Friday, December 28, 2012

Xmas Present - Amplitube iRig Guitar Adapter

Amplitube iRig
Between tinkering in the shed and eating too much, I have been playing with my latest music toy.

The guitar adapter thingy from Amplitube.

It's the iRig adapter for iPad & iPhone.

It plugs into the headphone socket, with a pair of sockets on the unit to accommodate your headphones (or line out) and a guitar input.

Garage Band
With the stock Amplitube app the unit works flawlessly. If you've used their VST plugins, you'll know what to expect (I liked their Fender pack so much that I went out and bought a Fender Princeton).

Unfortunately the iRig doesn't work very well with Apple's Garage Band v1.3 Tested on an iPhone 5 (iOS 6.0.1)& a 3rd Generation iPad (iOS 5.1) and it happens on both units.

Garage Band Versions
The problem is that you can't monitor at a decent volume or use any sort of medium to high gain  setting what you are playing without horrible feedback (I've tested the iRig in an iPhone 4s running GB 1.2.1 and do not experience the feedback).

This is a real bummer, because Garage Band is a really nice bit of software.

Rumour has it, that the previous version of the Garage Band software worked just fine.
Hopefully it'll be fixed soon, otherwise it'll just be another FX toy that I don't use much.

I've managed to downgrade Garage Band from 1.3 to 1.2.1 on my two iOS devices and the feedback problem has been cured. There is the issue of a "ticking" noise on the iPad, but I don't have this problem on the iPhone 5.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ibanez FL-9 Re-Repaired & Misbehaving

I've "fixed" this one before. But it didn't stay fixed.
The LFO wasn't doing much of anything after a few weeks and sat in various places for more than a year awaiting some attention (I really do have too many hobbies).

My shed wasn't freezing and I had some clear space on my bench, so I decided to drag out the soldering iron and tinker for a bit. Not the easiest thing to do, when a small human is intent on using your legs as a storage compartment.

I cleaned the board, touched up some solder and pulled out the opamps.
Just in case this fails again, I decided to add some IC sockets to make it a painless fix in the future.

Anyway it's working again. Probably better than in any time I've owned it.
The trim pots were set from the last time and the flanger is able to self oscillate and do some really annoying noises.

If you share a house with someone who doesn't like the sound of sirens and sci-fi movies, maybe turn the speakers down when you check out the clip below.

FL-9 Test

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

DIY Isolation cab - Revisited

It's been quite a while since I built that little box. It works reasonably well, but could definitely be better.

The box now belongs to a buddy of mine who lives in a small flat. I don't know how much use it's been put to, but it couldn't come with me to the new property.

While reserching methods for building a studio, I realised that I could have done the iso-cab so mch better.

The box was made with 9mm ply, glued to a pine frame and some earth wool was placed inside.
Performance was ok, but it could still be heard and was only any good for a small amp.
I think maybe even the 15 watt Fender Princeton was too hot for it.
Something like a 5 watt Valve Jr, Black Heart, Tiny Terror is more suitable.
This is due to two factors, the size of the cabinet and the density of the walls.

The cabinet I built was basically a 600mm cube. This was due to size restrictions with the flat I was living in.

What I've read is that the small volume of air can lead to speaker and output transformer damage, due to back voltages being generated in the voice coil.
Indeed on one test of a 10" driver, I was alarmed to find that the magnet was quite warm to the touch.
This is not something I have ever noticed before. I stopped that test fairly quickly. Every other test I did was at a lower volume and on a speaker with a larger magnet (better heat dissipation, among other properties).

Despite the small sound however, the sound was pretty good, no "boxiness" was present, but I think that was likely due to the mic being pressed right up against the speaker grille (no room for ambient sound).

A better design would be to double the length of the box, leave out the rock wool (it really did nothing in terms of blocking the sound path), use 18mm ply and a couple of layers of plaster board (with an air gap between the inner and outer layer). Essentially building a tiny version of a room within a room. Plaster boards properties lend itself to be quite the good little insulator. Not what I expected when I started my research.

Making a sound proof box it seems, is entirely dependent on just a few factors. Density, Mechanical Isolation and a Perfect Seal.

That means Thick Walls, Rubber & Air isolation between inner & outer boxes, and Blocking the movement of air through any gaps that may appear during assembly.

Anywhere air goes, sound goes.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mystery Hum, Mystery Solved.. I think.

For the past five years I have been plagued buy a mystery hum that gets into every non humbucking coil in the house (Even the reverb coils in my amplifiers). If I wanted to have hum free plating, then I had to orient my guitar in such a way as to reduce induction from the magnetic field lines. The source always stayed in the same place, but I couldn't figure it out.

