What can be said that hasn’t already been said about the vaunted Big Muff, as originally imagined by Mike Matthews of Electro-Harmonix and Bob Myers of Bell Labs? It is very simply a titan; a colossus of guitar gear lore. At its core, it is a fuzz pedal created to deviate from the early roots of fuzz pedals. But the long, strange history of the thing means it’s more than that.
Without getting too much into the confusing twists of EHX production over the years, there have been many, many versions of the Big Muff. So many, in fact, that you could dedicate an entire website to it. Indeed, someone has and if you want to pore over every sordid detail, check out The Big Muff Page’s evolution for the unabridged version. For a shorter primer, you can also listen to Dan Steinhardt of That Pedal Show give a brief overview in this episode from about 1:20. The Big Muff page also has a thorough version identifier section for those of you wondering how to parse it all.
To boil it down somewhat, the versions you’re most likely to hear a lot about are the Green Russian, the Civil War, the Ram’s Head, and the Triangle. According to the identifier page, there are 13 versions of the pedal, so for four of them to rise to the top of the conversation means that they’re something special. You might also see references to the OP-AMP version, which TPS Dan helpfully plays for you in that video. For reference, it’s most likely that you’re thinking of a Ram’s Head when you’re trying to get a David Gilmour sound, though according to Gilmourish.com, though he used a Civil War in the 90s. Present day raving lunatic Billy Corgan used an OP-AMP Muff for Siamese Dream, while J. Mascis has used a whole pile of them including the Ram’s Head.
Thanks to its status, an entire industry is dedicated to recreating, improving upon, or emulating the various Muff varieties. Is it the most copied pedal in history? If we consider a small sample of this Premier Guitar piece and this Pro Guitar Shop post, the only thing that really comes close is the Tubescreamer. It’s probably neck and neck, but then, the Tubescreamer has far fewer versions to be copied in the first place.
For this list, we’re focusing on Muffs and Muff clones currently in production. The advantage to this is that they’re reliable, often backed by warranty, and usually packed into modern, pedalboard friendly boxes where the real-deal vintage units would not have been. This list is for anyone who has never tried a Muff before, but also those who already own a vintage model but is rightly afraid of destroying it on the road. While you might want the genuine article for a recording situation, these carefully constructed and considered take-offs are more than up to the task of giving you the sound in less-forgiving environments.
For everyone looking to find a toe-hold in the vast sea of options, here are our picks for the top ten best Big Muff type pedals.
1. Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “A modern American Big Muff Pi? That’s not even the best Muff from EHX!” Maybe so. Many would certainly agree with you. The best one they ever released is…well. Let’s not dwell too much on it. That’s what the rest of this list is for.
If this is your first interaction with a Big Muff, start with this one, which is the current-version American Pi. While earlier iterations were closer to true fuzz, this one has four transistor amplification stages (two of which are diode clipping stages), making this Big Muff more like a highly versatile distortion circuit that comes off as fuzzy.
In the classic three-knob configuration, you get Volume, Tone, and Sustain (basically a gain knob). It’s especially magic paired with a Gibson Les Paul since it already has tremendous sustain. The one major drawback of this pedal is its relatively monstrous footprint that makes it kind of a pedalboard hog, especially considering what comes later on this list. Fortunately, it also comes in a Little version and a Nano version, though some think they don’t sound quite the same. It’s probably worth noting that all three are among the cheapest U.S.-made Muff style pedals available, which is in keeping with EHX pricing on the whole, but also perhaps in order to fight for market share of its own creation.
In addition to these, EHX has just announced a reissue of the Green Russian Big Muff in a nano pedal form factor. People are already divided about it, as you might expect.
Other versions currently in production for guitar (leaving aside the bass versions) include:
Big Muff type: American Pi
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Buy the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi here.
2. EarthQuaker Devices Hoof Fuzz V2
EarthQuaker’s flagship pedal is the Hoof: a loose interpretation of the Green Russian Muff that combines traditional NOS germanium transistors with more reliable silicon transistors. The pairing results in consistent pedals from unit to unit, with searing, high-powered tones.
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Controls include Tone, Level, Fuzz, and the finishing touch, Shift. The Shift knob is the key to this pedal’s versatility as it gives you total control over the mids. The range on all of the knobs borders on the extreme, which is not uncommon for EQD offerings. Though it’s billed as a Green Russian take, everyone I’ve talked to about it remarks that more than one Muff lurk under the hood if you spend some time with it.
