Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Tonal Accuracy or Personal Preference?

An important part of picking another effects pedal to build, for me, is always audio research. I listen to online reviews of the genuine pedal over and over again so I get an idea of what it should sound like once I've built my clone circuit. Most of the time a pedal circuit sounds close enough to what I was aiming for, but when a pedal build doesn't turn out the way I was hoping, I turn to the layout website comments to seek answers. My latest build came about because I was super impressed with the Silver Jubilee model in my brother's Marshall Code 100H he let me borrow. I know the Marshall Code has to go back eventually, but I still want to have that sound available, so I figured building a pedal to sound like that would be my best option.

The circuit in question is the Lovepedal Jubilee, and the issue I'm having seems to be a widespread complaint for not just this particular layout, but every layout cloning the circuit. On initial testing the pedal sounded fantastic, but I fear that was clouded in the fog of excitement that rolls through my mind when a pedal build works the first time. After playing it more, and testing it with various guitars, I noticed there is a muddiness that detracts from the overall clarity that I don't remember being a part of the reviews I had seen. This issue was exacerbated by the fact I built the pedal many months after having listened to any of the reviews, therefore voiding any recollection of whether this was how the genuine pedal sounded or not. 

At this point I had a few choices, I could either leave the pedal as it was and just deal with it, or I could do a handful of suggested mods to make the pedal, what most people who have built it seem to find, more useful. I actually chose to revisit the audio research stage and see if the genuine pedal sounded like my clone. Now these are youtube videos of people playing the real pedal, and what I do is wear one headphone while playing my homemade circuit set to the same settings they use, to see what differences I can detect. Clearly this isn't 100% scientific, but it's a good enough reference. It only took one video for me to detect the muddiness that I was hearing in my circuit from the genuine pedal. So what do I do now?

Well I continued my audio research, and I also continued to hear the same muddiness from the genuine pedal in other reviews. Then I found a video from Anderton's, from six years ago, where they were testing the Lovepedal JTM and Jubilee. During the review Mick is playing a Fender Custom Shop Michael Landau 1963 Signature Strat and declares: "A bit more bottom coming out of this strat, which is weird, or maybe it's just a bit muddier.", while playing the Lovepedal JTM, but when the pedal is turned off the strat rings like a bell. Again, this isn't exact science, but my assumption is that, to an extent, Lovepedal's amps in a box style pedals may just be inherently muddy. The same occurred in another review comparing the Purple Plexi to the Jubilee, where both of these pedals lacked a bit of clarity, but oddly enough the Jubilee was less muddy than the Purple Plexi.

For a final time I will admit this is not scientific, this is not written in stone, this is just the way I personally test my pedals alongside pedals I do not own and can not A/B in person. So let's assume I am right, and the genuine Lovepedal Jubilee is muddy and lacking a bit of clarity, what should I do with the clone circuit I've built? Should I leave it as is to emulate the genuine pedal, or should I modify it to what everyone else who has built one seems to think is a more pleasing version? Well, when I decided to build a pedal after the audio research stage, that's really the ideal result I'm after, for better or worse. The genuine pedal isn't bad, nor is the clone circuit I've built, it simply is what it is.

Now, let's assume I'm wrong and the compression of youtube, my headphones, and the lack of frequency reception within my old ears are giving me a false sense of what this pedal should be. If I were able to A/B them in person and find out my clone sounds like a speaker in a lake compared to the genuine pedal, what would I do then? Well, maybe then I would consider the mods to see where that might get me, but I doubt it would be that drastic of a change from review video to A/B them in person. I could be wrong about that as well.

For myself, the point is I want what I hear from the review videos, and that's what I tend to aim for. Naturally a lot of my pedals are built using liberal substitutions as I don't always have the exact part on hand to build that circuit, so sometimes good enough is truly good enough. I know I've tested many different transistors in different pedals, to give myself a more pleasing sound, but generally they still tend to sound around about the same as what I heard in the audio reviews I used to inspire the build in the first place. I think the final test will be testing this pedal against the Marshall Code's Silver Jubilee to see if I can match the pedal with the amp. I might be completely wrong on all fronts, but if I can still dial in something that sounds good using the pedal as it is, that's all that matters. I aimed to build what I heard from the handful of reviews I watched, and having rewatched them now and compared it to what I built I believe I've achieved what I set out to do.


