Everyone loves an underdog, and sometimes those underdogs go their whole lives without being duly acknowledged for their work. That’s part of what the Cabinet is all about, lifting up those adjacent to the spotlight without diminishing the accomplishments of the more celebrated pieces of gear. And we have a good one for you today.
Most guitarists by now have heard of the Big Muff and its many variants. Indeed, the flagship pedal of one Mike Matthews has had several distinct eras since the late ‘60s, and most of them have been released as modern reissues while many in the boutique world continue to tweak and refine them. Within the several distinct models are countless tweaks and adjustments, leading to a rabid collectors’ market. What many people don’t know is that the clones are almost as prolific, from all corners of the world. And these clones represented a great deal of refinement to the circuit, far before the boutique boom of the late ‘90s. One such is this one, the Maxon D&S.
though I’ve mentioned Muff riffs from all over the world—and there are several—the lineage of Maxon and by virtue, Ibanez in the Muff world is nearly as storied as the circuit from which it is derived.
It is a fact that Ibanez is much more well known than Maxon (see Screamer, Tube), but lesser known is that it was actually Maxon that came first. Maxon was an OEM manufacturer; that is, a company that manufactures goods to be sold under other brands. One such brand was Ibanez, for whom Maxon continued to build until as late as 2002.
The Maxon-Ibanez tandem created quite a bit of noise in the Muff world, developing their own heavy-hitting products that ended up as modern reissues—the “Overdrive” from Ibanez and the D&S from Maxon. While that Overdrive (or “Over Drive”) deserves its own spotlight, the D&S is a little better in this writer’s opinion.
Like the pedal it’s based upon, even the relatively unknown D&S was released in no less than six variants across several different enclosures and lines. My D&S is the rarest of the truly vintage varieties, being built for just one year, 1978. Though Maxon tried selling the D&S as a rebranded “II” model, it was the same circuit but with the square-button FET-based switching scheme that the Ibanez “808” series boasted.
Rather than clone the circuit part-for-part (looking at you, Sekova), Maxon identified the shortcomings of the Muff circuit and met them head-on. High-noise transistors (typically the Fairchild 2N5133) were swapped out for the super-low-noise (so they said) 2SC1815, made by Toshiba. Marginal gains is the name of the game here; it’s not like the 5133 was particularly high-noise, but the 1815 is less so.
From there, the D&S went after the weak link in any Muff circuit: the tone control. Essentially, the stock Muff tone control is designed for a mid scoop at 1KHz when set to noon with a high cut left of center and a low cut right of center. There is a huge volume loss here as a result of this control, over ten decibels, prompting a need for the typical recovery stage in most Muff circuits. Maxon felt like the bass frequencies were too precious to waste, so they modified the tone circuit to preserve bass across the entire sweep of the control. Rolling the control left of center cut the highs but kept the bass crisp and unobtrusive, and rolling it clockwise introduced highs but kept a punchy bass tone, acting more like a treble control than overall tone. It truly is the secret sauce of the D&S.
Working in concert with this sauce was a minor but noteworthy addition: smaller feedback filtering caps. The typical value in the feedback filter position of a standard Muff stays relatively constant at 470pf which retains a nice frequency balance in the clipping stages. Maxon dialed them down to 330pF, cutting a little of the boominess out of the distortion and allowing that tone control to work its magic a bit better. If you’re more of a “band player,” especially one that features you as the bona fide lead guitarist, the way this device sits in the mix cannot be topped.
While the D&S may not be the flashiest Muff circuit out there, it deserves to be both mentioned by me and played by you. With some effort, you can pick up even vintage pieces for far less than one might pay for a real ‘70s Muff. If it’s worth it to you, the D&S can be heard as played by the guitarists of Paramore and moe.