Building a “Tremulus Lune” on vero-board

One of my favourite pieces of music, let alone guitar playing, is by Ry Cooder. A track called “Feelin’ Bad Blues”. This video is an excerpt from the film Crossroads where the tune was used to great effect. For me it is the epitome of blues guitar. Sad, slow and gritty. And that thick tremolo (probably from an old Fender amp, not a Pignose) is the icing on the cake.

So that’s what this post is all about; making a pedal to give me that tremolo effect. It didn’t take long to find the defacto standard tremolo pedal; the Tremulus Lune.

Layout

Layout

Layout

Research showed that I could buy a kit, or even a pre-made one, but where’s the fun in that? I went for the layout from Guitar FX Layouts (seen here).

The novelty with this circuit for me was it used a component called a Light Dependent Resistor (LRD). Essentially one part of the circuit is a Low Frequency Oscillator (LFO), controllable with various potentiometers. The ‘low frequency’ part refers to the fact that it is creating a sine-wave in the range of 3-10hz (I haven’t actually measured it). This wave is used to drive a normal op-amp, thus varying amplitude over time, which is in fact the definition of “tremolo”. One difficulty was getting hold of the correct LDRs.  They needed to have the range 5k/500k. It was easy to get hold of all kinds of LDRs, even from Radio Shack, but I had to trawl through Ebay to find the right ones. I have a bag of 20 now.

The build

The finished board

The finished board

This isn’t my first veroboard build, so the build/assembly went quite quickly, in a pleasant way, and I had it operational on my prototype rig within a couple of hours. It sounded amazing! It truly is a versatile tremolo; you really don’t need anything more complex than this.

The device has three LEDs. One for the usual on/off indicator; another one to couple the LFO with the op-amp (by pointing the LED at the LDR, kind of like a vibe pedal does) and a third one to show the speed of the LFO externally. I decided to use the nice fresnel lens LED holders I bought a while ago. I just think they look really cool. The picture below shows them in their full glory, although the red LEDs look somewhat pink. To fit them I needed to get a 17/64ths drill bit. I have hundreds of drill bits, but not that one. So, a trip to Ace Hardware for that.

Fresnel lenses

Fresnel lenses

The enclosure

This one’s got 5 knobs, so I had to use a 1590BB and I chose to go for a vertical orientation. As for a design I went for the whole Crossroads theme. I combined the lyrics to the famous song, and depicted the actual crossroads by using highway signs. As far as the decal goes, I wanted it to wrap over the sides as I thought it would look cool. I printed it on transparent ink jet decal paper this time as the enclosure is bright white.

Drilling the enclosure

Drilling the enclosure

The decal

The decal

Demo Recording

So I finished the assembly and got it all plugged into my usual rig, and recorded a swift demo. As I mentioned earlier, the reason I wanted to build this was for that archetypical blues tone. So here’s my own sloppy rendition of that kind of sound:

Click here for MP3

The setup was: Tokai Les Paul, neck pickup (a humbucker from a 1961 ES-335); my AX84 P1 Extreme into a 2×12″ speaker cab, with Celestions; my Box of Rock clone for some grit, and the Tremulus Lune of course. The reverb came from Logic, and was a ‘small church’ kind of setting.

The finished pedal

The finished pedal

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Building a Z.Vex Box of Rock on vero-board

0405_Marshall_Amp_630x420Why?

As most guitarists will admit, we’re always looking for a better sound. Some look for new and perhaps innovative sounds. Others, such as myself, want to sound like the players we admire. One classic tone I had never really toyed with is the sound one gets when you crank a JTM45 Marshall. In my opinion it is in my Top 5 sounds. The likes of Clapton, Hendrix, Young (Angus), and many others, started their careers with it. There’s no need for me to recount the origins of the circuit as that’s well documented.

So, you might ask “why not just buy a JTM45?”. Well, one in good condition from the 60′s might set you back 5-10 thousand <local currency units>. A new one, such as those available at Ceriatone go for about $1000….a ‘real’ Marshall? more like $1800.

How

One solution is to approximate the tone in a pedal. And yes, I’ve built way too many overdrive/distortion pedals already, but not one like this. The approach here is to cascade two or more gain stages to ape the design of the JTM45. This has been done may times in plenty of pedals, but a popular one is the Z.Vex Box of Rock. I first heard of this device when it was mentioned by Davy Knowles, who is an excellent blues guitarist. Searching briefly online and I found that the design of the pedal built upon the Super Hard On booster; one of which I built last year. This struck me as a great way to go as I understood that circuit.

Schematic

ZVex Box of Rock schematic

ZVex Box of Rock schematic

Even if you can’t read schematics, you can probably see a pattern repeating itself. There are 4 BS170 transistors arranged as gain stages. They’re chained together and setup in such a way to simulate the characteristics of a tube amplifier. There’s a 4th one (at the bottom right of the schematic) which is the boost section. That will have its own footswitch, so it can be turned on when you “need a bit more”.

