Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Adventures in Guitar Pedal Building: Part 2

In part one I had just begun dabbling with building guitar pedals. Since then I've built my TS808 clone, my DOD 250 clone, and I've also fallen out of love with my LPB-1 Boost clone. I did build the board for another boost circuit, but haven't put it into a housing yet. Since all of that I've also built a MXR Distortion Plus as well as a Marshall Guv'nor clone, with my final officially planned build being a compressor pedal.

I've genuinely had a great time building pedals. I've learned a lot about building pedals and how to fix my own mistakes. As time has passed I find myself worrying less about all the little details and just focusing on putting the parts in the right places and getting it all soldered up. I also find myself building pedals with a bit of a theme. You see, some of my favorite guitarists are Randy Rhoads, Gary Moore, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Yngwie Malmsteen. If you look at the pedals I've built you'll see they reflect pedals famously used by those guitarists. Was this intentional? Yes.

So how do I feel about the pedals I've build so far? Well, I still absolutely love my TS808, but I do feel it's really best suited for single coil pickups, as it gets a bit woofy when used with humbuckers. I feel my DOD 250 is a bit noisy, so I may build another board using metal film resistors and preserve my original build. I feel my MXR Distortion Plus is lacking something and is also a bit noisy, so it may also get the metal film resistor treatment. My Marshall Guv'nor build seems pretty good, but I haven't really had much time to use it and become familiar with it. And last, but certainly least, I've fallen out of love with my LPB-1 boost because it thickens up the tone and it just makes everything sound horrible.

As I said earlier my final planned build is a compressor pedal and a few alternative boards to see if they make the pedals sound cleaner, or better. I will preserve the original boards as parts of my progress in the hobby of guitar pedal building. I have tons of parts left over, so I'm sure I'll find something else I want to build and get back to it, but for now I'm satisfied with what I've built, it's just a matter of making it all work together. Heck, I might even build a Wah pedal. Actually, I really might do that.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Grey Wasp

 Since I've owned my DOD YJM 308 for so long it began to make me wonder what an original grey DOD 250 sounded like in comparison. Now you can listen to all the youtube videos you want but it's not the same as having them side by side in your personal possession to compare. Since I wouldn't even know where to begin to find one to even borrow I decided I would try my hand at building a clone. I fully understand a clone isn't going to sound exactly like the original, but it should get me somewhere close.

The standard process begins with me looking through layouts online to find one I feel the most comfortable building. Next comes searching for all the parts to put the thing together, followed by cutting down the board and adding the parts, etc. etc. The day came when everything was done. I plugged the pedal in and.. silence. Nothing but pure, low-grade hum and absolutely nothing more. Since the bypass worked I knew it wasn't wired up completely wrong. After checking over it a few times I decided it was best to tear the build all the way back down to the board and test every single component. One at a time.

Since my work station is outside I had a few incidents while testing and rebuilding. First there was a gust of wind that blew some of the parts off the table I work on, losing them forever. Secondly, and this is how the pedal got its name, while doing some soldering I heard a rather loud thud on my table. When I looked up to see what it was, there was a large black wasp with a dead green caterpillar. Omen or miracle? Who knows, but as the original 250 was grey and the clipping on this is rather sharp, like a sting, I figured I would name my build the Grey Wasp.

I have no clue what a real DOD 250 is going to sound like, but after I finally got this thing to work I was rather impressed with how it sounded more or less like the 308. My firm belief is the 308 was focused on helping fans of Yngwie get his tone through a single pedal, instead of being just another 250 pedal clone. If someone really wanted Yngwie's tone they would already own a 250, wouldn't they? Anyhow, since the Grey Wasp does sound fairly similar to the 308, I'll assume that means it sounds fairly close to a grey 250, and I'm ok with that.

The Screaming Pumpkin (TS808 Clone)

What started off as a Bazz Fuss build turned into a pair of LPB-1 clone builds, which has now turned into a TS808 clone build. I had finished the LPB-1 clones maybe a month prior and had no clue what I was going to build next. I still haven't perfected a Bazz Fuss, maybe never will, but I was looking for something new and maybe a bit more challenging to build.

The idea came to me while I was tearing down an old radio and found an NEC c4558c op-amp. I know the 4558 is mostly associated with the Maxon/Ibanez Tube Screamer, so I decided to google NEC c4558c to see whether it was the same or something completely different. Very few google results showed much connection between the NEC op-amp and the TS808, but the few that did yield something seem to indicate some TS808 units do have an NEC 4558 inside of them, and they seem to be fairly rare.

