Right here we have a recreation of what — according to a decent section of the internet book of judgement — is the BEST Big Muff, the 1973 V2 Violet Ram’s Head, AND it’s endorsed by Generation X’s bastion of credibility himself, the dry-humoured, softly-spoken-yet-oozingly-loud-playing J Mascis.
History is littered with Big Muff opinions. Hit any guitar forum and you’ll find a thicket of conjecture to machete through to get consensus on which Muff is the ONE, the true tone-bearing messiah’s noodling vessel. Maybe even personal preference factors into the equation somewhere too. Maybe.
The funny thing is, once you find the correctly detailed vintage enclosure and model you’ve next gotta check out what the internal components are; ya see these things oscillated wildly along the production runs, and Electro-Harmonix seemed like a super cool, loose operation back in the day, and after all, it was the 70s maaaaaaan.
So yeah, this fresh box has got the signature of the owner of possibly the world’s largest collection of Big Muffs, who also happens to be the guy from Dinosaur Jr, printed directly on the cardboard box AND the enclosure.
He’s THE Big Muff guy now. And you’d let down an entire already-disillusioned generation if Mascis attributed his name to something shitty, right? Suspicions cast aside: his Squire signature Jazzmaster is actually astoundingly good for the price.
So let’s plug it in and see if it sounds like the 90/00s Muff I used to borrow, but kinda older, better, and more useful.
Alrighty – first impressions of this thing add up. It’s got the classic three knobs you expect (Volume, Tone, and Sustain), and it DOES in fact sound like a better version of the Muffs I came up blasting.
The mid-frequency dip that is pervasive across Muff models doesn’t seem to be as brutal, and there’s what is fancifully known as ‘warmth’ (or lack of awful high end) across every setting on the Tone knob. Now, like any Muff it’s definitely not going to give you the paint-singeing psychotic reaction, human-fly sizzle of a 60s fuzz unit, but that’s not why ya purchase a Muff in the first place (although ya can start to get close on this with the Tone all the way up and the Sustain near the bottom).
A clarity exists across chords, and lead lines come out brazen and wretchedly fierce. That is a compliment, by the way. Using this version does indeed show what the hype was throughout the 70s, and then again across the 90s, and why a whole industry dedicated to Muff clones sprang up in mid-80s after EHX bailed from the pedal business, and then again in 2000s boutique pedal boom bubble that still perpetually inflates. The bass is well defined, the mids hold just the right amount of sludge, and the highs leap forth with a vintage punch that sits like a nice wood veneer stereo system.
Upon cracking open this pedalboard real-estate friendly 1590B-style enclosure you’ll spy a singular circuit board and a small daughterboard for the DPDT switch attached with a neat li’l ribbon cable set up. Thinking this thing would be all OG style brown traced circuit board with through-hole parts was a little too nostalgic I guess, especially for the box size.
Instead, around half the circuit is SMD components with the more important tone-wielding parts living as through-hole pieces; the BC547 transistors, the diodes, and a whole lotta 0.1uF ‘proper-size’ polypropylene film caps. I guess these are the parts that the magic lives inside. As a cool extra you’ll also spot the EHX branded battery featuring a photo of Mike Matthews, company founder lurking inside your unit.
Looking over the phonebook-thick tomes of online Big Muff analysis I can’t find any use of the BC547 in any original circuits, but I’m not here to complain or vandalise a fresh pedal that’s just arrived by socketing and wrenching in and out various old transistors when this thing already sounds great as is.
For a pedal that was purportedly purchased by Hendrix in its early form, there’s a big history here to fulfil. And damn, I believe this little number might just about reach that apex. And with a frequency-dip in a smirking smile shape, it castigates you for previously believing that a brand new, off the shelf Big Muff may sound shitty next to it’s ageing grandparents.
The J Mascis Ram’s Head Big Muff π retails around AU$299 and is available on the internet and everywhere else you can walk in off the street to sniff pedals. For more details head over to ehx.com