Tone Tips

Mean, Green Rock Machine: A Glance at Russian Muff Clones

  • By Jamie Wolfert @tonereport
  • February 21, 2017

Most guitar effects nerds have a special place in their heart for one particular effect above all others. It is often the first, or one of the first, effects they ever owned, and probably the same one that originally ignited their passion for this somewhat peculiar niche of the music-making world. It is often one of the classics, like the Tube Screamer, the Fuzz Face, the Cry Baby wah, or some other commonly available industry standard with a deep history and more than a couple circuit variations. For many stompbox scholars, digging into the history of these pedals and their many permutations can be nearly as fun and satisfying as plugging them in. If you're that type, few classic effects will so graciously invite you to dive down the proverbial rabbit hole like the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi.


The saga of the Big Muff is an epic one, to be sure, taking us all the way from New York City in the late 1960s, to mid-80s U.S.S.R., and back to NYC again in the modern day. Most casual enthusiasts are somewhat familiar with this story, involving the multiple bankruptcies of the original Electro-Harmonix company, the launch of Mike Matthews’s post-EHX enterprises, New Sensor and Sovtek, their various business dealings with the Soviets, and ultimately a full reboot and expansion of Electro-Harmonix NYC. Along the way numerous Big Muff variations came and went, with many changes in manufacturing and circuitry, enclosure size, shape, and appearance, and most crucially, tone. It is this rich, complex legacy along with its singular sound that keeps the Big Muff historians going.


Everyone has their favorite version of the Big Muff, and while the classic New York-made versions like the Triangle and Ram's Head are ever popular, many players have a soft spot for the Russian-made Sovtek models. The so-called "Green Russian" Muffs have developed a particularly strong cult-like following in the boutique era for their lower gain tones, extended bass response, ultra-smooth high end, and badass Russian military surplus vibe. These characteristics have made this particular Muff quite sought-after by guitarists and bassists alike, and recent prices have begun to reflect this demand. What was once a rather cheap (and not altogether well made, to be honest) fuzz box is now a classic pedal worth several hundred dollars. Don't rush right out and blow all your birthday cheese on a rickety old Soviet stompbox, though. There are most certainly other, better options.


Way Huge Electronics Russian Pickle:

Jeorge Tripps's legendary Way Huge Swollen Pickle was already tops of the Muff-inspired modern stompboxes, with a proud legacy stretching back to the early days of the boutique pedal era. It also played a major role in making fuzz cool again in the mid-'90s. Today it lives on in several different incarnations, the newest being the Way Huge Russian Pickle, a stern looking, no-nonsense box that updates the Pickle guts to classic Green Russian specifications. It adheres to the original Green Russian's simple three-knob control set, but enhances its sonic profile with more velvety mid-range characteristics and a burly, yet controlled low end thump. Bassists will dig the way it tickles their thudstaff, and guitarists will love that early Dan Auerbach-style grunge.


Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Big Muff and Bass Big Muff:

EHX has yet to release a proper, faithfully rendered Green Russian Big Muff reissue, despite years of tearful pleading from Soviet-era Muff fanatics the world over. Word on the street is that stiff competition from cloners and copiers factors heavily into EHX's reluctance to reissue this classic pedal, so it is possible that the day may never come. Mike Matthews has slyly hidden these tones in some recent releases, however, including the Deluxe Big Muff, which can ape just about any Big Muff tone ever created with its incredibly versatile on-board tone shaping tools. Another interesting option is the Bass Big Muff, which not only evokes the GRBM with its stark olive drab graphics, but also happens to be based in large part upon its circuitry. And I know it says "Bass" on it, but it rules on guitar too.


Wren and Cuff Tall Font Russian:

Wren and Cuff has built much of its reputation by creating precise, beautifully rendered reproductions of various Big Muff circuits. One of the company's biggest hits thus far has been the Tall Font Russian, so named because it very specifically recreates the so-called "Tall Font" variation of the Green Russian, a pedal known for its slightly brighter, more mid-forward voicing, and a generally nasty personality that offers more growl and bite than a typical Muff circuit. The Wren and Cuff Tall Font kicks ass on bass or guitar in equal measure, and it improves substantially on the real deal with consistent modern componentry and bulletproof, road-ready build quality. It is also very pedalboard friendly, doesn't weigh a ton, and has true bypass switching. You can't go wrong.


Fredric Effects Green Russian:

London's Fredric Effects originally got my attention with its Harmonic Percolator clone, but I came back for its most excellent Green Russian Big Muff reproduction, a pedal that has been rather plainly dubbed the Green Russian. I appreciate this straightforward nomenclature used by Fredric because it leaves no question as to what you are getting yourself into when you jack into this fuzz box. The Green Russian delivers very faithful, fat-bottomed Sovtek-era tones in a ballsy, deliberate fashion that will satisfy any commie Muff enthusiast, whether armed with a 6-string, 4-string, or something other instrument entirely. Unlike the pedal that inspired it, it is built like a tank (a sturdy British tank, not one of those old Soviet jalopies), and it is purpose-designed to thrive in a modern pedalboard environment.


ARC Effects Big Green:

One of the most popular Green Russian repros on the scene today is the Big Green from Upstate New York's ARC Effects. This one is a particular favorite among bassists due to its massive low end, excellent mid and high frequency definition, and an overall character that just seems to massage the bass guitar expertly with its fuzzy fingertips. Put Big Green between a Fender P-Bass and a cranked up Ampeg SVT and prepare thyself to be pummeled with a velvet sledgehammer. It also is an absolute monster on guitar, with the built-in mids switch lending it quite a bit of extra versatility missing from some of the more faithful clones. Get an ARC Effects Big Green right now.


Stomp Under Foot Green Russian:

It seems that most Green Russian Big Muff reproductions set out to mimic the Tall Font version, which is known for having deeper bass extension and a smooth, yet rich top end. The so-called "Bubble Font" version, known for its gritty high-end attack, enhanced mid-range, and slightly higher overall gain levels, is often ignored, however. Thankfully we have Stomp Under Foot to help us out. SUF is all about the Muff, as any cursory glance at its product line will make clear, and its Green Russian is a fine example of the benefits this kind of focus and devotion can bring about. This pedal is, quite simply, a ballsy, grinding rock machine that is not to be missed for fans of the Sovtek era stompboxes. It offers this somewhat underappreciated version of the Big Muff circuit an opportunity to shine.


GGG EHX Big Muff Pi Replica Kit - Green Russian Version:

If you're moderately handy with a soldering iron and can follow some basic instructions, then a kit is a great way to get those fat Ruskie fuzzstortion tones on your pedalboard with a minimal layout of cash. One of the best sounding kits around is the Green Russian version of the Big Muff Pi Replica Kit from General Guitar Gadgets. The GGG Kits can be used to build any variation of the Big Muff you desire, from Triangle to Civil War to op-amp, so simply select the Green Russian option from the transistor kit, hand over the 65 dollars required for purchase, and clear off your work bench. The tones are as good as anything you can buy off the shelf, and you're going to build it yourself! What a marvelous feeling of accomplishment.

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  3. Morgan

    Thanks for this rundown. EHX actually just put out a reissue of the Green Russian a couple months ago, I just got mine in the mail.