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Archive for February, 2011

25
Feb

Studio Load-in Day…

Finally, after what seems like forever, the blinds got installed in the studio. We wired the remainder of the console, tested out all the connections in the process and found two problems. One was a bad patchbay strip. Just a cold solder joint. The other is that one of the Sends in the LX7 is not working. That would be a major repair since it has to get disconnected, fixed and then reconnected. For now I’ll just remember that strip 17 Send is not working but the return works fine. Probably another cold solder joint…

After wiring in the rest of the studio it was time to bring all the amps and guitars back in, wire them up, run cables again for recording. Here we found some problems again and it was easy to fix them because it was during the install.

The blinds are Hunter Douglas and are the double cell type (motorized as well) and the first thing we noticed was that they really go a long way to deaden the sound reflection coming off those big windows. Triple cell would probably be even better, or perhaps heavy drapes. Except drapes don’t work all that well above a baseboard heater. The blinds also insulate the windows very well. It was really cold last night 21F and the bottom 10″ of all three windows has a heavy coating of ice on it this morning. That’s one of the issues you have with baseboard heaters instead of forced air (no air movement). Might try leaving them up a bit and see if that makes any difference.

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And the noise maker wall:

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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:

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is not this:

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Nor is this:

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The same as:

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15
Feb

Studio Wiring 2

I finally got enough of the wiring connected to power the console up and tests for…ah…leaks..

Before I shut it down, the Apogee interface was giving me fits. Firewire issues abounded. When I started it back up again, I did one OS update on the Pro and everything seems rock solid all of a sudden. On different days, after a number of restarts. While I am a computer geek, I don’t exactly under stand how that would happen. Unless some driver, flag or switch was thrown someplace deep within the OS.

I’m not going to dwell on it, I’ll just use it and the first time it craps out again, it will get replaced.

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And the spooky photo with only the console lighting…

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The monitors I hooked up aren’t my studio monitors. The are some poor JBL two way systems that I use when I want to check a mix out on what the average guy might have. The reason is if the mix sounds good on my monitors and the JBL’s, it should sound good any way. Course with the big empty room right now, they sound pretty muddy.

Now it’s time to write down where all those wires in the patchbays go to and come from. Then make up labels for them.

I can’t actually finish off the rest of the wiring until the blinds go in.

13
Feb

Studio Wiring – 1

Now that the console is back in one piece, I can start the long and complex task of trying to figure out where that 51lbs of wire goes to that I took out of it…

The racks already had LED lights in the back of them, so all I had to do was wire them back up to the switch panel in the front. I seen a lot of racks with those goose neck lamps for lighting and I’d have to tell you that those are pretty pathetic. The strips that I use are from RC helicopters and there is 20 LED’s per running foot. They run off 12VDC and a three foot string draws .4A (400ma). I have a 5A 12VDC power supply to run them all.

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Another critical area for light is the back of the speaker distribution system and the mixer. So I added a strip of LED’s in there too.

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While I was at it, I added two strips up under the front lip of the console. Each side is on a switch I so I have them on or off and need be.

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The racks has blue LED’s (we are the Fabulous Blue Diamonds after all) and again, controlled separately if the mood doesn’t strike us…

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So that’s the light package done. Next it was time to make the “tray” that would hold all the cables off the floor. I could have made one out of wood, but I decided to use those hooks that are designed to screw into the walls to hang ladders on. Cheap and string and worked out perfectly. It would have been nicer if the front edge had been a little higher but they’ll still work as is.

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11
Feb

Studio Console Installed

After messing around with pedals for two days, I managed to get back into the studio for the final fit and make sure it’s all going to work…

Surprisingly enough, it fit like a glove. The templates I made out of paper apparently helped more than I’d imagine they would. So here’s the completed desk, bolted in and waiting for the 51lbs of wiring to actually make it all work….

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It’s still sitting in the middle of the room because the motorized blinds going in won’t be in until closer to the end of the month. Plus there’s still a whack of wiring to do.

Dimension wise, my console is smaller than an Argosy (who make the cream of the crop when it comes to consoles as far as I am concerned) and lighter too (an Argosy this size would weigh in empty at around 800lbs). My whole setup is 36″ deep, 38″ tall, and 103″ end to end. While it doesn’t look at size in the pictures keep in mind the mixer is 31″ wide and that’s a 30″ Apple Cinema display…

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Next up is to start with the lighting and the power wires. Then it will be on to the audio wiring sections.

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…

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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So compare that with what a DMM looks like:

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

8
Feb

Console – Day 2

Seems to be either a large bug or an extra knob in the console…going to have to see if I can work that out of there..

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After the test fit, it was back into the shop to make the two backing plates.

One will hold the Presonus Central Station (speaker distribution controller). The other will simply sit behind the monitor. I was originally going to put in rack mounts but decided it was more work that it was worth because the mixer is far wider than a standard 19″ rack mount and the monitor covers the panel any way. So I made them out of wood and tolex’d them. Fake face plates…

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Back in the shop, I test fitted the shelf and backing plates. The green painters tape is to protect the Tolex from Varathane.

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The front “bumper” on the console is Tolex covered as well so I have someplace nice and cushy to rest my elbows…

7
Feb

Console – Construction

Once all the little bitty pieces are cut, fit, found wanting, I started to put it together. And of course, testing to make sure that the pieces still fit where they are supposed to…

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Once the middle part is partially done, it was time to see how it mated to the existing rack ends. Clamps were hold it in place so I could transfer the side positions and drill the mounting holes that hold the center to the sides…

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After drilling the mounting holes and applying several coats of Varathane, it was time for another test fit….

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Stay tuned for the next exciting part of this build…zzzzz

7
Feb

Console build – Plan Phase

And this is how console builds start:

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A 2 x 4 for a straight edge…and then some cardboard to make a template…just to see how everything might fit. Or not.

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Then it’s get a bunch of wood start cutting..

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Get a bass player to help with a low frequency broom is always a good idea too..

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