Bogner Wessex Overdrive

August 10th, 2016

Bogner-WessexOD

What is it?
Bogner Wessex Overdrive from Amplifier Transformer series. Made in USA late 2014 at esarliest.

Bogner started to build boutique guitar amplifiers way back in 1989 by revising and modding the classic Fender Blackface schematics. Those amps have been quite highly praised specimen. Company released their first pedals in 2012 and the sky has been the only limit since. The brand just glows the word quality. The price tags are laid out respectively. Whopping at high end range, Bogner pedals have made it to many big name boards and like a stealth bomber, all the way to many not-so-big-name-hobbyist-players as well. This obviously has made the previous pedals a item of interest to the DIY community. Bogner, that has made its fortune and fame copying and making Fender Amps better decided that there should always be something hidden in each pedal, so that their “own, new and original” designs stay a secret. Previous series have a daughter board that’s joined by pin headers and submerged in goop before housing the blob in hard plastic case. So at this point it looked like the brand’s good name and reputation wasn’t on as solid basis that i had hoped for. You kno how cough*hypocrite*cough it goes.

Bogner-WessexOD-back

As the opportunity arose to get one in a trade, i was of course optimistic and somewhat eager to get my hands on one. The guy who i did the trade with said at the beginning, that the unit is quite strange sounding thing. Not necessarily bad, but just different. This piqued my interest even more. Quick reading told me that the unit is a part of “amplifier transformer” series, where all the pedals utilize a Rupert Neve Design transformer. The enclosure design goes as the above photo shows – you can see the top of the transformer through a hole in the bottom plate. Elaborate and quite cool thinking. Once we screw the bottom plate open and take a look, the enthusiasm stops there. And basically turns into a yawn. There’s a massive transformer on all board mounted PCB – with a black box of obvious trade secret amount of goop.

Bogner-WessexOD-guts

Now, if there really is something completely new and original in play, the build method, may it use what ever type of components, will make this utter piece of trash the second the warranty date expires. Repairing the thing will be extremely painful due to gooped base circuit and special specific transformer – which i doubt you’ll be able to buy from you local component store. Anyway, decently built. I must admit that. Finish is definitely something to point out. It is a pretty pedal with decent set of controls (and control range), even thought the “unrepairable” tag.

How does it sound?
Now this i find interesting. The guy i got this unit from said that it’ll sound strange, very compressed. I figured it should have something to do with thte transformer on board. Once i wired this thing up and played first notes, i must agree. Very compressed, and thick sounding thing with lots of lows present even when those are rolled back at the bass knob. The Enhanced/normal switch seems like a clipping diode switch. It doesn’t affect the voicing all that much, just how much, or how quickly the pedal starts to distort. The gain amount is very much sufficient and the control offers everything from clean boost to near-distortion overdrive tones in decent feel of the knob. Same goes for the tone controls. There is certain high quality feel all over. But the tone. That is still fat and thick. In a sense, overly compressed. While the pedal reacts to guitar volume control in good manner, the guitar doesn’t mean anything to this pedal. I started by playing with a Tokai Love Rock model and slightly hotter than stock PAF neck humbucker. Liked the sound, but didn’t think it would see much use. Then i took my Fender Strat with single coil on the bridge – the sound was exactly the same as for LP neck humbucker. This pedal has a mind and tone of its own. It’s not “transparent” or “clear” at all. Not a bit.

It’ll serve perfectly for thoseDinosaur Jr. style, fat, overdriven tones with nice, ringing overtones and quite cool articulation. But that’s pretty much it. one trick pony with petaton of personality. Most likely this unit won’t see much use in my care, but it’ll be a definite keeper as a strange one trick pony. Just in case i need that Mascis tone from Gibson Melody Maker with a shitty single coil. Let’s just hope the pedal doesn’t ever break.

Ricken’s Fuzz FR III

August 4th, 2016

Rickens-FuzzFRIII

What is it?
Ricken’s Fuzz FR III, made by Jen in Italy around mid 70’s for “Ricken’s” and molested by several people later on.

To begin with, Jen used to make their III Fuzz for couple of brands, Ricken’s being one of them. Opportunity to trade one serviced unit in arose, and of course i was curious. Alert started to ring in my head with the word “serviced” as this claim was not followed by a name of anyone. Not anyone with reputation or experience with pedals or not, but not a name at all. Usually, when museum age vintage pedals are serviced, the seller or trader wants everyone to know who did the work as this will usually affect the value more than expected – and not necessarily towards a good direction. Next alerting fact that was when i said “you can send the blue pedal to …” and the answer was “the pedal is white”. So the unit was painted by someone and that someone didn’t even bother to remove the label plate from the face. The new coat nicely covers up the corners of the aluminum plate. I went ahead with the trade anyway, as the Jen version is rare enough to take action. These OEM’s even more – even though those are way less desirable and thus, sell for way less when available. Another thing was about the foot switch. The seller told me that it didn’t work perfectly. I told that this wasn’t an issue for me as i could fix it rather easily by just replacing the part.

