Ibanez FL-301 Flanger

March 29th, 2015

Ibanez-FL-301

What is it?
Ibanez FL-301 Flanger from “0-Series”. Made in japan in 1980.

I used to own the DX version back in the day. Difference between this, the first 0-series flanger and the second DX version is the operational voltage. This puppy demands 18 Volts, while the De Luxe version promises the same tones with half of that. Got this unit in a trade and i must say i’m rather happy with it.

Opened it up and everything looks almost as it should. I’m not convinced about the battery snap joint for the second red lead, but otherwise the unit looks pretty much untouched. Since this operates with 18V, there’s a chance the most use has been with a batteries. Which would in part mean that those snaps would have been broken at one point. After all, the age of the unit is 35 years at the time i’m writing this. What comes to the aesthetics, this has been in use. A lot.

Ibanez-FL-301-guts1

The most pleasing part is the circuit. Old school Maxon board design that will always get my smile out. Acidy trace corners and mojo soldering. Nothing new, but always pleasing. To flip the board over, we have a full house. TL-chips for buffering, mixing and LFO and the delay line is made with MN3007 BBD and MN3101 clock. There is a factory schematic in the wild, so one can check it. I should probably check the caps someday soon. Couple of the joints on solder side look a bit darkened..

Ibanez-FL-301-guts2

Aside from being a beautiful relic, the pedal has decent controls too. I didn’t touch any of the three trimmers as i didn’t any reason to do so. There are speed and width controls for the LFO and one more control for feedback of the delay line, called regeneration. Solid and beautiful. I sure do hope i get more chances to acquire 0-series and other old Ibanez boxes. These just feel so right.

How does it sound?
Since the purchase of Rolls Vibraflange ages ago, i started to look for different things in flanger tones. Previously i was just after the choruses with longer delay times, the velcro airplanes and vibrato substitutes. The Rolls unit taught my that some flangers can and will do more. With mild enough settings, the modulated delay will just affect the high frequencies in audible manner. Which isn’t the everyday flanger tone, but it sure brightens the clean guitar sound up. Not all flangers are able to achieve that. That may be the biggest reason that Rolls Vibraflange turned me around. You may now think why i keep bringing that unit up in a FL-301 article. Because FL-301 can do the same things as Vibraflange.

And it can do those velcro airplanes, choruses and vibrato substitutions. With such a low number of controls, the versatility is amazing. From mild bright bringer to a vibe to a chorus to a velcro airplane. It’s all in there with a hint of yesterday and another hint of beauty. In a nutshell, this is a great sounding unit with certain special something going for it. I do think the 18V may have something to do with it.

Colorless writings, part 22 – NTS

March 29th, 2015

What now?

Short for Note To Self. I’ll keep it extremely short this time. Sort of a check list for myself. Got a pedal that’s not working?

  1. Double checked the power for polarity, voltage and sufficient current?
  2. Polarity protection?
  3. IC/transistor voltages?
  4. Probe.
  5. No signal at the board input? – It’s the switch (mechanical or electronic).
  6. No signal at first/second semiconductor? – Back to number 2…

That’s my standard which will yield results in debugging any circuit.

Also. Keep in mind that bad power supply (dead from pushing too much current or just otherwise dead/bad) is most likely the cause for your problems. Check that before doing anything else.

Also. If something looks physically broken, then there’s your problem.

There ain’t much information on this post, but i just felt i had to sort it out for myself. I’ll talk about something more interesting next time.

Danelectro DW-1 Dan-o-Wah

March 26th, 2015

DW1-DanoWah

What is it?
Danelectro DW-1 Dan O Wah. Made in china in around 1997.

I sourced this one a long time ago. If i recall correctly, i got it in a trade and there was (and still is) very little traces of use. Gee. I wonder why. That being my first thought about all Dano rocker pedals, i didn’t have too high hopes. I do recall this not working at all when it first arrived. After checking it, the only issue was just loose solder joint at the DC jack. Unit worked fine with a battery and that’s how the seller deemed it as “working”. Quick and simple fix later i was ready to do some more studying.

