Category Archives: DIY

This stuff is amazing

So, forever since my last post, etc…

That out of the way – I just assembled a jazz master-ish guitar. It’s a Warmoth jm body with Lollar P90s instead of jm pickups, tune-o-magic bridge, stop tailpiece. I used the neck from my old strat. It all went together pretty quickly, and once I wired it up and plugged it in – “BZZZZZZZZZZ!” The noise level was kind of insane. Part of it was grounding (touch something metal and the buzz goes away), but most of it was 60 cycle hum or RF interference or something else.

Later that day I ordered some of this copper shielding tape from StewMac. It came in yesterday and I completely enclosed the pickup cavity and the back of the pickguard in this stuff. It was kind of a pain, and I have a few slices on my fingertips, but I got it done. I put it back together and plugged it in without restringing it to make sure that I wired it up right.

When I first turned on my amp, I thought for sure that I had wired it up wrong, so I tapped on the pickups with a screwdriver and it popped like it’s supposed to. After restringing the guitar, I tried it out again, and I absolutely couldn’t believe it. It was almost dead quiet. The grounding issues were completely gone. I can let go of the guitar completely and it doesn’t hum at all. There is a little bit of 60 cycle hum, especially with high gain, but it’s totally manageable. It’s crazy quiet.

jm

If you have a noisy guitar, try this stuff out.

Gear updates

In my previous posts, I talked about the acquisition of a couple of new pieces of gear: the Line 6 M9 and the RJM Mini Amp Gizmo. It should come as little surprise that both of those things are no longer in my possession. They were both quite nice, but I ultimately decided that I didn’t enjoy the tones that I was getting from the M9. Since I was using the M9 to control the Mini Amp Gizmo, it had to go as well.

As a result of selling this gear, I bought some new stuff. First of all, I re-bought a Presonus Firebox recording interface. I used to have one of these, but I sold it to fund an amp purchase.

I also got a Strymon Brigadier (another repurchase). In case you don’t know, the Brigadier is a really nice digital delay that does a really great DMM-inspired analog delay imitation. It’s pretty freaking great. Here’s a little clip that I recorded tonight with the two pieces of gear that I just mentioned.

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I also got a Catalinbread Montavillian Echo. This is another digital delay, but this one is kinda tape-flavored. It has the typical time, mix, and feedback controls, but it also has a cut knob. The cut knob lets you control the EQ of the repeats, so you can make it really dark and muted or fairly bright. The cut knob has a huge effect on self-oscillation. At the lower settings, it self-oscillates really quickly. I’m currently using it to create an indistinct wash of sound in the background. I’m still kinda on the fence about this one. It’s cool, but I’m not 100% convinced.

Lastly, I added a DIY pedal to my board. I bought a Mudbunny PCB from madbeanpedals.com, which is a clone of the classic Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi pedal. This particular layout has a mod for a mids control, which solves one of the biggest problems with these pedals. Stock muff pedals were really scooped, which pretty much guaranteed that they would disappear in a band mix. The mids knob on this layout lets you dial those frequencies back in, giving you a pretty wide range of tones to choose from. This is probably my best build yet. I think that I will probably hang on to this one. Famous last words, I know…

Lately…

I just realized that it’s been almost 2 weeks since my last post. That is is a good example of what not to do to attract new readers. Anyway, this post is going to be pretty random with a lot of non sequiturs as I play catch up.

Anyway, not much has been going on. It seems like the only time that I write anything lately is when I get something new, or when I’m obsessing over getting some new piece of gear. I can honestly say that I am pretty content right now. Of course, there are always things that I wouldn’t mind checking out or adding to my board, but I don’t really “need” anything. For example, I really want to try out the Electro Harmonix Micro POG. I think I could get some really cool pitch-shifted OK Computer type sounds with that thing, but it’s not really a necessity or anything. I also want to check out a tap tremolo [the Seymour Duncan Shape Shifter looks like a great deal - has anyone tried one?], but again, it’s not really necessary.