Rickens-FuzzFRIII-back

So the trade went through and i got the fuzz. The original knobs were in decent condition with just a few chips. Flipping the pedal over showed the original bottom rubber with cutout for the “Made in Italy” label and the original blue color. I bet the original paint job has been in horrible condition, since the new white is very thick and matte in finish. But the “Made in” label is just beautiful. Don’t know if the early seventies were simpler times. At least the typeface and fonts made by hand in preproduction of the prints make me feel warm and fuzzy. Nope. This is not a statement about the tone, just for print used by european silk screeners of that day.

Rickens-FuzzFRIII.guts1

Next up was to remove the bottom plate to see what’s in there. The circuit and the battery both have their original foam pads in tact. At first test run, the switch did indeed leave contacts out. Only about 2 of 50 presses resulted in proper switching. I gave up on the original and replaced it with 2PDT standard true bypass. I saw no point in wiring the new switch per the original, as the switch had four poles, only two of them used and still the input of the circuit was connected all the time. Next up was to check out the circuit itself. Yup. I paid way too much for this unit in the trade.

Rickens-FuzzFRIII.guts2

Well. Some you win, some you lose. This was perfect example of the latter. The fixes for the broken board strips are for the faint hearted. But since it works and the traces are bad, i left is as it was. Sure i could have made it prettier with any other repair method than soldering bare resistor legs over the original strip between the joints. Sure it works. But since it’s all about that 70’s piercing silicon fuzz with notable mushroom cloud factor, i saw little point in tampering with the fixes. After all, the value of the pedal in this condition is less than the parts for a proper clone and repairing it further would probably not make it any better. Ugly fix. I wouldn’t have done it this way myself. Now, for the more interesting part..

Rickens-FuzzFRIII.guts3

Component side of the board shows BC239C transistors, basic carbon film resistors and green mylar caps with a few diodes thrown in. And luckily there is a approximate schematic up at Fuzz Central. By the schematic alone i can take a guess how this will sound. And since it’s loosely based on the Tonebender family, i can suggest one or two mods for the circuit just by looking at it. First, which isn’t the best option, would be to up all three 10n caps to something like 100n to let more of the lower frequencies through. This method has a few downsides, one being too much gain which leads to hard audible oscillation. So i wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, i’d suggest anyone owning one not in museum grade condition to add one more 10n cap from input to ground. This will dump a part of the highest frequencies to ground and it’ll let the circuit do it’s magic in a nice sounding manner. So…

How does it sound?
As a stock unit, run with a full battery and modern guitar humbuckers – horrible. Screeching and horribly piercing highs. Think of a maxed controls of a Fuzz Face with a Screaming Bird in front of it and at the end of it, a hard clipping diodes ala Rat. Oh. That’s basically exactly what the circuit is, so imagining it shouldn’t be all tha hard. Strong, piercing, but rather unusable would be how i’d describe the tone. But once we mod it slightly and add the 10n cap from input to ground, the sound clears up, the oscillations are gone and the pedals starts to play along nicely with the guitar controls.

Without mods and assuming there weren’t any to begin with, the Jen III Fuzz and the OEM versions of the same unit are next to unusable as they are. With a very simple addition of one capacitor will make it very nice and powerful sounding fuzz unit. These will never stand up against modern requirements what we want and need from pedals. But instead, these will serve their purpose as collectibles and niché specialities for me and every other tone freak out there.

Sadly, muy unit had zero collector value when it arrived. But i still find it interesting enough to keep.

Big Jam (Multivox) SE-1 Phaser

July 26th, 2016

BigJam-SE-1-Phaser

What is it?
Multivox Big Jam SE-1 Phaser. Designed in Hauppauge, New York, made in Japan. Most likely made late 70’s.

It was a cold and dark late winter night. Ok, it may have been closer to spring or early summer, but anyway. I was chatting with a friend who had spotted an ebay listing of four defunct pedals from germany. And the price for the lot was rather appealing. Since i was completely out of cash but still wanted more pedals (obviously), i suggested that he bids on the deal and i’ll pay around 40%, fix the lot once they arrive and he can choose what he takes first. Not a perfect deal for me since the better pedals of the lot were, well, better – and thus, an obvious choice for the one who gets the first pick. Anyhow. The deal went down, i paid my share, fixed all four and was left with one overdrive pedal (which may be covered here at one point too) and this unit. The faults with this one were quite modest. The switch rubber had fallen off (gladly this wasn’t lost!) and the metal plate doing the switching was gone. Battery door and the slide pot knobs were missing as well. So the unit was in no condition to call it collectible or even working. Since the swtiching matrix itself was in working order, i made a new metal switch out of a washer and used heavy duty two-component glue to put the rubber mat back to its place – and what do you know, it works. Due to missing battery door i removed the battery leads as the unit would be next to unusable with a battery anyway. Now the unit was just left with missing battery door and slider knobs. I don’t think i’ll be able to locate either of those, so this’ll be the state this pedal will stay. At least for now. But in a case a duplicate was to appear…

