I’ve been following, and a great fan of, Vick Audio for some years now and I’m always excited when new they release new pedals. The latest addition to their catalog is the 1861, a fuzz based on the early 90s Sovtek Big Muff. Here’s my review.
I’ve told the story before but my very first Big Muff was a green Sovtek bubble font that I bought new around 1995-96. There’s a never ending debate on which is better, the Civil War, the green tall font or bubble font?
I’ve played them all but none has really come close to my old green tank. Perhaps it’s nostalgia or affection but it really doesn’t matter. Tone is subjective and based on personal preference.
I’ve reviewed several pedals from Vick Audio over the years, including the ’73 Ram’s Head (which has often found its way to my stage board), the Overdriver and (one of my all time favourite overdrives) the Tree of Life. All of them done with great care and understanding of how the original pedals sounded like and what improvements needed to be done, without compromising tone.
The 1861 is based on the early 90s Sovtek Big Muff, a.k.a. the Civil War (due to its blue and grey colours). This was one of the first Big Muff made by Electro Harmonix founder Mike Mathews after he moved to Russia.
David Gilmour famously used a Civil War Big Muff during the recording of Divison Bell and on the 1994 tour, which was recorded for the PULSE live album and DVD. The pedal was once again added in late 2015 for the last leg of the Rattle That Lock tour.
While those early 70s ram’s head and triangle Muffs comes off as fairly bright and uncompressed, the early 90s Sovteks and the Vick Audio 1861 has a smooth and warm tone, with great sounding harmonics. With a moderate gain setting and the guitar volume rolled back slightly, you start to hear these subtle nuances and that fat, woody tone.
The 1861 has plenty of sustain and despite the fairly high amount of gain and low end, the pedal has very little noise so it’s easy to achieve those sustained notes without everything breaking into messy feedback and low frequency rumble.
As with all of the Big Muffs from Vick Audio, the 1861 features the 3-way toggle switch for different mid range modes. Flat is the stock mode, with a slightly scooped curve. This brings out those sweet harmonics but you might find it a tad too thin on low output pickups. Flat equals a slight mid range boost compared to stock. It’s fairly moderate but enough to add a bit more smoothness and presence.
Boost provides a noticeable mid range hump, with lots of presence and an overall smoother and fatter tone. This is excellent for bedroom setups and amps that has less mid range but be careful with this on amps like Marshall and Hiwatt and humbucker pickups, that already has a lot of mid range and compression.
Where the 1861 surprised me the most was when I set the gain to about 9 o’clock and the mid range switch to flat and used my Les Paul with P90s. I got a super fat overdrive tone, with an amazing sustain and these harmonics that responded incredibly well to my playing.
The 1861 is perhaps not as huge sounding as some of the clones out there or the original models. But that’s not a negative thing in my opinion. Some of the Sovek models can be a bit hard to tame and the low end especially can be a bit overwhelming. The 1861 seems more balanced and again, it’s easy to get some really nice overdrive tones on lower gain settings.
My only (minor) concern is that there isn’t a lot of volume available. You really need to crank it to reach unity or a slight boost. As most of my gain pedals are set up for a slight volume boost, I would have to pair the 1861 with a booster pedal or EQ to get the same result, which I think is a bit redundant. The pedal should be able to produce enough volume on its own.
Still, the 1861 is an excellent addition to the already huge Big Muff family. The 3-way mid range switch and moderate gain, makes it ideal for achieving those huge fuzz tones on smaller amps and bedroom setups. Pair it up with a transparent booster and a loud tube amp and you’re very close to David Gilmour’s epic 1994 tones.
Visit vickaudio.com for more details.