Big Muff Shootout

Nov 19 2021
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black mass electronics the first herald
MOSFET/LED hybrid clipping
boost into fuzz

I love Big Muffs. Whenever I hear a band with a fat or sustaining guitar tone that I like, it's very likely that the guitarist is using some kind of Big Muff.

I've been on a quest to find the perfect variation of this classic fuzz/distortion circuit. These are the pedals I've found so far.

Electro Harmonix Big Muff PI USA

There is a reason why EHX still sells a metric shit-ton of these. They're affordable, well-built and deliver the classic sound.

I like the giant box, especially for live purposes for its ruggedness. I used to play guitar and sing lead vocals, and it's nice to have a big box to stomp on for choruses when you're busy doing other stuff on stage.

Although pedal companies come out with great variants of this circuit, the original is still a worthy contender.

There is really only one setting depending on your rig, and it sounds a bit muffled with low gain settings. But who buys a Big Muff for low gain sounds anyways?

JPTR FX Warlow

The Warlow nails those Smashing Pumpkins sounds. From all variants, this seems to have to most scooped sound. There is a very fat low end and a lot of high sizzle.

It also seems to have the most volume output on tap. The Warlow was designed to be run at full gain and it probably sounds best hitting the front of an amp hard.

The low gain setting is still usable and to my ears better than the standard Big Muff from EHX.

The knob layout is the same as the EHX Big Muff and I also think you'll find that one setting that makes sense for your rig. For the "weird" setting, I just wanted to show off how drastic the range of the tone knob is. I set it just a bit higher than the "sweet spot", and there is a huge difference in frequencies.

MAE Black Math

This is currently the one that makes the most sense on my board. It has the perfect mixture of unique and useful extra settings (boost knob and blow-out switch), but still simple enough to find an excellent sound very quickly.

Compared to the original, it's less boomy, has more clarity in the higher frequencies and less of a mid scoop. It stands out better in a mix but has enough mid scoop to be recognized as a Big Muff.

Also, the Black Math shines at low gain settings. Apparantly, there is a treble bleed on the gain knob that makes it sound so fantastic with less oomph. I definitely didn't buy it for that, but it sure is a useful tool to have on hand for recording sessions.

The blow-out switch is not something I would use every day, but a fun option for experimental sounds and over-the-top lead lines.

TL Pedals Stinger Fuzz

TL Pedals is a lesser known boutique brand from Canada but not with lesser sound. The Stinger Fuzz, which is based on a Rams Head Big Muff (think Dinosaur Jr.), is just a ripping distortion machine.

This is another great example of a tastefully tuned circuit with useful options (mid control). Like the Black Math, the Stinger Fuzz seems to be easier to fit into a busy mix, especially with the mid control.

The low gain setting is not as brilliant as the one from Black Math, but still much more useful that the original at similar gain levels.

The "weird" setting shows how much mids are on tap here and what a difference the mids make to how you perceive the sound. This might not sound super appealing on its own – compared to the massive-feeling scooped sound of standard Big Muffs – but can sound great in a mix with bass and other guitars.

Tone ElectroniX Animalizzer

The Animalizzer has a special place in my heart. It's very cleverly designed and has literally all the options. There are different clipping options for both clipping stages, a pre-gain knob similar to the boost on the Black Math and a 3-band EQ (so separate mid-control like the Stinger Fuzz AND bass and treble).

If you like fuzz, then for sure there is a sound in this pedal that you will love.

I do find myself always coming back to settings like the "weird" one for the Animalizzer. By diming the gain knobs and having the second clipping on "open", you get a brutal velcro fuzz.

If you're not sure what kind of fuzz will fit in your rig, just get the Animalizzer. It's the most versatile fuzz pedal I've tried so far.

Black Mass Electronics The First Herald

What a great twist on the circuit. It's got an independent boost circuit, cool clipping options and a very low noise floor.

The First Herald stands out with its "weird" setting. However, to my ears it's one of the best allrounder Big Muffs. Very versatile and very easy to record with.

Signal Chain

  • Epiphone SG Special with Lollar Firebird pickups (bridge pickup)
  • Pedal in the shootout
  • Strymon Iridium (Chime)
  • Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
  • Garageband

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