Saturday, September 30, 2023

Nostalgia Is a Hell of a Drug Part 2: My Cursed Willow Playthrough

In the late 90s I got really into emulators (NESticle anyone!?) and started searching for RPGs I had never heard of. I played through my cartridge copies of Final Fantasy and Crystalis more times than I can remember, so I wanted to expand on that by playing through more RPGs, even if it was just through emulation. Games like Legend of the Ghost Lion, Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom, Sweet Home and Dragon Quest were titles that came up frequently, all of which I gave a try, even if only brief. Yet, one game was mentioned that I never really paid much attention to until later in my life: Willow.

Fast forward to 2008, I remember this because Adult Swim was just starting to air Clerks The Animated Series, when I'm burning emulator discs for the Dreamcast. Yes, I was up at 5am burning emulator discs for the Dreamcast to play NES games. You still have a shred of respect for me? Set it alight and watch it slowly turn to ash and disappear. After the disc was burnt I put it into my Dreamcast and started sorting through all the games it came with, one of which stood out, again that's Willow. At this time I had watched the movie a couple of times and was more interested in playing it, especially since I knew it was from Capcom. So I booted into Willow and started playing.

I was immediately hooked as the gameplay was very Zelda-like, and while not the most expansive RPG, there are only 16 levels to be earned, there is still a lot of RPG elements and a ton of gameplay to be had with this game. At some point I quit playing the emulated version and bought myself a real cartridge version. I started playing through the actual cartridge version in about 2013, and I remember having such a great time throughout. That is until I got to the boss, Bavmorda. NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING worked on her. I lost time and time and time and time again. I found all the items, I was max level, I was trying my best and simply nothing worked.

Upset that I couldn't beat the game I packed the cartridge away and forgot about it until about 2017, when I tried again, but this time I used a youtube walkthrough video. This time I was going to beat the game, because I had the power! Youtendo... power? However, it simply wasn't destined to be. I saw the strategy, I copied the strategy and then I noticed that my magic cane wasn't taking anywhere near the same amount of her HP away. What the heck is going on? Yet again I tried and tried and tried, but still nothing worked. So I tried another password I found online and wouldn't you know it? She was taking the correct damage this time. But you know what? I was so pissed off that I had played through the game only to get a whack ass password I packed the cartridge away yet again and forgot about it.

That is until literally an hour ago. I tested the old password and yep, it's still shit! So I used the new password and finally beat Willow. Imagine playing through a game all the way to the final level and it just shits out on you. Could I be missing something? Maybe, but I don't see why the game would let me get all the way to Bavmorda and still be missing something. I swear I collected all the items, I have all the swords, shields and magic. Unless there was some dialogue I missed along the way, I don't see there being any reason for the game to make Bavmorda far more difficult, nearly immortal, in my playthrough. I've never had this happen before, and I hope it never happens again. As for Willow, I've beaten it and I might play through it again sometime in the future to see if I get another cursed password.

Here! Try it for yourself. Good luck!

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Pedal Season 2023 Coming to a Close

Yeah, I know, but it had to happen at some point. With thirty-six projects built, and three left to go, I just can't keep building pedals simply to have something to do. Looking back I wish I had built more delay and reverb pedals, but the few I did build I remember sounding pretty good. Although I still need to get the Belton brick to complete the Ghost Echo clone. I absolutely had to build the Noisy Cricket amp, or else I wouldn't have built any circuits this year, because my Fender Mustang Mini bit the dust and I just don't have time to look into what it needs to fix it. Ironic, huh? Here I am building pedal circuits but I don't have time to fix the amp I used to test the pedal circuits? Ah well, the world keeps spinning.

Once the building is done I still have a lot of troubleshooting to do. The Kay tremolo still needs the transistors sorted out so it's not a warbly overdrive. The Eric Johnson Fuzz Face clone still needs dialed in, transistors tested. A handful of builds need the correct potentiometer installed, as I used good enough to complete the build and get it tested. I even threw a lot of oddball projects at the wall to see if they would stick, and some of them did. Like my latest build was a slightly modified CMAT Mods Butah with more gain and clipping diode selection. Project 64 seems to have been ok. I built a TS style circuit using a 9 pin SIP IC preamplifier that sounded really good, except the 9th pin is a mute pin that doesn't release when tied to ground or left open, so I need to figure that out. Once that's all done I need to sort out enclosures for every single pedal I've built. Ever - single - one! With painted enclosures now close to $15 each, or more, go ahead and do the maths on that. Yeah, that's going to suck.

