THE SIMPLE SUMMARY - TONAL DIFFERENCES IN ALL BIG MUFF VERSIONS, VINTAGE TO MODERN
For a more comprehensive version guide, click on any of the icons above.
Version 1 - "TRIANGLE" BIG MUFF (USA circa 1969) - The tone of the V1 "Triangle" has been described as the best sounding of all the Big Muffs. It has also been described as one of the most articulate Muffs, with a clarity that many of the later Muffs seemed to lack. However, it should be clearly stated that there is no 'one' Triangle Big Muff tone. There is more variance from unit to unit than any other version due to the wide variety of component values used in the circuit, changing several times a year. It is very rare to find two Triangles with exactly the same values. It should be noted that the only real difference between the V1 and V2 Big Muff was the enclosure. They both spanned the same wide range of possible sounds. In the extreme ranges you may find some are very dry and fuzzy sounding, some gritty and fat, some thin and gainy, some thick but smooth, et cetera. The wide variety in sounds is one reason these Triangle Big Muffs are so collectible.
The reason many people say the Triangle is the best version of the Big Muff is probably due to a few circuit traces that circulated for several years, which most clones were based on. Those few circuit traces were just a couple out of dozens of traces that could be made of V1 Big Muffs randomly pulled off the production line on any given week.That said, there are some attributes that define a "typical" V1, and I use that term loosely. These descriptions fit the Triangles I am familiar with, about 12 examples from around 1970-1973 at the time this was written, plus the dozens of circuit photos I have examined. The mids were very scooped, as in flat or removed. Sustain varied from unit to unit, but most were high gain and clear. Many V1 Big Muffs do cut through a band mix very well and are very articulate for leads, and have a nice crunch for power chords and palm muting, whereas many later versions were muddier and bassier. Most V1s have slightly more bottom end than typical V2s based on examples I have played, giving them a monstrous sound when playing power chords or leads. The bass and treble of the tone varies quite a bit from one Triangle to another, as does the gain, fuzziness, and clarity on notes.
V1 QUICK IDENTIFIER - Both editions have a triangular knob layout. First Edition: No separate power switch, hand wired on perforated circuit board. Some have a printed circuit board. Second Edition - Power switch added to left of sustain knob on top of pedal, printed/etched circuit board pattern.
Version 2 - "RAM'S HEAD" BIG MUFF (USA circa 1973) - It should be clearly stated that there is no 'one' Ram's Head Big Muff tone. Basically the V2 was just a new box for the V1. As with the V1 Big Muffs, the bass, treble, gain, and fuzziness of the tone varies from unit to unit, somtimes wildy, due to varying component type and values used in day to day production. There were numerous versions of the circuit, as noted in the V1 section above. In the extreme ranges you may find some are very dry and fuzzy sounding, some gritty and fat, some thin and gainy, some thick but smooth, et cetera. The wide variety in sounds is one reason these Big Muffs are so collectible.
I am describing some typical attributes here, based on dozens of examples I have played or own. The mids were very scooped, as in flat or removed, giving them a nice dark sound. The tone is usually large and aggressive with a nice scooped grit, though some are more smooth sounding. On many later examples the sustain seems to be less than most V1 Triangle Big Muffs I have played. Some have slightly less clarity for leads, and can be difficult to palm mute through certain amps. The "violet" version would be an exception, as that one has a nice, smooth clarity for leads and chords, and typically less bottom end. Some V2 Big Muffs will sound identical to some V1 Big Muffs since the same circuits were used at times for both. There is more of a mids scoop on most late model V2s that I have played versus the V1s, and a tighter bottom end. That bottom end creates a huge, thunderous sound through a tube amp. The scooped tone makes them easy to get lost in a band mix when playing live with certain amps. Listen to the Animals and The Wall era Pink Floyd albums for examples of solo tones using this pedal, and listen to Dinosaur Jr. for examples of the wall-of-sound use of this pedal.
V2 QUICK IDENTIFIER - Straight knob layout and "face" logo in lower right corner in a circle or square shape, old style Big Muff Pi font. Power switch on back. No AC adapter jack, no LED, no battery door. All have 3003 number on circuit board. Early models have a rubber anti-skid pad on bottom, and later maodels have four rubber feet. Wide variety of knobs used.
