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A/B Review: MXR Blowtorch vs. EHX Bass Big Muff

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by JanusZarate, Sep 19, 2008.

  1. JanusZarate

    JanusZarate Low End Avenger Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 21, 2006
    Petaluma, CA, USA
    When it comes to effects, we all have our preferences. I really like what pedals I’m using now, but in my current band situation, I’m always looking for a new pedal or two which could possibly fit better in the mix – not just in my head. While my EHX Stereo Electric Mistress is enjoying a comfortably “permanent” place on my board, the other two are always subject to new challengers. Today, the challenged one is my MXR Blowtorch, and the challenger is the EHX Bass Big Muff.

    SIZE: Both are the same size – no different than your typical SansAmp BDDI or Little Big Muff. However, the Blowtorch’s “Torch” switch sticks out a bit beyond the chassis, and its overall orientation is the opposite of the Bass Big Muff.

    POWER: The Bass Big Muff runs on either a single 9V battery or a typical Boss-style 9VDC source (2.1mm, center-negative). The Blowtorch runs off of either two 9V batteries or a typical MXR-style 18VDC source (2.1mm, center-negative).

    CONTROLS: The Bass Big Muff is deceptively simple – besides your usual Volume, Tone, and Sustain controls, there is a 3-position toggle switch for 3 different modes: Bass Boost (fairly obvious), Norm (again, obvious) and Dry (which adds in your dry signal to the fuzz at a fixed unity gain level).

    I’d recommend Bass Boost mode if you really like the tones you get past 12:00 on the Tone knob, but want more bass. Below that, it can be overwhelming in the low end. The Norm mode is good for all-around use and has plenty of bottom end. The Dry mode will probably be the popular favorite, but it can be a bit tricky to get used to. Because your dry signal is fixed at unity gain in this mode, the Volume knob lets you make the fuzz signal louder or quieter than your dry signal. This is somewhat similar to what you’d expect from a Blend knob, but you can’t manipulate your dry signal. Still, I wouldn’t consider it to be a drawback, because unless you want a quiet dry signal, it’s easy to work with.

    The Blowtorch, on the other hand, is complicated yet straightforward. It has a Volume knob (for overall output volume), Gain knob (for the fuzz signal only), Blend knob (to mix the dry and fuzz signals), a 3-band EQ (Bass, Midrange, and Treble – all of which only affect the fuzz signal), and a 3-position sliding switch to set the center frequency of the Midrange knob (adjustable from 250Hz to 750Hz to 2KHz). It also has a Torch switch on the side of the pedal for an extra helping of thick fuzz. The trick to getting the most out of this pedal, I’ve found, is to craft your preferred fuzz tone using all of the available controls while the Blend knob is at maximum, and then roll it back as desired to bring in your dry signal while turning up the Volume knob to make up for lost volume.

    I’ve found that in the 250Hz position, boosting it could result in unpleasant boominess, but cutting it affords some cool tones. For the 750Hz position, it’s worth experimenting with both boosting and cutting. Arguably, the 750Hz position is the most “traditional” sounding. The 2KHz setting is the prize with the modern bite, IMO.

    INPUTS / OUTPUTS: Both pedals have a single mono input, an effect output (the output you’ll normally want to use) and a dry output (which is your clean signal only). On the BBM, the dry output is labeled “Dry Out” and has nothing to do with the Dry mode. On the Blowtorch, it’s labeled “Thru”. If you’re bi-amping, I’d suggest using the dry output for your second amp.

    SOUND: So now that I’ve covered the basics on how to use them, how do they really sound?

    People who have read my discussions on the Blowtorch already know what it can do: it has a more abrasive, brighter, defined, and synth-like tone than your typical fuzz pedal. It also is surprisingly quiet and “controlled”, almost like a gated fuzz will be between notes. It has a moderate range of gain and a wide variety of mild and aggressive tones. The Blowtorch is definitely outside the norm.

    The Bass Big Muff, on the other hand, is thicker, darker, more traditional, and capable of more gain. While it won’t get as nuts as its predecessors, the adjustments made to this version allow it to be friendly even with active basses, while maintaining surprisingly low noise. Basically, it’s the classic Big Muff tone with more bottom, more definition, less gain, and less noise. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the Muff to end all Muffs (barring the boutique Muff clones out there). It may be time to put those Sovtek tanks and USA-made Big Muffs into retirement. ;)

    TBH, these two pedals cover very different territories of fuzz. But my point in buying them was to compare the areas where they overlap. The Blowtorch gets closest to the “Muff” sound with the mid switch at 750Hz. 2KHz is too modern to be Muff-ish (but my favorite to work with), and 250Hz is too different.

    Where they sound similar, the Blowtorch provides more bite and midrange, while the Bass Big Muff provides more bottom-end growl. On notes played in the higher frets, the Blowtorch provides more punch to stand out in a mix, while the BBM “blooms” and sounds more massive to fill out the mix. For fingerstyle playing, they’re both amazing, and I lean towards the Blowtorch for a sonic preference because of its cleaner response and modern definition. But with a pick, I find the BBM to sound more “pleasant” to the ear, while the Blowtorch is more abrasive.

    It’s not surprising to me that they can cover common ground, as I used to own a Little Big Muff and had once compared it to my Blowtorch. But the LBM wasn’t very good with bright tones because of the noise and lack of bottom end, whereas the Blowtorch has excelled. With the BBM, however, the quirks that bugged me about the LBM are rectified.