BigJam-SE-1-Phaser-back

Before anything, the aesthetics usually play a huge role how o perceive pedals. Just look at the hand pointing to the power jack receptable! That is the kind of thing that always brings the smile and good vibes. Just like this wasn’t enough, removing the bottom plate shows a circuit board that is true work of beauty. Beautifully assembled board with soldered strips and so on. One negative thing is clear though. The board can be removed from the enclosure by either breaking or unsoldering the in/out jacks. One will suffice, but break or unsolder nevertheless.

BigJam-SE-1-Phaser-guts

With extremely flat housing, not much higher than a 9V battery itself, this and its peers from the same series are true beuties, but still these manage to remain as weird birds of all pedals. These seem to get their high lisitng/asking price from the age alone. Not so much due to the aesthetics or designs. Which would be way more interesting factors.  For some reason this unit and series simply doesn’t feel solid enough to warrant the usual high asking prices. And remember kids. Detachable battery door is always a f*n stupid idea. Avoid those at all cost. Otherwise, Multivox engineers did not go under from where the fence was at its highest. These pedals exhibit heart warming examples of engineering of their day. When the size is taken as a factor, these are very beatiful pedals indeed.

By the sound, controls and fact that i saw the component side of the board (and didn’t realize to snap a photo at that time), i’d go as far as to call this a derivative of EHX Small Stone. Which does mean a few things as is..

How does it sound?
Fat, slushy, twirling, psychedelic and not hurt by its relatively sluggish control range consisting of only LFO rate and effect depth. Still the overall tone is not just powerful but sweet as well. I don’t have much negative pointers for the unit in any way. The battery door design may be the biggest one, when talking about issues of Multivox Big Jam pedals. Maybe one could also argue that the floating plastic jacks are another issue. If that was argued, i’d remain dormant and just maybe nod my head as a sign of silent agreement.

To sum it up, Big Jam pedals are beatiful specimens of design and manufacturing of their day. Not so much usable stuff for todays guitarists or keyboardists. I’ll definitely keep my eye out and get more of these, if the price is right.

P.S. If Multivox is unknown brand to you, i suggest you check out wikipedia.

EHX Germanium4 Big Muff XO

July 22nd, 2016

EHX-G4BMP

What is it?
Electro-Harmonix Germanium4 Big Muff Pi. Made in NYC, USA in 1013.

Buzzword. Much like “cloud services” or “streamline” in some other contexts. For pedals it’s usually “Germanium”. Next and the biggest single question – how come this unit has nothing more to do with a Big Muff than its name.. Since late 60’s the Big Muff has mostly been the same four transistor circuit that can be compared to Tubescreamers to a certain degree, being somewhat a standard and a subject to numerous (hundreds, maybe) derivative clones over the years. So the marketing department at NYC has decided that in modern day it’s ok to sell anything with BMP name. Well, i don’t need to be this harsh. The designer team may have had a few people of prestige involved. But still. When i hear the name “Germanium Big Muff”, my initial thought will instantly move towards the classic four transistor circuit, with germanium transistors instead of the basic BC550C (or similar) that we see in all modern BMPs. Even the number 4 in the name would suggest this. But no.

EHX-G4BMP-guts1

In reality, the pedal is two separate circuits in series and there is basically nothing that would even point towards the classic Big Muff, except for the name. There is a trace at Freestompboxes forum (may not be 100% correct and to see it you’ll need to login), that’ll confirm the suspicion. Basically the distortion half uses the two NKT275s as clipping diodes in a feedback loop of a non-inverting opamp, where overdrive half has the two germs in a signal path, but still utilizing an opamp for recovery. This part has some similarities with the EHX Germanium OD released in XO series earlier. The transistors are those current repro NKT275s that EHX must have bought in as truckloads. For the rest of the components and board design, the unit is on par with all the other modern EHX pedals. Mixed SMD and through hole design.

EHX-G4BMP-guts2

But what comes to controls and other features, this isn’t as bad pedal as i first thought. The overdrive half offers very similar tones as the XO series GeOD, but with much wider controls. And the distortion goes with decent control set as well. To me, it seems that the biggest issue remains with “false” marketing and labeling. Another head scratcher is the price development of new and used market of these. Just a couple of years back you could score one of these used for $40€, but for some reason not explainable, the current street price is something notably higher.