Version 3 "RED AND BLACK" BIG MUFF (USA circa 1976) - As with the V1 and V2 Big Muffs, the bass, treble, gain, and fuzziness of the tone varies slightly from unit to unit due to varying component type and values used in day to day production. Even though there are several variants of teh circuit, V3 Big Muffs are much more consistent than previous versions. Please refer to the V2 description above. The V3 tones were similar, and in mansy cases identical to the later V2 tones, since the same circuit variations could be found in both. Some examples I have owned are bit bassier and less smooth than the V2 Muffs, but a few later V3 models I have played had even more sustain and aggressiveness than typical V2 Muffs. This version was also available with a tone bypass switch (not to be confused with true bypass), but very few of those were made. With the bypass switched on it removes the tone circuit, making a huge, peircing distortion, but also loses the trademark Big Muff sound.
V3 QUICK IDENTIFIER - All Editions: All three edition use the exact same large circuit board trace shown above, all marked 3003. ASll have a non linear pot sweep (zero at diferent place for each knob), No LED or battery door. Includes AC adapter jack on back, and power switch. First Edition: No AC letters on top. Second Edition: Same as first edition but letters AC added on top. Third Edition: Same as first edition, but letters AC and TONE BYPASS added on top.
Version 4 "OP-AMP" BIG MUFF (USA circa 1978) - The four transistors circuit design was radically changed to a new design that used op-amp ICs for this version. This is a great distortion pedal with a big sound and much of the same scooped mids character of the previous transistor versions. I think the transistor versions are more organic and sound better for bluesy solos, but the op-amps are great for crushing, grungier, wall of sound material, heavily distorted rhythm playing, and heavy leads. They have a very deep crunch, flat mids, and superb deep bass control. They are not as good for palm muting as some of the earlier Big Muffs. They do not do fuzz quite the same as the transistor versions, nor do they have the same character and organic randomness. The scooped tone makes them easy to get lost in a band mix when playing live with certain amps. Unlike the transistor versions, the tone is very consistent from unit to unit. Some units may have a noticable volume/gain boost when the pedal is switched off due to the fact that these old Big Muffs do not bypass the signal even when off. The signal still goes through and is amplified by the active op-amps, which can sometimes add a gain boost. Adding a true bypass switch can eliminate this problem. This is the Big Muff circuit heard on most of Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream album, so that should give an idea of the potential of this version. It is the rarest of the two op-amp Big Muff versions. It was aslo offered simultaneously in a tone bypass switch version, the V5.
V4 QUICK IDENTIFIER - Letters AC on top, no TONE BYPASS letters on top, linear knob sweep (zero at same place on each), circuit boards marked EH3003B, EH1322, EH1322B, or EH3003, with two op amp IC chips on board (two groups of 8 pads circled in red above). No LED or battery door. Power switch on back. Includes AC adapter jack on back.
Version 5 OP-AMP "TONE BYPASS" BIG MUFF (USA circa 1978) - Identical sounds to the V4 op-amp Big Muff described above, utilizing the exact same circuits. This version included a 'tone bypass' switch (not true bypass). With the bypass switched on it removes the tone circuit, making a huge, peircing distortion. The bypass also allows a flatter EQ that makes it have brighter mid tones. I think the tone in non bypass mode sounds better as the tone control is key to the Big Muff sound, but some people like the bypass. There is a slight 6-7 decibel boost when in bypass mode. This is the most common of the two op-amp Big Muff versions offered.
V5 QUICK IDENTIFIER - Words TONE BYPASS on top, linear knob sweep (zero at same place for each knob), hockey puck style knobs, circuit boards marked EH1222, 1222B, or EH3003, in one of the two styles pictured above. Look for t wo op amp IC chips on circuit board (two groups of 8 pads shown in red boxes above). No LED or battery door. Tone bypass switch on back, no power switch. Includes AC adapter jack on back.
Version 6 "TONE BYPASS" BIG MUFF (USA circa 1980) - The V3 transistor based Big Muff circuit continued to be made simultneous to the V4/V5 OP-AMP versions, but around 1980 it was given a new circuit board and went through a series of graphics changes. The tone is very similar to the V3 Big Muffs described above. In the examples I have played and owned the tone has more bass and can sound a bit flatter and fuzzier than typical V3 Muffs. Some have the mids slightly more scooped than the V3. All of the V6 Big Muffs I have played have had more sustain/gain on tap than typical V3 Big Muffs, but most were also much noisier, had less clarity for leads, and were more fuzzy sounding. The 'tone bypass' (not true bypass) switch was kept from the late V3 and V5 versions, which allows you to completely remove the tone section from the circuit. This gives a raunchy, raw, and very loud tone, but lacks some of the Big Muff character. The bass, treble, and fuzz varies slightly from unit to unit, but overall these had very consitent circuits and sounds.
