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4 Paths to Big Muff Pi Full-Range Nirvana!

Big Muff Style FuzzElectro-HarmonixFuzzFuzz-Drive and FuzzstortionOpAmp FuzzSilicon FuzzStomp Under FootVick AudioWren and Cuff+-
2020GPX4WayBigMuff700V2.jpg

Readers will know me as a somewhat fuzz fanatic - with roughly half my collection dedicated to fuzz pedals, with over 30 varieties of Tone Bender, and more than 50 each of Fuzz Face and Big Muff varieties - mostly in the compact enclosure format - but medium, mini and large executions too.

 

I consider there to be 7 major varieties of Big Muff - as follows :

 

Triangle (1969) | Ram’s Head (1972/3) | Op Amp (1978) | Civil War (1993) | Green Russian (1994) | Black Russian (1998) | NYC Pi (2000)

 

While the leading authority on Big Muffs - Kit Rae’s Big Muff Pi Page lists 13 - where the additional ones are mostly very minor nuanced changes to the 7 core circuits I favour.

 

For a long time I did not have quite the right grasp on Big Muffs, but Mike Vickery of Vick Audio fame sort of brought me smartly into the picture with his beautifully authentic Tau Series. The pedals here are arranged chronologically by original release dates. Generally the Triangle varieties are the gainiest with the most degree of aggression, followed by Violet Ram’s Heads and OpAmp Pi’s. While at the other end of the scale we have the more tempered and smoother, slightly less sustaining Russian varieties - with the Black Russian being the smoothest overall. Many players see the original Ram’s Head as the sort of ideal Goldilocks midway point in the progression - where it most ideally balances the key various key tonal characteristics of the Muff genre.

 

<< GAINIER / SUSTAINIER < Triangle (1969) < Violet Ram’s Head (1973) < Op Amp (1978) < NYC Pi (2000) < Ram’s Head (1972) > Civil War (1993) > Green Russian (1994) > Black Russian (1998) > SMOOTHER >>

 

Generally Muff circuits have relatively mid-scooped frequency profiles - with a high degree of variability in the bass register - with some varieties being significantly more bass-heavy than others.

 

Fairly recently I was lucky enough to complete the Vick Audio Tau Series Range of BMP style fuzzes, which added to my collection of 5 modded Electro-Harmonix reissues in the top row, and my to-date single Wren and Cuff Custom Shop Small Foot Caprid - in the bottom row.

 

The only range I’ve still not made any headway with is the Stomp Under Foot one - which contains the most candidates, albeit the last two listed are discontinued. I will endeavour to set out the pros and cons of each approach here - where in truth I currently really don’t need any further representatives - while I will at least be looking to adding the other two Custom Shop Wren and Cuffs first - the Box of War and Tall Font Russian - before I properly train my sights on Stomp Under Foot.

 

For Stomp Under foot I have mentioned several times on this site that the Red Menace is particularly high on my wishlist - alongside the other 2 two 4-knob varieties - Violet Menace and Civil Unrest.

 

I have also mentioned before how the typical Big Muff Pi circuit is made up of 46 components: 4 transistors, 22 resistors, 13 capacitors, 4 diodes, and 3 potentiometers.

 

Most of my Muffs have some degree of extra tone controls - often a Mids control. At the start I tended to prefer the multi-knob varieties, while of late I’m actually really impressed with Mike Vickery’s approach - where the Mids 3-way toggle he prefers delivers the stock circuit in the middle position, Flat EQ to the right, and Mid-Boosted to the left. I actually prefer all my Vick Audio Muffs with the Mid-Boost engaged, bar the Black Russian - where the stock setting gives you the most amount of ’smoothness’ - if that’s the key characteristic you’re aiming for!

 

There were other builders I considered here - and of those, Skreddy Pedals in particual - which over time has had broad coverage of Muff varieties - including some of my all-time favourites, while the current selection of Muffs is somewhat more limited - but of course still well worth a look-in.

 

My favourite style of Muff is typically Triangle, while I also really like Ram’s Head too - in fact I truly like all the different varieties and use them each for different purposes. Generally I find Mike Vickery’s approach the most elegant and consistent, while there are significant merits in each of the other ones featured here.

