Visits

Sunday, September 15, 2013

I'm still here....

Sorry, haven't posted for a while.
Have been distracted by a whole bunch of stuff.

Took a week off and headed north, restored some furniture, did a bit of gardening and have been building pedals.

My latest build is a Tim Escobedo design.

The UglyFace

The name is not a lie.

I uploaded the first sounds from the circuit with some photos of the sky that I took while I was a way.


Some friends have commissioned a couple of pedal builds based on his designs. The more people that get to experience them, the better.

Anyway, I've got work to do. I'll be back when I'm back.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Maton M225 - Fixed Finish

Way back in one of my early posts, I told the tale of my old Maton M225 that had a damaged finish.

For a good deal of time I had assumed that I'd need to sand it back, so never bothered dealing with the problem.

More recently I'd been reading up on furniture finishes as I am working on a few things for the house.
One finish piqued my interest was French Polish. One reason was that its old fashioned and another was that its fairly easy to repair with a bit of rubbing & alcohol.

I wondered whether it would be any good for fixing my guitar.
Since it wasn't in the best of condition I figured that I couldn't make it much worse.
Actually I had bet on it doing nothing at all.

Turns out my intuition was wrong.

I have pressurised isopropyl alcohol for cleaning circuit boards, so I sprayed a bit and started rubbing it in with my index finger.

Almost immediately it began to to change the finish.

Ten minutes or so later and the damage had disappeared & my guitars appearance was much improved.




Thursday, July 18, 2013

So long and thanks for all the riffs.

I sold my Surfcaster to purchase a Bass VI. 
The new owner seems pleased so far.

Make some music, man & thanks for assisting my gear obsession!


 




Monday, July 15, 2013

You shall not BYPASS!!!!

In the workshop, I am not known to be particularly tidy (ok, ok not just in the workshop).

Over the years I've built loads of circuits, some have worked, some need to be recycled. Of the ones that worked, only a handful have ended up in enclosures. Some of those have ended up being shipped in and out of enclosures. Others have been on my to finish list for years.

Recently I decided to "finish" some of those circuits.
By finish, I mean mount them on a panel and not bother with any of the bypass circuitry.

One reason I took this approach is that I only have a handful of enclosures. Another reason is that of the circuits that have ended up  in pedals, I rarely use any of them except for special effects.

My plan is to only mount the best circuits in my enclosures and the rest will end up in a kind of modular synth type deal.

Perspex is cheap and easy to work with and I like the idea of being able to see the guts of the machine. I've deliberately engraved the panel with dodgy markings, just to go with the whole dogs breakfast aesthetic.

Some of the boards have been purchased from manufacturers(Tonepad, MFOS, etc...) but most have been built on Strip/Perf/Tag board or other hobby boards.

There comes a bit of an issue with leaving circuits to languish in a box for a long time. That issue is forgetfulness.

Yep. I've got circuits that I can't identify.

In my first perspex panel I have the following:


  • One of them is a wee distortion circuit that I thought might be a Harmonic Percolator clone, butafter much rummaging in my paper files I discovered the Jordan Boss Tone. The sound is kind of complex as there is a bit of a waveshaper effect to it with a weird fizzy decay. I also wired the gain backwards, so you have to turn it anticlockwise to get the dirt.
  • Tonepad Rebote 2.5 Digital Delay circuits. They have a nice lo-fi charm to them especially at the longer time scales. Running them in series yields some interesting effects, and the variation between parts on each board ensures that the tone from each is unique to itself.
  • I've also cobbled together a simple passive clipping circuit based on four pairs of diodes and an eight way DIL Switch. It does need a fairly high signal to drive them, so really needs to have a clean booster in front of it ala: Electra Overdrive. The diodes I used were what I had on hand. Germanium 1N34A, 1N914, Red LED & some brown thing that I have no idea of what it is, but produces a more fuzzy clipping than the others. The cool thing about the arrangement with the DIL switch is that I can put any combination

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Rediscovery of Distortion Pedals

If you've read my posts from late last year you'd know that I was working on converting my old tin shed into a studio & workshop.

Now I wasn't exactly flush with cash for this project and had to make do with what I had available to me. My studio is divided into two parts. 

A gear room and a recording booth.

The booth works fairly well. Nobody can hear my dodgy acoustic guitar playing or my lousy singing outside of the shed.

