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Posts from the ‘Guitar’ Category

5
Jul

Gibson Robot Guitar – Revisited

I was in the studio the other day, went to tune up the Gibson Robot and…meh. Nothing. Plugged in the charger, and couple hours later. Nothing.

Swell. Just swell.

Back in 2014 I’d fixed it with a couple of El Cheapo rechargeable batteries I sourced off eBay. Fast forward three years and those batteries were toasted.

Of course this is pretty much standard for NiMH so…no big surprise. And those 2000 to 3000ma rated batteries off eBay, keep in mind those are just NUMBERS. For example I charged up some Eneloop’s, got 1.48V full charged. Did the same with some A3300 batteries (and some unmarked ones) off eBay and the best I got as 1.37V. Maybe you’re thinking 1/10th of a volt isn’t much, but trust me, in this case with a robot, it’s huge (for other reasons).

As it happened someone emailed me within the last week about that original blog post and since I had some time I decided to dive back into the Tronical murky waters.

The Examination

Instead of grabbing another set of junk batteries I decided that I needed to adjust my thinking for “long term”. If the batteries were going to be replaced every three years I might as well make it easier to do.

Next I didn’t want to use cheap batteries. My choice was to go with the Sanyo or Panasonic Eneloop batteries. The problem here is that the batteries don’t have solder tabs on them so one has to solder right on the battery terminal.

I started by looking for a dual AA battery holder than would fit in the confined area of the Gibson. I found a couple of these in my parts bin.

Bholdaa

The one I had fit, the second one was wider than the Gibson cut out so no go with it. I soldered up the wires, plugged it in and was rewarded with a flashing sequence of blue LED’s around the MCK ring. I have NO idea what that indicated. But there’s no way the thing would respond or tune. Cool flashy LED’s though….

In trying to figure out why, I originally thought the electronics might have fried itself, I came across the specs for these holders. Specifically 1 AMP output MAX! Any more than that the contacts/wire can heat up. Even with the connection I did have there was a large voltage drop. Mostly they want FAR less than 1 amp to be happy.

Last time I tried to power the Gibson with a bench power supply, it failed miserably. Apparently my new bench supply is of higher quality and it powered up the robot just fine. My goal was to measure the current used at idle and when tuning.

At idle the robot used around 340ma (one third of an amp). That surprised me, I didn’t think it would be that demanding.

Kicking the robot into tune mode, wow. Anywhere from 800ma to 1.6 Amps. Depending on how many tuners were running.

No wonder the batteries were soldered in.

The Options

I could either replace the batteries with some new soldered ones or find a battery holder that would fit.

According to what I could find, Eneloop does make tabbed batteries but I could find no source in North America for them. And really, I wanted to avoid soldering in new batteries if I could.

Which lead me to decide on a battery holder.

Armed with some electrical data, I started looking for “spring less” battery holders. Springless holders typically have large metal tabs that rub against the ends of the battery. The current through these connections can be far higher than the typical brass button and spring units in the previous photo.

Try as I might, all the holders I found weren’t going to fit into the Gibson’s battery area.

So you think that would be the end of it right? Nah.

Unleash the Maker

Back in 2014 I didn’t have a 3D printer. I do now. Couple of them as a matter of fact. I used Tinkercad and started designing a box that would fit in the area. A tray is what I finally found worked best.

But first, I needed some UBER springy metal to make battery tabs with. Off I went to eBay, Banggood, etc and found a few things, but not what I thought I could use. So I started to look around the shop for springy tin and presto. It darned near jumped out at me…

Jacks

When I was building guitar stomp box pedals, I was using a lot of these jacks on the PCB for connections. Nice springy tin connections. Yep. I cut the plastic off two of them to get four terminals. Bent them so they’d hold a battery.

Then it was off to add in the design to hold these. So the first couple of designs didn’t work but eventually I got a design that was going to work, at least good enough to test with.

IMG 1195

I couldn’t solder the wires on the tabs when they were in the battery housing I’d made or the PLA would melt. I decided to put the wiring on the bottom of the holder. Didn’t really matter any way.

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I used two terminals with a 16 gauge jumper wire. Took some wrangling to get it in but I got it.

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From the battery side it looks like this:

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Oddly enough, there is a LOT of tension in those little spring clips. So once the batteries are inserted you can see the force of them pressing against the ends.

IMG 1199

I finally put the whole thing back in the Gibson and it works absolutely perfect. As good as or better than the original Tronical design. When I plugged in the charger, it sync’d right up with the guitar and quickly charged the batteries to full.

IMG 1200

Summary

Is this perfect? Will it stand up? I don’t know.

I do know the batteries are wedged in the holder pretty darn good BUT, if they do come loose, I’ll put a zip tie around them and the holder so there’s no way they can budge.

Looking at the clips, I can also see another way to do this. A couple of M3 screws, some terminals, no spring clips needed. But then again, this might not work as good as the spring terminals…

All I know is that when the batteries go again in three years, I’ll be putting in another set of Panasonic Eneloop’s and it’s going to take me about two minutes to do it.

21
Jun

Gibson Robot Guitar Battery Replacement

A few years ago, a local music store was blowing out the Gibson SG Robot Guitar. The robot part being the part that allows the guitar to tune itself. The technology was from Tronical and Gibson used it.

For a rather short period of time. I got mine in 2009.

IMG 0403

Of course I’d heard some of the horror stories about the guitar, all electronics being somewhat unreliable and so on. Not to mention a $3500 USD price tag. Which put it out of reach for all but the rather well heeled clientele.

However, the store was blowing these out for less than 30% of their list price. Thus for under $1,000 CDN I could buy a real Gibson SG. At the time, a standard SG without the electronic tuning sold for more. After some investigation, I found that the electronics was used for one thing. Tuning. If somehow that should fail, you could simply unlatch the tuning pegs from their mini-motors and tune it the same old way we all do and press in the pegs to relatch them.

As I saw it, a chance to own a top quality USA made guitar and it didn’t matter a fig if the electronics last two weeks or twenty years. The guitar was still a USA made premium guitar.

As of lately, the tuning has been sort of hit and miss so I started to become somewhat concerned about the electronics. Turns out, the electronics are fine, but Gibson (Tronical) decided in their not so infinite wisdom to use a NiMH battery to power the motorized tuners. Having been dealing with radio controlled models for years, I know about the lifespan of NiMH batteries.

According to Gibson, the batteries are supposed to be good for 200 tunings. Maybe. I doubt that I ever tuned it that much. Probably closer to half of that. I found the battery would never reach a full charge and it dropped pretty fast.

All the ear marks of a NiMH battery that is on its way to the recycle depot. This is what the original battery looks like. When you find it on Gibson’s web store, you’ll also find that it says, “Out Of Stock”. The only remaining source is Tronical and that’s going to cost upwards of a $100 or possibly more with shipping from Germany.

NewImage

Tronical, bless them for this, listed the battery as 2.4V 2200maH. A single NiMH cell is 1.2V. It was sort of obvious they are using a pair of 1.2V AA sized batteries wired in series. I have a number of 1.2V 1300mAH cells in the shop here so I planned to make my own pack.

First, the back of the guitar.

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You can see the Tronical battery and the big red and black power wires clearly under the plastic. There’s a Velcro button on the back of the pack to hold it in place. After you take out the five screws holding the plastic cover on of course…

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The connectors used are press fit, remind me of RC connectors. Try not to short them out when you get them apart.

While I was in there, I checked out the wiring as well. While Gibson makes high quality guitars, their wiring and soldering ability leaves a lot to be worked on. One capacitor had broken away because the leads had been nipped by a wire stripper. Very brittle. Wires were jammed through the solder lugs on the pots and slobbered on. When you pour that much solder on something to hold it; I call it slobbering. So I cleaned up the connections.

I decided to test out my NiMH pack to make sure it was going to work. Hooked up my pack through a couple of 12″ alligator test leads. And got my first surprise when I turned on the MCK. Nothing. No LED’s, no flash. Nothing. I assumed the batteries were dead, but they still had more than half a charge in them.

I disconnected the NiMH pack and plugged in my bench power supply. Set it to 2.4V. It managed to light some of the LED’s. Which tells me that at the lower end of 2.4V you don’t have much life left in the batteries. Closer to 3.12V for a full charge. I decided to see if I could charge my NiMH pack. And got my second surprise.

With the pack connected with 12″ alligator test leads, there was no way it would charge. I immediately thought that there must be some “electronics” in the battery pack. I unwrapped the Tronical battery, and wasn’t surprised to find no markings of any kind of the batteries. And no electronics of any kind.

My conclusion is that the length of those battery wires is crucial for the onboard electronics to not only detect the battery but also to charge it. Note that if you’re doing this yourself. At any rate I figured that the worst case was I’d have to order a replacement battery from Tronical. Best case is my pack would work.

IMG 4710

Now who ever soldered on the battery wires was very good at their job. I used a soldering gun to remove them (could have with a low wattage iron, but easier with a gun).

I soldered the wires on to the tabs of my own battery pack. Then bound the pack in electrical tape.

IMG 4711

Put the battery in, replaced the plastic covering, tested it, connected the charger and..presto. Working like a champ. Cost of replacement? $4 from eBay. And yes, while my batteries might say 1300maH, well, that may or may not be the case. But certainly cheap enough I can throw them out every year and still be ahead of the game.

