The place was New York City. The year was 1969.
Going Back in Time
Mike Matthews, the founder, and president of Electro-Harmonix, was already selling a pedal called the Muff Fuzz which was considered a mild overdrive circuit. Matthews wasn't satisfied with the product so he asked his friend, Bob Myer of Bell Labs, to design a unit that had three knobs and could have a lot of sustain. Bob Myer delivered and the end result was a pedal with incredible long sustain. Myer was able to accomplish this by cascading the circuit into additional sections with each one clipped by two diodes. It wasn't an easy feat and required a couple of days to perfect. After experimenting with a few different capacitors to roll off the distortion in the highs he was ultimately able to achieve the sweet-violin sound (via three capacitors) that guitars know and love today.
Big Muff Meets Jimi
The Big Muff Pi goes into production soon after and Mike Matthews provides the first few units to Manny's Music Store on 48th street in New York City. About a week later, the store owner yells out to Mike: "Hey Mike, I sold one those new Big Muffs to Jimi Hendrix." The rest is history.
Success for Electro-Harmonix
The Big Muff Pi was a paramount success for Electro-Harmonix. It was reliable, inexpensive, and had an incredibly distinct sound. Hence, it grew in popularity throughout the 1970s and is a part of guitarists' pedal collections from amateurs to professionals including musicians like David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins, Frank Zappa, and Carlos Santana.
Future Big Muff Versions
Given the popularity and rise of the Big Muff Pi, several different versions soon followed including:
Triangle Big Muff - The Triangle is one of the most loved Big Muffs. It can produce a ton of sustain and is a simply solid unit.
Ram's Head Big Muff - This pedal is housed in a bigger box and has less gain than the Triangle. However, it has a decent mid-scoop and was popularized by David Gilmour who used it on The Wall tour.
Civil War Big Muff - This pedal was also used by David Gilmour in the Momentary Lapse of Reason tour. It has less gain than its predecessors but nice mids. It was produced in conjunction with Sovtek - Electro-Harmonix's sister company.
Green Russian Big Muff - This one is almost identical to the Civil War and was also produced in conjunction with Sovtek - Electro-Harmonix's sister company.
Given the above, a pedal worth checking out is JHS's Muffuletta Fuzz Pedal which provides 6 different fuzz options including their own take.
The Big Muff Pi. It's such a big part of music history. If you love fuzz, this is one legendary pedal you need to have as part of your collection.