Kitís Secret Guitar, Gear, and Music Page
TIPS FOR BUYING VINTAGE BIG MUFFS
Where can you find a vintage Big Muff, or other vintage pedals or music gear? The most common place too look is ebay, but you may find better deals on the sell pages of guitar and gear forums. Craigslist is another place to check for local sellers, but there are a variety of other sell and auction websites similar to ebay and Craigslist on the web that you could check out. Occasionally music stores and pawn shops sell old pedals, so it may be worthwhile periodically checking those sources as well.
I suggest that before you buy a vintage Big Muff from a collector, ebay, Craigslist or other listing service that you first do some research to see what some current sell prices of a particular Big Muff model are. The best way to do that is to do a keyword search on ebay and save the search. You can set preferences so ebay will notify you when new hits come up daily for your search terms, put watches on them, and check to see what the closing bids are. You can also go to the “sell” menu in ebay and type the Muff name keywords in the “what's it worth?” box, but this will only show what the average sell price is for the past few weeks. Another way to determine value is to simply ask people on the various guitar and gear forums what they have paid. Prices are always changing so there is no way to say this price is what they are worth right at this moment, but you can at least get an idea of what prices they have recently sold for. Alway keep in mind though, the value in the end is exactly what the buyer is willing to pay for it.
EBAY SEARCHES - When doing an ebay search it is important to use the right keywords. Those should include the common nickname for the Big Muff, the actual name, and the manufacturer name. For example, if you are looking for a Ram's Head Big Muff, type in the search terms “Ram's Head Big Muff Electro Harmonix Rams Head”. I use both “Ram's” and “Rams” in the name because people usually list one or the other. If you are searching for a Russian made Sovtek Big Muff in the green box, type in the search terms ”Green Russian Big Muff Sovtek“. I have found that most people use the common nicknames and the words Big Muff for the listing name. People sometimes also add the words Fuzz, Distortion, Stompbox, and Pedal to the description name. I do multiple searches on combinations of those words to get the most hits. Occasionally people will use incomplete listing names that show up on fewer searches, thus getting less bids. I have found some very good deals that way. I once got a great deal on a pristine Triangle Big Muff. I paid about 10% of what I later sold it for. The sellers listing name was Elector Harmonix Muff Pedal. The mispelling and incomplete name meant not many peaople looking for an Electro Harmonix Traingle Big Muff ever saw the listing, so there were very few bids.
WHERE TO FIND THEM - Once you have an idea of what the value is and what you are willing to pay, you can start looking. Ebay, guitar and gear forums, and Craigslist are the three top places to check, but sometimes local music stores and pawn shops are selling old pedals. I suggest not buying from a seller on Craigslist unless you can visit the seller and determine if the pedal works and is in good condition. There are many scammers out there who will take money from out-of-state buyers and never ship anything. The same goes for buying from a seller on a forum listing. The safest way to buy is from a seller you can visit personally, are very familiar with, or from a seller with a high feedback rating on ebay. The safest way to pay is through a PayPal account because you have more options for recourse if you get a bad deal, the seller does not ship the items, or if it is not what is described.
BEST TIME OF YEAR TO BUY ON EBAY - Selling on ebay is seasonal. The best time to sell in the US is mid September through mid December. November though mid December are the heavy times in that period, where prices are the highest, but there are more pedals offered for sale as people sell off items to generate cash for the Christmas season. This means as a buyer, you may be paying the highest prices in that period, but there are typically more pedlas for sale, and it's a good time to watch for deals. I have found the time to buy for the best prices is February through July. The best time for a seller to place an auction on ebay during the week is late Sunday or Monday night. That gives the listing maximum exposure to bidders. Auctions placed earlier in the day, later in the week, will have the least exposure, and likely will close for the lower prices. Auction restricted to shipping within the seller's country will have less bids, and auctions offering world wide shipping will have the most bids and typically close for the highest prices.
