After my 28 strong Compact Tone Bender roundup it was inevitable that I would do the same sort of thing with Big Muffs. My understanding and experience has of course improved immensely since I last did a proper Big Muff overview, and here like I did with the Tone Benders, I try to select a representative selection by each of the different main varieties of Muff - as indicated by icons in my above visual.
Even though Kit Rae’s Big Muff Page identifies 12 specific versions of Big Muff - each with multiple iterations and variations, I’ve settled on the 7 key common varieties which are offered up by most pedal builders. We all know that the Big Muff started off in 1969 with 4 x Fairchild 2N5133 Transistors, then followed the Ram’s Head with 4 x 2N5087, then the Op-Amp version with JRC4558NB Integrated Circuit, next we had the Russian Types - Civil War, Green Russian and Black Russian - which all started out with Soviet KT3102EM 9108 Transistors, and finally there was the ’New York City’ version ’Pi’ introduced in 2000, which rounds off the selection - featuring the now ubiquitously Big Muff 2N5088 Transistors.
Obviously Electro-Harmonix are the original Big Muff Mac Daddy - with 13 varieties in their current range, 7 of which are compacts - and 4 of which feature in this main listing. Other significant Big Muff builders of note include Skreddy (12), Stomp Under Foot (11), Wren and Cuff (7) and Vick Audio (5). All but Vick Audio feature prominently here (I just have specific preferences) - Stomp Under Foot contributes 3, and Skreddy and Wren and Cuff contribute a pair each - actually so does Fredric Effects.
I personally own half or 14 of those 28 featured in this particular listing, while my own total tally of Big Muff pedals right now sits at 37 - with 28 at the compact enclosure size - many of those though are unspecified or hybrid style Big Muff pedals and don’t fit into this particular structured listing - I may do a later feature to cover all those. I have near enough as many Big Muffs as Fuzz Faces - or 37 vs 38, then 20 Tone Benders currently, 15 Rats and 12 Octave Fuzzes plus a lot of oddities!
The interesting thing about Big Muffs is the classic Kit Rae line: "The typical Big Muff Pi circuit is made up of 46 components: 4 transistors, 22 resistors, 13 capacitors, 4 diodes, and 3 potentiometers." With Big Muffs it’s the rest of the circuit that is often more important as many of the pedals feature the exact same Transistors - especially nowadays - where people are so used to using 2N5088 for Big Muffs, and occasionally BC239C’s for Ram’s Head variants. When you consider the Sovtek Big Muffs - the Civil War, Green Russian and Black Russian - there is often very little to separate them - as versions of each can sound incredibly similar - while the Black Russians typically can have just a touch more bite and distortion - but not always!
The two most popular varieties are typically the two first ones - Triangle and Ram’s Head, followed by Green Russians (many prefer this), while the other varieties are not quite so widespread or as popular correspondingly.
In any case I will first do a sort of longlist by each key variety, before breaking out into the individual descriptions of the 28 chosen pedals featured above. Note that both the selection process was difficult - as well as drawing and refining those icons so they worked clearly at 18x18 pixels - hopefully some of you will find this exercise useful. Note that I’m only featuring Compact enclosure pedals in this listing - as defined in the title!
Note also that several pedals here allude to no specific Russian genealogy - meaning that I’ve assigned some of those by ear as Green Russian or Black Russian varieties - with the latter typically being the ones offering additional clipping and gain.
7 KEY BIG MUFF VARIETIES :
HONOURABLE MENTIONS :
HONOURABLE MENTIONS :
HONOURABLE MENTIONS :
HONOURABLE MENTIONS :
HONOURABLE MENTIONS :
HONOURABLE MENTIONS :
Basic Audio has 4 Muffs in its range currently - the Alter-Destiny 5-knob (Muff-inspired), the Foxey Lady, Tri-Dirty Booster and Tri/Ram as featured here. I had initially intended to get the Tri/Ram first, but went with the Alter-Destiny for its greater tone-shaping abilities. That said, the Tri/Ram has always been on my wishlist and if the right one comes around at the right price - I will likely add that pretty quickly too. You get 4 Knobs - Level | Tone | Fuzz | Mid, and a 2-way toggle to switch between Triangle and Ram's Head modes. This is a fantastic proposition with excellent examples of the two favourite Big Muff varieties.
