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.