After testing the pedal against the Marshall Code, granted this is modelling vs pedal, they don't sound exactly the same, but I could dial in them close enough and find what I like. The pedal has more treble and is still a bit more muddy than the amp, but I still believe that may just be the nature of the pedal circuit. If I could stage one complaint it would be the noise that comes from the pedal circuit, but it is high gain. Overall I think if I were to fix or modify this pedal in any way it would be to reduce the background noise. Final verdict: The circuit, although a bit muddy, is still very useable and sounds fantastic, to me at least. My build will stay the way it was built.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Rockin the Mockman!

Way back in September 2021 I built a RunOffGroove Mockman. The circuit is based off the distortion found in the Rockman amp line, from Tom Scholz Research and Development Inc. Once it was built it sounded amazing, but I still wasn't completely happy with the circuit. Firstly it was way too loud, of course it could be turned down but it felt odd that the volume was on five or six and my ears were bleeding. Second, there was no way to control the gain, which really isn't the point of the circuit, but still it would be a nice option to have. Finally there was no tonal adjustment at all, leaving you to shape everything else around the Mockman. Again, the circuit sounded great as it was, but I felt it could be improved.

The circuit sat in my done, but no clue what to do with box, and from time to time I would ponder what its future would be. Eventually I decided to search around to see if anyone had added a gain control to the circuit, and to my surprise there seemed to be only one person, besides myself, who wanted to do so. A person by the name of Elijah-Baley said they adjusted a resistor value, replaced a jumper with a potentiometer and created a working gain control. I decided to try this out and see how well it would go. As suggested by Elijah I replaced the furthest left 1Meg resistor with a 22k-47k resistor, I split the middle (kind of) and used a 33k. Then I replaced the jumper that is left of that with a 1Meg potentiometer, I used a C1Meg on mine. And to their credit, it works! It doesn't clean up the pedal entirely, but if you need a clean signal just turn the pedal off. As far as the gain control goes, it does work.

Stock layout from

Gain Mod
(Wired for Reverse Log)

Now that I had a working gain control I felt I'll take it one step further (in for a penny!) and try to get more tonal adjustment out of it. A well known mystery of the ROG Mockman is the bass switch, which really only seems to serve as some kind of placebo. I mean, if you flip a switch you expect something to happen, so your brain does something to fulfil that request, but in reality whether the switch does anything is still up for debate. Still being new to building and modifying circuits I looked for the easiest way to add tonal control, and the answer came in the form of a BMP tone stack. The BMP tone stack is named such as it is the tone stack used within Big Muff Pi pedals to give some form of tonal control.

Stock BMP Tone Stack

The BMP tone stack is super simple, highly customizable and doesn't require very many components at all. I downloaded the tone stack calculator and fiddled with the components until I found what I thought would be a pleasing tone stack. In the end I used two 22k resistors for R1 and R2, and upped C1 to a 47nf capacitor. This gave me a bit of a scoop but also allowed me to adjust for single coils and humbuckers. Now I'm not saying this is the definitive tone stack for this circuit, it's just what worked best to my ears. Many of you familiar with BMP tone stacks will also notice I used the passive version, which helped cut down the extra volume from the Mockman perfectly! You know what else adding the tone stack did? It made the bass switch noticeable. Before there honestly seemed to be no change whatsoever, but now there is a noticeable bit of bass/bass cut, depending on which position the switch is in.

