I’ve always been a huge fan of the classic Big Muff. I guess it’s the one effect I can’t live without. Not only because of David Gilmour’s tones but all the different models over the years each with a distinct tone of its own. Wouldn’t it be great to have all those models in one pedal? Big Tone Music Brewery did just that with the Royal Beaver so naturally I had to check it out!
Big Tone Music Brewery is Build Your Own Clone’s sister company. The idea with BTMB is to take the BYOC concept further and not only make clones of old classics but develop the designs and create new effects and pedals based on the guitarists’ demands. The Royal Beaver (RB) is their first and the latest addition to the ever growing Big Muff family.
The RB is housed in an Electro Harmonix XO-ish sized box with a bright purple led, true bypass switching and it operates on a 9V battery or adaptor. The right side of the pedal feature the familiar volume, tone and gain controls and an additional 4-way EQ switch (similar to the EH Big Muff Tone Wicker) switching between scooped (classic Big Muff tones), flat, mids (mid range boost) and none (bypassing the tone control). The left side of the pedal feature controls for three clipping stages – two for classic Muff tones and a third for further tone experimentation. Each clipping stage is switched on/off with individual mini toggle switched for different combinations. See the BTMB site for more technical info (fear not… the pedal comes with a user manual).
For this review I did an A/B test for each of the RB’s Big Muff models. All pedals were tested with a Stratocaster loaded with Fender CS69/Duncan SSL5 pickups into a Reeves Custom 50w amp with a 4×12″ Sound City cab with Weber Thames speakers.
Triangle Version 1 & 2
The RB can produce two different Triangle era Muffs (late 60s/ early 70s). I don’t own an original EH Triangle my self so I tested the RB against a BYOC Large Beaver (3-knob Triangle clone). I’ve always preferred the Triangle Muff. Its warm tone, violin-like sustain and smooth attack makes it the most musical of the Muffs. I was a bit surprised though that none of the RBs sounded quite like the LB, which after all is designed by the same company and based on the same pedal. RB’s Version 1 has a bit more gain while Version 2 seems to have less gain and appears slightly darker. Still, Version 1 works better on it’s own than the LB, which I rarely use without an overdrive behind it.
Winner: Royal Beaver.
Ram’s Head Version
The problem with old EH pedals is that none are identical so it’s hard to judge the sound by just one pedal. I’m proud to own an original ’73 Ram’s Head but it might be quite different to the one used as a basis for the RB. The RB is a lot more quiet than the ’73 (I’d be surprised if it wasn’t…). The ’73 has a brighter tone closer to David’s Animals sounds, while the RB is smoother like David’s Wall tones (David apparently used the same pedal for both Animals and Wall though). I do miss the ability to make the RB sound really dirty but some fine tweaking on the clipping controls helps. All in all, the RB has a much smoother tone, a super tight lower end and a more dynamic attack compared to the ’73, which is what I’m looking for in a Muff. Just add an Electric Mistress and book your next gig!
Winner: Royal Beaver.
NYC Original and Reissue
I’ve never been a fan of the NYC late 70’s Muff or the current reissue. Always thought they sounded muddy and less musical than the earlier EH models. I don’t have a 70’s in my collection though so the RB is tested against the current NYC reissue (which honestly isn’t fair). There really isn’t much to say other than that the RB has a lot more presence and bite and a generally smoother tone. Hmm… perhaps I’m beginning to like this version too…
Winner: Royal Beaver (although not tested against a 70’s NYC).
Sovtek Green Russian
The very first Muff I bought was a green Sovtek around 1996-97. I still have it. There aren’t many clones of this particular model and the ones I’ve tried doesn’t quite match my old beast. The RB sounds unmistakably like an early Sovtek with the familiar growling lower end and endless sustain. Compared to the other Muffs this one has a lot more gain. Still, it doesn’t quite make it. I miss some of that nastiness and feeling of total mayhem when you engage the pedal. The RB sound more like a shiny Cornish P2 than a viscous green tank from the cold war (which isn’t a bad thing but not quite what I expected).
Winner: Sovtek Green Muff.
What I like about the RB is it’s versatility. Using only one clipping stage produce a warm overdrive (similar to the new EH Germanium 4 BM) with a dynamic response ideal for humbuckers. Two clipping stages produce those classic Big Muff tones and by fine tweaking the volt, gain and bias controls you can add whatever you feel is missing to each Muff model. Engaging the third clipping stage adds a whole new range of sounds with endless sustain and tons of screaming fuzz. One of my favourites is to set the pedal up for a Ram’s Head and set the EQ switch for None bypassing the tone control adding a slight volume boost and an extreme punch.
$329 is perhaps a bit steep for a pedal but then again, this isn’t your average clone. The Royal Beaver has made it to my stage board and also ended up being my main distortion for all my leads on the new Airbag album that we’re working on. It’s always great fun to discover new pedals that exceeds your expectations and the Royal Beaver certainly did just that for me. Being a huge BYOC fan I’m perhaps a bit biased but I’m anxiously looking forward to new exciting stuff from BTMB! Visit Big Tone Music Brewery for more info about the Royal Beaver.