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Monday, December 20, 2010

2010 - Tokai Hummingbird

Recently I picked up one of the coolest shaped guitars on the planet.
It's like an evil Mosrite. German carved and all pointy horned. I first became aware of this guitar via Guitar Nerd

The guitar came in the original brown leather/vinyl gig bag from the late 1960's.
As far as I can tell, the guitar dates back to 1968. Unfortunately there's no serial number on it as back then, they were just stickers on the back of the headstock.

The guitar is in ok condition for its years, but far from perfect.
Fortunately the neck is nice and straight, only one minor ding on it near the headstock, which is barely noticeable. At some stage the original vibrato has been removed and three of the holes have been filled with dowel, but not painted over. The original tuning machines are long gone and the nut seems to have been replaced as the current nut needs some filing down to get the strings sitting on the zero fret.

The neck is made from five or six pieces of timber laminated together. It looks like the neck has been refinished as the joins in the timber seem to be rather dirty, it looks well used.

The pickups appear to be of the same vintage and measure approx 6k. They have a nice meaty p90esque sound. But I don't think they're original. Looking at the pick guard, it looks like someone has done a real hatchet job getting the pickups in there. Under the pickup rings, the plastic is very rough and the pickups themselves are misaligned when compared to the routing. Screws to hold the rings down are too long and appear to have come from a hardware store bulk pack. The body has had some wood removed where the screws protude under the scratch guard.

I suspect that the pickups which were originally installed were more like the typical Teisco variety.
There's also extra routing under the scratchplate where a switch is likley to have been placed, I might add one back in there as a matter of course, either a kill switch or a low cut.

The vibrato assembly is kind of weird. It's like a half Bigsby with provision to accept a stat style bar.
Where the bar is attached, the metal is cracked, but I suspect that it will be strong enough to handle any of my whammy antics. The unit does look the part of a vintage guitar so I'll probably leave it as is. A full bigsby just wouldn't do the guitar justtice, however a Gibson Maestro might!

So the guitar needs quite a bit of T.L.C.

My plan is to replace the scratch guard with something of my own design. it's something I'd prefer to have done with a CNC Mill, but I'm sure with a few practice runs on thin MDF it's not too far outside of my skill level. Maybe some tortoiseshell or a dark pearl. The plan is to try to cover up the holes from the previous vibrato.

The pickups are nice sounding, but don't really suit the look of the guitar, so I'm toying with the idea of installing jazzmaster pickups with cream covers to match the body.

The Hummingbird has promise to be a  unique beauty once it's restored, even if it's not restored to it's original glory. I'll be taking my sweet time with this one and update whenever I get a chance.
Photoshopped overlay of pickguard and routing.

2009 - Zoom H4n

The name of the device sounds somewhat like a disease doesn't it?
 
Well I did buy it around swine flu panic season.

This unit is pretty much the single most handy bit of kit I've ever owned.
The mics are pretty good, it's battery powered, takes line and guitar level plus has phantom power(don't expect your batteries to last if you're running a Rode Nt2a).

I use it all the time from recording my daughter's growls in the bath to (you guessed it) recording instruments.
Instead of going through the process of booting my PC and loading plugins, with the H4n I'm off and taking musical notes in seconds. Half the time I just sit it on my lap and record the unplugged guitar sound.
Nice and easy for the times when you've got your groove on, but probably not going to remember every little riff.

That's me pretty much every time I play... Well the times my mojo is in gear anyway.

The H4n doubles as an FX unit and Triples as a USB interface.
Zoom is known for it's long history of effects units, I think the first one I played with was a 9001 back when I was in highschool(wasn't mine). The effects models in this unit are ok. Nothing amazing, but they will get you some amp models and phase effects with a minimum of wires. Think of the fx as a bonus chocolate served with your latte.

The USB interface was touted as USB2, but it really is not any better than a usb1.1 device.
On all three of my computers(all quite powerful windows machines FYI), the latency is so bad that you can't monitor your playing in real time. It's ok if you plan to monitor off your input, but forget about enjoying any onboard effects or using guitar rig in real time. Latency aside, it is a great feature to have if you're wanting to play along to more than four tracks.

I got my unit from USA when our currency was strong and the locals were selling it for double the price, and that includes shipping from the USA. I'd like to see the USB section updated for a future release. It's not essential, but if I was to purchase the unit for playing real time, I would be disappointed. As it is I have an excellent MAudio delta1010lt PCI card that has near zero lag.

Another thing to be aware of is the power supply. It's switchmode and on Australian power points, it generates a bit of a high pitched whine. This could be taken care of with a little filtering and it's not that big of a deal since the unit runs for ages on batteries if you don't plan on using phantom power.

Monday, December 13, 2010

2010 - Boss BD-2

This was one of those pedals I picked up on a whim, it was at the right price and I'd been curious.

