Browse through Stoner Rock social media or keep an eye on the stage floor at live shows and you’ll notice a trend: the EHX Big Muff, the famous pedal popular for its fuzz and distortion, is everywhere. And even if it’s not working by itself, it’s there working in conjunction with other pedals—as common as the Pro Co RAT and its various deviations. But why is the Big Muff so popular? And, more importantly to our discussion, why is the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff so popular in Stoner Rock?
To fully understand the answer to that question, we should travel more than 50 years into the past to take stock of the Big Muff’s history in Rock music—well before, say, JHS created its own Big Muff copycat inside the Muffuletta.
A Brief History of the Big Muff
To start, let’s recap a quick history of the Big Muff—something that isn’t well documented or even unanimously agreed upon by music journalists. What follows here, mind you, is a generally accepted history, though you may find exceptions in other corners of the internet.
The first version of this famous pedal was built by Mike Matthews, an electrical engineer and salesman who used to work for IBM. While working as a contractor for Guild, Matthews designed the Foxey Lady pedal—something that was largely inspired by Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones hit song, “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)”—as Matthews explained in this interview:
Soon after, in 1968, Matthews started Electro-Harmonix, and he quickly got to work revisiting the Foxey Lady design. By 1969, he and collaborator Bob Myer had the first Big Muff: Big Muff Pi V1, which was nicknamed The Triangle Big Muff.
Over the years, EHX continued to build upon the Big Muff design, gradually using different components through different manufacturers. Each alteration delivered a slightly different sound, creating wild inconsistencies from one version to the next—and sometimes between pedals of the same version.
Eventually, EHX’s financial struggles in the 1980s forced Matthews to move operations overseas to Russia, where he started New Sensor Corp. and Sovtek to begin manufacturing guitar amp tubes and pedal reissues—reissues that sounded slightly different from their original namesakes. It was at this time that many of the Big Muffs began featuring darker tones, ultimately creating pedals that would be better suited for heavier Stoner Rock acts and even Doom Metal bands.
More than 50 years after its initial release (and numerous reconfigurations), the Big Muff remains as popular as ever among mainstream musicians and deep underground Rock acts. But all of that doesn’t quite explain why it’s so popular in underground music.
So, why is the Big Muff Pedal Popular in Stoner Rock?
The Big Muff pedal is popular in Stoner Rock for a couple of different reasons.
The first is its sound. With its deep low ends, excellent gain, and nuanced control, the Big Muff is an excellent choice when chasing a combination of fuzz, distortion, and sustain. That has made the Big Muff a popular starting point among manufacturing copycats, and it’s a model that many other similar pedals are based on. As we mentioned above, even Doom and Sludge guitarists often used the Big Muff (usually the Russian version) as a starting point when building the rest of the band’s signature sound.
On a similar level, the Big Muff is also popular because of its retro sound. Although Stoner Rock today as we know it took until the ‘90s to really gain traction, many bands are directly influenced by the guitar heroes of the ‘60s and ‘70s—the very guitarists who helped to popularize the Big Muff. Artists like Carlos Santana, John Lennon, John Fogerty, and David Gilmore have all used a version of the Big Muff at some point in their illustrious careers. Using a Big Muff in Stoner Rock helps modern-day artists capture some of those rougher lo-fi tones of decades past.
Today, one of Stoner Rock and Doom’s biggest guitarists—Sleep and High on Fire’s Matt Pike—uses a Big Muff to capture his primary tones with Sleep. Clutch’s lead guitarist—the inimitable Tim Sult—has dabbled with the Big Muff on a few different Clutch albums. And that distinctive sound from The Truckfighters’ Mr. Dango? That started off with a Russian Big Muff.
Learning More About the EHX Big Muff
If you want to learn more about the Big Muff or how to better use it in your pedal lineup, you’re in luck: The internet is packed with articles and forums discussing those very topics. Even better, though, is this simple fact: The Big Muff is so common, most guitarists in the Stoner Rock space have used the pedal at one point or another, so simply asking around could be more than enough effort to get you all of the information you need!