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Sunday, March 27, 2011

2011 - DIY Isolation Cabinet

Anyone who lives in an apartment, townhouse or just generally close to their neighbours and plays guitar (or any other instrument) knows that noise can be a point of contention for those who don't appreciate your style or tones. My home is old, and pretty much everything that can rattle, does rattle when my amps are turned up to the sweet spot for tone.

Actually, the house starts to rattle a lot lower than that.
To give you an idea of what that equates to on the dial, it's about 30% on an Epiphone Valve Jr, position 2 on a Fender Princeton and about 10% on a Delta Blues. What might sound great for recording, doesn't translate to a good relationship with one's neigbours.

To get the maximum tone out of my amps and to keep things friendly, I decided to build an isolation cabinet to place a speaker cabinet and microphone inside. Simple enough idea, go get some plywood or mdf and something to dampen the sound waves. I totally over-engineered the box in terms of my level of skills.
I'm no carpenter, and it's fairly obvious by the end product, that maybe I should have gone down a much simpler path. But I've made my bed so to speak, and must lay in it!

The materials cost around $120 Australian all up.

Had I just built it out of 18mm ply or MDF it would have cost around 30% less, and taken about 80% less time too!

Anyway, the bill of materials is as follows.
5 x lengths of  19x70x1800mm cut into 600mm sections x 12
1 sheet 9x1200x2400mm Plywood cut into 8 equal panels (leaves two spare to make a pedal board from).
45 x12mm screws
Wood glue
One bag of R3 "Sound Screen" Rockwool

I wanted to get some skills with making joins, rather than using a bunch of brackets to hold the frame together.
My plan was to make a finger joint for the front and back frame, connected by the side frames which were made as lap joints to the front and back. This arrangement in theory would create a perfect 600mm cube.

What I forgot to account for was the thickness of the plywood and my crappy skills getting in the way.

I'd bought a book on woodworking and gone out and bought a cheap set of chisels.
Only one of the chisels was sharp enough to do any cutting, and by the time I got through making one pocket for the finger joint, it was immediately apparent that I was not going to finish the project in a short amount of time. I'd recently bought a plunge router attachment for my Dremel, and wanted to use it, but had never actually played with a router before. So I put together a jig and fooled about until I had a working setup.

The jig worked ok, but wasn't exactly at the right height to work effectively. Also I think the Dremel itself isn't quite up to the task of making the depth of cuts required for an accurate join. I experienced a bit of shuddering in the slot which caused uneven fingers and pockets as well as at one point, the depth guide failed and I plunged too far into one pocket. After all of this I was getting the hang of the tool. Close to completing the routing and having a set of fingers that would work ok, the Dremel stopped dead in it's tracks.

I ended up reverting to a saw and chisel arrangement that was less than ideal. I lacked to tools to do the job accurately, and often I lacked the patience and just rushed the cutting, only to have very uneven joints at the end of the day. Somehow I managed to get the front and rear frames glued square. But at some later point, I forgot to do this when trying to get the cube assembled. I'm a family man and have responsibilities, so I was often called away from the job. Due to my impatience to get on with it when I returned to the task, errors began to creep in. The final product means that it's mostly square, but not quite. Front, back, sides and bottom are all ok, but for whatever reason, the lid is not.

It was all glued up in a day, and while that set, I put the panels on. Everything seemed fine, and after letting the wood glue set for an hour or so, I began to implement the rockwool. This is an itchy business. The insulation is quite thick and difficult to compress via hand. I'd also run out of timber, so that I couldn't add any mechanical force to press the rockwool against the sides of the box.

Out of desperation to complete the job before the daylight faded (I have to work outside) I placed my Epiphone Valve Jr cabinet within the frame, inside the exposed rockwool. It was obvious right away that this had the potential to tear the insulation on insertion and removal. Since the shops were closed, I decided to cut up the tarpaulin that covers my work bench. I'd cut it in roughly 700mm sections that I could place over the rockwool and  stapled it around the opening in the cabinet. The tarp is plastic and made the cabinet slide in and out of the box easy and reduced the amount of particles that would be kicked up, reducing the skin irritation caused by handling the stuff.

After sitting about for a week, due to weather and having to work my day job, I decided to change out the tarp for a rough hessian weave. This isn't completely impervious to the dust and itchiness from the Rockwool, but it doesn't make a crinkling sound when moved about, nor is it reflective like the plastic of the tarp.