***

I’m thinking about selling a couple of my DIY pedals. I have a Rangemaster clone and a COT50/Bluesbreaker 2-in-1 combo. They are all nice effects, but I don’t use them. The Rangemaster sounds amazing in front of a cranked amp, but I never crank the gain on my amps. I picked up a couple of transistors (OC44 and OC71) from Small Bear to try with it, and they both sound much better than the leaky OC44 that I had in there before. It’s quieter than before, but it still makes noise at higher gain settings. It’s just the nature of the beast, I’m afraid.

The COT50/BB combo is cool as well, but it doesn’t really sit well in my setup. I’m going for a very clear, uncompressed kind of sound, and both of these effects add a lot of mids and compression to the signal. I did the King of Tone mods to the Bluesbreaker, which lowers the overall gain and reduces the mid hump. It sounds better than the stock values, and it’s actually really cool for adding a little chime and sparkle, but it still sounds a little too much like a pedal (if that makes sense). If you’re interested in either of these, let me know. I’m open for interesting trades or whatever.

***

I really like the ┬ánew guitar. However, as the honeymoon draws to a close, I am discovering some little issues. My main complaint is that the neck pickup is pretty muddy on it’s own. It’s almost unusable. I’m thinking about replacing the neck pickup, but I don’t want to mess up the tone that I get from the in-between position. The neck/bridge combo is a great sound – twangy, but not too thin. I might check into a Lollar neck pickup (maybe a HB-sized P90).

The other issue with both pickups is that they squeal with high gain. They’re unpotted, which gives you vintage-sounding tone, but they tend to be a little microphonic (not sure if that’s the right word). Basically, I’m using the G&L for the jangly, cleanish stuff, and I’m using the Les Paul for the chunkier stuff. I’m telling you, my Les Paul has got some ridiculous sustain that the tele just can’t even come close to matching. I now see that it was pretty foolish to think that there would be much overlap between the two guitars just because they both use a neck humbucker.

***

I have been working on some ideas for instrumental tunes for Jenny’s photo site. I think I’m overreaching a little bit. I go into composer mode and try to add in all these little harmonic things and textures and layers and stuff, when all I really need to do is lay down a rhythm track and play some melodic stuff on top. I’m having trouble simplifying things for some reason. I hope to have time to work on music this summer.

***

I finally got a backup external hard drive for my MacBook. It’s nice to know that if something catastrophic happens that I won’t lose all my tedious little data.

***

Well, that’s all I can think of. I’ll try to come up with something pertinent shortly.

Quick Rangemaster Demo

I did a quick and dirty demo of my Rangemaster clone. I basically maxed out the gains on my Stulce, put the mic in front and hit record in Garageband. I play a few basic classic rock riffs/licks – first bypassed, then with the boost. You can tell that the Rangemaster is pretty noisy/hissy, but I think that it may be due to the DC power supply. These things are really supposed to use batteries, but I didn’t have any on hand.

Anyway, let me know what you think…

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Treble Booster, finalized io

I got the PCB for my treble booster in the mail over the weekend, and I finished putting it together yesterday. I have no idea if the transistor is biased properly, but I just wanted to fire it up and see how it sounds. I have only played with it for about 10 minutes, but here are my thoughts – It doesn’t sound good into a clean amp, but it’s awesome into a cranked amp.

I maxed out the gains on my Stulce, which gives my a very nice distorted sound, if a *little* unfocused. When I turned on the treble booster, it just transformed the sound. I was getting this really raw, crunchy tone (I’ll try to do some clips soon). I need to spend more time with it, and I’m going to add a switch to the pedal to allow me to swap input caps for some different tones. I’m not sure how useful it’s going to be since I rarely play into a cranked amp, but we’ll just have to see.

To go along with my new etched PURE boost, Maury fixed up an etched io for me. In case you don’t know, the io is kind of a Marshall-in-a-box pedal. It’s not a one trick pony, though. The tone control is very responsive, and you can dial it in to get crunchy rhythm tones, or roll it back to get creamy, saturated Santana-like lead tones. This pedal, along with the Timmy, cover all of my dirt on my pedalboard.

