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The J Mascis Interview - Part 2

J mascis Big Muff Collection J in the studio

Shown above: J Mascis' massive vintage Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi collection (Photo © J Mascis) and J in the studio recording Farm, with Ram's Head Big Muff on the floor.

KR: How many do you have in the collection now?

JM: I don’t know. You mean all of the Big Muffs?

JM: Yes.

JM: Not sure, maybe around forty.

KR: Quite a few. I have seen a chunk of your collection in the Fuzz movie that you were featured in.

JM: Oh, yeah.

KR: There are screen shots of your collection from that film all over the internet. People assume you are the biggest Electro-Harmonix Big Muff collector on the planet now.

J's Pedals_Farm

Shown above: A Ram's Head Big Muff on the studio floor for the recording of Farm.

JM: How many other different companies did they make them for?

KR: Oh, lets see, four that I know of. I think you own a couple of them. Marveltone...

JM: I have a Marveltone…

KR: Wabash.

JM: Wabash I have.

KR: and…the other OEM brand name is not coming to me. It's really rare. (KR-it was the Lyle Distortion Sustainer)

JM: Guild.

KR: Yes, a few of the early Guild Foxey Lady pedals were rebranded Big Muffs. Electro-Harmonix made three different versions for Guild.

J Mascis Big Muffs

Shown above: A portion of J's vintage Big Muff collection featuring the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) versions Electro-Harmonix made and branded for other customers, including Marveltone, Wabash, and Guild. You can read more about the OEM Big Muffs here. (Photo © J Mascis)

J Mascis Big Muffs

Shown above: J's vintage Foxey Lady collection. Circa 1970-1975 Electro-Harmonix made several versions of the Foxey Lady for Guild, but all were essentially rebranded Big Muff pedals. The very rare 2 knob Axis pedal at the bottom right was the EHX branded version of the early 2 knob Foxey Ladys shown to its left, circa 1968. (Photo © J Mascis)

KR: Were you using any other fuzz pedals in the early days, or was the Big Muff your main distortion pedal?

JM: Pretty much that. It was either clean or Big Muff. I mean, I did use a Tube Driver.

KR: The B.K. Butler Tube Driver?

JM: Yeah. That was my clean sound (KR-the Tube Driver is always on for J's clean sound live, even when he switches on a distortion, so J's clean sound is actually slightly dirty rhythm tone). And then I have always used a pedal to turn down the Big Muff volume, for my rhythm, and then have it wide open for leads. I have always had something like a Tube Driver to have a quieter clean sound, but not too clean. You know, I figured you can’t go up from the Big Muff volume through an amp. It’s got to be the loudest thing. I have tried to structure everything to come down from there, to make it louder when you step on it. That’s what a lot of people never understand. You know, like a boost pedal is not going to do anything, your amp only goes so loud, so if you want the Big Muff to appear louder you are going to have to make everything else quieter.

Shown above: Two versions of the B.K. Butler designed Tube Driver used by J for his live clean sound - the older 5 knob Tube Works version, and the modern 4 knob BKB version, both showing J's settings. J is currently using the 4 knob version on his 2011 board (Photos © Kit Rae).

KR: The exact opposite of how most people think their setup should be. You don't use a pedal to reduce the gain, right, just a volume cut?

JM: You mean for the Big Muff?

KR: For your lower volume Big Muff rhythm sound.

JM: It’s just kind of like a volume knob, like a master volume.

KR: So literally, a master volume switch. Use the volume control for rhythm, and then for leads you bypass the volume control and you get maximum output.

JM: Yeah, to get the Big Muff cleaner. Well, it’s not as loud so it’s more controllable for rhythm, but the same sound. That’s what I put in the Tym Guitar pedal (KR-the Tym Guitars Fuzz Munchkin has two foot switches), that’s what the other switch is. It’s like a master volume, so I could do both the rhythm and lead thing with it.

KR: I though it was a tone bypass switch on the Tym, like some of the later 70’s Big Muffs had, to completely bypass the tone circuit. Listening to your recordings and live work with Dinosaur, I don’t really hear the old Big Muff tone bypass sound, so this makes sense now (KR-Tim at Tym Guitars confirmed the extra switch was literally a volume pot bypass, so with the switch engaged the volume can be set lower for rhythm, then switch it off and it completely bypasses the volume pot for leads. Essentially the same as having the pedal volume on 10 when bypassed. The Level switch on J's CAE switching board does the same thing in his live rig, and there is a volume pot for J to set the level of volume cut when J switches it on. Basically, the BMP is always on 10, and J just stomps a switch that cuts the output volume when he sings or plays rhythm.)

JM: Yeah. I like to have it on just the one pedal so I could do both rhythm and lead. So it’s basically all the way up until I use the master volume switch.

KR: What amps were you using in the early days with Dinosaur? Like the first three albums?

JM: The first album, I used a very early 60 watt Mark I Boogie that a guy had at the studio where we recorded. That sounded pretty cool. I used the Marshall a little bit, but mostly the Boogie on that album. Then the other albums, for Bug and You’re Living All Over Me, I used a 50 watt Marshall head. And then after Bug, I kind of got into (Marhsall) Super Leads more. You know, as I got more money I discovered things like Plexis.

KR: Is there a favorite Big Muff-amp combo for you?