CHECKING OUT THE PEDAL - When buying from ebay, always read the listing carefully to be sure the seller actually says the pedals works. Be wary of listings with little or no information, sellers with little or no sell history, or sellers with low feedback. It is best to stay away from first time sellers with little or no info in the listing, or very low feedback sellers who have a history of problems. If you see a listing with obviously incorrect info, be wary. For example, if a listing says they have a rare ”version three Big Muff“, the same type used by David Gilmour, but the photo shows the PCB board of an op-amp Big Muff and you know Gilmour never used a version 3 or an op-amp, the lister either knows little about the Muff or is trying to pass it off for something it is not. This does not mean don't bid on it, it just means you need to ask some questions. You can, and should, email the seller through ebay if you have questions. It costs you nothing. If the sellers does not answer questions completely or is rude, stay away. If there is no photo of the PCB board shown, email and ask the seller to post or email you photos. Chances are they took more photos but did not post them because ebay charges for every photo after the first. If they really want to sell it they will likely shoot more photos to show you. If you notice something is very rare, but the seller did not do his homework and is not aware of this, be careful not to alert the seller with too much info. The seller may turn around and post that info, inviting more bids, thus raising the price. Here are INSTRUCTIONS for disassembling a vintage Big Muff if you are able to view it in person, want to email a seller who does not know how to open the pedal, or if you are a seller who wants to take one apart to photograph.
Here are some common things I look for:
* Is the pedal in good condition, with all original parts? Bad scratches or rust can bring the value down. The environment that caused external damage was likely hard on the inside components as well. Non original or broken knobs, a broken foot switch, a missing skid pad or missing rubber feet, missing battery door - all of these things also bring down the value of a vintage pedal. Keep in mind there were many different knobs used for V1 and V2 Big Muffs.
* Does the pedal include the orignal packaging or in-box literature - Having these greatly increase the value of the pedal, especially if they are in good shape. Having the original sales reciepts, or even the price stickers are great too.
* Was the pedal ever used for gigging or just home use? Gigging puts excessive wear on the pedal, inside and out. If the pedal looks rough on the outside - rust, scratches, dented top from stomping too hard, et cetera - assume the insides have had a hard life as well and may not last as long.
* Do the pots create scratchy/crackly sounds when the knobs are turned? This could indicate the potentiometers may need to be replaced, but most of the time you can fix this yourself with some spray contact cleaner/lubricant. If the sound cuts out when the pots are turned this could indicate broken traces to the pcb or bad pots that will have to be replaced.
* Are the jacks loose or broken? This could indicate some servicing will be needed. Jacks are easy to replace. Quality Switchcraft jacks are the most common replacements. Lifted curcuit traces from old Sovtek Muffs (the jacks were soldered directly to the circuit board) are not as easy to fix.
* Does the sound ever cut out, and if so, when? This could indicate some simple servicing will be needed, or that there may be bad components on the circuit board. Most of the time this is caused by bad input jacks that need to be replaced or re-soldered, or bad footswitches. It could also be bad wire soldering or breaks in the battery wires. All simple fixes, unless it is a circuit board problem.
* Has the pedal ever been serviced or modified? It is good to know what components have been replaced, whether upgraded, or simply a replacement of a component that has gone bad, and who did the work. If a recognized pedal tech (examples: Analog Man, Howard Davis) did the work, chaces are they knew what they were doing. This means the pedal has been serviced and may have a longer life if the person who did the work is familiar with Muffs, but it also reduces the value of a vintage Muff. Some mods - like true bypass switches, replaced foot switches, replaced pots, replaced power switches, added power jacks, and added LED lights - may improve the use of the pedal, but these also make the pedal no longer a vintage specimen.
* Is there any excessive noise, like unusual hiss or oscillating sounds, whistling, or chirping sounds when playing, especially with the gain/distortion turned up? Does the Muff volume cut way down below unity volume when the power is engaged? Does the pedal work, but the tone knob does not seem to do much when dialed to the extremes of the pot sweep? These indicate a component may be bad or not reading the correct value and needs to be replaced, or may be an indication of other more serious circuit problems. Some Muffs are noisy when the gain is high anyway, but noisy to the point of being unusable means something is wrong. Stay away from Muffs with these problems, unless you know a good pedal tech who can repair them.