IMG 4712

5
May

Fabulous Blue Wabbits Store

Now that the Fabulous Blue Wabbits first album is online, I actually get to test out the store widget:

And it works quite nicely…

25
Apr

The Fabulous Blue Wabbits

After a long hiatus of not jamming with another person or playing in a band, I decided to look up some of the guys in my original 1960’s band, The Mariners which then became The Blue Diamonds.

Mariners

The lead guitarist (I was the rhythm player) was on assisted living, scooter bound as the result of a stroke many years prior. While he longed to play, it wasn’t in the cards for him to do so. In 2010 he left the earth for what I hope for him will be rock heaven. I didn’t find out for four months he’d even passed away.

Next up was the drummer. He’d also had a heart attack years previous and moved to the interior of BC.

Lastly was the bassist. As the youngest member of the original band with a unique name, I started looking on the internet and I suspect purely by accident, found him. Turns out he also had some health problems that he’d survived and was still sort of playing for his own enjoyment. A quick contact email and we hit it off after all those years. It was 2006.

We started to jam every month or so for fun, playing a lot of the tunes we used to play in the 60’s. Which was pretty tough because, first and foremost, I am not a lead player. I was the rhythm player in the band, I’d spent most of my playing life in rhythm. Usually singing along with something.

Mel Fred Oct06 1

To address this shortcoming since it was unlikely we’d find anyone our own age who’d be remotely interested in playing 60’s instrumentals, I started to build up a shoe string recording setup. I could lay down some rhythm, use a Casio keyboard I had for a simple drum track and away we’d go. Lot of times I’d find a MIDI track of a song we’d played in the past and I’d mute out sections and they we’d play along with it.

Lead and bass with a backing track.

The dining room in the house became the temporary music studio. I was 55 at the time.

As time progressed, my wife suggested that we vacate the dining area and move to a spare room upstairs in the house. And not exactly a large room at that.

The rule of houses are that you will expand to fill all given space. This was no different…

In the new room, there was, of course, more room for recording equipment. Hence, I rose like a bass to a lure and started to fill it.

Mel being goofy

Of course, I was filling it with recording equipment that I could afford at the time. This seldom ever equates to what you want, or need, or understand what you want for that matter. School of hards knocks is a good education though.

Studio Console

It didn’t take long before the short comings of the gear started to rear it’s ugly head. It will be sufficient to say that once you start down this road, the guitar side of things starts to look pretty darn cheap. A decent multi-channel audio interface will run $2,000 pretty easy.

MelFred2007

But since when did that deter anything for me… I admit it, anything I do, I tend to really OVER DO. Or at least do it to the maximum of my ability. My wife, bless her heart, has always been 100% supportive of my craziness.

The computer office where my software company, Wabbit Wanch Design, was run out of in the house, is one the largest rooms and has a bay window. Since the wife and I were doing less software, she suggested we swap rooms so I could “expand” properly. Of course I agreed before she could come to her senses.

During the move, Fred and I attended a “mixing” seminar put on by Tom Lee Music in Vancouver with guest Eddie Kramer. Imagine my shock when I won the door prize. An autographed Martin acoustic. I still have it and play to this day.

Eddie  Mel

I’m not sure at what point I started to get better at leads, of which I readily admit I am still not a lead player, but I also started to write original tunes. Probably ones that had been bouncing around in my head for years. No idea. But I started to lay down proper drum tracks (using E-Z Drummer and then Addictive Drums) and then full rhythm tracks.

My go to rhythm guitar is a Godin XTsa.

Mel 2008 04 11 01

I couple it with a Roland VG88 for fills as well and it works very nicely. The only drawback to the XTsa is that it’s only 5 lbs lighter than my SUV. Heavy. And I’m on of those guys that can’t play sitting down. I have to have a strap and I have to stand. That’s how I played in the 60’s, that’s how I practiced, that’s still how I play. So, as a word of advice, if you play 90% of your time sitting down and you want to be in a band, get used to standing up and playing. It does feel different.

The new studio is different than most computer based studios because mine is external mixer concentric. I do a combo mix in the box and out of the box. A SoundCraft LX7ii and Apogee Ensemble are the audio I/O. I like the sound of both of them over the a plain audio interface into a computer.

Studio Feb 2012

The majority of the audio components are high grade now. And you can tell compared to some of the budget gear I used to have. Although I’d like to say that there’s no difference between a low cost mixer and a higher end one I’d be kidding you. There is a difference. What you have to figure out is what the break point is for the difference. It feels like the law of diminishing returns. I.e. spending 10 times the money doesn’t give you 10 times the quality.

After writing 40+ songs that we’ve recorded since 2007 (and made into some “fake” CD’s for friends) we finally decided to do a full on proper CD and see if we could get it into something like iTunes. Getting a publisher is pretty easy, recording, mixing, master, producing a full CD, isn’t. It’s a whack of work let me tell you.

April 13th, 2014 we finalized it.

TFBW Cover

Wait a minute…that should be the Blue Diamonds right? Yeah, well, except for the fact there IS another band called the Blue Diamonds in Holland. How’d that happen? Turns out our original drummer was from Holland, he I suspect was a fan of the Blue Diamonds there and when he emigrated to Canada and joined our band he suggested it, innocently enough I hope. So 40+ years later, with the internet we find them. Nope. We had to have a new name.

We had many suggestions, some so off beat you’d never think there was another band in the world with the same time. Yeah, well, surprise. There was. So we looked at what we had and since Wabbit Wanch Design has been around for a long time, we’d be Wabbits. So that’s how The Fabulous Blue Wabbits came to be. You can stop rolling your eyes now.

At this point now we’re on iTunes, Amazon world wide and a host of other places. And if you’re thinking we’re going on tour to promote the music, think again. This was more of a bucket list task than take over the world with instrumental music.

If our music did go any where, I’d love to hear it used for movie backing tracks, in commercials or something along those lines. That would be simply awesome and I think largely based on the sheer luck of someone in a position to use the tune actually hearing it and wanting to use it.

Me, well, I think I’ll keep writing tunes and recording them.

7
Oct

NGD – Ugly Betty

I was in a music store last summer, SurfSide Music in White Rock, and happened across a lot of not so run of the mill guitars. Which, I have to say is a refreshing change from all the fodder you see in most music stores.

I don’t remember what exactly I was doing in there that day, but I remember picking a lot of guitars off the wall and trying them out. Most either had a sound that didn’t catch my ears or didn’t feel like much. I avoided some of the guitars, well, because, they were a little “off colour” so to speak.

Robbie, who owns the stores suggested I try some of the “off colour” ones and so I grabbed some of the Di Pinto guitars he had there. The “ugliest” one was the flaming pink Galaxy IV. While some guys would argue that point, to me, it won’t change what I think of the colour of it.

As I played it, you know, I couldn’t understand how something this ugly could sound this good. The guitar was an easy player, fabulous sustain and more pickup combinations than anything I’d ever seen.

None the less, it was so off colour, I couldn’t bring myself to buy it. If you’re a guitarist you probably guess where this is going.

For the past year, I couldn’t get that sound out of my head. So 14 months later, I cut a deal with Robbie since he still had the guitar (apparently other people aren’t flaming pink lovers either).

DSC01132

The guitar is now affectionally called “Ugly Betty”. It’s the weirdest guitar I’ve ever owned. Apart from being a retro vision, the pickup combinations modify the sound from “jazz” to “surf guitar twang” and in between. The painted neck I was expecting to be difficult (like the painted neck on a Gibson is) but my hand just glides up and down it.

The guitar responds dynamically to your playing style. Go at it lightly and purrs like an acoustic, hammer on it and it barks right back at ya. I don’t have any other guitar that does that.

If there’s a drawback to it, there are exactly two. First is the middle pickups (two of them) are right were I like to pick and I have a nasty habit of catching the pups with my pick. So I’ve had to train myself to pick between those two pickups. Which I might add seems to be the sweet spot for the best sound any way.

The second is the wire wound strings. I’ve never been a fan of wire wound so I play flats. Apart from my Baritone, this is the only guitar that I have left wire wounds on. I love the sound of it, changing it to flats would change that. So I leave it alone. Imagine that.

When I first seen Di Pinto’s a few years back I sort of toyed with the idea of buying one. However my rule is that unless I can play the guitar I won’t buy it, and I would have had to mail order one. Surfside Music changed that because they carried the guitars. There were three Di Pinto’s in the store. There’s only two now.

It’s just me and Ugly Betty. Perfect match.

12
Aug

Reverend Club King 290 – Un-Bigsby

Usually in a blog about a guitar you get to read about a mod that someone does to a guitar to make it, look, sound, or play better. If you’re looking for “that” blog, I wasn’t even blogging when I initially did that mod to make my guitar “play” better. So for a brief moment, we’ll fire up the way-back machine to about 5 years ago.

I was in a local music store (Tom Lee) and at the time the manager who knows my playing style and sound that I was after, pointed me to a couple of Reverend guitars they had. He said, “Try it, I think you’ll like it.” At first glance the thing looked like a Gibson/Epiphone to me. But as I got closer I could see a lot of differences.

I’d never heard of Reverend Guitars, but as it turns out, they make some decent gear. No way I’d part with mine.

