This story obviously starts off back in the late 90’s with Lovetone’s original Big Cheese Fuzz - which was a highly distinctively voiced 4-mode silicon transistor fuzz circuit in a somewhat over-sized enclosure by my measure. Those fuzzes variously utilised either 3 x BC549 or 3 x 2N3904 transistors. For a variety of reasons they were only available for a handful of years and more recently became very sought-after on the second-hand market - where examples were fetching in the region of £600+. In fact there is a second-hand example on Ebay currently going for the equivalent of £580.
Since the retirement of Lovetone Pedals there have been a number of clones of the circuit in a variety of different enclosure sizes, including several pretty decent compact enclosure examples. In any case fast forward to October of last year (2019) when Josh Scott of JHS decided to introduce his own mainstream take on the Lovetone Big Cheese - this time utilising SMT circuit construction with near-match mass-manufactured parts.
I announced the pedal on this blog on October 2nd, and I believe I had a copy of it in my hands just a few days later. Being friendly with Adrian Thorpe of ThorpyFX - I already knew he was at work with principal Lovetone engineer Dan Coggins on an enhanced V2 iteration of the original Big Cheese circuit - which was due to be announced at the 2020 Winter NAMM show. I kind of knew then that I would likely be doing a head-to-head between the Cheese Ball and the forthcoming Field Marshal at some stage - so I might as well get bedded in early.
When I received the JHS Cheese Ball I was actually pretty satisfied with it at the time - I thought texturally it was rather interesting and each of the 4 modes were distinct - but I felt the pedal was a little underpowered on the output side and to get any level of proper satisfaction I had to run with both Volume and Gain at Max. Even then I still felt I could have done with 10 or 20% more on each of those dials.
The 4 controls of the Cheese Ball are :
And the best demo I have found of this pedal to date is the one by ’Everyday Guitarist’ Brett Verlennich as below :
So so far so good I thought until I got my hands on the ThorpyFX Field Marshall some several months later. Obviously Covid-19 introduced some manufacturing delays into the pedal release - and I did not get my copy - alongside its sibling 'The Bunker' until well towards the latter end of March.
By the time the ThorpyFX Field Marshal had arrived - I had long relegated the Big Cheese to one of my many pedal drawers. But even in isolated first encounter - the Field Marshal seemed to have rather more about it than the earlier Cheese Ball. Just more sizzle and harmonics and kind of more oomph and engagement from the start.
I only did the head-to-head tests between the pedals fairly recently and was somewhat surprised by the differences between the two pedals. I comparison to the Field Marshal - the JHS Big Cheese sounds somewhat like it has a sort of trumpet mute on it - meaning that everything is a little muddier and duller overall with the contrasting Field Marshal far more high fidelity as such.
In terms of direct comparisons I was getting similar output levels on the Field Marshall at around 1 o'clock versus the fully-dimed settings on the Cheese Ball. In fact my preferred settings on the Field Marshal were with both Volume and Fuzz at circa 2 / 3 o'c which was considerably louder than the maxed out Cheese Ball.
For all the different modes - which are arranged somewhat differently on the Field Marshal - there is noticeably more texture, vibrancy and harmonics on the Field Marshal. Which is powered by 3 x BC549C transistors. In fact all the dial ranges on the Field Marshall cover significantly extended range compared to the Big Cheese too - just vastly more scope overall.
The controls and topology of the Field Marshal are somewhat different
The intriguing differential with the Field Marshal is that the original's Tone-Stack Bypass - which is the 'Off' mode of the Cheese Ball is rendered as a second footswitch - which means in effect you kind of get regular and boosted variations for each of the 3 modes - therefore more spontaneous versatility. There is a lot of additional headroom on the Balance knob - with unity volume somewhere around 10 / 10:30 o'clock for my setup.
On this occasion it is Andy Martin with some more inspired playing - who produces the signature demo for the pedal - I would have thought anyone who heard the demo would rush out and buy one immediately! :
I have rarely conducted such a one-sided head-to-head comparison / review - I would say that really the only thing the JHS competes on here is price - being set at £179 versus the Field Marshal's £189.99 price tag. And a difference of £10 is little or no incentive either way.
I think by any and every measure the ThorpyFX Field Marshal sounds better and is more visceral and dynamic, delivers more versatility - a more fun hands-on experience and just an all-round better quality experience - from the design and build of the pedal and all its components to the all-round sensory experience of that pedal. The JHS Cheese Ball is by no means a poor pedal, it's just seriously out-classed here by the Field Marshal.
These are two very different approaches - the JHS Cheese Ball is a mass-manufactured near-match tone replica of the original - made with lower-cost parts. While the ThorpyFX Field Marshal is a V2 iteration and enhancement of the original Lovetone circuit - made with premium components and with deliberate circuit improvements to overcome some of the issues of the original and to imbue the pedal with just more of everything - but still at a very competitive price.
£190 may seem a lot to some and it is a sizeable investment, but considering the JHS is only £10 less dear - in a generic enclosure with side-mounted jacks - I personally just can't see why anyone would rather go for the Cheese Ball. I've seen a little chatter on some of the message boards sort of discussing the relative merits of each - but in truth there is no contest here really - the Field Marshal is the superior pedal in every department.