The BD-2 is a decent sort of overdrive fuzz. It's really dependent on the gain settings.
Mine is currently unmodded.

While I like a lot of Boss's pedals, what strikes me time and again is that they filter the low frequencies too severely. This one suffers the same problem as the SD-1. Nice dirt but no rumble.
I'm sure it's a simple mod, but since I have the SD-1 the way I like it, I can't really be bothered.

I'm told it's better on humbuckers, but I only have single coil pickups on my guitars.

With a few tweaks, I'm sure this pedal would come up smelling roses.

Monday, December 6, 2010

2010 - Boss DS-1

This is one of those pedals that has loads of mods for it.
I picked mine up 2nd hand and broken.

The pedal did light up but made no sound, when I opnened it up there was one thing glaringly obvious that the pedal had been electrically abused. The polarity protection diode was cracked in two and a little burn on the board. What wasn't visible was that the SIP opamp was dead.
Since SIP chips aren't readily available at the local electronics store, I decided to make a little mod board to wire in a high quality op amp(opa2134).

Once the pedal was working, I finally got to hear the infamous DS-1.
Not my cup of tea honestly. Very fizzy sound.

Next I did the All seeing eye mod. Not bad, the distortion improved a bit.
The pedal had too much gain for me so I went and added the Fat Mod.
Additionally to the fat mod I went and installed a couple of switches to get the pedal back to the stock gain and EQ setting. Overall the pedal is fairly flexible, but a little too gainy for me. Actually even the humble SD-1 has too much gain, I like a little break up when i hit hard, but clean when I play more sedately.



Thwe DS-1 is a modders delight, I'm sure there are a bunch of other things you could try, but I kinda ran out of room in the little box.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

2004 - Vox Pathfinder 15r

Cool little amp this.
It was my first amp when I returned to frequent playing, also when I was working a bit more over the holidays.
Student budgets aren't exactly going to get me a Fender Twin.

The pathfinder is a great little amp, wish I still had one(heard that before?).
Simple solid state affair with an 8" speaker. nothing amazing there but it had a nice clean tone.
What was really impressive about this amp was the fact that for $200 I had spring reverb and tremolo.
Not many amps do real reverb in the lower range any more.


The tremolo was a great tool. It throbbed in that classic vox way. Sure it was in a cut down amp, but Vox engineers got this right! The reverb was nice and splashy too. This was before I got into my surf period. But I liked it enough and it was loud enough to be heard with a band, if placed at ear height. It meant my back wasn't breaking when doing shows and I was carrying, guitar, banjo and keyboard to shows at the time too.
I ended up selling it to get a powered foldback speaker. I really should've just kept it and not gone with the old back as it was impossible to hear myself even though that's what the thing was meant to do.

Ah well, live and regret.

If you can pick one up for cheap, then don't hesitate.
Nice wee faux retro amp.

Just because it ain't valve, doesn't mean it can't rock!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

1996 - Marshall Lead 12

The other day I was back home in capital city, well it's where I grew up though not quite home.
I met up with an old buddy, you know the one I sold all my gear to when I left town.
It turns out I sold him more than I can recall even owning.

After a bit of discussion he was telling me that he still owned my old small Marshall amp.
"you know, the one you modified to add an extension cab"

I scratched my head and couldn't figure out what he was talking about.

A few days later I realised it must have been the "lead 12".
25 watts, solid state, brown face.

Not a bad little amp from memory. Had a certain punk vibe.
I doubt it'd have got me much cash, but I guess I must've needed it. Just like the JCM800 I had, this had the brown grille cloth.

That's my favourite look for the Marshall amps.

None of this black or fancy silver thread for me.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

2010 - Boss SD-1

This one came to me nice n' cheap. I bought it at a 2nd hand dealer in the city. $65 and practically brand new.
What do you do with cheap pedals? Mod them of course!

I'd read that this is basically a tube screamer with some parts changes.

Stock this pedal is pretty decent sounding, a moderate overdrive on full and a nice clean boost on minimum.
Unfortunately the filter caps on the input remove a lot of bottom end. So rather than add some punch, it cuts some of the guts out of it.

The first thing I did was to do the SD808 mod and turn it into a tube screamer.
Basically it's just changing one cap, removing another as well as a diode in the clipping stage.
What this does is make the clipping asymmetrical and alter the tone control.
To my ears and playing style, it wasn't much of an improvement. It still lacked the bottom end.

The next mod I did was the bass mod.
This is done by simply bridging two components, a capacitor and a resistor.
It was three weeks before I got around to testing it out, but when I did, the pedal was a whole new beast.
The gain still isn't much really, but that's OK I like it like that. The bottom end is nice and big, though a little muddy as there's a slight octave effect on some notes. But for the tone I'm after, this is almost perfect.
Placed in the FX loop of the Delta Blues, the pedal is responsive to dynamics and has the added bonus of acting as a master volume, though the extra gain from the preamp means that the pedal never completely cleans up.