Reverend Club King 290

Standard 25.5″ scale, bolt on neck, 12″ radius, P-90 pups, and simple controls. There were two colours available. A black one, and one that looked like a orange traffic cone. I grabbed the orange one first and heard from the store front, “Try the other one.”. Being one to A/B things, I plugged in the orange one and I think a strung traffic cone would have sounded better. So I grabbed the black one next. Whoa. Day and friggin’ night. I even checked the headstock to make sure I had picked up the same guitar. Yep. A Reverend Club King 290.

The bass tone contour control was something I’d never experienced before. The guitar has a single volume and tone control, but the bass contour control goes from treble to heavy bass, smoothly. Apart from the ease of which the guitar played and sounded, the contour control sold me on it.

After the time I was of the mind that I really, really needed a whammy bar. At that time, the 290 had no such option. After emailing Reverend, they gave me the info I needed to find a mounting plate and Bigsby that would fit it. No extra drilling required. Nice. So that’s what I did.

You know how you start off with those great ideas? And they never actually work out? This was one of them. Sure a Bigsby whammy works, but it’s a far cry from a Fender Jazzmaster whammy. Thus I found myself simply not using it. Plus it made the guitar a little heavier. No, not as heavy as my Godin xtSA (roughly 3lbs lighter than my SUV), but heavier none the less.

So after four years of putting it off, today I decided was “the day”. I was going to put it back to “factory”. Now that’s an original concept for a guitarist… Here’s the token shot of the start:

IMG 4014

First, I took the strings off. I checked and I hadn’t actually changed those strings in three years. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Must have sounded like crap. Actually no. Those are flat wounds, not round wounds. They don’t change much in sound, are easy on the fingers and last forever it seems like. I don’t play rounds except on my acoustic’s and my baritone.

By the way, if you’re doing any amount of string changing, get yourself one of those little battery powered string winders. Slick.

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After removing the strings, I took a shot of the Bigsby and the Vibra Mate it sits on:

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What’s a Vibra Mate? Essentially it’s a custom mounting plate made for a Bigsby so you don’t have to drill any special mounting holes in your guitar. Check them out:

Vibra Mate

You can see the four screws that hold the Bigsby to the Vibra Mate (and don’t go into your guitar underneath). Removing the Bigsby leaves the plate exposed:

IMG 4018

It’s a slick way of doing it as you can see and underneath the plate there are felt feet so the plate never contacts the body at all. I did order a roller bridge with the Bigsby but that was it.

Unlike my normal mode of operation, I’d saved all the parts when I installed the Bigsby so it was a simple matter of putting them back in.

IMG 4020

I also removed the roller bridge and put the stock bridge back on. So now I’m going to say something profound like the sound is completely different. Ah, nope. It doesn’t sound a bit different other than the fact it has new strings on it and feels slightly lighter. Within 24hrs it’ll sound pretty much the same as the last set of flats on it did.

It took longer to get the strings off and restring the guitar than it did to remove the whole Bigsby setup. I was toying with the idea of selling the Bigsby and plate, but you know what? Maybe someday in the distant future I’m going to wish I had a whammy bar on my Club King so I’m going to keep it.

For now, the guitar is hanging up back in the studio and it’s still one of my favourites.

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6
Jul

EHX DMM

Last year my EHX Deluxe MemoryMan decided that the volume pot had been abused enough and it started to get noisy. Real noisy. And then it just quit. No sound at all. The fact that I rarely used the volume pot indicated these things go through quality control faster than I’d go through last months paycheque.

No, these are built quickly, cheaply and as such are prone to problems.

Note well that I’m talking about the newer DMM’s from about the late 1990’s on. These typically used the Panasonic MN3005 bucket brigade delay chips (and later on MN3008’s). You got about 500ms (if the unit was setup correctly; I doubt many were). The problem was that Panasonic stopped making the chips around 1999. I suspect EHX bought up all they could find and also started using (doubling up) the MN3008’s.

Around 2009, EHX had pretty much exhausted the worlds “reliable” supply of MN300x chips and they came out with a DSP driven unit that didn’t really couldn’t hold a candle to the original. Which means, at exactly that point, the EHX Deluxe Memory Man became a collectors item…and as of now, they can be found on eBay and command premium bucks. For some pretty beat up and ratty looking units I might add.

I found a few schematics online. They cover some of the build variations. I tend to favour this schematic for my EC2002_REV_E unit (2 x MN3005’s):

Memory man schematic

When I first got my DMM (that’s Deluxe Memory Man, not digital multi-meter), I read a lot about the “mods” that people were doing to them. Like changing the op-amps to something a little cleaner. Since the volume control on mine was shot, I decided to cut out the 4558 op-amps and replace them with TL072’s. Reason? The TL072’s are a quieter op-amp and work good for non-over drive signals in my experience. A lot of guys said that I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in the op-amps, but wow. The TL072’s give a much clearer tone (the 4558’s seems slightly mid-rangy and muddy to my ears) and since clean and clear is what I want, I cut out some of the 4558’s, put in sockets, and installed the TL072’s.

I didn’t change the 4558’s that are in the delay circuit side. I could have, but didn’t.

While I was in there, I also socketed the SA571N. Most of the schematics I’ve seen all use the NE570, but my DMM came with a SA571N. The NE570 is 24V, the SA571N is 18V. Since the circuit runs off 15V, the SA571 had worked fine. My MN3005’s were already socketed, as was the 4047.

The keyword in the last paragraph was “had” worked fine. Yesterday I go into the studio and I have bypass and I have some sound coming through, but I don’t have the DMM echo. It was gone. Turning the BLEND pot to the full “wet” side resulted in silence. Nothing. Oh great. I’d already spent time last year replacing the op-amps and many of the caps (for high quality ones) so who knows. Maybe it blew out a MN3005. In which case, it was only useful as a door stop.

I started signal tracing and it was at the compander (SA571) that I’d lose the signal each time. I popped out the old one, dropped in a spare that I’d bought when I was originally socketing the parts. The echo was back the instant I powered it up.

IMG 3868

And while I was in there, I also added heavy gauge wires on the volume pot lugs to replace the wires that I’d used since last year.

So why’d the SA571N die? Maybe it was a questionable chip that although rated for 18V, didn’t like 15V or there was a spike or who knows. All I know is that it’s once again working and that’s all that mattered.

Earlier this year, I’d been watching eBay for another one, since this is part of my go to sound I have to have one and I found a used one for a reasonable price and bought it. While advertised as in perfect working condition it wasn’t. The vibrato/chorus slide switch was broken and laying inside the unit. I couldn’t figure out why the switch didn’t work until I took it apart and then it was pretty obvious.

Probably unlike most, I didn’t blame the eBay seller and I had it fixed with a new slide switch in a few minutes. No big deal to me since I now have a spare.

I’ve ordered some more spare parts for my DMM (except for the MN3005’s; those are darn near impossible to find, let alone find them at a decent cost). Although my two DMM’s are essentially the same, they do sound significantly different. I’m going to change out the op-amps and replace the caps in the spare one…that should help.

1
Nov

Guitars – mail order brides..

When you want to buy a new guitar, the majority of us might do a little research to see if said model of guitar would be to our liking. We might catch a few sound clips from the manufacturers web site, scan YouTube for some clips and maybe at some point even read a few forums for a “review”.

Thusly armed with questionable information, we head off to the local store and proceed to pick nearly every guitar off the wall that fits our ideal and play it. Which is usually the point were reality and disillusionment come to the party. I’m sitting with some fabulous looking guitar that was, unfortunately, built on a Minion Monday. The thing is a mess of issues from unlevelled frets, misadjusted truss rod, poor string height and on goes the list. In its present state the kindest thing that you could do is buy it, bring it home, hang it over the mantle and affix it to the wall with a 10″ spike.

I realize that it takes time and a modicum of know how to setup a guitar. I also know that companies want to sell a guitar. So here’s a little secret for them..”you’d sell more if people could actually play them right out of the box”. There are store staff that, thankfully, catch most of them and set them up in advance. To those unrecognized store hero’s, you have my sincere THANKS!

Other stores will ignore the obvious, let the guitar sell itself or discount it so someone will feel sorry for it and buy it to fix themselves. When you buy it they “send it out” (maybe) and you’ll get it back in a few days hopefully properly adjusted. To those stores..”RAAZZZZberries”…

But…what about ALL those guitars from companies that the local stores DON’T carry? Hallmark, Eastwood, Aria, and on the list goes. You can’t go anywhere and try one unless you know someone who owns one. Even in that event, would the guitar you get be as good/bad as that?

Welcome to the guitar world of mail order brides.

I promised myself a long time ago that if I couldn’t play a guitar I’d never plunk down the money and buy one. Which sounds pretty sensible. Except I got tired looking at the Fenders and Les Pauls from the locals and wanted someone else’s take on it. So I’ve strayed from the rule three times and ordered mail order direct. The models I went after clearly resembled the Mosrite series. Which if you take a second and look at the body shape you’ll see it’s little more than a Strat body flipped upside down. Clever.

So my Mosrite wannabe’s are from different companies. They vary in price from $600 to $1000. They are as different in sound, playability, construction, as day is different from night. AND…NONE of them have been perfect. By that I mean there are issues with each one.

