Price paid: $ 99.99
Purchased from: new on eBay
Ease of Use: The Electro-Harmonix Germanium 4 Big Muff Pi has two separate analog circuits (effectively two separate analog pedals in one casing). There is the Germanium 4 (overdrive) circuit and the Big Muff Pi (distortion) circuit. When both are switched off, this pedal is true bypass. The Overdrive and distortion can be used separately or together. Each side has an LED light indicator to let you know if the circuit is on or bypassed. If both circuits are on, the signal travels through the distortion side and then the Overdrive side. There is a small 2 page instruction booklet included with the pedal that goes over all the features in detail.
The Germanium 4 Overdrive circuit has controls for Gain, Bias, Tone and Volume. The Germanium 4 Overdrive seems to react noticeably different to single coil vs. Humbuckers and low, mid and high output pickups. I only used passive pickups through this pedal, so I can't comment on active pickups. The Gain control adjusts gain, of course, turning the dial clockwise to turn the gain up. Turning the gain below 12 o'clock and bumping the volume just a little seems to provide a pretty nice clean boost. The Bias control adjusts the character of the Overdrive by changing the bias of the signal in the Overdrive circuit. Per the instruction manual, when the Bias knob is at noon you should hear the clearest and most dynamic tone. Turning the Bias knob counter-clockwise makes the signal more compressed and turning the knob clockwise adds more grit and possibly some clipping depending on pickups and amplifier settings. The best sound I found was with the Bias knob turned about of the way to maximum, at approximately 3 o'clock. The tone knob is just like the tone knob on a guitar, turned low is a bass emphasis, turned up is a treble emphasis. The volume knob controls the output volume when running through the circuit. It seems to be the same as bypassed at 12 o'clock noon, and no sound at all turned all the way down.
The Big Muff Pi distortion circuit has controls for Gain, Bias, Volts and Volume. This circuit does not seem to be the same "Big Muff Pi" circuit as the Original "Big Muff Pi" pedal. The Gain knob is of course Gain. The Bias control is more mellow and compressed turned all the way down, and sounds more aggressive and raw turned all the way up. I like this knob mainly between 2 o'clock to 4 o'clock for modern music, and at about 11 o'clock for classic rock and blues. The volts control is very interesting turned all the way up, the pedal acts normally, but as you turn it down, it restricts the voltage the circuit is allowed to use, and causing it to sound like the battery is going dead. Turned down it begins to clip and becomes more compressed, and really just creates all kinds of interesting sounds. The volume knob works the same as it does on the Germanium 4 Overdrive circuit.
It is really pretty easy to get good sounds out of this pedal. It provides a very diverse palette of sounds if you take the time to experiment with it, but you can just turn it on and you have a good sound. I spent a little more time with the Germanium 4 Overdrive circuit than the distortion circuit learning where I liked the settings, mainly because I think I was looking for something more specific with the Overdrive than the distortion. Overall, this pedal is both versatile and easy to use. // 9
Sound: I tested the Electro-Harmonix Germanium 4 Big Muff Pi with an Ibanez RG350, G&L Tribute Series S500, Ibanez Artcore AXD83P, and Xaviere XV-599. I ran this into a Blackheart Little Giant Head/Cab and also combo. I ran this into a Vox Pathfinder and an Orange CR6S Stereo Crush. I also ran this into a Line 6 TonePort UX2 and used several amp sims from Gearbox. The Ibanez Artcore AXD83P has low to mid level output pickups while the rest of my guitars have higher output pickups. The overall effect of the distortion and Overdrive was less, or at least more mellow with the Ibanez Artcore. The distortion sounded drastically better through the Blackheart Little Giant Head/Cab (which has had the Bitmo Triple Bypass mod added to it). I have read some other reviews where a few people mentioned that they felt like this pedal was louder than it needed to be, but I didn't experience any real extraneous noise from this pedal.