Big Tone Music Brewery (BTMB) is an off-shoot of Keith Vonderhulls Build Your Own Clone (BYOC) mostly pedal kit maker. 5 years ago he released a range of around 10 'EQ'd Vintage Series' pedals which featured 3-band EQ plus parametric mids - the series consisted of classic clones with extended tone-shaping abilities - Golden Pony (Klon), Classic Overdrive (TS808), Germanium & Silicon Fuzz (Fuzz Faces), Ram and Triangle fuzz (Big Muffs) and then Classic Distortion (Rat), Gray Box Overdrive (DOD250) and British Overdrive (Blues Breaker + Guv'nor). I could have gone for either the Triangle or Ram pedal here and went for the former - for which ironically there is no demo video - yet there is one remaining example of which on sale currently on Reverb.com. I by and large have a really good experience of BYOC and would likely be looking to scoop up copies of the Ram and Triangle at some point in the future - right now they're obviously fairly few and far between. All the BMTB pedals are listed as sold out on the website - so it's not clear what Keith is doing with this brand at the moment.
This is rightly lauded as one of the very best Big Muffs out there and I thoroughly recommend it too - it has great character and punch and tonnes of tones onboard courtesy of 4 knobs - Tone | High | Fuzz | Volume, and 2 2-way toggle switches Lo/Hi Mode (Gain) and GE/SI diode clipping. It sounds great right from the outset and is really easy to dial in. For many players this is their favourite fuzz.
This is the more extreme hybrid Germanium+Silicon version of the Musket which was inspired by the Green Russian variety. I have ascribed the Blunderbuss as a Black Russian here owing to its slightly more edgier and bolder character. It still has 6 tone-shaping knobs : Preamp | Midrange | Focus | Gain | Tone | Level - there are lots of us who prefer its beefed up output to its Musket forebear.
This is a great example of the Green Russian variety, the 'bubble font' edition in this case - with 4 controls : Sustain | Volume | Tone | Mids and a 3-way clipping switch which changes the compression and gain character, you also have a second 'Solstice' footswitch for sort of sweeping feedback drones - just a really cool version of Muff which is fun to play. Available direct from Benoit Meijer's Coda-Effects.com site.
This is the pedal which pretty much put Jamie Stillman's Earthquaker Devices on the map - a hybrid Germanium/Silicon take on a Green Russian - but because of the Hoof motif I always wrongly assumed this to be a Ram's Head variant! The genius of this pedal is the (Mid) Shift knob which helps you cut through in the band mix - it is supported by the usual 3 other controls : Tone | Fuzz | Level. I keep meaning to get one of these - everyone seems to love them - it just hasn't happened yet for one reason or another! I also need to get a hold of a copy of the fairly recent Black Ash - as mentioned in my companion piece on Tone Benders!
I have each of the 'Nano' variant EHX re-issues in their JHS-modded editions - which each featuring in turn added clipping options and further tone-shaping, In the case of the Green Russian you get 2 further 3-way clipping options on the left of the pedal, as well as a Gain Feedback knob on the right. You can of course set the pedal to stock settings - so I really don't understand players who dismiss or disparage the JHS modded editions - each offers improvements over the original pedal - but still keeps the original stock defaults intact - so surely the best of both worlds! All the Nano Big Muff Pi's feature the same 3 core controls - Volume | Sustain | Tone - I also much prefer JHS's MXR-style knobs!
For the JHS Modded version you get an additional 3-way clipping switch on the left of the pedal and an added Gate Knob on the right-hand side which delivers different degrees of spitty/splatty gated fuzz. This is my least favourite of the 4 EHX re-issues - both in terms of core tonality and JHS mods - yet it's still a decent sounding Muff - I just significantly prefer the core tonality of the other 3 varieties.