I may end up doing some further mods to the clipping section and maybe change out the opamp for something else. But for now I'm pretty happy with this cheap pedal that cost about $1 and 15 minutes of my time to get close to what I want out of an overdrive.

Not too smooth, and just a little raspy.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

1993/94 - Sovtek Big Muff Pi

Long long ago in a land far far away (660km if you want this definition of far.) I learned to play guitar.
Most of what I knew of FX was what my friends had or was built into school amps.
The guitar store in town had a couple of cheap Arion pedals, but they were just overdrive and distortions.
I think I owned the overdrive for a while, but it was pretty tame so I just relied on the sound of whatever amp I was using at the time.

I was about 14 or 15 when I got into the Smashing Pumpkins (Siamese Dream) and was an avid reader of guitar magazines. In one, I think it was Guitar Player, there was an interview with Billy Corgan where he talked about an EBow(what they hell was an ebow?) and his distortion sound.

The distortion was the Big Muff. What a funny name I thought. I was interested right away. I had to have one. The only problem is that they'd been out of production for years and weren't easy to find. (Remember this was pre-internet and no ebay). Around this time I'd become a regular at a music shop in the larger neighboring city.
When I had nothing better to do I'd just hang out there and more than likely was considered a bit of a pest. In their front counter they had these big army green boxes that looked like they belonged in a cold war bomb shelter. These boxes turned out to be the first incarnation of the rebirth of the Electro Harmonix line (I had no idea at the time). They shipped in wood containers labeled in Cyrillic letters and just oozed cool.

If I remember correctly I purchased the Big Muff at the same time as I bought the JCM800. It took some months to pay off but when I got it home, I played all the time. This was my main distortion for years. Big and fat and dirty. It was all I knew of distortion for a very long time. And it was awesome!

I ended up parting ways with this pedal at the same time as my Classic 50. It was lost to me for all intents and purposes. But.... around 2005 I got it back! My friend that I'd sold them to when I left town, just gave this and the Small Stone phaser back to me.

At the time I was playing synth and a bit of guitar in a band and the return came when I was broke and in need of some FX. Unfortunately the reunion wasn't all that happy. They were a bit broken. As a teenager I thought it was indestructible. This pedal took an absolute battering between shows and rehearsals. We'd all thought we were punk rock and beat the stuffing out of our gear, I was probably the worst though. I managed to shatter the plastic input on the board. This was something I'd forgotten about until the return. Upon opening it up to fix the battery lead, I re-discovered some of my earliest solder work. It wasn't pretty! It was functional though and I vaguely recall fixing it with whatever the local Tandy had in stock, which was a chassis mount open stereo socket. I ended up re-repairing it with something closer to original spec and it works just fine.

Since getting it back I have struggled with the tone. It's a finnicky pedal in regard to the load that it needs to sound good. Humbuckers and high impedance pickups are a no-no. It just doesn't sound any good with it.
My only guitar that sounded ok with it was the Teisco. The Surfcaster and Les Paul just don't sound any good. So the Big Muff has lived in a drawer more often than it has on my pedal board. I pulled it out again the other day to play with my new amp and guitar. Guess what? It sounds great with the Mosrite and the Peavey Delta Blues!

The guitar has the right electrical characteristics and the amp can handle the low end hump!

So there's another pedal dusted off and ready to play

Now there's not much I recall about the purchase of the small stone, I suspect I bought it at the same time as the BMP, or at least so close together as makes no difference.

The Small Stone is pretty famous, makes a nice swoosh and I like it for the very slow LFO. It does have a bit of an issue with a volume drop when engaged. I modded it to stop this, but the mod changed the tonal characteristics, so one day I'll just change it back.

I've actually built one of each of these pedals for friends.

They were both tricky builds in a way, it took a while to get them working well.
The Small stone clone also had the "univibe" mod, nothing at all like the univibe, but allows the shifting of the phase degree by switching some capacitors. It was a bit quiet, so I added a small preamp booster to the input which overdrives the phaser circuit and creates a small stone phase tone with a twist.

I liked the sound quite a bit, and the last I heard, the guy I built it for was pretty happy with it too!



.

2009 - Fulltone Mini Deja Vibe2

For years I wanted a univibe clone. Always baulked at the expense.
All of the clones cost a heck of a lot. There are a lot of clones too, so which one to pick?
Obviously I eventually settled on the Fulltone, but it was an almost agonising decision.

The MDV2 costs RRP $565 or there about the last time I looked.
No way was I going to pay that much for what is essentially a glorified phaser.
So I started looking further afield...

USA prices were much more reasonable, and our two currencies were nearly at a ratio of 1:1.
I'd sold a bunch of lesser pedals and had a few $ sitting in my paypal account waiting to be put to use.
There was a shop in Melbourne that had one in stock, but when I went to try it out the sales guy told me it'd been moved to another store on the outskirts of the metropolitan area and wasn't coming back for at least a month. Since my effort to try one out in person was thwarted, the only thing to be done was hit the internet.

