THE BIG MUFF π - A HISTORY OF ALL VERSIONS - Part 1

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VERSION 2 - The Ram's Head Big Muff Reissue (2019)

Last update December 2019. NOTE: This website is constantly updated as new information becomes available. Version, Edition, and Revision numbers listed here are not actual Electro-Harmonix identifiers. They are my categorizations, for identification purposes only. Permission required to repost any information from this site. Website and contents ©Kit Rae.

THE RAM'S HEAD BIG MUFF π REISSUE

Released October 2019
Reissue Engineer: Gino Maisano, based on the Violet version of the original Bob Myer circuit

PCB Number: EC-D167 REV A
True Bypass: Yes
Power Supply: 9-Volt battery or optional 9V power supply from Electro-Harmonix, 9.6DC-200 (same as used by Boss™ & Ibanez™) 9.6 Volts DC, or other AC adapters capable of delivering at least 30mA.
Current Draw: Approx 2.0 mA
Packaging: silver and black corrugated box
Place of Manufacture:
Assembled and tested in Long Island City, New York, USA

Instructions Manual PDF

Your GOAT! In October 2019 Electro-Harmonix reissued what was likely the most requested version of the Big Muff Pi, the Version 2, more popularly known as the Ram's Head. It is a faithful reproduction of the highly coveted 1973 Violet Ram’s Head Big Muff. In my time running this website and talking with Big Muff users and collectors over the past 30+ years, Big Muffs from the 1973-74 period seem to be the clear favorites among the original versions, especially the Violets, so it was thrilling to see that piece of EHX history brought back for modern guitarists to experience. Considering the Violet Ram's Heads are also my favorite of all the Big Muffs, this was the one version I had most wanted to see reissued. It did not disappoint. The Ram's Head quickly became the best seller of all the Big Muff models in the EHX line, and by November 2019 it became the best seller of the entire EHX product line.

The original Ram's Head Big Muff has been used by guitarists as varied as Ernie Isley of the Isley Brothers to J Mascis of Dinosaur jr. It was also the Big Muff used by my favorite guitarist, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, heard in his iconic Comfortably Numb solos, and all over the Pink Floyd albums Animals, The Wall, The Final Cut, and the Delicate Sound of Thunder (1988) and Live at Pompeii (2016) concert albums and videos. Those Numb solos were the reason I started playing guitar and collecting Big Muffs in the first place, and I expect Gilmour is one of the primary reasons for the Ram's Head's popularity.

This release capped off a series of successful nano sized Big Muff reissues that began in 2017 with the "Green Russian" reissue of the Sovtek Big Muff, then the Op-Amp and Triangle reissues followed in 2018. The Ram's Head was fourth in this series, but technically the 6th reissue of a Big Muff if you include the original Sovtek Big Muff from the early 1990s and the NYC Big Muff Pi reissue from 2000.

ORIGIN OF THE VIOLET NICKNAME - So why it is called a "Violet" Ram's Head? The origin of "Ram's Head" nickname has been covered earlier in the V2 section, but the Violet moniker requires a bit more explanation. Around 1973-74 V2 Big Muffs were made with various colors of silk screen ink on the enclosures and a circle face logo instead of the more familiar red and black graphics and square face logo. Some had all violet graphics and some all dark blue. A few extremely rare ones had all red or all black graphics. You can also find these same colors used on some other EHX products made at the time. There were at least twenty variations of the circuit used in the V2 Big Muffs. All used the same circuit board design of course, but each variant had its own unique set of component values which made several of them sound quite unique compared to the others. One of the most common variants, and the best sounding in my opinion, was one used in those 1973-74 Big Muffs with the unique colors. It was also used in some of the custom branded Big Muffs, like the Foxey Lady, Marveltone Distortion Sustainer, and Lyle Distortion Sustainer.

Various versions of the V2, or "Ram's Head" Big Muff from 1973-1975. The three on the left contain the "Violet" version of the circuit. It was nicknamed
the Violet because of the violet graphics used on the enclosure, but the circuit was also inside enclosures with purple, red, or black graphics.
(photo from the BigMuffPage collection)

Two common colors of the circle face logo found on original Violet Ram's Head Big Muffs

When schematics of the various vintage Big Muffs began appearing on the internet in the 1990s, the first well known trace of this particular circuit variant was nicknamed the Violet Ram's Head, since that was the color of the graphics on the Big Muff it was traced from. The violet moniker was around long before, but that is when it really started to be used in the DIY community among Big Muff enthusiasts. It was probably assumed that all Big Muffs with the violet graphics had that exact Violet circuit inside, but it was also found inside those Ram's Heads with the blue, red, or black graphics. Two slightly different versions of the circuit were also found in Ram's Heads made with those colors. Thus Violet is more of a nickname for the circuit, not the graphics color. Ram's Heads with the dark blue, red, or black graphics could also be called Violet Ram's Heads, if they have that same circuit inside. Confused yet? The actual Ram's Head that this EHX reissue was based on had a Violet circuit inside, but red graphics!

