It appears that every other JHS release seems to court some kind of controversy. And this latest compact format replica of the famous Lovetone Big Cheese from 1995/6 has provoked the ire of Lovetone co-founder and engineer Dan Coggins - currently associated with ThorpyFX. I need to get better up to speed on what the full story is, but this is of course far from the first compact format replica of said Big Cheese. The Lovetone originals ceased production around 2001, and there have been dozens of replicas created to fill the void since - including the Cheddar Fuzz, Cheese Fuzz, Chunky Cheese, Feta Fuzz, Fromunda Fuzz, Lava Cheese, Mecha Feta and Ole Chedda to name but a few - and many more unbranded custom-built replicas - so the story is obviously more complicated than it seems to be on the surface - and has something allegedly to do with licensing.
I was actually one of those few who was a little miffed with the recent JHS ’1966’ range, not really about the price, but more about the lack of transparency in parts usage (I dislike when builders cite NOS transistors and then don’t reference the parts), especially when there had been such a heavy emphasis on said original British pedals’ provenance and authenticity - while the actual components deployed are not necessarily entirely in line with the implied narrative.
In any case I’m largely a fan of Josh Scott and his output, and have 3 of the fuzz pedals pictured above among my JHS collection - the Firefly (Tone Bender MKIII), Muffuletta (Multi-Big-Muff) and Pollinator (Germanium Fuzz Face). The Firefly and Pollinator both use Josh’s favoured Tungsram AC128 transistors, while the Muffuletta is an entirely OpAmp/SMD affair. I believe that the Tungsram AC128’s were also deployed within the ’1966’ range.
The original Big Cheese circuit variously utilised either 3 x BC549 or 3 x 2N3904 - which are both excellent transistors for that kind of rawer tone and texture. JHS advertises the Cheese Ball as an exact replica of the Big Cheese - so I’m fascinated to see if this properly extends through to the transistor selection.
Besides the format being significantly more compact than the original, the 4 controls remain the same, but with different labels - the original has Curds (Gain), Whey (Volume), Tone Hog/Bee and an unlabelled 4-way rotary selector - Off (Tone ByPass) | 1 (Mid-Scoop) | 2 (Mid-Boost) | Swiss cheese (Gated). I believe this is also part of the beef with Dan Coggins who would have been far happier to see some sort of natural extrapolation / evolution / innovation beyond his exact original circuit. I feel that there is every chance that we will see another collaborative innovative Dan Coggins/ThorpyFX fuzz in the not too distant future.
While I feel that both the Firefly and Pollinator are pretty much perfectly formed with their 4 controls, I feel that more could have been done for both the Big Cheese and Muffuletta in the area of tone control/shaping. The Muffuletta is practically screaming out for a Mids control. One of the Big Muff types that I’m really enjoying these days is the 5-knob Basic Audio Tri/Ram - which has controls for Tone + Mid + Fat (Low End) which makes it infinitely more versatile and usable. I of course use my guitar’s Tone and Volume dials extensively too, but generally really like having a couple more tone controls and bias dials on fuzzes - which can otherwise sound too focused, thin or sharp/cutting - the extra levels of control just enhance the entire soundstage of a fuzz pedal.
So while I’m a little conflicted about the Cheese Ball - I really do want a compact version of the Big Cheese effect - and likely the JHS is the most reliable source for that at the moment. There are a couple of the original large format Lovetone Big Cheeses on Ebay currently for £578 and £649 respectively. Reverb.com has a few different replicas of different sizes including a Cheddar Fuzz for around £90, while the JHS Cheese Ball Fuzz can be had for £179.