|Electro Harmonix is a company that makes electronic sound processors based in New York. They are most famous for a series of popular guitar effects pedals in 1970s and 1990s. The company was founded by Mike Matthews in 1968.|
The first Electro Harmonix product was the Linear Power Booster in 1969. This massively boosted a guitar signal to provide gain by clipping the signal, dramatically changing the sound. The new device provided a raw distorted sound, full of sustain and harmonics. Several similar devices followed such as the Treble Booster and Bass Booster. The new devices were extremely popular with guitarists.
In 1971 Matthews designed the pedal that would make the company famous - The Big Muff Pi. This was a fuzzbox that added a rich, creamy, bass heavy sustain to any guitar sound. It is referred to (by the company) as "the finest harmonic distortion - sustain device developed to date". Legend has it that Matthews was trying to design a distortion free sustainer but thought that his mistake would be popular. It also made small amps sound much better and allowed distortion at any volume, even at home. The pedal was extremely popular and was used most notably by Carlos Santana and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. Although it was officially released the year after his death, Jimi Hendrix did try out prototypes of the Big Muff and the pedal was supposedly modeled after his tone. Various variations of the Big Muff Pi followed throughout the 70s. Today Electro-Harmonix produces a reissue made in New York City and a version made by Sovtek in Russia which provides a slightly different tone.
Other products followed, notably the hugely popular Small Stone phase shifter which fit well with the Progressive Rock and Reggae bands who were popular in the 1970s. Phasing was one of the musical sounds of the 1970s and there were stories that the company could not make enough Small Stones to fit demand. Other notable pedals were the Electric Mistress Flanger in 1975, Memory Man Delay in 1976, an inexpensive, two-second analog delay in 1979; a 16-second digital delay 1982, and the inexpensive Instant Replay sampler 1980. Another pedal of note was a low cost Black Finger Compressor which added distortion free sustain to the sound which appeared in the mid 1970s.
Nearly all the pedals were analog rather than digital. In the case of the early pedals, this was not a matter of choice, as the integrated circuits that made digital audio possible were simply not yet available. Later, this meant that they added some noise to the signal, but also that they were cheaper. Many analog pedals were changed to digital in the mid 1980s but by the 1990s many guitarists started going back to analog. Many guitarists have come to prefer the warmer analog sound to the often cold and precise digital equivalent and this made old 70s pedals extremely sought after.
Change of direction
Electro Harmonix stopped making pedals in the mid-1980s, and in the early 1990s started selling vacuum tubes re-branded with their name for guitar amplifiers, which they had also been making since the 1970s. However due to demand, and the high prices guitarists were paying for old 1970s pedals on the vintage market they reissued the more popular old pedals in the mid-1990s, the Big Muff Pi and Small Clone included. In 2002 they started designing new pedals to add to their range. Company policy is that all reissued effects remain as close as possible to the original, vintage designs. This means however that casings, knobs and especially the old-fashioned mini-jack power plug are not up to modern day standards. This all changed in 2006 with their smaller and more standardized "micro" and "nano" effect lines.
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Electro Harmonix remains a popular guitar effect and tube company. They have also produced a synthesizer in the 1980s but they remain better known for their effect pedals.