Currently there are three builds left on the to-do list: Shoot the Moon tremolo, Maxon DS-830 Distortion Master clone and, because I'm a glutton for punishment, a mystery project that seems like it's going to be extremely complex to pull off. Thanks to pictures of Gary Moore's pedalboard both the DS-830 and the mystery pedal were added to my list of builds. Another example was the Bad Monkey, which I fully admit was never on my radar until the whole JHS thing and Pedal Pawn buying Gary Moore's, then trying to flip it for thousands (did they actually sell it?). I decided if it was good enough for Gary Moore I'll make my own, so I did. 

This might seem to be a bit of a stretch but because Gary used a Deep Blue Delay I decided to build the Faux Analog Echo clone. Could I have built a Deep Blue Delay? Sure. As a matter of fact I may just put that kit together after writing this, but the Faux Echo got there first. Atleast the Deep Blue Delay has layouts, unlike the mystery project. I had to do a lot of research on what it was based on and its history. Now I'm doing my best to put together the material components to try and make a clone of it. Will it work? Doubtful. Will it function? To some capacity. Do I hope it works out smoothly? You better believe it, but I'm also a realist and under no delusion that it will, but I'll be sure to announce it when it's done. If you find pictures of Gary Moore's pedalboard and see an oddball pedal that looks complicated, that's most likely the one.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Pedal Circuit Build 69 Has Come

I knew build number 69 had to be based around innuendo, and I might have stretched it out a bit here, but I think it will come together. What effect pedal is more innuendo driven than the Big Muff Pi? The Big Muff Pi was never really on my radar as I'm not a huge fuzz fan. Sure I built an op-amp Muff Fuzz clone, but that's because the op-amp made it sound better (to my ears) than a normal fuzz. BUT WAIT! Did you know there was an op-amp Big Muff Pi!? *gasps en Español* QUE!? SI! DIME MAS! From what I understand in 77 and 78 Big Muff Pi pedals were/could be built with an op-amp. This is apparently the choice version for Billy Corgan and James Iha from the Smashing Pumpkins. Now, you officially have my undivided attention.

Well let's see what we can find in terms of layout, shall we? There are a few, but there is something interesting called the Keeley Rotten Apple that seems to take inspiration from the op-amp Big Muff Pi and adds a little bit to it. That's what I'll build, and so I did! But, mine turned out more like a heavy metal distortion than anything near the Big Muff or Rotten Apple. I have no clue how, I really don't. So this will need more experimenting to test and see where I went wrong. Maybe I put something in the wrong place, we'll see. However, for now build 69 is dubbed Smashing Muffkins. This name is based on the fact that it was based on a pedal that was based on the op-amp Big Muff Pi that Billy and James used, but also because Smashing Muffkins sounds like an inoffensive euphemism for fucking.

Going back to the Big Muff Pi for a moment, does anyone remember EHX loaning the Big Muff Pi design to the Rock Band 2 overdrive prop? I call it a prop because it's not a pedal, it's more like a single button controller. Anyway, I really thought the Rock Band 2 overdrive props would be much easier to find, since every thrift store back ten years ago were covered in the plastic guitar controllers. I was wrong. I was very, horribly wrong. Apparently they're more rare than a leprechaun riding a blue unicorn on Flaberstday under a greyscale rainbow while both the leprechaun and unicorn are wearing orange crocs and black socks.

I thought I would find them all over thrift stores, along side the guitar controllers, and since they're essentially 1590BB enclosures I could repurpose them for real pedal circuits. I even thought about using one to build a Mini Muff Pi. *gasps en Español* No, we already did that bit earlier. Perdón. Está bien. Getting back on track, how dare I want to build a clone circuit that I might not like based solely on the fact I had an enclosures that looked kind of like the original? Well you can rest assured I'm not going to spend anywhere near $100 for a Hammond 1590BB that looks kind of like an EHX pedal just to turn it into an actual, working guitar pedal. Even if I could find one of them cheap enough I would rather flip it to someone willing to pay the $100 for one and just buy a ton of unfinished 1590BBs for all the circuits I already have built that need a 1590BB enclosure. That's using your noggin!