DW1-DanoWah-1

The outside of the unit is per the rest of the rocker pedals. Looking like a car and having it’s rubber feet looking like wheels. As the controls are not conventional pots, the idea of having the user manual printed in the bottom is not a bad one.

DW1-DanoWah-2

The number of features pictured in the manual shows that there must be more to the circuit than just a standard wah. After all, we are talking about six different wah voicings, all with and without added distortion and up octaves.

DW1-DanoWah-3

Opening the bottom plate confirms my suspicions. Yeah. This hasn’t been drawn over a coffee break. This amount of components and features is something that comes by once in a while, but it’s not your average “let’s just copy the cry baby and leave it at that”. I’m not going to dig too deep into how it is made. I do have my suspicions about the electronic design(s), but i’ll talk about those a bit later.

DW1-DanoWah-4

To begin with, the electronic design has number of switch circuits to select between the modes and banks. The idea of using “banks” in simple analog effect isn’t that common. The “exhaust pipes” act as push buttons that choose the wah mode and if the octave is added or not. Bank, wah and distortion can be turned on with the stomp switches on the front end. This means that the octave can be used in the other section of 60’s/70’s style modes and the second can be without it. Distortion can be engaged from the top buttons separately.

DW1-DanoWah-5

Through hole components on the wah/octave board seem nice. Mostly metalized polyester caps. If the enclosure was metal or just sturdier, this might have been a big hit. Other than  the enclosure, there is very little wrong with this effect.

How does it sound?
At first, pretty standard wah with couple of different voicings on the switches. Add the octave up and the good vibes are coming closer. Add the distortion, and we’re at tonal beach sipping ice cold pina coladas with no hurry to go anywhere. Wah tones are, well. Standard. Not too far off from your basic Cry Baby and/or Vox wahs. The distortion feels generic, but it works great with the wah. Now, when the distortion and octave are both added it’s almost like we have fOXX Tone machine paired with vintage wah. Not bad. But the platicky feel and utter unroadworthiness give their weight for the unit. Due to these shortcomings, DW-1 won’t ever reach the status the design would deserve. Close, but no cigar.

DOD FX101 Grind – Rectifying Overdrive

March 24th, 2015

DOD-FX101-Grind

What is it?
DOD FX101 Grind – Rectyfying Overdrive with EHO (Even Harmonic Overdrive). From FX-series, made in USA between 1996 and 1999.

I was under the impression that the circuit found here would be exactly the same as for FX100 Even Harmonic Overdrive with just very slight changes. Reason for this belief is due to America’s Pedal page for these two effects. Both released at the same time and sharing features, such as speaker emulated output and.. Well. The board design is the same. While the board is the same for both models and thus, they share parts of the topology, there are noticeable differences between the two. Just check the photos for the boards at America’s Pedal. FX100 and FX101. The label on the unit says “with EHO”, so there are many things that are the same – but not all.

I heard about Grind from a friend who told me that it was awesome when used in a feedback loop. This notion puzzled me a bit, since i was pretty certain the effect was the same as the sister pedal, EHO. Once i had a chance to aqcuire one, i went for it.

DOD-FX101-Grind-guts

Saddly, there’s no clear schematic available, factory or otherwise. It still is a distortion unit with two dual opamps. What comes to controls, we have imaginative names in place. Blast is out volume control. Rumble and Burn depict lows and highs. Gain/distortion control is called Fear. As the schematic is missing, i can’t confirm with much certainty, but i believe the EQ controls are gyrators. May the electronic design be whatever, the best part is…

How does it sound?
Fat and usable, good distortion that handles mild overdriven, boosted tones and goes all the way to glass shattering massive Marshall stack. The marketing puts more weight on the metal aspect, but this thing can really go from bluesy to cruel. Usually boxes with preception of being able to do these kind of things leave us half way, with at least second part of the two features either sounding bad or not working at all. Here, the effect is capable of handling modern output pickups too, without sounding bad. Sure, the tone is bigger with moderate/vintage pickups, but still. Good EQ-section and i’ve found myself using this much more than i expected. Mostly for doing my home demo recordings. But in case like this. The pedal being capable of giving out decent tones for base and leads. I don’t see much wrong with it.