Guitar A – has a high E string but for whatever reason it’s the deadest sounding string I ever heard. More like a jazz string it’s so mellow. Whereas the G string (on the guitar not the girl) jumps right out of the speaker at you. I spent a LOT of time trying to coax better sound out of it and I finally ended up with Lollar pickups and I think that’s about the best it’s every going to be. Obviously the tone wood is a midrange one…

Guitar B – what a mess. Poor rout on the body for the pick guard, so bad in fact they drilled multiple holes just trying to fit the thing. Jammed the pick guard into the pickups so they were unadjustable. Two of the strings fretted out which indicated the frets needed levelling. The nut was cut too low on one string. Well, you get the idea. A mess. But sounded GOOD. Luckily I had a store order it direct for me so they sent it out and had the nut and neck fixed. I did the rest myself… The guitar is a fabulous little player now, but it took a lot of work to get it there.

Guitar C – again, fabulous sound. Easy to play. The hopped up minion that mounted the tremolo setup should be shot:

IMG 3396

That whammy post should NOT be touching that string. When you use the whammy you feel it grinding on the string. I checked the alignment of the tremolo plate, it’s out. Almost 1/8″ skew. Fortunately it doesn’t seem to affect the sound. So you know what? I am simply not going to use the whammy bar on it. I love the way it sounds and I don’t want that to change…

So a good question would be, what do you do when you get one of these? If you want to keep it, you fix it. If you can’t afford to fix it, you sell it. Hoping the next guy doesn’t notice.

What no WARRANTY? Fortunately most do. Some will even go so far as to allow you to return it. You pay the shipping and you won’t get their rates. Most of them will try to work with you, to a point. After that “point” they don’t want to see or hear from you again. Course if you get rich and famous I’d wager they’d fall all over themselves to be your friend. Surprise huh.

So there’s the rub. If you’re confident you can fix all the little issues that almost all of them come with, you can find some real treasures. But if you’re not that kind of person, stick to playing what’s hanging on the wall of the local store. And reminding yourself about all the headaches you just avoided…:-)

29
Oct

Music Stores and NGD

Music stores – those “strange” places…

To start off, Laura and I attended a Taylor acoustic guitar road show tonight at Tom Lee Music. I’ve been to Roland, GODIN, Martin, and a number of other shows all at Tom Lee.

Which brings up an interesting thought. Almost all of the shows I have seen have been at Tom Lee. Recording, studio gear, guitars, and so on. All education at Tom Lee.

On the flip side of the coin is Long & McQuade. Last I heard from them was that Zakk Wylde would be doing a fan signing session. Hopefully signing stuff “other” than the fan, although there’s always some blonde that walks up and …

Without fail, almost any event of interest to me that happens at L&M is in Toronto. Or even Winterpeg. I’ve seen scant little in BC at L&M worth attending.

Therein lies the difference in the two stores. To me it feels like TL is the working mans music store and L&M is “where the elite like to meet”, trade winks and back pats. At TL they help you try guitars that you might like to buy, whereas at L&M the salesmen want to practice their riffs for you or bestow some glint of secret knowledge on you. Oh big whoop. Then again, I’m not working 9-5 in a music store and doing gigs three nights a week so maybe playing riffs and being all-knowing will make a difference.

What makes the difference is the sales people. Obviously. Both TL and L&M have some really great sales people, but L&M holds the record for the attitude princesses. Fortunately they’re mostly at the downtown store.

Then, you get the “little guys” stores. The boutique shops if you want to call them that. And in a few rare cases where the owners have paid their dues in the industry and are a welcome breath of fresh air. Like SurfSide Music in White Rock. You walk through the door and it’s like a home cooked meal. And oddly enough the store tends to resemble the kitchen after the meal…if you ever go there, you’ll know what I mean.

NGD – New Guitar Day

Ever since I played a Dan Electro Baritone last year that Duane Eddy tone has been rolling around in my mellon. I considered buying the Dan Electro but the thing feels like it was made out of someones 50’s Formica table and it’s got a shape only Picasso could love.

Enter the Eastwood Sidejack Baritone DLX:

Eastwood sidejack baritone guitar blue dlx 01

This is Eastwoods second version of it I believe. The older one had the bridge pickup half ways between the bridge and end of the fret board. This one provides a more balanced sound.

I already own an Eastwood Sidejack DLX and all I can say is that after sending it out to have the neck redone, and spending way too much time on it myself, I finally ended up with a pretty sweet playing and sounding guitar. Thus it was your typical off shore made nightmare when I first got it. Contrary to what they state in any ad copy. But I fixed it.

Last year I tried to order an Eastwood Baritone but no stock. For whatever reason (ran out of Basswood trees?). This year in September they finally got stock back in, the DLX (the DLX has the whammy bar) and the pickups were where I wanted them. So I ordered it direct from MyRareGuitars. It’s not really a “rare” guitar other than it’s a Mosrite knock off with a Dan Electro sound. But…it was ON SALE…so I ordered it and a case.

IMG 3368

It came with a nice little check list that marked off all the things that had been certified by the “factory trained minion”. Initially I was impressed and hoped that it wasn’t the same minion that checked my previous Eastwood. As luck would have it, I got 95% lucky. Output, switch, volume, tone, pickups, truss rod, string height, bridge, tremolo, intonation, and finish were checked off as being perfect.

This of course completely baffled me since the strings were 1/64″ off the fret board. So EVERY string buzzed like a wasp nest from the 3rd fret and higher. Just for a laugh I checked the intonation and wow. It was right on the money. Now how they set up everything to be buzz city and then intonated it was amazing. Maybe it was Minion Monday or something.

I checked the relief in the neck with my fret rule, checked for a warped neck and I was elated when the only issue I found was that the string height was out a country (probably Asian country) block. Raised it, redid the intonation. Done. Took me half an hour to get it right.

IMG 3374

Spaghetti westerns, Duane Eddy, all those dreamy low tones. This thing does them all with ease. And it’s a hoot to play.

Tuning? That’s another matter. It’s tuned a fifth lower so B-B. When the bassist and I got together for a jam, we were both transposing on the fly and having bouts of the giggles doing it. He can read my chords to follow but I’m now in a different key. What looked like my E chord is actually now a B. Scads of fun.

I found when I’m playing it, I’m not used to the extra distance I have to travel to get to up the neck. It’s a 28″ scale and I’m about 2″ short in a lot of reaches…so I need to pay attention. On the other hand, I found it WAY easier on the hands and fingers to play than my other guitars.

My main gripe with the guitar is with the whammy bar. It sticks out 4″ off the body like the spoke on broken bike wheel. The arm itself is not threaded so it’s just a press fit. That won’t stay where you want it and I want it to stay in a position so I can grab it, use it, shove it back. As it is, the whammy bar usually falls on the floor at some point so it’s pretty useless.

So I’d give it an 8 out of 10. That’s probably saying a lot for an Eastwood but honestly I wouldn’t have too much trouble recommending this baritone to anyone else…

19
Oct

Guitar Circle

Or more aptly called the “Guitar Circle of Life”.

I took lessons myself before I was a teen but only for a year. But what a year. I devoured the song books. At the end of the year my teacher told my mom to buy me “this list of guitar books” and let me go at it myself. I know mom was happy not having to shell out money for guitar lessons, but I went through a lot of books in the next three years on my own. Probably learned a whack of wrong ways to do things, but I learned.

Like every student out there I suffered sore fingers, hand cramps, and barre chords. Oh yea, the dreaded F barre chord. The minors, majors, 7th, 12th and on the list went. I was destined to be a rhythm guitarist, mainly because the lead player in my band couldn’t play more than two chords in a row without getting lost or losing time. But as a lead he was extremely good even if he couldn’t read a note of music. I’d say, play in the key of Am and I’d get a deer in the headlights look for my efforts. At any rate the combination worked fine, I never wanted or aspired to be a lead player so a rhythm guy I was.

In my teen years I wanted a car, and in those days your parents didn’t let you use theirs or buy you one. Nope. You got a part time job, they “might” cosign a loan for you and you bought a car. Welcome to the debt world. Paper routes weren’t cool and didn’t pay enough to buy a car ($70 a month payment). Hence like about forty five years ago as a teen I got a job working in Central Plaza Music in White Rock, as, of all things, a guitar teacher. Not that I was any fabulous player by any stretch since I’d only been playing for half a dozen years myself.

Apart from the band I had and some other bands guys I run into, these beginners were some of my first exposures to other players. The job was three nights a week and I made more than enough each month to pay for my brand new 1968 Datsun 1600 that I bought (I paid a buck a pound for it; it weighed 1996 lbs). I really enjoyed the job and it turned out, even though I wasn’t a world class player, I was a very good teacher. Maybe the old adage, “Those that can’t do, teach” might have something to it.

Kids, teens, a couple grown ups, all came in for lessons. I’ve got a lot of memories of a lot of them and I sincerely hope they carried on after I left the studio. Especially a couple of them, they were GOOD!

Why did I leave? It seemed I had an honest conscience and couldn’t do what the owner wanted. Which was to go door knocking to give free “talent evaluations”, give the “fish” something easy to play on guitar and watch them impress the parents and then fawn over them as the worlds next greatest player and sign them up for lessons. Shady, yea, shady. I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it. So I noticed over the next couple of months that I’d lost two of the days of the week I’d been teaching. But hey, I was dumb so it wasn’t until one of my students from the other nights came in and was surprised that I was still there. They had a new teacher and had been told I didn’t work there any more. Surprise to me too…

I told them what was going on. They in turn passed the word around and two weeks later, I locked the store keys in the studio and left for good. Never looked back, not even for a final paycheque.

So you’d think that would be it? No, fate rarely works like that.