Two days ago I awoke in the cold dark hours with an epiphany.
There is an electrical substation about 80 meters away, which I have walked past a couple of thousand times.
Until that moment of clarity I never even noticed or made the connection. It's encased in a residential/commercial looking brick building. So no glaringly obvious.

The Awesoem Power Of Rockets is looking forward to the transition to a larger residence where there is space for a small recording studio & workshop. Hopefully no hum in the air!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sorry about the lack of updates.
The Awesome Power Of Rockets headquarters are in disarray at the moment.
Preparing to make the transition to larger premises.

That won't take place until mid June, so posts will likely be few between now and July.

Anyway, to keep it somewhat music related, I highly reccommend that any DIY enthusiasts head over to the circuit snippets archive and check out some really sweet projects.

My favourite being the PWM, which sounds a heck of a lot like a big fat mono synth.
It can be controlled by LFO or an expression pedal. Don't be affraid now, the circuit is easy to build and I suspect, designed by a genius!

Check out the Sound Sample

Monday, April 2, 2012

Going Direct

I've not had too much going on in the land of musical instruments.
What precious little time I've had to sit down with the guitar, has been spent tinkering with my various D.I. boxes.

The Sansamp GT2 seems to be the best among them.
I mostly set it for Fender style clean tones with reverb supplied from the Boss FRV-1.
The results are quite satisfying. Like a tube amp in the sweet spot, it will break up pleasantly if pushed hard. I can't say the same for the Digitech digiverb.

I'm not sure if there's a dodgy patch lead or if the pickups of my Mosrite are too hot, but I hear an unpleasant clipping when the reverb is engaged. Bypassed the distorion goes away, but even when fully dry, the clipping is evident, which is a bit of a shame as I like playing with a wide range of dynamics.

The issue requires futher investigation, and comparison against the Bad Monkey pedals from the same manufacturer.

Will get around to posting samples one of these days.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

2012 - Sansamp GT2 - First impression.

I scored a GT2 this week for a really good price. I'd been humming & hawing about getting one for ages, but since they're usually more than $200AUD for a second hand one, I was reluctant as I do have a few adequate amp & speaker modelers (Bad Monkey, Condor Cab Sim, Digiverb, VT Bass).

I got mine nice and cheap and have only had a little while to play with it so far, but already there are things I do and don't like.

Here are the basics:
3 amp settings (Tweed (Bassman), British (Marshall), California (Boogie).
3 "mod settings" Clean, Hi Gain & hotwired.
3 mic settings Classic (flat), Center (mids), off axis (lower mids)

First off the amp settings appear to have different gain and eq structures, the Tweed being the lowest gain and the California being the highest. The tweed has the lowest bottom end and the others are fairly similar in my first test.

The mod settings appear to be a little misleading, as the "clean" setting doesn't mean clean tone, but actually means "stock" or "unmodded". I have read on other websites that the Sansamp is not capable of a clean boost, this was not my experience. When set for Tweed, Clean & Classic, I was able to get a really nice Fenderesqe clean tone with my Goldtone PB-GRE. As mentioned in my previous blog article, this guitar has a fairly low output and is likely biasing my experience.

The tone of the settings I've described is sparkly top with a nice thick bottom. I did notice a bit of noise (hiss), but that might be due to a flat battery, or that I'd cranked the gain. After fiddling with the knobs (they're old and a bit crackly) I was able to tame the noise and stop my mixer from overloading.

Speaking of overloading, this and the VT bass have some serious power in the output department.
It can be tricky to track down the culprit when your mixer clip light isn't triggered and there's unwanted distortion somewhere. I'm not 100% on this, but I think that the Sansamp series might actually be able to clip their own output stage.

So far I'm not convinced that the high gain models are up to the job of direct recording without some intermediary speaker cab filter. They can be somewhat fizzy, but it's also possible that the low output pickup just doesn't play well with those settings and I need to use a guitar with a humbucker or at the least high output single coil, like a P90 or a Mosrite.

I'm pretty happy with the clean tone and look forward to spending more time with the unit.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Presenting: The Humble microKorg

This bit of kit seems to have been one of the most popular and derided synthesizers of the last decade.
It's size and price were appealing to the masses, and for many their first synthesizer.
I've had mine sine early 2007, and it was far from my first synth.
Essentially it's a cut down version of the MS2000. In fact, the only real difference is that it's got less knobs.
Out of the box it comes with some of the most cheesy presets I have ever heard.
The presets are grouped on the front panel via genre's surrounding the main selector knob.
Unfortunately the genre's don't sit well with many, and I ended up covering them up with my own printed on stucky labels.