How does it sound?
Not bad. Both halves are like peaches from separate cans. Neither of these may get the label of “musical”, but there are tons of those ye oldee school slightly misbiased germanium transistor tones available. Both halves activated, there is some high gainy/fuzzy sonic bliss in the air. Not enough to blast through the roof, but still very decent distortion with a vintage-like touch to it. If i wasn’t offended by the misleading marketing and labeling, i’d hype this pedal to a degeree that i rarely do. But since there is certain, slight feel of being swindled present, i hqave hard time of praising the unit.

It’s not bad, at all. It offers quite wide range of those misbiased old school drive tones that most of us love. Nevertheless, i believe this unit won’t be too popular and it’ll settle for the status it should have. A novelty, or a speciality, that’ll get one purpose covered nicely. Nice. Not shocking, but nice.

Greg Fryer Brian May Signature Treble Booster Touring

July 15th, 2016

GregFryer-BrianMayTBT

What is it?
Greg Fryer Brian May Signature Treble Booster Touring. Monster named unit that’s made most likely in th UK around 2010.

Don’t know where to begin. Got one of these in a trade and figured that i needed to have one, just to know what it’s all about. Sometimes i tend to look outside the box, but this is something that just doesn’t make all that much sense to me. Fryer guitars/amps/electronics is an UK brand that’s goal has been reproducing the Queen guitar tone since its formation in 2008. Mr. May is obvious idol for many for his high technical skill with guitar. I’ve listened to my share of Queen back in the day, so i’m quite happy that i don’t have to do so anymore. But then.. So a company based on marketing tools that can recreate this one guy’s tone? Sure. Why not. At least there seems to be a market and people to buy effect units, amps and guitars that’ll help them sound like mr. May. The original DIY amp that was used back in the day has been well documented and it’ll need a treble booster to make it distort per May’s tone. After all, it is just a ~0,75 watt germanium transistor loaded amplifier that runs on a single 9V battery. And since reissue and of the amp and a DIY kit of it were apparently a hit, there was a need to create suitable treble boosters for all the thousands of home guitarists chasing that May tone. There is some more info on Knight Audio Technologies page. And as the die hard May fans already know, i’m focusing on the factory made version(s), not the custom build original that mr. Fryer built for mr. May. The amp called Deacy amp and treble boosters are all listed at KAT store, with a bit more information that i can give. Anyway. There are three different boosters in this series, “Plus”, “Deluxe” and “Touring”. So far i’ve only seen a traced schematic for the Deluxe verion, but i believe these three are just voiced slightly differently between each other. And KAT shop descriptions agree with my assumption.

GregFryer-BrianMayTBT-guts1

The box has an input jack, output jack and a battery door. That’s it – all three versions are the same. Which makes me believe all three also share the PCB and contruction with the other versions. For the trace, you could head over to Paul’s page at paulinthelab.com. There you’ll find a schematic for the Deluxe version. Does it surprise anyone when the schematic shows a slightly modified Rangemaster? Probably not. But the real surprise comes when we check the board inside the unit.

GregFryer-BrianMayTBT-guts2

Yup. That’s goop. And reason to goop a Rangemaster clone? Seriously, i can’t come up with one. Trying to hide the fact that is is a Rangemaster without gain control? It is still just a single transistor treble booster that works in manner of dropping the lower frequencies and amplifying the treble content to a single transistor’s capabilities. As a gooped unit with such low feature list, i think it’s the best if we just move on.

How does it sound?
Like a treble booster. Kills your bottom and makes your guitar screech and scream. I have no access to Deacy amp or anything like it, so i can’t take a sip of the intended sound. As a standalone treble booster, this has a few advatages. Like the zeroconf. But then again, this feature has huge disadvantages as well. As is, this can only be used as always on unit, which i believe doesn’t suit that many guitarists. Think about it. You’ll spend a $1000€ on a guitar that has a sound that suits your preference, another $1000€ on an amp that, again, has a sound that suits your preference. Now, you take a $150€ treble booster that will discard most of the tone that your guitar and amp are capable of. And on top of this, you’ll be hooked on batteries for life. The current draw is minimal, but still. You’ll need to swap the battery at least before every gig so it won’t fail on you. I’d get the idea if this was presented as a basic stomp box which could be used on demand for leads and so on. Sure you can do that with a effects looper. But that’ll be still quite stupid idea as you get 5 EHX screaming birds for the price of one of these. You’ll really need to be in to May’s tone to even consider getting one of these.

DOD FX65B Stereo Chorus

July 8th, 2016

DOD-FX65B-StChorus

What is it?
DOD FX65B Stereo Chorus. Made in USA, early 1997.

