The Story of Mike Matthews and Electro-Harmonix

The history of the electric guitar is actually way more interesting than one might think. After all, it involves more than just the evolution of the instrument's design. Since a great portion of the tone comes from amplifiers and pedals, these too also saw some significant changes over the years, ultimately shaping the electric guitar-based music as we know it today.

But from all the brands, companies, manufacturers, and other businesses, there's only a handful of those that made as big of an impact as Electro-Harmonix. The company, that started its work back in the late 1960s, has managed to inspire countless guitar players all around the world by shaping their tone through unique circuitry. Started by Mike Matthews, who's still its CEO, Electro-Harmonix accomplished a lot during the past five decades or so.

In Mike Matthews' honor, we'll be looking into the story of the company and how exactly they managed to change the course of electric guitar history with their pedals.


Going back to the 1960s, fuzz pedals - which are, in essence, distortion pedals - blew up after Keith Richards used Maestro Fuzz-Tone in The Rolling Stones' legendary hit "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." One thing led to another, and many smaller and larger manufacturers wanted in on this game. Young and talented keyboard player Mike Matthews, who was working for IBM in the late 1960s, decided that he could try starting his own business on this.

After going back and forth with a few attempts, he partnered up with Bill Berko to create a fuzz pedal called Foxey Lady and sold it under the Guild Guitar Company brand. After the duo parted ways, he got together with an engineer named Robert Myer. Together, they made their first product called Linear Power Booster and labeled as LPB-1. This same exact clean booster pedal is still in production to this day. And it still drives tube amplifiers into those smooth overdriven territories in its own unique way.

A few other products also came during the late 1960s and the 1970s, including a portable amplifier called Mike Matthews Freedom Amp. However, the game-changing device was the legendary Big Muff Pi, which was built after the success of LPB-1. Having many iterations over the years, this high-gain distortion pedal became popular among guitarists of many different genres. At this point, Electro-Harmonix cemented their place in music history, as Big Muff is still one of the best-selling pedals even to this day.

What came next?

Of course, after this major success, Mike Matthews continued to design and manufacture other great pedals. A notable example was Small Stone Phaser, released in the mid-1970s and featuring operational transconductance amplifiers. Around this time, his company also released a stereo flanger called Electric Mistress, which quickly found its way into the rigs of famous guitar players of the era.

Thanks to the further development of transistors, delay effects became easier to make. Electro-Harmonix broke out into this market in 1976 with the Deluxe Memory Man.

Going through a turbulent era

Unfortunately, things got a little turbulent in the 1980s, as the company filed for bankruptcy. To everyone's dismay, Electro-Harmonix seized its operations in the mid-1980s. Late in the decade, Matthews began exploring other possibilities and eventually started a vacuum tube company called New Sensor Corp, which was based in USSR. One thing led to another, and he soon became the main supplier of valves in the industry. Made under the Sovtek brand, these tubes are still highly valued among tube amp lovers.

During the 1990s, Sovtek also began making guitar amplifiers. While their most admired products were EL84, EL34, 12AX7, and 6L6 valves, these new amps had a decent run and are well-respected among some gear collectors.

Getting back on track

Mike used the opportunity to revamp his guitar pedals and began making the old Electro-Harmonix stuff under the Sovtek brand. Things were looking up for Mike, and these Soviet aesthetic-inspired versions of old pedals also started their production in the US. The Sovtek-era EHX pedals are now highly valued among collectors due to their one-of-a-kind design and components.

In the 2000s, Electro-Harmonix once again started mass production of old and new pedal models. And now, the company is stronger than ever, making great pedals for everyone's tastes. Aside from their Nano versions of old pedals, we can also see some very intricate pieces, like the Fab Faux V256 Vocoder, 8 Step Program sequencer, Canyon delay and looper, and even the company's own budget-friendly take on the legendary Klon Centaur called Soul Food.

Looking at their arsenal of products, it seems that Electro-Harmonix will be on the market for quite a while. Even after all these years, Mike Matthews is still very much involved in the company's production of pedals.

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