Next thing I know, I’m getting calls at home to know if I’m giving private lessons at home (I was still going to school and living with mom and dad). So I said “SURE AM”..and bingo, I got three nights a week again and I’m not sure what happened at the studio because I got 80% of my students back. Even ones that had to travel a fair distance compared to where I did work. For the next year, that’s what I did. Taught, learned the “Alfred’s Basic Guitar” books (seems to me in those days the books went up to volume 6 or more). Had to stay ahead of the students. Made me a better player in the process…weird…

About four years back I did a lot of video’s for a friend who lives 1200 miles away because he wanted to learn to play. I have to say, it works, but it’s not the same as a real private lesson. Not as bad as a drivers license by correspondence but still that personal touch when you’re starting out is really what’s needed. Thus, for anyone wanting to learn, I always say plan on taking at least six months of lessons. Then quit and learn it on your own if you want. Works for some. Not for others.

A couple weeks back the wife is out with our daughter and from out of nowhere comes the “gee mom, I’d like to learn to play a guitar someday.” But as single mom, lessons just don’t work very well, if at all. The wife mentioned this to me and of course I immediately called Laura to verify mom got it right. Yep. We talked about what she wanted to learn, style, and so on (apparently she was under the impression I could only play “surf” style music; which is not the case because I play instrumentals really). Told her that I don’t teach finger style, I’m a flat picker and she was fine with that. After getting a pretty good idea of what she wanted out of it, I picked up an Alfred’s Basic Guitar Book 1, took my Fender Sonoran, music stand and gave her the first lesson (a little long, about 40 minutes).

Left her with home work, learn the 1st E string. Went back the following week and she’d learned extremely well. Kind of caught me off guard.

I went over a few things she needed to work on and just for the heck of it, I flipped the book open to the 2nd B string. Showed her where the notes were. And then sat there slack jawed while she ran through the 3 exercises for the new string and then one exercise that used both strings. She did it without looking at the strings for fingering or picking (just a peek once or twice on a muted note).

I have to say I haven’t seen that in a long long time. She reads music fluently, has great timing and really works at getting the fingers and pick to work. Personally I think she’s got a bit of a gift for it because if she just plays without thinking about it, it’s darn good. And even though she says her fingers are a little tender (15 minutes of practice a day) she having a blast and loving it. I’m sure I didn’t need headlights on when I drive home that night. I was glowing with pride.

Yep now there’s a sure way to learn anything in a hurry…love what you do. Easy.

Laura PLaying

If she keeps going, in a year there’s going to be THREE guitarists in this family (me, son, daughter)…and won’t that be a hoot..

15
Oct

Hail Hail the gangs all noisy…

I spent about a year and a half giving basic guitar lessons via video to friend about two provinces away from me two years ago. It was kind of an experiment and aside from that, it’s been forty plus years since I worked as a guitar teacher in a music store. Thus it was a lot of work for both of us and a lot of fun at the same time.

Any way, as luck would have it, Rich and his family made it out to my neck of the coast for a holiday this year and he managed to find some time to come over to the Wabbit Wanch here for a jam. To further his luck, even my bassist that I’ve jammed with since the 60’s also made it over for the afternoon and evening. So after some basic how d doo’s we headed off to the studio…

Rich also happened to win an Eastwood Sidejack DLX that he was waiting on being shipped to him, the same guitar which I just happen to own myself. So the instant he hit the studio his eyes fell on my Eastwood and he grabbed it…I was playing my Godin through a Roland GR33 Synth.

Rich’s dream has always been to play in a band, and finally here he was, with a couple of old 60’s guys:

TFBD

Anyone who’s ever jammed knows that there’s a whack of standard licks that almost everyone can jump in on. Think rockabilly… but Rich didn’t have enough hours under his belt to be there so… he’d learned a number of songs that I’d written and recorded. We fired up the backing tracks for him and us to play along with.

However, instead of playing along with a backing track through a set of headphones, he had to contend with real guys playing with real amps. And trust me, that’s a world apart from listening to headphones and playing along with something. Enter his guitar amnesia. He KNEW the songs well, but just couldn’t get started. Pressure… Since I was playing rhythm, not lead (he was going to do the leads), I enabled the lead backing track and got his son to shut it off once he got going. And that’s all it took. Away he went.

We had a gas playing and everyone was grinning ear to ear. However I think it might have dampened his spirit a bit when he realized he wasn’t in our league. Like we cared? No we didn’t. We were there to make sure he had the most fun he could but it’s still stressful when you’re a new player. As all get out if I remember my own early jams well enough.

The old adage: you need to perspire to aspire..:-) I hope he continues along, hopefully finds some guys around where he lives and starts playing with them. Just going to take some time and work to do it…like we all have…

5
Mar

Fuzzy wasn’t fuzzy..oh yea?

Finished off the Rat Fuzz today…

RatFuzz Top

Wired into the box…

Rat Fuzz Inside

And she’s good to “distort” from a mild buzz to down right gravel..

RatFuzz End

Snarf snarf…

4
Mar

Here piggy piggy piggy…

On the test bench (that’d be my electronics work area), I have signal generators, scope, meters and all kinds of test gear. But one thing I lack is a audible signal tracer. You know, inject a 1Khz tone in a circuit, stick in a probe and see where it got lost…

I started of with the idea of building one. I usually start off with ideas of grandeur before common sense, occasionally, prevails. I worked out the size, speaker, amp, power supply and in the end it looked like it was going to be a lot of work and while it would have worked, I wasn’t elated with the fact I’d have to stick together a simple amplifier.

A little niggle in the back of my mind (not to be confused with scalp critters) and I remember seeing all those bedroom sized guitar amps. YEAH. So I started looking for something around the $25 to $50 mark. Turns out there’s lots to pick from and just as equally questionable quality in said item. Lots of IC’s to make it cheap to build and impossible to fix when I blow it up. Yes, things like that happen…

I phone my friend in the guitar store and said I was looking for a really small amp for my test bench. He assumed guitar test bench and suggested a Pignose. Hey, I remember those! He had a used one from, near as I could figure 1982-1984 or so. It needed a little work (scratchy pot, bad on/off switch) but no big deal for me. We made a deal and I brought “Piggy” home.

Pignose

Considering the amp has probably seen a million miles of bad road and equally as many bedrooms, it’s in pretty fair shape for a 30 yr old amp. Someone at some point has changed the volume/switch control. I think. Looks like one of those mini-pots out of an old transistor radio. Actually the amp circuit itself does to.

When I cracked it open to see when it was made I was pretty surprised…

Pignose Serial

The original Pignose amps were made from about 1972/3 and had a fancy blue label. When they moved manufacturing offshore in the early 80’s they used this white label. And from what I can find, the series started with “A”. So this is one of the first 45 units that was built in Asia.

After more investigating, the parts and schematics for the Pignose amps have changed over the decades. Everything I could find built in Asia used Asian transistors. LIke 2SB172A, 2SB175B, 2SB324B (power transistors). Apparently they had a different sound than the US built ones. Or, so I’ve read. I honestly have no idea. Any way, I popped the circuit board off mine and that dropped my jaw somewhat…

Pignose PCB SideView

It might be hard to make out in the photo, but that’s a MJE3055 power transistor (there’s two of them). There’s also a 2N3904 and a 2N5412 (I think; hard to read the numbers).

Of course this doesn’t make a lick of sense for an Asian unit. What I think might have happened is that there were some left over boards from the US builds and those were shipped overseas to be assembled into working Pignose amps so the first few would have been the US PCB (my PCB is 002).

I doubt the amp is worth any real money since it’s seen better days, but I feel like I got a little treasure here and it sounds fabulous and works sweet. Yep. Win win…

18
Feb

Genz Benz 60LT Acoustic Amp

Having an acoustic guitar and several guitar amplifiers means that I could plug in and use the built in pickup in my Fender Sonoran SE.

What I’d noticed in testing out electric/acoustics was that they used different amps than what your standard Tele or Strat might use. Initially, I was thinking “marketing ploy” but when I started to try some, yeah, they sounded a lot different. The idea of an acoustic amp is to make it louder without colouring your sound. So as usual, talk to a bazillion people, read reviews, and try out as many as I could to see what i liked the sound of.

Most of these amps are quite small, i.e. no Marshall stack (Marshall does make an acoustic amp though)…speakers range from a couple of 4″ to a single 12″ and anything in between. Almost all are stereo, which is interesting considering the guitar is a mono source. Wattages range from 15 to over 300. Yea, 300 watts through a pair of 10″ speakers (with tweeters).

Fishman acoustic amps are first and foremost, every friggin’ where. If there were any more, you’d have to start a spraying program to stop them breeding…I tried several different variations of their Loudbox Artist and Professional. Attractively priced. Sound did bupkiss for me.

From that point, I worked my way down the line…and happened to be out at SurfSide Music. Noticed they carried Genz Benz in a solid state series called “Shenandoah”. They went from 45 watts to 300 watts with various speaker compliments, effects and input/outputs. The king of the hill is the Shen ProLT or the 300LT. Loud doesn’t adequately describe these things. Deafening would be closer. None the less, I didn’t care for the sound of either, nor the price…

Then I tried the Shen LT60. Bingo. First amp that I tried that didn’t change the sound of the acoustic guitar. Just brought out it’s natural sound. I wondered what could be making all this wonderful sound and…a pair of 6 1/2″ speakers and matching tweeters. 30 Watts driver each pair for a 60 watt amp. Who’da thunk.

