THE OP-AMP BIG MUFF π - VERSION 4
Circa 1978 (Pots typically date as early as 1976 and as late as 1978)
Designer: Howard Davis
Circuit Board Numbers: EH3003, EH3003B, EH1322
True Bypass: No
Power: 9V battery or AC power jack. Jack is 1/8" (3.5mm) plug positive tip. This is reverse polarity of typical pedals so use an E-H power supply or use a converter adaptor like the 1 Spot C35 3.5mm Converter
Packaging: White corrugated cardboard box with red printing
Around 1978 Mike Matthew's Electro-Harmonix company was doing very well and had offices in Tokyo, London, and Toronto, in addition to the New York office. The 50,000 square foot Manhattan factory was generating five million in annual sales. The traditional four transistor Big Muff circuit was radically changed at this time to a new circuit that used op-amp chips and one less gain stage. Op-amps are operational amplifiers, also known as ICs (integrated circuits or chips). I am including this as a legit Big Muff, even though it was not built on the classic Muff four-stage tone circuit. It was intended to sound like a Big Muff, and was released in the same box as Version 3, so I feel it must be included as a true Muff version. Plus, I, and many others like them. It has a huge, crushing Muff sound, though not quite the same as the organic transistor tone. Supposedly only a few thousand of this rare version were made.
GRAPHICS - The box, knobs, and graphics were the same as the second edition Version 3 BIG MUFF, and these are often confused with the V3. The only way to tell is to look at the circuit board for the two distinct op-amp chips.
CONTROLS - Version 4 had the same control knobs and on/off switch as version 3. One major change to note was the was the positioning of the potentiometers on the circuit board. They were finally changed so that each wrapped around the top edge of the circuit board, allowing each knob to start at zero in the same position! All previous Muffs had each pot mounted in a different position from the others. Some early V4 Muffs may have been made with the old pot layout.
CIRCUIT - The V4 circuit was about half the size of the V2/V3 transistor circuit. Early versions of the op-amp circuit board were marked with the same "3003" number used on the V2/V3 versions, but later production changed to "EH-3003B", and then "EH-1322". I have also seen one op-amp "EH 3003B" with a slightly different circuit board layout than the standard 3003B. Howard Davis, Manager of Analog Circuit Design for E-H from 1976-1981, was the circuit designer for this version. Howard was responsible for over a dozen E-H pedal circuit designs, as well as most the the ”deluxe“ Electro-Harmonix models that appeared in the late 1970s to early 1980s, including the superb op-amp Deluxe Big Muff, Deluxe Memory Man, and Deluxe Electric Mistress. The op-amp Big Muff was assigned to Howard to fill a desire for a simpler, less costly product that would do all that the transistor version does. However, due to the differing distortion characteristics of op-amps it turned out to have a somewhat "grungier" sound than the transistor design, an effect preferred by some musicians. When I asked Howard about how the op-amp version originated and how he got involved in the redesign, he had this to say:
"As chief engineer for Electro-Harmonix, basically my direction ( from E-H owner Mike Matthews) was to design a Big Muff using op-amps. He often would just tell me to "think about" something, and I took it from there. The transistor version is somewhat sweeter sounding (than the IC version). Grunge and punk-style players though often want something with more edge or coarseness, more crunch, and the IC Big Muff is just what they want. It can give you the Mountain sound - the guitar rough around the edges, but with the rest of the band playing, melodic overall."
The circuit was made with one of the popular 741 op-amps and one RC4558 dual op-amp. Howard's original design schematic, dated 4/6/1978, included the tone bypass switch, seen on the V5 Big Muff. He does not recall ever designing a non bypass version, but sometimes changes were made by E-H to his designs by others at E-H that he was not made aware of, which may explain this V4 Big Muff does not include the tone bypass switch. It was added later for the V5. Howard is still involved with his E-H creations, doing custom mods and repairs to vintage Big Muffs, as well as his other E-H pedals.
There was NO LED light on this version. Power was from a 9V battery or an AC power adaptor jack. The top had to be removed to change the battery. These had four rubber feet and shipped in a corrugated cardboard box. Most of the pots are dated 1977, though these were all likely made in 1978.
CLONES OR SIMILAR PEDALS - Euthymia ICBM, Stomp Under Foot Op-Amp Fuzz.
