Tuesday, May 12, 2015

My Kalamazoo Model 1

Years ago I picked up a Kalamazoo Model 1 from the Goodwill outlet store. I still haven't plugged it in to test it, mainly because it has an old 2 prong power cable and potentially a "death cap", which could send DC voltage through the chassis and down to me, which I would rather not chance.

Admittedly I'm completely ignorant of tube amps, and amp circuitry in generally, but I really wish that I could replace the power cable myself, as well as remedy any potentially death dealing capacitors. I don't want to screw anything up, yet I can't afford to send this off to a professional and have them send me a bill of more than this thing is really worth, just to have done things I feel I could have studied and done myself. (by which I mean simple soldering)

Being a solid state person I'm ill-prepared to maintain a tube amp, but I'm seriously wanting to get this thing turned on, turned up and listen to what it has to say. The problem is that I did a bit of research and found people on both sides of the fence saying these should be good to go, barring any unforeseen electrical issues, while others will say they should be checked over by a qualified technician to avoid damaging the amp or yourself.

Sure, it's not a Marshall, Gibson, Fender or any other well known vintage amp, and most of these aren't even used for guitar anymore. The Kalamazoo tube amps are now mostly used for mouth harps! I did happen to find one person on youtube who cranked a model 1, and it sounded REALLY nice, which makes me sad that I'm completely ignorant on how to fix this poor thing.

Everything except the end of the power cable looks to be in great shape, just a little bit attic. No black marks, no scary looking missing leads or wires to nowhere, everything looks great! Maybe someday I'll get this thing fixed, but there is such little information on checking and maintaining one of these, even with as popular as they are for harmonica players.

Guilty by association!

With vintage video game collecting becoming an ever increasingly popular hobby, prices seem to fluctuate from day to day. Through rarity, nostalgia, the desire to own something you didn't own when you were younger, or just the sheer desire to own something, people are placing higher and higher values on many different vintage games.

One thing that I've noticed is that sequels seem to be the harder to find, or more highly sought after video games. In many cases, sequels were either better or were released later in the life of any given console, making them harder to find or more desirable. But what happens when the price of the more scarce sequel invades the price of it's more plentiful predecessor?

Two examples I can think of, off the top of my head, are NES Flinstones and Chip n Dale. Without question Flintstones Surprise at Dinosaur Peak is rare, as is Chip n Dale's Rescue Rangers 2, but what I see is an ever increasing price tag on their more common cousins. And I believe the reason for that is highly lead by greedy sellers not wanting to pay attention to which one they have and potentially lose money.

As we're all aware video game resellers usually tend to just gloss over what they have and magically come up with a value from various online resources. To the untrained eye an ebay search with Surprise at Dinosaur Peak could make someone believe their Rescue of Dino and Hoppy seem like a gold mine. Sure, from a collector's point we would check and make sure that's what we have, as where a reseller in a rush to make a quick buck wouldn't be so thorough.

Likewise, even as a collector I sometimes get the labels of Chip N Dale 1 and 2 confused. I know they look different, but the purple Capcom design throws me off sometimes. Again, imagine being a foolish reseller or someone just wanting to make a quick buck off their old NES games. The time it takes to nail down exactly what you own is potentially costing you money. If it looks the same, price it and sell it! That's what most resellers do.

Another reason is that perhaps the seller in question doesn't know this is a sequel, or that there is any other version than what they have, so they mistakenly just take for granted that is the correct price. Again, it seems foolish from a collector's point of view, but then again so does the mysterious pricing of resellers, so it kind of makes sense.

I'm not saying the other games aren't good, or even hard to find, but it seems that when there is a small series of games for a vintage system, the rare one always seems to drive up the price of the other game(s). A series like Mega Man stands on it's own, as it was six games long on the NES. The weight of the series seems to be evenly spread throughout all six games. Although they each have their own price, no single copy of Mega Man is $200 while the others float around $20-40, merely because they bear the same name as the expensive one.

Why I love the Nintendo Gameboy

Growing up I was never afforded the allowance to get swept up in the newest and greatest electronic crazes, everything I owned was second hand at best. So when I learned that one of the neighborhood kids was selling his Atari 2600, I quickly starting begging my parents. After they bought it I learned that I had to share the Atari with my sister, who honestly never really connected with it as deeply as I did, but still that meant the system was never fully mine.