As almost non-related side note – the label is definitely “with EHO”, not “with Echo” as some sources seem to refer.

Danelectro DE-1 Dan Echo

March 22nd, 2015

DE1-DanEcho

What is it?
Danelectro DE-1 Dan-Echo from Danelectro original series. Made in china, late 90’s.

I had one of these back in 2000, but sold it at some point. Once i had a chance to get one back for reasonable amount of cash, i grabbed it. These are in no way rare or scarce and anyone should be able to get one if one feels like getting it. The design has remained the same since 1996, but i believe these have been manufactured for a long time. I’ve not heard anything new from Dano since the Cool Cat series. According to Wikipedia, the Evets corporation,  which revived the brand in the 90’s, is currently focusing in limited edition guitars. I’m thinking the well selling units are still in production, while R&D has been dropped.

DE1-DanEcho-guts1

As with all the other units with this type of enclosure, there are two circuit boards. The bigger one holding the PT2395-based delay circuitry, switching and controls, while the smaller one has the in/out jacks and power connections. Switching is our standard CMOS electronic switching found in almost every Danelectro pedal (except for Cool Cat series, which has mechanical true bypass in place. But for others..)

DE1-DanEcho-guts2

The designs seems to be somewhat close to the application example found in PT2395 datasheet. Sure enough, the chip will not function in any other manner and the board size does give some limits to what the unit can have inside. Solid construction with slight flux residue. While construction is solid, it is still looking a lot like an average work found in mini effects series. Done fast and cheap.

DE1-DanEcho-guts3

One thing that surprised me was the power. As with just about every pedal with  digital chip in them, we have the supplied 9V for the signal path and a regulated drop to 5V for the digital chip. Not in here. The 9V doesn’t connect to anywhere else but to a regulator input, marked as C201 in the jack board. The 9V does not get to the main board at all. Just the regulated 5V, which is then used for operating the switch, buffers and mixing – in addition to supplying the power for PT2395. JRC4558 used in mixing does work fine with 5V, but all this still surprised me a bit.

DE1-DanEcho-guts4

What comes to controls, this puppy has quite versatile options. Maximum delay time is somewhere around 700ms and the high cut control can dial the classic tape-style sounds. Delay time mode is set with a toggle switch, like the datasheet suggested. The delay time control is named “speed”, which suggest a modeling of tape echo units. The repeats control is tuned to act like pristine effects. No noisy, endless feedbacks. Just decent guitar echo. In general, i’d call this feature rich standard delay with just a few minor caveats.

How does it sound?
Overall – good, if not great. The high cut, mentioned above, makes a huge difference between Boss DD-3-like sharp, metallic digital delay and soft vintage-like tones. But for me, i find it rather useful to have both worlds in a single box. The controls are good and while the digital chip offers low noise operation for the delay itself, the 5V for the opamps tend to distort the signal pretty badly when the unit is used with high output pickups. For vintage and moderate output pups there is nothing wrong with the tone. Solid sounds and good controls, the best feel is present when used for vintage delay sounds.. Good unit, and when we take the current street prices of used units into account, we really can’t go wrong with this pedal. Just keep in mind that the headroom is what you can get with 5V and the operation sucks with modern pickups. There is a good reason for the level of popularity.

EHX Memory Man with Hazarai XO

March 18th, 2015

EHX-XO-MMwHZ

What is it?
Electro Harmonix XO Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai. Made in new york in early 10’s.

Got this unit used with a defunct tag in a trade. I was sort of skeptical as most of the modern EHXs are just plain dead and there is very little that can be done. But i went for it anyway, out of curiosity. Pedal was and is in decent condition with a few marks of use. Since the old school lab supply on my desk can only put out 100mA i figured this wouldn’t the one to be tested on that supply. After checking the manual, i set up one of my old power supplies with 500mA output and tried the pedal out. Nothing. No sign of life. Oh well. These things can happen and some trades leave me on the win anyway, so getting one brick isn’t going make much of a difference. Still i wasn’t convinced. I took out my modern favourite power supply that can put out 1A if needed and tried again. Took the pedal about 20 seconds to perform its power on self tests, but this time everything seemed to be running smoothly.