These pics are not of my pedal, but they’re close enough.

and the inside:

As you can see, the wiring is pretty much immaculate. I haven’t had a chance to play through it yet, but it sure looks nice, eh?

DIY Update

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I bought a bunch of parts to make a few pedals. Well, I’ve been working on them sporadically and I’m pretty much done. I built 2 Lovepedal COT50 clones, a Marshall Bluesbreaker, a couple of Fuzz Face clones, and I’m still waiting on a PCB for a treble booster.

I’m pretty happy with the COT50. I built one for me and one for a friend and former student of mine who is moving to Singapore. I gave it to him last weekend and he seems to like it so far. I put a volume control at the end of the circuit, because it’s pretty much worthless without one. I used to have an original about a year ago, and it only has one knob to control the gain. It’s kinda like having an amp without a master volume control. The higher the gain, the louder it gets. It was impossible to get unity volume with the rest of the pedals on my board, so I got rid of it even though I liked the overall tone. The volume control makes all the difference in the world.

I have my COT50 boxed up with the Bluesbreaker that I made. I didn’t really set out to do it like this, but I ran out of enclosures, so I just put them together. They actually work pretty well together. I have the COT50 running into the Bluesbreaker, and when they’re both on the COT gives the BB a bit of a push. The BB is vaguely tube screamerish, but I like it a lot more than a TS. It doesn’t really have the mid-hump, but it is somewhat compressed (which is not necessarily a bad thing). The Analogman King of Tone is based on the BB design, and a lot of his modifications have been reverse-engineered and published on various diy pedal forums. I did several of these mods, and I like the results. It has less gain now, but it’s clearer and less compressed than the original. I still prefer the Timmy for low gain overdrive, but the BB gives me a different flavor.

I was less successful with the fuzzes. I built a four knob fuzz on a GGG PCB, and I just can’t get it to sound right. It sounds more like a harsh overdrive than a fuzz. I’m guessing that it’s the transistors. I should probably experiment with some different ones, but I just don’t feel like it. The other fuzz that I built was on a PCB that Maury gave me. He uses it to build The Peach that he sells over at RAILhead Effects. It works great for him, but I couldn’t get it to sound right. Again, I’m guessing that it’s the transistors. I don’t know – maybe I’m just not a fuzz guy.

I tried building a Rangemaster (treble booster clone) a few weeks ago on perfboard. I got it together and checked my work and everything looked ok. I wired it up and it didn’t work. I couldn’t find any mistakes, so I decided to just order a PCB and start over. General Guitar Gadgets was sold out, so I ordered one from Tonepad.com. I had never ordered from them before, but their boards look pretty good, so I gave it a shot. I ordered on Feb. 19th and I got an email on the 25th saying that my order was “being processed and [would ship] soon.” I’m not sure why it took 6 days to respond to my order, but whatever. On March 4th I still hadn’t seen anything, so I shot them an email that simply said “define soon.” They responded yesterday, letting me know that it had (finally) shipped. I’ll believe it when I see it. It was only $11 after shipping, so it’s not a huge deal or anything, but I will never order from Tonepad again. I paid some dude on the internet $20 to etch 2 PCBs for me and he had them to me in like a week and a half.

I have gotten a lot better at putting these pedals together. My first builds were embarrassingly messy inside, but they have gotten cleaner with each attempt. They’re not pro level or anything, but I’m happy with them. Now I just need to learn to do something with the exterior.

Recent pedal builds

Over the last few weeks I have been working on a few pedals. I decided to populate all the boards first. If you don’t know anything about the DIY pedal thing, this is how it goes. Places like Build Your Own Clone or General Guitar Gadgets sell kits with everything that you need (PCB, resistors, capacitors, enclosure, jacks, switches, etc). My first couple of pedals were built from kits. However, you end up spending a little more than you absolutely need to when you buy the kits. I prefer to buy the PCBs and source my own parts from places like Mouser, Pedal Parts Plus, Effects Connection, etc. This way, you don’t have to stick with the ingredients that BYOC or GGG decided to include and you can get cool or weird looking parts like carbon composition resistors or box capacitors.

