I met Matt Cheezem of Cheese Blocks Effects through the magic of Twitter (@CheeseBlocks). He’s been a contributor to this blog, adding some great posts (D.I.Y At Home Acid Etching and The “Bike Chain” Method for Pedalboard Mounting). I asked if possibly I could review one of his pedals, and he was all for it. On top of that, we’re giving this pedal away!
So for this review I’m going to mix things up a little bit. Add some videos, add my thoughts, and interview with Matt.
The sCream Cheese Overdrive 2.0 is based on the Tubescreamer type of overdrive using JRC4558D chip (but stacked in this case). When I received the pedal in the mail, I was immediately impressed with the enclosure. It was rock solid, hammer green finish. Enclosures are made by Mike at PedalEnclosures.com and are obviously built to last.. and with style.
The components are all hand wired and Matt uses the best electronic components you can get. I also dug the mini-fluted knobs.
Okay, enough of the looks. When I fired this up, I was really impressed with the ‘growl’ it had. Also, I was impressed with the natural low-end (but not ‘muddy’) with this pedal. There is a low boost switch, but I didn’t need to use it. There is plenty of gain, much more than a my TS9 which I started to A/B. My TS9 had more compression so was a little smoother. I could dial back the sCream Cheese and get it pretty close to match my TS9 settings. I really enjoyed the meat of this pedal though. Matt also set it up where you can select different clipping diodes. You can either select it to asymmetrical clipping or use LED clipping. Not sure which I liked or didn’t like. They were all different, but you got use to the different diode clipping very fast, so there wasn’t a noticeable ‘bad’ option for me. You also notice the diodes adjustments on clean or medium grit amp settings vs. high gain.
So I asked my good friend and band mate Jimmy to demo this pedal, and he was into it. For this video (sorry about the low light level), we mic’d his set up with a pair of SM57 mics. He’s playing through a Matchless DC30 (left side) and that was also connected to a Port City 2×12 Cab (right side). The DC-30 speaker is a Greenback and the Port City speaker is a Vintage 30. He’s playing a Les Paul Custom Shop Elegant guitar. This first clip, Jimmy is playing his ‘clean’ channel which is the 12ax7 channel on the DC-30. He’s demo’ing gain/level adjustments, low boost and diode changes.
This next clip Jimmy is demonstrating how this pedal works with the gain channel. Jimmy is still playing the DC-30, but is playing through the EF86 channel. Basically going through the same adjustments mentioned above and ends up cranking everything to show how things fuzz out, etc.
Here is a quick shot of Jimmy’s set up:
I also have some quality MP3 downloads of these demos as well:
After playing this pedal, I had a few questions for Matt
What were you trying to achieve or avoid when putting the sCream Cheese together?
Obviously… “screamer” type boutique overdrive pedals are a dime a dozen. What I wanted to offer was a pedal that would match/be competitive with the quality of the other guys, at what I feel is a more reasonable price.
As far as tone… I wanted this particular pedal to be versatile. We all play different guitars/amps/effects… so the idea that one setting is going to compliment a ton of different rigs is pretty far fetched. With that in mind, I tried to give a wide range on the tone control and drive control. The tone control is shaped to give you almost overpowering lows to low mids with the tone all the way down and the low end boost on, all the way to biting highs and high mids with the low boost off and tone maxed out. Hopefully… any guitar with any pickups, and any amp… can dial in a setting within that spectrum that will compliment. Same thing with the drive control. Using a setup inspired by the Keeley “more/less” mod… the drive cleans up to almost a clean boost on zero, and goes to nearly excessive when maxed out. Again, the thinking is that with a wider spectrum, the player can find a spot that fits!
As far as what I was trying to avoid… I read a review of another pedal recently that pretty much sums it up. I didn’t want this effect to sound like an effect. I think that the ultimate compliment for an overdrive comes when a listener says “man, you’ve got KILLER tone” instead of “What pedal were you using on the chorus, it sounded awesome!” In other words… an overdrive should work WITH your tone, not become your tone.
I see that the JRC4558D chips are stacked, why did you do this?