I went for a slightly different EQ section. As it stands the BoR just has a simple Muff-style filter. As in, a low-pass filter and a high-pass filter ‘mixed’ together by the tone knob. There’s a great variant that adds a ‘mid scoop’ control, as specified beautifully here by AMZ. It was simple enough that I decided to add it myself.

Layout

I got the veroboard layout from my usual place: Guitar FX Layouts. This guy always does a great job, and is always around to help or explain things. Fantastic!

ZVex Box of Rock - Complete

ZVex Box of Rock – Complete

Build

The build in-progressThe build started off ok, but proved tricky. I quickly realised that I’d done something very wrong as it just sounded very odd. I remembered experiences from previous builds and went back with a fresh printout of the layout, and ticked off each cut, link and solder spot, and made sure the component values were correct. It turned out I had got some cuts in the wrong place. Literally as simple as that. I was careful to use sockets for the BS170s; this meant I was able to leave them out until the last minute so as to not expose them to static shock risk.

Enclosure

Spray and bake

Spray and bake – the black paint hardening under the lights

I went for some custom graphics again. As is typical I couldn’t really think of anything particularly innovative, and ended up calling it “Bed Rock”. This stands to mean two things: 1) This tone is the bed-rock of modern music 2) You can get that tone at low volumes so you can ‘rock’ in your ‘bedroom’. I know, cheesy.

Most of all I wanted to created something with a splash of colour. So many pedals look so very boring. I did the usual flow of finishing the enclosure with enamel based spray paint. This time it was a cheap can of black from Ace Hardware. I was actually going to try something new and bake the enclosure in a toaster oven, but I realised that I was already doing a kind of slow bake with my work-lights. And as I wasn’t in a hurry, I stuck to my usual routine.

For the decal itself, I used a combo of Photoshop and Illustrator to create an image. It was printed on my trusty HP Office ink-jet printer, onto white-backed decal paper; purchased from Small Bear Electronics.

One pleasant discovery was that you can get high-quality fonts for free at sites like FontSpace. Here’s the one I used for the main wording, All Ages.

Almost there!

Almost there!

The finished 'Bed Rock'

The finished ‘Bed Rock’

Demo

I think it came out well. With a Les Paul, it’s ridiculously easy to get that classic AC/DC rhythm tone with everything at 12 o’clock, and with the boost section kicked in you’ve got just that little bit more sustain available for a solo. Even a Strat sounds good. On mild gain settings it really makes single-coils come alive. I ought to do a recording of that too, I suppose. Here’s a demo file of the device.

My setup is the same as usual: Steinberger GM-7SA plugged into an AX84 tube amp, running clean into a 2×12 open-backed cab, with Celestion G12-75T speakers, miced by a Shure SM57 being recorded by an Apple Mac.

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AC128 Germanium FuzzFace – with ‘Fuller Mods’ – from DIY Effects

Over the last few weeks I’ve had the privilege to assist SLW over at DIY Effects on a new PCB offering. It’s a FuzzFace circuit that has many great features:

  • A nice quiet power supply section that offers positive and negative ground. You simply place a jumper where you need it to be. Firstly this means you can use NPN and PNP depending on your set of transistors. Secondly with the recommended transistor sockets, (and the jumper sockets I added) you can switch between silicon/germanium or NPN/PNP in about 30 seconds. (See the ‘B’, ‘V’ and ‘A’ holes on the partially assembled picture below).
  • It has options for a couple of caps that can help reduce hum and soften the distortion a little. These are part of the Fuller Mods.
  • It has options for the other Fuller Mods; namely the ‘Less ‘ and ‘More’ pots. ‘Less’ or what I decided to call ‘Load’ (even though SLW nor I can decide on what to call it) acts upon the input. The ‘More’ control plays with the voltage on the top of the second transistor, which in effect changes the bias. This will tweak the waveform distortion characteristics. In fact, SLW prefers to call this control “Bias”, because that’s exactly what it is. More on this later.
  • The PCB features a spot for an optional trimmer to aid in deciding where the ‘Bias’ pot ‘centers’. More on this later.
  • The PCB has been designed to use DIY Effects ‘stmp’ switch and ribbon combo. This makes the wiring of the off-board stomp 3PDT switch a 30 second job. We’ve all spent much longer than that cutting and stripping 9 wires to wire one up normally, so this is a godsend.
  • The other time-consuming (and error-prone) part of wiring a stomp box is the potentiometers. The DIY Effects fuzz PCB has holes setup so that you can use PCB style Alpha pots instead of the regular lug type. Again this significantly speeds up the assembly of the board. And it gives you a very sturdy board support within the enclosure, so no need for dodgy nylon supports anymore. Of course if you want to use wires, you still can.
  • The PCB is designed to fit neatly into a 125B sized enclosure.
Partial assembly showing the new pot mounting holes and the power jumpers

Partial assembly showing the new pot mounting holes and the power jumpers

Choices to make

There’s no shortage of voodoo going around about the FuzzFace circuit; mostly surrounding which transistors to use. Some say that germanium is the only way to go, but it seems that’s more an artifact of the times rather than through any real objective truth. Jimi Hendrix was using germanium FF boxes because that’s all there was at the time (probably). The likes of Eric Johnson (or any modern hipster indie guitarist playing a Mosrite) is probably using a silicon transistor based FF. The reason being, germanium transistors are unstable depending on temperature, and they vary widely in terms of gain and leakage from one to the next. The industry switched to silicon precisely to combat this problem. So this is yet another case of a manufacturer using whatever they had on had at the time, not because of some kind of mojo.

