The Jimi Hendrix Big Muff
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Posted: 26 November 2009 12:26 AM

I was updating a section about Jimi and the Big Muff on my website tonight and thought I would post it here for any Hendrix fans to read this Thanksgiving day. There are some interesting rumors and facts to the Hendrix/Muff legend, and I wanted to debunk the false premise prevalent on the web that Jimi could never have used one. If anyone has any info or quotes I don’t have, let me know. Enjoy.

An interesting bit of Muff history is the legend that Jimi Hendrix got his sound from the Big Muff. This legend was perpetuated by Electro-Harmonix in their own marketing literature throughout the 1970s claiming this as the pedal Jimi relied on for his “electric-lady” sound. It is a fact that Mike Matthews was friends with Jimi Hendrix, and that he frequently attended sessions in New York when Jimi was recording. Matthews has said he attended sessions in three different studios and claimed he was really proud to see Jimi using the Big Muff (Version 1) in one of those, though he has at times been a bit fuzzy on the exact year and details. Electric Ladyland was recorded in 1967-68 in New York and released in September 1968. This is interesting because Jimi died in September 1970. The Muff Fuzz was created in 1969 and the V1 Triangle Big Muff, by all reliable accounts, followed later that same year. Many sources state Jimi could never have used a Big Muff simply because they use the commonly stated Big Muff manufacture date of 1971, post dating Jimi’s death. E-H was on a roll in 1969 with the Muff Fuzz, and the Big Muff was the next pedal Bob Myer was working on. I think it is highly unlikely it took Bob two more years to complete it.

Jimi may have had a Muff Fuzz or an Axis/Foxey Lady fuzz in the studio for Electric Ladyland. It is rumored that Jimi owned a two knob Foxey Lady fuzz in 1968. I have been told Mike Matthews may just be mistaken about which pedal he was referring to, though Mike has claimed in several interviews that it was indeed the Big Muff, and he saw Jimi use it in 1969 or 1970. If that is the case it could not have been the Electric Ladyland sessions, though Jimi would have been recording Strate Ahead, his new record, in the unfinished new “Electric Lady” Studios. The studio was completed in New York by mid 1970. Several sources also state Jimi had a Big Muff “prototype” in the studio, though that contradicts other statements Mike has made, and those sources may have been confusing it with the Black Finger, or a Roger Mayer prototype (Jimi’s guitar tech and pedal builder). This quote by Mike seemed to be the definitive one on the subject.

“...I saw Jimi using it in the studio. He used to invite me to all his recording sessions when he was in New York, and one day Henry (Henry Goldrich, salesman for Manny’s Music) at Manny’s Music told me he just sold a Big Muff to Jimi, and I went down to the studio to show him (Jimi) something else - this early version of the distortion-free sustainer (eventually sold as the E-H Black Finger) and I saw he had the Big Muff on the floor of the studio. I know early on he used Fuzz Faces, but he did eventually use a Big Muff.” Mike Matthews from Guitar Effect Pedals - The Practical Handbook by Dave Hunter

Other sources claim Jimi told Mike he was impressed enough with the pedal to use it on his next album. This may have been Strate Ahead, one of several proposed albums Jimi was working on, which sadly was never completed. Some of those tracks were released on First Rays of the New Rising Sun in 1997 as well as earlier releases in the 1970s. I don’t hear the Big Muff on any of these tracks, though with Jimi that may be hard to tell.

It is well documented that Jimi used many pedals in the studio, primarily a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, Vox Wah wah, Dunlop Cry Baby, and Univox Uni-Vibe. Jimi also used several pedals designed by his 1968 guitar tech Roger Mayer (not to be confused with Bob Myer, inventor of the Big Muff circuit), including the Octavia used on Purple Haze, the Axis Fuzz used on Axis-Bold as Love (which many writers have incorrectly confused with the E-H Axis fuzz), and many other prototype fuzz pedals. Jimi was always trying out new gear in his search for unique tones, so it is likely that he would have tried any new fuzz pedal that was around at the time, and the place to get them would have been Manny’s Music. Manny’s was a world famous music gear store on 48th Street in New York (now out of business). Famous musicians from around the world, and those recording in New York like Jimi, shopped for gear there. Manny’s carried the full line of Electro-Harmonix products and Mike Matthews was friends with owner Manny Goldrich and his son, Henry, who handled sales in the guitar showroom.

