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Cerulean Amp Overdrive

Based On
Marshall® Bluesbreaker
Effect Type
Overdrive
Build Difficulty
Easy
Project Summary
A classic overdrive effect that was designed to mimic the Marshall Bluesbreaker amplifier from the 1960s, the Bluesbreaker is also the source circuit for a number of high-dollar "boutique" guitar pedals.

Complete Kit

What's included?
PCB, finished enclosure, hardware,
and all electronic components.

$86.00

In stock

Cerulean Amp Overdrive printed circuit board

PCB Only

What's included?
Just the PCB. Build instructions and parts list can be viewed or downloaded from this page.

$12.50

In stock

Project overview

The Cerulean Amp Overdrive is an updated version of the Marshall Bluesbreaker pedal, originally released in 1991. In 1995, Marshall moved production from England to Korea, and around this time they made some tweaks to the circuit, increasing the gain and reducing the bass. It was discontinued in 1999 to make way for the Bluesbreaker II, a redesign that is universally seen as inferior to the originals.

The Bluesbreaker is the source circuit for a number of expensive boutique pedals including the Analogman King of Tone, which is two Bluesbreakers in the same box with a few modifications. The Cerulean project borrows the expanded clipping options from the King of Tone, allowing you to select either soft clipping (stock), hard clipping, or no clipping (boost mode).

We have also added an internal DIP switch to select between three different gain range settings. Normally to increase the gain range of an overdrive, you’d just raise the value of the drive pot. However, the Bluesbreaker has a unique dual-stage gain control setup such that increasing the potentiometer value will also lower the minimum gain along with raising the maximum gain, so this method is not very useful. But by adding resistance to just the first stage, we can shift the overall gain range higher and get a lot more tones than the original pedal was capable of.

The third addition is a toggle switch to go between the pre-95 (V1) and post-95 (V2) versions. It’s not a drastic difference, but there’s enough lore surrounding the two versions that we thought it’d be worth including this as a setting.

The Cerulean V2 is a complete overhaul of the original Cerulean, which combined features from the JHS Morning Glory as well as the Presence trimmer from the King of Tone. The first version is no longer available, but the legacy 1590B version of the project is largely the same and will remain stocked. The King of Tone is available as the Theseus and the Prince of Tone is available as the Achilles.

Marshall Bluesbreaker circuit history

After the success of the Guv’nor (1988), Marshall decided to branch out a bit and released three pedals in 1991—the Drivemaster (a renamed Guv’nor), the Shredmaster (a higher-gain variant) and the Bluesbreaker. The latter was named after the nickname of the classic Model 1961 and 1962 amplifiers, called the “Bluesbreakers” after being used by Eric Clapton in his legendary recording sessions with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers for the Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton album.

It shares some topology with the Tube Screamer such as the op-amp feedback clipping diodes, but it’s an original pedal design. While it was regarded favorably, it never really got popular on its own.

The real reason the Bluesbreaker became a notable pedal is because of the pedals that were based off it, most notably the Analogman King of Tone which puts two Bluesbreakers in a single box allowing them to stack with each other. Another well-known pedal based on the Bluesbreaker is the JHS Morning Glory, which adds a volume boost to the end to give more available output.

The original Bluesbreaker was discontinued in the mid-90’s and was replaced in 1998 by the Bluesbreaker II, which has an added boost mode. By most accounts, the BB2 is not a worthy successor.

Circuit analysis

Circuit blocks

Adjustable gain stage & filterClipping stageTone & volume controls

Gain stage

The first circuit block of the Bluesbreaker is comprised of two op-amp stages: an adjustable op-amp boost & filter, set up as a non-inverting stage with two separate frequency roll-offs at different gain levels, followed by an inverting stage with clipping diodes. Since the gain of these two stages is interactive, I’ll include the second op amp in this section when talking about gain, but discuss the clipping diodes in the next section.

One note about the Bluesbreaker before we get into the calculations. In the earliest version, the two resistors coming off the first op-amp stage were much larger: 27k for R2 (changed to 3k3) and 33k for R3 (changed to 4k7). This has a pretty drastic effect on the available gain, with the second version being capable of much more gain than the first. Some people prefer the subtlety of the first set of values to the second (and in fact the King of Tone uses these original values). However, since the second version was much more common and is considered the “standard” version of the circuit, the below discussion uses those values.

The Gain control is interesting—it’s the same variety as found on the Guv’nor / Drivemaster and Shredmaster pedals, but I’ve not seen it elsewhere. Let’s break it apart.

First, a bit about op-amp gain: in a non-inverting op-amp configuration, the gain is a factor of the feedback resistor divided by the ground resistor, plus 1. In an inverting op-amp configuration, the total gain is a factor of the feedback resistor divided by the input resistor.

In this circuit, the Gain pot is actually set up as a voltage divider rather than a variable resistor. When resistance is added to the feedback loop of the non-inverting op-amp, it’s also subtracted from the input of the inverting op-amp—which in both stages increases the gain.

So the gain is calculated like this:

  • With the Gain control all the way down, we have 4k7 & 0 in the non-inverting stage for a gain of 1, and then 110k input & 220k in the inverting stage for a gain of around 2. (The 3k3 resistor provides a slightly higher gain for mids and highs only, but we calculate the primary gain by the 4k7 resistor because it has a more full-range frequency.)
  • With the Gain control all the way up, we have 4k7 & 100k in the non-inverting stage for a gain of 22, and then 10k input & 220k in the non-inverting stage which also has a gain of 22. (The diodes factor somewhat in this as well, but we’re ignoring those for the time being.)

Even though the pot is linear taper, in this setup it behaves somewhat logarithmically, so it’s very usable across the range.

Clipping stage

The second op-amp stage is interactive with the first and we already covered much of its inner workings as far as gain is concerned. However, I’ll talk about the actual clipping diodes. The Bluesbreaker uses two 1N914s in series in both directions (four in total) in the feedback loop, but in contrast to the Tube Screamer, it’s inside an inverting op-amp configuration.

By its nature, this method produces a much harder clipping, even harder than diodes to ground—but in the Bluesbreaker, this is offset by the high clipping threshold (two 1N914s in series is 1.2V) plus the 6k8 series resistor which softens the clipping. So the end result is not harsh, though it is sometimes described as “grainy” on higher settings.

Tone control, volume and output

The Bluesbreaker’s tone control is pretty basic—it’s a passive control that rolls off the highs as it’s turned down. Nothing much to see here. The signal then goes through a standard volume control and then out.