Monday, February 26, 2018

Tap Tempo Ableton & Arduino

After frustrations of trying to keep time, I've finally cracked my main problem.
How, as a guitarist with almost no knowledge of music theory can I get the tempo that feels right without having a band?

Dead simple really and very very cheap.

I came up with the idea a few years ago when still studying accounting and addicted to Kerbal Space Program.

You see I decided to use an Arduino to make a flight controller for that wonderful game. And I did. To a point.

The prototype was coming along nicely and I'd fabricated the chassis, and worked out the code for the various meters, dials, switches etc... but then exams loomed large and it looked like I might not finish if I continued.

So all that stuff was shelved. But not forgotten.

Now it's been a long while since I picked up the old soldering iron, but I've long had this desire to add tap-tempo to my DAW setup.

Ableton makes it easy from a keyboard (not the musical kind).
Not so much for my midi hardware, which refuses to send midi data from the damper pedal for the thing that I desire.

This is where I decided (about 2 years ago) to re-purpose my arduino to enable tap tempo. Then I sat on the idea, because in my shed is a vortex of chaos and I couldn't find the Arduino board, or kept finding other things to do.

The code bit is easy. The barest modification of the Keyboard Write function.

All I did was figure out what the ASCII key number was for ` and then replace A in the example.

I then tapped two bits of wire together, and just like that tap tempo was at hand!
Later by foot.

Here's the code:

#include <Keyboard.h>

void setup() {
  // make pin 2 an input and turn on the
  // pullup resistor so it goes high unless
  // connected to ground:
  pinMode(2, INPUT_PULLUP);

void loop() {
  //if the button is pressed
    //Send an ASCII '`',

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Scrap-built lap steel

My shed.

Its full of scraps, offcuts and leftover parts from the years of amateur engineering projects.

I grabbed a couple of pieces of timber that were leftover from a kitchen Island that I built and glued them together into a vaguely laps steel shaped block. Then I left it to sit and gather dust for many months.

This past weekend I decided to revisit the project.
I had a handful of guitar bits that seemed suitable.
  •  A humbucker from a Gretsch that I modified for a friend with a sustainer pickup.
  • The original bridge from my Bass VI.
  • One 6 on a plate set of tuners that were intended for a 12 string but would not fit.
  • Aluminium scrap for the tailpiece
  • A string tree from another (failed) attempt at a lap steel
  • 1x Ikea spanner
The build was fairly simple, chisel & rout a hold for the pickup and electronics.

Mount the hardware and deal with a few buzzing spots
 (the bridge wasn't the best choice).

Its nowhere near finished, but I can go from open Dm to open D just by pressing down on the bent spanner, which in turn presses on the 3rd string. It actually sounds really nice, but needs to be stripped down again for a few small mods and of course a paint job.

The tuners work, but they aren't very good and the position is not ergonomic when it comes to tuning, but beggars can't be choosers, and I can't really play more than I, IV, V at the moment.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

All slides are not created equally.

Today I'm here to discuss guitar slides.

Like many guitarists, I've dabbled in slide on and off over the years.
I have to confess that historically speaking, I'm actually a pretty rubbish guitarist and an even worse slide guitarist.

Things are changing though, since I've had more time to practice with my studies almost at an end (hopefully I'll be done by the time this post goes up). In truth I'll never be a fancy fast player. There are a few underlying issues physically, but mostly its because I simply don't enjoy that sort of guitar playing.

If you knew my history, you might be surprised.
I grew up playing in death-metal bands in the small town where I lived through my teen years.
The reason we all played metal, is that was the most rebellious thing one could do!
To give my age away, I was a mere lad of 12 or 13 when Nirvana and Pearl Jam broke through onto The Australian Broadcast Corporation's "Rage" and simultaneously channel 10's "Video Hits".

Suddenly "alternative" was mainstream and not in the least bit offensive (tell that to our parents at high volume).

I think probably the earliest slide thing I wrote was heavily influenced by the "Young Guns 2" soundtrack.

What else did I have available? Not much slide in my sisters Madonna and INXS collection (the two coolest cassettes that she had).

The point I'm trying to make is that when you're learning guitar pre-internet, the resources were limited. Music books were expensive and trying to find music that wasn't in the top 40 was nearly impossible. So even if one had instructions, you didn't know what the songs are supposed to sound like.

None of us knew anything about other tunings, outside of dropping E to D.
Back in 96 I was convinced that I had invented dadgad.
20 years laters I was kicking myself for not dropping the G to F# or even F.

I always wondered how all those great slide licks were done in dadgad. You've got this weird 4th in the middle of a chord and it wasn't great for chasing those full slide chord sounds.
I just figured I was lousy at slide and didn't pick it up much over the intervening period between my teens and late 30's

The one almost respectable composition I made resulted in me being oblivious to a home invasion by a couple of miscreants. I'd been in my room with the music loud for a couple of hours only to emerge to discover that my PS2 and games were missing (why didn't they half inch the video camera too?).

Anyway I'm digressing heavily and don't need to tell you about every time I picked up a slide.

20 years since I first messed about with slide, I'm finally getting a handle on some things.
Some of this is due to better information, but it's largely due to better tools.

I've owned around 10 slides over the years. Not a great collection, but when you consider what we have available in Oz, there's little point in buying a metal or glass tube over & over.
I still have my first slide. Chrome on the outside. Rusty in the middle. Don't think it was a dunlop. Was probably a Fender.

It wasn't great. Lightweight and frankly awful to use since the chrome didn't make it through the middle. I had a glass pinkie slide that has long since disappeared onto the vastness of space and a couple of Dunlop brass slides.

One of them a straight tube, the other a slightly fancier concave tube.
The latter was my go-to for about 6 years, the former being donated to a friend.

Note the differences in thickness
Concave profile
Dunlop's 227 is a decent slide. It had a decent weight and the curved surface made accessing single strings a little easier. The fit was pretty good on my ring finger, but way too loose on the pinky.
Recently on a whim I bought a short brass dunlop, but had to use it with tape around my finger  in order to use it at all.

Fed up with that approach I searched for a better solution. That's when I discovered a thing call the "the Rock Slide". They're made in the USA and a little on the expensive side. Especially since the Aussie dollar isn't so strong against the greenback. I debated getting one for a few months, but eventually decided to go for it.

It might be aged brass, but playing has worn it off
Three slides gets you free shipping, but I couldn't spring for that amount of $ without experiencing the guilt and shame for being frivolous on something that might end up being an expensive paper weight.

Sometimes the Rock Slide offer factory seconds for half price.
When I decided to buy, one such sale just happened to coincide.
I purchased an Aged Brass Ball-tip from the "good stock" and a small Glass slide from the factory seconds.

I don't know what the proper small glass slide is supposed to resemble, but I can't see any issues with mine. Maybe the inner diameter is a little loose? The brass ball tip on the other hand fist perfectly on my ring finger to the 2nd joint and the pinky to the knuckle.

Both slides have a decent amount of mass and are comfortable to use courtesy of the half moon cutaway that allows your fingers to bend in a naturally comfortable fashion.
If you fee the slide is a touch too short, then just twist it around and there are a few more Mm to work with.

These slides haven't magically made me a better player, but they offer a rounded end surface that allows better targeting of a desired string. This allows the player to keep plucking a way either side of the slide, while giving access to more advanced techniques without the steep learning curve.

The glass slide is more useful on my 12 string since the action is lower and the string gauge lighter, where my resonator needs a bit more mass for the opposite reason.

My Dunlop 227 slide still has its uses, but I keep returning to the Rock Slide in both glass and brass.

Your milage may vary, but I doubt it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Blues Box Guitar

As mentioned in the last post I received a beginners cigar box guitar for xmas.
It comes with an instructional booklet, demo CD and a glass side that accommodate even the most well fed of digits.

The booklet and CD are professionally presented, but the guitar itself was a little surprising

I hadn't looked too hard on the outside of the package and though that the box was maybe plywood.
But upon opening I discovered that it was actually thick cardboard.

No biggie, it's an $28 AUD kit.

The neck appears to be pine, but the internet tells me its maple.
Honestly for the tension on the strings, I don't think it needs a harder wood.

The only DIY bit of putting it together is to put the ferrules in, this was easy enough, but some were tighter than others. Placement of the nut is accommodated by a groove in the neck, where the bridge is placed over a conveniently printed line on the body.

There's also a piezo pickup on board, which works as you'd expect.

No frets, but there are fret markers.
The manual suggest GDG tuning, so I did.

Having never played a cigar box guitar, I was a little doubtful of the tonal range of this tuning, but the doubts were without merit.

I've spent many hours avoiding assignments playing this budget instrument and annoying the family.
The internet tells me that it might be harmful to the cigar box market, but I just don't see it.
In fact it just makes me want to get out and make one myself!
I have a fancy champagne gift box that is just begging for some three string action!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Numbers, roadside junk and preparing for the future.

Greetings readers (all two of you),

It's been a rather dull couple of years on the posting front.
I've had a lot on my plate outside of music, studying accounting being the chief time sink outside of working (there's always a guitar next to my desk to help me think).

Also, the coffers are hardly overflowing, so new instruments are pretty rare.|
Actually, thinking about it, not that rare. But they also cost very little.

The side of the road seems to be a good place to find instruments where I live.
I've found a perfectly functional keyboard stand, busted nylon string and a snare drum with stand (both in great working order).

This is all in the last 12 months.

I got an acoustic piano for free (moving it wasn't but them's the breaks right?
It doesn't hold tune all that well on some of the keys, but I got a decent tuning hammer and it's pretty easy to get going if I feel in the mood to bash out the one piano thing I know how to play.

There was also a Yamaha Organ that I got for the price of a couple of burgers.

Lastly, I received a very cheap cigar box guitar kit for xmas.
It doesn't have an actual cigar box for a body, its really just made of thick cardboard.
The thing looks cheap ugly, but I was surprised that it sounded ok and is a lot of fun to play.
Now I've returned to my old habits of look around me for things that I can turn into instruments or bend to another purpose.

My shed is brimming with boxes and cake tins that are begging to be utilised for making noise.

I'll be done with my studies soon and shall resume posting on a more regular basis.

Happy new year!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

El cheapo power soak

Many years ago, when I was but a lad of 19 I had a 50watt valve amplifier and lived in a flat.
That amp was the Peavey Classic 50 head. It sounded great, but boy hoh by was it loud.

Back then I had a job repairing turntables and as a result had access to a catalogue of stuff that just wasn't available in the local Dick Smith (remember when they sold electronics components?).

Anyway, in said catalogue they had this thing called a speaker attenuator. It was a little pricey for my measly wage, but I thought that it might do the trick. It didn't and it has been sitting in one box or another for the last 17 years. That was until this afternoon when I fished it out and took to it with the soldering iron.

You see, I had an idea this morning, it was the same one that I had back in 1999.

I'd been on ebay and was searching for something when I saw a "power soak" that was cheap and looked suspiciously like the thing that I had in my workshop.

After a bit of searching on the commute, I came across this instructable and it turns out I'd been doing it wrong.

You see there was only solder on two of the three terminals, so I guess that I set about wiring it the wrong way.

Wiring it up the same as the instructable yielded the result that I was after so many moons ago!

I don't have the 50 watter any more, but I do have two Fives and a Fifteen.
Now the five can be cranked and not annoy the neighbours, but everything in my crappy little sound booth rattles and its a little unpleasant on the ears after a few minutes.

The fifteen on the other hand, gets too loud at just #3 on the dial.
Nice and clean at this point, but the sweet spot is a little further up the dial.

I've only tried out the attenuator on my Epiphone Valve Jr Half-Stack so far, but it worked flawlessly.
The amp can run full tilt and yield a nice gritty distortion, but be dialed down to almost nothing.

With this design, the amp sees 8 ohms at any level and is now at a nice neighbour friendly volume.

I got around to placing the power soak into an enclosure this weekend and try it out on my Fender Princeton. The results are good, but not as good as they were on the Valve Jr.

There are a couple of factors at play here at least.
The two biggest that I can identify are A: Power and B: Speaker interaction.