Not a heck of a lot of information was available on this unit. Not many demos either.
So it was a bit of a leap of faith when I decided to buy online. It was a little over half the Aussie RRP including postage.

So I bought it and then had to wait....
It seemed to take ages to get here, but in reality only took a week.
The unit is fairly large, with considerable weight.
Nice and creamy coloured and the PCB is compact and nicely laid out.
It's been modified from the original to allow a higher and brighter output if one chooses.

When I finally had the opportunity to play it, I had mixed feelings.
The wobble and whoosh was nice, but on my DI rig and Epiphone amps it seemed to drop a lot of bottom end off when engaged. The MDV2 does the lopsided swooshy throb thing very well. Vibrato mode sounded quite subtle but more of just an add on option rather than a useful effect. I liked it, but wasn't really all that impressed. So for most of the time I've had the pedal, it has remained in a drawer and potentially facing the auction block. Also the phase on the lowest speed almost sounded as if the effect was off.

That was until yesterday....

Yesterday I dusted it off and plugged it into the Delta Blues, oh boy what a difference!
I swear there's something about that amp that maxes everything sound good. I'm not saying magical or mojo, but something fundamental on the electrical level. The difference I suspect is the input impedance.
On a stock Epiphone Valve Jr, the input impedance is about 100k and on the Delta Blues spec states 470k.
The end result is the Delta Blues has a greater frequency range on input and your guitar and effects can drive the valve stage a little harder (The Valve Jr is easily modified to rectify this).

The effect that this had on the univibe clone was an overall improvement in sound quality. The bass cut I'd experienced before has gone away. The phasing at low speed is much more pronounced and the pitch wobble in the vibrato mode is now clearly audible. In fact on both settings, the depth control doesn't need to be on maximum. The effects come through nice and clear, great on clean and distorted alike!


In all, I'm glad I didn't part with the MDV2. It's definitely a keeper.

Monday, October 4, 2010

2007 - Korg MS10

The MS10 is an under rated synth, though considering the specs, a bit expensive for what you get.
But what you are paying for is a bit of hype dripping from its bigger brother. Don't get me wrong, I love this synth. It oozes bass and the filter makes a brilliant guitar distortion.

Actually if you're after some interesting guitar tones, the MS10 is great for using as a wah and a filtered tremolo!

The thing that makes it nicer than some of the MS20 filters is that, in the MS10 the diode clipping stage is before the filter. In the clones and later model MS20's the clipping section comes after it and the sound is totally different. I A/B'd the MS10 with a Frostwave Resonator. While both sounded good, the distortion on the ms10's filter was more pronounced and aggressive.

What's clipping? That's a fancy name for distortion.

When you distort your instrument through a pedal, more often than not, the tone controls come after the distortion stage. This is for a reason, it generally sounds better that way (not a rule, but it does work nicely).

The oscillators are the typical Korg sound.
My favourite is the Square wave with a bit of Pulse Width Modulation. It adds a stringy pad like bottom end that sounds great on pretty much every synth out there. The MS10 might not have a whole lot of range, but it does it's thing nicely. Not too many parameters to get your head around and it's great for learning how synthesis work. For the most part you don't even need patch leads as the common options are pre routed via the knobs along the front panel.

Mine had some mod on it when I made my purchase, but I can't actually recall what it did.
I ended up changing the mod to enable audio frequencies from the LFO, which in turn allowed a sort of FM synthesis. I also added a 2nd audio output and a Ken Stone passive ring modulator. This came in handy when I was selling it on later down the track.

Mostly I used it for standard basses, leads and the odd laser gun sound. Typically I'd control it via a Frostwave MC-1. Calibrating it was a pain. The MS10 has a tendency to drift off the calibration for the keyboard and the trim pots were overly stiff and would often go back to the pre-adjustment position.

I ended up selling it on ebay. Shortly after selling it, the new owner destroyed the filter cutoff and asked me to fix it. As a result of that repair, I ended up building several other synths and joining a band with him. Incidentally this also led to being exposed to the wonderful world of Man or Astro Man?

As much as I like the MS10, I don't regret passing it on. I still have other synths that do what it does and if I do get nostalgic, I only have to ask to borrow it.


Specifications

    * Polyphony - Monophonic
    * Oscillators - 1 VCO with mixable white/pink noise generator
    * LFO - One LFO w/ multiple waveforms
    * Filter - One lowpass VCF
    * VCA - ADSR with Hold
    * Keyboard - 32 keys
    * Arpeg/Seq - None
    * Control - CV/GATE
    * Date Produced - 1978

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

2005 - Digitech Bad Monkey

In some circles this pedal is over hyped, in others it's not appreciated.
People seem to think it's just another tube screamer clone. And it is, even though it has adjustable bass and treble, rather than just a tone control.

They're cheap, which is a bonus, they sound good out of the box. Also good, since the components are surface mount and not easily modified. There are some "secret" bass mods out there, but if you're handy with a soldering iron and can do simple R/C calculations, you'll be able to do the mod for yourself.

I have two, mine are stock.
One was made in USA and the other in China.
There are no sonic differences to my ear, but there are some visual differences.
Namely the colour of the capacitors and from memory, the PCB's might be a different colour too (it's been a few years since I opened them up).

The sound of them is a mild overdrive to a very moderate distortion. Two in series is pretty good for a metal distortion tone. The distortion never cleans up completely, so they're not any good as a clean boost.
It could probably be changed, but the traces and parts on the board are tiny and I doubt worth the effort.

Even though this is an overdrive pedal, that's not really what I use it for.
It turns out that Digitech have incorporated into their pedals, a very nice DI, complete with the correct EQ to record the guitar clean or distorted through the "mixer" output. It balances the tone and simulates the reactive load of a speaker. I use it all the time when noodling with my headphones on or recording guitars when I can't mic them up (which is most of the time). Actually I like using the Bad Monkey in bypass mode to act as a buffer and signal splitter, so that I can record the unaltered guitar tone through the desk as well as recording an amp. That way I can change my tone/fx later and if I want to re-amp the signal for re-recording "live" effects.

You should be able to pick up a bad monkey for about $50AU.
While there's nothing ground breaking going on, they offer some very handy tools for the recording guitarist.
I've even used them live when there weren't enough Mic's available for the whole band!

Monday, September 27, 2010

2010 - Peavey Delta Blues 115

Classic 50 head, with custom decal from a beer poster.
The last piece in the puzzle has been aquired.

About 12 years ago I owned a Peavey classic 50 head.
It was one of the nicest amps I'd ever owned. Unfortunately it had to be parted with as I was moving 700lm to a new city and the need for cash was greater than the need for a big valve amp.
I didn't have a speaker cab for it and it wasn't all that long after I'd injured the tendon membrane in my left hand and wasn't allowed to play guitar for a year. That was all a bit sucky and it left me ampless for a long time. I did have a BOS Gt-5, but it wasn't the same thing. So for years I'd regretted the unavoidable sale of the Classic 50 and have been trying to buy it back from the friend who I sold it to for the last 5 years. He won't budge. I've had a number of small amps in the years between then and now, but could never really justify spending a large sum of cash for an amp when a: I didn't have a car and later b: I didn't have a band.

I'd been planning on picking up a Classic 30 combo for a long time, but every time I'd found one, I had no spare cash. After getting the Mosrite a few weeks back I discovered that the classic series had two more amps in the line. The Classic 20 and the Classic Delta Blues. Since the 20 has no reverb, it was of no interest to me, as that directly affects my playing style. I like big gobs of reverb. I discovered the Delta was basically a Classic 30 with the addition of tremolo! Well, that was it. I was on a mission. I had to have a Delta Blues 115.

It didn't take long. I found two on ebay within a week of each other. One was in Brisbane and was a bit more than I wanted to spend, once couriers were factored in. Also i had no guarantee that it would have arrived in working order as the guy had not packing material. I let the auction go, only to find one for sale a mere two suburbs away!  I was the only bidder, so naturally I won the auction (all with the blessings of my dear lady). I took my $2 shop trolley along on the 109 tram and collected the amp. The guy I bought it from was really nice and we had a good old chat about amps and kids and whatnot. He even helped me tape the thing solidy to my trolley for the trip back home.

I got it on the tram in the opposite direction, fortunately it wasn't overcrowded and the trip up the hill took about 10 minutes. Not bad for peak hour.

It's not the heaviest am in the world, but I was glad to have the trolley as I had a half kilometer walk with it after the tram ride. Time was ticking and it seemed to take forever to get the thing home safely and fired up.
But get it home and fire it up I did.

I set it up in the middle of the lounge, switched it on and went for a cup o tea.
After letting it warm up a little while I was ready to play. I cracked out the Mosrite and got to playing.
The clean tone from the Delta Blues is big and rich and um.... I can't think of any other superlatives. suffice to say, it's particularly nice! Almost as good as the Classic 50 of old.

I've read a lot of reviews on the amp and have to agree about the dirty channel being a little disappointing.
Not so much disappointing, but not as inspiring as the clean channel. The lead channel has this bass cut which just makes the Delta Blues sound like and asthmatic bulldog. The amp has a 15 in cpeaker damn it, gimme some bass with my distortion. Fortunately it also seems to be a fairly simple mod to rectify that issue, if only one could overcome the fear of death at high voltage.

