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!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Microsoft Explorer Touch Wireless Mouse

As things tend to do, my eleven year old Logitech mouse finally gave up the ghost about a month ago. My only backup choices were one of my Apple Mighty Mouses (Mice?) but my laptop doesn't have bluetooth for the wireless version, and the wired version's cable is too stiff for me to use comfortably. My last option was a Microsoft Explorer Touch wireless mouse I had picked up from Goodwill three years ago. My only initial concern was, like the wireless Mighty Mouse, I didn't want something that chewed through batteries at an alarming rate.


I couldn't care less about how sleek the design is, although it is pretty sleek, I just needed a functional mouse. After tracking it down in my old laptop bag, I plugged in the dongle and almost immediately everything was ready to go. Straight away I noticed just how much smoother and better the DPI was with this mouse. It was comfortable in my hand, and since there was no wire to get tangled, it was far better than what I used for just over a decade. What could go wrong?

After about a week I noticed hand gunk accumulating on the, formerly, shiny black plastic of the Explorer Touch. Then I noticed all the gunk building up in the open crevasses along the top of the mouse. But by far the worst offense from this mouse is that the mouse wheel is touch sensitive, rather than any actual wheel, making it nearly impossible to use because of the buildup. Anyone who uses a mouse often will understand that skin oils and dead cells are just a natural situation, so there isn't much I could do to avoid this issue.


The final fault for this mouse is just how easy it is to lose the dongle. The dongle is suppose to have a kind of push in and push out mechanism on the bottom of the mouse that doesn't work very well anymore. Luckily mine was always in a laptop bag, but the dongle could easily slip out and disappear, rendering the whole thing useless.

One of the things that surprised me about the Explorer Touch, beyond having better DPI than my old mouse, was the battery life. I've accidentally left it on many times overnight and the batteries that it came with, over three years ago, worked for a few weeks.

I don't love this mouse, but it functions smoother and better than my old mouse. If only there was an actual wheel in the center and it didn't have gigantic crevasses for hand gunk to get down into and need cleaned out this mouse would be perfect, instead it's just usable.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Tune Tech TT-5 Clip-On Digital Tuner Review

Clip-on tuners have been a thing for a while, and as a guitarist I had been wanting one. Of course they're much cheaper now that everyone makes them, but as with all new pieces of technology they weren't always accessible to the cheapo, like myself. That's where my favorite hero, the Goodwill outlet store, comes in handy.

The Tune Tech TT-5 isn't anything flashy or splashy but it does look the part. The clip seems sturdy enough and clamps on quite nicely. The display is bright and bold and it even gives you five tuning options: Guitar, Bass, Violin, Ukulele and Chromatic.


So what's not to like about an inexpensive clip-on tuner? Well firstly even when it's turned off it eats through the battery. I had put a fresh CR2032 battery in it after I purchased it, used it maybe once or twice and put it away, only to find out the next time I needed it that I needed to replace the battery that I had just put in it! Also the battery cover, which appears to be made of Enderman flesh, falls off if even a flea sneezes anywhere within a 200 mile radius.

In terms of accuracy I compared the Tune Tech TT-5 to my Korg GA-30 and the TT-5 leaves a tiny smidge to be desired. I'm not saying you'll be miles away from where you need to be, but you probably won't be dead on either. Now someone will undoubtedly be asking "If you have other tuners why would you choose the TT-5 at all?". Simply because it's a clip-on and I don't always have the ability to put a tuner in the chain (I miss my Boss TU-2 so much!). Even so, putting a tuner in the chain means I need to kneel down or go over to my amp to look at the tuner, where as the TT-5 goes wherever I go.


The Tune Tech TT-5 isn't 100% accurate, but it's not far off. It chews through batteries, so after each gig or use it's best to remove the battery entirely and keep them together for the next time you want to use them. And it's probably best suited for someone who is just starting out, or someone at a jam session where you don't need to be completely on point.


For (current Amazon price) $10 is this thing worth it? I personally don't think so, as companies like Planet Waves, Fender and Snark are cranking out clip-on tuners for about the same price, and you would/should expect better quality from those names. Since I picked mine up dirt cheap (maybe cost me a dime) I'm ok with using it and removing the battery and knowing I'm close enough. I'm not a gigging musician so I don't always expect gig quality results from myself or my gear, sometimes I just like to be close enough. It's up to others to decide whether they want to take the chance on a TT-5, but if given the choice I wouldn't, even though I'll continue to use mine until something better comes along.