I tested the cabinet early in the afternoon, with my Epiphone 12" extension speaker driven by the matching 5w head. It did ok, but there was a lot of bass being let out at maximum volume, which was a little dissapointing to say the least. If it didn't cope with five watts, what chance did it have when three times the power was put to the test? As it turned out, I needn't have worried. Insulation in the lid, wasn't a perfect fit, so I augmented it with a picnic blanket! (Simply because I didn't want to mess around with the leftover Rockwool at this point). I'd adjusted this and then plugged in my Fender Princeton Reverb, the results were more in line with what I expected.

The bass trap absorption in the cabinet isn't great, but even when the amp is at full volume, you can have a conversation at a pretty normal level. The house does vibrate a bit, and I'd done the initial test in the kitchen which has a tiled floor. I spoke with one of my neighbours about it and he told me that he could only just hear it whenhe opened his front door. A good sign! The tone from the speaker and microphone is good too, not boxy compressed sound, it just sounds like the mix is up against the grille cloth(which it is). The box isn't air tight, which might actually be a good thing from what I have read.

Were I to do this over, I'd just get a 1200 x 2400 slab of 18mm thick ply cut to size and glue that together, rather than messing about with crazy joinery that I clearly wasn't up to doing well.

Sound samples and more pics to come.

Monday, March 21, 2011

2011 - Fender Princeton Reverb

The year is 2011.

Things have changed.
Gone are the days when a Fender Amp would command a few months wages. Thanks to the GFC and the peculiarities of the stock market, the Australian dollar became strong against the greenback, and the price of owning a new Fender amp dropped to something achievable to mortal men and women. I've owned many nice amps over the years, but for some reason, I've never been 100% satisfied in my sound. The amps I've owned have generally been very nice bits of gear. OK, maybe with the exception of that valvestate I had way back when. By and large, they've had their merits. The Marshall's had the the classic rock crunch, Peavey produced many good amps, similar to Marshall in tone, but generally way more power than I could ever need. My Epiphone's are sweet and simple low power amps, but still loud enough to make the windows rattle in my house.

The Peavey Delta Blues came really close to nailing the sound that I wanted.
A killer amp for a clean tone at high volume with a nice, but somewhat tame reverb.
There's only so much saturation an integrated circuit can provide an inductor.
The Tremolo is a bonus for the Delta Blues too. So from the control panel it would appear that I'v traded down in features, since the Princeton doesn't have a second channel, middle EQ and a boost switch. Also it's rated at half the power.

I'd originally thought about getting an external tank to add to the Delta Blues in order to gain that super drippy surf sound. The Delta is more than up to delivering the goods on the clean channel with this supplement. It performed superbly with the Line 6 Verbzilla pedal. So why not stick with what I had?

Any rational person would have been happy with that setup, and indeed I was. Until the day I was bored on my lunch break and decided to go an harass the guitar stores in town. First I tried the Fender '63 Reverb Reissue through an Orange Tiny Terror. It was nice and I would have bought one on the spot, if it wasn't for the asking price of $1400 in Australia. After that I sought out a Fender Deluxe Reverb at another store. Boy oh boy was that thing nice. Super long drippy dark reverb and the clean tone which had a bottom end that seemed to ring out, threatening to break up if the strings were struck just that little bit harder. I was happy as could be, playing in an isolation booth. I even turned it up as far as it would go. The overdrive was beautiful. And the price was pretty tempting. If I had the cash, I probably would have bought it on the spot.

A week or so went by, I'd been reading up on my amps and thought I'd give the Princeton Reverb a try.
Finding one was easy. At first it seemed just all right. Nice, but not the killer tone that I'd heard from the Deluxe at another store. I went on a mission to try and find a store with both in stock. There isn't much between them in regard to pricing, but I'd read so much about the Princeton being a favourite for recording. Since I do more recording than I do playing with a band, it was definitely an appealing idea.

I finally managed to try them out side by side. And this time I was torn between the amps.
The Deluxe has a slightly bigger sounding reverb and larger speaker, but the Pricneton was pretty nice.
I left the store leaning toward the Deluxe. I still had that magic sound in my head, from the store where I played in the iso-booth. The place I was trying to A/B test the amps was noisy and I am very self conscious about my arthritic playing style.  I left empty handed. But I'd decided to sell some of my gear to purchase an all in one, wonder box.