The microKorg appears to be fairly limited on the surface, but below the surface lays the heart of a small modular synth. What it lacks in polyphony, it makes up for in charm and scope for some really useful and just plain weird sounds.

What people need to get past is that it's not analogue. Complaints of a lack of warmth are unwarranted.
Spend a bunch of time with the little beastie and I bet your opinion will change considerably.

I mostly program variations on Electric Piano and Organ sounds, with a few string synths, pads and science fiction noises thrown in. It's capable of some seriously overwhelming Bass, which it turns out is really handy for emulating a church organ. You can achieve a kind of 8 bit vibe with it as well, but it would be better if a bit crushing effect was available. I don't spen too much time on that since I built the Midibox 6582 in 2010.

The modulation matrix is surprisingly flexible and you can rout to most major points which you would want to control.On the front panel you'll find every parameter listed helpfully next to its corresponding number.

Modulation sources are Two LFO's with multiple wave shapes (LFO2 is more limited in selection), Envelope generator, Modulation Wheel.
Cross modulation is possible between sources and you can obviously send them to control pitch & cutoff.
Korg also included control for the audio output, so you're able to do nifty tricks like emulate a lesie speaker by controlling the left/right balance.
Unfortunately what was left out of the control matrix is the ability to control the effects section, which I think is a real shame as they are capable of making things a little crazy.

The vocoder is a fun addition, you have the option of using internal oscillators, or doing the classic thing and using external carrier and modulator waveforms.
Getting the vocoder to sound good is a tough task, but it can be done with some patience and experimentation. I prefer to use external sources over the internal waves as it seems a bit more authentic.

The microKorg also makes a nice effects box.The effects are noise free and whilst basic, sound as good or better than many stand alone units.
Chorus, Flanger, Phaser & Delay are staples for guitar, but if you set it up just right you can use the Arpeggiator to make yourself a midi synced variable patterned tremolo.
Using the filter on guitar allows you to emulate the use of a Wah pedal, with the additional option of midi sync.

Speaking of filters, the digital filter in the microKorg has been designed well. It sounds nice and smooth, and doesn't have the zipper effect which plagued many earlier analogue models.
The filter holds up quite well to it's analogue counterparts eg: MS10/M20, Frostwave Resonator, Moog Ladder filter. It isn't capable of the nice analogue overdrive, but you can fix that with a simple dirt box for very little cash (make your own if you want!).

My only gripes with the design decisions behind this little box are the lack of velocity sensitivity in the keybed and the complete lack of control over the inbuilt distortion (which sounds horrible in my humble opinion).

I've been tempted to sell it a few times, but at the end of the day it's got so many features that I'd be kicking myself if I parted ways with it rashly.
Even compared to more modern synths it holds up nicely and I believe is one of the better purchases I've made over the last fifteen years.

microKorg Manual

Monday, February 6, 2012

A little DIY - How to make your own Sustainer

I've received a request for a better explanation on how the sustainer works.
Well it's pretty simple really. At leas my version is at any rate.

All you need is a handful of parts and it can be made for less than $20

Ideally you'll have a strong magnet. I've used old strat pickups, but Alnico Bar Magnets are available on Ebay pretty frequently.
The Bar magnet will probably give you a better result.

Apart from the pickup, my sustainer was built from stuff readily available from the local electronics store.

The thinnest enamel coated wire that I found is .25mm, a bit smaller would be better (tighter coil), but this was all I had to work with. On the strat pickup with the orignial wire removed I wound a coil to 8 ohms. I think it was 160 turns of the pickup. There is a handy turn calculator online here where you input your wire gauge, magnet size and desired resistance.

Incidentally the 33awg roll from Jaycar is 16 ohms +- an ohm.

To power it all I used a simple 386 chip based circuit that can deliver 1/4watt at 8 ohms.
It comes in kit form and usually costs less than $9

Simply connect the tip of your guitar jack to the input of the circuit and the sustainer coil to the speaker terminals.
If it doesn't do anything, try reversing the speaker wires as there may be a humbucking effect.

Every coil I've made has been different, some strings will feedback more than others depending on how sloppy the wire wrapping has been done.

Unfretted Forum Thread

Jagmaster Sustainer Guitar

Gretsch Sustainer Project


2nd half of this song shows my first sustainer in action.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Quick update - Resonator and Iso Cab demos Online

Recorded a couple of short demos last night.

The Iso cab is left channel only since I forgot to mix to mono.

The resonator demonstrates Acoustic and Electric in opposing channels.
Gear used Rode Nt2a, Boss BC-2, Boss FRV-1 & Digitech Bad Monkey (bypassed). 