 

For me there wasn’t any particular strategy that got me to this point - it all happened pretty organically and opportunistically really. I am glad of the route I took though, and feel that the Vick Audio selection has been highly instrumental in shaping my overall appreciation for each of the individual Big Muff variants. I will tackle each range is sequence below and draw out the highlights!

 

The authentic EHX compact reissues are designated as ’Big Muff π’, while the other vintage reproductions here have the abbreviated format ’BMP’.

 

Note also that on two occasions where those ranges don’t have an opamp variety, I’ve gone with Violet Ram’s Head in that slot instead!


Electro-Harmonix : Triangle Big Muff π JHS Mod | Violet Ram's Head π Alchemy Mod | Opamp Big Muff π JHS Mod, Green Russian Big Muff π JHS Mod | NYC Big Muff π JHS Mod

Electro-Harmonix's series of reissues is of course highly compelling, and I fully expect there to be Civil War / Red Army Overdrive and Black Russian varieties too eventually. I totally understand EHX's approach in making these as authentic as possible - and delivering them with just the 3 standard controls of Volume, Tone and Sustain. While I've typically always liked more tone-shaping ability - typically courtesy of a 4th Mids Control / Knob.

 

I've long been a fan of JHS / Josh Scott's Modded pedals too - and have around a dozen of those - mostly for EHX varieties. Interestingly enough my favourite overall varieties are still Triangle and Ram's Head, but in terms of total execution here my favourites would be Violet Ram's Head and Opamp varieties - with indeed said mids control. It has to be added that the most recent acquisition here was the Alchemy Audio Modded Ram's Head - as it seem that with how else they've got going on nowadays - Legends of Fuzz, Series 3 etc. that hey have stopped delivering modded pedals now. I reached out to JHS and they said they had not given up on doing Modded pedals entirely, while the evidence seems to point in the other direction.

 

I actually also really like the Green Russian variety here - whose Mods aren't quite as useful as some of these others - but that slightly smoother variety is Bjorn Riis's favourite of the EHX reissues.

 

Mods summary is as follows :

 

Triangle Mod - 3-way Gain-structure toggle-switch on left, 'Intensity' knob on right

Violet Ram's Head Mod - Mids knob on left, Bright switch on right

Opamp Mod - 3-way Gate toggle-switch on left, Mids knob on right

Green Russian Mod - 2 x 3-way toggle-switch on left for Synth Fuzz Modes and Intensity, Gain Feedback knob on right

NYC Mod - Gain Level / Structure toggle-switch on left, Gating knob on right

 

Generally I feel that Electro-Harmonix have done an exceptional job here - while I would have preferred these pedals to be 4-knob / 4-controls varieties - with enhanced mids control. I'm not a big fan of EHX's overly smooth knob style (in fact not altogether dissimilar to Catalinbread). And the Modded varieties at the very least yield those slightly more ergonomic MXR-style heptagonal knobs.

 

I've seen some weird commentaries by misguided individuals who try to report that the Modded versions are some sort of abomination or watering down of the original. Fact is you can operate all those pedals at stock values - as if no Mods has been added. The Mods just give you more control and variety and help you be able to cut through in the band mix - by making the output slightly more cutting!

 

I really rate all of these - with the first 'NYC Pi' reissue being somewhat the runt of the litter for me. There's nothing wrong with it per se - I just much prefer the other 4!

 

As a Big Muff Pi range I consider it somewhat essential to own some version of the originals - and this is my fulfilling that charter. These are all very decent takes on those originals, while I have other favourites overall. My own favourite in this group is actually probably the more recent Ram's Head reissue - and it's particularly good in the Alchemy Audio Modded edition with the extra Mids control and Bright switch!

 

Electro-Harmonix Big Muff π compact reissues are generally widely available - while the JHS Mods are rather rare these days. Alchemy Audio has stepped in though with its own extended series of Mods - which are available on its Reverb.com Store.


Vick Audio : V1 Triangle BMP | 73 Ram's Head BMP | Violet Ram's Head BMP | 1861 BMP | Black Russian BMP

The Vick Audio Tau Series has been something of a revelation for me and has been incredibly instrumental if forming my greater appreciation of the different nuances in each variety.