THE V4 SOUND - This is a great distortion pedal with a big sound and much of the same character of the transistor versions. I think the transistor versions are more organic and sound better for bluesy solos, but the op-amps are great for crushing grungier material and heavy distorted rhythm playing. This is likely the Muff circuit heard on most of Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream album, so that should tell you the potential you have with this version. It does not do fuzz quite the same as the transistor versions, and does not have the same character and organic randomness to the tone that transistors have. These were not regarded well by users at the time they came out due to the fact that the sound did not have the traditional Muff "fuzz" in the tone, but more crunch than the previous Muffs. Many Muff users do not even regard this as a true Big Muff since it was not a four stage transistor Muff circuit, though they are now much more appreciated for their sound and are probably the easiest vintage Muffs to find for a good price. Unlike the transistor versions, the tone is very consistent from unit to unit. This is the rarest op-amp Big Muff version.
BILLY CORGAN AND THE WALL OF MUFF SIAMESE DREAM TONE - Avery popular Big Muff user was Billy Corgan, who used the Muff to very good effect on Smashing Pumpkins' song Siva from the Gish album, and the entire Siamese Dream album, recorded in 1992-93. Many of us Big Muff users thought this had to be a Triangle Big Muff. Creative urban Muff legend has it that Billy used a black Sovtek Russian Big Muff with a "creamy dreamer" mod, though Billy has denied this, the first black Sovtek came out around 1998, and the creamy dreamer mod did not even exist until around 1996, all AFTER Siamese Dream was recorded. Billy has alwasy referred to his Big muffs as "vintage", which Russian Muffs were not, and he has also stated at least twice that this was a "stock" Big Muff. He revealed in late 2009 that he simply used a vintage Big Muff through a Marshall JCM 800 100 watt head loaded with KT88 China tubes. His photo of the actual Muff showing his exact settings indicate it is the V4 op-amp Big Muff. The graphics only match second edition V3 and V4 Muffs, but the tone and sustain knobs can only be positioned as shown on a stock V4 Muff, assuming the pots have not been replaced or modded prior to Billy buying it. For many of the solos Billy used the E-H made Micro Synth with the Muff. He also had an E-H Ring Modulator, MXR Phase 100, Fender Blender, and a fuzz pedal (Billy is not sure which).
Here is what Billy had to say about this Muff (pictured below) and the SD sound: "Almost all the heavy (Siamese Dream) tracks were recorded through this, solos included. Many songs would have as many as eight fuzz guitars going at once (rhythms were multi tracked, sometimes in different octaves). It was very difficult to record the tracks with this sound, but once it went right it was BLAMMO, a huge, huge sound. The settings you see in the picture are the exact settings - if you look close enough you can still see the pencil marks on the volume and tone. I had all sorts of theories of how to best use this pedal, including the idea that it only sounded its 'best' when used with a battery." "When we did Siamese Dream I developed a technique of plugging my Big Muff pedal into the low sensitivity input of a 100 watt Marshall JCM 800, with the master volume on full and the preamp volume on barely at all." "The sound of the combo of the Bat Strat ('57 Strat reissue with Lace Sensor pickups), the Big Muff, and the Soul head with Mars cabinet (Marshall JCM 800 100 head and cab) is still unmistakable..." "I would say that 98pct of all guitar parts on the first two albums were done thru this amp/speaker combo. In order to change the sound, the Stratocaster parts would be recorded through a shure 57 on the bottom right speaker, and the Les Paul parts would be recorded through a Sennheiser 421 on the top left speaker. This subtle difference between what speaker we would use created the sense of playing thru a different amp set-up even though obviously I wasn't." "Finally, the nasal, squeezed up lead tone that I use so often, as on 'pissant,' for example, I ripped off from Michael Schenker! I used an EH Micro-Synthesizer and some unknown fuzz pedal, plus an MXR Phase 100." "Funny story - I used to shop at this music store in San Francisco, and in the early '90s they were selling these (vintage Big Muff) pedals back then for about 40 bucks because nobody wanted them. About a year after Siamese came out, '94 I guess, I went to the same store to see if they still had any. The guy behind the counter knew me from before, and told me, 'yeah, i got a couple.' I said 'ok, how much?' '200 bucks' he said casually, which at that time was A LOT for a vintage pedal. '200 bucks!!!! Why are they so much? Are they rare or unusual?' He said, 'no, but ever since you talked about using them we've sold about 75 vintage muffs. Sorry man, they're all looking for your sound!'
This is Billy's actual big muff with the settings he used.