With build 69 in the books that brings me up to thirty-five builds for this year, easily doubling that of 2021 and 2022. The good news is I actually have made three more kits to build, so that should keep me busy for a few more days. Then I really have to quit building and start doing troubleshooting. I have some builds that I'm pretty sure I'll need to tear down and rebuild all over, which sucks but I've had to do it before. Mistakes happen and when everything is in the right spot but it still doesn't work properly, there's no better fix than tear it all down and doing it all over again. If I can pull myself away from my new pursuit of beating NES games I think this year's building will be satisfying, as well as a success in learning new things and having pedals I enjoy using.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Nostalgia Is a Hell of a Drug!

Have you ever seen a 40-year-old man more gitty than a kid about to attend their first Taylor Swift concert? Well instead of getting raked over the coals by Ticketbastards all it took for me was a $13 investment in Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest. Castlevania 2 was one of the first video games I purchased all by myself, from a flea market in the 90s. I remember being allowed to freely roam the flea market when I happened upon a booth that had games for $5 each, to the best of my recollection. At this point I had never hear of, let alone played any of the Castlevania games, so I knew absolutely nothing about them, but the label of Castlevania 2 looked cool so I bought it.

I remember rushing to find my parents after I made my purchase and urging them to go home, as I wanted to play my game immediately. Youth, am I right!? That's not how my parents played it, so I had to continue walking around the flea market, now without any money, until they were ready to go home. When I did get home, however, I did all the cartridge blowing and whatnot to get the game going and was dropped into a world of my own making. I was confused. Without a manual I had no clue what I was supposed to do. This was well before Yahoo, Google, or even youtube tutorial videos. So to make the best of my purchase I just walked around killing the monsters, and that became the game's objective to me. I counted how many monsters I could kill before they killed me. That was Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest to my youth addled mind.

Along the way I've lost a lot of my old NES collection, mostly due to youth stupidity, and as an aging man I find myself wanting to collect them, just to have them again. Sure, I could play Simon's Quest on the NES Classic, or even better, an upgraded ROM hack on my modded Wii, but there's something very deeply connected to my memories about having the actual cartridge and holding a real NES controller in my hand while actually playing the game. You know as it was intended and not just as my ignorant childhood mind made it up to be. I'm really glad to finally have Simon's Quest back in my collection. And yes, I am playing it just like I did as a child; on a CRT through RF, and it's really not that bad. This completes my Castlevania Trilogy on the NES, but I have a few more cartridges I plan to track down. Maybe this will become a series. We'll see.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

A Big One Down, Two to Go!

One guitar pedal I've wanted for a long time, or at least an adequate clone of, is a Boss HM-2. The problem being they stopped making them years before I even knew my first guitar chord. Sure, I could throw money at the problem, but you and I both know that's not what I do. This build has been almost three years in the making, seriously. I researched and researched and even watched almost every video about the HM-2 by Dome on youtube. As well as MANY videos by HM2CULT on youtube.

Most of the HM-2 layouts looked scary because they require three op-amps, which really put me off. Now, I did build four variants of Centaur clones, so you could catch me on a technicality here and say I should be able to build an HM-2, but I really wanted to make sure I was building the right one. The layout world is abounds with layouts for HM-2 clones, and finally I found one that I felt comfortable with. Not to give the game away, but this one only required two op-amps; a singular TL072 and a TL074, both of which I have.

After cutting the board and packing the parts I was excited that my dream was finally coming true, I will finally have an HM-2 clone and I'll be able to chainsaw the living hell out of whatever is left of my eardrums. HA! Too late, I don't have eardrums. No, seriously I was told by a doctor at the at of 15 that I have no eardrums. Protect your hearing kids! On a heavily overcast day I decided to take all my stuff outside and finally give the HM-2 clone a whirl, but I was going to do a few mods to the layout that I felt suited my needs.

Ok, the layout has switches for engaging the hard and/or soft clipping diodes individually, which I decided to replace with two jumpers instead. The layout also has a mids control, which I swapped out for an internal trimpot to keep the option, but not take away from the external HM-2 vibe. After a few frustrating hours of building, mostly due to my overcomplicating the process by wanted to build it my way, the circuit was ready to be tested. Welp, I wired in the volume control backwards. I also wired up the mids trimpot backwards, both of which are easy enough fixes. So, you want to know does it chainsaw!? Eh, well, uhm, not really. I don't know what's going on. It's a REALLY nice heavy metal distortion, and adding some mids with the trimpot makes it a little bit nicer, but it's not chainsawing to my ears.

