So here's another one of my silly ideas for making a limited edition anniversary pedal to join the Fern St Fuzz and the 20th anniversary Buzzrite of which there will only be 20 of each made this year to celebrate. I did similar things for my 10th and 15th anniversaries with effects and guitars.
The ELK Sustainar was one of the first Japanese Big Muff clones from the very early 70' and is squarely based on a Triangle era BM but with a few component changes and a BIG difference in the tone stack, making it a completely different animal indeed.
ELK was a guitar, amp and effects manufacturer in Japan in the 60's and 70's and made some awesome stuff while they were manufacturing. They tended to copy popular US guitars like a lot of Japanese manufacturers of the time and in the early 70's spread their wings with popular electronics as well. The Big Muff, which had hit the market in '69 was an obvious choice by around '72 as EH was selling huge amounts of them but they were still relatively rare in Japan.
The ELK Sustainar was sold under several different names like the Elk Super Fuzz Sustainar, the Elk Big Muff Sustainar and the Electro Sound Big Muff Sustainar, all of which were essentially the same circuit based on the then current Triangle BM although component values and types do seem to change over time, a lot like EH pedals of the time.
Construction was very similar to the BM with a folded metal enclosure exactly the same size as the (slightly smaller) Triangle BM with the PCB and pot layout essentially the same. The enclosure is not as thick as the EH one and the base is made from thin folded aluminium making them more flimsy than vintage EH.
The original ELK fuzzes used common NEC transistors (NEC A733k46s) and metal film and carbon comp resistors and ceramic and/or green caps but nothing in the original circuit is particularly rare or "special". The main difference between these and a generic Triangle BM is a cap value in the tone stack which makes this Muffish fuzz more a sizzle fuzz with a strange sweep on the tone control.
I made a version using a common online schematic and it sounded, weird (for a BM) and then a friend of a friend contacted me and said he had one (he's owned a few) and would send it from Japan if I was interested?
When it arrived I traced the circuit and it was very close to the online circuit but it sounded different. Quite different.
I actually preferred the original as it had a nice crackle to it that the one built from the schematic didn't. I made another one using the exact same component value and types as the original and ... it sounded different again.
I didn't want to start pulling the original apart as it wasn't mine and things can go wrong when you disrupt old electronics. I started measuring components I could in place and started working on replacing components in my #2 using what I've learnt from making a few BM clones.
After replacing and searching I worked it out. Out of all the BM's (and other effects) I've cloned this one needed components furthest from the original marked values I've ever made to get the tone right. Electrical components drift over time and you get used to what types do and how they effect the tone of the circuit.
I spent WAY TOO long reverse engineering this circuit for a pedal I'm only going to make 20 of, but, I'm stoked with how this sounds compared to the original. Of course this pedal would have sounded different 45 years ago when it was made and it's values were closer to what's written on them, but that's the same with any old effect (or amp) of this age and it will keep changing over time and will sound different again in another 45 years.
When I reverse engineer a pedal I like the sound of NOW, I try and get the nuances of it's tone NOW, not what it sounded like originally, which I (or anyone else) can't really capture now except for making one like the first version of the #2 I made using components that match value wise, not sound wise.
I initially intended using some rare NOS TO16 type 2N5133's as used in original Triangle BM's but I couldn't get the gain right as these NEC's seem to be fairly high gain and have a real "openness" to them that I just couldn't get out of the old 5133's. After messing around with a few different transistor types I settled on some old BC547's that seemed to have that tone. They're a common transistor that I don't use in any of my other Muds but seemed to work well here.
After lots of searching I managed to get that crackle and top end harmonics that this original had and I made mine slightly louder as the original lacks that real BM punch when the volume is maxed. The tone is intact and with mine on about 8.5/9 it's EXACTLY the same. Also, mine has an LED, BOSS style 9V adapter and true bypass, which the original doesn't have.
There's a few clones of these out there which isn't really a surprise with original vintage versions now going for over $1000 and even rumours of "vintage correct clones" being sold as originals out of Japan. I've now spoken to a few people who have owned more than one original and the consensus seems to be the same as with old EH effects, no two sound the same and there's "good" ones and "bad" ones.
The other thing that has pushed the price of these up, apart from being genuinely quite rare, is that it's alleged the cult Japanese band Boris use these as their "Big Muff fuzz sound". They were actually in the shop last Sunday and I completely forgot to ask them about it :/
So, here they are. There will be 20 of these for my 20th anniversary being released in batches of 5 during 2017.