Anyway, I got PCBs for several different effects: a Fuzz Face, a Marshall Bluesbreaker, a Lovepedal COT50, and I decided to build a Rangemaster treble booster on perfboard. I populated the PCBs first. This went pretty quickly – I’m getting more proficient with the soldering iron. I decided to assemble the Bluesbreaker first. Assembly has always been the slowest part of the process for me. I hate dealing with all the wire spaghetti. I just haven’t gotten very good at having clean guts. Anyway, I got the Bluesbreaker all boxed up and ready to test. I didn’t have any batteries on hand, so I grabbed a power supply. Unfortunately, I wasn’t really paying attention and I grabbed a center positive supply, when I should have used center negative. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I messed something up. The LED burned out at the very least, and probably the protection diode as well. I replaced both of them, but it still didn’t work. I decided to move on for the time being and come back to it later.

UPDATE: The Bluesbreaker is now working. Apparently I had a couple of wires switched on the input jack. Anyway, I like it a lot so far. I was kinda worried that it would be too compressed like a tube screamer, but it’s actually relatively transparent. I did a few of the King of Tone mods to it right off the bat. I don’t know how they affected the circuit, but it sounds good. I’l have to put this one in the lineup when I do some recordings.

Next, I boxed up the COT50. This one went together pretty easily, except that I initially wired the volume control backwards. That was an easy fix. The original design only has a bias control, with no master volume. I had a real Lovepedal COT50 about a year ago, and it didn’t really work for me without a volume control. The problem is that when you turn the bias up, the volume goes up as well. Getting a good overdriven tone also gave me an unwanted volume boost, so I decided to add the volume control to fix this issue. I’m not sure what to think of the COT50 so far. The layout calls for a certain type of clipping diodes (BAT42), and they’re giving me a fuzzy overdrive flavor. I’m probably going to pull those diodes out at some point and put some sockets in so that I can experiment with some different clipping options.

Next, I boxed up the fuzz. This particular fuzz has 4 controls: fuzz, volume, bias, and contour. I’m still kinda figuring out the controls, but contour seems to affect the upper mids and high frequencies. Raising the contour also raises the overall volume, so those controls are pretty interactive. Bias seems to affect how saturated the fuzz gets. The fuzz doesn’t really have much effective range – I have to keep it pretty much maxed out or it just sounds weak. Is this common with fuzz pedals? One cool thing is that it really cleans up well with the guitar volume control. I can go from a huge-sounding nasty fuzz to an almost Hendrix-y overdrive. I currently have a couple of silicon PNP transistors in there (biased at around 4.5v) and it sounds pretty good, but I’ll probably pick up a couple of Germanium transistors to see how they work out. Any suggestions?

My most recent build is a Dallas Rangemaster treble booster clone. I built this one on perfboard from Radio Shack. It was a huge pain, and unfortunately – it doesn’t work. I don’t know what the problem is, and the thought of troubleshooting it does not make me happy. I’ve got a germanium CV7003 transistor (the U.S. Military version of the OC44 transistor used in the original Rangemasters), and I have a PCB in the mail, so I’m going to try again when it shows up. The plan is to have the fuzz and the rangemaster in the same enclosure, kinda like the Analogman Sunlion.

That’s where I am for the time being, and I’ll probably record some demos (maybe even with video) so that you can see/hear what I’ve been up to.

Stupid solid-core wire…

A few months ago when I was building all those effects, I decided to use solid core wire for all the internal wiring. I made that decision because it was easy to solder and it stayed in place very nicely. However, the wire that I chose has the unfortunate tendency to break at the solder point.

All the effects that I built with that wire (overdrive, wah, and tremolo) have stopped working because of that problem. I’m currently waiting for my soldering iron to heat up so that I can fix my wah. I’ll probably end up rewiring it with something else, but not right now.

Updates…

I have really been neglecting this blog during the past week. So, if you anxiously refresh this page hoping for some new content – I apologize.

