Today I am posting a review I wrote for Berklee’s Guitar Faculty newsletter, Open Position. I thought it would be nice to share it with a larger community of tone-seekers.

The pedal I reviewed is called the Cusack Screamer. It is the modern-day version of the traditional staple in your tone bank, the tubescreamer. Made popular by many guitar greats, such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, this pedal became the alternative for folks seeking overdrive who wanted to emulate the sound of a tube amp turned up to 11, so to speak. I have owned quite a few different versions of the Tubescreamer and I have really enjoyed this modern version of a classic must-have. I have found this one to be the most transparent and responsive with respect to the natural sound of your instrument and subtleties that you might execute in the way of articulation.

Cusack Screamer V2 Overdrive Pedal

The new Cusack Screamer V2 Overdrive Pedal ($200) made by Jon Cusack (not the actor, obviously), tests out to be one of the coolest little overdrive pedals on the market. Described as a “clean” overdrive with about twice the gain of a typical tube screamer, this revised version offers much more than a typical overdrive. Check out the manufacturer’s website.

Jon Cusack’s overdrive pedal has the usual three adjustable knobs associated with OD pedals: Level, Tone, and Drive. All three are quite effective in range and allow for much in the way of tweak-ability. An added plus is Jon’s use of those mini-chicken head knobs, affectionately called chickys. On a dimly-lit stage you can easily see exactly where you have each parameter set.

In addition, there is a three-way switch which allows selection of the type of clipping diode. The options are StockCrushed, and Asymmetrical Clipping:

Stock is along the lines of what you would expect from an upgraded TS9, but with much more clarity, definition, low end, and touch responsiveness.

Crushed gives you more of what you might expect from a higher gain tube amplifier.

Asymmetrical (my favorite) has even more clarity than the Stock and allowed for much more of the Robben Ford-esque quality (overdriven but still crisp and clean) that we have come to associate with D-Style amplifiers, such as Dumble Overdrive Specials and its hierarchy of clones. An LED functions in conjunction with this setting and flashes with signal input level. With a boost, this LED can also be used (in a pinch) as a strobe tuner.

Sonically, the Cusack Screamer V2 gives you warm and pliable overdrive with NO FIZZ and NO LOW-END MUD! It is amazingly tube-like and really lets the sound of your guitar shine through. It is very articulate and responsive with the added ability to clean up with a twist of the guitar volume knob. (All of the things we love in an overdrive pedal.)

The Cusack Screamer V2, even though much lighter than a typical pedal of its size—at one moment I thought I had misplaced it and it was in my pocket!—is of super solid construction, and comes with a supplied skid plate if you are not the pedalboard type. It has a 9-volt DC power jack (tip=ground) and will run with the standard generic power supply or with a 9-volt battery (for a very, very, very long time). It features a soft-touch-relay-true-bypass switch and a status LED, which has a user-option of red=active, and green=inactive. The inputs for the pedal are located at the top, the short side of the pedal. This is the best, yet somehow often neglected feature that any pedal manufacturer could add for pedalboard real estate consideration. Kudos to Jon for that!

This pedal is one of the most practical and well thought out that I have come across in a long long while. Truly a product for a professional working musician. It sounds great through ANY amplifier, including the unforgiving back-line staple, the Fender Twin Reverb. I therefore give it my highest rating: AAAA++++