Sunday, September 25, 2011

2006 - Lincoln Chord Organ

Taking a break from guitars, I bring you the Lincoln Chord organ.

Many years ago I became obsessed with the sound of a Harmonium. Unfortunately, they're not exactly easy to come upon, nor cheap when you manage to find one. The next best thing, I discovered was an electric motor powered wind organ.

It's a pretty simple setup, a switch a 12v motor with a fan attached, and some little metal strips (tines) tuned to a certain pitch (Like a tuning fork). The air flows over the tines and produces a metallic reed type sound.
The problem with the chord organ that I have is that it was too noisy. I've rebuilt it a few times, but the fan was always very loud, so there was no way to dampen it without getting into the electrics. Frankly that was something that terrified me. Mains power is scary, when you have no idea on what you're doing.

I got sick of it at some point and loaned it to a friend, who evidently had a similar issue, since it never saw a lot of use. When he gave it back, he told me that the power socket was a bit iffy. When I got it home and plugged it in, I discovered that he wasn't kidding. As soon as the power was switched on, there was aloud bang, sparks and the cable had flown across the kitchen.

Upon further investigation, it was clear that the old power socket on the back of the unit had become very fragile. The metal prongs had somehow managed to touch, which resulted in the shower of sparks. I figured that this would be a good time to sort out the motor control once and for all. So I took a trip to my local electronics dealer and picked up a controller for a light dimmer. I was still deeply paranoid, so it sat in a box for another 3 years, until I decided to give it a go.

Installation of the controller, was a fairly simple affair. Just a matter of identifying what was meant to go where. About a 10 minute job if you don't count the time it took to get my tools together.

The fan controller worked as I thought it would. It gives control to slow the fan down enough, to still produce sound when the keys are pressed, but also quieter than before, to the point where you hardly hear the motor.

Unfortunately, something has happened to a couple of the tines, so they don't produce sound, and a couple of the old felt stoppers were worn, so that the keys didn't close some holes. I made my way to one of the local discount goods shops and picked up a packet of felt for $2 and went to work on the organ.

Under the chord keys, the felt wouldn't stick with craft glue, so I ended up using double sided tape (glue was fine under the regular keys). It took a while to sort out the holes with a scalpel, but it seemed to function much better than before.Still not perfect as a few tines seem to be prevented from vibrating by some unknown hindrance, probably a bit of fluff from the felt. But it works for now, just got to tweak it a little more to get it 100% working.

Chord organs are decent sounding instruments if you can get your hands on one nice and cheap, they add a certain old timey charm or an eerie drone to a song. Don't overlook them as junk shop items.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Epiphone Les Paul: a Mod Story

My Les Paul hasn't seen much action since I bought it. A cheap guitar that I never had professionally setup.
Playing it was like fighting it. The action was all wrong, the intonation was impossible and the neck was bowed.
I hadn't had the confidence to have a crack at it myself as getting information from the net isn't always reliable.
A couple of months ago I bought a book on setting up guitars. It explained clearly and with pictures what needed to be done. Also a few tools that were recommended that I hadn't considered.
One of them being an 18" straight edge. I'd looked around online and they weren't cheap.
I wasn't about to spend $40 on what is essentially an 18" ruler.

From one of my other projects, I had some leftover U shaped aluminium rail, which was a little longer than needed. After testing how straight it was against a known surface, I trimmed the excess and set to work on the Les Paul.

I loosened it off before tightening, using the DIY straight edge to ensure that I was on track.
Gradually tightening the truss rod and checking with the straight edge, I could see that the bow of the neck was becoming less pronounced. At each adjustment I'd play each string along the neck and double checking the trouble spots that I'd known about from before.

Pretty quickly it was obvious that the playability was improving. I'd adjusted the bridge for a fairly low action, so when I hit the strings hard there's a bit of buzz on the neck, but it's not audible through the pickups. I need the low action on this guitar as the neck is quite fat and I have fairly small hands.