You can't avoid mentioning Billy Corgan and Smashing Pumpkins here as they sort of set the benchmark for how best to use this late 70's style of OpAmp fuzz - which has a very unique character compared to the others. Still one peg down for me from the Triangle and Green Russian varieties, but still very satisfying. The JHS mods on this occasion are a 3-way Gate Toggle switch on the left - offering different degrees of throttling, while the added right-hand dial allows you to Boost Middle Frequencies - something most Big Muffs need to be fully viable in a band-mix situation!
And last and certainly not least in the EHX Muff reissues is my own favourite variety - the Triangle version. I wonder if we'll get a Ram's Head version some time in the future? The JHS mods give you a 3-way gain character / clipping switch on the left for more beefier output, while the right-hand added knob allows you to further fine-tune the pedals Fuzz Intensity. This is just a great sounding triangle version - perhaps not quite as beloved as my Skreddy, Thorpy and VFE varieties - but definitely up there with the best of them.
This 'Russian' variant has long been one of my favourite Muff pedals - with its 5 controls : Level | Tone | Fuzz | Pre | Mids, 3-way clipping switch and second Feedback footswitch. Although Foxpedal does not describe its exact genealogy I have ascribed it to the Black Russian category - because of its additional clipping and tone-shaping elements - which give it quite a bit more grunt than the typical Green Russian variant.
A really good, great value take on the Green Army variety. This is Tim Webster's own take on the circuit - with the standard 3 controls : Volume | Tone | Sustain. I personally of course would have preferred some extras - some additional clipping and mids-control perhaps - but you can't argue with that beautiful core tone - many will prefer this to the standard EHX Nano reissue.
Another great value take on the EHX Op-Amp variety - obviously somewhat gazumped by the relatively recent re-issue of that pedal in Nano edition. This has the exact same controls : Volume | Tone | Sustain and Tone Bypass switch. The stock EHX version retails at £75 and sounds great to me - although I prefer it in its handier JHS Modded edition. There will be some though who prefer Tim's take on the circuit.
Top Trivia - this was actually my first Muff Fuzz! It cleverly combines 5 classic circuit replicas with a 6th Josh Scott variety of his own making. You get really great versions of Civil War, Black Russian, Pi, Triangle, Ram's Head and JHS mode. I would have liked to have seen one or two of Josh's Mods incorporated here - particularly a Mids control would help - perhaps we will get a Muffuletta Deluxe eventually. This is a great pedal overall - pretty great as a sampler - and some of the varieties - Civil War, Ram's Head and JHS are pretty fantastic, while the others are certainly good enough, but you will still find better versions of each on individual pedals - much like for the JHS Bonsai. Josh should have gone a little beyond the stock Volume | Sustain | Tone controls - which is something I hold true for the Bonsai also. These are all pretty great replicas, but it would have been even better to have been able to fine-tune them a little more to your own preferences - I still think this is an essential Muff pedal, although it's unlikely to ever be 'The Muff' pedal on you board as there are others here that delivery more satisfying tones.
Iannis and Ilias of JAM Pedals have had a pretty strong showing of late with Fuzz Pedals - I now have both their varieties of Rattler, and this newish MKII Red Muck is riding high on my wishlist. The Red Muck aims to combine the best of the Triangle and Civil War / Russian editions and the core tonality here is just amazing. You have the 3 same standard controls - Level, Tone and Gain, but then a 2-way clipping switch - Symmetrical/Asymmetrical, and a second Boost footswitch which makes the tone fatter and ramps it up to higher gain - depending on where you've set that dial. This is a fantastic Muff pedal which is somewhat under most people's radar and deserves to do as well as it sounds.
There aren't actually that many versions of the NYC 2000 Pi edition Muffs but this is one of those - and I might actually prefer it to EHX's own re-issue of the same. There's not a lot to this on - just the usual Sustain | Level | Tone controls - but the core tone sounds great.