Standard silicon fuzz on the prototype board

Standard silicon fuzz on the prototype board

Despite all this superstition, which normally sends me running, I went for a pair of AC128 germanium transistors from Mammoth Electronics. A pair of germanium transistors can cost anywhere between $10 and $50 depending on how much you’re prepared to be fooled; either way they’re orders of magnitude more expensive than their silicon counterparts. So choice one: AC128 transistors. This means I must use positive ground when I wire everything up. Make a note.

I also chose to try all the Fuller Mods. This was mostly because I hadn’t ever used a Fuzz-face before, so was eager to try it in all it’s ancient and modern glory. As a nod toward what might be called the mediocre standard circuit, I did initially build a completely standard silicon fuzz. This proved encouraging, so I ploughed on. Geofex has a fantastic discussion on The Technology of the Fuzzface (including the Fuller Mods).

Decals

This is often the most stressful, but ultimately satisfying part. I was able to designing something with much greater confidence this time as I started with a drilling guide supplied by DIY Effects. It was PDF form, and layed out accurate to the millimeter. This meant not only did I have a perfect basis for my design itself, but I could design it over the spots for the holes that I would then use for a drilling guide. Adobe Illustrator was my software of choice. Inkscape wasn’t working out as you cannot zero the ruler arbitrarily, which irritated me to no end.

The design in Illustrator

The design in Illustrator

Assembly

Initially I made a huge mistake in ordering a 1590B enclosure instead of the correct 125B size. This mean I went ahead and drilled the holes and even sprayed the enclosure a lurid gold metallic. When I came to test the layout by offering up the board it didn’t fit…at all. But that’s OK. I will use the gold enclosure for an eventual silicon fuzz. 5 minutes on the Mammoth site and I had ordered the correct enclosure with a lovely Tiger Red sparkle finish.

The ill-fated gold enclosure next to the assembled Fuzz circuit

The ill-fated gold enclosure next to the assembled Fuzz circuit

NOTE: It’s hard to see from the above picture, but there are only 4 wires coming off this finished board; signal in/out, 9V in and ground. With the new ‘stmp’ board and SLW’s choice of potentiometer, this is all you have to then wire into the enclosure. It’s magical!

Biasing and Temperature

As mentioned in the preamble, the fully featured PCB has a Bias control, and a trimmer. The Bias control is able to swing the bias on Q2 across an approximate range of 3 volts.

The typical FF circuit is setup to have -4.5v (measured at point ‘T’ on the PCB). The Bias knob allows you to swing that up to as much as -5.0v. The trimmer will allow you to decide the start of this range of adjustment.

While tinkering with these two controls I happened upon a characteristic of germanium transistors. i.e. they are sensitive to temperature. Now after reading plenty of articles about FF circuits I knew this, but I didn’t really understand what it meant. I had imagined that it meant their “performance” in a circuit might be thrown off by say 50%; much like the way most reasonably priced passive components have tolerances. What I wasn’t expecting was what I observed first hand. When I was tweaking the trimmer to adjust the range of the bias I had the unit on its back with the bottom plate off, and my left hand held the red multimeter probe on lug T. My right hand held the screwdriver placed on the trimmer. My multimeter sat behind the unit so I was forced to lean in close to see it. When I started to make the adjustment the first time, the bias voltage leaped up to about -6.5v!!

This caused me to replace R2 with different values, but that made no difference. And indeed I was getting what amounted to random bias ranges with each change. At this point I became frustrated and stopped for a while. When tempers cooled I came back to it, and measured the bias again…it had dropped back to around -5v and I could move it back towards -4.5v with the trimmer. But then as I did just that it started to rise again. I checked for the seating of the transistors in their little sockets, but they seemed firm. Then it hit me…temperature! I placed a finger on top of the transistors and sure enough, the voltage went nuts. It was being affected by me breathing on it while I was making adjustments.

So at this point I returned the circuit to standard values, set the bias for -4.5v (with the ability to go up to -5.0v using the bias knob) and called it a day. A very instructive waste of time :)

The finished article

Once the decal had dried, and the clear coats had been sprayed, I waited 3-4 hours for the paint to dry. The last couple of pedals I finished myself I had used Krylon clear coat. It works well, but it sprays on very, very thick, and literally takes weeks to dry sufficiently. Until that point it is prone to finger prints and other such handling artifacts. For the Fuzz I tried Rustoleum clear gloss. It sprayed on about the same as the Krylon, although it was less forgiving and I had to be careful to keep it “wet” but not by too much. Also, due to my impatience I was spraying in high humidity, so it tended to go on cloudy (moisture in the air), but cleared soon after. But anyway, all turned out well, so here’s the finished pedal:

The finished pedal

The finished pedal

A quick demo MP3 file of the DIY Effects Fuzz Circuit

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Prototype reverb pedal using the Accutronics/Belton BTDR-2H module

As a follow-on to my previous post about building a breadboard prototyping rig, here’s some information about my first attempt at a circuit.