V6 QUICK IDENTIFIER - Words TONE BYPASS on top, linear knob sweep (zero at same place for each knob), hockey puck shaped knobs. Circuit boards marked EH3003, EH3034 HB-1, or EH3034 TC1-A4H 94HB, in the exact style pictured above. Tone bypass switch on back, no power switch. No LED or battery door. Includes AC adapter jack on back.
Version 9 "NYC REISSUE" BIG MUFF (USA 2000) - The tone is in the same family as the old version 6 Big Muffs from the early 1980s, though this is not actually a reissue of that version. Component values were changed, making it a bit more muffled (muffier?), and modern sounding, without the clarity of most of the early vintage USA Muffs. The first version is the most like the old early 70's Big Muffs, with a bit more note clarity than the later revisions, and slightly less bass. The component values were modified in 2000 (revision A), 2007 (revision B) and then again in 2008 (revision C). The later versions have a thicker and bassier sound than the Rev A and B Muffs, with less note clarity, but a thicker and heavier sound when playing chords. The bottom end is also beefier on the B and C versions than most vintage Muffs. Presumably this was done to give them a more modern, heavy and dronier sound. Mid tones are very scooped. These do not react as sharply to pinch harmonics as most V1, V2, and V3 Big Muffs and do not work as well for crisp palm muting as some of the older Big Muffs. It has a grungier, but very cool character to the sound. Think Jack White of the White Stripes' tone, one of the most popular users. The bass and treble varies slightly from unit to unit, but the differences are usually minor.
V7 QUICK IDENTIFIER - Includes a red LED on top and battery door on bottom, not found on older models. There is NO power switch on the back. Both knob types shown above were used. Pointer knobs usually indicate an early model 3003 from 2000, or early 3003-A version from 2001. These knobs look like the old EXH pointer knobs, but they have a white indicator line not found on the old knobs. All later production use the hockey puck shaped knobs. PCB version numbers are printed on the component side of the circuit board: EC3003 made in 2000, EC3003A made in 2001, EC3003B made in 2007, EC3003C made in 2008.
RED ARMY OVERDRIVE (Russia circa 1990) - Technically, this is the first Russian made Big Muff, though not marketed as a Big Muff at the time because Mike Matthews had yet to reacquire the Electo-Harmonix name after bankruptcy. The tone, while still in the Big Muff family, was quite unique and different from the USA Big Muff tones, and I think the best of all the Russian made Big Muffs. Sort of a mix between the V1 and V3 Big Muffs, but with a fatter bottom end, brighter and less scooped mids, and less gain. The first edition RAO sounds very close to the Civil War Russian Big Muffs that would come later, and had almost identical circuit component values. The second edition sounds similar to the more gritty green Russian Big Muffs that would come later, with a very dark sound, thunderous lows, and a smooth and clear tone. Some people do not like that bottom end and consider it too bassy, but I think that is what makes this version sound so huge. The bass and treble of the tone varies slightly from unit to unit.
RED ARMY OVERDRIVE QUICK IDENTIFIER - First edition, circa 1990, had black hockey puck knobs, a green box bottom, and the circuit had three large 430pF capacitors (circled in yellow above). The second edition, had gray knobs, a gray box bottom, slightly different graphics (the R beside Sovtek was circled), and the 430pF caps were replaced with two identical 1nF square flag caps (circled in yellow above) in each of the three positions.
Version 7, 7A, 7B "CIVIL WAR" BIG MUFFS (Russia circa 1991) - Identical to the Red Army Overdrive circuits, just different graphics and colors. Sort of a mix between the V1 and V3 Muffs, but with a fatter bottom end, lower gain, brighter and less scooped mids. All of the 1990s Sovtek Muffs (Civil War, Green Civil War, Green Russian, Black Russian) had very similar component values, and had very similar sounds to each other, but the version 7A/7B Civil War tone was special. It was very dark and bassy, but with a smooth and clear mid range, and a very musical clarity. Those mids were still scooped out like a typical Big Muff, but the Sovteks had more mids than vintage USA models, so they stand out in a live band mix slightly better. They are noticeably smoother and have less grit than the later Green Russian and Black Russian Big Muffs, which is probably why they are the most favored and desireable of all the Sovtek Big Muffs. They are a favorite of bass players due to the low gain and huge, bass friendly bottom end they produce. The bass and treble of the tone varies slightly from unit to unit. Listen to Pink Floyd's Pulse live album for some great examples of lead tones using this pedal. The early Black Keys and Sonic Youth are other examples of this sound.