JM: No, just 100 watt Plexis. I have been using Hiwatt a lot lately, because I like the sound of a Marshall and a Hiwatt together (KR - J used two Hiwatt custom 100 heads along with his Marshall in 2009, but has since gone back to two Marshall heads with the Hiwatt in the middle in 2011. He has also used a Reeves (Hiwatt clone) 100w head)

J Mascis AmpsJ Mascis AmpsJ's Hiwatt

Shown above: J's 2011 amp stacks. A Hiwatt Custom 100 and two vintage Plexi Marshall 100w amp heads, all with Marshall speaker cabinets. J typically plugs into the top right bass input (channel 2, input 1) of his Marshalls, with all tone knobs at 10, volume I on 2, and volume II on 6. J plugs into the top left input of his Hiwatt (normal channel, input 1), normal vol 2:30, brill vol off, bass 12:00, treble 1:30, middle 1:30, presence 1:30, and master vol 1:00.

KR: Great amplifiers. I use a Hiwatt. I think the Hiwatt and Big Muff were made for each other. You have used a few other Electro-Harmonix pedals too haven’t you? The Electric Mistress, Small Clone, Clone Theory…

JM: Yeah, the Mistress was my second effect that I got. So those were my main two at first. Then I got a Clone Theory at one point. Then a Memory Man.

KR: Is there a reason you went with mostly Electro-Harmonix pedals in the early days?

JM: Well, just trying out stuff they seemed to be the only one that had any kind of extreme sounds. Everything else I tried was just too subtle and didn’t really do enough for my tastes, so that was the main thing.

KR: Electro-Harmonix was definitely on top in a lot of areas that other makers chose to pull back on.

JM: Yeah, I wasn’t into subtlety very much (laughs). I want you to know something is happening when you turn the pedal on, rather than just a subtle tone shift.

KR: Have you ever tried any of the Big Muff clones that are out there? There must be at least thirty different boutique Big Muff circuit replicas or variants out there from various makers. I know a friend of mine from Stomp Under Foot sent you a Screaming Panda few years back, and a couple of other makers have told me they sent you their versions.

JM: Yeah, the first one I got was the DAM one. That was pretty good. Then the Hairpie I like a lot. (KR - The D.A.M. Ram Head, now discontinued, was a highly praised clone made by Differential Audio Manifestations in the UK, and the Hairpie was a clone made by Ronsound in the USA. Ron Neeley, the EH Man, is still making the Hairpie at the time this interview was made)

DAM Ram HeadRonsound Hairpie

Shown above: The D.A.M. Ram Head and Ronsound Hairpie vintage Big Muff clones. Ron at Ronsound is not only a boutique pedal maker, but is also an Electro-Harmonix historian

KR: Have any of those made onto your recordings, or are they just something you play around with or use live?

JM: I don’t know if I have used a Big Muff at all on any recordings in the last…yeah, I seem to never really use them now on record. Now it’s more kind of my live sound. Now I’m just in the studio kind of experimenting with stuff. For rhythm tracks I’ll usually just go straight into an amp. I have a Tweed Deluxe or a Vox AC15. I basically just use those two amps in the studio mostly now, and then experiment with different pedals.

Several Shades of Why

J's 2011 album, Several Shades of Why, released by Sub Pop. This is J's first official solo studio recording.

KR: What are you using on the new record, Several Shades of Why? Which is one of my favorite albums, by the way. Seems like I’m listening to that every day now. Really good sounds, great songs (KR - I had to really restrain the fanboy in me from asking J to please do more of this acoustic work. I love this album).

JM: Oh, thanks. I was using a Tonebender copy that Jim Roth from Built to Spill built on that record. On the acoustics, mostly that seemed to sound cool. I don’t know which version he copied. A Mark II or something (KR - I asked Jim and he said it was based on a Mark I Tonebender. The actual pedal is pictured below. Jim is the guitarist for Built to Spill, made many of his bands pedals himself, and has toured with J in the past. Jim frequents some of the DIY pedal forums as Jerms, and is praised for his accurate pedal builds).

J Mascis PedalsJ Mascis Pedals

Tonebender MK I clone made for J by Jim Roth, a.k.a. Jerms. Featured on J's Several Shades of Why album. Jim has also made a custom Tonebender MK1/Treble Booster combo for J that was featured on Dinosaur jr's I Bet on Sky album and tour in 2012 (Photos © Jim Roth)

KR: Yeah, it sounds kind of Tonebenderish. I knew I was hearing fuzz, but it's interesting that it's all done with an acoustic. There are only a few songs that I hear the electric guitar, like What Happened, Can I, and a couple of the others, but those fuzz sounds just perfectly suit the songs.

JM: Yeah, it was still an acoustic, it was just that we added the fuzz. Yeah, for electric, whatever I have gotten lately I’ll try. Different combinations. For some reason the Big Muff never seems…I never think of it for recording these days I guess (KR - A Ram's Head Big Muff was seen among J's floor pedals for the recording of Farm, but the last time I know for sure J used a Big Muff in the studio was for the J Mascis + the Fog album More Light, in 2000. J used his Ram's Head Big Muff with a late 50s Telecaster into a tweed 310 Bandmaster.)

KR: Too over the top to go with the acoustics?

JM: No, actually it never seems extreme enough for any kind of fuzz that I’m thinking about in the studio, but live it’s still my sound.







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