One of these lives on my board with these settings: Tone 11 o’clock, Shift 2 o’clock, Level 11 o’clock, Fuzz 4 o’clock. I find it especially useful as a second rhythm sound to my main distortion sound for recordings or saturated with an Arrows booster for cutting lead work. Otherwise, you get top-mounted jacks and soft-touch switching to fully modernize your Muff situation.
Big Muff type: Green Russian
Buy the EarthQuaker Devices Hoof Fuzz here.
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3. JHS Pedals Muffuletta
You could spend a lot of time and an awful lot of money trying to track down some of the different vintage Muff units. Or you could try this. Packing the equivalent of six different circuits in one compact pedal, this will more than answer your need for something Muffy. The best part is, none of these are achieved with DSP modeling — this is an all-analogue unit.
Controls include the traditional Volume, Sustain, and Tone, but also the six-way selector switch to choose your Muff era. The first is a JHS original take on the circuit. The next is the Ram’s Head, after the 1973 to 1977 Muff circuit, which featured scooped mid range, less gain and a darker tone. The Triangle takes on the silver-case 1969 to 1970 design, which had better note clarity and more bass. The Pi dated from 1977 to 1978 and had slightly more gain. The Russian Muff often came in a black case between 1999 and 2008 and is the muddiest of them, but offers good grind. The last is the Civil War circuit from 1991 to 1993, which featured an overall brighter character and lower gain. This doesn’t cover every iteration of the Muff, but it does serve up all the most talked-about versions.
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Big Muff type: Ram’s Head, Triangle, American Pi, Black Russian, Civil War, JHS original take
Buy the JHS Pedals Muffuletta here.
4. Wren and Cuff Eye See Pi
Wren and Cuff aren’t the only boutique pedals house almost entirely dedicated to the pursuit of Muffy sounds, but they are among the best and most dedicated. They have a category simply called “Muffs”, lest you doubt me. They do very faithful recreations and spend a lot of time developing as close an approximation as exists.
It came down to a dead heat between this, the Eye See Pi, and their conspicuously-named Tall Font Russian in a lovely shade of green. I see both of them frequently in my many laps around the internet looking at pedalboards, but I give the edge to this one for two reasons. One, I see it just a touch more often, no doubt because of the aforementioned Smashing Pumpkins influence. Two, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a dozen Green Russian take-offs, so I thought I’d highlight the OP-AMP for a change.
This is a monster crunch box with the three expected knobs, though Sustain here is called Distortion. It also features the 1978-era Tone Bypass switch that allows you to remove the tone stack from the circuit and run it wide open, which is as raw as it sounds. Combine that with the small form factor and true bypass and you have a thoroughly modern, thoroughly excellent take on a fairly rare version.
In addition to the Tall Font Russian and Eye See Pi, Wren and Cuff also make a Triangle take called Try Pie 70, a Civil War take called Box of War, and a Ram’s Head take called The Caprid.
Big Muff type: 1976 IC OP-AMP
Buy the Wren and Cuff Eye See Pi here.
5. Way Huge Russian Pickle
Sensing an opportunity to get in on the action, Way Huge/Jim Dunlop swiveled on the pivot of their well-established Swollen Pickle (now itself re-issued; we included it on our fuzz post) to present their take on the Green Russian at the beginning of this year.
The controls are — you guessed it — Volume, Tone, and Distortion. It notably lacks one of the major benefits of modern Muff variants in that it is, ahem, kind of huge and will eat up some pedalboard space. Way Huge has a whole thing going on, so I guess they’re not about to deviate from their form factor just because everyone is moving toward mini pedals. What it doesn’t lack is heaviness tone-wise. It’s a solid version and is just a hair cheaper than some of the pedals cork-sniffers like me might otherwise go for.
Big Muff type: Green Russian
Buy the Way Huge Russian Pickle here.
6. Stomp Under Foot Red Menace
Stomp Under Foot is another boutique Muff builder, but unlike Wren and Cuff, they don’t spend as much time building careful recreations as they do studying Muff as a phenomenon and putting the elements together in new ways. More than one of their pedals are modified versions of old Muff circuits and this one is among the more interesting.
The Red Menace uses NOS parts to combine the Green Russian circuit with the Triangle circuit, which gives you a tweakable range that can capture the best (and worst!) of both. Controls on this include Level, Gain, Mids, and Tone. There are some fizzy, sputtery noises in this box, but also plenty of crunch. Buy this if you either can’t decide or don’t want to be locked into exact part-for-part recreations.
If you do want to be locked into part-for-part recreations, SUF can oblige with their Civil War, Green Russian, Pumpkin Pi, Ram’s Head, and more.