The reverb is pretty nice but is lacking a little. At maximum the reverb is just enough. But I want to gave the option to have far too much. Ok I can achieve this with an FX unit, but I don't always want to carry the m13 around. The schematic shows a simple 4558 opamp circuit which can be upgraded easily enough to get more gain and higher headroom. I've got some spare OPA2134's floating around which should take care of that rather nicely.

My last beef with the design of the amp is the tremolo, I've tread that there is a bit of a volume drop when it's engaged. It turns out that mine does it too. You can manage it if the depth knob is no more than 5, but then you don't have the full throb of a tube amp wit tremolo. The implementation is very basic, and I suspect it is to keep the cost down. It's much easier to create a tremolo effect via optical circuitry than it its to have a safe valve bias tremolo effect. 1/2 of the 4558 seems to be feeding the tremolo circuit and should prove fairly easy to correct for the slight volume drop.

I do plan to modify the amp some time down the track, but for now am happy as is and can augment it's function with an effects pedal or two.

The boost switch seems to get a lot of bad press. From my limited experience on the amp I kinda get it, but when I was playing my Jim Dunlop Octavio through the Delta Blues, the mid boost was actually quite beneficial in bringing out the dirt and octave up produced by that effect.  I've only used one pedal with it so far, but the Octavio sounds fantastic through this beast.

A couple of days after buy the amp I decided to try adding a master volume to the FX loop.
Worked a treat, I was now able to reduce the volume to something sensible for playing in a built up area.
I have my suspicions about the pot that I used, as the volume drop was a lot more than I had anticipated.
Since I broke one of the tabs off the pot this morning, I'll be getting a new one in there instead. Another option would be to use a rotary swtich with different values from 100k to 2.2m(which is supposed to be the return impedance).

I played around with it some more tonight, ran it on low volume, to keep the peace. The line 6 m13 really sounds great with this amp. I just went with it placed in the FX loop and discovered the reverb on the Line 6 is actually nicer than the real deal spring tank (go figure). This was mostly down to the level of noise the analogue version introduces.

After this I decided to run all of my guitars through the amp.

First up was the Surfcaster. It was light and cheerful, not particularly driven, which I found surprising. The lipstick pickup sounds great with this amp, as does each coil of the Seymour Duncan P-Rail.

Next was the Teisco Kadet. What has consistently been the quietest guitar on my other gear turned out to be a big fat tone machine! It sounds thick and powerful and its made of plywood!

The 3rd guitar I tried was the Guyatone LG127-t. Similarly beefy in tone to the Teisco, but it was a little quieter and the tone was more balanced than the others.

The 4th guitar... you guessed it was the Mosrite Ventures.
Very country. A lot more treble than the two vintage guitars, but thicker sounding by far than the Surfcaster.
I twanged away on it for ages, til the phone rang and I realised that my whole leg had gone to sleep when I went to answer it.

The amp does get very hot above the power valves. Too hot to touch. I think its normal, but could do with a little research. Overall the amp has excellent tone and volume, even with the mid range EHX valves on board.
In a year or so I might consider the mods and change the valves for better spec. I'm glad I bought back into the classic line. It's a great sounding amp, and with the right guitar, very fendery.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

2010 - Korg Mono/Poly

It's mine, all mine, finally mine, mine, mine!

Uh.. yeah. I've been after this synth for a long time.
Not the model, but this actual synth.
When I bought my AN1X it cost me maybe $500.
On the stand next to it was a Korg Mono/Poly for over a grand.
Everywhere I went, online and in meat space, I was told that this synth was not so good.

Well... I thought it looked cool and despite the criticism it's received, I think it sounds great with loads of functions!

This particular unit was found by a friend of a friend at Canberra Tip. That's right, the rubbish dump.
Gut Shot
He was working at the recycling centre at the time and basically had the pick of the stuff that came through before being made into land fill or sold to the public. So it wasn't covered in rubbish and bird poo.
The Mono/Poly was in 100% working order too. Whoever threw it away probably had no idea on how to use it. My buddy had told me the story and I offered a sum of money, but that was rejected flatly.

Sometimes patience pays off.

Portamento Control
A few months ago my old friend came to visit, and I casually mentioned the Mono/Poly again and he told me it was sitting in a cupboard back in Canberra and hadn't been used for years. After a little more conversation it turned out that the owner of the Mono/Poly was into collecting Starwars and Manga paraphernalia. I'd sold off my Starwars Lego, but still had a box full of akira figurines, from back when I was into that stuff.

So we had the basis of a trade. My old house mate was the intermediary and brokered the deal.

The deal was agreed to and a few months later he turned up at my door with a bucket full of old videogame console parts and a rather smelly Korg Mono/Poly.

It smelled like it's been hanging about forgotten, at 9th Ward before it burned down.
There's a smell that every synth I ever worked on gets, when it has been owned by a smoker.
Especially smokers who don't go outside to puff. It's pretty foul, but does tend to go away after a while.

Anyway I got the synth indoors, tried to ignore the smell and plugged in my headphones.

It's a funny old synth. My daughter made her first scifi laser sounds on it at 14 months of age! The portamento seems to be a little off, as in I can't switch it off for each voice. The filter is on a chip as opposed to the MS10 I used to own, which was a sallen key driven by a proprietary OTA style chip. The sound is pretty similar and will self oscillate and has a nice resonance. The poly mode is kinda funny, it can do chords, but not really in the classic sense. 

As yet I haven't had much time to play with it, but I did open it up and take some photos
There are so many knobs, it looks like it'll be a real pain to get in there to clean 'em all and reassemble the board.  Not much dust inside it either, though I found an unidentified piece of hinged metal and a dead moth.

Time to dig out the midi-cv converter and play around.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

2007 - Korg MicroKorg

I know, I know, these synths are everywhere.
Used on loads of albums apparently too(that's what I hear, but have no citations backing me up).
They have a bad rep for the presets being used on these albums as well.
Using factory preset sounds is a pointless waste of an otherwise fun and very useful little synth.
I've had mine for a number of years, and every time I've thought about upgrading or cross grading to other gear, this one never hits the sales room floor.
Why?
Well I have to admit I quite like this little synth.
It's patch panel is excellent and the ability to use the filter, vocoder and fx without having to to use the oscillators is a very handy feature.  It might not be the warmest sounding bit of virtual analogue out there, but it does have oodles of charm.  You can rout almost every parameter to just about everything else.
There are limitations of course. Ideally I'd like to see some control over the built in effects via the LFO & EG section. As there has been an update to the hardware with the XL model, I doubt the MK OS will get a look in.
The first thing I did when I got the synth home, was demo all of the presets.
The second thing I did was erase them. 
When the system is set to default (shift + f3), you get a single saw oscillator.
From there you're open to tweaking to your hearts content. The Sine oscillator allows for some simple FM style synthesis, and is fantastic for playing the Dr who intro or just get creative and modulate as much as you can to just see what happens. The rest of the oscillators have more basic control, and as to be expected the Square had PWM control which makes for great big bass patches.
This synth can do pads quite nicely, though I spent a lot of time programming electric piano and organ type sounds to it. It'll even pretend to be 8bit if you treat it right.
My only beef is the keyboard. The lack of velocity control is a little disappointing (it's available on the ms20 soft synth controller, which has the same keys). Also as there are two synth engines available, having the keyboard splittable and/or at least each voice being controlled via separate midi channels would have been a great bonus for playing live. At least you can do whatever you want with multitracking in this regard.
I've owned a number of korg products over the years and this unit is as well built and capable as any of them.
Each of them had a specific option that I'd have liked implemented, but the lack of options sometimes increases creative opportunities.
The MicroKorg is a great synth and at around $500AU 2nd hand is well worth the money.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

2010 - Line 6 M13

Guitar effects, more addictive than any other bit of music kit.
Probably because of the relatively low price for them on a unit by unit basis vs guitars and amps.
I'm not including boutique pedals in that statement, but your bog standard 2nd hand stompers.

At one point I had a bout 18 pedals on my board or strewn across my work area.
I only ever really used a couple at a time. Mostly just one.
My lady-love claims that I've spent at least 6 months out of the last five years plugging things in and out of my pedal board. She's not far wrong, I've lost count of the times that my board has been deconstructed and rebuilt.

There were cables running everywhere and it we were on the verge of having our little human beginning to crawl about. I needed a solution. A compact, good sounding solution. For a time I considered a Boss GT 10, but I couldn't find one at the price I was willing to pay, and was concerned by the limits imposed by its architecture.

Then one day I discovered the m13 at my local 2nd hand dealer, for a little more than I was willing to spend, but made an offer at my upper limit and walked away with a big fat multi fx unit.

Dare I say, it has too many FX?

Yes. I'm not saying that flippantly, but simply because some of the FX are so similar that they appear to be there for padding out the numbers, rather than offering something extra of value.

Not many people I know like digital models of distortion boxes.
I'm in that camp, and actually have a couple of the analogue versions of the pedals Line 6 has emulated.
I've got a Dunlop Octavio, the Line 6 version is ok, it gives the upper octave well enough, but what hasn't been modeled is the inherent instability caused by the changes in resistance between the internal inductor and the inductor that is the guitar pickup. The tone of the real thing changes drastically depending on how you pick, the Line 6 model, just sits there being consistent. It's ok in a pinch, but doesn't give the tactile feedback of the real thing.  Likewise of the overdrive model like the tube screamer, there's the basic sound, but it's missing something fundamental.  The fuzz face and big muff models sound and feel nothing like the real thing.

Instead of the duplicates of distortion models, why not have at least one bit crusher? Just one, that's all I ask.

