Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Don't Know What You've Got, Until It's Gone.

I could drone on and on about things from my past I've lost that now I wish I had back, but one is a bit more widespread than just to myself. Today's topic kind of pertains to video rental stores. Now, I was never a Blockbuster member, nor did I rent there. The closest I came to Blockbuster was the bassist in my high school band worked there, and I went in a handful of times looking for used video games. My childhood bestfriend's Mom may have rented us video games from there on one of my many, many stayovers at his house on the weekends, but beyond that I didn't grow up a Blockbuster patron.

We had a local chain that had four stores throughout their existence that offered it all, and was pretty quick to add new stock. The chain in question was Movieland USA, with their main building in Mooresville Indiana. I remember going in and seeing video games before I saw any of the movies, the latter of which I really had no interest in anyway. My childhood bestfriend's Mom would rent us a video game or two for the weekend and we would make the best out of it from two days. Later on I purchased a few video games they were selling to clear out old stock. I believe they were $5 each or three for $12, and of course I always bought three NES games at a time. All of them came with their original boxes and manuals, albeit with a sticker stain, but they were all in good shape. I purchased a CIB Wayne's World for the NES from there, which I stupidly sold to FukyuLand, I mean FuncoLand, many years later, but I've already told that story.

 Years passed by, I moved out of state and on the odd visit I would sometimes drive by the old Movieland building, which was a historical building on main street in downtown. Movieland must have started feeling the strain of more competition such as RedBox and Netflix, before they were a streaming service, and moved into the basement of the same building, and closed all their other store. They stuck it out and stayed in business until about 2018 and finally called it quits, closing up shop for good. If you want to read the full story you can find it here.

Since then the owner has passed on and the former building in Mooresville was destroyed by a tornado on the 8th of April 2020. There's absolutely no going back, even for a quick nostalgic trip, the heart and soul of the owner, and the physical location of the building are both gone. I'm not sure if I still have any of the NES games I purchased from them all those years ago, but I believe I might have some of their SNES games. It's hard to tell as they're in the boxes, with Xeroxed manuals and only the circular sticker stains would be a sign of having been their rentals, but I can only guess whether or not that's from Movieland USA. So amongst the many things I've lost in my life, it may seem silly, but one little rental store in a small rural Indiana town still calls to me from the past, yet there is no way for me to answer that call.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Never Meet Your Heroes

There is an old saying that goes something like never meet your heroes, you'll only be disappointed. I've found this also applies to components for building guitar pedals. Way back in 2021 I built my ROG Umble that required J201 JFETs, which was a whole new experience for me in more ways than one. Up to that point I had shied away from building circuits that required JFETs solely because they were all obsolete and out of stock, rendering many circuits I wanted to build useless endeavors. Eventually I did manage to find SMD J201s and horribly soldered up my own conversation boards to make them through-hole. Luckily the Umble circuit has biasing trimpots, because my homemade versions needed quite a bit of dialing in. Even though I made my own and the pedal sounds pretty good, after getting it dialed in. I do still wondered what it would sound like with real, true J201s.

I dreamed of the day when I might actually be able to touch a real J201, like so many other pedal builders before me. I wouldn't take for granted that I was part of the club, while so many may never have that chance to do so. Well, that was how I felt before I managed to purchase some real J201s. I mean, they're J201s. When I received them I put them into the Umble circuit and it sounded the same, meaning my slapdash homemade J201s were no worse than the authentic through-hole component I had always dreamt about.

I'm not saying they're bad, it's just that I built up this wonderful world in my head based on a component being unobtainium and not on the reality that it's just a J201. With my delusional head I thought that the authentic through-holes would have yielded far better results than the little things I soldered up so poorly. The differences, if any, were imperceptible. I guess it's my fault for thinking they would be any different, or perhaps having little faith in my homemade J201s being any good. What I've learned is components are components and they'll generally do what you expect from them, no matter if they're hard to find or the easier to find equivalent.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

DIY Sound Probe

When it comes to pedal circuits that give me grief, usually standard troubleshooting, solder bridge finding and "oops, I'm an idiot" admitting will suffice. In the case of my Blues Driver and Kay tremolo clone circuits these methods just aren't good enough, apparently. Both circuits function well, but have their own mysterious issues that ruin the functionality of the circuit entirely. This is why I decided I needed to construct myself a sound probe and see if that could get me anywhere closer to figuring out the problems.

A sound probe is simple enough to build. You take a length of double wire and on one end you solder on a clip for your ground, and a probe attached to the other wire. On the other end you connect the ground and probe wires to a male audio jack of your choosing, using a 100nf capacitor on the probe end, and you're good to go. I chose 6.35mm so I could plug into my mini amp. I've had some really thick car audio wire hanging around for a while, so I took about a foot of that and slapped my audio probe together. Quick and dirty, but it works.

To use the audio probe I plug it into my mini amplifier, attach the clamp to the (hopefully) grounded enclosure of the circuit and start probing along the circuit board to find the signal path. Don't forget to inject a signal into the pedal circuit first, or there will be nothing to hear. To do this I chose to play music from my cellphone and used a 3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter to connect a guitar cable between the input jack of the circuit and output of my cellphone. This all worked pretty well.

Despite having one more tool in my arsenal to help troubleshoot circuit gremlins, I'm still no closer to figuring out what's wrong with the Blues Driver clone. However, it took me posting on reddit to find out the tremolo circuit was bad from the beginning. I could go on and on about how so called verified layouts can still yield absolute worthless results, but the counter to that usually ends up being that I need to be Nicola Tesla to even touch a circuit. Reddit is a weird fucking place. Once the volume issue on the tremolo was corrected I still need to figure out why it distorts. But that's for another day.