V7 QUICK IDENTIFIER - First edition (version 7), circa 1990, had black hockey puck knobs, a green box bottom, and the circuit had three large 430pF capacitors (black plastic boxes, circled in yellow above). The second edition (Version 7), had gray tapered knobs, gray box bottom, slightly different graphics (the R beside Sovtek was circled), and the three 430pF caps were each replaced with two sets of identical 1nF square flag caps (circled in yellow above) in each position. The version 7A was the same as the version 7, but with blue or gray colored box bottoms, and usually black dimple topped knobs. The version 7B Green Civil War had an all green box with ridges on the sides, but the same printed graphics as the others.
Version 7C GREEN RUSSIAN BIG MUFFS - Tall Font and Bubble Font Versions (Russia circa 1994) - Early 'tall font' Green Russians, the first edition, are identical to the Civil War version described above. The second and third edition Green Russians with the 'bubble font' have a bit more grit and bite, less bass, and most have more sustain than the Civil War version, but they are not as smooth sounding. Less gain, fatter bottom end, and brighter mids than most vintage USA Big Muffs. The bass and treble of the tone varies slightly from unit to unit, but the differences are usually minor. They are a favorite of bass players due to the low gain and huge, bass friendly bottom end they produce. That bottom end is also a reason some do not like the Russian Big Muffs. Listen to the Black Keys for some great examples of the Green Russian in use.
V7C QUICK IDENTIFIER - First Edition- Tall Font : Thick cast metal box bottom with ridges on the sides, a plastic battery door cover, all green color, tall Big Muff Pi font, gray knobs or black dimple top knobs, four outer screws. Second Edition - Bubble Font : same as the first edition, but with bubble shaped Big Muff Pi font, and black dimple top knobs. Third Edition - Bubble Font : Same as the second edition, but with a folded sheet metal box with no side ridges, six outer screws, and a metal battery door.
Version 7D BLACK RUSSIAN BIG MUFF big box (Russia circa 1998) - The tone is the same as the V7C third edition green Russian Big Muffs identified above. Just different box color and graphics.
V7D QUICK IDENTIFIER - Identical box to the V7C third edition shown above - Folded sheet metal box, all black color, yellow graphics, black dimple top or chicken head knobs, six outer screws, metal battery door. Larger box size than the V8 shown below. The V7D box is 2 3/4"(70mm) tall and the V8 box is 2"(50.5mm) tall, not including the rubber feet. Early version used the bubble font logo and dimple topped knobs. Later version used the modern Big Muff font and chicken head knobs.
Version 8 BLACK RUSSIAN BIG MUFF small box (Russia circa 2000) - Identical in tone to the V7C third edition (Bubble Font Green Russian) and V7D Big Muffs shown above. The bass and treble of the tone varies slightly from unit to unit, but the differences are usually minor. These are discontinued, but the V11 Bass Big Muff sounds very similar and was intended as a replacement.
V8 QUICK IDENTIFIER - Folded sheet metal box with six outer screws, later changed to four outer screws. All black color, yellow graphics, black chicken head knobs, metal battery door. Smaller box size than the V8. The V7D box is 2 3/4"(70mm) tall and the V8 box is 2"(50.5mm) tall, not including the rubber feet.
Version 10 LITTLE BIG MUFF NANO (USA circa 2006) - Sonically the Little Big Muff sounds very similar to the revision A NYC reissue V9 described above, but a bit brighter and a bit less bottom end to the sound. Note, this is not a reissue of the original 1970s Little Big Muffs. Some units sound slightly different than others.
V7 QUICK IDENTIFIER - First version from 2006 had the Sustain knob on the left, Volume on the right. Second edition had them reversed.
