I don’t think words are needed for this feature. Just look at this!!!!! Tom @ Big Cheese blurs the line between art and work with the most incredible looking pedals and customized builds. This is just too damn cool. Read on for the story behind it all!
Big Cheese Pedals..I have to ask about the name. Please explain!
The name Big Cheese comes from some old French Funk & Soul LP’s I had back in the late 90’s . The Record Label was called “Big Cheese Records” and I always loved the name. So when I decided to build some pedals and I needed a name I thought of Big Cheese. I’ve always had a massive love for music (my record and CD collection is rather extensive). I started building pedals around three years ago and I’ve really been digging psych and drone for the last few years so and I think that’s influenced the concept of my pedals.
Is this a solo effort or do you have help?
Big Cheese is basically me but I collaborate with lots of local artists and craftspeople in the process; the artwork on the front, the etching/ woodworking, the pedal bags and even t-shirts etc…All of the people who help me out I regard as friends and are all very talented in their own right. I am keen to do as much of the pedal work as I can though so am starting to get involved and learn new skills so I can do more of the processes myself.
What got you into wood work, gear making and pedal building? What’s the story?
My background is in electronics which has been a career for around 20 years but I never looked at using it in anything outside of work until my partner bought me an old Morley Fuzz Wah for my birthday that needed a service. At that point I thought “hmmmm I can do this” and started looking at kits. That was around three years ago and I’ve not looked back.
The appearance and craftsmanship of your pedals is quite striking. How did the idea come about to house effects pedals in wooden enclosures?
The wood idea is something I just wanted to do… it’s an amazing material, especially Australian hardwoods and I try and use offcuts and scraps so that I’m almost recycling. There’s something about a piece of natural timber that I find timeless. I wasn’t sure how I was going to etch the timber at first but then I found someone who had a laser etcher that could burn designs into timber… it still amazes me that I can do these things.
When someone decides ‘OMG yes I want one of those!’ what’s the process from there?
Big Cheese is still a hobby or a “labor of love” as I call it. I have no webpage yet and just post pictures on Facebook or Instagram. If people want one they just can contact me through either of those mediums and then we can discuss what they’d like. I usually buy the PCB’s from various online shops that have an amazing selection or build them on vero. I’ve built delays, reverbs, distortions, fuzz, chorus, octaves, phasers etc… if I can find the circuit I’ll build it and if I can add in some modifications all the better….. I think that’s why it’s still a hobby at the moment as nearly all my pedals are bespoke one off’s, even the same pedal with different components can produce a totally different sound. I really enjoy the interaction with people when building them a pedal or if I build one for myself it’s something I really want to play.
What have been some of your favorite builds so far?
My favorite builds are the pedals that I have built specifically for musicians that inspire me or have given me hours of listening pleasure. Creating someone a bespoke pedal is an awesome feeling, especially when you know they’re going to get plenty of use out of it.
The pedals I’ve build for Sula Bassana and Black Tempest were very satisfying to build. Both were large enclosures which had delays, reverbs, LFO’s and modulators. There’s a local eurorack builder called Analog Ordnance who has modular synth boards that I incorporated into the pedals which was very cool. The etching on the Sula pedal was done by a local artist called Henry Bennett and it’s stunning.
I also have a soft spot for a pedal I built for Fergus from Smoke, Frown and Dreamtime. It’s a Soul bender circuit that we sat down and went through a load of transistors until we got the sound right. The enclosure is made from Beefwood that was given to me from a farm in central Queensland… it’s a beautiful timber and the pedal came out looking great. I’ve also used Mango, blackwood, wattle, camphor, mahogany, cedar, quila and maple to name a few other timbers.
So if people want to hear some examples of these little gems.. Where can they look? Sound clips anywhere? Any bands you know of that use them?
I don’t really have any sound clips (something I’m working on) as most of the pedals are specific to each person. Bands that have my pedals include Dreamtime, Dead Sea Apes, Sula Bassana, Electric Moon, Fly Agaric, Black Tempest, Zong, The Red Paintings, Magenta Voyeur, Hobo Magic and a couple of others. I’m up to around fifty pedals now! There are plenty of links etc on u-tube of the types of pedals that I’ve built…Soulbenders, Tonebenders, BrassMaster, RATs etc
Lastly.. Advice for anyone wanting to try their hand at pedal building?
Give pedal building a go! There are so many resources out there now on the internet. Start simple with a fuzz or distortion. The outlay is a little expensive in regards to a solder iron etc but the rewards are well worth it! There is an amazing pedal building community out there with masses of resources who are willing to help and answer all those questions!!
I’m on Instagram and Facebook as Big Cheese Pedals
For an amazing selection of PCB’s check out:
Bands I’ve built for include: