Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Adventures in Guitar Pedal Building

At my age I often look back and get angry with my younger self for thinking we had all the time in the world to accomplish all the things we wanted to do. In my early twenties I wanted to go to luthiery school, an idea that I went so far as to seek out financial aid to make happen, but I never took it seriously. In 2013 I purchased my Kalamazoo Model 1, an amp I have grown more and more enamored with the more I play through it, and waited six years to actually repair it. In the mid-2000s I wanted to start building my own effects pedals after I ran across the BYOC website offering DIY guitar pedals kits at, back then, extremely cheap prices. At the time of writing this there is a three year old draft in my blog account about a DIY ABY box I had planned and even put together, but never once did I actually solder anything inside of it.

Sadly, I feel the time for most of those things has slipped away, but has it? You see, this is the year 2020, a year that has put the world at an almost complete standstill, a year that should teach each and every one of us that the time to do what you want is NOW, and not a day later. At the beginning of the new year I toyed with the idea of building my own guitar pedals, but again I felt I should just put it off and wait, like everything else I've wanted to do. Something within me awoke and  told me I better take charge of that and make it happen before it becomes just another regret. I decided the least I could do was purchase some basic parts from Amazon, such as: LED holders, input/output jacks, potentiometers, knobs, solder-in sockets for component testing and some DPDT foot switches to test true bypass wiring without LEDs.

The next thing I needed to do was find the easiest pedal to build and see if my parts bin had what I needed. After some research I found the Bazz Fuss seemed to be the easiest guitar pedal to build, and my parts bin had pretty much everything I needed, except not the exact same transistor. After throwing the pedal together I tested it out and even though I actually despise Fuzz as an effect I was pretty impressed. After tossing the thing into an old Sucrets tin I decided to call my creation "Fuzzy Throat".

I continued to build a few more Bazz Fuss circuits and none of them sound the exact same. Although all the parts are the same specs, again except the transistor, each component's varying makeup has its own unique way of coloring the signal. This has taught me the importance of trying different types of the same thing to see what happens. A beginner like myself would possibly be blown away by how much of a difference a ceramic capacitor, polyester capacitor or metal film capacitors can make on the overall sound of a pedal circuit.

While fiddling with my Fuzzy Throat pedal I somehow managed to ruin the diode, which turned it into essentially a boost pedal. Before I replaced the diode I played around with it as it was and decided it was time for me to build my first boost pedal. The circuit I ended up settling on was a clone of the Electro-Harmonix LPB-1 pedal. Four resistors, two capacitors and a transistor all put together from the layout I found online and I somehow managed to build an amazing boost that could lower the volume, boost the volume as well as throw my amp into overdrive. Again, I used transistors I had laying around, but the pedal works and I made sure to use sockets so I could swap out transistors.

Although I live with many things in my life I wished I had done, or done earlier, at least I finally managed to build some guitar pedals for myself. I'm also extremely glad that I fixed my Kalamazoo so I could test these pedals through a genuine tube amp. With the world being paused momentarily while we sort through many hardships in the year 2020, I'm glad I finally took the time to try something I had always wanted to do. Now that it's finally started I hope that it doesn't stop any time soon, and I hope this also opens the door to completing other things in my life I've left blowing in the breeze.

Two different Bazz Fuss builds.
Note the use of completely different parts
to see what sounded best.

Addendum June 21st 2020

Recently I purchased some 1590b style enclosures from Amazon (my first attempts at using real enclosures to house my pedals) and I'm actually quite happy with the results. I had previously purchased a 1590a style enclosure, but since I couldn't build a circuit small enough to fit inside comfortably I decided to just turn it into an A/B line selector. At this point I've created two fuzz pedals, although I'm not finished tinkering with the way I build and modify the circuits so I can get the most out of them, as well as two EHX LPB-1 boost clones and the aforementioned A/B line selector. Once I create a fuzz circuit that I like I will use my final 1590b enclosure for that.

From Left to Right: A/B Line Selector, EHX LPB-1 Clones
with blue and orange LED, Joy Fuzzer (play on Joy Buzzer)
and finally Fuzzy Throat.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

My Failed Attempt At "Operation: Yngwie on a Budget"

Since the age of 15 I've been a fan of Yngwie Malmsteen, and as soon as I found out about the Yngwie signature Stratocaster I wanted one. Hell, as soon as I saw the DOD YJM 308 on Zzounds for $25 (some 13 years ago) I bought one and only recently started using it with my Kalamazoo Model 1. Being the cheap bastard I am I could never justify the price for the signature strat though, so I decided to attempt the next best thing. In 2009 I decided to start Operation: Yngwie on a Budget, which meant I would buy an inexpensive Stratocaster style guitar and fix it up as closely to Yngwie's signature Fender as I possibly could.

I knew I wanted quality wood and a close match in color, so that meant nearly every Squier on the market at that time was out of the question. Internet research lead me to RondoMusic.com where I found the SX SST57, an alder bodied guitar that was available in what the site listed as a vintage white. Reviews for this guitar seemed extremely favorable and for $100 I almost couldn't turn it down. On the site, the contrast between the white pickguard (triple ply too!) and the so called vintage white was exactly what I was looking for. It looked as close to Yngwie's buttercream as you could possibly get. What arrived was a dented, slightly piss yellow mixed with pure white colored strat with a neck more orange than an Oompa Loompa's dick.

After sitting down with it for a while I didn't really hate the guitar, but there were quite a few problems with it that needed addressed before this guitar would become anything near what I envisioned. However, the more I played it the more I liked it and the more frustrated I became due to the color being completely wrong. The idea of having to repaint it, swap out the neck and replacing all the electronics actually turned me off to the point I used that to rationalize leaving it the way it was. I had grown to love this guitar for what it was, as it was. It's not a top notch Stratocaster by any means but I've since played both Squier and MIM Fender strats that didn't feel as good as the SST57.

Ten years have passed and I recently acquired a Squier neck with the CBS headstock, which I felt would breathe new life into the YJM on a Budget. Sadly, a huge gap in the neck pocket is just too big for me to use anything other than the original neck. That has officially sealed the fate of this guitar. Instead of using this as my YJM clone I'll just be upgrading parts and trying to make this thing a good, cheap strat clone. Sometimes, when the light hits it just right, the paint does seem to be more yellow than it was all those years ago but still not enough to change my mind. I did swap out the bridge for an official Fender PW-29 but the zinc block made the guitar sound way too thin compared to the smaller steel block it originally had. There is also a noticeable gap between the Fender trem and the body, which the original one covered. I like the look of the official trem, but not the tone of the zinc block or the huge gap it won't hide.

Squier neck on SX body.
That gap is far too big to make it work 

For now Operation Yngwie on a Budget has been put on hold. I've thought about finding a candy apple red strat body to pair with the Squier neck, as well as using the PW-29 tremolo, to make a clone of the lesser desired CAR Yngwie Signature model. With some DiMarzio HS3s and the right electronics I think it would make a suitable clone for myself. I may even dabble in scalloping the Squier neck, but all those are just plans right now as I focus more on dialing in the SST57 to be a good stratocaster clone.

Failed Childhood Investments in the Future

When I was a kid I was an avid sports fan, so collecting sports cards was not only a fun little hobby, it was also highly encouraged. I remember nearly every adult who saw me buying sports cards telling me to keep them in good condition because someday they would be worth a fortune. If only those grownups could have seen into the future and saw any and all value of 99.9% of sports cards fall below that of the cardstock they're printed on. To this day I still have boxes of (now vintage) sports cards that are in great or near mint condition that I couldn't sell for maybe more than a few bucks total.

Another investment I bothered to dabble in was comic books. While not a comic book reader myself I had heard much the same thing about comic books as I did about sports cards. For a very brief time I purchased them in large packs sold by Toys R Us to flesh out some semblance of a collection. I even bought those little bags to keep them all in and bought some cheap, dollar store backing to keep them from creasing in the bags. Like I said that was a very brief endeavor as I soon sold all my comic books off to a friend who originally inspired me to start collecting them in the first place. From what I remember I may have made $5 profit selling these to my friend, if that.

The one thing I did collect that no one ever really saw coming was video games. Now I'm not going to lie and say I saw the trend coming, because I didn't. I sold and traded away games I didn't play for games I would play more often, even if they were for a 10 year old system. So I just kept the games that appealed to me and most of them are still with me to this day, over 20 years later. As a kid I remember buying games from other kids who were more than happy to fork over NES games for super cheap because they thought they were junk and just taking up space in their closet. I, however, was overjoyed to be playing any video game whatsoever.

I think the view on video games at the time was that they were a fad and not something that would become the mainstay they are today. Video game consoles came and the old ones were pushed aside or thrown in the trash. Nobody knew, nobody cared. Moreover look at consoles that failed like the NES top loader that was sold in small quantities because the SNES was already out and not many people wanted to go backwards in technology. Or even the Virtual Boy, which failed altogether just based on itself. Nobody knew the failures of the past would be so highly desirable in the future.

I wish I could go back and talk to my younger self and tell myself that video games are going to be worth a lot of money, and they're an even more fun hobby than sports cards. Trade off those sports cards in the peak of their value and invest that money toward video games, because by the time you're in your late 30's your closet will have a lot of worthless sports cards because you sat too long on the egg and it never hatched.

Back in the Driver's Seat. Driver 76 Review

In the past I've admitted that Driver Parallel Lines is one of my favorite games of all time. I'm guessing Ubisoft is quite fond of their acquisition too as they've spread it out throughout at least three additional games. Driver 76, C.O.P. The Recruit and Driver Renegade 3D all have pretty much the same thing in common: Driver Parallel Lines is their father. I own C.O.P. The Recruit and it's actually fairly good. Ubisoft tried to scrub the Driver smell out, but it's still deeply ingrained in the DNA of that game and it shines through quite clearly. I've been debating buying Renegade 3D, but I'm not entirely sold on it. I might purchase it sometimes down the road, just not today.

So what about Driver 76? Well that opportunity came when I recently received an old beaten and battered PSP from a friend. After replacing the cracked screen I finally had the chance to sit down and give Driver 76 a try. Immediately I was blown away at just how good Driver 76 looks on the PSP. For some reason I wasn't expecting much, but it genuinely looks really good.

The game is a prequel to the events in Parallel Lines and shows how the city was setup just before TK shows up. It's also setup more like Mafia with comic book style cut scenes, by which I mean you go from mission to mission without the free roam ability unless you actually choose the free roam option instead of the mission. Personally I preferred how Parallel Lines showed me where missions were on the map and allowed me to pick when I wanted to do them.

Completing missions gives you rewards such as cars and weapons, which I found a bit odd but I guess is ok. Again, I much preferred the way Parallel Lines allowed me to connect with the city and carjack people to acquire these cars, letting me roam freely and feel the city, not just shoving me around from mission to mission and rewarding me with these things. Nonstory missions are rewarded throughout the game as well, allowing you to do them after you've beat the game or if you so choose to do them between story missions.

To be honest I was very impressed with how Driver 76 looked, controlled and reminded me of Parallel Lines. However, I am sorely disappointed in how it felt truncated and chopped up into little bits and pieces, instead of being a free roaming open world to explore.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Pancake Patch Cables and Guitar Cable Repair.

In a previous entry I took it upon myself to repair two guitar cables I had purchased from the Goodwill outlet store. Initially, quick repairs were done just to get them back to being usable, but over time I decided to fix them to a slightly better standard and move on to another type of cable project. With my guitar pedal collection growing from both buying and building my own, I decided that patch cables were something I would soon need. In my own true fashion I decided to purchase a 12 pack of 90 degree pancake ends from China and wait to see what arrived.

Upon arrival I noticed there were two different types in the bag. Three of them had both solder lugs for hot and ground, while the nine remaining only have solder lugs for hot. Of those nine two of them weren't assembled completely, four more were loose and the other three seemed perfectly fine. So this means out of the twelve I purchased only half were immediately usable. With some channel lock style pliers I was able to crimp the remaining half down to a satisfactory level of usefulness. Although I am extremely dubious about their longevity.

After some thinking I decided to use one of the better pancakes (the left in both above images) to fix my First Act guitar cable and the other two would become my first patch cable. Additional thinking, as well as watching a youtube video demonstrating this technique, gave me the clever idea of soldering the ground directly to the inside of the plugs of the other nine, which actually didn't work at all. My soldering iron could get plenty of heat into the plug (trust me, I know they were hot! ouch!) but the solder just wouldn't stick to the surface for very long. Realizing this wouldn't work on a long-term basis I thought about it a little bit more before I decided to just pinch the ground between the cable and the main body of the pancake end, which actually worked out.

My original idea which only
worked for a short period of time.

After a few burns, a few choice cuss words and some sweating outside to solder in an open-air environment, all the patch cables were finished. In the end I was able to make five patch cables from what I was supplied. I'm not sure if these things will survive very long, but if they do break down I'll just buy higher quality ends and use the same cables. 

Friday, May 10, 2019

Kalamazoo Model 1 Restoration

I tend to collect projects, whether it be my Washburn A20, my Kalamazoo Model 1 or one of the myriad of other projects I have long since forgotten I even have. Lately, however, I've felt a deep, inner push to get things together and finish many of these projects. As I have owned my Kalamazoo Model 1 for almost 7 years I decided it was finally time to finally, and hopefully, let this little bird sing again.

The first process was to change out the power cable. Originally I chopped the end off a PC power cable so that I had a three prong cable, but that proved to be more of a mess than was necessary. After some thinking I decided to try using what is referred to as a "Micky Mouse" style three prong cable, because the end looks a bit like Mickey Mouse, because it would work perfectly in the original strain relief. Sadly progress was halted when I found only the ground is color coded, unlike the PC power cable. After some multimeter continuity checking I sent hot where it needed, neutral where it needed and soldered the ground right back down where I knew ground was suppose to go.

Next was rebuilding the filter capacitor. After I originally tested the amp a few years back, with the PC power cable, I noticed a loud and slowly rising hum. After going to Google I found many old tube amps suffer from this problem due to the filter capacitor. This time around I was confident enough to chop out the old filter capacitor and test it with my component tester. What was suppose to be 20/10/10 microfarad turned into many various nanofarads, one of them was reading 1600nf. Without a doubt this old capacitor was dead and gone.

In my haste to get this amp done I used what I thought would work. 47/33/33 axial capacitors that were all rated for 450 volts, yeah that should work. I arranged them in a triangle, electrical taped them together, hooped the positive leads, connected all the common leads together and placed them in rubber O rings to keep them off the chassis. After all was said and done I soldered the three positive leads to their terminals and I had to create a brand new common ground point for them as the original wire wouldn't reach where the rebuilt capacitor had to go. Afterwards I zip tied everything down and made sure it was snug and secure, but still not touching the chassis.

Before it was zip tied down. Don't worry.
I have to admit I am fairly proud of how everything came together. Now came the dreaded test. Did I do well? Did I mess up? At first I was slightly disappointed, but once I remembered that you have to wait for tubes to warm up before sounds comes through I was actually quite elated when the sound of my guitar came through without even a hint of hum. I had done it! I had fixed this old amp and given her voice back.

I'm going to finish up here by saying that I'm not a professional solderer, nor are the parts I've used top shelf. Since I've owned this amp for almost 7 years I just wanted this thing to work. I am fully aware I may need to change parts for higher quality parts and do better at soldering later down the road, and I will. For now it's just the desire to finally get this thing back together that dictated how things were done. In the end it all worked out and that, to me, is what matters most right now.

I would like to thank Terry from D-Lab Eletronics and Miles from RRU.com. While any mistakes and poor choices are solely my own, these two have a lot of great information on how to repair Kalamazoo guitar amps and both of their resources helped me greatly in the restoration of my amp.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Rebuilding My Pedalboard: The Journey

In a previous post I discussed an old pedalboard that I had put together, and why I ended up selling it all. Now that I'm older, and technology has come along quite a ways since then, I'm looking into trying to rebuild what I once had. Nostalgia? Idiocy? Boredom? Perhaps all of the above? Perhaps, but regardless of why, the call to rebuild it and ultimately make it better reverberates in my head loud and clear.

Obviously the two main ingredients I would love to get back would be my Boss GE-7 and TU-2. Those pieces are irreplaceable in terms of quality, but I believe, as I'm not a touring musician, I could easily find some stand-ins that will do the job adequately until I (hopefully!) come across the Boss versions.

The first thing I purchased was a Behringer EQ700 to replace the GE-7. At $25 I felt confident with the purchase as a lot of Behringer's pedals have moderately favorable reviews. It's been a long while since I've used a GE-7 but the EQ700 seems to do pretty much the same, despite it being very, very plasticky. The sliders work but they feel flimsy, and they don't lock in at certain intervals as I think I remember the GE-7 sliders doing. My main complaint about the EQ700 is the switch system. The switch is simply a button on the PCB and under the external foot switch is a long, thin piece of rubbery material that presses down onto the actual switch. How long will this last? Who knows, but we'll see.

Secondly I wanted a tuner pedal. Even though I'm not a touring musician or even an active one, nothing felt better to me than having a tuner at my feet. After extensive research I decided against going with Behringer again, because a lot of reports (youtube comparisons) showed it to be the slowest as well as not registering lower notes entirely. After a bit more research I decided to go with the Monoprice 611220 chromatic tuning pedal, although mine came in branded Stage Right, because of the reviews, price and what it said it offered.

The Monopri-Stage Right 611220 chromatic tuning pedal has a super fast, super bright display and a metal casing, that feels a bit like pot metal but it is metal. The switch feels flimsy, but like the EQ700 if it should fail it can always be changed to a 3PDT stomp switch. But the part that should really be taken into consideration when purchasing this pedal is there is 100% a noticeable tone change when it's on in bypass mode. Personally I'll only be tuning while it's muted, so it's no big deal to me, but I know it might be a deal breaker for others. The one thing I had to compromise on was the fact this doesn't offer the daisy chain output like the Boss TU-2, otherwise it seems to be a very serviceable tuning pedal.

As far as everything else I currently still have my Rocktek ODR-01 and hope to modify or rebuild it to get a more tube screamer sound from it, since it does possess the JRC4558 chip inside. I have an unmodded DOD 308 that I may or may not modify to sound more like the 250. I also have a bit of an oddity in a topless Behringer HB01 Hellbabe. I paid very little for it, but it seems to work perfectly despite being topless and sometimes I'll place it in the chain for that open Wah pedal sound that adds just a little bit of color that I think sounds kind of cool. And to replace the Zoom multi-effects units I currently own a 506 bass unit that has things the 510 and 505 didn't offer, plus I can use it for guitar and bass.

So far I feel confident with what I've got and hopefully over time I'll be able to upgrade and expand to more useful and higher quality pedals. It just feels nice to be rebuilding my old pedalboard. Sure I miss everything I sold, yes even the Zoom units, but had I not I wouldn't own the amp I currently do nor could I have this adventure I'm having right now to try and regain what I sold off. Always look on the bright side of life.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Yibuy Black Ceramic Humbuckers Review

Ibanez and DiMarzio seem to be a match made in guitar heaven. There's just something about seeing an Ibanez and those hex pole pieces together that clicks the word Quality in the old noggin. For years I wanted to upgrade my stock (or more accurately weak as fuck) Ibanez RG270DX Powersound pickups and make it look like a high end Ibanez without paying the DiMarzio price. That's where the overly bountiful manufacturers selling on Amazon are coming into play; making pickups that look the part without having to pay the part.

You may have read that previously I was looking for pickups for my Washburn A20, which didn't turn out as well as I had hoped. Before those pickups arrived, and I realized what a mistake they were, I had thoroughly chomped on the bullet and bought this set of Yibuy pickups. They're all black, which was exactly what I was looking for in this application, have hex pole pieces and they even have four conductor wires, but most importantly they were cheap.

The listing boasted these pickups were ceramic magnets and the DC resistance of the bridge was 14.5k (7.2k split) and the neck was 7.8k (3.9k split). This all sounded great to me, as the stock Powersounds were lacking power, but there was no short supply of sound, err noise. When these pickups arrived they came in a nice little box, carefully wrapped together and everything looked perfectly fine. So this time there were absolutely no complaints.

After removing the chrome pickups, I installed for testing purposes, the Yibuy pickups were installed. Something I had forgotten was just how obsessed I was with having owned an LTD SC-207 and having to return it a week later (to Guitard Center - sound it out to get the pun) because the neck was twisted like a candy candy stripe. This meant I bought a 7 string set of strings and setup my Ibanez to be tuned B to B. How would these pickups respond? Well, poorly at first. It took some tweaking and adjusting to get everything where I wanted but after some fiddling these pickups really surprised me.

I won't say these compare to DiMarzio pickups, but I will say these are leaps, bounds and light years ahead of the Powersound pickups, and probably better than the Ibanez Infinity pickups that looks like DiMarzio pickups. What's going on under the hood, I can't say for sure but I can say once I adjusted them to where I liked them these things are pretty amazing.

At first I was a little worried about the lack of any wiring diagram, but I quickly found out these wire up like a Seymour Duncan. For the price and time invested, no I wouldn't compare them head to head with DiMarzio, but I would say they're leaps and bounds better than the old stock pickups, which was the only requirement I had of them. My only real complaints would be that the bobbins are shiny, unlike DiMarzio, and the height adjustment screws are bigger and the rings will need adjusted. To be honest I'm already planning to buy another set of Yibuy pickups. I was honestly that impressed with them.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Ode to my old pedalboard.

In the summer of 2002 my guitar rig (using the term lightly) consisted of a Crate GX-30M combo with a really nice clean and a really terrible overdrive, and my only effects pedal, a Rocktek ODR-01. Needless to say it was horrible, but that was all about to change after I started seeing advertisements for a series of mini pedals from Danelectro that were as entry level as entry level gets; super cheap, cheaply made, plastic housed and were everything a young guitarist could ever want to flesh out his guitar rig, or at least needlessly expand it.

Among Danelectro's lineup of pedals were the Tuna Melt Tremolo, Fish n Chips EQ, Corned Beef reverb, Pastrami overdrive and French Fries auto wah, but it was the Black Coffee and Black Licorice that set my little heart alight with dreams of tonal supremacy. Not only did the pedals look very much alike, they were both essentially the same buzzy, skull drilling distortion my young heart lusted for, except the Black Licorice had an octave effect that I wasn't a huge fan of. Try as I did, I could never find a store locally that had them in stock. I needed to test them out in person to see which one, or perhaps both, I liked. Reluctantly I let the dream slowly slip away.

However things started to look up as one day, while checking ebay, I ran across a Zoom 510 distortion processor that was not only cheaper than the Danelectro pedals, but also offered far more than those pedals ever could. I was well familiar with Zoom products, as there wasn't a single guitar magazine at the time you could open without seeing at least one, if not more, of their products. Why would I want a single pedal with a single buzzy tone when I could buy the Zoom 510 and have all kinds of distortions at my finger tips!? That's when I made the choice to buy it now. Is that still a thing? Buy it now? I don't know, I prefer Amazon these days. Anyway...

The day finally come and my Zoom 510 arrived. I ripped the packaging open, ran down to the basement, plugged everything in and put the Zoom 510 through its paces. To be completely honest it wasn't horrible, it wasn't as good as today's technology where everyone has a digital copy of every famous distortion and overdrive pedal mapped to the T and emulated with near perfection, but it wasn't as horrible as it could have been. One of my favorite parts was programming things in by finding patches online to test out what other people thought was a Randy Rhoads or Eddie Van Halen tone. Even to my young, ignorant ears none of those patches sounded like any of the people they were listed as trying to emulate, but if nothing else I really did enjoy programming the damn thing!

Shortly after that I was given the option to purchase a brand new Boss GE-7 for super cheap, which I absolutely jumped at. Still without a decent amp to put it all through, nor a really good set of pedals, I didn't really use the GE-7 to its full advantages. Then came my crystal blue Zoom 505, which pushed the 510 into the background. The 505 was much the same, except this time it was more encompassing. It offered distortions as well as many other effects and amp simulations and other things, while the 510 was strictly distortions and not much else. The pièce de résistance came in the form of my Boss TU-2 that allowed me to daisy chain all my pedals together and finally form a sort of pedalboard.

A few years later my little Crate 1x12 combo just didn't seem like it was enough anymore. I knew that I needed to upgrade but what I upgraded to had to offer more inside than just an amp, as this was the time amp modelling really started to take hold on the guitar community. As such, almost all of my equipment was sold off to help fund the new amp. I knew what I was giving up in the Zoom processors and GE-7 were going to come back to me in the form of a modelling amp that didn't require a distortion or other effects processors in front of it the way the Crate combo needed that kind of help.

Of all the things I sold I miss my GE-7 and TU-2 the most, but most surprisingly I do genuinely miss my Zoom 505 and 510. Clearly the Boss pedals exuded quality and were something I should have held onto, but they were worth the most and the major factors in funding my new amp. The Zoom processors didn't gain me much money, but I still felt I would never miss them or need them with the new amp.