Maxon's take on the Ram's Head is way cooler than its standard Pi - here you get an extra couple of dials to set Frequency Cluster and then Boost or Cut - a proper single band Parametric EQ in addition to the universal Tone knob. So you to all the typical Muff things - including cutting and boosting the Mids which is kind of essential to get the right band-mix. Maxon's Fuzz Elements series has a few really clever pedals including this one, the Ether FE10 (Super-Fuzz) and Wind FW10 (MKII TB) which of course I included in my recent Tone Bender overview. These are really decent Fuzzes at a very fair price point.
This is a fantastic take on the Civil War / Russian format with added essential Mids control and 3-way Bass Frequency Toggle. I've been wanting some Civil War Muff action - and all the individual Civil War pedals featured in this listing are great - this one, the JAM Pedals Red Muck MKII and the Stomp Under Foot Civil Unrest. Unluckily right now only the Red Muck is available in the UK - while copies of the Civil Unrest seem to be somewhat few and far between. I will undoubtedly though try to round up some if not all the Civil War varieties listed here as I really like each and evert one of them.
This is actually one of my favourite Triangle type sounds - Marc Ahlfs does something magical with the midrange frequencies here which just sounds fantastic for me. I actually have a slight preference for practical reasons to use the ThorpyFX Fallout Cloud as it is rather more versatile - but I can't dial in exactly the same tone as my favourite setting on this Mayonaise II. I was hunting one of these for the longest time - actually rather a compact Mayo variety would have done nicely too, but this is the one that came up at the right time. It just has a lovely singing even tone that I'm really taken by. It's one of several Triangle varieties that Marc Ahlfs offers - others include the current 1971, and discontinued Pink Flesh.
This is based on the David Gilmour / Pink Floyd The Wall sound and is not really a typical Ram's Head at all which still causes confusion to this day. Generally though David had a preference for Ram's Heads and Triangles, but played a variety of fuzzes - many of them odd iterations though and/or custom-modded by Pete Cornish. Bjorn Riis says it best in his above demo which features beautiful tones too. Both the Skreddy Pedals featured here are stellar, but there are several more where they came from and I still have a couple myself to get with the BC239 Ram's Head pretty high on that list. I may even snap up a Perestroika if I chance upon one at the right price.
This is a really cool variation of SolidGoldFX's Imperial Green Russian variant - with slightly improved tone and texture courtesy of the inclusion of Germanium Transistors - you often get these great sounds when you have a hybrid mix of Germanium and Silicon. SGFX also gives you a 3-way Mids toggle-switch for useful tone-shaping. The tone-creation section is actually One JFET (K30 R-J04?), 2 x Germanium Transitors (Tesla 106NU70) and 2 x BC183! I've fittingly placed this in the Black Russian camp!
As mentioned previously I don't currently have any stand-alone Civil War types - only the Muffuletta, so I'm especially captivated by the 3 featured here - this one, the JAM Pedals Red Muck MKII and the Mojo Hand FX Colossus. The Colossus has the advantage of the Bass-Frequency switch while both feature the same controls otherwise - Level | Gain | Mids | Tone. Stomp Under Foot also has the more vanilla Civil War which does not have the Mids control.
A very classic / vanilla take on the 2000 NYC variety Big Muff Pi - featuring just the standard 3 controls - Volume | Sustain | Tone. Matt at SUF though has great ears - and this is a really tuneful take on the most modern of Muffs. In some ways I prefer both this and the Maxon Fuzz Elements Earth FEA10 to the genuine reissue Nano Pi.
This is currently the most appealing of the 3 Stomp Under Foot pedals listed here - a cracking combination of Triangle and Green Russian tonalities - with that extra 4th Mids Control. Of all the SUF Muff varieties I probably want this one the most, and will look to adding it the soonest.
Incredibly this is still Thorpy's best pedal - despite all those great new launches - memorably The Dane too, the Fallout Cloud is going to take some beating. It's the Triangle Muff that gets most used on my board as it's the best combination of Tone and versatility. I have 3 amazing Triangle fuzzes - the Skreddy Mayonaize MKII, this Fallout Cloud and the VFE Fiery Red Horse which is probably the most versatile overall with its 6 controls - but can be fiddly. And while there is one tone that I really love the Mayonnaise for - Thorpy takes the win here - also because the other two are discontinued! But mostly because it has that perfect combination of tone and versatility.