Genz Benz 60 LT.JPG

Specs:

• Lightweight 29 lb design
• Stereo 60-Watt Power (30 Watts per side)
• Stereo 24 Bit DSP w/ 16 Preset Digital Effects
• Two Channels w/3-Band Active EQ w/Sweepable Mids
• XLR and 1⁄4” Inputs
• Headphone Jack
• All Input Signals Mix Together
• Dual 61⁄2” Woofers and Bullet Tweeters
• Compact Monitor-shaped Cabinet Design
• XLR Direct Outputs (Left and Right) w/Ground Lift
• Phantom Power for Condenser Mics
• Speaker Stand Mountable
• Protective Metal Speaker Grille

Coming from a world of BIG 4 x 10 or 4 x 12 cabinets, it’s hard to explain how much volume/tone this little amp can pump out…with the mic input I can even caterwaul along with myself…

I recently checked Genz Benz for the LT60 and it would appear they don’t make it any more. They have an LT80 now.

If there’s one annoying “feature”, it’s that the designer(s) overlooked the fact that the amp thumps when you power it up and when you power it down. It’s a solid state amp, it has a DSP. When the DSP comes online, it thumps the speakers. Turn down the “effects” gain before power up and it doesn’t do it. I emailed the company and they suggested doing just that, turn down the gain, power on the amp, turn the effects gain back up.

Which is like saying: get in your car, turn the radio volume down to zero, start the car, turn the radio volume back to where it had been. Every time.

So Genz Benz, lovely little amp, good sound, sturdy but for the glaring oversight on an amp in this price range – FAIL.

Thus, I do like the sound, I tolerate the thumps because some engineer was probably polishing his resume…I hope.

13
Apr

Ethereal Pedals

If you’re a guitarist, you probably have shares in most companies that make pedals. No. Really. If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent a lot of moola chasing down an effect or sound. And in due time realized it’s not exactly what you wanted, envisioned, or was worth selling that last kidney for…and start lusting some other pedal…of. course.

But someone, on the net no less, has a lighter view of pedals…and I certainly got a chuckle out of it…

pedal board.JPG

17
Mar

Tower of Effects

I finally got round to finish up the lower section of the effects tower. I was going to leave it finished wood or paint it black. Carol suggested I use my Tolex and cover it. So I did. Thus the whole thing is still easily separated at the top to make a floor based board or I can leave it in a tower mode and run it from my FCB1010… either way works fine.

The velcro carpeting is still in the mail (someplace) so I used some cable ties to put it together so I can use it in the meantime. I also have some 1/4″ phone jacks ordered and I’ll be making some custom cables for it (that are the proper length).

IMG_2262

Top view:

IMG_2263

All working good so far…

16
Mar

Guitar Shopping

Although it’s probably not unique to guitarists, there’s something about always being on the lookout for new guitars. I drop into any music store and my eyes just gravitate towards all those nitro finished beauties hanging on the walls of said establishment. If you’re a tool monger or electronics buff, the tool section in a store or rows and rows of electronics parts bins will generate the same kind of “brain rush”.

As it happened, the bassist and I were attending an Andrew Scheps recording seminar, which, conveniently, was held at Tom Lee Music in downtown Vancouver. Guess what they have adorning their walls? Yep. Geetars…mmm We had a lot of day to kill since it was an evening seminar and we go down early in the morning so, quite naturally, I simply have to start playing things and the bassist just keeps bringing them.

Electric solid bodies are my main weakness. Single coil or P90 style pickups. Which means I try a lot of Fender gear. Squier’s, Strats, Teles, Jazzmaster, Jaguar and so on. Usually plugged into the cleanest sounding amp with decent I can find, and I’ll state firmly that clean amps are getting harder and harder to find. Decent reverb in an amp is even harder to find with the DSP (digital signal processor) age in full swing and quality on the other end of the teeter totter.

After you play through about nine or ten of the solid bodies you start to notice a pattern. Specifically, none of them are in tune, or even close in most cases. The strings seem like there is no tension at all, no doubt so common string bends can be done by even the wimpiest handed player. I’d deliberately picked up guitars that others had just tried out to see if the guitar was in tune and nope. Ninety percent of them are out. A lot. So this begs, of course, why test play a guitar that isn’t in tune. My guess as to the why would be:

1. The player doesn’t know how to tune it
2. They don’t care if it’s in tune for their style of playing

Now I’d be hoping that it’s reason #1 because I’d avoid ever wanting to hear the player who subscribes to reason #2.

I did have a store salesman help “tune” a guitar for me. Not sure of the tuning he used, but it would go a long way to explain why so many of the guitars were out of tune. I carry a pocket tuner with me when I try out guitars because many of them will go out of tune so far it’s amazing.

But..today…I finally got “enlightened”. I asked a guy playing a guitar that was obviously out of tune why he didn’t tune it and he insisted it was in tune. Okay methinks, bad hearing (and mine’s not that great any more either). But no, he honestly thought it was in tune so I said, “Play an A chord”. That’d be a barre A on the 5th. I got a look like I was the very first alien life form ever seen (I’m sure he had friends so I knew this couldn’t be true). He says, “A chord, who plays chords on an electric?” To which I put it in “shredder” terms, “Can you play arpeggios?” “OH Yea, he says and fires through a sample”. “Good”, says I “Now strum all those notes instead of picking them”. And I get the “Huh, is that what a chord is?” Well actually it’s a broken chord but enough education for one day.

The guys playing electric guitars that are shredding don’t play full on chords, plus high levels of distortion/drive are used and both of these add up to the fact that the guitar can be a fair whack out of tune and they don’t hear it. If you’re a country, jazz or clean player, you’ll hear it though, your ear is trained for it. Perhaps what the shredders don’t realize is that if the guitar is in tune, the harmonics they so lustily go after will also sound much better. Or it’s not their style.

After spending considerable time going through the electric section and finding nothing that sounded better than when I already owned, we drifted into the “acoustic” guitar area. You don’t find shredders in here and I’ll wager than over 90% of the guitars on the wall, even the El Sleazo models, were spot on for tuning.

I used to own a big Yamaha dreadnaught and it had fabulous sound and was brutal to play. You shredded on it, mostly your finger tips. Typical high action and pain city. Loved the sound, didn’t like neck.

What caught my eye was a Fender dreadnaught that looked like it had a Strat neck. Weird. Traditional acoustic players would consider it ugly, unplayable, a blight on the landscape of all things acoustic. Me? I seen a guitar that looks different, I have to try it. So I did. And it was wow. Low action, easy to play, very usable sound for me. And it was electric as well. Bonus. I should have mentioned that I’m a flat picker, I don’t chicken pick a guitar (not my style) and for rhythm’s I’m a guitar percussionist.

The guitar is a Fender Sonoran SCE and advertised as your $300, drag it to the beach and have a party with it. And yep, that’d be exactly what I’d be doing with it. It’s got laminated mahogany sides and back and a solid spruce top (no, I doubt it’s Sitka spruce, more like some fir tree from someones back yard)…but hey, if it was good enough for the Wright Brothers first plane, it’s plenty good enough for a guitar. Right?

Fender Sonoran SCE

It’s got a Fishman preamp/eq in it with a tuner. So if it’s not in tune, press a button and tune it. I tested that tuner against my Peterson Strobe tuner and was amazed to see how accurate the Fishman tuner was. Very usable.

Since it literally has a Strat neck on it, the sound is like a big acoustic dreadnaught but plays like an electric. Essentially perfect for a guy like me. At the beach. With sand in his sandals….If there’s a weak point, it’s the tuners. They work, but seems to me the quality of them could be better.

I plugged it into my amps (thought I was going to have to get an acoustic amp) but it’s actually very usable there as well. Unless you crank the EQ and then you can get feedback. I cranked the bass up and the whole guitar (and me) were vibrating like crazy. Wow. I do need a longer strap on it, it’s playing kind of high for my liking.

The bonus is really that it sounds different than the rest of my stable of guitars but at the same time just as playable. Even if it has wound strings on it. We jammed for almost four hrs with it and I was more than amazed that my fingers were only slightly tender at the end. With the old Yammie they’d have been hamburger.

I also did try other guitars like Seagull, Martin, Art & Lutherie, Yamaha, etc in comparison to this one. Once I got to about $1200-$1500 the quality of sound bypassed the Sonoran by a fair amount. However anything in $400-$800 range wasn’t. There was a Seagull that had slightly better sound for about $500, but it had a brutal neck and no electric capability. Sound, of course, is very subjective so what might sound good to me might not to others.

Lastly, I will say that I tried three other models of the SAME guitar. A black, red and natural finish model. The red finish one had dead D and G strings and changing them didn’t help. Something not quite aligned right with that one. The black one was beautiful BUT it fretted out in WAY too many places. It needed a truss adjustment in the worst way but I suspect someone will buy it any way and “live” with it (therein lies one of the problems with buying mail order for those that do). Both of the natural models played just fine and sounded the same. The logic in me might say that the paint job was affecting the other guitars but that’s something I don’t know for fact….

8
Mar

T.O.E.

What’s T.O.E.? Tower Of Effects…

I’ve had a pedal board for my stomp boxes and while it works and keeps things organized when you’re tweaking the pedals (or you want to tweak the pedals), you spend a fair bit of “knee” time. That is the nature of pedals. I mean you have to stomp on them to get them on and off right? Not really any more. I built the iPatch to turn the pedals on and off. So I don’t need them on the floor.