Even playing electric guitar I can get a decent tone to "tape" for clean sounds. But the problem I have is that if I want distortion from the output tubes (my favourite kind) I can only really do that during the day, even with my 5 watt amps.

I know for a fact that it can't be heard in my own home, which is just about the same distance as my closest neighbours to the recording room. So in theory I could play as loud as I want inside with the gear that I have, but I just don't feel comfortable with it.

The obvious thing to do of course, was use distortion pedals and turn the volume down. Sure, its obvious now, but I didn't even consider it until now.

I have several distortions and fuzzes, but I think maybe that I was a little prejudiced toward achieving my favourite tone.

So last night I had a hankering for a wee bit of grit and decided to fire up my pedal board.

I stuck to overdrive types for this session.

The ones that I had on hand are as follows:
  • Digitech Bad Monkey
  • Tech 21 Sansamp GT2
  • Boss Combo Drive
The Bad Monkey has been in my collection from way back.
Its a nice simple pedal that is kind of a Tube Screamer clone.
The results were pleasant and ranged between a little grit to nice full overdrive, which is great for chunking out the power chords.


The Sansamp is one that I had never used with a guitar amp(only direct). I know, ridiculous right?
It was excellent.
Each setting was really usable and not at all fizzy.
Lots of versatility and had a great gentle overdrive, but was not quite the death metal machine that I thought it would be on the high gain settings. Not that it really matters. I haven't played that sort of stuff since 1996.

The Combo Drive is really quite effective at generating Vox-like tones and as I've stated in an earlier article, goes from clean to seriously metal. Its a great little pedal for those looking for a tone change, without the massive investment. They're quite cheap at the moment too.

I felt like a kid in a toy store. Rediscovering distortion was something that I needed to do. Hopefully I'll actually be proactive with making music.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Fender Pawn Shop Bass VI

Like many before (and after) me, I have coveted the Fender Bass VI Ever since I laid eyes on it way back in 1997.

I'd finished high school in 96 and had spent all of my inheritance on living & instruments. This is definitely one of my big regrets.
Had I invested the cash more wisely, I'd be a lot better off now.

(sigh) 

You can't tell teenagers anything. Ever.
Lessons have to be learned the hard way some times.

Anyway, when I saw it in the music store in pride of place, it blew my fragile little mind. 

We didn't have "cool" guitars in my town.
There were Stratocasters of course and there were plenty of metal super-strat type guitars (No thank you Anne). 

Gibson's were out of reach no matter how much cash I had.

The Telecaster was about as alternative as you could get.
I never had a chance to even look at a Jazzmaster or Jaguar.

The price tag was something ridiculous and was our of reach to me at any age since.

Mind you, I did have one of those Wayne's World "oh yes it will be mine" moments and guess what? It's finally paid off.

Ok so it's not a vintage spec instrument, but its as close as I'll ever get with a big fat mortgage hanging over my head.

My only disappointment is that the chrome hardware isn't on the current unit. No big deal, it can be modded easily enough.

A couple of weeks ago I wandered into one of the guitar stores in town, where everyone knows my name (Dropping the pop culture references today eh?) and saw a black PSVI hanging on the wall.

They kindly/cruelly let me play it.
Uh oh.

Now I have to have one.

Problem is, I've got a big fat mortgage & renovations to pay for.
Where to find the cash?

You, loyal reader, know where I am going with this.

I've had to say goodbye to two trusty instruments.
My Jackson SC1 and my Guyatone LG-127T.

Now, you might say, but you've had one so long and the other is awesome. Well, yeah. It is true on both counts.

I finally got the Surfcaster sounding good and playing nicely. The Guyatone sounds every bit as awesome as it did in the shop.

They were the only candidates hanging on my wall that are worth anything significant and that I would be willing to let go (sentimentality etc).

Oh right, back to the story.

The PSVI that I played felt great, though my technique needs some serious adjustment to make the most of it. 

I got to play it at moderate volume through a Fender Deluxe (no Princeton in stock) and each of the pickups had something good to offer.

The lower E & A strings were pretty floppy. This has been widely reported on forums all over the place. In those same forums however, there is a cure. I hear the name La Bella bandied about a bit and have read several independent posts confirming that .026 - .095 gauge fits without modification.