DEVELOPMENT - After the Triangle Big Muff reissue was released in 2018, Big Muff enthusiasts were all wondering the same thing - when was EHX going to release a Ram's Head reissue? EHX Engineer Gino Maisano had actually already begun research for a Ram's Head reissue in 2017. In early 2018 the project kicked into gear and several vintage units were examined and tested to find the best one to reverse engineer. I was very excited to see this project happen, so I picked three favorites from my collection that I thought were exceptionally good and loaned them to EHX. There was still some debate within EHX on whether or not another Big Muff reissue was really needed for the line, but many on the EHX staff thought there was something magical about those early Ram's Head Big Muffs that was distinctly different from the standard NYC version and the other reissues. EHX founder Mike Matthews agreed, and in May of 2019 the project was given the green light to proceed. EHX were also very aware that this was one of their most copied circuits, so they acquired several popular Ram's Head clones to hear what those got right and where they went wrong. In the end they were deemed uneccessary and never even listened to. All of the research was strictly done using only original EHX Ram's Head Big Muffs.

Three of the Ram's Head Big Muffs (from the BigMuffPage collection) that EHX used for research and development for their reissue

Gino Maisano was the lead engineer on the project, as on the Green Russian, Op-Amp, and Triangle Big Muff reissues. As expected for a guitar effects company, he and many other EHX employees are guitarists themselves, so they played and evaluated various vintage Ram's Heads. Determining which had the very best sound involved a lot of time and careful listening, but they eventually agreed on one. Among the Ram's Head candidates used for research and development were the three that I selected from my collection. All were from around 1973 and all had variations of the Violet circuit inside. Each had that characteristic sound the best V2 Big Muffs had, and to me they were a perfect historical snapshot of EHX at the top of their game. My favorite of the three had the exact Violet spec circuit inside, and sounded sonically identical to the Violet Ram's Head I use on my studio pedalboard. I was told that after one guitarist at EHX played through it, his eyes lit up and he exclaimed “Dude, that’s the f*cking sound!” That particular Violet is the one EHX chose to reverse engineer for the reissue.

The 1973 "Violet" version of the Big Muff circuit that the Ram's Head reissue was based on. It was just one of many circuit variants used inside the V2
Big Muffs in the 1970s, but there were probably more of this version made than any of the others. The circuit was populated with typical components of the
time - carbon comp resistors, silicon diodes, ceramic filter capacitors, jellybean poly coupling/clipping capacitors, and silicon 2N5133/36999 transistors

The goal was to make the most accurate reissue of that circuit possible, which meant dissecting it, rather than following the printed values on the circuit components or a schematic. Many of the critical components from 1973 were often out of the specified tolerance to begin with, and as the parts aged over the previous 45 years, those values changed even more. It was necessary that the actual electrical part values be measured, which involved carefully de soldering and removing the capacitors, resistors, and transistors from the circuit board. Many of the components ended up measuring very differently from the printed values, so much that if a replica was made based on the printed values alone, it would not sound identical. A new schematic was made and a prototype created using modern equivalent parts with the closest values. After testing and comparing it to the original, some final fine tuning was made to make the reissue sound even more accurate. I have compared it to the original and I can barely tell them apart.

On behalf of the Big Muff Pi users and the Gilmour gear enthusiasts, a big thanks to Mike Matthews and the EHX crew for bringing this reissue to fruition. Extra thanks to EHX engineer Gino Maisano. His dedication to this project is the main reason it exists.

GRAPHICS AND ECLOSURE - Housed in the standard EHX nano sized cast metal enclosure, 4 3/8" (L) x 1 3/8" (W) x 2 1/8"(H). There were several versions of the graphics and colors used on the original V2 Big Muffs. The 1973 graphics of the original the reissue was based on had the face logo in a circle, but that was only used for a few years. For the initial release of the reissue EHX decided to use the more common square face logo and the common red/black color scheme.

CONTROLS - Standard volume, tone, and sustain controls as on all classic Big Muffs.

The Ram's Head Big Muff reissue from 2019, featuring a recreation of the original 1970s logo font and graphics

CIRCUIT - The circuit uses through-hole style transistors, capacitors, and diodes. Capacitors are a mix of ceramic and poly, as on the original vintage unit. Resistors are small surface mount (SMD) type. Transistors are BC547. The elfin face graphic, which became known as the "Ram's Head," is printed on the circuit board.

The Ram's Head Big Muff reissue circuit

PACKAGING - 2-color corrugated cardboard box. Continuing the EHX tradition of including a "Your..." phrase on the box, "Your GOAT" is printed on the inside lid flap. No, EHX is not confusing a ram for a goat. GOAT is a slang acronym for Greatest Of All Time. The acronym originated with boxer Muhammad Ali, who was nicknamed 'The Greatest.' In 1974 Ali named himself the 'greatest of all time' after winning his second Heavyweight championship by knocking out George Foreman. In the early 1990s his wife named the Muhammad Ali merchandising business G.O.A.T. Inc, popularizing the word GOAT to mean Greatest of All Time. By the early 2000s GOAT had become a popular term for athletes at the top of their field, then later it was applied to anyone or anything that is the greatest in a particular field or expertise. The Violet Ram's Head can arguably said to be the greatest of all the original Big Muffs.

