Friday, December 31, 2021

My Review of 2021

The past few years have really been hell for us all, well most of us anyway. Due to personal reasons my hell began toward the end of October 2019. I took that as a reason to seek betterment of myself. With the world screeching to a halt a few months later I went one step further and decided this was a time in my life I couldn't pass up the chance to get a few things checked off the old bucket list. It was time to stop pushing the pause button on life and let it playout the way it would playout.

In 2020 I began an adventure in building guitar pedals, as well as selling off things I didn't need anymore to fund a future endeavor. Things went smoothly, given the circumstance, and as Autumn 2020 rolled in I felt it was time to relax and hopefully this whole pandemic would blow over so I could plan my next steps. As we all know that didn't go to plan, so in Spring 2021 I was actually quite antsy to build more guitar pedals, so I did.

I knew there were a few I wanted to build, like my MXR Distortion Plus clone, but I didn't have the drive to build it until the weather felt right to sit out on the back deck and get things done. After a few pedals I felt burnt out and took a break, but as the summer came that urge was put into overdrive (pun absolutely intended!) and more pedals were built. With a few successes and a few absolute failures, and complete rebuilds, the pedal ideas kept coming. For the pedal building season of 2021 I built thirteen pedals; substantially more than I did in 2020. Even as Autumn 2021 came around I was still planning, sourcing parts for, and cutting boards for pedals I plan to build in 2022. I think this year was the year pedal building became a bit more than just a hobby, and perhaps it has reached personal challenge status in my mind.

Besides building guitar pedals I put together my first partscaster. Now I say put together as I bought the body and already owned the parts for assembly, so I don't feel saying I built the guitar would be strictly accurate. The yellow strat with the Squier neck I picked up from Goodwill many, many years ago came together rather slowly, as I was worried I would completely screw it up. Without fail I did fail, and while this guitar isn't perfect it is my first partscaster assembly, but that just gives me more reason to tinker and fix what's wrong with this guitar in the future.

Another sort of build is my Trashcaster, which is just heavy modifications of the Peavey Rockmaster I (also) picked up from Goodwill many years ago. What was a single humbucker guitar with a fairly decent neck, I turned it into a semi-Tele style by installing tele style pickups. I'm pretty sure the Rockmaster body is made of some particleboard or something really cheap because it was crumbling as I was broke ass routing the neck pickup hole. Sure the neck is a bit twisted, but it doesn't affect playability, yet! My ultimate plan is to acquire or build a tele style body and put that neck onto it, and have myself a tele style guitar.

In 2022 I plan to build more pedals, obviously, but I would also like to finish off Trashcaster and finally have a tele style guitar. Another thing I also hope to complete in 2022 is a lap steel guitar, which was on the schedule for this year but I couldn't find the wood to make it happen. With all these plans I know are well within my control there is still one thing that is beyond my control. I just hope that comes back together and these past two years become a mere memory of person growth while getting back on a better track together.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Adventures in Guitar Pedal Building: Part 3

I find it amazing how addictive and rewarding it can be to wield a soldering iron and repair or create things, once a person truly gives it a try. For years I used a very old, perhaps antique, soldering iron for repairing or modding video game consoles and was ecstatic when I got it right. That has all led me to building guitar pedals, and I'm beginning to believe I may just have a bit of a problem with this addiction.

For years I had dreamt of owning the pedals, or clones there of, that my guitar heroes use(d). The MXR Distortion Plus for Randy Rhoads, a DOD 250 for Yngwie, a TS808 for almost everyone, a Marshall Guv'nor for Gary Moore, the list goes on and on. What started off as a small mission to build (again perhaps clones there of) these pedals has now led to a different mindset. What if I could build any guitar pedal I've ever wanted, and then some? Well, that may be truer than I ever believed.

Really Cheap Compressor Fail

There are many websites on the internet that offer guitar pedal layouts, with almost endless supplies of guitar pedal layouts to choose from. I'm finding myself dreaming bigger and bigger with each layout that piques my interest. My mindset has now shifted to it's more cost efficient to build than it is to go buy the actual thing. In many cases this is true, but in some rare cases it's not. For example, I recently built a Boss OD-1 clone that I really enjoy. Does it sound exactly the same? I would wager no, but it sounds close enough that I enjoy it. Once the OD-1 was complete I figured I might want to build a DS-1. Who would build a DS-1 when they're so ubiquitous that guitar stores use them to prop open their front door on cool summer days?

The Boss OD-1 isn't even the most recent build, it all started with a Morley MOD-D1B clone that sounds pretty good too. From there I built another EHX LPB-1 but this layout offered a tone control, which is actually quite useful. I built a clone of a JHS little black buffer, just because I had the parts. I built, and failed, at a Really Cheap Compressor pedal. Hey, nobody promised every pedal would be a success, but it is a learning experience. I also built a Fulltone Fat Boost, where I must have used underpowered JFETs, but the basic principle is there so I can change out the offending parts later. And most recently I built both an Effdub Flapjack clone and Danelectro Cool Cat Drive clone, with another pedal remaining to be completed when the clipping diodes arrive.

Top: Boss OD-1 and Fat Boost
Middle: Little Black Buffer
Bottom: Morley MOD-D1B and LPB-1 w/ tone

When I'm not sitting outside soldering together a pedal, or at least contemplating what pedal I want to build next I get very bored. I love sifting through my spare parts and bagging up what the layout requires. Cutting the stripboard to the required size, making the needed cuts and soldering in the jumper links before putting on the real components in order of height. Sure it's a hobby, to some, but I'm so addicted that I've built more pedal circuits than I have housings, footswitches or input/output jacks to complete them. In the meantime I've had to accommodate all these builds by making two test boxes that just require me to solder in the pedal's circuit board and potentiometers to test it. I guess of all the addictions known to humanity building guitar pedals isn't the worst, and maybe someday it will become more than a hobby and start paying for itself.

Test Boxes

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.