    SUMMARY: The Bass Big Muff is, IMO, superior on bass to any previous Muff pedal that EHX has made (unless you’re looking for chaotic levels of gain). The Blowtorch, meanwhile, is not a “Big Muff Plus”; it is definitely a unique and modern-sounding monster, ideal for someone who is trying to steer away from a vintage fuzz tone.

    SOUNDCLIPS: I currently don’t have a means of recording good comparison clips, but I plan on picking up a new interface soon…

    For now, Bryan R. Tyler’s MXR Blowtorch review and Grygrx’s EHX Bass Big Muff review are good videos to check out (both can be found on YouTube, and You can also see the BBM review on bassfuzz.com).

    And finally…

    WHICH AM I KEEPING? I’m keeping the MXR Blowtorch. My “doubts” were quelled when I ran both through my new head (a GK Fusion 550). The Blowtorch works fantastically with tubes. During A/B band testing, my bandmates and I all agreed that the Blowtorch sounded more appropriate for what we were playing.
  2. selfblessed


    Dec 29, 2006
    Phoenix, AZ
    So they are two different beasts. And some might find having both beneficial.
    I wish I could tinker with both and see which one I would keep. Money...:scowl:
  3. JanusZarate

    JanusZarate Low End Avenger Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 21, 2006
    Petaluma, CA, USA
    Just skip out on your electric bill. You don't really need electricity. You have 9V batteries, right? :D
    mkfanforever58 likes this.
  4. Seems to me a more suitable pair to a/b would be the BBM and the El Grande, but thanks, this was informative as usual.

    Similar as they are, would you not say that the Blowtorch is more of an OD and the BBM more of a fuzz? For what little those terms are worth. I wouldn't think of using the BBM to push tubes, for instance.

    While I'm using the BBM as my main fuzz, I'm also looking for a second, brighter/more "modern" fuzz (OD is a different story) but it'll have to be something compact, and the ElG was disappointing to me...
  5. not meaning to derail the thread, i loved the clip at the mxr website but everything i have heard beyond that never made me like EL GRANDE anymore.
  6. Jared Lash

    Jared Lash Born under punches

    Aug 21, 2006
    Denver, CO
    Nope, they are both very much fuzzes. The BBM is more of a vintage, creamy sound while the Blowtorch is more modern and synthy, but both are in the fuzz realm. With the blend knob you can set up the Blowtorch to just have a bit of buzzing around the edges, but it doesn't sound like an overdrive.
  7. JanusZarate

    JanusZarate Low End Avenger Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 21, 2006
    Petaluma, CA, USA
    I didn't really like the El Grande enough to do so. But with the Dry mode, the Big Muff already has an edge, IMO.

    From my experience in-store with the El Grande, I would say was more aggressive, modern and more capable of going nuts than the BBM. It's a bit similar to the Blowtorch, but it has a lot more gain and is nowhere near as adjustable.

    You mean where they do sound similar, as opposed to being similar overall? I just wanted to clarify that they only have a small range of "overlapping" tones.

    Technically, the argument could be made either way because of the Blend and Dry features. With a pick and bright tone settings, the BBM can come off to be a bit like a cranked overdrive pedal, whereas the Blowtorch with fingerstyle playing can sound overdrive-ish with the Torch switch off. I guess you could say that the Blowtorch could more easily "pass" as an overdrive in the mix, but you'd really have to stretch your perception of what overdrive can sound like...

    What it narrows down to is the overall response to each note played. Neither respond like what you'd expect from an overdrive pedal, even on mild gain settings. It's a reminder that they're fuzz pedals. :D

    The Blowtorch is, in general, quite a distance from the BBM. If you want something VERY different than your BBM, I'd definitely consider a Blowtorch.
  8. Discount Saint

    Discount Saint Bassist for the music in my head Supporting Member

    Jan 26, 2007
    Victoria, BC, Canada
    I currently have a Blowtorch and my BBM is on order.. I plan to keep them both. I also have an Ibanez PD-7 Overdrive / Distortion which is another totally different animal. Now I need to start amassing non-distortion oriented pedals! (I have started with a Bassballs and an Opto-Stomp.. thinking about a Tremolo pedal next).
  9. wnelson


    Aug 15, 2007
    im glad i read this....i just got the blowtorch and i was considering a BBM....i not happy with my big muff at all...no low end is kept,and its drowned out when my guitarists come in......

    i too have a fusion 550...so im really excited to hear the torch.....just waiting on my lunch break.:hyper:

    very nice review Boo!!
  10. perk45


    Feb 2, 2008
    austin, tx
    I bought a BBM a while back and recently traded for a Blowtorch. I will definitely be keeping both pedals as I love them each for different reasons. I like keeping the BBM as my main fuzz because it's a little richer and creamier and sounds better for the kind of music my band plays (bluesy/psychedelic rock). But the Blowtorch was exactly what I was looking for for my Q-Tron+'s FX loop. Now I can use my Tron as an envelope filter or as a synth-style effect (although I still need an octave down pedal to perfect this). I'm going to be using this sound a lot in me and my little brother's noise/ambiance project :cool:
  11. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    I have them both as well. The BBM is a great traditional fuzz (and can do a distortion thing with the tone and sustain dimed), and the Blowtorch is a great buzzsaw fuzz that can make (usable) sounds that the BBM can't.
  12. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    A little bump- I just put up a tune on YouTube where I use both the Bass Big Muff and the Blowtorch. It's not a pedal review, so it's obviously not going to be as informative, but it gives a sense of what I think each pedal does best. The Muff is the "bass" part, and the Blowtorch the "guitar" part.


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