The demo's can also be found on the Sound Page

Friday, January 27, 2012

2012 - Gold Tone PB-GRE Slimline Resonator

Not long after buying my Mosrite I stumbled across a Regal resonator for $400 at a local second hand dealer. I thought that it was too good to be true, so I went and tried some brand new guitars of the same make. At that time I came across a brand that was unknown to me then. Gold Tone. The guitar looked classic, and the price was a  hefty $1899 Australian. Since I'd just spent a fair chunk of change on the Mosrite, there was no way that I was going to be able to swing that with the lady of the house, so I just wandered by from time to time and looked in the window.

A year went by and I kind of forgot about it, then one day I saw a tenor guitar from the same brand in a similar style. This started the old obsession ball rolling. Somehow I was going to finance it. Somehow.

The price had dropped a little, but still far too rich for my pockets.

So I hunted around the country, no good. Everyone was even more expensive than the local.
Just when I was about to give up, I found one online that would ship from USA to Oz. It was HALF the price, even with shipping it was less than 2/3 the cost of buying locally. At the time I felt badly for not supporting local businesses, but $700 is $700. I would have been happy to pay one or two hundred more for the sake of convenience, but that price difference (especially with the Australian dollar at parity or better than the US for more than a year)  the difference was too much to absorb.

Before buying I tried to find as much as possible about it, but other than the official website, there really wasn't much on this model out there on the web. One thing that I was interested in is where it was made. The website was unclear and sort of implied that it might be a USA made guitar with some parts sourced from overseas. Well it turns out that it's a Korean made guitar.

I have no issue with guitars made in Asia, in fact most of my collection originates there. The Epiphone Les Paul that I sold to finance this one was Korean and happened to be a very nice guitar.

The guitar had been delivered to the office where I work, and it turned up on my day off! So I ended up hauling my small family into the office to collect it (we had dumplings for lunch). I'd bought the guitar from a shop in a tiny town in the middle of Illinois and it was 11 days before I'd received confirmation that it had shipped. Then I had to wait more than a week to have it in my possession. 21 days elapsed from purchase to delivery and as it turned out, I wasted energy on thinking that I'd been scammed.

The guitar arrived untouched from the factory. Inside it's case which was in turn wrapped in a carton about the size of a 40" television. It was shiny (not for long) and heavy! Oh boy was it heavy. Even though it's the slim line model, once you've walked a few kilometers with it, the hands let you know that they're not happy. I'm paying for it today.

Naturally he guitar needed tuning, but to my surprise the factory setup is excellent. The action is low enough to be comfortable and high enough for slide. The finish is prefect and the binding on the neck is a light coloured curly maple and really adds to the classy looks of the instrument.  The stings are currently phosphor bronze, and I had considered swapping for flat wounds, but I really like the acoustic tone. Despite being slim lined, the guitar is capable of being played uncomfortably loud. It's almost like a mechanical overdrive on the resonator cone.

Plugged in, it's a whole other beast. The lipstick pickup is a superb choice for the guitar, not only in looks but in tonal character. Coupled with a Fender Princeton Reverb amp, I'm in tone heaven. I can't begin describe how good it sounds. I play a blend of country and surf mostly, and this combination is perfect. The low end growls and the top end chimes. The resonator and hollow body combo has great sustain. Usually turing the Princeton past two on the dial will make the room shake, but in this case the resonator is actually louder than the amp at that level!

So it might not be a National, but it is as close as I'm likely to get, and I am in love.
This one may well be the last guitar I ever buy.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

2012 - Digitech Black 13

I got to play around with the Scott Ian pedal a few days ago. Back in the 90's I was a bit of an Anthrax fan and having seen the last setting on the video below (at 3:05), I was intrigued by the Pitch Shifted Delay. It's a fun little feature.

The pedal's functions are straight forward. For the first six settings there's Volume & EQ. That's it. The gain is preset and the sound you get, forces you to play chugging riffs. There seems to be a noise gate built in, which makes it perfect for palm muted riffs. Not so good for surf or country.

Is sort of puts me in mind of the Peavey 5150 combo that I had back in the olden days, gain through the roof and a really gut stomping low end. If you like playing heavy guitar, this one is a potential bargain.

Remember kids, this one is more for riffs than it is for solos.
Enjoy the video!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

2012 Pedal Review - Digitech DIGIVERB

This is one pedal that I owned for a time and parted with to acquire another bit of gear. Honestly I can't say enough good things about Digitech pedals, especially the cabinet simulators, which seem to be available in every model.
some of the cab sims are more complex than others, and each one has its own tonal characteristic. The Digitech Digiverb is no expection.