 

What you get here is the perfect scale of Gain/Saturation down to Smoothness and slightly less sustain. At the height of Gain, Saturation and Sustain - and aggression too really - we have the original V1 Triangle variety. This is followed by the Violet Ram's Head edition which almost matches the extremes of the Triangle and even has a slightly more cutting and wiry characteristic.

 

Right in the middle of the pile sits the majestic '73 Ram's Head variety which has to be the most perfect Goldilocks style centre-point along the Big Muff spectrum. The '73 Ram has that perfect balance of all the key characteristics - Gain, Sustain and Smoothness. It's most definitely Mike's masterpiece here - and the rare example of where I prefer the Ram's Head variety to the Triangle. This pedal has been Mike's best seller every year since launch, and all it's plaudits and favourable reviews are wholly deserved and fully understandable.

 

At the other side of the scale to the Triangle and Violet Ram's Head - we have the smoother flow of the Civil War and Black Russian varieties. For me the Black Russian can seem to have the most Bass on tap as such, while the Civil War seems to be slightly more leaning towards the mid-range.

 

I've had all these pedals in the chain at the same time - per the below photo, and their differences are pretty distinct when you switch from one to another. As I've said in the intro - I tend to favour these mostly in the Mids Boost Mode/Position, with the exception of the Black Russian - where the stock setting yields the maximum smoothness!

Vick X+1

I was initially a little slow to come around to the Mike Vickery way of doing things - thinking that I would prefer the additional granularity of a 4-knobs approach - like say the Stomp Under Foot execution versus the 3-way Mids Boost / Stock / Flat toggle switch of the Tau Series.

 

While over time I've come to fully appreciate and recognise the merits of Mike's approach - which for these purposes I probably prefer overall nowadays.

 

The Tau Series of Vintage Big Muff Replicas is a really refined and elegant affair - with those 5 varieties perfectly spaced out on the Big Muff spectrum - and giving you the maximum versatility through the range as such. If you only buy one here it has to be the exceptional '73 Ram's Head edition, for two add the Black Russian, and 3 add the V1 Triangle to give you full-range coverage. That's not to say I don't like each and everyone here because I absolutely do - and for certain applications - the Violet Ram's Head and Civil War are the better choice.

 

These pedals look very unassuming and somewhat stealthy - which kind of conceals the richness of output that each contains. I can't say I'm anything but delighted with this full range and for its exceptional broad range coverage I'm not sure it can be beat!

 

These 5 BMP fuzzes are / were the most formative in my Big Muff education and overall understanding. If you're in America then buy direct from the Vick Audio Store, if in UK or Europe - then Atlantic Guitars has you covered. Note that Vick Audio Pedals are incredibly reasonably priced - especially considering their fully hand-made construction.


Stop Under Foot : Red Menace BMP | Ram's Head BMP | Violet Menace BMP | Civil Unrest BMP | Green Russian BMP | Black Russian BMP ø | The Pi BMP ø

ø = discontinued!

 

I'm sorry to report that I haven't made more headway with Stomp Under Foot's BMP range - as Matt Pasquerella is definitely a master of the BMP craft and has had the widest range of BMP varieties out for the longest stretch. This has much to do with happenstance, opportunity and accessibility / availability. And while there is coverage from Joe's Pedals in the UK - the 4-knob editions seem to be generally less in circulation - and in particular the Red Menace variety which seems to be something of a limited edition.

 

Upon my completion of the EHX range - Stomp Under Foot was my most likely next port of call in my BMP journey, but instead I serendipitously connected with Mike Vickery first and went down that route - which has proven to my incredibly impactful for my more nuanced understanding of the different varieties. Note that SUF also does a Pumpkin Pie (Opamp) variety - but that is only BB-size medium enclosure format so far, no idea why it hasn't been included at the compact level.

 

Fact is though that Matt Pasquerella still had the widest BMP coverage - with the most different varieties and flavours overall. He presents a full-range spectrum here - including the not too long discontinued Black Russian and 'The Pi' varieties.

 

These are slightly less consistent in approach than the always 4-controls of the Vick Audio range - where my favourites - will always be those which include a 4th Mids control - as is the case here with Red Menace, Violet Menace and Civil Unrest varieties - which are all high on my wishlist - and the Red Menace in particular becuase of its inherent rarity and sort supply. One of these days - next year possible I will make a concerted effort in securing that trio. For now - and since I've stared already on Wren and Cuff varieties - I will possibly complete that exercise first - while I would really like to secure a Red Menace fairly soon.