Number of things to take a look at here! To begin with, the cool info at America’s pedal tells us that this model was an entry level chorus that was added to the FX series line-up in 1997 – and discontinued the following year. Entry level pricing and pretty much modern standard set of controls, but the manufacturing spanned over 1997 and 1998 only, which means that the number of manufactured units cannot be extremely high – in case you are wondering about that, you should check what other models DOD had going for them during that period. Yup. This is not the only new one presented during the spring of 1997. And what’s obvious, the FX65B was a successor for FX65 chorus that was initially released in 1985. The B-version has no internal trimpots, while the delay line configuration remains per the previous model.  The FX65/B both utilize MN3007 BBD which is driven by MN3101 cl0ck (the same configuration as found in Boss CE-2/3 by the way – which will no doubt lead to me comparing this to CE-2…).

DOD-FX65B-StChorus-guts

The LFO, mixing and buffering are done with three dual opamps, namely JRC4560. The non-B version has had number of revisions before this design, so the opamps have also been different during the 12 year run of the DOD FX-series budget chorus. The number of revisions were mostly seen at Due to board layout and opamp configuration, i’m leaning towards declaring this and its predecessors CE-2 derivatives. Most likely one of the opamp chips is performing as LFO, other as in/out buffers that include pre- and de-emphasis filtering. If the anti-aliasing filters are in place as they are in CE-2, then those are likely done with opamps instead of transistors. The three knob control set does suffice and offer very decent range of control. While the controls are not verbatim to CE-2, the main issue still stands…

How does it sound?
Not bad, but not ground breaking either. In 1997-98, this model has most likely had the best price/tone factor of all the units in the stores. If there is some unexplainable magic to the MN3007 BBD, then it is present here too. Sounding like a pretty basic, yet musical chorus and having nice, working set of controls, there’s little that can go wrong. And yes. There is a lot in common in terms of sound and tone with the heavily praised CE-2. So to acquire one of these (or the predecessor without the “B”) for current street prices is way more appealing idea than to hunt down a working CE-2 or CE-3 for at least three times the money. Sure this does not sound exactly like the praised classic, but still, this sounds very good and i see very little wrong with it.

Fender Yngwie Malmsteen signature overdrive

June 29th, 2016

I know it’s been a while since my previous post, but i’ve never been away completely. Just swamped with other aspects in life. Like renovating a house to host my build desk and small recording studio and living quarters for the whole family etc…

Fender-YJMOD

What is it?
Fender Yngwie Malmsteen signature Overdrive. Made in china, 2014.

I was about to place an order at one of the bigger music stores in europe and noticed that this Fender branded and Yngwie endorsed asian pedal was priced pretty nicely. So i got it as an extra side o’ fries. I was more than just convinced the insides would be nothing more than slightly modded DOD OD250 as that’s the magic to Yngwie’s tone. Or at least, has been for a couple of decades. Let’s get one thing straight before going further.. I’m not into metal at all (not any metal, unless it’s just good ol’ plain hardcore punk or some classic thrash) and thus, never been that interested in technical shredders that tend to get their names on guitars and pedals more often than my idols. Who are usually very heartful players with massive sense of style. Think Andy Cohen (Silkworm, Bottomless Pit etc.), Doung Martsch (Built to Spill), Frankie Stubbs (Leatherface), Dave Quinn (Tiltweel etc.) etc. While the shredding the scales up and down is definitely not my cup of tea, this goddamn swede is something quite different. Hats off.

Anyway. Got the pedal and for some idiotic reason i didn’t have suitable imperial hex keys to get the knobs off. At that point i tried it out and played with it for a while before packing it up to its box and let it wait for tools. Took me more than six months before i realised i had imperial keys in my desk drawer all along. Since the initial test drive was on par with my expectations of OD250 derivative, i was not in a rush to do anything. When i finally got to opening the pedal up..

Fender-YJMOD-guts1

Nope. That can’t be a board of a straight up 250 derivative. Way too much going on. And flipping the board over confirms it. I do enjoy it when i find i was wrong. 250 has something like 13 parts total and one single opamp. The YJM380, which is the previous signature pedal, has the same type 4558 dual opamp, but the second half is unused and tied to ground. Here it serves a purpose. Haven’t done a trace so can’t say much, but i believe the clipping stage and the main gain stage may be similar to 250/380. The switching seems to be way more complitade than what those previous models have. Still there are number of differences.

Fender-YJMOD-guts2

Most obvious differences come from the build methods when compared to the DODs. Everything is board mounted and overall build quality is very familiar with most of curren, better, made in china stuff. No super tiny SMD, but rather clean through hole construction. I should take on the circuit one day and reverse it to see if there really is as much in difference as i currently think.