I didn't notice any intonation issues whilst playing, but the store was fairly noisy at the time.

The Bass VI Pawn Shop edition impressed me enough to order one in Sunburst. 

I really want arctic white, but they're not available in the PS range and ordering a Crafted in Japan model would set me back the price of two PSVI's locally (plus import duty). 

From the performance of my isolation booth with the Princeton at about half way (the whole shed rattles), I anticipate the need for an external strangle circuit (high pass filter) and a signal splitter to direct the low end to my Sansamp VT Bass pedal.

It'll be a few weeks before it arrives, so in the meantime, enjoy these two really good demos by a chap on youtube.







Thursday, May 30, 2013

Old neighbours & unexpected surprises


I'll give you a little back story first.

Prior to moving here and constructing my secret lair, I lived on the ground floor of a former toy pram factory, which was nestled behind a row of shops in a working class neighbourhood. The neighbourhood has been transformed through gentrification, but is still a hive of scum and villainy. Anyway, that's not the story.

The story is that, the guys who lived above me were also musicians.

We occupied the same building for a number of years, and frequently met at the bottom of the stairs. This happened to be because I'd setup a workbench down there and would tinker as often as the sun would shine.

One of the two gents had a bedroom window above my work area, so I was always careful to keep the noise down in the morning. Nobody I know appreciates hammering and power tool noises, when they're trying to have a bit of a kip on a Sunday morning.

It was this fine chap who befriended my family.
We bonded over a love of old guitars, effects pedals, good vittles, bad neighbours, leaky light fittings, rising damp and mushrooms growing in the ceiling (not to forget, a plethora of dead birds, vomit, human poop and young men who clearly missed the point of fight club).

Oh yes, it was a cracking place to live, in the heart of hipsterville.

He left the apartment block close to a year before me, and even though there was a bit of electronic communication, we never managed to get together, like the good old days.

A week or so ago, I saw a message in my inbox stating that he's leaving the country and would like to give me an old beat up guitar that needed some work.

This was quite a surprise, and extremely pleasant surprise mind you and I would not have cared if it was a broken down old $2 shop guitar. I was chuffed to be the person that he decided to bestow an instrument on.

It was an awesome gesture and I will always be grateful to be the lucky recipient.

The guitar, as it turns out is a seemingly rare beast from the dawn of Australian guitar manufacturing, from somewhere between 1959 and 1963. At least 15 years older than yours truly.

It's apparently an EG75 Single cutaway made by Maton.
Similar to the guitar pictured on this page: 1962 Maton EG75 (about half way down the page in a nice tobacco burst).
And according to this page it has a steel reinforced neck.

I mention this, because I can't find anywhere to adjust a truss rod.

My old neighbour mentioned that he thought that the pick guard might have been made by someone else. However, having seen the pictures in the above links and the quality of the workmanship on the guitar I have in hand, I believe that the guard is indeed original.

The pickups measure around 3.2k ohms each and drops down to 1.2k ohms. Going by experience, this is pretty low compared to modern pickups. That said, I have other low output pickup guitars and they have a certain charm, which work wonderfully with fuzz units.

I haven't got that far yet though as there is some work to be done. The first order of business in getting this instrument up and running was to fill the screw holes. Most of the scratch plate screws are missing and the ones that are there, don't bite into the wood anymore.

After that I checked the electrics with the multimeter, and everything seemed ok. Since the guitar doesn't have a truss rod, I decided to go with 11-50's. When it came to tuning up, the machines were pretty stiff, and the A tuner had me convinced that it'd snap if I tried to get to A440. So I settled for tuning half a step down, which seems ok.

The bridge is really basic, with little slots underneath to anchor the strings to the tail piece, not quite as annoying as stringing a Bigsby, but not far off.

Where the strings wrap over the bridge, there is a bit of wear and rust pitting. I'll need to tackle it sooner rather than later as some of the strings buzz like a broken sitar. Can be tamed with a bit of a palm mute.

When it came time to plug the guitar in, only one pickup worked.
It sounded pretty nice though, and as expected was very low in output. My Fender Princeton was set on 3, which is just at the beginning of the sweet spot, going from clean to crunchy, depending on playing dynamics (it's also fairly loud at this point). Not so with this guitar. It stayed clean no matter how hard I strummed. That's fine, it was a pleasant clean tone. Not particularly loud either.

