One of the staples of hard rock effects has always been the overdrive. Seems like just about every hard rock genre uses a bit of distortion – or in the case of punk and metal, A LOT! Even before the concept was properly exploited for use in the studio or on stage, musicians had found creative ways to replicate the sound by essentially overloading the signal that the amp was able to properly handle, giving them that familiar distorted sound that now comes standard on several modern amps. Overdrive through pedals or through a built-in amp effect pretty much works exactly the same, although in a much more refined and controlled sort of way, allowing you to achieve distorted tones of unlimited possibilities that simply weren’t available to rock’s pioneers. With that said, one of today’s most popular overdrive pedals used by the professional and amateurs alike is the one and only Electro Harmonix Classic Big Muff Pi pedal. Everyone from Jack White to David Gilmour have this in their effects repertoire and for good reason as this pedal not only gives you plenty of bang for your buck, but will help you recreate some of the most well known tones in rock history. Let’s get right into it!
Like most single effects pedals, this one is pretty straight forward as far as ease of use goes. You have your volume, sustain and tone knobs, along with the obvious input/output and stomper switch to turn the effect on and off. The pedal I purchased came with a manual although I have heard several instances of these being sold without one, which honestly doesn’t matter – there’s no rocket science going on in here. Volume is exactly that, the volume of the signal exactly the same way it works on your amp. It’s nice to have the option of a volume knob on the pedal but there is really not much reason to not have it cranked all the way up while you’re using the thing unless you don’t want to walk all the way over to your amp. Anyways, the other two knobs are where the true controls come in. The sustain knob pretty much works like the gain dial does on an amp, meaning for all intents and purposes just think of it as having the option to go to 20 gain on an amplifier. The tone knob will be your best friend as this is where most of the variety comes in. Tone allows you to choose between a deep bassy sound when set completely down or a much thicker trebly sound with plenty of presence when switched all the way to the right. A combination of both tone and sustain will be the key to getting those signature tones.
As far as the build goes, the Big Muff is pretty light for its size but still feels strong enough to take a modest beating. If you use the pedal as intended and not go literally stomping on the thing, it should last you a very long time. The Big Muff can be powered by either your standard pedal AC adapter (not included) or a 9 volt battery, much the same as it is with most pedals, so if you already have either of the two lying around, you’ll have no problem getting this thing going asap. When used with a battery, you will get modest mileage out of one but just the same as it is with every other battery/AC powered pedal, either make sure you have always have a spare 9 volt or better yet, just spring for the optional AC adapter if you don’t already have one lying around and give yourself one less thing to worry about.
This is where things really get going. As far as pedals go, this one will impress you at how little to no signal noise this will give you when connected. Those familiar with effects pedals will surely note how they can sometimes have a consistent hum even when just holding the strings down, but not this one, all thanks to the built-in bypass system that ensures that when the effect is not in use, the signal from the guitar, through the pedal and to the amp will be as clean as a direct input to the amplifier. All in all, pretty much clean when not in use – always a good thing. The sustain knob will give you a good amount of leverage as far as how much distortion and gain you’re going to want for your sound, turn it low for a light fuzz or crank it to the right for a thick crunch, but like I said above, it’s the tone knob you will be paying attention to mainly. Turn the tone knob to the very left and you will get a very thin but bass heavy, dry sound. Give it enough sustain and it will sound much like “Dead Leaves in the Dirty Ground” by the White Stripes, deep but thin. It sounds very much like the amp is being played in another room, but that’s not to say it’s a bad thing at all as several musicians have used the same tone with great success. Turn the tone knob all the way up and you will get a very thick treble heavy sound with a lot of presence, much like many Jimi Hendrix songs, although the bass will not be as prominent. Mess around with a good balance of the two and give it enough crunch as you will get the same distorted effect that many ‘90s bands tended to use, such as the Smashing Pumpkins (they had two Big Muffs in their effects repertoire). All in all, the tones created by the pedal in multiple combinations are superb for most hard rock genres that work well with distortion. Mess around a bit with the balance and you will be surprised at how many times you’ll pause and think about how the tone sounds pretty much exactly to that of specific songs.
For less than $100, you can’t ask for a better distortion pedal. You get all of the great tones that distortion centric rock and roll is known for all in an easy to use and very reliable package. There are other similar pedals, even variations on the Big Muff Classic, such as the Little Big Muff and the Double Big Muff, and although they are great choices that will definitely get the job done, all in all, the classic is by far the most used and well-known. So, if you’re in the market for a great overdrive pedal that can give you that familiar and sought after tone, look no further than the Electro Harmonix Classic Big Muff Pi distortion pedal. You definitely will not regret your investment.