Ugly but functional!

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Knocking Down the To Do List

I have a Windows notepad documenting all my effects pedal builds since day one. I put the name of the circuit built, the date it was built and alongside them I put anything that needs to be checked, fixed, adjusted, troubleshot, etc. I also add an asterisk for pedals that still need an enclosure. Some of my pedals, including the LPB-1 clone, which was my second build, still to this day needed attention. So, I decided I would start knocking things off the list of repairs and adjustments that I needed to do.

The LPB-1 clone used an old A100k pot that worked just fine, until I closed up the build and let it sit. Afterwards, every time an ant would sneeze within a 500km radius when the pedal was on it would crackle. So I decided it was time to clean the pot, so I cleaned it with rubbing alcohol. That fixed it, for now. Should any issues arise from having used rubbing alcohol I'll just replace the pot entirely.

Next I moved on to my 8-bit fuzz, which is a Shoe Pixel clone, and that too needed a pot cleaning. After doing so I managed to clean up 90% of the pot, but it's still crusty and crackly on the furthest top range. That's good enough for now, but this pot will most likely be replaced in the future, should it become more problematic.

Finally I decided to tackle the oscillation of my Rat clone, Rata Blanca. This pedal had been nothing but trouble since I built it, back in March of 2022. I socketed the op-amp to test what sounded best, and also to put in a LM308, should I find one for less than the price of a whole Klon Centaur. For now it's an OP07 Rat and it sounds ok, it just loves to squeal though. I thought I had tested everything and it really was driving me insane, so I packed it away for a few months. When I hooked it up to fix it the oscillation was gone, except in bypass, furthering my feeling of being driven insane. So I decided to tackle the issue of the bypass oscillation by grounding the footswitch and attaching the input to ground when bypassed. This cured the bypass oscillation, but then I noticed the oscillation was back when the pedal was turned on, but it went away if I touched the enclosure. Simple! Ground the enclosure! So I did, and that cured that. Rata Blanca is now finished.

I still have some things to figure out and fix, but I've knocked all the 2020 and 2021 builds off my repairs list. I only have four repairs necessary for my 2022 list, considering I built fourteen pedals last year that's not too bad. The biggest problematic circuits still remain the Blues Driver clone and this year's tremolo circuit, the latter of which actually scored bit of success. It was confirmed the layout I used had an error in it that I'm just not smart enough to have recognized, and the volume issue was rectified in full. However, now the tremolo is an overdrive tremolo. I'll keep plowing through and see what fixes it though.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

The Yay and Meh of the Last Few Weeks.

Since we last spoke I've added three more builds to the completed bag. The completed bag is one of Tayda's huge pink bags where I keep the completed circuits in smaller bags, while they await their enclosures. Each circuit's enclosure has already been picked out, it's just a matter of purchasing them. I also have a bag of knobs already setup for each circuit once those enclosures are purchased, drilled and ready to become each circuit's new permanent home. The three newest completed builds are a Box of Hall reverb, an EQD Chrysalis clone, and a JHS/EHX Lizard Queen clone. I'm still working on the tremolo circuit though. It will be done sometime -- sometime!

The Box of Hall comes with the Heaven Within mods and feedback control. This one still requires the Belton reverb module, but I figured I should build at least one of the two reverbs on this years list so that I have something to test the Belton modules in when I get them. I really enjoyed the Rub-a-dub reverb I built last year, even though the reverb is a bit ripply. I feel the more reverb choices I have the better, and they can always be stacked to see how good that might sound. The other reverb I plan to build this year is an EQD Ghost Echo clone.

Speaking of EQD, the EQD Chrysalis is fucking awesome! I listened to a few demos and it sounds like a 1970s op-amp overdrive, but it's actually a very low component count overdrive that uses two transistors to get its sound. Even through my Kalamazoo Model 1 this pedal sounds amazing. It sounded good through my little test amp rig, but once it hit real tubes the pedal, and the amp, came alive. I'm shocked at how good it sounds, when I'm so much more familiar with transistors producing a fuzz style effect.

Speaking of fuzz style effects, I built a Lizard Queen clone. I hate it. I've made it well known that I'm not a big fan of fuzz, and I'm actually even less a fan of octave. Every octave I've heard sounds like someone farting in an attempt to cover up the original note, and failing completely as you can still hear the original note. Now, 50% of the two people who read this blog will be asking their screens "Why did you build it if you weren't going to like it?", and to that I would say, because I could. Every component for each of this year's builds were bagged up, tagged and sorted many, many months before I even got started. With the Lizard Queen being such a new product, I decided to use one of the many layouts and try my hand at it. Is it a waste of components? Nope. I'll just put it in an enclosure and let it be what it is.

As of the posting of this entry I have completed eleven builds this year, putting me three builds away from each of the past two years total builds, and bringing my overall total up to forty-five. There have been a lot of things learned, and I still have a lot of things to learn, but it's still a fun process. Aside from the tremolo, a Boss Blues Driver clone from last year is also being a bit of a pain in the ass. I've gone over it a few times and it's still not putting out much volume, kind of like the tremolo circuit. I felt this might be the right time for me to build a sound probe, so I can probe around and see where the volume drops. That should help diagnose and troubleshoot some issues. No, I don't consider the sound probe one of this years builds, as it's a utility TO build pedals. Hopefully this helps get a few things sorted and I can put these two pains into the completed builds bag!