Now that my Mockman has a working gain control, tone control and, while still loud, it no longer makes my ears bleed, this circuit is much more versatile and useable than I felt it was stock. These mods might not be for everyone, and that's fine, but I figured that someone else out there might enjoy tinkering with theirs, and these are a few good mods to start with. Both mods are highly adjustable, super simple and add much more versatility to the circuit. I give all the credit of the gain control to Elijah-Baley (if there was a way to link to them I would) and the BMP tone stack to Beavis Audio. I hope this starts someone on their own journey in modifying not just the Mockman, but other circuits as well, the same way it did for me. Please use these mods, adjust these mods and perfect these mods, and report back as to how you adjusted them to your own tastes. My chosen values might not be the best, and I'm very interested in seeing what someone else comes up with.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Felt Like Makin' Fuzz!

In part one I talked entirely about the Fuzz Face clone that I built, but I feel the other fuzz pedals I've built also deserve a little more attention. So in this edition I'll be displaying each fuzz pedal I've made and talking a little bit more in-depth about it. What better place to start than with the very first pedal I ever built? Aside from starting with the first fuzz pedal I ever built, they will be presented in no particular order.

This is my bazz fuss circuit that I've dubbed the Fuzz Throat. I had wanted to build DIY pedals ever since the mid 2000s but I lacked confidence and never took charge in making that dream come true until January 2020. When I started looking around for easy pedal circuits the Bazz Fuss was the most talked about beginner build, so I dug through my parts bin and found what I thought I needed. Eventually I found out I was using a transistor with the wrong pinout, and kept testing transistors until one finally worked. The first transistor that worked is the transistor I stuck with.

The Fuzzy Throat is a gritty (and dare I even say shitty) gating fuzz because the transistor was just what I happened to have on hand, and I never dared to bias it correctly. This build stays as it was built the first time it functioned (at least semi-) properly. With this it's either all go or no go, as it will gate out completely with even the slightest adjustment of either the guitar or the pedal's volume control. Packed inside a Sucrets tin with a yellow knob to simulate the lozenge this little bastard started it all. 

This is my EHX op-amp Muff Fuzz clone. I did discuss this one previously, so there isn't much left to say, but I felt it still needed to be included in this entry for the sake of completion. I built this circuit in September of 2021 and never really knew what to do with it, until I started formulating a plan to keep it much like the original EHX Muff Fuzz and cram it into a 1590a enclosure. Once it was all done I can say it's a pretty neat little fuzz that sounds pretty good.

Besides guitars and guitar equipment, something else near to my heart are vintage video games. When I first heard the Shoe Pixel fuzz I knew I had to find a way to build one for myself, and here it is. The 8-bit tones that can be dialed in with this thing are incredible, not to forget there is an absolutely useable musical fuzz that is hidden in there as well. The overall design choice is meant to evoke the totally radical and carefree childhood of the late 80s and early 90s with its vibrant colors. The input is designated green and the output designated red, with a red power input on the very front of the pedal. The LED came from a McDonald's Super Mario toy (a little too on the nose?) that constantly shifts through a handful of colors when engaged. This is the one pedal that makes me feel happy just by looking at it.

Finally we have reached Purple Face, my Fuzz Face clone. I was originally going to add some form of triangular material by the footswitch, in the same vein as a real Fuzz Face, but I decided against that. After I finally heard this circuit's true voice, through Kali, I put it into a purple enclosure and finished it off with antique bakelite knobs that I plan on putting googly eyes onto. Again, I'm not sure whether this sounds anything like a true germanium Fuzz Face, but I get a really nice range of tones from it. Fiddling with the knobs I can get anything from an almost overdrive crunch to a thick fuzz. Don't tell the others but I think this one is the most versatile, and probably my favorite, fuzz pedal. But only by an exceedingly slim margin over my Shoe Pixel clone.