I tested the Overdrive playing a lot of Pink Floyd, Robin Trower, Joe Bonamassa and some little shred Etudes (sweeps and taps) I've been working on. The Overdrive seemed to be able to handle everything fairly well, and seemed to perform the best with high output single coils. The distortion I tested with some AC/DC, Dio, Megadeth, Metallica, Tenacious D, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Modest Mouse and Nevermore. It seemed to handle everything well, but I think Nevermore is really touching on the edge of its ability.
I have previously been using a multi-effects pedal for my distortion and Overdrive (Vox Tonelab ST), but I really think I prefer this pedal and I'm willing to give up the other options and just buy a few more analog pedals I'm happy with for chorus, flange, wah, etc. And get rid of my multi-effects pedal which I used 90% of the time exclusively for distortion or Overdrive anyway. Most of the remainder of the time I used it for wah. This is really a nice sounding pedal, especially for the price. // 8
Reliability & Durability: I have had the Germanium 4 Big Muff Pi for less than 2 months so it is hard to vouch for reliability and durability, but I can say the casing is metal and seems really tough. The stomp buttons are very sturdy and the knobs are all very solid. This pedal has 4 small rubber feet one in each corner, which is nice and keeps the pedal from sliding around when you stomp on it. The graphic decal on the top of the pedal even seems like it would stand the test of time, as I was actually thinking about removing it and then decided it was too difficult.
I wouldn't be afraid to use this in a gig without a backup as long as I had extra batteries or an AC adaptor with me. Speaking of the AC adaptor, this can use a pretty common adaptor just a 9 volt DC adaptor with at least 100mA. The adaptors for Ibanez and Boss pedals work just fine, as well as a lot of common household electronics. This can also run off of a single 9 volt battery and seems to have a pretty long battery life, as I used it for several days for at least a couple of hours each day without any degradation in sound quality. After that I just started hooking this up to my Ibanez adaptor because I had done some research and realized I could use it. // 9
Overall Impression: The Electro-Harmonix Germanium 4 Big Muff Pi is made in the USA, and is made of high quality parts. The distortion and Overdrive it provides are both very musical and versatile. This pedal uses germanium transistors, which creates a warmer more analog sounding overdrive, reminiscent of 60's and 70's rock. While this pedal is not ideal for truly heavy metal like black metal, death metal, etc., it seems to handle early thrash pretty well, which is as heavy as I ever play for my own enjoyment. This is seriously the first distortion I've found that I'm truly happy with, and the Overdrive is great as well, so I'm all about this pedal right now.
If I had any gripe it would be that I would like the Overdrive tone control to let you get a little more treble heavy, but I seem to be able to still handle that find from my tone control on my guitar to get that little extra treble I'm wanting. If this were lost or stolen I would buy another one as soon as I could. Before I had bought this distortion pedal, I had tried several low end to mid level pedals for distortion, from the Artec Duo Drive Blender (which with a price tag at $30 is not a bad deal) to the "standard" Boss distortion. I tried a few DigiTech distortions, several multi-effects pedals and a Rat distortion pedal (which is pretty awesome for just standard generic distortion). I prefer this pedal to those I've tried because of the ease of use and the versatility. I'm sure there are much better distortion pedals, but I don't think there are any in this price range.
My favorite feature of this pedal has to be the volts control in the Big Muff Pi distortion circuit. I was able to get a lot of really interesting sounds with this. There is an old Nintendo game called "Mike Tyson's Punch Out" and there is a character on there that makes a weird barking kawp-kawp noise, and I actually recreated the sound while playing with the volts control of the distortion circuit. The way I look at it, it is an awesome distortion with the Volts from 12 o'clock onward, and below that there are all kinds of realms for tonal experimentation. I was also creating distorted riffs with low voltage that sounded almost like flies buzzing. Experimenting with the clipping and compression you get with lower voltage setting is really enjoyable. // 9
- Brandon East (c) 2011