Thursday, July 27, 2017

Nintendo DS Boy Advance Tutorial

A few years ago I bought a battered (fat) DS from the Goodwill outlet store, with hopes of restoring it with parts from an online supplier. Sadly the online supplier never restocked the housing I wanted, so it just sat in my closet until I used it to piece together a single working DS. What am I suppose to do with the leftover parts? Well, I'll tell you.

Now that I have a working DS I felt it was time to turn the spare parts into something I had seen five years prior. Back then I still retained the need to restore the console, but now I'm ready to transform the leftovers into a project I have dubbed the DS Boy Advance! Since the DS and DS Lite play GBA games, as well as DS games obviously, I feel it's a good choice to be a backlit console to play my GBA games, without cramping my hands around a tiny square. I'm referring to you GBA SP!

This is where the DS Boy Advance is born! You can use either a DS or DS Lite; I'm choosing the fat DS because the GBA cartridges fit flush into the console, but the trade off is that the original DS screen doesn't offer as much brightness or clarity as the DS Lite. This really comes down to what you prefer. Maybe in the future I'll also make a DS Boy Advance Lite, just to see how it is, but that cartridge overhang really annoys me.

After you remove the battery cover and battery here are all the other screw locations.
Green = Top screen ribbon cable
Red = inner screw locations
After you've disassembled your DS you are going to need to detach the top ribbon cable from the motherboard, or in my case what was left of it. Once the ribbon cable has been removed the console will not boot without a slight modification, which just means putting a 330 (or about) ohm resistor into the circuit to trick it into thinking the top screen is still attached. You can use normal resistors, but I decided to check around in my parts box and use a surface mount resistor. These take up much less area and don't require any case modifications, which you might need to do if you use a normal resistor.

It's a small spot, this is why I used a surface mount.
Solder the resistor to the pads just right of the Select and Start buttons like this.
Now that your system boots up without the top screen you will need to figure out how to get sound. Remember? The DS speakers are in the top portion of the console and are attached to the top screen circuitry. This isn't difficult at all; in fact I managed to wire a single speaker for stereo. It may not be true stereo, but it sounds good enough for me, with enough volume that I'm not worried about having to wire and fit two speakers.

It's not pretty, but it works! In the end, isn't that all that matters?
Once your speaker is wired up it will now need a home. Luckily there is a nice little space big enough for a speaker just below the action buttons. This is a perfect fit for the speaker, and there is even a small channel through which you can feed the speaker cables up to the soldering joints to where they need to be. Once this is all done everything fits together as if it was completely stock.

Like a glove!
One problem you will have with the original DS case is that the original DS housings are exceedingly brittle! You're going to need to modify the case in a few ways, most notably adding speaker holes and removing the hinge areas at the top. I held a thin wire with needle-nose pliers and ran my soldering iron across it as I slowly, but firmly, pressed it into the plastic to melt some starter holes for my speaker. You'll notice mine aren't the prettiest so be more careful than I clearly was.

Really wish I had taken more time with the
speaker holes, but at least I can hear.
Well, that's essentially all you'll need to do. You can modify the case however you want now. Some people remove the X and Y buttons, some people add two speakers, some people cover up the DS cartridge slot, and some people go completely crafty on the housing face and make it look professionally done. I'm perfectly happy with the way my console turned out, crappy sound holes and all. Since you can use the D-pad and actions buttons to navigate the menus I removed the touch sensory part of the touch screen, but left the glass in as added protection for the display. 

Converting an old DS or DS Lite is a fairly quick and easy modification. The only odd tool you'll need is a tri-wing screwdriver, which can easily be bought online these days. If you are using a DS Lite you'll need to find the DS Lite specific tutorial because I'm pretty sure the solder joints on the DS and DS Lite are different. I'm not entirely happy with the screen on mine, but it was a fun project and it works! Maybe I will do that DS Boy Advance Lite sooner than later, you know, just in case.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

My experience with guitar technology.

When I started playing guitar it was a very archaic time. Sure, there were tons of cool gadgets for guitarists, but if you weren't a touring guitarist you were mostly stuck with a solid state Crate or Peavey buzzing at any volume, AND YOU LOVED IT! Fizzy, shitty, buzzy tone was all the rage in the mid-90's, all thanks to the grunge era where tone didn't matter, tuning your guitar didn't matter, hell knowing how to play didn't matter!

It wasn't until the early 2000's that I really started to seek out something better than my Crate GX-30M. I don't mean a better amp, because to me my Crate combo was the best amp I could have at that time. The GX-30M would remain my baby for many years to come, but eventually I did sell it off and upgrade, at least I think so.

Before I sold the Crate I decided to try and make it sound better, so I bought a Zoom 510 Distortion processor. Originally I wanted a Danelectro Black Coffee mini pedal, but I couldn't find a store that stocked them, and I found the Zoom 510 on ebay for the same price, but it seemingly offered so much more! The Zoom 510 was chock-full of buzzy, fizzy and shitty tones for me to explore, and I absolutely adored it!