Mostly I play clean with verb and occasionally tremolo.

A week later, I had raised 2/3 of the cash required to make a purchase. With my lovely ladies' approval I made my way back to the store with a fist full of dollars and a gold card.

This was a tough choice. I walked in there with a 70% leaning toward the Deluxe Reverb.
I A/B'd them back and forth, feature for feature, for an hour or so. Even to the point of plugging the Princeton Reverb into a 12" cabinet. The cabinet wasn't impedance balanced for use with the Fender, and was a little quieter than the on board speaker. In the noisy store, it was hard to tell much more in the bottom end.

I felt that the Deluxe Reverb was stronger in the Bass and Reverb area, but the Princeton Reverb had a nicer tremolo. Both amps have Valve Rectifiers and Tube driven reverb tanks, but the Deluxe uses an opto-coupler on it's tremolo circuit, where the Princeton has a valve biased tremolo. And that was the deciding factor.
The Fender Deluxe Reverb has a Tremolo(Vibrato) that is more of a Square wave and the Fender Princeton Reverb has a smoother more Triangle shaped Tremolo.

It was the throbbing Tremolo, rather than the chopp chop chop that won me over.
The reverb sound was so close that I'd be happy with either. Just to be sure I cranked them both up. The deluxe is slightly louder, but the difference between 15 and 22 watts is pretty negligible when it comes down to measuring output by decibels. All it really means is that the Deluxe would stay cleaner, longer.

I'd brought a little trolley with me, and as it turned out, my choice of the Princeton was a better choice for carting it home, as my octopus straps were barely adequate to keep the thing upright. Anyway I walked home with it rather than get on a packed tram. It wasn't too bad actually. The amp is only 12kg and I walk to and from work every day anyway. Getting it through our non standard doorways was a little tricky. But I managed it. The night I got it home I was only able to play for a short time. But the amp did sound very nice. Actually it exceeded my expectations with the Mosrite. Lots and lots of bottom end, with far more volume than could be used in my home.

Today I've had the house to myself and managed to turn the amp up to the mighty level of two on the dial.
At this level, everything in the lounge room vibrated heavily, actually it was as if the house was having a guitar quake (My Epiphone Valve Jr gets half way before that happens).

My doubts on the quality of the tone were completely unfounded. The Fender Princeton Reverb has the same resonant clean tone as I experienced with it's bigger brother. Either amp would be an excellent choice, but for me the Princeton Reverb is the perfect choice.

I know this reissue has a PCB and isn't strictly to vintage spec, but I don't think that really matters. Fender has made an excellent product and it's supported by a generous warranty. Hopefully I'll never need it, but if I do, I've kept the receipt in a safe place (unlike my Dremel, which died today while making an isolation cabinet).

I don't even see the need to get it biased, change the speaker, or valves. The stock amp, or at least my stock amp sounds warm and recording ready.

Man I wish I was getting a kickback from Fender for the above review.....

Monday, March 14, 2011

1994 - Maton 225

I have my mother to thank for my guitar obsession.
She gave up a lot, so that I could learn to play.

Mum could identify with my desire to make music as she was musical herself, not highly skilled, but passionate.
Way back in the early 1970's she was learning guitar from some local artist, or friend (I'm not 100% on the details). Anyway she learned to play on a frying pan with strings down the handle. Obviously this wasn't ideal as the scale was all wrong, a distinct lack of frets and no way to tune it.

My father, a music lover, but not a player, decided that he would remedy the situation and spent the princely sum for $20 on a Valencia 3/4 sized nylon string guitar.

For years, mum told me that she always wanted two things, an electric drill and a steel string acoustic.
I never got around to getting her the drill, but when I was 17 I inherited some money from my step-grandfather and decided to buy mum the guitar.

I wanted it to be good, and I wanted it to be Australian.
What else was a boy to do, but buy a Maton?

The guitar store in the adjacent town had a whole shipment come in when I was looking to buy, so I went though seven or eight guitars before I found one that I liked. It's a modest looking dreadnought shape. The tone was bright, but not too bright and the neck was very nice. I think it cost $900 including the case.
Not sure what that would translate to now.

She loved the guitar, but was too scared to play it (or something like that).

