Electro-Harmonix Sovtek Deluxe Big Muff Pi
By Chris Loeffler |
Electro-Harmonix Sovtek Deluxe Big Muff Pi
Deluxe muff my good comrades!
by Chris Loeffler
Electro-Harmonix has been on fire with Muff releases these last two years, introducing no less than three of their most sought-after, discontinued versions (OP-Amp IC, Triangle, and Russian). While there are a few more reissues people are crossing their fingers might see the light of day, Electro-Harmonix chose their next release to be a “Deluxized” version of their Green Russian/Civil War Muff circuit.
The Electo-Harmonix Sovtek Deluxe Big Muff Pi expands on the standard Volume, Sustain, and Tone controls by adding knobs for Blend, Gate, Mids Level, and Mids Freq, toggle switches for Wicker and High Q/Low Q, an expression pedal output, and a Mids stomp switch. The pedal features true-bypass switching and is powered by a standard 9v center-negative style power supply or a 9v battery.
What You Need to Know
The Electro-Harmonix Sovtek Deluxe is built on the circuitry of the Green Russian (tall font) / Civil War-era Big Muffs branded Sovtek in the 90’s. This circuit is known for having a fatter bottom, less mid-scoop, and less gain than the typical Muff variant. The gain is smoother and stands out in the mix a bit more than a USA Muff with a less gritty character.
The standard Muff controls of Volume, Tone, and Sustain are present and identical to those of the EHX Green Russian Big Muff Pi, with Volume going from muted to reasonably above unity gain, Tone offering a passive filter sweep that goes from muffled to sweet to thin and punchy, and Sustain covering all ground from grumpy burps to focused, sustained lead tones as heard in GIlmour's work in the Pulse era.
The introduction of a Blend knob provides the opportunity to bring reintroduce some of definition and dynamics of your guitar through the dry channel, which greatly enhances the ability of the pedal to stand out in a mix (something the typical Big Muff Pi doesn't always excel at, especially in live settings when competing with a bass and keyboards).
The Gate control brings a noise gate into the signal path after the Muff circuit to tame stray noise when you aren’t playing (high gain = hiss). It isn’t quite so clampy that it will pull off the Industrial synth on/off attack, but that’s not what this pedal is all about. What it does well is knock off white noise in the idle space between notes and is especially useful with single coil pickups.
The Wicker control is the same that debuted in the NYC Big Muff Pi with Tone Wicker and subsequent Deluxe Big Muff Pi, opening up the higher end of the frequency bandwidth for brighter, cleaner treble that carries through a bit more attack. Sonically, it sounds like a more modern, high-fidelity take on the Big Muff sound. With it off, the pedal sticks to the original tone stack that defined the Civil War sound.
Things get especially out there with the two Mid knobs (Freq and Level) and the accompanying Mids footswitch. The Mids Freq is essentially a single-band parametric EQ that covers 310kHz to 5kHz, the sweet spot for guitar in the mix. By carving in a specific frequency, you can adjust both the way the fuzz reacts and how far forward you cut in the mix; think of it as a solo mode. The Mids Level allows to cut or boost the frequency selected in the Mids Freq section, from subtle boosts or scoops to cocked-wah style tones.
The Mids section is topped off by a Mids Q switch, which sets the bandwidth of the EQ. In Low mode, the lower frequencies are accentuated and the range is thick, round, and warm (even dark), while Hi mode is, as described by EHX “sharper or peakier,” which is an apt description. The tone sizzles in Hi mode and melds well with an amp that is already breaking up but a bit dark.
Speaking of cocked wahs, the Expression pedal out controls the sweep of the Mids Freq, which essentially means it turns into a mids-focused wah pedal. Parking the pedal allows for precision cuts in real time, while rocking the treadle creates thick, chewy sweeps in Low mode and searing, spiky slashes in Hi mode.
The two Mids knobs and Mids Q switch are only active when the Mids footswitch is activated; they have no impact on the Muff when bypassed.
There are a few hidden controls inside the enclosure that are meant to be fine-tune, set-and-forget tweaks for advanced users. These include an optional internal buffer that can be turned on for more high-end and a stronger clean signal when the pedal is activated, trimpots for High Q bandwidth and output volume, and a trimpot for to introduce additional boost to the Mids output. If you’re going to toy with these, consider taking a picture of the factory settings first in case you stray too far off the original path.
It’s a Big Muff Pi; what sounds amazing by itself may get lost in a band setting. The mids control, fortunately, provides the opportunity to jump past this traditional limitation.
The Electro-Harmonix Civil War/Green Russian Big Muff Pu circuit is a classic for a reason; it is everything people love about the muff tone with smoother gain, a bigger bottom end, and less scooping of the mids. The Electro-Harmonix Sovtek Deluxe Big Muff Pi provides all this plus the ability to turn the pedal into a mid-forward lead machine, add articulation with the dry signal, and is a bonus wah pedal to boot. If the limitations of the traditional three knob Muff has kept one from staying on your board to date, the Sovtek Deluxe might be a game-changer for you. -HC
Buy Electro-Harmonix Sovtek Deluxe Big Muff Pi at Amazon.com (Street $214.11)
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.