It just might be the most recognizable, cloned, and iconic lineup of guitar effects ever: the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff fuzz family. With the recent reissue of the Triangle Muff to commemorate the one that started it all fifty years ago, we thought it was time to look back and study the early chapters of the Big Muff biography that began in 1968.
Before the dawn of Electro-Harmonix, the story of the Big Muff started as an encounter between two young gents working at the leading communications and tech companies of the day. Mike Matthews—the man now at the helm of an effects empire—was working at the time for IBM. In 1968, he was introduced to Bob Myer, who, at the time, was a lead lab inventor for Bell Labs. While neither company was interested much in engineering effects, the two put their ideas and skillsets together in a collaboration that would change a generation of rock.
By the mid-1960s, fuzz had already become a thing. A big, loud, in your face sort of thing. What Matthews and Myer brought to the equation, however, was the innovation to make the effect last and linger by offering a violin-like sustain. If fuzz sounded so great, why would you ever want it dwindle away? This design feature is arguably one of the main things that set the Big Muff Pi v1 apart from its contemporaries. It also explains how the pedal got its nickname, the “Triangle” Big Muff.
Fuzz aficionados will know that, while the Big Muff Pi was a foundational pedal branded under Matthew’s new company Electro-Harmonix, which he went full time with after quitting IBM in the late 1960s, it’s not the first of Matthews fuzz designs to go to market. Prior to going solo with his own company, Matthews already made a mark by contracting to Guild to take on the production of the Foxey Lady fuzz pedal, which unambiguously attempted to leverage the success of Hendrix’s sounds on Are You Experienced (1967). It’s a revised version of this pedal that Matthews subsequently worked on as the first Electro-Harmonix fuzz that utilized the same Hendrix-centric marketing technique. It was simply call Axis.
So how does this tangent relate to the Big Muff Pi v1? Knobs. Both the Guild Foxey Lady and Electro-Harmonix Axis have two knobs: volume and fuzz. Yet it’s that third ingredient of a parameter for controlling singing sustain on the Big Muff Pi v1 that changed the game. The addition of a third knob in the upper central position meant the Big Muff could go loud, fuzzy, and didn’t need to stop any time soon. The configuration of these knobs is why, fifty years on, this pedal is still known as the Big Muff Triangle Fuzz.
While the circuits and sounds of the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff lineup have evolved and changed over the years, what makes them all classic yet ever-contemporary is their shared DNA in that oh-so-simple yet innovative integration of sustain. Thanks to Matthews and the creative crew over at Electro-Harmonix, the reissue opens up anew that very first chapter in the biography of the Big Muff.