What’s the Best Big Muff?
by Mark King
|Top = JHS Muffuletta, Bottom = 2014 EHX Big Muff Pi
The Big Muff Pi distortion pedal by Electro-Harmonix (EHX) has been an icon for 50+ years. During it’s long and storied life it’s been redone several times and each iteration has had slightly different takes on the unique fuzz circuitry. Changes have been made to what transistor(s) get used due to parts availability. Small circuit routing changes were made to support replacement transistors and one of the versions was made in Russia. Suffice to say, each Big Muff version has slightly different sonic qualities.
You could spend A LOT of money buying up old vintage Big Muff Pi pedals, prices are insane for some of the more rare models. You could spend a lot of money buying new Muff models, there are at least 10 different new pedal offerings from EHX, all wearing the Muff moniker.
|Muff A-B comparison through Marshall Origin
Which Big Muff is best? JHS asked themselves this question and came up with a fantastic solution that costs less than buying a single rare model. The JHS “Muffuletta” is five classic Big Muff circuits in one box, a rotary selector switch lets you select between the various fuzz circuits.
This is ALL ANALOG CIRCUITRY, this is not digital or modeling. The guts of the pedal actually rewire into completely different circuits when you rotate the selector. The other three knobs are labeled Volume, Sustain and Tone, just like those on the EHX Big Muff Pi originals.
|JHS Muffuletta fuzz distortion
But wait, there’s more, a sixth rotary switch-position gives you the JHS version of Big Muff. If JHS built a single Big Muff clone this would be their take on it. You get six Big Muff distortions in a single compact pedal, for a little less than $39 each.
WHICH BIG MUFF SOUNDS ARE INCLUDED IN MUFFULETTA?
|Notice Muff designations as fixings on the sandwich
THE TRIANGLE, 1969-1970, named for the triangle arrangement of the knobs. Described as having more low end and more articulate. EHX claims Jimi Hendrix used this version. Other noted users include John Lennon, Santana and David Gilmour.
’73 RAMS HEAD 1973-1977 V2, David Gilmour is often discussed in online forums and is a noted user of Big Muff fuzz. This version of the Muffuletta is my personal favorite but they are all good sounding fuzz boxes.
THE Pi, 1977-78, V3, recognizable by the red Pi symbol. Frank Zappa, Billy Corgan, Jack White, The Edge (U2), Beck and Pete Townsend are some of the famous users.
THE CIVIL WAR, 1991-1993, V7, Recognized by the old-style Civil War-era font and paint job using navy and gray colors. John Fogerty, Jeff Tweedy and Peter Buck are a few of the famous users.
THE RUSSIAN, 1999-2009, named by the “Made in Russia” text found on the back of the pedals. Famous users inlude Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) and Robin Finck (Nine Inch Nails).
JHS “2015” is their take on the classic circuit. It is described as “less compressed” and best for bass guitar.
HOW DOES MUFFULETTA SOUND?
I’ve been using Big Muff distortions since the early 70’s when my older brother brought home a Triangle Big Muff. Back then Fuzz boxes like these were the only way to make singing distortion lead guitar tones without earth-moving amplifier volume.
|A-B comparing Muff tones
I spent a couple of hours A-B comparing the Muffuletta to the large box Big Muff Pi in my collection which appears to be the NYC version released in 2000. I was surprised how close my 2014 EHX Big Muff sounded to the “Pi” setting on the Muffuletta.
|2014 NYC model
As for my favorite, I thought all the various Muffuletta versions sounded good, the “Rams Head” consistently caught my ear and lit my muse. I also liked the JHS version a lot, a bit more midrange.
My test amps were the Fender Super Sonic head through a Marshall 4x12 and optionally through the Suhr Reactive IR direct interface to hear how the Muffuletta translated to different recording mediums. In another series of experiments I ran the Muffuletta into my Marshall Origin 20-watt combo which delivered a very satisfying combination of tones. The clean tone of the Marshall Origin compliments the outrageous distortion sound of the Muffuletta in a very good and satisfying way.
I like the narrow, single stompbox size of the Muffluletta, it fits and sits nicely with other pedals. At only 4-mA of current draw this little distortion pedal is a good pedalboard citizen and can easily be powered by a single 9-volt on an external battery clip.
WHY MUFFULETTA? WHAT’S UP WITH THAT SANDWICH?
I could understand something named “Muffuletta” being a brand for a Big Muff clone but we asked ourselves “what’s up with that sandwich picture on this fuzz box”. A little research led to the answer, the Muffuletta is a large round sandwich. Perhaps the crew at JHS orders Muffuletta sandwiches and maybe that inspired the name, we may never know. Regardless, the JHS Muffuletta delivers a heaping helpiing of righteous Muff-like fuzz tones without stepping on EHX’s trademark.
|JHS Switchback Advanced Loop Switcher
I used the JHS Switchback Advanced Loop Switcher for my evaluations. This is the same system Josh from JHS uses in his YouTube videos where he compares various pedals by many manufacturers. This simple but very effective box allows instant direct comparisons of two pedals with the push of a single button.
The JHS Muffuletta met my expectations for classic Big Muff Pi distortion. The compact package and multiple sounds from one box has earned the JHS Muffuletta a regular seat in my fuzz shoot-outs and comparisons.
When used with a Marshall the JHS Muff can provide hours of fantastic sound and lead guitar fun. The brightness of the Big Muffuletta sounded great through the round clean tone from the Fender Super-Sonic 22-watt amplifier. Both of my demo amp setups used Celestion speakers.
With the Muffuletta in my kit, my quest for Big Muff tone is complete. I’ve got all the classic Muff sounds available, quick and easy. Is it exactly the same as the originals? I don’t know and I don’t care, it sounds really good, now I’m off to go make more music.
Good Music to You!
This review is copyright 2021 by Mark King. It's not ok to copy or quote without written permission. Thanks for reading High on Technology.
|Muffuletta vs Muff