This redundancy occurs in the other modes as well. 
The delay section has a few which have "dry thru" as an option. I can't see the point in this when the regular model has a mix control anyway. It just seems like an necessary add on. The memory could be utilised to give some processor time to some other form of delay type effect. The models are supposed to be the same as the DL4, I don't think that's quite right. They don't sound the same. At least, I remember the DL4 being a little wider in the stereo spectrum. Unfortunately the model of the Boss tape echo isn't anywhere near as good as the Boss RE-20 modeling pedal (which is superb). All of the negative comments about the delay section aside, it's still capable of some really cool sounds and the delays are very good in overall tone, I just don't like the padding.

The reverbs have less fluff there are two spring emulations in there and I can barely pick the difference.
Other verbs are crazy and fun, but at the end of the day I keep coming back to a simple spring for my guitar.

The filter section I feel is hit and miss, just a couple too many auto filters. I've heard other devices model some of these filters much more convincingly (Alesis ION). I might be a little unfair here, I've never been a fan of autowah. The filters would be more useful to me if they had LFO's as well as envelope control.

I like the modulation section, but a man has gotta ask. How many phasers do you really need?
The tremolo models are good, but no tremolo pedal I have tried, behaves lit an amp with that dedicated circuit. I like the big throb throb throb of the tremolo and the m13 doesn't quite get there. It is excellent in stereo, I gotta give it that.

Overall I think it's a great piece of gear with a huge amount of flexibility, I'd like to see a couple of models ditched to make way for some other less common FX. Maybe Line 6 will see my blog and hear my plea.
Until then, I think this is one uunit to see a long life in my gear shed.

2010 - Midibox Wilba mb-6582

This is something I built, not something I've bought.
It's sounds are generated buy the MOS 6582 chips as found in the Commodore 64.
In this particular synth's case, it uses eight, yes EIGHT of the suckers(you can also use other variants of the chip on this board).

Back in the end of 2008 a buddy of mine and fellow soldering nerd, talked me into embarking on a project that would end up taking more than a year to get to completion. "It's just a couple of chips and a few resistors and capacitors, an easy build. Aside from the chips it's cheap". Yeah, sure. Not the way it turned out for me.

I have no idea how much I've spent on this build, but I estimate around the $600(AU) mark.
The first hurdle was getting the chips. Toby took care of that as he'd been in contact with a guy from the midibox forum. At the time I think they cost about $19 a pop, ok, not too bad in hindsight as they're now over the $50 mark on a certain auction site of some renown. They took a while to turn up and I lost my job in the mean time, it was a few months before I got another secure job and almost sold them as the project just seemed too daunting. As it turned out, I hung onto them long enough to order the boards from http://avishowtech.com/mbhp/buy.html

They weren't too expensive considering the end result, but still I think it was more than $100 plus shipping.
Now actually sifting through all of the options and information to build the synth, was what really caused me problems. It was a case of information overload. So many power supply options and different choices for different configurations. There was no all in one build solution. Or so I thought.
It wasn't until near the end of the build that I found the manual. This would've helped earlier on, but I was coming to this project sporadically over the period of a year or so and not inclined to read everything over and over.

I had planned to make the panels myself, but experiments with a nibbling tool had not worked out well and frankly my work area isn't setup fot the kind of precision needed. I ended up getting my panels milled professionally through www.frontpanelexpress.com which cost a bit ($120) but was worth it in the end.
My advice on using the panels from the Midibox site, add holes in the corners for mounting screws through. Using glue to keep your screws in place is too damn hard!

I eventually got it all housed in a bone coloured Pactec PT10 case, which ran up another $50.

The rest of the process was difficult (mentally) as I'd not been getting a heck of a lot of sleep due to having a baby in the house.

For simplicity I've added the following instructions to consolidate all of the information into one place for any who want to venture into the land of SID music.

The documents you need are titled as follows:


2. "Rotary encoders" www.midibox.org/dokuwiki/doku.php?id=encoders
3. Base board pdf  http://www.mb6582.org/plans/MB-6582_Base_PCB_R2_Mono.pdf
4. MIOS Studio midi app
(main page) http://www.ucapps.de/mios_download.html
(Hex and Sysex files) http://www.ucapps.de/mios/mios_v1_9g.zip
(MIOS Studio application) http://www.ucapps.de/mios_studio/MIOS_Studio_2_1.zip

You need to connect midi in and out on the midibox.

To upload the bios, you need to have a jumper installed on j11 for the relevant core(1-4). You need to upload the bios to each core separately.

To do this, install MIOS Studio, select browse from the hex loader on the middle of the program window (missed this when I was tired). Make sure the core ID is selected for the appropriate core(0,1,2,3) hit start and you should be rocking with your upload.

Once your BIOS is in, you can load the SYSEX vintage bank.

Remember to insulate your LCD's pcb before you attach it, some users including myself have had errors in loading to all cores cause by a short on the control surface.
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