EHX-XO-MMwHZ-guts1

I do recall running into similar issues with other all digital designs. If the circuit is fed with too low current, things can get weird. Seemed like the case with this one. My guess is that someone had used low current supply and this has caused the digital circuitry to act in an undesired manner. Others could still think that the unit is broken and i’m not disputing that. It’ll work just fine if it has a power supply that’s capable of satisfying its needs. The damage has been done and it’s not getting any younger. But it works.

As the photos show, there is very little us lumberjack-style effect enthusiast can do if the pedal is really dead. This is partially a sad thing as the people qualified to repair these things are scarce when compared to old through hole manufacturing methods. Meaning that there will number of units that will get trashed due to not being cheap or viable enough to repair when something goes wrong. One of the biggest culprits of modern times. Unsustainability.

EHX-XO-MMwHZ-guts2

In heart of it all lies an digital signal processor manufactured by Analog Devices. Yup. I’d call that an oxymoron. Although AD chips and processors are top notch and those tend to be used for many audio applications. This design is all digital and size of the chip tells us that it’ll beat your Commodore 64 in a heartbeat.

Next up i was to try the unit out, now that it was working. Five pots with a digital rotary switch and two stomps. Unit can be used as a standard delay, but that will leave a load of features out. We have our multi tap and reverse delays in addition to the expected ones. The looper function is in there too. I must admit i had to search for a user maual to get any real testing out of it. If you want an overview of the features, i suggest you do the same. It would take me quite a time to explain everything, so let’s just get on with it.

How does it sound?
Pristine. Designed in a manner that the unit could be usable with synths and organs as well as with guitars. Frequency responce doesn’t discriminate and the buffering at the beginning of the signal path doesn’t care wether you push it hard or with vintage guitar pickups. One could truly earn a cape of a wizard if one was to learn every feature and use them in a live set. Good clean tones and repeats are well controlled. This truly isn’t your average delay and i believe the designer has done his/her work by chasing the features that are not found on every single delay unit out there.

Sound good and works fine with suitable power supply. Some of the features still elope me, but that’s just me. You should try one out to see if you like it. For me, i’m a lumberjack.

Danelectro DW-2 Trip L Wah

March 16th, 2015

DW2-TripLWah

What is it?
Danelectro DW-2 Trip L Wah. Made in china between 1996 and 1999. This is one of three rocker pedals i’ve categorized as belonging to “Vintage Series”.

Enclosure design. The biggest thing that separates Danelectro from the rest. Same thing goes to their guitars and amps too. I’m under the impression that the old ones are good. The relaunch of the brand in 1996 made things fun, but with everything being cool, the quality control was trumped by low prices and volume of manufacturing. The Trip L Wah sure does look interesting. The unit looks like a car with zebra paint. This is the greatest and the most unique feature here.

DW2-TripLWah-1

The enclosure is made of cheap plastic and the designers have inarguably been after a special look instead of a usable, roadworthy pedal. Thickness of the plastic for the enclosure and as well as for the rocker board feel nowhere near sturdy. This feature drops the interest and user value to the mud for most. Me included. In other words, these pedals are entry-level toys, not real tools. The image below shows the real deal. The enclosure, including the metal bottom plate, is too lightweight to use. So Danelectro solved this by adding weight in form of metal bars.

DW2-TripLWah-2

Usually, if the Danelectro visual design is completely different, the insides offer weird features too. For this one, not so much. The name Trip L Wah made me think of something strange in vein of the “60’s series” hippie boxes. You know, like what the talk box, reverse delay and “sitar emulation” offer. But no. We have three different wah voicing modes in a single pedal. Disappointing? Yes.

DW2-TripLWah-3

Pretty standard and rather boring bass wah, treble wah and middle wah modes. So sadly, it isn’t TRIP l-wah, but just triple wah.Due to following, i had little interest in figuring out how it works or how it’s electronically made.