It wasn't until a few years later that I received my first brand new, and all my own Nintendo Gameboy for Christmas. Through the following years I slowly started collecting games for the little handheld, as they were cheap and plentiful. By this time most of the kids I knew were already bragging about their Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gears, as nobody really wanted to own the Nintendo Gameboy anymore. I even specifically remember one of the kids in school coming back from Christmas break and saying his mom had bought him NBA Jam TE for the Gameboy, and how much he hated her for getting it for the wrong system.

Needless to say I adored my Gameboy, which lead to countless nights sitting on the couch trying to catch just the right glimpse of light from the hall light, countless hours of sitting by the window at the dinning room table to catch the fading sun. Playing NBA Jam, Kirby's Dreamland, Metroid 2, Madden 95, F1 Race, among other Gameboy classics, until I knew them backwards and forward, and I loved them all. Until one day I threw a major childhood tantrum, smashing the screen on my Gameboy, it was dead... it was gone.

This taught me a very valuable lesson, as I spent months wishing I could play my Gameboy, but through my own childish stupidity I couldn't. I actually had to find other means of entertainment, which mostly ended up being me watching TV. The months went past and yet another Christmas arrived, perhaps this year I would get my own NES, or something to help me forget about my inability to play my Gameboy. What happened was Mom bought me a black "Play it Loud" Gameboy. I was ecstatic, and I knew better than to destroy this beauty!

I was back catching fire in NBA Jam, sucking up enemies in Kirby's Dreamland and rolling around aimlessly in Metroid 2. That is until I bought myself Pokemon Red; to be fair I gave my Mom the money and had her get it from her work, with a slight discount. After acquiring Pokemon Red I almost never put my Gameboy down, I was hooked! A handful of friends and I discussed Pokemon tournaments before Nintendo ever officially said anything about them. We planned them, but never actually held one.

I still clearly remember the joys of owning my very own system, even though it seems nobody other than myself and a small group of friends even wanted to own the Gameboy. I still remember the endless hours of enjoyment, throughout all seasons, weather conditions and all the time I spent just looking into that little green screen, lost within a completely different world.

Then came another addiction: Guitars. About the year 2002 I had been finding so many guitars at pawn stores that I wanted, it forced me to sell off stuff that I no longer had any desire to play, which happened to be video games. One of the first things to go was my entire Gameboy collection. I still regret it to this very day.

As the years have gone by I've acquired a few Gameboy consoles, in various working order, and I've even bought Gameboy Pocket and Color consoles, which I never had before. Even though I own more various Gameboys and games, accessories, etc. for the Gameboy I still regret having sold the collection I once had. Maybe in time it will come back to me, albeit slowly, but just maybe.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Gameboy Color Speaker Repair

After weeks of researching why I wasn't getting any sound from the speaker in my Gameboy Color, I've finally figured it out. The most common answer spewed out haphazardly was to change the speaker, but being the type of person who will test the most common answer as a theory, rather than accept it as fact, I proved that wasn't the case for my particular GBC. When tracking down why your GBC isn't making any sound there are many things to keep in mind. The GBC has many little components within the system that drive the speaker, so for many various reasons your GBC may not have sound. Most of these components will be perfectly fine, but sometimes you'll need to dig a little deeper than thousands of people saying the same thing in the same thread on a forum.

I know my speaker works because I tested it in another GBC, just to be sure that I didn't need to change the speaker. By this point I was fed up with having no sound and I was ready to just bypass the headphones and hardwire the speaker to get any sound from it at all. When I held the speaker wires to the headphone connections on the other side of the board the speaker came to life, which I found a little odd, as I don't believe the headphone jack should be live at this point.

So after a little more poking and fidgeting around, I goofed into figuring out what was ailing my particular GBC. Within the headphone jack of the GBC there is a tiny switch that either opens or closes the electronic signal path to the speaker output. As anytime with metal, sometimes it can corrode or tarnish, as was the case with my GBC. This doesn't allow the switch (simply two pieces of metal) to close properly, sending the signal that should be going to the speaker, instead directly to the headphone jack.

The switch in question is at the bottom right of the jack.
Outlined in red and yellow, these two pieces of metal should make
proper contact to send the sound through the speaker.
As you can see above, red and yellow need to make full contact to send the sound to the speaker. Once a headphone input is submitted, the dark grey bit (above red and to the left of yellow) breaks the connection and sends all the sound through the headphone input instead. As you may also see, the metal is quite dirty and tarnished, as are the connection points inside.

