ram's Head version which had slightly different values and transistors, the Green Russian made in Russia during the mid-90s with its famous khaki army-like enclosure and the 1977 V4 design with its red and black graphics which became the most famous graphical design for the big muffs re-issues.

Below are two images of typical BMP versions from various eras:
The USA designs from the late 60s through the 70s and the re-issues of the 90s and the 21st century

The Russian designs from the 90s

It would be redundant to go deep into the history and circuit design of this beast of a pedal as there is so much info on the web already. Just take a look at:

a quick version review can be found on:

On these pages you can find anything from the transistors used on each design, the schematic nuances, the enclosure changes and the artistic graphic designs. Who played what is also probably very interesting for many people. Hendrix used the original version during in his late career, Gilmour started using Big muffs around 1975-1976 and later on. He used the original Triangle version and the Violet and Ram's Head version from the early 70s .Billy Corgan and his Pumpkins used a 1978 op-amp version from 1978 in the Siamese Dream album. 8 tracks of muffed guitars at once all through a Marshall JCM800 with a Strat or a Les Paul. "Huge Huge Sound" was what Billy called it. After the album came out the price of a BMP pedal sky rocketed from 40 bucks to 200 bucks!!! What a comeback. J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. and Witch used a lot of early BMP versions throughout his career. He likes to put two in a row for super thunderous muff sound. Jack White of the White Stripes has used the BMP quite extensively although he is also known for using a lot of early fuzz pedals as well. 

A huge list of BMP users can be found on:
The list includes so many names it's hard to count but just to name a few: Robert Fripp (Guild Foxey Lady 1972-1974), Steve Howe of Yes (Triangle), Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo of Sonic Youth (Sovtek "Civil War"), Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, John Frusciante of Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Edge of U2, Pete Townshend of The Who, Dan Aurbach of the Black Keys, Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, Jamie Cook of Arctic Monkeys, Cliff Burton of Metallica, Ace Frehley of Kiss, Jeff Pinkus and Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers, Stephen Malkmus of Pavement and many many others. 

The ZUS Pi
Enough of the Big muff stories and on to the DIY clone build: My build was made with a wedged enclosure and a circuit design very similar to the Violet Ram's Head BMP from 1973, the early Guild Foxey Lady and also similar to the transistor V4 design from the 1977-1978 era. These versions were known for their use of the 2N5133 transistors. In fact the importance of these trannies is most crucial for the sound on Q2 and Q3. Q1 and Q4 are less critical so I used BC238 trannies which are medium gain trannies. The knobs are chicken black and the 3PDT switch enables true bypass. The sound is pretty amazing, rich and smooth fuzz on any setting. The TONE is super effective and on different areas really changes the sound of the fuzz, it's not the regular passive hi-cut we know from other designs. This is why the BMP tone stack became so popular and was implemented in so many different pedals. The SUSTAIN sounds dull on the minimum setting but anywhere above it is absolutely fuzz-a-licious. I used orange rooster knobs and painted the wedge enclosure with some flame-like brush strokes.

Build any of the versions as shown below:

What a huge selection of schematics, hu? Triangle or Ram's Head if you want vintage style. op-amp if you want the Smashing Pumpkins sound, Civil War or Green Russian for that grungy alternative rock sound. This is a monster fuzz any way you build it. Stack two in a row or one with an overdrive behind it or a fuzz face style pedal in front of it and you can get all sorts of fuzz bliss.

Here are some noises I made with my version: