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.


    * 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
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