The schematic

I found a schematic within the application note for the module itself, on this page but it did not include schematics for the power supply circuitry. I’m still so new to op-amps that I wasn’t about to make things up on the fly. I then stumbled upon this schematic on freestompboxes.org. Here’s the post, but you need to register to see it. Here’s the drawing I studied:

Box_of_Hall_Schematic_V1-1

So if you break it down into discreet sections, it’s actually rather simple:

Power supply

In many respects the power supply section was the eye-opener for me on this project. I’ve worked with tube amp supplies before, but never one designed for not only op-amps, but with provision for a ‘module’. So what you see at the top of the drawing is exactly that; 9V coming in from the wart/battery, a little bit of filtering, R1 and R2 dividing the voltage, to get 4.5V for op-amp bias, and the 7805 regulator to give the reverb module 5V. The voltage from the divider goes into one of the opamps to be regulated.

Shawn over at DIY Effects very patiently helped me understand the ins and outs of op-amp power, which was very useful. I had read a lab paper that has some great exercises for exploring op-amp behavior: here, which insisted that op-amps must be powered appropriately, regardless of whether the schematic indicates this. I’m used to tube amp schematics omitting the heater wires (they’re always there, so why bother?) so it became clear with Shawns help that this was true, and that I had simply missed the part of the schematic where pins 4 and 11 are connected to the TL074 quad-opamp. Duh!

Also, most articles focussed on theory talk about bipolar power supplies providing + and – voltage for the opamp, and then a virtual ground in between for bias. This didn’t make much sense until I realized the schematic here provides +9V from the main source, 4.5V for bias, and zero V ground. In relative terms this is identical. Here’s a good article on ‘virtual ground circuits‘.

Anyway, that top section of the schematic was my starting point, so I made reasonably fast work of getting it all working on the breadboard. I was able to measure 9V on the main rails, 4.5V on VB (meaning Voltage for Bias, we supposed) and 5V at VA (for the module. All cool so far.

The rest

The next day I just continued by working my way from left to right on the schematic, wiring up components and crossing them off the printed schematic. Again, through building tube amps I learned to mark progress as I went along; it really helps me as I have a terrible short-term memory.

The challenge at this point was to translate the schematic to a breadboard layout, which I had not done before (other than the 555 LED blinker project from ‘Electronics for Dummies’). I have no magical insight here, I was just lucky I think as this circuit doesn’t sprawl across the board; it’s very simple.

Mistakes were made, absolutely. When I first fired it up I got no sound, but this just meant I got to debug it. I went back with my multimeter and checked power. It was clear that something was wrong as I was getting about 7V for VB, which should’ve been half of the main 9V rail (due to those two 10k resistors between the rails acting as a divider). This led me to check all the connections surrounding the opamp, and I soon found that I had screwed up just two wires, and forgotten to ground the opamp at all. By this point I had a guitar and amp connected, so when I powered it up for the 3rd time, I knew I had a signal. And sure enough it works!!!

Click here for a demo recording of BTDR-2H (medium)

Bread-board chaos

Bread-board chaos

UPDATE! I managed to get this circuit onto veroboard, using the ‘Box of Hall’ layout that’s floating around online.:

The circuit on veroboard.

The circuit on veroboard.

 

UPDATE! July 29th The reverb pedal now has an enclosure…

The guts

The guts

The cheesy graphics

The cheesy graphics

 

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Breadboards and prototyping pedals

As time goes on I become more and more addicted to futzing with pedals, which is a good thing I suppose. But it is tempting to just keep building kits without really knowing whats going on in there. I’ve made attempts to tweak the pedals I’ve built from DIY Effects but only to the extent of messing with clipping diodes. And to be honest they sound great already, so there isn’t much to be done. What I really want is to go back to basics and learn how different parts of the circuit work and also how they interact with others.

So I needed a way to, for example, build a simple transistor gain stage (like the SHO I did before) and perhaps chain it with another one, to see what happens. Or build a generic fuzz and then play with bias values or different transistors. You get the idea. All this is harder to do if you are constantly soldering/desoldering components, so it’s time for breadboards :)

This project is nothing magical, just some parts assembly, but it was a lot of fun. I based my version on the Beavis Audio board that you could once buy in kit form. Here’s the link to the Beavis site, and a photo of mine:

The prototyping board

The prototyping board in its first incarnation.

What’s going on?

Power comes in from a small bench supply I have (not shown) via a standard 2.1mm socket on the back of the breakout box. That goes into the 10k pot, which lets you simulate crappy batteries. ALso not visible are the two 1/4′ jacks that serve as guitar in and effect out signals. You can clearly see the 3PDT stomp switch and the smaller toggle. All these connections are present on the connection block which I bolted to the side.