If Jimi had a Triangle Big Muff in the studio as Mike recollects, it would have been late 1969, long before Jimi’s death. The legend that Jimi’s well known tone came from the Big Muff would not be an accurate statement however. The basis for that tone was the Fuzz Face. An Electro-Harmonix brochure from 1977, shown below, makes the claim that the Big Muff was the pedal Jimi Hendrix relied on for his “electric-lady” sound. This was likely a reference to the Electic Lady studios, not the record. E-H was also no doubt trying to capitalize on the Hendrix fame with this association, as had been done previously with the pedals named “Axis” and “Foxey Lady”. Though it is probably not the best pedal to use for most Hendrix tones, the Big Muff was certainly inspired by the Hendrix fuzz tone, as Mike Matthews has stated many times, and it does get you into similar fuzz tones at the right settings. Whether any recording exist of Jimi using it, we will probably never know. There are no studio records or photos that have ever surfaced to verify it’s use on record. It would have been interesting to hear what sounds Jimi would have created with this pedal, or the later versions, had he lived.

Edited: 04 February 2010 08:32 AM by Kitrae

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Posted: 26 November 2009 02:37 AM | Link to this reply (#1)

i know i have seen actual pics sum ware, where Jimi uses an LPB-1 or maybe other EH product in the small plug direct into amp units. it is seen behind him plugged directly into his amp, with his guitar cable hangin out the other end.

maybe this was the mistaken unit he was using.

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Posted: 26 November 2009 08:05 AM | Link to this reply (#2)

thats really interesting.

i’ve also read somewhere that he used an lpb-1, but i havent seen any pics.

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Posted: 26 November 2009 08:58 AM | Link to this reply (#3)

No doubt he had an LPB-1 since that was the first overdrive pedal of its type, but that was 1968, and I doubt Mike would confuse that little box, his first E-H product, with a Big Muff. I think all of the websites and various authors saying they think Mike is wrong about it being a Big Muff, or that Mike made it up, were simply saying that because they thought the Muff was not available until 1971. But they were wrong about that as well.
http://www.kitrae.net/music/Mannys Bill of Sale.jpg
I had always thought it was 1970, and enough people have verified that with me that I have no doubt it is correct now. I just don’t know the exact month.

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Posted: 26 November 2009 01:37 PM | Link to this reply (#4)

good read

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Posted: 02 February 2010 06:17 PM | Link to this reply (#5)

Thought I would post an update here. Just got the definitive word that the V1 went into production in 1969. Plus a lot more info about Mike Matthews and Jimi, from the words of the man, Mike himself. So much new info that I will be making some major updates to the site.

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Posted: 04 February 2010 08:35 AM | Link to this reply (#6)

Since this issue has stirred up so much controversy over the years, Mike has put down in writing everything he can recall about it. Here is his actual story about Jimi and the Big Muff that he recollected around 2007 for a Japanese magazine article.

“Back in 1969…we plunged into production (on the V1 Big Muff) and I brought the very first units up to Henry, the boss at Manny’s Music Store on 48th Street, NYC. About a week later, I stopped by at Manny’s to buy some cables, and henry yelled out to me “Hey Mike. I sold one of those new Big Muff’s to Jimi Hendrix.”

Now let me tell you a little history of me and Jimy. Back in the mid 60’s I was a concert promoter. I had the Isley Brother, Coaster, Drifters, Cadillacs, Lovin’ Spoonful, Young Rascals, Byrds, Turtles, Shirelles….and many more acts. I booked Chuck Berry for two nights, and was looking forward to this gig…especially because Chuck traveled alone and the promoter had to get the back up band. I decided to play keyboards, and got some buddies of mine who mostly did Chuck Berry covers to back up Chuck. A week before the gig, that agent who sold me Chuck called me and said “Hey Mike, I need you to do me a favor and book another band…. I can give you one that will play three nights for $600.” I said “Bob I don’t need another band. The crowd is coming to see Chuck Berry and I’d just be spending another $600 for nothing.” Bob said “Please, I need this favor. You can have them for three nights for only $500, and they have a guy that can play guitar with his teeth.” I figured, ok, and booked them, and in the future Bob owed me the next favor. The name of this band was Curtis Knight & the Squires.