When I re-opened the guts of the guitar I noticed that one of the leads had come off the pickup switch, which explained the dead pickup from before.

It took a bit of filling to get all of the wired back in, and to ensure the uninsulated braid wasn't shorting anything out. The latter of which was taken care of by a bit of electrical tape.

Anyway after wrestling the plate back into place and screwing it down, I finally got to play the guitar properly. The strings are still stretching in and time has been short so far, but my initial impression is mixed.

The neck pickup is big and robust sounding, while the bridge pickup is reminiscent of an old portable radio. The bridge itself has many burrs which need to be filed/polished out. Hopefully that will reduce the tendency to buzz on open strings.

 The body weighs barely anything (I think there's more heft to my open back banjo) but it sits comfortably when using a strap. I'll definitely find musical pockets for it, even if it isn't destined to be my main guitar.

I doubt that it'll ever be regarded in the same way that early Fenders & Gibsons are.
Its a nice piece of Australian history none the less.
The guitars worth for me is not in the monetary sense, but in appreciation of the awesome gesture that was the gift from an old neighbour.

UPDATE: 10 June 2013

I left the guitar hanging on the wall for a week or so and tried tuning up from Eb (where it wouldn't stay in tune) to E.

Now I'm not sure if the strings took longer than usual to settle, or of that extra bit of tension was needed to stop slipping, but now the guitar stays in tune for longer than 20 seconds.

It's still a little rough on the hands due to the action and lack of truss rod, but I've played worse.

The guitar sounds old and with a little bit of a short delay, is excellent for old timey surf riffs.




Saturday, May 11, 2013

2013 Temporary possession of a Squier J Mascis Jazzmaster

Good day dear readers.
Once again, I must apologise for the dearth of posts.
I have been side tracked by various pursuits, mostly maintenance and renovations to the family home.

This week I have been afforded the temporary custody of one Squier Jazzmaster J Mascis edition.

I had been looking forward to playing one of these guitars since they were first announced way back in 2011.

Sure there were other offset shapes on offer from Squier, but none of them offered the classic hardware that the Jazzmaster & Jaguar are known for prior to this release.

I think maybe all of us cash strapped guitarists interest was piqued when Squier began issuing their classic vibe and vintage modified editions. These in my mind laid the ground work for the introduction of a true budget Jazzmaster, which in turn has seen the development of Squier producing not only a budget Jaguar, but also a budget Mustang

Exciting times for paupers and mortgagees alike!

Anyway, that's enough free advertising. Er...
On with the review!

I found this at my favourite second hand dealer and knew that one of my old friends was in the market for one, but couldn't justify ponying up the price of entry (also he lives 725km away, where there is a lack of competition).

This one was a good price, not absurdly cheap, but too cheap to ignore. I jumped on it right away. Even before asking him if he was ready to buy (I'm not rich, but the price wasn't going to cause me to default on the mortgage), I put down a deposit and collected swiftly thereafter.

I have to admit it, I was sorely tempted to keep this find to myself.
But hey, I guess I'm nice enough chap after all.

The first thing I noticed about this guitar was that it is exquisite on the eye. Photographs do not do it justice. The vintage white is just classic.

The second is the weight.

Even though it's supposed to be made from a light timber (Basswood), it has some serious heft to it. Not uncomfortably heavy, but not model-aeroplane light either.

Neck:

Compared to the Mosrite, the neck width feels alien and broad. 
At the same time, it actually allows for my chubby digits to land in their accustomed positions with ease that always isn't possible on other guitars.

The finish allows the left hand to glide along the neck with less friction than a painted or gloss finish.

I suspect that the factory setup is still in place, the stings are higher than I am used to on my electrics, but easier to manage than those on my Goldtone Resonator.

Pickups:

They look like the classic Jazzmaster, but underneath is a lightly different beast. The coil is rumoured to be a little more like that of a P90, which by all reports is just a little hotter than the standard Jazzmaster.

Sure they're not some fancy pants set of pickups, but they are actually really quite nice.

I spent a number of hours A/B testing with various amps, effects and guitars.