How does it sound?
Rather dull. Three voicing modes, but this still offers nothing that you can’t get out of any other cheap wah. And those usually come in big metal boxes that can take years of use on the road. This wouldn’t last a weekend minitour. But it does make a real cool looking practice pedal for those who want to, well. Practice with their socks on. Decent tones for bedroom wahhin’. But if we’re honest, this serves the best as a decorative item. Sort of like a prelude for the Fab series in terms of enclosure plastic thickness. Cool looking thing to have, but next to useless.

DOD 280 Compressor

March 15th, 2015

DOD-280-Comp

What is it?
DOD 280 Compressor. Made in USA, 1979.

Late 70’s DOD classic. This particulat unit had mean pumping sound that made it pretty much unusable. So the previous owner had it modded by me. Instead of doing something permanent and killing the heart of the tone with extensive modding, i simply solved the pumping by other means. The box itself, by appearance, would definitely make you think about MXR Dyna Compressor and its big sister, the Ross Compressor. But this assumption would be completely wrong. Even though the box layout is the same, the guts are nothing alike. Dyna and Ross both rely on the OTA, while 280 is an optical design. The schematic can be found by using any internet search engine and there are number of slightly different versions around. You should check them out for yourself, if you’re interested.

Back to the mod. Like i said, the effect was just way too steep to call it even remotely usable. The LDR simply attenuated the attack too much, even when the compression control was set at minimum. The opamp was taking the LDR’s control too heavily, so i figured that the best way to make this more usable was to add a trimmer pot in series with the LED that controls the LDR inside the VTL5C2 Vactrol. I added the trimmer after the 4k7 resistor, leaving this resistor in place. So that once the trimmer was set at minimum, the effect would be exactly like it was before this mod. This simple procedure made the controls a lot better. Maxing the controls can still be too much for most compressor users, but this solved most of the issue. In this session i also swapped a new battery snap to replace the broken one and added a modern standard power jack. After all, it did fit.

DOD-280-Comp-guts

Looking at the guts, this is definitely a beauty. Real heart warming old school manufacturing. The design itself is something that may have been influenced by older Ibanez optical compressors of the seventies. Meaning that the main amplifier takes care of the compression with gain modulation controlled by the output signal. The trigger for the Vactrol is taken care by two transistors and half of a opamp. I’m not convinced that the design is completely copied from  elsewhere. Knobs on mine do not look like the original ones, but they do look reasonably good here.

Working units of this age always make me feel good. Like everything wasn’t already lost.

How does it sound?
Big and fat. Capable of boosting even the hottest pickups with clean, almost hi-fi definition. While the mod described above makes the attack time range (or depth) of the effect way more usable, the word here would still be – a classic. I think it may have been due to wide availability of OTA chips that killed the optical designs, but nowadays there are several manufacturers doing Vactrol controlled devices again.The OTAs may have been cheaper, but they never did quite catch the behavior of a light controlled circuits. So in all. Amazing box by its design, manufacturing and most important of all – the sound.

There is 2014 released reissue out. I may need to get one someday and compare.

Ibanez SD9M Sonic Distortion Mod

March 8th, 2015

Ibanez-SD9M

What is it?
Ibanez SD9M Sonic Distortion Mod from the modern 9-serie “reissue” line. Made in china, early 10’s

I still haven’t been able to score the original, classic Sonic Distortion for a reasonable price, but i did manage to find this one a while back. And as usual, i needed to see what it’s made of. The box  is a modern version of the familiar classic with a battery door and four screw fixed bottom plate. Followed by a insulating plastic between the circuit board and the plate. The circuit is fastened to the box with another screw. What  comes to the board itself, this looks like all the modern 9-serie boards. More modern than vintage units, but still quite neat.

Ibanez-SD9M-guts1

Similarities with the other new niners continue once the main board is lifted. Everything is board mounted, but still keep the feel high. Offboard wires are connected with plastic terminals to keep the manual labour in reasonable scale. As with 7-series, all the different parts have their own circuit boards. One for main board, one for control pots and one for each in/out jack. In this case, even the two toggle switches have their own PCBs.