Which started me thinking. Maybe it was the visit to Guitar Center in the US and those vertical pedal displays that inspired me. What ever it was, I started with an idea…A two piece pedal board (which looks an awful lot like the chicken coop roosts we used to have on the farm)…

Pedal Tower Apart

Any way, the idea was that the pedal board could sit atop of the main cabinet (which will house my MIDI guitar stuff) or be able to sit on the floor as a stand alone unit. Together as a tower the board sits a little over 24″ off the floor. If I had to stomp the boxes on that I’d be trying out for “So You Think You Can Dance.” But with the iPatch connected to my FCB1010, I can do it easily.

Today I Tolexed the whole top and then just test fit the pieces. If you’ve never done Tolex before, it’s not really all that hard but the corners are the tricky parts. I suggest watching a few YouTube videos on doing corners. I used to upholstery all sorts of stuff so I don’t find it all that difficult.

Any way, to glue the stuff on you use Contact Cement. So here’s my tip. If you use the “normal” contact cement (non water based and NOT odor free), do it in a well ventilated area!!! And you’ll find that positioning is quite difficult. I mean the two surfaces met, that’s where they stick. Right. Frigging. Now.

The solvent based stuff will also really softens up the Tolex and allow you to stretch it quite a bit to get it into shape.

As it happened I ran out of solvent based contact cement and got some water based LePages. Hardly any odor at all. AND you can reposition the Tolex quite easily, yes it sticks, but you can peal it back and reposition it a couple of times. I never found that very easy with the other cement. The water based stuff will cause the Tolex to “curl” when you apply it so watch it doesn’t curl on itself…tack time is slightly longer too (30 minutes). Oh and the water based cement looks like yogurt. Spreads on about the same too.

prep outside

So here’s the “stand alone” mode setup:

Stand Alone Pedal Board

And the Tower mode…:-)

Test Side View

I still have to finish the bottom, do the wiring but it’s taking shape…and I don’t spend a lot of time on my knees..woohoo…

23
Feb

It’s a weird industry…

As a guitarist I find the music industry has changed a great deal over the 47 years that I’ve been playing. Yet, at the same time, many things haven’t. I mean, well, there’s still good guitars and bad guitars and as highly subjective as that is, only your own ears can tell the difference. What some players regard as “awesome” sound, the same number will cringe at.

Electric guitars themselves haven’t actually changed much beyond two different woods, with different density, that vibrate and get picked up and at some point, usually, amplified. The resulting is again subjective to each individual. But guitars aren’t what has caught my “ears”…

It’s pedals, amps and software….oh my…

As noted by a previous blog, slapping “vintage” on a pedal doth not make it a “vintage” pedal. Calling a new pedal a direct copy of the old one, is only possible if it is indeed a direct copy of the old one. In many cases, those parts are long gone and there’s no way to “clone” the original. This goes along with the fashion idea that everything built before 2000 is boutique and commands a price to reflect that. Maybe, maybe not…

Amps are another sticky wicket. Take Fender amps. All those wonderful amps in the 1960’s are now be “reissued”. Are they exact copies of the originals? A side by said comparison would say otherwise, but if you can’t do that, you’d be convinced that it’s the same amp. So it’s whatever you like.

Enter in the new “software” systems that emulate these oldies. Software that runs on your computer or iPad/iPod and allows you have to instant gratification from all those wonderful amp, cabs and effects. Except that if you do an A/B comparison you face the obvious fact that although the emulations are good in some cases, they aren’t the originals.

Take the 1963 Fender Spring Reverb that was a staple way back when (and still being made). Every company that makes a reverb pedal has taken a “shot” at producing a “spring” reverb (Boss has because they know the tube unit is too pricey for many). Again, though it’s still subjective, to my ears some come close, while others might as well omit that fact they even have a “spring” setting.

Software, to my ears is no different. Run it through five different sound systems, you get five different sounds. Because that’s what you have to do to get the noise out of the software. Unless you play with headphones, in which case I suspect you’re the target market (and nothing wrong with that either if it works for you). But some of us like to play without headphones one so sound is what we’re quite critical of.

I’ve used Amplitube, TH2, GuitarRig and I find I go right back to a real physical amp, one solid state, one tubed. To my ears they sound light years better and as old fashioned as I might be, I’ll keep using the original gear. Hence, I’m not a target market.

So this:

FRV1.jpeg

is not this:

1963Tank.jpeg

Nor is this:

Ampli_Twin.jpeg

The same as:

65 Twin.jpeg

10
Feb

Gear Intermission – Take Deux…

There’s just something about guitarists and sound. And the law of diminishing returns…sometimes…

For example, I owned a Roland Boss CS-3 compression pedal and stock, it’s best trick was to hold the door open in the summer time to ensure a breeze could waft through the studio. Noisy, awkward and just plain crap in my point of view. A compressor is supposed to be almost transparent when it does its magic. The CS-3 thought IT was the soloist…

However all was not lost, I found a number of MOD sites that help you rescue that sad pile of components and turn it into a useable device. If you have one of these and some soldering talents, I suggest you look no further than Monte Allums CS-3 mods with the op-amps (Burr Browns). I highly recommend this mod.

The truth is, that even with the modification, which does make the compressor vastly improved, it still needs something. Like a compete redesign. It’s still noisy if you crank it up, the attack can be pretty brutal and overall it’s a little sterile. Hence, I sold it. To someone who obviously had heard the stock CS-3 and wondered why mine sounded so superior.

That of course started my search once again for a decent compressor. I own a Barber Tone Press and it’s a very good compressor and quieter than the CS-3. Normally the bassist uses it because it seems to really smooth out those low notes. Most good compressors seem to cost upwards of $300 and considering the parts inside, seem somewhat overpriced to me.

Boss products that I have tested out, tend to suck the tone out of anything plugged into them because they don’t have true bypass. Since I made the iPatch, this is a non-issue…so I no longer avoid them as I once did.

This of course lead me start looking into vintage compressors. You know, the ones that guys buy and never give up. The ones you see on eBay for a heartbeat and then they’re gone again. There’s a few old ones to pick from, but one that comes on the radar as being quite good was the Boss CS-2. Made between 1981 and 1986 I believe. A step up from the CS-1 according to those in the know.

Low and behold, I found one that was reasonably priced on eBay. So what does a 30 year old pedal look like? Little dusty, some obvious signs of wear and the thing works perfectly. Amazingly enough. I expected some caps might need changing but no, it’s fine. It’s also very transparent for sound quality so as far as I’m concerned it’s a keeper. The bottom of the pedal tells a slightly different story. Rust. Which means at some point it came in contact with moisture. As in water, rain, beer…well you get the idea. The actual circuit inside is perfect though so whatever caused the bottom rust didn’t “leak” through to the inside…

IMG_2094 IMG_2095

My favourite pedal of all time is my 2002 Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man. It was also giving me problems. I had noise coming out when you’d enable/disable via the foot switch. I re-soldered all the components on the board, checked all the traces and did everything I could to find the source of the noise. Today, after a few hours of replacing caps and opamps, I found the culprit. The volume control. Quite simply a 1 meg pot.

I had the board out of the box for testing and I “touched” the body of the pot and I got noise (snow like static). I immediately thought there was a ground issue with the pot. The instant I grounded the pot to the other pots (forming a ground plane) there was LOTS of noise. Huh? That should have killed the noise. I traced all the grounds down and nope, if you floated the body of the pot, didn’t touch any of the metal on it, it was as quiet as a mouse. But ground the outside or touch it, big time noise.

The local electronics store had exactly one pot in stock, and not the same as the one I took out. I had them order me a PC mount one and I took the other any way because I wanted to see if I had a bad pot or not. I stuck some wires on it and tagged it to the solder pads. None too pretty but it was just for testing.

IMG_2097

I touched the body of the new pot and noise! BUT, when I grounded the body with all the other pots, no noise at all. Zip. Nada. Ziltch. Works perfect. I’d suspected op-amps, caps, traces and well everything. Never once did I suspect a bad pot. But some where inside the original there has to be some corrosion or steel wool or something that’s causing the problem. I did check it with an ohm meter and it tests out fine. I’ve never found anything like this before so it was a good lesson too.

Since then, I’ve replaced the whole thing in its box and I’ve been using it on and off and it’s performed exactly as it should. So yep, there was something wrong with the original pot. Who’d thought. Not me, that’s for sure. It was just a freak chance that I grabbed the body of the pot to see if it was loose that put me on to it. Besides, this is going to be one of those collector pedals (because they are made any more) that I’m never going to give up…next week I’ll put the proper replacement pot back in. And still bbbeee eecchoooiiinnnggg…

9
Feb

Gear Intermission – DMM

As the studio is going back together, I’ve been skulking around looking for another 2002-2003 model of the ElectroHarmonix Deluxe Memory Man. This is the five control model and probably the last reissue that used the MN3005 bucket brigade delay chips (they went to MN3008’s at some point). In 2009 the chips had all been used so that was the end of the DMM as we knew it.

I happened to buy the last early 2000 vintage and the sound is amazing. I owned an Echoplex and although the DMM was supposed to be analog echo, it was more. Ethereal. The sounds you could get out of it just put it out there by itself.