Now that I knew I could build a clone around this op-amp I set to work harvesting the parts from the radio to go around the op-amp. It's just a simple fact that parts degrade with use and time, so I figured if I wanted a vintage TS808 sound I should use the parts this op-amp was already familiar with. I would say I accomplished that for about 90% of the build overall. The other parts I got from other various boards I have laying around.

Gutshot: She isn't pretty.
The layout I used came from Bitsbox.co.uk and their TS808 clone. I used slightly different transistors, so I can't say this is exactly like their kit, but it's probably fairly close. As I was far more comfortable with the Bazz Fuss or LBP-1 layouts I agonized over this build and took my time to make sure I got it right. I took a week carefully looking over boards I have to find the parts I needed to build this pedal, and another week doing things one step at a time to check, recheck, triple check and quadruple check everything to make sure I wasn't going to blow the op-amp once I put it into the sockets.

The day had come, I had finished the board and all that needed done was wiring everything up. I tend to enjoy wiring as I find it the simplest part of the build. The board was all together, the components were all installed inside the housing and all I needed to to was tin connections, tin some wire and solder things together. Even though it's usually a more relaxing experience this build almost broke me. I was so nervous about what could go wrong and trying to troubleshoot so many parts. I pressed on and soldered all the wires to where they needed to go.

I finished soldering up a ground wire for the housing and went to plug the pedal in and see whether it burst into flames or made some tubes scream. At first everything was working perfectly fine, until I engaged the pedal and go no sound at all. I was a bit disappointed, until I remembered that particular power supply has a short near the wall part. After fiddling with the adapter I finally got it to work. I twisted the knobs to see whether I had installed them correctly and the only problem I found was the tone was wired in backwards. Oops. A quick trip to the soldering station and swapping two wires remedied that.

Just to see if it made noise I tested it through my Fender Mustang Mini, but soon graduated to my Kalamazoo. The problem with the Kalamazoo is that it lacks any real tone control, so using the tube screamer sounded muddy with humbuckers. I then decided to test it out on big Bertha and while she is 20+ year old modeling technology the screaming pumpkin did pretty well. Using the good old Marshall models and giving them just enough gain to sound good the screaming pumpkin pushed them even further, even at the lowered drive setting on the pedal.



Friday, August 21, 2020

Rick Sebak Documentaries

Forgive me for sounding a bit cheesy here but I love a good, nay, a feel-good documentary. As a kid we never had cable television so I would, quite often, watch PBS, as there was almost always something interesting to watch. This mentality stayed with me, even after I did have access to cable or satellite television. Among my favorite programs PBS has brought to my attention are: The Red Green Show, Across Indiana (which was probably only aired locally for obvious reasons), History Detectives, Antiques Roadshow, and of course any of the documentaries produced by Rick Sebak.

I can vividly remember having a viral illness in 2004, to the point I felt if I wasn't knocking on death's door it was only because I was too weak to knock. In my illness induced state I was looking for something to watch on television to help get my mind off all the aches and pains, between episodes of being violently ill. It wasn't until I landed on my local PBS that I found something that even remotely caught my interest: A Program About Unusual Buildings and Other Roadside Stuff. As I was still making trips back and forth to the bathroom I couldn't watch it all, but the parts I did catch were very interesting.

Years later I remembered that documentary and decided to try and find it in its entirety. Oddly enough PBS was going to be showing a re-airing of the program later in the week. I waited impatiently each and every day until I could finally watch it completely, without the being violently ill stuff. In its entirety the program kept me entertained, even the bits I had seen previously. At the end of the program I remember PBS doing their donate to get this program on DVD pitch, at least I think it was DVD, but I also believe they were offering more documentaries from Rick Sebak. This brought my my attention the hot dog documentary, the flea market documentary, the amusement park documentary and so many more.

What I believe sets Rick Sebak apart is the flow of the documentaries, his voice and the fun way things are presented and, well.. documented. There is always something to see, the shots never hang too long on something, but it doesn't flash by either. You get a chance to engage your eyes on the subject and study the whole scene while being informed of what's going on.

I've held a short-lived conversation with the man himself over twitter about my belief his documentaries are blu-ray and even Netflix worthy. I understand they are primarily made for his local PBS station, but I do enjoy his documentaries to the point I will occasionally drop a few titles randomly in a conversation. I couldn't do that with a History Channel documentary about storming the beaches at Normandy, but I can about amusement parks, hot dogs, oddly shaped buildings, flea markets, great pies, great bakeries, great breakfasts and tons of other feel-good subjects that are well documented by Rick Sebak.