This is something that I have to give credit to Monte Allums for opening my eyes to. Many of his mod kits include an op amp adapter that stack two Burr Brown chips together. In developing the sCream Cheese, I tried dozens of different opamp setups… lots of single, lots of double, even some triple. I used the Burr Brown, JRC4558D, RC4558P, TL072, and even toyed around with the LM308 metal can opamps from the RAT pedal. I tried different combinations of chips stacked together (one burr brown, one JRC… one TL072, one LM308, etc). In the end I decided that for this pedal to be a true “screamer”, it needed to have a 4558 in it. Occasionally, when I can’t get ahold of any quality 4558D chips, i’ll sub in the RC4558P with great results. A lot of people don’t know this, but there are a lot of fake chips out there. Since the Burr Brown and the JRC4558D chips are the “holy grail” of guitar opamps, it’s not uncommon for some overseas importers to relabel cheaper chips with imposter logos! In the end, the stacked 4558’s sounded the best. More headroom, more clarity, more transparency.
The Tubescreamer line…from the old 808’s, to the reissues, to the TS9s and TS9DXs, the sound tanks, the TS-7, the toneloks, etc etc, have seen many changes…. and there have been a few variances in the chips… but the JRC4558D seems to be “old faithful”.
It’s cool to have various diode clipping options, why are you offering options vs. just sticking with one?
This is another area that I have experimented with dozens of combos. Different germanium diodes, LED/diode combo, etc. The options that stuck were, in my opinion, the most “useable” ones.
LED clipping is pretty common in the “boutique” book of tricks, and has even made its way into some mainstream big box effects. An LED is just a different type of diode (Light Emitting Diode) to give a different type of tone! LEDs tend to give a more “tube like” breakup… which is great for players with solid state amps trying to get tube tone, but also works great in conjunction with a tube amp.
The idea behind offering the trio of clipping options fell in line with the versatility of the rest of the pedal… no two rigs are alike, so give the player as many options as possible to find that perfect tone!
Most distortion/overdrive mods out there today involve either an asymmetrical diode mod, LED clipping mod, or both in conjunction or switchable. The Cusack Screamer, The Freakshow Brown Rabbit, and the ProCo Turbo Rat, all use LED clipping…. just to name a few!
This pedal has plenty of low end growl naturally, why did you add the low boost?
This was actually worked into the circuit as a selfish addition! When I designed the sCream Cheese, I had two “main” guitars… one was a Telecaster with hot rails pickups, and one was a strat with tex mex’s. The tele BOOMED, and the strat was flat. In the original design, the Low Boost was actually foot switchable, so I could turn it on and off depending on the guitar I was using. This really helped to give the two guitars a closer tone match. Come to think of it… maybe I should bring back the footswitchable low boost?! Readers… whatdya think???
I wanted to finish up this review with a little bio/history from Matt about Cheese Blocks Effects
I’ve been building/modding pedals now for about 5 years. Professionally, with CheeseBlocks, I’ve been going for about 2 now. It started as morbid curiosity…. as I originally was very intimidated by the idea of circuit board soldering and electronics in general. When I actually got in there and realized that circuit board soldering/desoldering wasn’t so tough… I couldn’t stop tweaking and fiddling. With the abundance of info that’s now out there on the internet… I kept myself busy with projects, kits, and mods until I started to get comfortable with the basics. At that point, I was no longer content with just tweaking a pedal someone else built… I wanted to create my own circuits. A couple of the pedals I built got the attention of some of my gearhead buddies, who suggested I start building and selling some… 2 years, thousands of resistors and capacitors, and several soldering iron burns later… here I am! I like to think of the entire CheeseBlocks line as the “working man’s boutique.” High quality build… top tier parts, and great customer service, all without breaking the bank. Don’t get me wrong… there are companies out there that take a lot of time and effort to make BEAUTIFUL pedals… literally works of art. I definitely appreciate that, and even own a couple of pedals like this. But at the end of the day… an amazing finish on your pedal isn’t going to do a thing for your tone, and you may have spent an extra $50-$100 just on the finish! I try to do what I can on the aesthetic end of things to keep costs minimal.
The sCream Cheese Overdrive can be picked up for $130 at Cheese Blocks Effects! Remember, we’re currently offering a give-away where you can get the pedal that was in the demos above. Please enter the give away, more details here!