But do the differences change the sound and feel enough to declare this a completely different sound from 250/380? Answer could go either way. For the purist end of tone hunters, who swear the tone of the Grey 250 is the only true “Malmsteen” tone, the cheaper Fender tryout won’t do. But for the rest of the folks, most of the population, this will serve well and deliver the parallel tone for the original.

For what it’s worth, i’m not that happy i keep comparing this with DOD overdrives. But then again, this is supposed to be the pedal for that “Yngwie tone” – which many of us will always connect with OD250/YJM380.

How does it sound?
Close to 250/380 (of which’ tone i assume you all are familiar to), but there are tonal differences. Output level is enough to boost your amp and the gain control works very well as it offers usable control all over the sweep. As the 250/380 do as well. I’d say that the single biggest difference is the overall feel. While the DOD predecessors have notable character and personality, this thing delivers its payload close, but it still feels somewhat tame. Like a lion versus a household cat. Same genetics, but still different animals.

Which doesn’t mean that one would definitely be better than another. Fender does not sound quite like the pedals previously associated with YJM, but it gets close. I personally find this a keeper – in addition to my 250/380.

Pearl DS-06 Distortion

September 10th, 2015

Pearl-DS06-Distortion

What is it?
Pearl DS-06 Distortion. Made in japan, early 1980’s.

Simply an overlooked gem. Somehow this unit has slipped through all the classic listings while the overdrive and a few others in this series is highly considered and still receive praise from time to time. It is a distortion unit, so i wasn’t expecting much. The controls did look somewhat out of the ordinary, but i didn’t bother to do much research as the opportunity rose to get one in a decent deal. Once the unit arrived, i took it for a spin and snapped couple of photos. Opening the unit up showed very neat old school traces with pretty hand drawn feel to them. The board looked also pretty full, so at this point it became rather obvious that the electronic design was not your standard rip off of any popular design.

Pearl-DS06-Distortion-guts1

Flipping the board showed the terminals in use, but all the rest is laid out in a beautiful manner. The heart of the driver is a JRC opamp and i mostly due to those terminal strips, i was expecting to see a stacked board setup with board mounted pots. Not the case here.

Pearl-DS06-Distortion-guts2

The second board houses the switching part, but all the pots and the rotary switch are hand wired. Clean work and production must have been quite labor intensive. In other words, this is a prime specimen of japanese craftmanship of the early eighties.

Pearl-DS06-Distortion-guts3

To be honest, none of the pedals from this Pearl series have been poor. Quite the contrary. But. That’s not all.

No research, so the features were not familiar to me beforehand. At the first test run, the Out level and Distortion knobs acted like expected. But as for so many other distortion units, the tone controls are called “Spectrum”. Instead of just single tone control, we have a six position rotary switch for six different frequency range settings, accompanied by a Level knob. These six modes set the general, or a peak frequency for the overall tone and the level knob set the boost amount of that frequency. With this setup, the available frequency range is next to unlimited.

Sadly, no schematic available.

How does it sound?
At first, like so many other distortion units. Decent, but not great output level with well working distortion control, which ranges from well balanced overdrive to full-on thick distortion. Nothing mind blowing, until we start to tweak the tone with with the spectrum controls. Then. Boom. This beast does everything from glass shattering treble mayhem to massive mid hump that rips the heart out of any tubescreamer, to all the way to a wallpaper removing, bassy doom distortion. And everything in between. Even the worst sounding settings will serve a purpose. If i’ve been calling some distortion units versatile, this word is very much insufficient here.

Good distortion tones with one of the greatest tone control sets i’ve ever heard on a distortion pedal. The controls are not amp-like, but extremely usable. Simply, an overlooked gem.

Colorless writings, part 25 – Danelectro Top Five

September 2nd, 2015

Ok. I took a bit of time off since the 11/13 posts a month was practically starting to wear me off. I can promise the future pace won’t be as hectic it was before, but i’m not going anywhere. The comment threads will stay as slow as they have been though…

Anyway. Let’s get back to business. Some time ago i was tipped about an article that listed the best five of Danelectro pedals. If you have any interest, you could look it up. What i did find annoying about that article was that i felt like the writer didn’t know what he was talking about. Sure, there were the obvious Tuna Melts and a few others mentioned, but the foundation for “The Best” left me a bit confused. To me it sounded almost like the list was created out of reputation of certain pedals, rather than the actual sounds or features.

Let’s think of this from another point of view. The actual user. We have only five spots to make up a board and we have take that five from the Danelectro catalogue. As most would see it, the basic pedalboard that most people would want would be something like a Fuzz -> OD -> Distortion -> Modulation -> Delay. Ok, the following may not be the setup i would choose for myself, but that has you covered if you are going for your first board of five pedals. And yes. There is no wah in this setup for one big reason. None of the Danelectro wahs are to be considered as roadworthy. Also, i dropped the tuner out of the equation for similar reason. All Danelectro tuners (yes, all four of them) suck pretty bad and are not to be thought of as usable items. Same goes for the FAB series, which i’ve omitted as well. And as a disclaimer – contrary to the title, i’m not claiming these are undisputed the best five Danelectro has ever made per se. The “top five” here comes from what “I” would use to build up a board. So it’s way more a matter of taste than anything else. And the five here probably won’t be the cheapest choice for a board either, due to some models being rarer every day.

