Big Muff History - Mike Matthews and Jimi Hendrix
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Posted: 09 July 2010 06:38 PM

Here is a great story I found from Mike Matthews about the Big Muff and Jimi Hendrix:

How did the Big Muff come about.

Back in 1969, I ( Electro-Harmonix ) was already selling the Muff Fuzz, which was a mild overdrive circuit in an LPB-1 box.. I wanted to come out with a 3 knob distortion unit in a bigger box. I asked my buddy, Bell Labs designer Bob Myer to design a unit, one that would have a lot of sustain.

When I got the prototype from Bob, I loved the long sustain. this was done by cascading the circuit into additional sections, each one clipped by twin diodes. However, when you clip, the tone can be a bit raspy….........so I spent a couple of days changing capacitors to roll off distortion in the highs, and eventually found that the best long sustaining tone that was a “sweet violin like sound” was done by having 3 capacitors in different parts of the circuit rolling off the rasp.

we plunged into production 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 Jimi. 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 2 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 that will play 3 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 3 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 ” Jimmy 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 thy 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 agin and again was ” I just can’t believe how good this guy is. I just can’t believe it.”

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Posted: 09 July 2010 06:38 PM | Link to this reply (#1)

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 3 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.”

Now WHY did I tell you this whole story ? Well, some time in the late 70’s, 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. Enough of this story for now. I’ll give you some other good ones another time

Mike

PS Our latest expansion of the Big muff is 2 units we came out with several months ago. One is the Bass Big Muff. Here, we spent a lot of time modifying the Big Muff so it was ideal for bass guitar, and did not lose low end. It’s a hot seller. The second new version is the Big Muff with Tone Wicker I wanted to hear again what the Big Muff sounded like if I hadn’t inserted those 3 roll off capacitors. So, we put in a switch so that the user could have the option of taking them all out or leaving the Big Muff the way it was. This time, the raspiness option sounded good to me, and it helped a lot to open up natural; feedback between guitar and amp. Then I tried a second thing, We put in a switch to completely take out the strong tone control of the Big Muff. This gave a really wide sound. Now coming out soon is a blockbuster movie “It Might Get Loud” starring the 3 icons Jack White, The Edge and Jimmy Page. Jack builds a one string guitar and feeds the signal though a Big Muff, and then blares though an amp…and gets loud and moves a cow in the pasture. I can imagine where this sound will step to when Jack tries this same thing though a Big Muff with Tone Wicker. He’ll start a stampede

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Posted: 11 July 2010 04:29 PM | Link to this reply (#2)

That’s an interesting story. I posted it here earlier this year in a Jimi Hendrix thread. I have been digging up info about this story for several years, ever since I learned the Big Muff actually came out in 1969, not ‘71. Here is an article I wrote about it, including all of Mike’s quotes I have found over the years, and some things he, and others have told me.
http://www.kitrae.net/music/Jimi_Hendrix_Big_Muff.html

My Big Muff Page
http://bigmuffpage.com/
Swords and Stuff
http://www.kitrae.net

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Posted: 11 July 2010 07:49 PM | Link to this reply (#3)

Your web site is mind bending great!
Thank you so much for you awesome work.
Your site help me date my Rams head Muff.
There is nothing like it on the web.
I urge everybody to check it out.
Bill Ruppert

PS I used a Big Muff as a hand drum on the last Effectology show.
You may get a kick out of it!

Kitrae - 11 July 2010 09:29 PM

That’s an interesting story. I posted it here earlier this year in a Jimi Hendrix thread. I have been digging up info about this story for several years, ever since I learned the Big Muff actually came out in 1969, not ‘71. Here is an article I wrote about it, including all of Mike’s quotes I have found over the years, and some things he, and others have told me.
http://www.kitrae.net/music/Jimi_Hendrix_Big_Muff.html

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Posted: 11 July 2010 09:12 PM | Link to this reply (#4)

I saw the Muff drum!. I’m a big fan of your Effectology series. Some of the stuff you do just blows me away. I loved the Welcome to the Machine vid…well, all the others too. Some interesting signal chains I would have never thought of, but I’m starting to get a grasp on it now after seeing so many of your vids. Nice work!

My Big Muff Page
http://bigmuffpage.com/
Swords and Stuff
http://www.kitrae.net

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Posted: 12 July 2010 05:09 AM | Link to this reply (#5)

Interesting, i’ve always wondered, how it went with JH and the big muff… now i know smile thanks for the story!

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