My circuit seems to step right up to the line of chainsaw and stops as it stares longingly into the black abyss where all the other HM-2 clones are screaming and chainsawing away. I've checked all the gaps for solder bridges, I've made sure everything was where it's supposed to be and it all seems to be right, it just doesn't sound right. Again, it's a really nice heavy metal distortion, but Left Hand Path this is not. I'm sure it will find it's use, but I guess I might just plunk down the cash for the Behringer el cheapo clone since this one didn't work out the way I hoped it would.

All that being said I'm down to two build left; a Soldano SLO 100 emulating preamp and a Lightspeed overdrive clone. Yep! That's all I've got left. That will bring me up to 68 builds, as I believe I said in the last entry, so I need to come up with something spectacular for the 69th build. I just don't know what it could possibly be yet. Nothing planned, it's all up in the air, but believe me you'll know when it's all said and done.


After fiddling, and doing the official Kali test, this pedal sounds really good. My initial tests are through a Noisy Cricket and a 4" speaker, so that has a lot to do with my original thoughts. Even so this one still doesn't seem to hit the same marks as the original. It's not terrible, it's just slightly different. I do think I'll hold off on buying the Behringer clone and stick with this circuit.

Monday, September 11, 2023

New King on the Block

In my pursuit to build more blues style overdrives I was directed to the King of Tone. After my standard research I quickly decided that I was not going to plunk down all that cash, wait a few years, forget I had ordered one, and it show up randomly in the mail one day. I was going to skip all those middle-men and build my own clone, but the one rule I had was it needed to be an all-in-one layout. There are tons of side A or side B layouts, which is what I based my Prince of Tone clone off of a few months back, but only one layout that offered both sides on the same board. At least this was the only one I could find that offered them both on the same board. I'm not a fan of having to stand components, as this layout required, so I didn't! I squished everything in as well as I could.

Unlike most of the builds I've completed this year I already had the enclosure, knobs and everything else setup for this well before I built the circuit. That means I didn't put it in my test box and test it before wiring it up. Nope, this one waited around a few days until I felt I gave enough of a damn to do wiring, my nemesis! I've said it before and I'll say it again: I HATE WIRING! It's a crucial part of every build, obviously, but it's also the one that gives me the most stress. Sure, I've done it many, many times before, but it's still the gateway that stands between myself and having a completed, new guitar pedal. As such, I hate it.

Once all was said and done I'm glad I used an external presence control on my Prince of Tone. With the internal presence adjusted and the clipping diode switched flipped, I chose to keep the yellow channel as an edge of breakup crunch/boost and the red channel I put on the hard clippers and let it ride. I did swap out the normal gain control on the red channel for a 250k. Whether that's actually how the "high gain mod" works or not, I don't know. It doesn't matter as what's done is done. The red channel gets really heavy distortion, especially when I hit it with the yellow channel.

So now we ask ourselves: Does it sound at all like a real King of Tone? I'm going to finally take a stand and say, no. I highly doubt this thing sounds like a true King of Tone. I know, I ask myself the same question with every single circuit I build, and my extremely unscientific testing usually leads me to believe they're all good enough, and they are. This one however, I just wouldn't say it's got what a King of Tone offers. Don't get me wrong, I'm not disappointed by it. There's nothing wrong with the layout, or the circuit, or the build, it's just the fact that this one, while I do like it, doesn't seem to react like a true King of tone.

There are a TON of variables when it comes to this pedal though. Maybe I've not got the presence set like what I'm hearing elsewhere. Maybe they're using different op-amps. Maybe their clipping diode settings are different. Who knows. Maybe it could be dialed in. Regardless, it's another build down and that means only three builds left. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you I added another build to the list, in addition to Experiment 64. I always wanted to try a Timmy or Jan Ray, but my parts bin disagreed. As a nice compromise I decided I would build a Lightspeed clone. A good transparent overdrive, without all the fluff that the Timmy or Jan Ray throw in the mix. With that added to the list I will have built a total of 68 projects. I need one more, and it needs to be something special. You know why!


After fiddling, and doing the official Kali test, this pedal sounds really good. My initial tests are through a Noisy Cricket and a 4" speaker, so that has a lot to do with my original thoughts. However, this one, even with the treble trim pots turned all the way down, sounds pretty bright. Not terrible, but it's just brighter than I would normally like. I'm sure it will find it's place thought.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Pedal Experiment 64

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with a pedal build. Whether it be the number of components, or jumpers that I have to install, I tend to put it off for as long as I can until it can no longer be put off. With only three pedals left to build I did what I always do when I feel overwhelmed, I decided to throw something else together. Completely unplanned and spur of the moment I went through the layout websites and searched high and low until I finally found something I could put together quickly. Sometimes you just need that fresh shot of success juice to give you the confidence to take on that which overwhelms you. 

