Do It Yourself

Raiders of the Lost Fuzz: Build your Own Mystery ‘70s Muff

  • By Nicholas Kula @tonereport
  • February 01, 2016
  • 13 Comments

Since its inception, the Big Muff has undergone almost too many iterations and revisions to count. However, each “era” of Muff is denoted by certain unofficial terms. The earliest versions are now known as “triangle Muffs” because of the triangular placement of the knobs. The "ram’s head" (regular and violet) versions followed, named so because they contained the logo of Electro-Harmonix—a "ram’s head"—in the bottom right corner. Soon, op-amp, Tone Bypass, (Russian) Civil War and two other different-colored Russian versions followed. Throughout rock history, each Muff variant has a group of famous rockers that swear by it. The triangle version is closely associated with early fuzz adopters such as Yes and the Motels, as well as Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine. David Gilmour is the prince of the ram’s head and Civil War versions, and one can’t traverse many gear forums without hearing of Dan Auerbach’s love of the green Russian Muff.

Now imagine, if you will, a new Muff type; one built with vintage components in mind, lost in the ether of the “mainstream” Muff epoch. Imagine an undiscovered Muff circuit from the mid-‘70s, one that exists only in an ink-and-paper format, and in no other physical realm. Kit Rae over at the Big Muff page has such an artifact—an authentic Big Muff schematic dated October 15, 1975 with a set of values never before seen in any Muff before or after it. Whose signature sound might this have been, had it been released? Well, my fortunate friend, you’re going to build it. It may very well be your signature sound, with you, the reader, as the foundation of its imminent legacy.

Before starting, it begs noting that I was perusing the DIY forums and I came across an intriguing post: A user had gotten access to a vintage Muff (FS36999 transistors) and was able to remove and measure the devices out of circuit. The results were astounding: The transistors all measured between 160 and 200 hFe—noteworthy because most modern Muff clones (including the current Electro-Harmonix release) use 2n5088 or 2n5089 transistors, which boast 300 hFe at the absolute minimum. Clearly, this is a significant discovery, and a rule I will recommend when building this pedal. Obviously, any NPN transistor of higher gain will work (and one may certainly like others better) but they will not be “vintage-spec.”

And now, the disclaimer:

Disclaimer: Neither I, nor Tone Report Weekly bears any responsibility for any kind of personal or property damage that may occur as a result of the instructions provided herein. Legal mumbo-jumbo aside, we ask that readers be familiar with a soldering iron and its accompanying safety procedures before trying anything listed here. Furthermore, if you fire the pedal up and it does not work, it will need troubleshooting. Assuming the components are not damaged, the pedal will work. I built this very unit according to these instructions and it fired up, first shot, so I know the instructions are correct.

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13 Comments

  1. Josh

    Regarding the Build Your Own Mystery Muff article, the instructions mention that the author used 2n3058 transistors, but the photos show RCA 2n3053 transistors.
    I believe that 2n3058s are PNP transistors anyway, while the circuit calls for NPN transistors.
    Just thought you might want to double check it!

  2. John Ryan

    Hey, Nick… I’m going to build this next, but I have a big problem regarding your Colorsound DIY! THere’s no switch diagram, so I don’t even know where to wire the output and input wires to the switch (this is my first build), and to make it more confusing, the way the switch is oriented in the photo is the opposite of how you describe where the resistor goes. I have this pedal all put together, I just need to know how to wire the switch, the last photo doesn’t even show where the last wires go… please help! Can you send me wiring diagram for the switch. Thanks.

  3. GuitarJam

    where is the schematic? all is I see is the vero board layout

  4. Robert Evans

    Nick, please show the solder side of the circuit boards in your build instructions.
    I’d like to see how they should look.
    It would really help.
    Thanks, man..

