A good overdrive pedal is a tool every guitarist should possess. We all love the sound of a tube amp being pushed to the outer limits, but cranking it to 11 in every musical setting isn’t always feasible. Having a pedal that pushes your amp into overdrive and/or produces its own grit can make gigging and rehearsals a lot easier, especially if you don’t know what backline you’ll be dealing with.
Most axe-slingers are familiar with the Tube Screamer. Mercy Seat has thrown their hat into the Screamer ring with the Tree of Life Overdrive. Billed as a TS variant with several tonal improvements, the Tree of Life is based around the ubiquitous JRC4558 chip. With Gain, Volume, Cut, and High controls, there are plenty of ways to achieve the classic screamer sound while matching up with various pickup and amp configurations. Clearly, looks aren’t the most important thing in a stomp box, but I was taken with the white tree on the handsome blue enclosure with contrasting black knobs.
The first thing I noticed about the Tree of Life is its ability to be extremely bright. This isn’t a bad thing, however. Often times a darker, humbucker-equipped guitar gets muddied up with a midrange-heavy drive pedal. With the Cut knob backed off and High around 1 o’clock, the humbuckers had a sweet sparkle in the middle and bridge positions and a round, pronounced tone in the neck position—there was no need to adjust settings for each pickup. With the Gain backed off and the Volume cranked, the Tree of Life acts as a slightly dirty boost giving just enough edge for greasy rhythm work and single note runs. With higher output pickups and higher Gain and Volume settings, you’ll get into heavy drive territory, even with the amp set fairly clean.
Switching to a Telecaster required a shifting of knobs. This pedal is capable of being shrill with single coils, but that’s what tweaking is for. I found myself keeping the High and Cut knobs around noon for a mellow drive that still had plenty of Tele twang. I found my favorite setting with singles by backing off the Gain, cranking up the Volume and adjusting the Cut and High to taste for a sparkly, gritty boost. Depending on your pickups, amp, and preference, there’s a tone in here for you. The nice thing about this pedal is that while it’s capable of sounding like that famous green drive pedal, it isn’t limited to those tones; using the available tweaking options allows you to experiment until you find something to your liking.
The Tree of Life also plays nicely with other pedals. The Cut and High knobs enable you to adjust to taste when stacked with a higher gain fuzz or distortion, in this case a Mr. Black ThunderClaw. Paired with an EarthQuaker Devices Dispatch Master, the Tree of Life’s drive sustained into ambient Neverland creating beautiful soundscapes reminiscent of The Verve—think “Star Sail” here.
If you’ve found yourself wanting a Screamer variant but have been held hostage by the standard Volume/Tone/Gain control configuration, you should seriously consider the Tree of Life. As the name implies, it breathes life into your tone and may change your opinion—if it’s not a favorable one—of Screamer sounds.
What we like: An impressive overdrive with vast tone shaping options. Looks great. Built tough.
Concerns: Can be shrill on certain settings—requires an ever-so-slight learning curve to maximize tones depending on various pickups and amps.