I wasn't sure which circuit this was until fairly recently - and it rounds up my trio of stellar Triangle types alongside the Skreddy Mayonaise MKII and the Thorpy Fallout Cloud. I actually only acquired it around one year ago and got a Mint version for a really good price. It has the usual VFE control topology with 3 regular and 3 mini dials or Power | Gain | Level and Compression | Bass | Treble. Those smaller dials can be fiddly on occasion and I usually resort to the more easy-to-use Thorpy Fallout - but if you take your time here you can get some tones here that you can't with the Mayonaise or the Fallout Cloud. So each of my trio actually have slightly different characteristics and I set them up in slightly different ways - it just depends on precisely what tone I'm going for and how much time I have spare.
One of just 3 proper compact versions of the OpAmp Muff that I could find - the other two are featured here also. Each has the same 3 control knobs and a Tone bypass switch. If price is a factor for you then the stock EHX Nano version is £75, the Fredric Effects is £100, and this is the priciest variety. Obviously Wren and Cuff has pedigree in this area, but I would probably still go with my choice of the JHS Modded EHX Op-Amp one. If there are more interesting takes in the future with further tone-shaping controls I would more likely consider those varieties then - for now I feel the one Op-Amp version I own is probably the right choice.
This is Wren and Cuffs more compact version of their long-established Caprid Ram's Head take. As mentioned in the intro above this is one of 7 compact Muff Fuzzes they make including their other Ram - the 47/73 Classic Distortion. I could have gone either way in the end, but settled on the generally more signature Wren and Cuff variety. I really like both those pedals.
I'm evidently a Big Muff fan - although I can't always tell you exactly which variety I'm playing in a blind test. There are some which stand out immediately, while others carry shared tone DNA which makes identification trickier. That said I'm very happy with this particular selection which took quite a bit of work to put together. I was going for the usual mix of new and old - but within the compact form factor - and making sure that I had significant representation of each category. With 28 pedals and 7 varieties I was aiming for circa 4 of each - but that wasn't always feasible - and besides - I love some varieties more than others!
My own current 14 in the listing are as indicated with dots at the end of the above titles - or the Black Arts Toneworks Son of Pharaoh, Blackout Effectors Blunderbuss, Coda Effects Dolmen, EHX BMP Green Russian JHS Mod, EHX BMP Nano Pi JHS Mod, EHX BMP Op-Amp JHS Mod, EHX BMP Triangle JHS Mod, Foxpedal Defector, JHS Muffuletta, Skreddy Pedals Mayonaise MKII, Skreddy Pedals P19, SolidGoldFX Imperial Germanium, ThorpyFX Fallout Cloud, and VFE Fiery Red Horse - all are great, some greater than others!
The ones I still kinda want and will look to add at some stage include the Basic Audio Tri/Ram, BTMB American Triangle Fuzz, BTMB American Ram Fuzz, EQD Hoof, JAM Pedal Red Muck MKII, Maxon Fuzz Elements Water FWA10, Mojo Hand FX Colossus, and SUF Red Menace. Top of that list are probably the Basic Audio Tri/Ram, JAM Pedals Red Muck and the Mojo Hand Colossus. There's also a couple or so Skreddy's I'm still vaguely interested in getting - including the BC239 and the now discontinued Perestroika and Zero.
As for you dear reader - where to start in all of this if you're new to this quest - I would certainly push for trying the EHX reissues first - probably the Green Russian and Triangle varieties. I personally have kind of settled in on mostly Triangle and Ram's Head, but I genuinely like most of the iterations here - and each inspires different playing - even within the same category or type!
There are certainly a lot of choices out there - and in case you haven't been listening to Josh Scott or any of the more modern pedal gurus - a lot of these compact varieties are every bit as good as the over-sized originals. Yes some of them contained now unobtainable transistors - but they near enough all had the common-or-garden variety readily available mass-manufactured plastic encased Silicon transistors available at that time! And as I say in the intro - it's usually the circuit itself that is more important than the individual transistors - you can pretty much use 2N5088 for all of these!