First. The Fuzz.

There aren’t that many Fuzz designs in the Danelectro catalogue. Actually there are only three. French Toast and two revisions of the Cool Cat series fuzz. And these are in fact a slightly modified fOXX Tone Machine derivative, a slightly modified Frantone Peach Fuzz derivative and a another, slightly modified Peach Fuzz derivative. With this limited set of options, we have to choose between a Gibbons style groan or a clever Big Muff recreation (Yea, i know. It’s not a Muff). Since we are now looking for a fuzz that reacts to guitar controls even remotely well, i’d go for the French Toast. In addition to having a decent ear piercing fuzz, we can switch it to cause notable mayhem with the up octave switch. In my opinion, this is the best fuzz from Dano. And the winner is: Danelectro DJ-13 French Toast Octave Distortion.

Second. The Overdrive.

This is a section where the shortage isn’t as bad as with the fuzzes. Pastrami mini OD would be a nice thing. But we do already have one plastic mini series thing in there, we may want to go for something a bit more heavy. Other thing that is somewhat surprising is that there is no TS-style box (neither is there a Dist+/OD250) in the list at all. There is the Daddy-O, which sounds pretty close to the 90’s Marshall overdrives and is up for consideration for its great blues tones. There is also one other that caught my eye. The CTO-1 Transparent Overdrive. With just some slight modifications to a certain boutique design, this was originally claimed to be a rip-off. But it might suit us pretty well. And it sure does. It delivers the modern boutique style soft and “transparent” drive many people love about Paul Cochrane’s Timmy. It also talks very fondly with a fuzz in front of it, so yes. This is where we land with our “the best” Dano overdrive. So the winner is: Danelectro CTO-1 Transparent Overdrive.

Third. The Distortion.

This one should be enough to act as a boost for those big leads and still have enough balls not to sound like 80’s adult contemporary. As this effect type goes, we have more than plenty of choices. To name a few, there’s the Fab Tone from original series, CD-1 and CO-1/2 from the Cool Cat series, plus a few others from the mini series. Fab Tone is slightly too rich on its highs for me, so that won’t do. CD-1 Distortion turned out to be slightly revoiced Maxon Distortion Master and the CO-1/2 are derivatives of something called Obsessive Compulsion Disorder. But. For this purpose and the location, i’d turn to CD-1 Distortion. Decent controls and the overall tone mimics the old Marshall amplifiers driven over the top with nice accuracy. And it is still very close to Distortion Master in its electronics topology. Others may not be that bad choices either, but this sounds just solid enough to call it. The winner for “the best” Dano distortion is: Danelectro CD-1 Distortion.

Fourth. The Modulation.

Not so easy to pick one. Why? Because there are so many different types to choose from. Even if there weren’t different types, the number of modulation effects from Danelectro is quite impressive. Should we aim for a phaser, chorus, flanger, tremolo or perhaps a vibrato? All of those are important part of certain music styles and all have their own pros and cons. For all the boost and dirt boxes, we’ve opted for vintage tones, so i see no harm in doing that here too. If we drop the Phase90 styled ones as well as the flangers and the only tremolo in the list.. It’ll be a chorus or a vibrato. Even then the choices are a bit wide. Three different vibes and  two choruses. Original Cool Cat Chorus captures decently and even rivals the classic Boss CE-2, so the mini series Milkshake goes down at this point. Even though the circuits are pretty close. For the vibes, there are two revisions for the Cool Cat series Vibes with their own faults and strengths, and then there is the actual gem, the Chicken Salad (which is basically a SMD construction derivative of the classic Uni-Vibe). All four do sound extremely good. Chicken Salad will still probably win in my mind due to beautiful depth of tone in the effect. Others are not bad choices either. But since i’m apparently going for the vintage vibrato style here… The winner is: Danelectro DJ-15 Chicken Salad Vibrato.

Last, but not least, The Delay.