Eventually I bought a Boss GE-7 to help shape the tone overall, but the fact remained I was still using a Crate GX-30M with a Zoom 510, there was no way to make it sound any better than it did, or even remotely good. The signal chain was my guitar plugged into the 510, to the GE-7, to the GX-30M, which made me feel like a rock star. I could sound as good or as shitty as I wanted, again mostly shitty.

After having so much fun with the Zoom 510 I decided it was time for me to find another processor to fiddle around with. Would it be a Digitech? Would it be a Zoom 707, which I have always wanted because of the expression pedal, and truth be told I still want one! No, it was a rare blue Zoom 505.

The Zoom 505 was the standard Zoom processor and it offered more than just distortion. I could add chorus, flange, delay and all kinds of goodies to my already horrible tone! HUZZAH! The signal chain now was my 510, for distortion, into the 505 for other effects, into the GE-7 to level it all out and onto the amp. I truly felt like I was a touring guitarist with all this gear, I dared to even call it my rig, which was a bold overstatement.

At this point in my life I had the Crate GX-30M and I had a Crate G600XL head with my brother's Crate 2x12 cabinet. With all the gadgets cluttering up my space I decided it was time to clearance everything and consolidate. This was especially spurred on by the fact that my Zoom 505 was growing ever more finicky and deciding on its own when it wanted to work, which was mostly never.

When he let me borrow his 2x12 cabinet, my brother was been bragging about picking up a Line 6 Flextone 3, which to me sounded like a great option. I too wanted to have all the most popular amp tones of at my finger tips, and be able to quickly and "accurately" switch from a Fender Deluxe to a Soldano SLO-100 all by simply turning a knob. After all, I had just come from a Zoom 510 and 505 setup where I could quickly and easily change my distortion and effects within seconds.

After selling off everything, except the Crate G600XL which I gave away, I went to work on finding out what I could afford and what offered the most bang for my buck. After all was said and done I had narrowed my choices down to the brand new Spider 2 HD. Still reeling from the fact that I didn't get all the cash I expected from the stuff I sold, and heavily regretting selling my Boss GE-7, I walked into Guitar Center on Super Bowl Sunday 2006 and sought out the Spider 2 HDs.

Strangely, both Spider 2 HDs they just pulled out of their boxes, right in front of me, decided neither of them wanted to work, so I was forced to look elsewhere. Behind the counter sat a used Line 6 Flextone 3, like my brother's, which they said just came in and could not be sold for 2 more weeks. My brother tried to persuade them to let me try the amp, but the salesman kept saying no. I think my brother really wanted me to have the same amp as him.

After walking around the store I found a Line 6 Flextone HD that really piqued my interest. With a Jackson Dinky and a Peavey 5150 speaker cabinet I tested the Flextone HD, falling in love with it almost immediately. I wasn't worried about the overall tonality; I more overjoyed with the familiarity of having so many options in one place, and was more so infatuated with the idea of what I could do with this amp. I walked in wanting a Spider HD but walked out with a Flextone HD on layaway.

The following years were filled with happiness, actually. I've had quite a good time with my Flextone HD, even going so far as to buy the long floorboard to unlock more options and a Mesa Boogie 4x12 cabinet so that it sounds the best it possibly can. And even though I didn't get a Flextone 3 like my brother, he did end up buying a Flextone HD like mine. This, however, is not the end of the story, as with technology being ever-changing I've had a few chances to see what the modern age of guitar amps/simulation has to offer.

So far you know I'm perfectly happy with digitally modeled guitar amp simulation, but even though I still love my amp, that's almost 20 years old, modern amp simulation has really taken a hold and become less expensive, far more accurate and easily obtained. My first experience with modern guitar amp simulation is when I found an Amplitube Stealthplug at the Goodwill outlet store. I was quite impressed with the way everything sounded but didn't feel like being nickled and dimed to add a tube screamer or a new amp to my options, so I quickly uninstalled Amplitube and packed the Steathplug away.

Most recently I picked up a Fender Mustang Mini from the outlet store for $8. I knew it was a more modern modeling amp, but I still wasn't completely sure of how it worked. Once I got it home and plugged it into my computer, after having installed the required software, I was completely blown away by what I was experiencing.

Which the aid of an Amplitube style program I was fine tuning the amps from my computer in real time. The Mustang Mini has a 6.5" speaker, so the tones clearly aren't going to be the greatest, but for a practice amp this thing is absolutely amazing to me. I can upload, download and fine tune presets and take the battery powered beast anywhere I want. Fender offers a website for the community to submit all their settings, most of which are horrible but I still find it extremely enjoyable to download and give them a try, before ultimately deleting them and downloading more.

I'm sure I'm still far behind the times in terms of being on the cusp of amp simulation technology, but even so I'm really excited to have what I have. I still enjoy my Flextone HD, but I can only imagine what a Fender Mustang HD would sound like through my Mesa 4x12. Maybe in the future I'll acquire one, but for now I've got a half stack for bedroom jams and the Fender Mustang Mini for everywhere else. These are all I feel I'll ever need, currently. What an amazing time to be a guitar player!