The Epiphone overdrives well and doesn't get nearly as loud as the Fender.
Sure its 1/3 the wattage, but that doesn't mean its only 1/3 as loud.
I've run them in stereo and they're not too different side by side.
The Epi isn't being drowned out by the Fender.
Though the fender does cause more rattling of the fixings in the booth.

The Fender does overdrive, but at maximum it is pretty fizzy and not anything like what you hear when running raw into the speaker at full volume.
From what I can tell, the amplifier / speaker interaction is where the great tone of this amp comes from. When the amp begins to distort, the speaker is working hard and lending its owe character to the overall sound. This seems to complement the amp's natural overdrive and also round out any unpleasant fizz. Either that or the assault on your ears means they can't pick out the nuances.

Dialing back the volume of the amp to (around 4 & 5) the zone where it straddles the clean/breaking up threshold and setting the power soak to just slightly higher than where I had it on the Valve Jr yielded a pretty nice tone. Clean and jangly with nice overdrive when hitting the strings hard.

I usually play with a neck pickup, but the bridge was better when using the power soak.
At a guess, its due to the same reason the overdrive at max volume wasn't great. The speaker plays a big part in the overall tone and maybe the lower frequencies are being rolled off a bit as well.

In conclusion, the price can't be beat for the control it provides over neighbourhood relations even if the unit does change the way your amp sounds. I'd love to try out a more expensive unit to see if they too suffer the fizziness that I experienced. I'm guessing that the answer would be yes due to the speaker not being driven the way it is intended. I still had very useable tone, but it is markedly different to the raw amp experience.

Your milage may vary.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Earthquaker Devices - Organizer

Hi Folks,

I know it's been a long time between posts but I haven't had much to report.
Everything is work, work, work.

I'm pretty sure you're not all that interested in balance sheets, economic order quotients or digging up tree roots and the intricacies of laying a flat garden path with recycled bricks.

Me either, but hey, that's my lot right now (Come on October!).

I did get a little reprieve and have been messing about in a friends studio, but nothing worth publishing yet.

A little way back there was a bit of spare cash and I spied a used Organizer pedal.
I'm a sucker for organ tones and I'm a lousy keyboard player so what's a man to do?

In earlier posts I've written about other pitch shifting devices such as the EHX Hog, Digitech Whammy, MXR Blue box and I think even a Boss OC3. Though the last two don't really count.

I liked the HOG, but it was too expensive and I had gear lust so it didn't last long in my collection.
There was a top end warble that I found to be a bit annoying for the price point. But this is just an artifact of the octave up pitch shifting.

I've heard it in the Whammy 4 and it is present in the Organiser (and POG and probably C9 too).

The Organizer is an interesting beast, but you'll want to use a nice clean power supply as it can amplify ripple from the DC input. I have a bunch of them and they vary within the same model designation, so its just a matter of messing about until you find a quiet one.

The manual suggests placing gain devices before it in the signal chain and after testing I can see why.
Any distortion after the fact will reveal clock noise from the delay chip on lag function. And if you're not using a clean power supply it will be even worse.

I would have thought that distorting on the input would have made tracking less accurate, but it works really well. I don't know the math or the way it actually works inside, but maybe its something about squaring off the waveform that simplifies things, but there is a harmonic component to distortion too so maybe I'm off the mark entirely.

What counts is the end result and it is pretty good.

The lag function "feels" like a delay when you move the knob, but I think may be its more akin to the halfway point on the HOG hold function (sort of like portamento on a synth). I'm not going to open it up, so I'll leave it a mystery.

Turing down the bass and dialing a blend of dry with the upper register can give a nice shimmer.
When coupled with reverb and delay the results are pleasing.
Dialing in the bottom end gives (as you would imagine) a nice full organ flavoured tone, especially when running into a Univibe (or clone) for that simulated leslie wobble.

Having seen the Decemberists this week, I know it's nowhere near the real deal, but still a really fund thing to play with.

I found the Organizer to be a fun and flexible pedal that I expect to retain in my collection (how many times can I keep buying the same basic thing right?)

Maybe one day I'll post a demo.....