I also added a board on the back with some handy holes drilled in it. These will hold whatever pots and/or switches the circuit might need. Shawn from DIY Effects had done this, and it looked like a great idea, so I stole it :) Here’s his blog entry showing a massively complex circuit on his protoboard. One day I’ll get to this stage!

What’s next?

  • Build a reverb circuit, probably the ‘Box of Hall’ circuit featuring the BTDR-2H reverb module. It should be very simple.
  • Build a generic fuzz-face and then progressively mod the crap out of it to see how it works.
  • Try some cascading gain stages (based on the Z.Vex SHO) to see what following the tube amp topology achieves.
  • Arduino!!! (this is a potential can of worms that will end with a switchable rack system…mark my words)

UPDATE! Here’s the Box of Hall circuit on veroboard. I still used the breadboard rig to hook up to power and I/O. And with great joy I realized that my little Marshall practice amp (if you can even call it that) clips onto the the back quite nicely :)

The circuit on overboard, connected to my huge Marshall stack.

The circuit on overboard, connected to my huge Marshall stack.

UPDATE 2: I did a prototype of the classic Fuzz Face. Not much to see, but it’s proof that the breadboard has made it very very easy for me to experiment with different circuits.

Silicon Fuzz-face!

Silicon Fuzz-face!

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Building a Z.Vex SHO clone from scratch

In my previous post I had some great success building a very simple boost circuit, the Electroharmonix LPB-1. While learning all about that particular circuit I kept coming across discussion surrounding the Z.Vex SHO; mostly questions of tonal comparison. So I decided to build one of those too, and was greatly excited to find this thread, which spelled it all out for me in simple terms. Here’s the circuit in a simple schematic form (I made it in ExpressSCH (on a Linux box)), then a diagram with some options. And finally one with external components that you’d find on a typical pedal schematic:

My own SHO schematic, with bill-of-materials

My own SHO schematic, with bill-of-materials

ZVex SHO circuit

ZVex SHO “diagram”

Z.Vex SHO schematic

Z.Vex SHO schematic

As you can see, it’s very simple. So much so that a fair few forum members decried it as “too simple” and in fact “retarded”. But I admit to wanting to know how Z.Vex can sell one of these circuits in a pedal for more than $150.

ZVex SHO Updated - from Zach schematic-762360Layout

As with the LPB-1 I wanted to attempt a layout myself, and do it on veroboard. This genuinely was quick easy as this really is a simple circuit. My approach as to keep the relative positions of the components on the schematic. It practically wrote itself. It turns out my own layout was wrong, and non-obvious, so I’ve replaced it (on the left) with a decent layout from Mark at Guitar FX Layouts.

Soldering was simple, and went without drama. I was able to test the circuit within the hour. It worked! When I built it I didn’t have all the hardware, so as you can see from the picture, I used a trim-pot rather than a full-size potentiometer.

SHO clone on veroboard

SHO clone on veroboard

Enclosure

Then the fun part, the enclosure! I’d been wanting to do a decent custom enclosure for quite some time, but never got around to it. This time I decided to make the effort and do something special. First step was to take some good measurements of the enclosure. I had ordered the enclosure from Small Bear, and started by spraying it a lovely fire-engine-red, using Rustoleum paint. That stuff goes on really well and I had no issues with drips or runs.

Decal

Then it came to the decal. I’m not a great designer, or at least not one dripping with amazing ideas for these things, so I looked around at other pedal manufacturers for inspiration. In the end I went for a cheesy tribute to Nigel Tufnel in the spirit of his ‘one louder’ philosophy. With my measurements in hand I used Inkscape to create a set of guides so I would know where all the hardware was going to go on the face of the enclosure. Then I made a simple panel-oriented design that would hopefully go well with the red enclosure. I had deliberately chosen the decal paper that had a white backing to it, so I knew that the upper panel would appear white. I also knew that the gap between them would contain the on/off LED, so that was intentional.

Decal shown in Inkscape

Decal shown in Inkscape

Application

Then it was a case of printing out the design on the water-slide inkjet paper (also purchased from Small Bear). Prior to printing it on the (expensive at $2 per sheet) paper, I did some trial runs on plain paper, just to check for size. You can see in the picture below how the ink looks nice and bold on the real paper compared to the plain paper.

Once printed, I then sprayed a reasonable coat of Rustoleum clear onto the inkjet waterside paper, to seal the ink without letting it run. I was surprised that even after drying for 12 hours the paper was still flexible. Next, I cut out each panel with small, sharp scissors, and made sure it all fit nicely. Finally I soaked each panel in water for about 30 seconds so that the decal was ready to slide off the backing paper. It was simple to apply the decal to the enclosure and get it lined up with the edge. It was most pleasing that my measurements were good, and also that the printer was accurate enough to obey my measurements. After smoothing out the decal with a bit of tissue I left it to dry overnight.