And we’re back to limited options. There needs to be good controls so the mini series pedals with two knob control configurations are not an option. Well, the PB&J *could* be, but since i have no experience with the sound (damned blister packaking!), i’m leaving that one out. Which means that we are down to two options. The big boxed Reel Echo and the Dan-Echo. Former has tons of options, such as sound-on-sound looper capability, but the box footprint is rather massive. Another plus side would be the control which is possible to tweak by foot while playing. On the other hand the box is still massive and far from being suited for pedal board. Both of these specimens have PT2395 chip in them, so in reality the tone is pretty close. We’ll get good controls and fairly reliable player if we go for the Dan-Echo. It’s not a bad choice, being cheap and widely available. Wide controls and not much negative to say either way. Only relatively odd thing is that the pedal works internally with 5 volts only. This isn’t an issue, since the pedal is well capable of handling heavily boosted signals without breaking the tone itself. Sure – big enough will be an issue, but it’ll handle line level signals like a champ. Even though i might opt for the bigger one for some applications, i still choose Dan-Echo for it’s footprint, flexibility in controls and, most importantly, the tone. So the winner for the Delay is: Danelectro DE-1 Dan-Echo.

So here we have our board. If we take and think about this setup in terms of the design idols, we have fOXX Tone Machine to Paul Cochrane Timmy to Maxon Distortion Master to Uni-Vibe to PT2395 datasheet example. And in reality this setup today, in 2015, would cost you something around 150 currency units, may it be sterling, dollar or euro. Sure. You won’t be getting the names i just dropped, but decently built (ok, mass produced) units that will sound pretty close. Close enough to most players. Plus the board size will be pretty neat with these.

Like i said before. This list should not be viewed as an authority. It’s just my view of what to pick when there is a need for five pedals from the Danelectro catalogue. And as such, the five that i consider to be the best of the bunch.

Visual Sound V2 Son of Hyde

June 27th, 2015

VisualSound-V2-SonOfHyde

What is it?
Visual Sound (currently Truetone) V2 Son of Hyde Distortion. Made in china around mid 00’s.

For several reasons, i’ve had mixed feeling about the Visual Sound products for a long time. I’ve repaired a number of the “V1” series pedals and sadly, i’d call the manufacturing methods sub-par. (Not to mention the numerous issues i’ve come across with the company’s highly acclaimed power supplies…) Extremely thin and brittle traces are the biggest issue for me. Other, quite surprising thing with this one was with the pots. As you can see, the top end of the pedal rises above the pots, sort of like a protection ridge. But since the rise is only on the top end, the sides are not protected at all. And with this we get to a reason why i have a Visual Sound pedal in my possession at all. Bought this one used due to extremely low price tag and a mention that the pots are broken. The seller suspected a beer/juice/whatever to be the cause, but in fact, the gain and volume pots had been broken due to hard handling. Like i mentioned, the sides are not protected and thus, the gain and volume are your best bet to see broken things on any VS/Truetone V2 pedal. So the actual chinese manufacturing and certain aspects of the housing design are slightly at fault. But this doesn’t mean that the rest of the pedal was.

VisualSound-V2-SonOfHyde-guts1

Workmanship is ok with professional looking joints and so on. The traces are not that ok with them being more thin and narrow than what i’ve come accustomed to. The board design consists of main board, control board and a small switch board. The jacks are handwired.

VisualSound-V2-SonOfHyde-guts2

The main board is quite full with five dual opamps and two CMOS switches. The trimmers are for the bass control and the noise gate level. There is a switch for the noise gate below the noise gate control. The latter versions, presumably after 2008 have just jumper wires instead of the gate trimmer. Apparently the control didn’t perform that well. According to user manual (found on Truetone page), the pot was always set on minimum setting, so it was removed from later versions.

VisualSound-V2-SonOfHyde-guts3

Another interesting thing is that the pedal is claimed to be a single version of Jekyll & Hyde OD/Dist pedal’s distortion side. I won’t agree. The Hyde on the original V1 double is a rewritten Marshall style distortion with way less component footprint. And more importantly, the tone, to me at least, is nothing alike. The thing could be as stated with V2, but i have no experience with that unit. Yet.

The reason why i’m not slamming the whole product for its obvious faults? Well. The circuit designer is one of my personal idols. And…

How does it sound?
This thing sounds fricking awesome. While it doesn’t sound anywhere near the Hyde side of the J&H V1, it is a serious competitor to most highly regarded metal distortions out there. Fat, mean and creamy. Seriously, this takes on my current favourite, HM-3 head to head with good results. Gain setting is quite useful, which isn’t the case with most metal boxes. Meaning that the tone goes from driven Marshall stack to that swedish Death Metal sound everyone knows. The bright switch can add a whole lot of highs when needed and the treble/mids controls work sort of like a age knobs. You know. The younger you are, the less mids you are likely to have in your tone. Probably the best metal style distortion in a long time. And it signs rather beautifully with leads that are not metal too.

On the downside, the bass control could have been on the outside for better control. And if the board and traces were more reliable and the housing design was more to my liking, i’d flag these things around like no tomorrow. Sounds great, but there are a few aspects that leave room for hopes. The tone does make me think if i should just buy one of the Truetone V3 series pedals. Just out of interest…