Saturday, October 9, 2010

1993/94 - Sovtek Big Muff Pi

Long long ago in a land far far away (660km if you want this definition of far.) I learned to play guitar.
Most of what I knew of FX was what my friends had or was built into school amps.
The guitar store in town had a couple of cheap Arion pedals, but they were just overdrive and distortions.
I think I owned the overdrive for a while, but it was pretty tame so I just relied on the sound of whatever amp I was using at the time.

I was about 14 or 15 when I got into the Smashing Pumpkins (Siamese Dream) and was an avid reader of guitar magazines. In one, I think it was Guitar Player, there was an interview with Billy Corgan where he talked about an EBow(what they hell was an ebow?) and his distortion sound.

The distortion was the Big Muff. What a funny name I thought. I was interested right away. I had to have one. The only problem is that they'd been out of production for years and weren't easy to find. (Remember this was pre-internet and no ebay). Around this time I'd become a regular at a music shop in the larger neighboring city.
When I had nothing better to do I'd just hang out there and more than likely was considered a bit of a pest. In their front counter they had these big army green boxes that looked like they belonged in a cold war bomb shelter. These boxes turned out to be the first incarnation of the rebirth of the Electro Harmonix line (I had no idea at the time). They shipped in wood containers labeled in Cyrillic letters and just oozed cool.

If I remember correctly I purchased the Big Muff at the same time as I bought the JCM800. It took some months to pay off but when I got it home, I played all the time. This was my main distortion for years. Big and fat and dirty. It was all I knew of distortion for a very long time. And it was awesome!

I ended up parting ways with this pedal at the same time as my Classic 50. It was lost to me for all intents and purposes. But.... around 2005 I got it back! My friend that I'd sold them to when I left town, just gave this and the Small Stone phaser back to me.

At the time I was playing synth and a bit of guitar in a band and the return came when I was broke and in need of some FX. Unfortunately the reunion wasn't all that happy. They were a bit broken. As a teenager I thought it was indestructible. This pedal took an absolute battering between shows and rehearsals. We'd all thought we were punk rock and beat the stuffing out of our gear, I was probably the worst though. I managed to shatter the plastic input on the board. This was something I'd forgotten about until the return. Upon opening it up to fix the battery lead, I re-discovered some of my earliest solder work. It wasn't pretty! It was functional though and I vaguely recall fixing it with whatever the local Tandy had in stock, which was a chassis mount open stereo socket. I ended up re-repairing it with something closer to original spec and it works just fine.

Since getting it back I have struggled with the tone. It's a finnicky pedal in regard to the load that it needs to sound good. Humbuckers and high impedance pickups are a no-no. It just doesn't sound any good with it.
My only guitar that sounded ok with it was the Teisco. The Surfcaster and Les Paul just don't sound any good. So the Big Muff has lived in a drawer more often than it has on my pedal board. I pulled it out again the other day to play with my new amp and guitar. Guess what? It sounds great with the Mosrite and the Peavey Delta Blues!

The guitar has the right electrical characteristics and the amp can handle the low end hump!

So there's another pedal dusted off and ready to play

Now there's not much I recall about the purchase of the small stone, I suspect I bought it at the same time as the BMP, or at least so close together as makes no difference.

The Small Stone is pretty famous, makes a nice swoosh and I like it for the very slow LFO. It does have a bit of an issue with a volume drop when engaged. I modded it to stop this, but the mod changed the tonal characteristics, so one day I'll just change it back.

I've actually built one of each of these pedals for friends.

They were both tricky builds in a way, it took a while to get them working well.
The Small stone clone also had the "univibe" mod, nothing at all like the univibe, but allows the shifting of the phase degree by switching some capacitors. It was a bit quiet, so I added a small preamp booster to the input which overdrives the phaser circuit and creates a small stone phase tone with a twist.

I liked the sound quite a bit, and the last I heard, the guy I built it for was pretty happy with it too!


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