If there is a single quality that distinguishes the music of Dinosaur Jr., it is the band’s knack for wedding brute force to heart-wrenching melodicism. And though much is made of the band’s volume, the most important pillars in Dinosaur Jr.’s musical architecture are the deceptively tuneful sensibilities of songwriter and guitarist J Mascis.
Mascis and Dinosaur Jr.’s ability to graft Gene Clark’s sense of song to Motorhead’s megatonnage is a trick that can feel just short of sorcery. And as anyone who has tried can attest, communicating nuanced, beautiful melodies and moods through a haze of fuzz damage is not easy. For starters, you need a fuzz that doesn’t crumble under the harmonic weight of a first position chord. Strangely, given its capacity for sheer horsepower, an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff is pretty good at that task. Where other archetypal fuzzes like Tone Benders and Fuzz Faces tend to turn to a spitty mess when you play a C chord, a Big Muff stays surprisingly cohesive. This capacity for clarity and potency caught J Mascis’ ear in the earliest days of Dinosaur Jr.’s evolution. And as much as any other factor, the Muff became a critical underpinning of Mascis’ live sound.
The J Mascis version offers heaps of the balanced but scorching tone colors that make the music of Dinosaur Jr. so melodically monstrous.
Electro-Harmonix elected to celebrate Mascis’ allegiance to the Big Muff with a signature variation of the Nano Ram’s Head. That’s no small matter: In EHX’s long, storied history, this is the company’s first signature edition. Appropriately, the J Mascis does not disappoint. It does everything the already awesome Ram’s Head Big Muff does. That’s little surprise given that EHX tells us there is no significant difference between a regular Ram’s Head circuit (in its current guise) and the Mascis version. I played the two side by side for a long time and swear I heard a more present high-end and a touch more buzzsaw aggression in the J Mascis. Your results—or perceptions—may vary. Either way, the J Mascis version offers heaps of the balanced but scorching tone colors that make the music of Dinosaur Jr. so melodically monstrous.
Vive Le Différence
As is noted often in Premier Guitar, there is no definitive Ram’s Head Big Muff. Inconsistencies in components during the original run make the likelihood of any two Muffs sounding identical pretty slim. Even Mascis’ own favorite original Muff is an oddball, with wildly drifting component values that have thrown obsessive circuit detectives like Matt Holl for a loop.
Those inconsistencies aren’t generally an issue these days. And admittedly the differences I heard when comparing the J Mascis version to my own current-issue Ram’s Head were small. At times I wondered if they were attributable to inconsistent potentiometers or some other factor. At other times, I became less sure that they even existed at all. But if pressed, I’ll stand by my assertion that the Mascis—at least at my preferred range of gain and tone settings (anywhere between 1 o’clock and maximum)—is both a little more buzzily aggressive and clearer in the high midrange. Perhaps the lesson here is to try both versions, or a few of each, in the flesh and let your ears decide.
There are many musical styles suited to the J Mascis Ram’s Head tone profile. Dave Gilmour fans that love his extra-grindy tone from live Animals tour bootlegs will seriously dig the way it both growls and soars with extra attitude. It also generates high-gain variations on psych-punk ’66 fuzz colors that would make a Super Fuzz blush. And high-desert-dwelling Iommis will love its doomful mass.
Whether or not you choose to spend an extra 17 bucks to acquire a J Mascis Ram’s Head rather than a regular EHX Ram’s Head will probably be down to the degree of your Dinosaur Jr. fandom, your completist tendencies as a Big Muff collector, or your preference for purple-on-white paint schemes. But while EHX insists that this circuit is identical to the less expensive Ram’s Head, I heard enough difference to underscore the notion that—even in times of tighter-than-ever manufacturing and component standards—small differences can exist among similar pedals, and that it pays to try a few out. Whatever the baseline, the J Mascis Ram’s Head Big Muff positively cooks for a 132 dollar fuzz, and is more than capable of the detail and copious power that made the Big Muff an indispensable part of the Dinosaur Jr. formula in the first place.
Electro-Harmonix J Mascis Signature Ram’s Head Big Muff Pi Demo | First Look
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