To engage the cabinet simulator, simply hold down the pedal before applying power. Otherwise it will just behave as if plugged into an amp and bypass the cabinet circuitry. Tone wise, the cab is a little dark, but that was not a big deal as it's easily tweaked in a mixing desk. Oh and it has a cabinet sim on both outputs!m Perfect for DI work.

Enough about the cab sims as this is a reverb pedal, and that's pretty much what everyone wants to know about. Well... the pedal isn't perfect. Especially if you're a spring tank purist, but it's passable in that mode. Gate and Reverse are pretty much the same as any other pedal with this feature. Where the pedal really shines is in the cavernous Church mode.

The decay is long and the spread is very large. Church mode is really great for making those huge pad-like ambient sounds. Hall and plate are nice too, but nothing like the Church mode. The Spring sim is almost correct, but the splash at the beginning of it doesn't feel right. Maybe I've spent too much time with a valve driven spring tank, which has a tendency to overdrive when I play hard?

Some people complained that the pedal was prone to introducing noise into a circuit if powered by a daisy chain. I did find this in some positions, but not in others. It's all dependent on where the reverb is placed in your signal chain and how your cables are arranged. I've had the same issue with other DSP based effects, it's not a deal breaker as it can be worked around, if you're not lazy.

I'd be buying this if I was in the market for an EHX Cathedral pedal, but couldn't afford the cash or the floor space. Agaion, RRP in Australia is pretty high, so try to get your hands on one via the 2nd hand market.

Monday, January 16, 2012

2012 - Boss FRV-1 vs Fender Princeton

I'll start this off with admitting that I actually like COSM. For those times when you can't crank an amp, it turns out to be a useful tool. Since I currently live in an apartment with two lovely ladies, I try to keep my noise to a minimum.

To do this, I mostly record guitar via headphones. I've used a few amp & effect simulators on the PC, which have been fine, but all seem to incur more of an performance hit than the CPU monitor would indicate.
Their modeling is reasonably good for most things, but for reverb it has not been anywhere near satisfying, not for spring anyway.

Since I use reverb as part of my tone quite frequently I've been hunting for that perfect silent solution. Even to the point of building a mechanical reverb circuit. Which worked FYI, but did not match the quality of a tube driven circuit.

I've owned the Marshall Reflector, Digitech Digiverb and Boss FDR-1. All of these were decent enough, but when it came to a convincing spring tone, the first two were no better than my computer. The third sounded quite good, but would introduce random reverb splashes even if there were no notes being played.

The Boss FRV-1 doesn't seem to have the same problem as it's predecessor. It runs quietly and as long as it's not being A/B'd with a real Fender amp, it's pretty convincing. The decay is nice and long and the tone control is very handy. It can be dark and muddy or so bright that your ears hurt.

When played in tandem with the Princeton Reverb, it's noticeably darker, and doesn't give quite the same quality of bright tone. In fact, running the pedal as a dry guitar, the top end of the guitar is somewhat attenuated, not quite tone suck, but more of an low pass filter. The advantage of this pedal would be running reverb on overly bright amps, or if you have to play in a venue with severe electromagnetic interference issues (such as my home) as there's no inductor coil to hum like a fridge when you want a big splashy verb.

In a mix it sits nicely and I'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between it and the real thing in a blind test, this might not be the case if I were the one playing the guitar as there is a marked difference between the two in terms of response to playing dynamics.

It's not a true substitute for the real thing, but it performs well for such a tiny package.
Sometimes a one trick pony is all you need.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Epiphone Les Paul - the final mod

I've finally reached the point where I can say that I will no longer delve into the guts of this beast.
Honestly I've no idea of the amount of hours I've put into it, but it's now very nice to play and sounds great!
Currently it's setup with 12-56 gauge round wound strings, has a Wilkinson Roller bridge, Bigsby B7 with Vibramate and a pair of matched humbuckers from a Gretsch 5120.

The original and replacement PAF style pickups never sounded much good to my ear, and the P-Rails did not really suit. The Gretsch pickups have turned out to make the guitar sound rich and gutsy. Excellent clean tones and can really drive a valve preamp.

I modded the Bigsby a little as the arm did not come far enough over the strings for my playing style. I filed the aluminium nub down a to get the end of the bar over the 3rd string. This way I don't have to reach across with my stubby fingers to play the way I want to.

As with many things that have passed across my guitar rack, this one was recently sold, in favour of another instrument that is on it's way to me in the post. Somehow it became apparent that I might have too many electric guitars and not enough tonal variety.

Hopefully the new owner appreciates the work that was put into it.
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