So when mine started acting up, I first checked to make sure you can get them repaired and yes, they still repair them, unless you need a memory chip and then forget it. There is no supply. Mine, as it turns out, has an intermittent connection someplace. The foot switch click will cause a hum in the unit at some point. Click it a few times and most of the time it clears itself. So I found the schematic and picked up all the parts to completely rebuild it. This I haven’t started yet because all the gear is stored while the studio is being rebuilt. It is on the to do list though.

EHX was obviously inundated with requests for the DMM so they produced a bunch of “next generation” boxes. Hazarai, Memory Boy, and Memory Man. Complete circuit redesign, some using a DSP (digital signal processor) and so on. To say any of these sound remotely like a DMM is about the same as stating all guitars sound the same or digital reverb sounds like a 1963 Fender Reverb Tank. If you’ve ever owned a DMM, you’ll know exactly what I am talking about.

Scanning eBay for one of these is pointless. Oh there’s one or two that pop up for some overblown price or ones that have been modded. Apart from that the only ones you can find are the new “digital” sounding ones. So for anyone who wants to know what the difference is, the classic DMM has a warm full sound. The new offerings are sterile, clear, digital sounding. No where near the same as the older units.

Behringer, the bedroom producers gear supplier of the world, was also paying attention and brought forth this:

dmm_vm1.jpg

A “Vintage Time Machine” that, as you can see, is a direct knock off from the DMM. And for DIRT CHEAP ($69 eBay). So how good is it? Well, as it turns out, it’s digital but it’s not DSP driven so it’s not too shabby. It’s not great and the repeats are “digital” sounding. The Chorus/Vibrato work but not all that smoothly.

If you want to compare the VM-1 to the DMM, save your time. It doesn’t. The VM-1 needs expanded pots to give you a wider range. Right now a hair either direction and you go from echo to oscillation. Noise wise (the echo’s induce noise) it’s slightly better or the same as most of the echo pedals I’ve used (Echo Park for example). None the less, if you tweak it, you can get some usable sound from it. So for that I’d say it’s worth the $70 (whereas the DMM was $350 and worth every penny to me).

So what’s inside the VM-1? Well, keep in mind that if you opened ANY pedal and found this:

IMG_2090

You wouldn’t even have to look at the name on the pedal. What? You don’t see it? Behringer must own stock in the worlds supply of hot melt glue. If you take almost anything they make apart you’ll find globs of the yellow stuff all over the place. The VM-1 is no exception. Glue central. They probably say it’s to help things stand up to road wear. I’d say they are smuggling hot melt glue out of Asia…

The second part is the circuit board. It looks like there is a DSP on the board doing all the “magic”. As it turns out, Behringer used a double sided PC board, but solder components on both sides. That must make “flow soldering” interesting…the bucket brigade chips are from CoolAudio.

IMG_2083

So compare that with what a DMM looks like:

DMM.jpg

The DMM is traditional in all ways and there is only one of them. But I’m still looking for a backup DMM…

20
Oct

Hansel and Gretsch..L

My nephew had a problem with his 16 month old Gretsch 5120. One of the pickups refused to function but the other still worked. While he could have sent it in for repair, he decided that Uncle Mel might be able to fix it…

In my experience the common point for the pickups is the selector switch and that’s almost always the point where signals go astray. Usually as a result of the switch coming loose and someone tightening it and straining the wiring in the process. Which, in this case wasn’t the problem.

Since the guitar has no pick guard to remove for access, everything has to come out the pickup holes. Thus, I had to remove those first to inside. The Gretsch has a floating bridge and since this was intonated correctly I wanted to make sure it stayed in place. Painters tape did that…

I then used some Koban thread to tie onto the pickup selector switch so I could fish it back in without using forceps. Once I got the switch out, the problem was obvious. The shield wire on the cables hadn’t been cut cleanly and there were two whiskers of wire poking right down inside the switch. Effectively grounding out the signal from the bridge pickup. Not good.

I cleaned up the wiring shields, put some insolation between the wires and the switch and put some wire ties on the cables to bind them better. End of problem. Guitar is now once again back in the hands of my nephew and he’s happy as a clam.

6
Oct

Experience Music Project

My brother and I went to Seattle to the science center for the experience music project. The displays showed the music scene in Seattle, the Pacific Northwest, for the past 60 years.

From the Whailers, to the Ventures, to Hendrix, it was all there. And very well laid out and informative.

The prototype for the first Fender Telecaster was there, although I don’t know what that had to do with Seattle, but it was neat to look at and wonder where Leo got the idea from.

Then it was over to the SciFi exhibit and many exhibits as well. Like remember those old Robbie The Robot movies?

Who could ever forget…ah the many memories…

7
Sep

Loopy de Loop

I’ve been watching Craigs List and eBay for a good price on a Midi controlled loop switcher for the studio. The Rocktron Patchmate 8, Voodoo Lab GCX are what I’ve been looking at.

New either of these is going to run in the several hundred buckaroo range. Even used they’ll command a few hundred. And they aren’t exactly programmable in the true sense. You can turn the loops on and off individually but you can’t control what triggers them. That’s hard coded in each unit.

I’m going to build the whole thing in rack mount box, that should fit nicely under my current pedal board and then use some short patch cables to route the effects boxes to the control unit. I figure I can even build a buffer circuit if I have to.

Here’s the controller board from Highly Liquid:

And the relay board I found on eBay:

Should be an interesting build…

2
Sep

Tis the rack

I’ve started amassing all the bits and pieces to built a small cabinet I can rack mount my V-Amp Pro in. eBay has provided most of it so in a couple of weeks I should have some of the bits. I picked up the pine board to build the box today.

The covering is the main hurdle. Most cabs are covered in Tolex and it sells for a princely sum. Like $30 a yard and shipping can easily double that. Why? Seems a lot of them ship by Fedex or UPS. That’s not cheap to do. I got my Tolex from Steamco in Winterpeg.

I’m also going to add in a Peterson Stroborack. It looks like a nice tuner, accurate and should work well in the studio.

Looking forward to building it all.

29
Aug

V-Amp Pro firmware

I picked up a Behringer Vamp Pro and found the firmware was a few years out of date. A quick email to Behringer had the most recent firmware on its way to me. I’d seen lots of walk throughs on how you change the battery on a Vamp but not on the Pro version.

So armed will nothing more than a Phillips screwdriver, I took it apart and took photos of the insides. There are fourteen screws to take out. Four on each of the rack ears, and six on the main case where the front joins the back. Then just pry it apart.

Two ribbon cables join the front controls to the back and they unclip from the back, not the front. In the photos you can see the firmware chip. A small flat blade screwdriver will pop it out the socket but remember where the notch is so you can get the new one back in correctly.

The whole job took about fifteen minutes. Worked perfect on reassembly. I liked that part..

24
Aug

Pickup and go

Spent the day putting new pickups in the Hallmark. Why? Well the Hallmark has always had this dark sound to it and I wanted something along the line of a Tele. Of course the Hallmark Custom 60 is not even close to a Tele, so I’m not sure what I was expecting. Considering the price I paid for the two pickups, not much…

The pickups are from Guitar Fetish, apply named I might add. They are the Surf style pickups and not as hot as what was in there. So I thought…

Something I had overlooked was that workshop with Robert Godin. He sated that a guitar pickup was much like a microphone for a vocalist. To further that, if you didn’t start with a great sound you weren’t likely to find one later. He was very right. Seems that if the guitar isn’t made properly then it doesn’t vibrate and the pickups don’t sound quite right. I.e. Dark, muddy and so on. It’s the job of the bridge to make sure that the sound transfers to the body and doesn’t dampen the strings so the pickups work the best they can.

But, being the adventurous sort that I am, I figure for $35 a pickup, it would be a good experiment. Indeed I learned a lot. First off the new pickups wound at around 8k are a LOT hotter than I thought they would be. Second they do sound a lot better, even if I had to drill some new holes to mount them. The new holes can be covered by the original if I decided to swap back.

So a few hours later it was all done and I won’t be changing the pickups back. I like the new sound of them. Not fantastic like my Tele, but a heck of a lot better than they were.

Here’s the required photo shot to show what I started, changed and ended up with. Enjoy.

23
Jul

To Modify..or not

Having more than guitar means that I have guitars that not only look different, they play and sound different too. The odd thing about this is that on any given day, one guitar will sound better that the other.

I modified my Fender Strat a long time ago with Seymour Duncan Surf Antiquity pickups. Pretty much anything would sound better than the Texas hot pups that were in there.

As it happens I had some recordings that I’d made with those old Texas pups (before I sold them on eBay) and now they don’t sound all that bad at all.

I recently acquired an Eastwood Sidejack Deluxe and an Ibanez Jet King II. While the King was way cheaper than the Eastwood, it had double the sound quality and build. I actually got the Jet King as a cheap project guitar and couldn’t find anything I wanted to change on it. The Eastwood was supposed to be a player and it’s turned out to be the project. A luthier fixed the neck on it, I redid the pup mounts and intonation so it plays now. Quite nice as it turns out.

None the less the tuners are junk and the pickups are very overdriven. The tuners can be changed easy enough but the pups, well that’s another question. I’ve been looking at GFS pups, typical p90 style. Cheap enough, but, will I go through all the work to change them only to find that the originals weren’t that bad? Good question. No answer because you can’t try before you buy..

Along a different line, I found this budget cable rack idea online. Fascinating…