BY BEN ADRIAN
YOU’VE GOTTA HAND IT TO ELECTROHarmonix— since re-releasing the giant Russian- made Big Muff 20 years ago, the company has been bulldozing a serious path forward. It has made an entire line of reissue pedals, produced shrunken and standardized versions of its classic pedals (adding features like true-bypass switching and barrel-plug power jacks), and introduced quite a few interesting and downright weird devices. While the company has a wide line of bass-optimized stompboxes, this time around we’ll look at three guitar pedals to see how they handle our low end: the Big Muff ? with Tone Wicker, the Neo Clone Chorus, and the 44 Magnum Power Amp.
Before there were a million distortion stompboxes made by a thousand manufacturers, there was the Big Muff, and before there were hundreds of bass-specific fuzz pedals, the Big Muff was the fuzz most sympathetic to the needs of bassists. Electro-Harmonix actually makes a bass version of the Big Muff now, but I rarely see it compared to the myriad guitar versions that pop up in my peers’ pedalboards.
The Tone Wicker iteration of the Big Muff can be best described as a straight-up classic Big Muff, with the traditional SUSTAIN, TONE, and VOLUME controls, but with two switches to engage modifications. There is a TONE switch that bypasses the electronics in the TONE circuit, a feature found on some versions of the Muff from the ’70s and early ’80s. The other switch is WICKER—sound-wise it’s a boost that extends the treble range of the fuzz, but electronically it is a mystery, despite speculation on various pedal-dissection websites. The pedal sounds basically like a Big Muff. Really, what more needs to be said? Well, since there are Big Muff cults out there (and I want to keep this gig), I suppose I’d better say more . . . .
This Muff sounds more focused than other versions in that the low frequencies don’t seem to be as low and wide on bass. With the TONE control switched on, the higher setting sounds brash—essentially unusable, unless it’s a special effect you’re pursuing (or you’re a willfully abrasive kind of person). With a bass, the pedal sang when the TONE control was set low. Since the lows weren’t too woofy, and the highs were rolled off by the TONE control, the end result was a thick tone heavy in the low mids, with almost endless sustain. This was my favorite use of the pedal, with an almost human-like vocal sound.
Flat out, the WICKER switch isn’t too effective for bass guitar. In milder situations, it isn’t that noticeable—but with SUSTAIN cranked and TONE set above noon, the WICKER provides a mild, synth-like complication to the high end. On the other hand, the TONE bypass switch makes a huge difference, lending a boost in the 1kHz range. This yielded a great tone for driving rock with the SUSTAIN knob low, or a righteous stoner-doom tone with the SUSTAIN knob up high. It would be even better if the TONE bypass switch were foot-switchable, as it would be a fabulous and eminently usable boost. (Get on it, E-H!)
Attack Of The Clone
The Neo Clone chorus is just about as simple as they come. There is one knob for RATE, one mini-toggle switch for DEPTH, and one stomp switch for true bypass. The enclosure feels solid, and the inside of our tester looked solidly assembled. To get to the battery cavity, I needed to remove the bottom cover plate. The attachment screws were long, thin, and difficult to get in and out.
Growing up listening to new wave bands eager to coat their tones in modulation, I happen to love the sound of chorused bass, and in this department the analog Neo Clone darn near nails it. The low DEPTH setting is the less intrusive option, adding an edge and swirl that enhanced the tone without dominating the signal. If domination is what you want, there’s the DEPTH switch, which makes things soupy in short order and enters “special- effect” territory for bass. Setting a high RATE and engaging the DEPTH switch created interesting and oddball rotary-style sounds, but at the expense of the fundamental and tone focus. Judicial use yielded solid effects and amazing nostalgia, while overuse quickly induced seasickness.
Electro-Harmonix quickly followed up its 22-watt 22 Caliber pocket-size power amp with the 44-watt 44 Magnum. The controls are dead simple: a VOLUME knob, and a BRIGHT switch. Plugging my bass through a small preamp, the 44 Magnum, and on to my favorite 1x15, I quickly learned three lessons: (1) My parents were right: don’t sit too close to the speaker. (2) This little pedal can really get a speaker cone moving. (3) For bass, the 44 Magnum isn’t so much a power amp as it is a comically tiny 44-watt micro-head.
With BRIGHT switched off, the 44 Magnum imparts a dark, growling tone that’s quite pleasing in the lower volume range. The BRIGHT switch adds welcome presence and clean high end. As I turned up the volume, the Magnum started to distort in short order. It didn’t sound entirely unpleasant, but the 44 definitely was lacking in the headroom department. Although it sounded cool in a kind of Jamerson-on-overdrive kind of way, the 44 Magnum is unlikely to hold up on any kind of live gig. But as a power amp for the bedroom or a small coffee-shop gig, the 44 Magnum is functional and fun.
I feel as though Electro-Harmonix took me on a journey, starting with fuzz, applying some chorus, and then making the whole thing pretty dang loud. That’s where Electro- Harmonix excels: Its pedals are attention- getting devices with bright colors and suggestive names. With board-mounted jacks and surface-mount components, the pedals aren’t exactly bulletproof. Much like a fair few of E-H’s faithful devotees, the company’s latest stompboxes are lowbudget, innovative, colorful, and sometimes obnoxious. And in the end, they’re a whole lot of fun.
BIG MUFF ? WITH TONE WICKER
Pros Useful TONE switch
Cons Harsh in some settings
Pros Great tone, straightforward
Cons Difficult to access battery cavity
Pros Tiny, convenient
Cons Low headroom for bass
Made in USA
Warranty One year limited