  5. JohnnyC

    i built this out of curiosity using the provided layout and whilst it works its lacking some balls.

    on closer inspection of the vero layout, there is an error in the very last 1uf coupling capacitor (where it connects to volume 3 and to the last recovery stage transistor)

    there needs to be an extra cut and a wire to connect the coupling cacitor to the correct pin of the transistor….the layout shows it connected to the base, where it should be connected to the collector.

    making the necessary changes…and this thing now sounds…HUGE!!!

  6. Nathan Butcher

    Thanks JohnnyC for catching this!!
    I was just finishing this up tonight, ready to put in the last couple grounds before testing when I noticed his post. I immediately stopped to check the original schematic which is found on the Big Muff Page by Kit Rae. He is absolutely correct- the volume 3 connection should go thru the 1uF into the bottom leg of Q4 (at D,E) NOT into the center leg like the layout. The answer should be to cut the connection between the 1uF and the center leg, and run a jumper wire around to the other side of the bottom leg around (D,C) I think. That should bring it in line with the schematic. Again, Thanks for the catch! I will verify when I get it running.
    On a side note- it would be helpful if the third page actually had the correct instructions NOT the same instructions from page two! Or if the last few steps were actually shown on the page. Otherwise, thanks for the info and the instructions for the board.

  7. Marius

    If i understood you correct, Nathan, it should be looking something like this? http://i.imgur.com/d4fX5DZ.png (Quick Paint job)

    I want to build this thing and to make sure i get the most out of it.

  8. Nathan Butcher

    Marius-
    As far as i can tell what you have drawn is correct per the original schematics. (which can be found at http://www.bigmuffpage.com/Big_Muff_Pi_versions_schematics_part2.html)
    For that matter all the Big Muff schemos show the output coupling cap (in this case 1uF) connecting to the collector, or leg 3, of the transistor Q4 (which in the actual schemos is Q1 since they are labeled backward.) I changed mine just how you changed your in the picture.
    Unfortunately, I cannot swear to the fact that the change works yet (although JohnnyC seems to be saying it is verified) because I haven’t gotten mine to work. Just finished everything this moment and although all the knobs functions seem to work, they modify nothing but a screeching buzz with no original signal. I have audible ground from the guitar but nothing else. On top of that the switch isn’t working…argh! When it rains it pours!
    Tonight I will fix the switch and then begin tracing the signal chain to make sure my layout is correct. Wish my kid had broken my multi-meter I feel like I’m flying blind. Will let you know when I get this working

  9. Nathan Butcher

    Verified!
    Yes, the original layout is incorrect. You have to make a correction to the stripboard exactly like the picture in the post by Marius. After that correction it works GREAT! This thing sounds AMAZING!
    I used an audio probe to track down the problem on my build. HIGHLY recommended for those of you who are experiencing problems:
    (http://www.diystompboxes.com/pedals/debug.html)
    Tested the output at each transistor and found out my board was fine, it turned out to be the switch. Looks like Tayda sent me a faulty 3PDT stomp switch.
    I recommend using info from other Big Muff builds to figure out how to wire in a battery that is disconnected by the input jack as well as get more specific info about wiring the switch, LED, and other parts not covered in depth here. There are a lot other Big Muff builds online and each uses a very similar setup.
    This is the only build I have found that uses this particular schematic though, so it should produce a sound all its own.
    I would like to thank the author of this article for turning me on to this build. I am very happy with the results! THANKS!! Please please write more articles like this in the future!

  10. Chuck Ramsey

    Another, possibly easier method:

    1. Do not drill out the etch at (I,D) under the 39K resistor.
    2. Drill the etch instead at (M,D), next to the hole at (M,C)
    3. Install C2 with the leads at (L,B) and (L,D), much like C1 at (A,M) and (A,O).

    This eliminates the additional jumper wire.

  11. Steve

    Superb. Works a treat, with the mod suggested by ‘JohnnyC’ above, and detailed by Nathan. Thanks to you both. Video of my build here:
    https://youtu.be/I5P_rZm7TfE

  12. anneflami

    http://fjdhgksf76w444.com hi everyone