I played it a fair bit, but it was hers.
At some later point, I came into possession of a a12 string acoustic.
We did a trade or something, I don't really remember the details as a lot was going on at the time.
I moved interstate and everything was a bit of a blur.

Some years down the track, something regrettable happened to the guitar. It had already suffered a broken tuner, but in a drunken mistake, a hot pizza was placed on the guitar and this caused the finish to whiten.
The guitar still sounds fine, but the finish is ruined.

One of these days I'll have to get it refinished, but for now it sees little action.

Sadly my mother succumbed to lung cancer in late 2010, but I will always have the memories of her encouragement in my pursuit of learning an instrument. She is and will continue to be missed.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

2011 - Repairs! Mosrite Ventures

Hello loyal fan and or fans.
You may recall, that in the last quarter of 2010, I purchased a Mosrite Ventures electric guitar.
The neck was superb and the tone was excellent, but the vibrato was... not quite right.
It took a little while to notice it, but there was definitely something wrong with my expensive guitar.

The vibrato refused to maintain pitch.

One motivating factor in me lusting after a Mosrite (real and it's Japanese clones) was that the vibrato had a reputation for being an excellent piece of engineering. Unfortunately my guitar wasn't displaying the legendary characteristics that I had expected.

At first I thought, maybe it needed a stiffer spring. So I ordered one from Zamm inc.
But that didn't work. The strings would not maintain concert pitch while the arm was at a comfortable height.
After this I tried disassembling the tremolo and applying some lubricant. I also lubricated the string guide as was suggested on http://www.mosriteforum.com. Sadly this didn't have much of an effect.
Then I decided that it would need a professional setup and heavier strings.
But this also was not the cure all that I'd hoped.

I returned to the forum again and followed some advice that maybe I needed to find the tremolo's sweet spot.
This almost worked.

The strings would return to pitch from pressing down on the bar. It did not however, return from a pull up.
I re-lubed and tweaked some more. Again the best I could do was to manually pull it back down to the correct pitch. This is trickier than one might think. Fine in concept though.

I posted my woes on this thread and via a process of elimination I was able to identify the problem and quickly resolve it, with minimum effort.

Unlike the previous tremolos I've worked on, the Mosrite system works on a Needle Bearing pivot.
The rest have either blade or screw pivot points. Eg: Floyd Rose, Fender Synchronised and Teisco's stamped steel screw pivot tremolo.

Apparently the Moseley trem uses a "Torrington B36" needle bearing. Mine has an "Excellent" branded tremolo.
I'm not sure if the B36 will fit. In any case, it turns out that I didn't need to find a replacement. There are two types of needle bearing, Cage and Full Compliment. The bearing in my guitar is the former.

Extraction of the bearing is simple enough, just insert an appropriately sized blunt object into the inside of the bade plate of the tremolo system and the bearing slides out.  You can see that the photos showed that the pivot looked as if it was off centre. Upon closer inspection, gouges could be seen on the pivot. The gouges were inflicted by the pivot being slightly too large for the inside of the bearing.

Rolling the pivot and bearing together between my fingers, I could feel a lot of friction, which was not evident when utilising the vibrato bar. It wasn't continuous friction, more lumpy and inconsistent. One was worse than the other.

A suggestion was made to smooth it out by rolling the pivot inside the bearing with a drill. I tried this by hand an there was a marginal improvement after about 10 minutes. My daughter was sleeping so using a power tool  was out of the question. I decided to try the other suggestion, which was to sand the pivot with 600 grit paper. Luckily I had some on hand from another project.

I spent a couple of minutes sanding each and trying them out inside the bearing.
Once they felt nice and loose, but not so loose that they'd fall out, I decided to reassemble the tremolo and restring the guitar.

Even with one string on, it became obvious things had improved. I proceeded to add the rest of the strings and tune up. Once the stable tuning point was established in regard to spring tension pushing the bar back up, I tested out the upward motion of the bar. To my delight, it returned to pitch!
The rest of the day I played it, left it, came back and played again. The vibrato was fixed.
Not only that, it felt much more free than before. Nice and loose, ready for some crazy pitch wobbles.

My doubts on being able to sort out this problem were unfounded and I am happy to say, the guitar performs much better than expected.

I have it strung with 9-42 at the moment, which feels weird, but it's actually still set up for 11-52.
Which I'll probably return to at a later date.

*A reader requested some images of the the string retainer.
So here they are:





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