ODD LOOKING BIG MUFFS THAT DO NOT MATCH UP WITH ANYTHING ON THIS WEBSITE - Every now and then odd Big Muffs turn up with circuits and box graphics or knobs from different versions, sometimes mismatched with parts from versions that were made several years apart, or pots that are dated many years later than the particular model was supposed to have been manufactured. There are several possibilities that could explain these oddities.
TRANSISTORS AND COMPONENTS - Some people think one particular transistor type over another determines if one Muff will sound better than another. Over the years, the more Big Muffs I played and examined, the more I have come to realize it is the mix of different values of components (capacitors, resistors, diodes) AND the transistors that make one Muff sound different or better than another. One transistor type may have higher or lower gain or may be quieter or noisier than another type. There are some that are better than others, but I suggest not getting too hung up on the transistor type when looking at a Muff if you are really just interested in buying it to use. A Muff with a BC239 trany may sound just as good as one with a 2N5133, FS3700, or one marked with the much hyped FS36999 trany. Component types (box caps vs ceramic caps, for example) will not have as much impact on the tone as the value of the components does. Some people think there is mojo in the older components that make them sound better. I agree to some extent, but I have played clones using modern components with the same values as a vintage Muff and the sound is very close. Of course, all original components in a vintage Muff will be more valuable than one that has been modified with newer ones, and the hype of having FS36999 or 2N5133 transistors in a vintage Muff definitely drives up the asking price.
Many sellers won't know if anything has been modified or replaced if they are not the original owner, so look at the circuit board photos here to see the various components used, and the various graphics and knobs used. If you see newer looking components, components soldered to the back of circuit boards, true bypass switches, scratches and dents, or rust, that does not mean you should not buy. It just means don't pay extremely high prices for a pedal that is obviously not vintage specs. LED lights added to older Muffs, true bypass switches, added power jacks, replacement knobs, or other visible mods should also bring the value down, unless you really want those options. That said, if you really want it, go for it! Big Muffs need a good home!
BIDDING AND BUYING - When bidding on ebay, first determine the maximum amount you are willing to pay. Be sure to check the shipping cost and the sellers feedback rating. Be very wary of sellers with a low ratings. I tend to avoid sellers with ridiculous shipping costs listed. Place a watch on the item you want to bid on, but DO NOT BID YET. That will just drive the cost up. WAIT UNTIL THE LAST DAY OF THE AUCTION AND THE LAST MINUTE OF CLOSING TO ACTUALLY HIT ”CONFIRM“ ON YOUR BID AMOUNT, or preferably, the last 15-20 seconds. This will allow you to see how high the bidding is, and give other bidders less time to bid higher after you enter your bid. Always enter the MAXIMUM AMOUNT you are willing to pay. Ebay automatically bids for you up to your maximum amount, and many times you will end up paying less than your maximum bid. MOST IMPORTANT - don't bid early and get into a bidding war and end up paying higher than the pedal is worth just to beat the other guy. This can become addictive and get expensive. You can always wait and bid on the next one that comes up in a listing. And trust me, unless it is a super rare pedal, another one WILL come up eventually if you keep an automatic ebay search going. Patience pays off, and you will be happier in the end if you get a better deal.
After winning a bid, always pay to have the item shipped insured. Some of these are old and brittle devices, and some sellers do not do a very good job packing them properly. Always ask that the seller remove the battery before shipping. They can come loose and damage the circuit. I have had a few bad experiences with sloppy packers resulting in broken pedals. Mail can be a rough journey for our treasured Muffs. If the listing does not say the item ships insured, email the seller and say you want insurance added to the shipping cost before you pay for it. After you recieve the pedal, immediately check to be sure it works, and provide feedback on ebay. Out of courtesy, you should always leave positive feedback for a seller if you had a positive buying experience, and always leave negative feedback if you had problems with the seller that could not be resolved.
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