When Chuck played, and me and my guys backed him up. I was a little burnt out after the first set and went to check to see how much money came in so far at the gate. Curtis Knight’s band was now playing and I didn’t pay much attention until my guitarist that backed up Chuck, Steve Knapp, came running up to me and said “Hey Mike, you gotta catch this guitar player. He’s a gas.” Well, that guitar player was Jimmy James. His style at the time was strictly loose R&B. We became best friends and I snuck out of my day gig several times a week, as a computer salesman for IBM, to go to his hotel room where we rapped music talk. Jimmy was quiet dude, and lived in a rundown narrow hotel room with no private toilet. He usually had his hair set with pink hair curlers.

One night I went to see him play with Curtis at a club in the upper west side called the Lighthouse. Now, Curtis Knight was a real gangster. Mainly a pimp, running a big operation. At that gig Jimmy hung with me at the breaks and told me “Mike I gotta get away from this dude. I wanna form my own band and headline it.” I said “Jimmy, if you’re going to be the front man, then you have to sing.” Jimmy said “Yeah, that’s the problem. I can’t sing.” I said “If you really wanna sing, all you gotta do is practice and you’ll be cool. Look at Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan. they can’t sing but they can phrase their asses off and project dynamite soul.” Jimmy said “Yeah, you got a good point. I’ll work on it.”

Soon Jimmy formed his own band, the Blue Flames. I went to catch them at the cafĂ© Au Go Go in Greenwich Village. Sitting with me was my friend Bobby Colomby, who later on was a co-founder and drummer with Blood Sweat & Tears. He invited Eric Clapton to sit with us. Jimmy and The Blue Flames were dynamite…still playing a loose blues style. At the break we all went across the street for some grub. The only thing Clapton kept saying again and again and again was “I just can’t believe how good this guy is. I just can’t believe it.”

Shortly after, I heard Jimmy ran off to England with the manager of the Animals, who dug him. The rest is history, and it was in England that Jimmy became Jimi Hendrix and quickly developed his super unique electric space style. I was fortunate enough to see The Experience when they first came to New York City. Jimi called me up and said “Hey Mike come on down, I’m playing at xxxx ( I forgot the name of this small club ). Dynamite!

Whenever Jimi went into a recoding studio in New York Ciy, he invited me to hang out. I did this at three different studios, with the last one being Electric Ladyland, the one he funded and owned. Long story…Well here’s the rub. When Jimi invited me to hang at studio # 2, ( I forgot the name ) I went down to show him a new device I was working on. It was a 4 inch ceramic cased speaker that I screwed into the body of a guitar. It had small power amp. So, some portion of the guitar signal was bled into this little power amp and into the screwed in speaker which made the guitar vibrate and easy to get instant hot sustain. I took it to ask Jimi what he thought of it. When I walked into the studio, there on the floor, plugged into his guitar and amp, was the Big Muff. I told Jimi I made these and he said he just bought it at Manny’s and I said yeah, Henry told me. I then showed Jimi the guitar with the screwed in speaker with feedback circuit. He tried it and said “Hey Mike, I think you’ve got something here.” (Note - Mike has said at other times that he thought this was an early version of the distortion-free sustainer he showed to Jimi)

Now WHY did I tell you this whole story? Well, some time in the late 70s, a guitar magazine writer that interviewed me asked me “When did Electro-Harmonix come out with the Big Muff?” Not thinking too much about this I blurted out around 1971. Well, it was really 1969. Over the years, Hendrix purists took this 1971 and said, Jimi couldn’t have used the Big Muff because he was gone by this time. Well, I wanted you to know the real facts.”

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Posted: 05 February 2010 01:48 AM | Link to this reply (#7)
Sim Tut - 05 February 2010 06:46 AM
Kit Rae - 26 November 2009 02:58 PM

No doubt he had an LPB-1 since that was the first overdrive pedal of its type, but that was 1968, and I doubt Mike would confuse that little box, his first E-H product, with a Big Muff. I think all of the websites and various authors saying they think Mike is wrong about it being a Big Muff, or that Mike made it up, were simply saying that because they thought the Muff was not available until 1971. But they were wrong about that as well.
http://www.kitrae.net/music/Mannys Bill of Sale.jpg
I had always thought it was 1970, and enough people have verified that with me that I have no doubt it is correct now. I just don’t know the exact month.

Kit, I don’t think the link’s working.

Copypaste it on a new tab/window, ehx forum breaks all the links with spaces, and I don’t know why. Even adding   to it won’t make it work.

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Posted: 16 February 2010 10:12 AM | Link to this reply (#8)

This is what makes the internet AWESOME!

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