 

All these pedals are very serviceable and highest quality / authentic vintage replicas - where as I say the Vick Audio range provides maximum coverage through fewer candidates which are all consistently executed.

 

With my owning the 5 EHX's and 5 Vick Audio varieties I don't really need duplicates in every position - but I will for sure acquire at least the 3 key ones mentioned. As stated at the beginning of this chapter Stomp Under Foot is available from Joe's Pedals in the UK - while Americans are probably best going direct to Matt Pasquerella's Stomp Under Foot site!

 


Wren and Cuff : Tri Pie '70 BMP | Caprid Small Foot BMP | Eye See '78 BMP | Box of War Small Foot BMP | Tall Font Russian BMP

Matthew Holl is another Master of the BMP craft and is probably best known for his Caprid (Ram's Head) and The White Elk (Japanese Triangle Alternative) varieties - while he has 5 that fit on this spectrum - where I thus far own just the Custom Shop Small Foot Caprid to date.

 

The Wren and Cuff Custom Shop offers 4 varieties of Muff for your own colorway specification and Mods - Box of War, Caprid, Tall Font Russian and White Elk. Obviously 3 of those fit right on the spectrum and in their full-fat editions have additional toggle switches for 'Creamy' and 'Mid-Flat' options, as well as a Dry>Wet Blend knob on the side. I have one such as mentioned - courtesy of my Small Caprid.

 

I fully intend to get at least the other 2 on-the-curve Custom Shop varieties - and might even add the White Elk variety too. I also actually have Wren and Cuff's superb mid-box super-muff or multi-dip-switching De La Riva BM20-Ultra.

 

As is typically my way, I'm less interested in the more vanilla Tri-Pie and Eye-See '78. I can vouch from the Caprid and De La Riva that these are yet more magnificent sounding BMP types - and yet again I don't believe anyone would be disappointed with any of these - while I always like to be ale to exercise a little more tone-shaping control and particularly over the midf frequencies as I have mentioned several times over.

 

Wren and Cuff is still best acquired from that Webstore, while availability in the UK is rather more sparse. They used to be available from Andertons and Regen Sounds - where the former currently no loner seems to stock them, and at Regent Sounds they are mostly sold out.

 

For my own purposes I was luck to pick up my Caprid from a German seller on Reverb.com - that was my first awareness that Wren and Cuff did custom shop editions. The Custom Shop varieties turn up very rarely on Reverb.com - so I will likely be making my way to the Wren and Cuff Custom Shop sometime in the not-too distant future.


Final Thoughts

There are obviously several paths towards full-range BMP coverage - and while I've stuck to 4 very specific lanes here - you can of course construct your range coverage in a more pick-and-mix fashion. Interestingly in my forthcoming 12 Degrees of Saturation Fuzz Edition - only one of these makes it through to my BMP selection there. And in general - with the 50+ varieties I have in my collection I have a number of stellar individual pedals which might very much be the choice selection in my best-fit-line.

 

I still feel that overall the Vick Audio approach is the smartest and most consistent - and yields the most versatility in the simplest of form factors. Overall there are also 2 particularly stellar performers here in the Vick Audio '73 Ram's Head BMP and Wren and Cuff Custom Shop Small Foot Caprid.

 

By and large though the Vick Audio approach is overall my favourite, while I still feel that the EHX reissues are pretty much essential - and preferable really in their Modded formats. I actually don't think you can go wrong with any of these - yet I do feel it's important to have some sort of mids control for ultimate practicality.

 

My likely additional tally from this page will amount to the 3 x 4-knob Stomp Under Foot editions, and the 4 Custom Shop Wren and Cuff editions - including the slightly unusual White Elk!

 

This roundup is somewhat different to my last major BMP Coverage - which was pre my conecting with Mike Vickery and having that eureka moment with the Vick Audio Range. That selection still contains a lot of my individual standout favourites - but there are many more besides which don't accurately fit within specific categories or lanes as such.

 

Where are you all within all of this? What's you favourite Big Muff pedal, and which is your own preferred lane / range?

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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