So will my building schedule and a fuzz circuit ever crossed paths again? YES! Pardon me for shouting at you there, but yes, yes it will. You see, a few years ago That Pedal Show and Josh Scott went to Macari's in London to test Tonebenders, and in doing so they made me fall in love with the MKI. One of them can even be quoted as saying "That sounds like modern gain to me.", which I completely agree with. To my ears, so take that for what it's worth, the MKI has a very fuzzy edge, but sounds very much like a modern high gain circuit. That type of characteristic, whether right or wrong, is almost like what I can dial in with Purple Face, albeit Purple Face is more like an overdrive pushing a 5 watt tube amp to her screaming point, but DAMN does it sound amazing. So, a MKI tonebender circuit will be on my build schedule at some point, even though I've read many times it's a real beast to dial in correctly. I feel I'm up for the challenge! At least I feel that way currently, we'll see how I feel as I continuously fail to get it right when that time comes.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Noisy Cricket MKII Build

My first build of the 2023 season was completed on the 6th of March, and it wasn't a pedal. I've wanted to dip my toes into the world of guitar amps, but high voltages aren't something a dumb person like myself want to tango with, even though I did repair my Kalamazoo Model 1. I decided to start off small, with some LM386 based amplifiers, and built a Noisy Cricket MKII. Technically I had the circuit soldered up for a few weeks prior, but I don't give a circuit its birthday until it's functional, so that meant I had to add the potentiometers, switches, input and output, etc. before I officially considered it a build.

She ain't pretty, but she's as functional as can be expected. After everything was put together and tested, I was pretty excited that I finally built a guitar amplifier, albeit a tiny solid-state based one, but a guitar amp nonetheless! As the excitement of having done so kept pushing me to play with the amp, I started formulating plans on what I could do to make it more my amp, instead of just another Noisy Cricket. 

Noisy Cricket MKII Front

I've decided a few mods will include hardwiring the bass capacitor into the circuit, instead of having a selectable switch on the front of the amp. The aforementioned bass switch will then become the grit switch, which is kind of a boost/overdrive. Since the stock tone control doesn't really do much, I'll work on a BMP tone stack and integrate that for more tonal shaping than it currently offers. Finally I think I want to put it into something a little more attractive than an old, disused PC PSU enclosure. The disused PC PSU enclosure was really just an act of desperation, to get the thing into a useable form and it not be just a mess of wires.

Noisy Cricket MKII Side

I'm fairly happy with the product that came from building my Noisy Cricket. I was testing it through the little extension speaker from my Lyon AMP3 and that sounded pretty good, but the real shocker was when I tested it through my 4x12 cabinet, and it actually sounds pretty good through that as well. I do plan to build more LM386 based amplifiers in the future, but I really want to build either a clone of my Kalamazoo Model 1 or a 5F1 style kit. I'll have to save that for when I know quite a bit more about building and safety than I currently do.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

The Mini Series: 1590a Enclosures

As I was working my way through fixing, adjusting and enclosing old circuits that I had built in the previous years, I reached the Muff Fuzz clone, as I previously showed. I knew it would fit into a 1590a style enclosure, as well as the Little Black Buffer clone I had built, but the best deal I could find on 1590a enclosures was a three pack. This meant that I had to build a circuit strictly for the last one. Or would I?

As I continued to work on my circuits I came across my Guyatone Zoom Box clone. This circuit has a lot in common with the DOD 250, MXR Distortion Plus, and the Morley MOD-D1B, but this one sounded very breathy and lacking. After I realized the LM741 chips I bought were mostly junk, it made sense as to why this circuit never sounded good. In a moment of experimental curiosity I soldered two of the junk op-amps together and tested the circuit. It's not perfect, but it's far better than what it was. Then I noticed just how small the footprint of this circuit was. If I was careful, I could shoehorn this little bastard into a 1590a. So I did.

Doing so was a real pain in the ass, I'm not going to lie, but after some serious planning and testing I finally managed to get it in, and functional. I'm pretty sure this isn't anywhere near a 1:1 sounding clone of the original Guyatone Zoom Box, but it's still something that I've built and managed to fit into a 1590a. Now I have a total of four pedals, I guess you can say, that fit into 1590a enclosures. While I prefer the 1590B or 125B, I do see the benefit of having something like a buffer or even a boost pedal in such a small formfactor to fit on a pedalboard and preserve space for bigger pedals.

Top: Guyatone Zoom Box Clone, Muff Fuzz Clone, A/B Switcher.
Bottom: Little Black Buffer Clone.