Since those days I still own the Rocktek overdrive, although today it's more of a project pedal than it is its original form. I've also purchased a DOD 308, Zoom 506 for Bass guitar, a Behringer Hellbabe Wah and a Behringer EQ700 to replace my GE-7. Even though the EQ700 works much the same it still doesn't replace the tank that was my GE-7. Soon I'm hoping to buy a daisy chain and rebuild my pedalboard, starting slowly but whatever comes my way I'll be sure to purchase, as long as it's a good deal.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Keeping Optimism in Check.

Recently I decided to start buying parts to restore Rosetta, my abused Washburn A20. I immediately checked Amazon.com and was amazed at the absolute wealth of parts coming in from East Asia. After a few weeks of research, reading tons of reviews and deep self debating over whether I should really buy all these unbranded, exceedingly cheap parts I started biting the bullet one part (or set) at a time.

The most crucial part of any guitar build would be, in my opinion, the pickups. My tonal goal is to get as close to a Les Paul(ish) tone as I can while keeping a vintage look, with a secondary goal of being able to split them with push/pull pots, like a stock A20. Ideally I wanted either chrome covered pickups or a cream on cream DiMarzio style, again like the stock A20 pickups, albeit without the DiMarzio price. However finding humbuckers that fit all these criteria proved difficult to find at anything below a big name brand price.

After reading a lot of positive reviews I settled on a set of chrome covered pickups that were only $12 shipped. I knew they were single conductor, but if the over one hundred reviews were to be believed I figured I couldn't go wrong. Sure, these were Chinese made, but they were coming directly from Amazon, how bad could it get? One word: very!

Upon arrival they were packed facing each other and placed in two bags, so I figured they were packaged well and they should be totally fine. I was wrong, way wrong. They were packaged well, but that doesn't mean they weren't dropped in the factory and kicked around the floor a little prior to being packaged.

I wasn't happy with the damage, but I figured at the very worst I could relic them and make them look old and well used, so all hope was not completely lost. In my optimistic haste I asked Amazon if I could get a partial refund and keep them, as I still had hopes for them, which sealed my fate of ownership. The only guitar that I could test these in was my Ibanez RG, being the only guitar that was fully ready and had a humbucker neck route. After installing them I plugged into my Fender Mustang Mini and everything sounded really nice. The tone was full and bright, but it wasn't until I had the chance to plug into my half stack and crank the volume that things started to fall apart and fall apart quickly.

Before with stock Pickups
After with No Brand Pickups

The listing said the neck would be 9k resistance and the bridge would be 16k, but when I checked them the neck was 13k and the bridge was flip-flopping between 12.5-12.8k, I decided to install them anyways. Almost immediately there was feedback from the pickups. All but the outside of the covers were covered in wax. How could these things NOT be potted!? So now not only are they dented, they're microphonic and trying to dial in anything that wasn't complete and utter mud was impossible. I guess that's the difference between a single 6.5" speaker and a closed-back cabinet with four 12" speakers.

After removing these pickups from the RG I noticed the cover for the bridge pickup was rattling, I'm assuming it had broken loose in the fall that caused the damage on the front. After carefully prying the cover off I noticed absolutely no wax whatsoever between the cover and the pickup itself. However, I also noticed the pickup was actually black and cream, which isn't my ideal color combo but it's better than the black on black I assumed it would be. The fun discoveries didn't stop there as I could clearly see where the two coils were connected, giving me hope I could split that, extend the wire and make this pickup a four conductor pickup, maybe. I later took the cover off the neck pickup and found essentially the same, no wax whatsoever to be found anywhere within the cover or on the faces of the bobbins, but this time the pickup was black and white. Not exactly what I wanted, but still not boring black on black.


There are so many things I can do with these pickups, so maybe my optimism wasn't completely wrong, but the initial feeling about these picks was that I had been screwed over hard. Maybe I can split the coils and make it a four conductor like I wanted. Maybe these pickups are a lot better open coil or properly potted with the covers back on them. Maybe! I guess it's just time for me to see what I can make of them and how they sound without the covers on them. As soon as I have a chance to check them out and if I ever put the covers back on them properly I'll make sure to add an update to this, but for now I truly wished I had sent them back and gotten a refund. Then again, maybe these things could be the best pickups $6 (after partial refund) have ever paid for. Oops, there goes my optimism again!