Decal ready to be applied

Decal ready to be applied

Finish

The next day I got things setup to shoot some clearcoats onto the enclosure. I planned on applying 5-6 coats, or until I got bored. This proved easy as long as I kept within the one hour time limit. If I waited longer than that I’d have to wait a further 23 hours to apply another coat.

Assembly

Well, it’s all assembled, and it is fully functional, but I’m not magically happy with the finish. It looks great, but it’s really really soft. It dents easily, even with cloth and finger prints. Maybe this means it will hold up really well to abuse because it won’t chip? Time will tell.

I am however pleased with the LED lenses, which I got from Mouser. Fulltone use a fresnel-type lens on their pedals, which I liked immediately. And to be honest I’m tired of the standard ‘chrome plated cone’ type that I’ve been using up until now. These ones are made by VCC and available from Mouser…try part 593-3210C (tall, like on this booster) or 593-2800C (flatter)

The finished article

The finished article

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Building an Electro-harmonix LPB-1 from scratch

Thus far my effects building experience has all been limited to assembling pre-made boards and soldering the components. Along the way I’ve tried to study the schematics of the original effect, such as the Tubescreamer, but none of it was really sinking in. To remedy this I have decided to go back to basics and learn more about the principles of audio electronics from the bottom up. I have defined ‘the bottom’ as a guitar tone control.

Research

My starting point then is some kind of boost circuit. Many great tones from the 60′s were achieved by driving the front end of a tube amp quite hard using something like the Rangemaster. Certainly Clapton was rumoured to have used one to brighten up his Les Paul in the Beano sessions.

So I looked for boost circuit schematics. One of the first ones I found was a really good single page explanation on how a boost works:

Beavis Audio – How It Workz

This was perfect as it explained it in dumb-musicians terms. For more detail (and for later consumption) I am reading this:

The Transistor Amplifier

Things of note:

  • Notice how similar a basic common-emitter transistor amp is to a common-cathode tube amplifier?
  • All boost circuits are basically the same. They might bias the transistor differently, or they might have extra components (for protection or good behaviour) but fundamentally a clean boost is a common-emitter amp.
  • I can probably build one of these quite quickly.

Which one to build first?

The LPB-1 schematic I started with

The LPB-1 schematic I started with

My choices were between the ZVEX Super hard-on (the SHO) or the Electro-harmonix LPB-1 as they have plenty of reputation in the industry and they’re incredibly simple devices. I decided on the LPB-1 for no apparent reason other than it featured in an article on Beavis Audio’s site which helped me greatly in knowing how to approach this. Here’s that article, go and read it if you’re interested in doing this.

Layout

As encouraged by the beavis article I downloaded DIY Layout Creator, and literally created my own veroboard layout using the LPB- 1 schematic. This was loads of fun and surprisingly simple. It forced me to know the schematic in great detail. I tried to keep in mind the how-it-workz article so I had a feel for why each component was there. Here’s the resulting layout:

Simon Allaway's First LPB-1 veroboard layout

Simon Allaway's First LPB-1 veroboard layout

As you can see, it is pretty simple and even though I haven’t done this in years I was able to assemble all the on-board components in about half an hour. I bet I can do it in half that time now as I kept screwing up.

I made a part substitution as I failed to order some 2N5088 transistors. I was under the impression I already had some, but didn’t. Instead I used a 2N4401.

Testing

So, once I’d wired up power, switching and signal jacks I plugged it into my amp to try it out, but all I got was hiss and distortion. So I unplugged and checked all the solder joints, reflowed a few and tried again. No different. I began to suspect the transistor as that was the only deviation from the schematic. I tried a 2N3904 this time, with much better results. I do get a boost (not as much as expected) and also lots more bass, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. At this point I was discouraged.

Time to re-evaluate. After some thought, I recalled the Beavis document, and some other discussions surrounding the SHO boost; check your transistor pin-outs. I had stupidly placed the transistors pins into the overboard without honestly checking that the collector, emitter, base pins were actually in the right place. I couldn’t tell what brand I was using, so I used a technique I found online here to derive the pins using the diode test function of my multimeter. And sure enough, I had it wired incorrectly.  Literally 180 degrees wrong.

Alright, so put the transistor in the right way around and it now works. There’s definitely lots of gain in this device, and lots of bottom end boost too. And its more than happy driving the hell out of a tube-amp.

The following pictures is before I trimmed the board down to its final size. You can also see I went for an on-board trimmer (as I didn’t have a 100k pot to hand). I may well leave it like this for when it gets integrated into my OD2.

My LPB-1 clone

My LPB-1 clone

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Fitting a 1961 Gibson PAF Humbucker in my Tokai Les Paul

The Tokai LP with its original chrome covered pickups

The victim

The Tokai Les Paul that my wife bought me back on 2005 is a glorious instrument. I have a nice set of guitars; even a “vintage” 1970′s Goldtop, but I always return to my Tokai. It just feels right. The neck is quite fat, and the frets low, but not too low. And the flame maple top underneath a beautifully sprayed cherry-sunburst is simply beautiful.