Ibanez-SD9M-guts2

What comes to the design, there is a traced schematic (sans switching circuitry) up at Aion’s page. When compared against the original, non-mod version, there are a number of differences, while a few key parts are in tact. Both versions have a transistor based input buffers, followed by a gain amplifier opamp channel. Next up, tis version has a gain switch which sets the gain from normal no amplification in one position to the second which has 10 times the level. After those it’s the hard clipping diodes shunt to ground and the tone control. The not completely different to big muff tone stack section has also a switch for swapping a cap value for the one that handles the low pass filter.

Ibanez-SD9M-guts3

After those, the mod version has a half of an opamp for output buffer, which is not present in the original. In other words, the modifications to the original circuit are more than just added two switches which are the most visible changes to the pedal. These are gain and mids modes that alter the signal level before the hard clipping stage and the low pass filter on the tone stack. In a sense the design is clean boosting opamp driver stage, followed by a Rat styled hard clipping, followed by a Big Muff style tone control. Rest of it isn’t affecting the tone as much as those building blocks. What’s more interesting is that…

How does it sound?
While i do not have the original SD9 at the time writing this, i’ve played around with the circuit on a breadboard and cloned it. If my aural memory serves me even remotely right, there is still the same powerful and neat distortion present for both models. Soaring and definitely usable. But for the added gain and versatility for this mod version, we have a very nice distortion tones that are very much relevant today. High gain mode can still boost the modern high output pickups while still sounding great. And the non-boosted mode will give the sound and feel of the original SD9. Although it’s all relatively simple and there isn’t any super high wow-factor in the design, i was blown away when i first tried the circuit. It may be due to its simplicity, but man it sounds great. Recommended pedal to try out.

Boss MZ-2 Digital Metalizer

March 8th, 2015

Boss-MZ2

What is it?
Boss MZ-2 Digital Metalizer from Boss Compact series. Made in japan, july 1988.

Now, since i’ve lately been looking at these late 80’s analog/digital hybrids, this may be a decent unit to continue with. We are looking at Boss’ take on the distortion plus delay/chorus effects that were widely available back in the day. DOD had it’s own as “Hard Rock Distortion” and Ibanez shuffled the deck with its Session Man pedals. I’m quite sure there were others trying to take the markets too. There sure was i time and demand for this kind of combination back then. While the competition had the delay and chorus lines done mostly by analog methods, Boss aimed for the moon and made it digital, while leaving the distortion part analog.

Once the bottom plate is removed, my reaction was to freeze for a few seconds. Wow. Part of the traces look like good old japanese hand drawn beauty, but the digital signal processor’s small traces try to keep up with the old school design. Those thin, round traces at the right hand side of the DSP look very pleasing.

Boss-MZ2-guts1

As with other digital Boss pedals of the era, the mixture of through hole components and SMD parts is in place. In addition to having two separate, stacked boards to accommodate everything. While these combo effects do not interest me all that much, i must say i find this unit very appealing.

Boss-MZ2-guts2

What comes to controls, we have our basic three knob layout for the distortion part, including gain/distortion, tone and volume. The digital section has only presets for being off, having couple of different choruses and delays on or off at the same time. Lack of more controls to the digital part feels kind of boring, but the presets are actually quite good. Sadly, i couldn’t find a schematic of the analog board to confirm how the distortion part is made up. I think there may be similarities with other Boss distortions, but there must be something different in there too.

How does it sound?
Very much usable distortion. Kind of like DS-2, but with certain amount of personality thrown in. For the distortion side, this may very well be one rare boss effects with a real personality. They could have offered the distortion part as a separate pedal, but since the modulation/delay can be turned off, it doesn’t matter all that much. For the delay and chorus modes.. Well. If you want the sound of a late 80’s hair metal lead solo for your tapping pleasures, this is the pedal that you really need. It is fun to play around with this. Sure enough, it kicks the living daylights out of the competition.

I’m sort of glad that this type of combination isn’t “in” here in the mid-2010s. This is due to change once someone rediscovers the MZ-2 and manages to make a hit with it…