The Ram's Head Big Muff reissue packaging

THE V2 REISSUE SOUND - How does the reissue compare to the original Violet it was reverse engineered from? I would say 95% the same, or nearly dead on. It's thick and dirty sounding and accurately captures the signature tone of many of those early to mid 1970s Ram's Head Big Muffs. Like the Triangle reissue, it is one of the loudest and most aggressive Big Muffs in the EHX nano line, but depending on how you set it and your rig setup, it can be smooth and articulate sounding, or crunchy and dirty. Compared to the EHX Green Russian reissue, the Ram's Head is much more mid scooped and has more distortion on tap. Compared to the Triangle reissue, it has a similar sound, not quite as loud and aggressive, and the overall tone EQ and frequency of the midrange is different. Not a difference that I can really describe with words. You just have to hear them side-by-side to get it. I also compared it to several Violet Ram's Head clones from my collection, a few of which sound very good, but I far prefer the reissue. Overall, this is another winner from EHX that is going to be hard for a clone to beat in sound and price.

The reissue tone range goes from fat lows to buzz saw trebly highs, with a magic zone from 10:00-12:00. It has a hefty low end, but the bass is tight, not flabby. The mids are scooped, but the mids/treble EQ is just enough to stand out in a band mix nicely, and it stands out beautifully through amps with a healthy midrange like a Hiwatt or Bassman. It is noisy at high gain, especially at high treble settings, as are all Big Muffs due to the nature of the circuit. The noise level is about the same as my original vintage units, but perhaps a bit less so.

It blends great with overdrives, but unless you are trying to replicate a specific tone, the EHX really sounds best on its own in my opinion. The distortion is so thick in the Ram's Head that the low end craps out if you have the muff sustain too high and your overdrive gain too high. Get them both blended just right however, and the sound is awesome. I have gotten some great blended tones with my EHX Hot Wax, Colorsound Power Boost, TC Electronics BLD, and BKB Tube Driver.

Set the sustain around 3:00 and the tone in the magic zone around 10:30, and the reissue has a really smooth lead sound resting in the gritty fuzz. Add some 430-580ms delay, plug in a Strat through a Hiwatt, and it's Gilmour tonal heaven. Dial the volume and sustain to maximum, set the tone around noon, and its J Mascis' Dinosaur jr live tone. It also blends great with modulations, especially another EHX classic - the Deluxe Electric Mistress. What I use my Ram's Head Big Muffs for are usually David Gilmour's 1977-1983 Big Muff tones, and a lot of that was blended heavily with an Electric Mistress and Yamaha RA-200 rotary speaker cab. Those tones can be easily dialed in through my rig with the EHX.

Below are sound clips and comparisons to the other Electro-Harmonix Big Muff reissues.

mp3 Random Playing - Strat into Reeves Custom 50

mp3 Ram's Head low end compared to other EHX reissues - Reissues play in this order - Ram's Head, Triangle, Green Russian, Op-Amp Big Muff

The sound clips below focus on the tones of David Gilmour of Pink Floyd.

mp3 Your Possible Pasts solo from The Final Cut - RH Big Muff with Deluxe Electric Mistress (50% in mix) through a Reeves Custom 50 (Hiwatt clone)

mp3 Dog's Dry solo from Animals - RH Big Muff with Deluxe Electric Mistress (50% in mix) through a Reeves Custom 50 (Hiwatt clone)

mp3 The Final Cut solo - RH Big Muff with Deluxe Electric Mistress (50% in mix) through a Reeves Custom 50 (Hiwatt clone)

mp3 What Shall We Do Now? from The Wall - RH Big Muff with Deluxe Electric Mistress through a Reeves Custom 50 (Hiwatt clone)

mp3 Pig's solo from Animals - RH Big Muff with Deluxe Electric Mistress (50% in mix) through a Reeves Custom 50 (Hiwatt clone) and Fender 59 bassman

mp3 Mother Solo from The Wall - RH Big Muff with Deluxe Electric Mistress (50% in mix) through a Reeves Custom 50 (Hiwatt clone)

mp3 Mother Solo - Same without modulation. This is just the raw Ram's Head Big Muff tone

 

CUSTOMIZE YOUR RAM'S HEAD REISSUE - Do you want more vintage-styled knobs for your Ram's Head reissue? Davies Molding 1400 phenolic knobs are very similar in shape to the old Daka-ware pointer knobs used on many of the original V2 Big Muffs, but in a smaller size. They can be found for sale easily on the internet.

Reissue with Davies Molding #1400 Phenolic pointer knobs. Original Daka-ware pointer knobs shown on the right


GILMOUR BIG MUFFGilmour Big Muffs

......Gilmourish.com...


CONTINUE - MORE OF THE HISTORY OF THE BIG MUFF PART 1 (Vintage USA)

 

 

HISTORY OF THE BIG MUFF PART 2 (Russian)

HISTORY OF THE BIG MUFF PART 3 (modern USA)

A FUZZ AND MUFF TIMELINE

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