With all that in mind you’d wonder why I’d ever want to change anything, right? Well, I’m a tinkerer that just cannot leave things alone. Also, I have old bits of guitar hardware laying around and it’s always fun to try new things.  So I decided to take out the stock Tokai humbuckers and fit two pickups that I’ve had laying around for  a very long time. A Seymour Duncan JB (SH-4) and an honest-to-goodness PAF from a 1961 ES-335.

Work begins

I knew in advance the problem was going to be the old PAF. It seems to be quite fragile, and what’s left of the braided wire is very short. Luckily I had some RG-174 left over from building my amplifier, so I grafted some of that onto the old cable.

Old Tokai hum buckers. Look at that curly maple!

But before I could fit the ‘new’ pickups I had to remove the old ones. That proved to be very easy as there’s only two conductors from each pickup, so it took longer to remove the strings and screws than it took to de-solder them.

More luck; I didn’t think I had the right screws to support the PAF in the surround. Gibson pickups from the 60′s use “imperial” threads; Tokai pickups from 2005 use metric. So far so good, but the other pickup…the JB…also uses metric, despite being made in the US. Over the years I have accumulated lots of pieces and parts so it took only 5 minutes of searching in my old parts cabinet and I was rewarded with the appropriate screws. I bet I bought them years ago for the PAF and promptly forgot. The soldering part was trivial. I even replaced the dodgy looking caps with some Mallory 0.022uF ones. Why not? I was already in the guts of the thing.

I am now the proud owner of a Tokai Les Paul with an odd pair of pickups. Now its looks have changed….much more like the one Clapton played in the 60′s.

Here’s an MP3: CLICK HERE

Look at how gorgeous she is:

Job complete...looking cool

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TS Overdrive – new enclosure & sound samples

Old enclosure ready for tear-down

Old enclosure ready for tear-down, next to the new one.

Why?

When I built my first Tubescreamer clone (built with a great circuit board from DIY Effects) I was very pleased but left with a few issues that at the time I could not be bothered to fix.

Firstly, the paint finish I used on the enclosure did not turn out very well. I used Rustoleum, and sprayed it on way too thick (because I was impatient…lesson learned). It looked cool, but it didn’t wear well.

Secondly, the DC power connector I originally bought for it turned out to be the wrong size. I only discovered this when I got hold of a power supply, and it didn’t fit. In fact, it was at this point that I tried to use what I thought was an adapter for a smaller power connector. Little did I know that although the adapter fit, it was actually a polarity inverter too; so I blew up 3 JC4558 chips in the process.

So I decided to try an enclosure from Mammoth Electronics, who can provide a painted an drilled enclosure for around $10. Ridiculously cheap.

Wires for the LED "off-board"

Wires for the LED "off-board"

Getting on with it

The rehousing process was very easy; mostly a case of taking the old one apart and carefully assembling it all back into the new enclosure. I did have to redo the LED as the DIY Effects PCB allows you to solder it directly to the board, and let it just stick through the enclosure. I couldn’t do that with the new enclosure and still have it line up with the hole, so I attached wires to the LED and then soldered those to the board. Nice and easy.

The shiny copper on the MOSFET clippers

The shiny copper on the MOSFET clippers

Clipping with MOSFETs

Months ago, after I built my OD2 which uses plain diodes for clipping, I decided to change this OD to use MOSFET clipping. SLW had mentioned it in the excellent PDF file that lays out instructions for building the pedal, and he rated it highly. I was able to purchase the parts easily, and after doing the necessary physical modification (i.e. cutting off most of the mounting lug) the mod was trivial. But what a result in terms of sound! You’ll hopefully hear in the MP3 file below that it has a wonderfully soft clip. It’s as if it has rounded edges. Like an overdriven Marshall, but without the harshness. It does definitely get harsh if you turn the tone all the way up, and responds very well to tone adjustments on the guitar itself. In the clip you’ll hear a variety of pickups and guitar tone control settings (and sadly a lot of repetitive playing).

The setup was:

  • My own build of an AX84 P1 Extreme, with a 6V6 for the output section.
  • Tokai Les Paul with a 1961 Gibson PAF in the neck, and a modern Seymour Duncan JB in the bridge.
  • 2×12 cab with Celestion G12T-75
  • SM57 microphone
  • Recorded in Logic on a Mac. And a touch of reverb in the master output channel.

Click here for the MP3

Almost done

Almost done

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Rehousing a Danelectro Coolcat Vibe

Why bother doing this at all?

Bad knob positioning on the Coolcat Vibe

Bad knob positioning on the Coolcat Vibe. Who thought of that?

Take a look at the picture on the right; that’s the back end of the stock unit. While this device sounds great once you get it dialed in, it’s almost impossible to interact with it while you are playing. While I’ve never thought about it before, it seems that I like to see where my controls are when I’m playing. Perhaps it is akin to driving a car in that even though you might be just cruising along, you still want to be able to glance down and see what speed you are doing. So when you’re tinkering with the vibe’s controls you just can’t see anything because it’s all hidden.

Secondly, the big switch isn’t quite perfect. I’ve become accustomed to the basic switch that every custom builder knows and loves. This one doesn’t seem to switch effectively unless the force you apply is perfectly in line with the axis of travel of the switch.