The next thing that needed attention was the intonation. I'd had a lot of trouble with intonation on this guitar, to the point where the saddles would not travel far enough in either direction to compensate. Some of this was no doubt due to the action and lack of setup, but it was also a common problem with the cheap bridge used on a lot of Epiphone guitars. I'd added a Bigsby recently and figured that having a roller bridge wouldn't hurt any, so I picked up a Wilkinson clone for around $20 online, which turned out to be the best thing I could have done.
The design of the bridge is such that there is a lot of room backward and forward to adjust, as well as being able to flip its saddles without much effort. Intonation was breeze and the guitar was setup in maybe half an hour.

When I installed the Bigsby, I used a Vibramate to mount it in the existing post holes. The posts came out with little effort (I only needed to use my fingers), which I thought might be a problem later on. during the setup, one side of the Vibramate had lifted out of the body. I wedged it back in, but this doesn't seem like its going to be the end of that issue. I left it overnight, so it's holding for the time being.

The Bigsby design has two design flaws in my opinion. One, the way that the strings are mounted and the other is the limited movement of the vibrato bar. It doesn't allow the bar to move over the strings and sits just next to the high E. This means an adjustment of technique, by either grabbing it with my pinky, or pausing on a chord to move the bar. On my other guitars I usually have the bar centered over the strings and Hold it with three fingers while playing. I'm probably going to grind the stopper off the Bigsby to retain that freedom of movement.

You might recall that I scored some pickups from my friend's Gretsch. One of these I modified to fit in the neck position of the Les Paul. The biggest delay in putting this guitar back together was that I had not been lucky with trying to make a pickup ring to suit. It's not a standard sized mini humbucker, so there aren't any off the shelf solutions going around. What I ended up doing was modifying a standard humbucker ring to hold it on place. Now I have the same problem with this pickup as I do with the Filtertron on my Surfcaster. The string width is different. On Gretsch guitars the spacing is a little wider than Gibson spacing (which the Les Paul and Surfcaster use). This is no big deal on the center strings, but the E strings fall inside of the pole pieces and not directly over the op of them as intended.

I never thought it would make much of a difference. But it does. It makes a huge difference. The inner strings have great clarity and impact, where the outer strings are dull and lackluster. The pole pieces can be adjusted, but it only makes the string louder without the characteristic tone of the pickup.

One way of compensating for this is to put the pickup on an angle, so that the string almost sits in middle of the pair of poles. At this point I haven't managed to get quite enough of an angle and will need to extract the pickup and trim some more metal off the pickup casing.

The Gretsch pickup has a nice piano like tone, which really changes the character of the guitar. Coupled with the Semour Duncan P-Rail and the active EQ, I really do have a lot of tone options available on this guitar.
It's not quite finished, but I'm happy with the sound and feel, so it will likely be some time before I attend to the remaining issues.

So many guitars. So little time!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hiccups. Computers, Dust. Damp. Crackle and Pop.

My current home is a dank, dark, damp inner city cave.
No good for electrical contacts of any sort.
I can't have my gear up against one wall of the building if I don't want to constantly be cleaning pots, jacks and tube sockets. It's a pretty tedious game.

Anyway I thought I had all of the mechanical stuff licked and went to do some demos.
My first project was going to be a combination of reverb shootout between a Digiverb and my Princeton, which would also be testing my isolation cabinet and the line out of the Weber Z-Matcher.

Everything sounded great through the headphones.
I was getting a nice clear signal. No crackles etc...

Played for hours.

Thinking I'd do some editing I booted up my compute and started listening to the tracks.
What I met with, was the horror of my PC not keeping up with recording 5 tracks of audio and one plugin.
The audio was stuttering and jumbled and generally horrible.

It seems that my gutsy old PC is suffering a little from background fatigue.
Meaning, there's so much crap coming on at boot up that the quad core just isn't coping.
Also it may be an indication that one of my hard drives is on its way out.

The session has been scrapped, so my demos are going to be delayed somewhat.
Hopefully the weekend frees up some time to make noise.

As always. I'll keep you posted.

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