Say what you will about Billy Corgan. There are plenty of haters out there, but to me, the bottom line.. Smashing Pumpkins‘ Gish was a masterpiece. I’ll never forget Siva for the first time on 120 minutes in the early 1990s. Mind blown. Never heard a band take the loud / quiet / loud to that level before. Also, during this time, I wasn’t familiar with guitar tones like this. The creamy, punchy, low fuzz.
By the time Siamese Dream came out, their guitar tones were perfected. Layered, complex and rich. Many guitar players out their familiar with the Pumpkins know a huge part of the sound is the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi. But you can’t swing wide and pick up any Big Muff Pi and achieve that tone.
The Big Muff has always been a strange beast for me. Their scooped mid-range and aggressive growl/break up can be tough to dial in for a band setting. I’ve always been personally partial the Russian Muffs, but over the years, there have been many variations and flavors of Big Muffs. Usually these design changes are managed from a business decision, not necessarily for tonality. If you can source different parts, production could be cheaper. One of those decisions happened in the late 70s / early 80s, where EHX switched from using transistors to OpAmps.
As to why, here is what Howard Davis had to say. This was from the insanely informative Big Muff page
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.
So, if you’ve been wanting to get that tone, you need to find the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi – Version 4 (op-amp version). What about the JHS Muffuletta that sports 6 Muff Versions? Nope, that does not have the version 4, but includes version 3 (also used by Corgan).
But now, it appears that Corgan is working with Electro-Harmonix on a Big Muff Op Amp version reissue!! Read the original article here.
“Mike Matthews, the company founder, actually contacted me because he felt we made [the op-amp Big Muff] the fuckin’ sound,” Billy enthuses. “That was an incredible honour!
I told him I didn’t want anything: I want to do it because they changed my life. That sound is the sound! So they’re bringing the original op-amp series back, which is great, because the Soviet versions were never quite the same. If you want the creamy Siamese Dream tone… watch this space.”
No idea when this will happen, but I’ll be keeping a look out! Let me know what you think about this by commenting below!!