This connection is absolutely minuscule, making it almost impossible to properly clean between the two bits of metal. I tried to slide a tiny flat screwdriver down between the two and scrape away anything I could, without success. Finally what I did was press the one piece (highlighted in red) down with one screwdriver, while pressing up toward the other piece from a small hole on the side of the headphone jack, located just below the connection point.

After a little more tinkering around I finally got sound. Just to be sure it would work I plugged in my headphones, but once I unplugged them the sound was gone again. After a few more attempts of bending the one piece of metal, I finally got a fairly decent connection that would allow me to use headphones as well as the speaker once they were disconnected.

It's not perfect, but it's not something I've ever read online as being a fix for a GBC with no speaker sound. I get tired of the knee-jerk reaction of people on forums just regurgitating things they've seen said, and have possibly been correct, before just to be the first to answer a question. But just because someone has said something is the answer, even with conviction, it's not always the right answer. Test the answer like a theory, don't accept it as fact and keep poking, testing and find the answer yourself.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Gameboy Color Fuse Repair

Of all the Gameboy Colors that I own only one of them gives me any real trouble. The problem child happens to be a green one that I bought from a Salvation Army about 4 years ago. I only paid 59 cents for the damn thing, so even if it never worked at all it was well worth the price I paid if only for use as parts.

Straight away I noticed the GBC would only come to life under battery power, so I quickly went to the internet for a little research. I found that the GBC has two fuses, one for battery power and another for the adapter plug. After bridging the fuse for the adapter port with tweezers the console came to life. All I had to do now was find a fuse. How hard could that be? Well, that happens to be almost impossible.

F1 and F2 (the last being the adapter) fuses marked.
This is how it should look.

Fast forward to when I acquired the GBC board from the outlet store. By this time the original guts from the green unit had been moved to an aftermarket yellow shell and the green shell was about to house the new GBC board. After some testing the board that I bought from the outlet store worked perfectly fine, it just needed a new power switch, which I later "repaired". As time went on the speaker in the yellow GBC stopped working completely! Now not only did this GBC only work off batteries, I could only hear it through headphones!

In an attempt to see why this thing was slowly decaying I swapped the speaker over into the green GBC, where it worked perfectly fine, so I'm assuming it needs the capacitor changed. I quickly became fed up with having two broken units and decided to just make one work completely. I figured it's best to have one completely working and I could figure out the problems with the green one later, or worst case use it for parts only.

After all was said and done the yellow one worked perfectly, yet the poor green one still has the old DMG-esque power switch, no sound and won't work off the DC adapter. What a sad, sad situation this little GBC has become. While I'm not too worried about the state of the switch, I do need this thing to at least make sound, and I surely would prefer it to work off both power options! With hope quickly slipping away I decided to take this thing apart one more time and see if there was any engineering I could do for it.

I had previous removed the blown fuse and decided I would just move the good fuse over so that I could use the adapter and bridge the connection to use batteries, as I feel using batteries would have a much lower likelihood to blow up the GBC without a fuse than a power adapter. After doing so I noticed the GBC wouldn't work at all. I checked the continuity and everything seemed to be fine, but for some reason the system still refuses to work off a power adapter. I knew it would work, like it did with the tweezers, so I was completely stumped and returned the fuse back to it's battery space and made sure it worked there, which it did.

After a bit of thinking I just decided I would err on the side of caution and not bridge the gap for the power adapter, instead I would piggyback off the battery fuse by soldering wires from the correct spots where the adapter fuse was and onto the sides of the battery fuse. After painstakingly, and half-heartedly, setting up the wires I plugged in the power adapter, hit the switch and hoped for the best. The GBC came to life! It was alive through the power adapter once more!

Not the most beautiful, but it works!

Now I know this isn't an ideal repair, but it does work. Ideally I would love to find a perfect replacement fuse to solder in and be perfectly safe, but if the power adapter has any issue now at least there is some form of fuse to stop it from killing the system. I do know, through a few other sets of GBC boards, that the fuse is a 1 amp, other than that I have no clue what else to search for, so I have no clue how to acquire another fuse like it needs.

Again, it's not an ideal repair, but it works. In the end this Gameboy Color has been repaired in so many different ways, but it keeps on ticking. I would love to get it fully repaired, but the fuse, and especially an OEM switch, just aren't anywhere on the market, that I can find. Worst case I'll use it until it pops, but until that day I'll keep patching it together like an old, forlorn teddy bear.