I know these documentaries have helped me get through rough times in the past. They always feel like something to brighten your day, or put a little sunshine in your rain soaked afternoon. I wish I had access to all of his documentaries but it seems PBS has kept a tight lock on them. There are many others I haven't seen such as the cemetery special. Some can be found online, while others can't. I'm hoping soon to see them popping up, officially, online so that they are all available for everyone to enjoy his work.

The Mooer Black Truck

Ever since I repaired my Kalamazoo Model 1, my brother (who is responsible for my interest in guitars) has been debating buying a tube amp for himself. I'm guessing me having a tube amp is why I'm also his tech/demo guy when he makes a purchase. He first purchased a Carvin V3 mini and, when it actually worked, it sounded ok at best. Given Carvin's history I know they can create good amps, but this particular one just wasn't right at all. After returning that my brother wanted a Spider Valve, then a Marshall DSL, but seemingly out of nowhere be bought a Mooer Black Truck.

I'm familiar with Mooer pedals, but I somehow never heard of the black or red truck units. After my brother brought it to my attention I googled a few demo videos to see what they were all about and how they work. After my brother dropped his off for me to test I plugged it into my Kalamazoo Model 1 to see what this thing was all about. The Mooer black truck offers six effects, not to mention a bright and easy to read tuner, all in one sturdy unit. Reverb, delay, Modulation such as phaser, tremolo and flange, a five band EQ, high gain distortion with a mids scoop and noise gate switch as well as a compressor and overdrive. That's an impressive array of effects all stuffed into this little thing.

After playing around with it I fell in love with the overdrive, which I believe is based off their Green Mile pedal, with a little reverb. The only drawback I see is the lack of control you have over the reverb. The control of the delay is perfect for my style of delay, but I did find the control over the reverb to be quite lacking to achieve what I prefer, but that's just me. Stacking the overdrive and high gain pedals yielded some really interesting tones as well. I'm really impressed with how everything sounds, the ease of use and the fact they managed to put so many features in such a small little unit. You can use presets or make your own. If I wasn't building my own pedals I would probably find myself buying the Red Truck and using only that with my Kalamazoo Model 1 and being perfectly happy.

DIY ABY

Back in 2011 I came across a Johnson J3 footswitch at a local Goodwill for $2. Since I don't own the amps or systems this footswitch works with I originally wanted to repurpose it into an A/B/Y pedal. My problem centered around the fact that the J3 has three switches, and while you could use three for an A/B/Y pedal, two will suffice. The switches that come stock inside the footswitch are momentary so that meant I had to order some 3PDT switches. After fewer switches than I had ordered arrived I decided to only use two. Once everything was said and done I stood back and looked at the project and realized just how horrible it all looked with a gaping hole in the center and packed it away in a box to be forgotten.

Now the year is 2020 and things have moved on quite a bit. Other than wiring the project was done, but I just simply can not get over that hole in the center. Yeah, I hate it too, believe me. I had high hopes for this one, but it's that damn hole in the center. Sure I could plug it up, but I just don't think it would ever look right. So what am I suppose to do now? Well I've already made an A/B pedal. It's not the A/B/Y I wanted, but it's something I built myself, it's functional and it will get me close enough to where I wanted to be, all in an extremely small form factor. Not only did I scrap the original project, this article right here has been in draft form for over three years. Don't believe me? Take a look.

And that's just the last modified date,
not when I originally started.

As I've stated in a previous post I decided 2020 was going to be the year I built my own guitar pedals, long before the world came to a stop all at once. I had ordered an exceedingly cheap 1590a style enclosure that was too small to house the fuzz pedal I originally planned to put in there. After some fiddling I decided to turn it into an A/B pedal. One DPDT footswitch, three jacks and a little wiring and this thing came together rather quickly. Although I'm not exactly happy that one of the outputs comes out the top, it's somehow far more pleasing to me than having an A/B/Y pedal with a hole in the center.


I guess since this post was originally about the A/B/Y pedal I may as well finish up by showing some of the progress photos before I decided to toss it in a box and forget it. Someday I might come up with an idea of what to do with it. Maybe an A/B/Y with a boost or volume control to fill up that center slot.. Hmmmm. Now that I mention it..





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.