Big Muff type: Modified combination of Green Russian and Triangle
Buy the Stomp Under Foot Red Menace here.
7. Skreddy Rust Rod Old School Fuzz
It has been my experience that nary a guitar forum nor comment section can discuss fuzz without someone throwing out the name Skreddy. They, too, have a few Muffs in their offerings, including this version of a 1974 Ram’s Head.
Skreddy bills this as being huge and thick, and the video below illustrates just how close it gets to a Gilmour sound. The video also notes that this is Trianglish, so a little knob twisting will give you your lead sound and your rhythm sound easily. It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing of the boutique Muffs, but frankly, who cares. (Though for some reason, the Japan-only Animals Pedal version gets a neat, if baffling, artistic flourish. But I digress.) In some ways, this pedal is anti-modern, so expect warmth and overdrive-like push.
Big Muff type: Ram’s Head
Price: $149 (or $169, depending on seller)
Buy the Skreddy Rust Rod Old School Fuzz here.
8. ThorpyFX Fallout Cloud
This behemoth unit was originally called the Muffroom Cloud until the legal associates of Mr. Matthews sent along a mean letter. (Note that JHS found a loophole in naming theirs; not the first time Josh Smith got away with theft, eh? Eh? Fine, let’s move on.) It’s so good that it posed as the Goliath to EHX’s own David in the below Anderton’s shootout. Also, TPS’s Dan really likes it, so that must count for something.
In addition to the expected Sustain and Volume knobs, the tone controls are split into Treble and Bass on this pedal. The two tone knobs are voiced so that virtually everywhere along the range renders a very usable sound, while the sweep of the Sustain is very wide, as with the EQD Hoof above. This is an especially high-fidelity version using carefully selected components pieced together by a former British army major who was an explosives specialist. All those high-end parts result in a hefty price tag, but it could be worth it to you if none of the others have worked thus far.
Big Muff type: 1971 Triangle
Buy the ThorpyFX Fallout Cloud here.
9. Mojo Hand FX Colossus
With controls similar to the Stomp Under Foot option above, this creation focuses on delivering one of the most tweakable versions of the later Muffs, combining aspects of the Civil War and the Black Russian. You get Tone, Gain, and Volume, of course, as well as Mids for allowing you to cut when necessary. As an accessory to that knob, there’s a three-way selector switch that alters the character of the low end. Center is the standard EQ, down adds in a bit more bass, and up will shake the glass out of your neighbor’s windows.
The artwork appears to have changed a few times including a special limited edition, so if you go in search of a used one, it may not line up with the image above. Aside from this, Mojo Hand also makes the Iron Bell, which isn’t focused on a particular Muff so much as it is working to capture the Gilmour sound. They also have the 1979 OP-AMP style and the BMP-2 Russian style.
Big Muff type: Civil War and Black Russian
Buy the Mojo Hand FX Colossus here.
10. Blackout Effectors Musket V2
Now on its second version, the Musket offers twice as many knobs as your average Muff. You’ll need all of them to control the five gain stages within, and in so doing you’ll be able to dial in a Muff sound from just about any era. It’s not as clear and instantly selectable as in the JHS version, but if you don’t mind putting in the time, the Musket will reward you.
Those controls include Pre, which sets the input volume as a clean boost, interacting with the Fuzz knob to control the amount of dirt and the Muff’s signature sustaining character. The Mids knob functions just as you would expect following its appearance on the other pedals on this list, going from scooped to mid-hump. Fuzz, Tone, and Volume are the expected three knobs, but Focus is a low-end roll off that tailors the signal at the Pre boost stage. With it, you can get into Rat-style distortion territory.
Aside from the convince of the JHS and the nice details of the EQD, this might come closest to what we think of when we picture modern boutique pedals. By expanding the knob set, you get an absurd level of control over each parameter that alleviates the limitations of pedals from a bygone era. That being said, the lack of focus on a particular Muff variant could very well result in a modern distortion sound and lose sight of the Muff altogether. We trust you to use your ears to develop a Muff tone that is uniquely suited to your rig and playing.
Big Muff type: …all of them?
Buy the Blackout Effectors Musket here.
We give an honorable mention here to the Devi Ever Hyperion, which is sometimes called a “Big Muff Killer”. You could also try their Mig Buff or the Soda Meiser for other options that hover around the same territory.
Assuming you’ve already got a guitar, remember that a Muff works great with a bass. If you’re in the market for one of those, check out our best basses under $500 post here.