My Tascam US-122 showed up today. I installed the drivers from the CD and my MacBook didn’t recognize the interface. I went online and realized that the old drivers don’t work with Leopard, so I downloaded the new driver and everything works now. I haven’t recorded anything yet, but hopefully I’ll be able to do that tomorrow. If I get a chance, I’m planning to record a demo of my amp. Check back for that.

I have been experimenting with the clipping section of my Tube Screamer clone. Basically, you can mix and match different types of diodes to get different levels of overdrive. I’m currently using a combination of MOSFETs, 1N914 germanium diodes, and 1N4148 diodes. I’m not sure how it compares to the other settings that I’ve tried because I don’t really remember what the other modes sound like. I need to put several of these things on a switch so that I can go back and forth between different clipping types to decide which ones I like best.

For the record – I don’t really understand the technical aspects of what I’m doing, so don’t ask.

I have been noticing some issues with my strat lately. Specifically, it’s too bright overall and the volume and tone knobs have some weird things going on with the taper. I opened it up last night and was kind of shocked. I’m not an artist with the soldering iron now, but I’m way better than I was when I wired this thing up the last time.

Another thing that I noticed was that I used 500k pots on everything. I’m not sure exactly why, but that’s one thing that’s making the pickups too bright. I also wired it so that the first tone knob is a master tone that controls all three pickups. It was a good thought, but the bridge pickup is too bright to use the same setting as the neck pickup. I think I’m going to rewire it so that the first tone knob controls the neck pickup and the second knob controls the bridge.

We’re playing Rise by Robbie Seay Band this weekend at church, and it sounded pretty excellent at practice tonight. The lineup for this weekend is really good. We have a new guy playing drums for us and he’s pretty stinking good, even if he talks too much – just kidding, kind of =). Our bass player (and sometime drummer) is nailing the bass part, which is probably the most important part of the song. Maury and I are playing guitar, as usual. It’s a solid band.

We went to the beach today. I can’t wear my contacts at the beach because of the sand, so I wore my glasses. I was wading with Jack (the water was up to my chest so I was holding him), and we were letting the waves hit us. There were some pretty decent waves and one of them caught me by surprise and knocked my glasses off. I guess I’ll be shopping for new glasses. Awesome.

I guess that’s pretty much it. Oh yeah, I’m on Facebook now, so check out my profile and feel free to friend me.

quick wah recording

Here’s a new clip of the wah that I just built. Once again, I used my Les Paul through the amp simulator in GarageBand (on the Liverpool Clean setting) with my pedalboard in front. At first it’s totally clean, then I add the wah to do some funky whacka-chicka rhythm stuff. At about the 1:00 mark, I switch to a lead tone (Maury’s io super-distortion) with delay. I set up the basic tone, then introduce the wah.

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I’m pretty happy with it, but I’m not really objective at this point – I’m too close to it. What do you think? I’m not necessarily looking for a pat on the back, I’m looking for a critique – not of my playing, but of the wah. Is it too bassy? Trebly? Is the sweep too abrupt? Anything you may have to add would be appreciated. I used this layout which is based on the Vox 847, but I changed a lot of the values, so it doesn’t really sound the same anymore.

UPDATE:
I changed the capacitor going into the wiper which, according to Geoffrey Teese, is supposed to replicate the sound of the ICAR taper present on vintage wah pedals. It sounds a lot better now, but I think that the heel down position may be a little too bass heavy. Maybe it’s too “vocal” in that it sounds more like “whoa” instead of “wah.” I don’t know – check it out for yourself.

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ANOTHER UPDATE:
As I mentioned in my last update, the heel down position was still too bassy, so I changed the frequency cap back to .01. It sounds more balanced and the sweep is much smoother now. Check it out. [Sorry about the length of these clips, I just kinda get going and forget to stop.]

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YET ANOTHER UPDATE:
I lowered the Q resistor to 68K and raised the mids/saturation resistor to 2K. I still want to try a .44 cap at the wiper, but I don’t have any caps that add up to that value right now, so it can wait. Let me know what you think of this one…

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