When it comes to producing some of the most awe-inspiring bass-fuzz tones known to man, it's hard to top those from a good instrument, a thundering amp with a lot of headroom, and a growling Electro-Harmonix Big Muff thrown in front of it. However awesome this recipe sounds, it’s often taboo in band settings. That’s because if you don’t do it right, it can completely cloud a lot of the frequencies essential for the bass to be heard properly in a mix.
Electro-Harmonix heeded the call for a solution when they released the original Bass Big Muff Pi. It addressed the issues associated with using a bass through a Big Muff, but many bassists found themselves wanting an even more feature-laden model. After paying close attention to concerns and requests—both those made directly to the company and in online forums—Electro-Harmonix recently introduced the Deluxe Bass Big Muff Pi. It brings an expanded set of tone-shaping controls and additional connections that provide a slew of new options for both studio and stage use.
Beyond the Bass-ics
The Deluxe Bass Big Muff Pi starts with the exact same analog circuit as the Bass Big Muff Pi—that is, its voicing is inspired by the tank-green Sovtek Big Muff Pi and USA Big Muff Pi pedals. Likewise, the Deluxe has the classic Big Muff layout of volume, tone, and sustain controls, along with true-bypass switching and the choice of battery or power-adapter operation.
The blend control allows you to precisely set how much dry signal you want mixed in with the distorted tone. (In contrast, the original Bass Big Muff had a 3-way switch for normal Big Muff tones, a 50/50 wet-dry blend, or a Muff-with-bass-boost mode.) There’s also a noise gate for eliminating hum from higher fuzz settings, and a -10 dB pad switch to help the pedal play nicer with active pickups.
While all of these new features are welcome additions, the real treat is the footswitchable crossover, which employs variable high- and low-pass filters to really tighten up the feel and tone. The high-pass filter works only on the distortion circuit, while the low-pass filter works its magic on the dry signal. This makes the Deluxe Bass Big Muff Pi not only a very useful fuzz pedal, but also a highly functional tone-shaper for clean signals. And because the crossover circuit can have such an incredibly dramatic effect on the tone, the brilliant decision to make it footswitchable effectively makes the Deluxe a 2-channel pedal.
Considering how flexible these new features render the Muff formula, it makes perfect sense that EHX went to the next logical level and included an XLR direct out for sending a low-noise signal effected signal to a mixing console. In addition to the standard 1/4" output, there’s also a 1/4" buffered output for sending a dry, unaffected signal to a separate effects chain or amp.
A Future Classic is Born
After strapping on an American Fender Jazz bass, I set the blend and sustain controls to about halfway and played blues-rock-inspired lines through the Deluxe Bass Big Muff and into a Verellen Meat Smoke head driving an Ampeg Isovent cabinet. The pedal generated a nice, thick low end with a warm, snarling grind. The fuzz had more of an overdrive quality when I kept the sustain control below 1 o'clock, and it responded beautifully to harder picking.
Turning up the gain induced a hairier response without robbing the low end—even at its highest settings. Hard-rock bassists covet the green Sovtek Big Muff because its liquid fuzz still manages to hold extreme lows together. In contrast, the fuzz produced by the new Deluxe doesn't really have the same squishy feel and saturation—it's much more muscular and has a quicker attack, which makes it a better choice for keeping the bass audible in a band setting. That said, I wouldn’t go as far as saying the Deluxe Bass Big Muff Pi is necessarily better or worse—it's just a different animal with different characteristics. But it definitely has more than enough grit and attitude for the heaviest of heavy music.
The gate control is exceptionally good at keeping background noise at bay. Most pedals in this price range that have built-in gates have a tendency to squelch the gain, as well as shave the low end and cause sustained notes to sputter and die out. But after maxing the sustain and blend knobs for a 100-percent wet signal, I only had to dial the gate knob to about 11 o'clock before the hiss completely disappeared. The fuzz sustained beautifully, too, yielding stoner-rock and raucous-metal riffs that kept their super-thick tone without losing the earth-shaking lows. The gate also cut out the extreme feedback and white noise generated when I pushed the pedal to its limits by throwing a maxed-out Boss DS-1 in front of it. Working the Deluxe’s wide-ranging tone control in this scenario gave me a very cool, synth-like gated fuzz that was incredibly easy to manage.
But the pedal’s real potential was unlocked when I switched on the crossover circuit, which let me shape the fuzz's highs in a much more dramatic fashion than the tone control could. The high-pass filter had a fairly subtle—though still noticeable—effect between 7 o'clock and 1 o'clock, bringing more presence to the high end and focus on the upper mids for funk-oriented playing. Beyond 2 o'clock, it sounded like I had a notched bass wah in line with the pedal—though it also started to overpower the lows somewhat. Reducing the low-pass knob to allow more subs to pass through, while also reducing the blend control for more dry signal, helped out a lot. But since the low-pass filter only affects the dry signal, much of the pedal's roaring fuzz was lost. It took some time to find the sweet spot for my rig, but once I did, the crossover was amazingly effective at calling up a variety of tones—from slightly driven bluesy grind to warm and scrappy punk bite or ridiculously in-your-face fuzz that pushed my speaker cab to its limits.
Electro-Harmonix performed a welcome and long-overdue service when they brought the Big Muff's cherished fuzz to bassists. And now the Deluxe Bass Big Muff Pi—though it’s a bit more expensive—builds on the winning formula with versatility and features that make it a better value than its smaller brother. One could even argue that the crossover circuit alone is worth the additional cash. Factor in the DI output, variable-blend control, and the crossover's brilliantly employed footswitching, and it really feels like a no-brainer. The amount of gain on tap is noticeably less than the classic Russian Big Muff that ruled the ’80s and ’90s, but when you consider its great tone, endless tweakability, and stage-ready connection options, this pedal is the Big Muff many bassists have been waiting for.