I liked the neck best when playing a slightly hot clean tone, it has a nice aggressive country twang and good clarity across the board.
Compared to the neck pickup on my Mosrite, it does lose note definition when playing overdriven or fuzzed out settings.
I don't think this matters too much as it's great fun just pounding away with pretty much every setting.

The bridge pickup on the other hand, keeps its definition even with the amp on ten with the output tubes in overdrive. To bring back the Mosrite comparison, the bridge pickup on the JMJ has it beat, no question. Much more bass and not so much ear hurting top end fizz. Feels really god when pretending to be metal too!

Vibrato:

The vibrato isn't quite 100% faithful to the original Jazzmaster/Jaguar design as it lacks the lock button. I don't know if it's such a big deal as there isn't one on my Guyatone and it stays in tune just fine. In fact, this type of vibrato unit is my favourite, followed closely by the el-cheapo Teisco stamped metal and the Mosrite Vibrato (Teisco wins because it doesn't rely on a ridiculous roller bearing).

Bridge:

A simple tune-o-matic style. No rollers here.
Some people prefer a roller bridge, but I don't really know if they help or hinder tuning as my guitars with both styles keep their pitch fairly well (the Mosrite can be a bit sticky in the string guide).

This is budget guitar, but I don't think that it feels like one.
Anyone who has followed my blog for the last couple of years, will know that I am a habitual modder. This is one guitar that I wouldn't bother touching as I think it's pretty much perfect.

Can't think of a single thing to criticise at this price point.

Well done Squier/Fender!



Saturday, March 16, 2013

Iso Booth, on a budget.

I've made some progress in the shed.
A fair bit of cosmetic work to be done, but the "studio" is in working order (more or less).

I had some building material left over, which enabled me to build a wee booth in one corner.
This is a bit of an upgrade from the iso cab in terms of utility & sonic quality.
Unfortunately, it's a step down in terms of actual isolation.

I had enough plaster board to do a double layer on the two segments of the booth that are up against the outside wall. But as I found out, was not quite enough.

When testing with Vocals & Acoustic guitar, the neighbours can't hear my horrid warbling and mistake riddled string plucking. Sound is audible in the main room (mostly via the door), but not outside the shed itself.

The local hardware store didn't have any solid core doors in stock, so I compromised & went with a hollow door, which is covered in various soft materials. It ain't perfect, but it is better than no door at all.
Bu as I said earlier, for the quieter instruments, the isolation is good.

The disappointment came when testing me favourite 15 watt valve amp.

At 2 on the volume dial, it was audible outside, though muffled and not likely to disturb the neighbours too much. And the amp does sound quite nice at this level, but there is a sweet spot between 3 & 4 where the amp is very responsive to dynamics. You can go from nice & clean, to breaking up depending on how hard you strike the strings. If you want more distortion, naturally, you turn up the volume.

On this amp, 5 (it goes to 10) is pretty much peak volume. Anything after there just adds to the amp's gritty overdrive. At peak volume, the amp was definitely audible outside the structure. I asked myself, would this annoy me if it were coming from one of my neighbours? The answer was yes.

I have spent the morning piecing together bits of scrap plaster board to make a 3rd layer on the smaller of the external walls. It turns out that I had almost a full 1200x2400mm sheet worth of scraps in the workshop.
Sure it's messy work, but at least I'm not adding to land fill and I am in fact reducing the amount of wasted material on this build.

When the new plaster is dry and the fittings are in place, I'll do some further testing.
Here's hoping that the 3rd layer will do the trick!



Saturday, March 9, 2013

Goldtone PB GRE - A year on......

It's been a little more than a year since I made purchase of the slimline resonator.
The guitar has just gotten better & better.

I find myself going to it more than any other guitar in my collection (they're all nice guitars too).

The strings are still the original set from the factory, and naturally it's still sporting the factory setup.
Tuning remains solid and the tone is pleasing.

Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be enough ferrous material in the strings to give the pickup much to work with. I've been considering putting flat wound strings on there as I like them on my other guitars (Mosrite & Surfcaster). That is until I read about DR Zebra's. They're a hybrid of nickel and phosphor bronze. Which is meant to retain the bright acoustic tone and give the magnetic pickup, more to work with. I like this idea, but as it turns out, there's nowhere local that I can get the strings! So mail order it will have to be.

Anyway here's the official Goldtone video. Don't think it was on the site when I made purchase.




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