The sound of the Big Muff Pi distortion pedal is strewn conspicuously through the last forty years of rock and roll, starting with its first use in a mainstream hit by The Carpenters in 1972's "Goodbye to Love." Its distinctive crunch can be recognized on the guitar of legends including Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, John Fogerty with Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dinosaur Jr's J Mascis, Billy Corgan in The Smashing Pumpkins, all the way through to today with Jack White's continuing use of the pedal in his effects rig.
The Big Muff Pi was first put out by Electro-Harmonix in 1969. The technological breakthrough of the pedal was the use of a Silicon transistor, which allowed it to overcome many of the limitations of earlier fuzz boxes that used the antiquated Germanium transistor, which is highly sensitive to temperature changes. The Big Muff is capable of tremendous gain and sustain, and can be placed anywhere in the signal chain. In 1969, these were novel characteristics in an effects pedal and led to its immense popularity and spread. Part of the distinctive Big Muff sound is its ability to amplify and distort low-frequency signals in a sonically pleasing way, leading to a huge, full-bodied sound.
Since its inception, the Big Muff Pi has gone through a number of variations and reissues. There are changes in tone between various eras of the Big Muff - these can be credited to small alterations in available circuit chips and electrical components. To the casual listener, these changes in tone may be nearly impossible to discern, but there is a dedicated community of Big Muff Pi enthusiasts capable of distinguishing between, say, the 1976 "Red and Black" Big Muff and the 1990 "Red Army Overdrive" Russian model.
The Big Muff Pi is still manufactured by Electro-Harmonix and new models are available for purchase, although there are some enthusiasts who prefer to hunt down the vintage originals. The classic pedal features three knobs - volume, tone, and sustain - as well as a stomp-switch. Electro-Harmonix now produces many variations on the original Big Muff, including the pint-sized Nano and a version known as the Germanium 4 Big Muff Pi Fuzz Pedal. With 8 knobs (including control of bias and volts) and separate stomp switches for overdrive and distortion, this single pedal is capable of producing a customized sound that would normally demand a larger rig.
To see some of these pedals in action, check out this shootout video (and for those curious, you can dig into the beautiful Gibson SG Les Paul Custom guitar used in the video here, and the Jaguar Junior amp here).
Approximate price: $125.00 from Reverb
The Big Muff Pi is an iconic pedal prized for its history and its continuing relevance to the sound of the electric guitar. Beloved originally by Hendrix and Santana, this pedal's popularity among young and ambitious guitarists continues unabated to this day.