Version 11 BASS BIG MUFF (USA 2008) - This was based on the Russian Big Muff circuit. Not identical in tone to the Russians, but in most settings they are very similar. This version has much less gain, a fatter bottom end, and brighter mids than the USA Big Muffs, like the V9, V10, and V12. All toggle switch settings - bass boost, norm, and dry - sound very good with a bass guitar, but make no mistake, this is for guitarists too. For guitar, the normal setting sounds best, and is very close to the black V8 Russian Big Muff tone, though this version is less noisy at full sustain, and smoother. Overall a better sound than those small black box Russian Big Muffs, though not for over the top distortion. With the Dry switch, you can dial the gain almost to zero, the tone high, and get a light overdrive boost. That boost works very well following the Little Big Muff or Tone Wicker Big Muff as a smooth blend pedal, and with the Dry switch on, the volume knob acts as another tone control. A very good combo with other Big Muffs.
Version 12 - TONE WICKER BIG MUFF (USA 2009) - The tone range of the Tone Wicker Big Muff is quite broad. It can match the tones of the V10 Little Big Muff somewhat in standard mode, but with the Wicker switched on it becomes a much sharper and brighter sound, but not too harsh. The "buzzy-fizzy" sound that many Big Muff users complain about with the V9 NYC reissue and V10 Big Muffs can be smoothed out with the Tone Wicker. The gain does not need to be very high with the wicker switched on, yet it is still very articulate. With the gain high and the wicker switched on, it creates a very clear high gain distortion, though it is rather nosiy with these settings. The "fuzz" tones it produces have much more range than the V9 and V10. Many Muff users (like me) use boosters or tube drivers to color or boost the gain and mids of their Big Muffs for added clarity, but this version does not require that. The boost is built in, and it cuts through a band mix very well. Compared to vintage USA Big Muffs and the pther modern Big Muffs, this sounds very different, but this is one of my favorites of the Muffs produced since 2000. Some units sound slightly different than others.
Version 13 - GERMANIUM 4 BIG MUFF (USA 2010) - This is not a traditional silicon based four transistor Big Muff circuit, but as the name implies this is a new BM class - the GERMANIUM Big Muff. No deep, scooped mids, or huge Big Muff tones here. The other Big Muff models have that covered. This is a whole new range of muffled fuzz tones. Essentially this is two pedals in one - a fuzz type Distortion and an Overdrive. The Overdrive side dials in a nice light to moderate drive tone. It is somewhat versatile when you play with the bias and the tone knobs, but does not get into extreme overdrive territory. That is not really what this side of the circuit was intended for however. It was intended to work with and color the Distortion side. It also works as a booster or blend pedal following a traditional Big Muff, to smooth out and color the tone.
The Distortion side is really a very tweakable Germanium fuzz type pedal. It does similar fuzz tones as a Fuzz Face pedal, though the G4BM has it's own unique voice. The volts knob lets you get into the sputtery, dying battery sound of a traditional fuzz, and playing with the bias and gain knobs gives a wide variance of fuzz tones. Switch on the Overdrive side, which runs in series with the Distortion side, and depending on the settings, you can get a nice warm boost to the fuzz, or can kick it into screaming overdriven fuzz territory.
ODD BIG MUFFS THAT DO NOT MATCH UP WITH ANYTHING ON THIS WEBSITE
Every now and then odd Big Muffs turn up with odd circuits and box graphics, sometimes mismatched with parts from versions that were made several years apart. Strange knobs can be explained because there were many knob types used, most shown on this website, and there are many Muffs around with replacement knobs. Other odd combinations are enclosures with graphics that do not match up with the pcb boards used at the same time, or LED on Big muffs that never had LEDs. There are several possibilities that could explain some of those oddities.
1. The Muff was defective, returned to Electro-Harmonix for repair or replacement under warranty, and EHX replaced the circuit board with a current production version on hand, but the graphics on the original box are from a previous version, or vise versa. That was likely a standard practice because it would have been less expensive to simply replace the whole circuit, pots and all, rather than to spend time trying to trace down which component was bad.
THANKS GO OUT TO ALL THOSE WHO HAVE HELPED OR CONTRIBUTED TO THIS SITE: Mike Matthews, Bob Myer, Howard Davis, Fran Blanche, John Pisani, Daniel Shin, Larry Demarco, Rick Stevenson, Kevin, Mark, Marc Ahlfs of Skreddy Pedals, Ron, Damian, Domenic, Brad, Jay, John, Carlos, Scott, Billy, Matt at SUF, the folks at the Gear Forum and Gilmour Gear Forum, and everyone else who has contributed that I forgot to mention! And extra big thanks to Mike Matthews for starting it all!
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