A mint-condition Mu-Tron III. Photo courtesy of LosAngelesGuitarShop.com
5. Bootsy Collins' Musitronics Mu-Tron III
Designed by electronics whiz Mike Beigel, the Mu-Tron III debuted in 1972, but with its watery, wavy-sounding sweep, it really belonged in the psychedelic ’60s. Stevie Wonder used it on the Clavinet for his 1973 hit “Higher Ground,” catapulting it to prominence among gear freaks, including Bootsy Collins, who had just joined Parliament-Funkadelic and, at the ripe age of 21, was looking to redefine funk bass for a new generation. He took to the Mu-Tron like it had been custom-designed for him (years later, he adopted the “Boot-Tron” and “Zillatron” aliases in tribute), often using it in tandem with a Big Muff or a Morley Fuzz Wah for distortion.
“I’d Rather Be With You,” from his 1976 breakthrough, Stretchin’ Out in Bootsy’s Rubber Band, exemplifies Bootsy’s fascination with the dynamics of auto-wah and envelope effects, and how just a whiff of distortion could transform the bass into a lead instrument. Jimi Hendrix exerted a huge influence on Collins, and nowhere is this more dramatic than on the steamy bedroom classic “What’s a Telephone Bill?” (from 1978’s Ahh…the Name Is Bootsy, Baby!), which opens with a prolonged, light-fingered teasing of the Mu-Tron’s envelope filter and builds to a climactic solo drenched in distortion, wah, and Echoplex.