Thirdly, it’s a really ugly box.

Preparations

I knew I would have to replace a few parts here and there. Here’s what I bought:

  • Potentiometers. I saw from this post that I needed 2 x B50k pots and 1 x C 50k pot. I found 16mm Alphas at Mammoth Electronics, who I had been wanting to try since a recommendation from Shawn over at DIY Effects.
  • DC power connector. The existing one is square and I don’t have an square drill bits.
  • 1/4″ jacks. The existing ones are probably crappy PCB mounted ones.
  • An enclosure. You can get a painted and drilled enclosure from Mammoth for $10. At that price why would I ever do this myself? When I tried it for my first ever pedal build it was messy, time-consuming and ultimately I was not pleased with the results.

Coolcat Vibe - in pieces ready for rehousing

Coolcat Vibe - in pieces ready for rehousing

Disassembly

This part was easy as I could use normal tools, so it only took five minutes. It’s a shame really; this enclosure is really well made, and would probably stand up to a considerable amount of abuse. If only they had located the knobs in a useful place (and it didn’t look like a clam).

The coolest part was finding a ‘real’ 3PDT switch underneath all that cast zinc. It fit the pre-drilled hole in the new enclosure and it seemed I would not have to bother removing the small PCB that it was soldered onto.

Still functioning, sans enclosure.

Still functioning, sans enclosure.

At all stages in disassembly/assemblyI wanted to make sure I didn’t break anything, so I made the effort to plugin and power up the device.

Mounting inside new enclosure

Mounting inside new enclosure

Assembly

The first task was to isolate the power supply jack, and the input/output jacks. You can see that the jacks are PCB mounted, and there are thin shield wires going between this PCB and the switch PCB. I chose to use those wires, and simply solder them to the appropriate replacement parts. At this point I was able to mount the switch and the new signal jacks into the new enclosure, and test once more. So far, so good; I haven’t broken it yet.

One by one the pots get replaced 'off board'

One by one the pots get replaced 'off board'

The next stage was to replace the pots. I had a feeling this was going to be painful, and I was not wrong. Over recent months I’ve replaced many a component in my amplifiers, and other pedals, but I’ve never dealt with PCB mounted potentiometers. What a terrible, terrible nightmare. I fully understand that they are designed this way so that untrained monkeys can assemble the boards, and then they slap some molten solder underneath and its done. After all, I did buy this device for $40 online,so you can imagine that its out-of-factory price is probably closer to $5. But it makes repairs very hard indeed. I managed to cook one leg of the first pot, which meant the PCB trace lifted from the board. Nothing that super-glue couldn’t fix though. My technique of removal was using a solder-sucker. It wasn’t very efficient as the suckers nozzle is quite larger compared to these component legs, and it was hard to keep the sucker ‘focussed’ on the leg AND hold the soldering iron in place. I was more careful with the other 2, so they went more smoothly. And when I say ‘more careful’, I mean I desoldered as much as I could with the sucker and some wick, and then mechanically pulled the pots off the board while trying to keep their solder molten. I know, I know.

The tabs that hold the LDR/Bulb enclosure in place.

The tabs that hold the LDR/Bulb enclosure in place.

Potentially the most treacherous part was rewiring the LED. To get to the soldered legs I had to take off the little metal box that enclosed up the light bulb and LDRs (light dependent resistors). Here’s a great article all about the inner workings of a classic Univibe.

The bulb and LDRs in action!

The bulb and LDRs in action!

You can see in the picture to the left, that there are three metal tabs surrounding the blue LED. All I had to do was gently bend those perpendicular to the board, and the box came right off revealing the bulb. Of course I couldn’t resist powering it up again, just to see the bulb working. In the picture you can see that there are two solder points above the bulb; these are for the LED indicator. Once again I had to carefully de-solder these, so as not to de-laminate the traces. I then attached wires, and connected a bright blue LED in its place.

Enclosure finished

Once I’d mounted the LED in it’s little bezel, I was basically done. I had to make sure I put the metal bulb enclosure back in place, of course, but all that was left was to tighten up any mounting nuts, and close up the box. Here’s a shot of the newly rehoused Coolcat Vibe next to my also-recently-rehoused DIY Effects OD (fantastic Tubescreamer clone).

The finished item...so far

The finished item...so far

An idea

I suddenly had an idea to make this rehouse a little more interesting. In other words, I looked at my vibe and the DIY Effects OD, which I had also rehoused (the green one, duh), and thought they looked somewhat plain. I’m basically proficient with publishing/layout-tools, so I thought I would try and create a decal for the top of the units. I took some basic measurements, and setup grids and guidelines, and just kind of went for it. Sadly I cannot find my decal paper (must buy some more), but I did do a basic printout onto photo paper. This is a work in progress, so updates to follow when I do finally buy some decal paper. The real one would not have the yellow background obviously. I can turn that layer off when I print so that it’ll be transparent, but you get the idea.

A mock-up of the decal

A mock-up of the decal

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