Since I'm all out of new stripboard I had to rummage through my scraps, but I did find a piece just big enough. All the resistors I had in stock, but when it came to capacitors I did use 150nf instead of the required 100nf, just to experiment. For potentiometers I used some experimental ones I had laying around with parallel resistors to adjust their values to suit the needs of other builds, when I didn't have the required value for those builds. For clipping diodes, well I decided four 1N5817s should do the trick. It only requires three for clipping, the fourth was polarity protection. And then the build required two transistors. Stock requirements are two MPSA 18s, of which I do not have. I went through my parts and found the highest gain little bastards I could find and those just so happened to be some reclaimed C1740s, they'll do!

Even though I already built one of these circuits earlier this year, I used a different layout and a completely different component set this time. I can't currently A/B them so I'm not sure how much of a difference the part selection has made, but I can say that this circuit sounds pretty good. I know I say that about almost everything I build, so take that for what it is. However, this circuit sounds similar to an op-amp overdrive even though it's just two transistors. That might be a clue as to what I built, because I'm pretty sure I said the same thing about the previous one I built. One of my initial concerns was the amount of bass due to the higher cap values, but after running this pedal through Kali (who is VERY sensitive to bass) I feel confident the amount of bass these caps might have added isn't going to overpower the ability for it to be removed somewhere else in the signal chain.

All things considered I'm impressed with the fact I can throw together a random selection of parts and get these results. Granted, this circuit was already known to work and sound good, but with my throwing things together that just felt so completely out of spec with what the original circuit calls for I was braced for complete and utter disaster. Since this is my 64th project build I named it Experiment 64. When I get the chance to A/B it with the stock version I will, but to my recollection I don't remember it being much different. Obviously I'm pretty sure there are going to be differences, and I still expect there to be a touch more bass, but which one sounds best, if they sound much different at all, remains to be seen.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Repeating Myself: Delay Pedal Build

One thing I said earlier this year, perhaps a few times, was that I wanted to step away from drive pedal builds and work on more things like reverb, delay and other styles of effects. While I have worked on other effects: two reverbs, two compressors, one tremolo, a few LM386 based power amps, an envelope filter and two inductorless Wahs, I somehow totally forgot to add a delay pedal to my list of builds for the year. My Disaster Transport Jr. clone has a bit of background noise that I need to address, but I love it. My super cheap ($8) Mugig Echooos delay pedal has been really awesome too, but something echoed (get it!?) in my head that I still need another delay pedal. Maybe more, but for now at least one more.

I still have a ton of resistors, transistors and capacitors, but potentiometers are starting to dry up, especially now that I can't put together quick orders from Tayda Electronics. I love you Tayda, but $20 shipping for $5 worth of parts just doesn't make sense. I know it's not your fault, I forgive you, I just hope one day soon I can order from you again. All that being said I need to check my potentiometer stock before I add anything to the build list, most of which gets kicked off due to the lack of one singular potentiometer. Oh, I know I can adjust the value of a potentiometer, but I prefer not to, because it doesn't always yield the correct results. This paragraph was a long way around in saying potentiometers are limiting my options for delay circuit builds.

Then it happened! I saw the layout for the Wampler Faux Analog Echo, and it was glorious! There was a problem though. I didn't have the 50k linear pots for the delay and level. Sooooooooo, I used 100k instead! What happened? It seems I might have a bit more delay time, and the level seems to get a bit cripsy on the very top end, so just don't crank the level all the way and that won't be an issue. Once it was built I tried to adjust the settings to the ones suggested in the manual for the real pedal and I wasn't far off. All the things the original pedal can do are in here, it just takes a little adjusting to find them. No problem.

With the Faux Analog Echo finished that makes my sixty-third completed build, twenty-ninth of the year and that leaves four projects left to build. I'm not saying I won't add more, it's just that's all I've got currently. Sadly I've procrastinated on some builds because they seem complex and I'm not wanting to screw them up, so I figured I better screw them up last, you know? Hopefully that's not the case, but trust me, you'll know if I do. Or will you? Maybe, maybe not. Let's just all agree that the remaining builds will go well, and everything will be fine by the end of the build year. That's the spirit!