EHX Lumberjack Log Overdriver

April 21st, 2014

EHX-Lumberjack

What is it?
Electro Harmonix Lumberjack Log Overdriver. Made in NYC. According to the serial number, this unit has been manufactured in 2013.

Someone was selling this one as next to new unit for an ok price. As some of you may already know, i’m not a EHX fanboy. At all. Other than Big Muffs and a few odd birds, the EHX designs tend to reach for the skies. Only to find their hand stuck in a pile on manure. Meaning that the designs are always trying to break the limits and to come up with something profound – but usually ending up as a novelty special effects rather than a good sounding, usable guitar pedals. The official youtube demo shows a professional guitarist praising the sound. But somehow i think i sense a hint of doubt in his presence. There’s also a short part with a bass on that demo. Anyway. As usual, i ripped the bottom plate open as soon as the unit landed on my desk. Demos suggested the unit be be somewhat a modernized overdrive version of the bad old Gretsch Controfuzz. The controls Volume and Boost do what you expect them to. The Log Factor adds distant background distortion in the spirit of the Controfuzz, but doing  it in a post 1980 manner.

EHX-Lumberjack-guts

Nope. That’s not anything like Controfuzz. There are five dual opamps and a few transistors in there. While i was hoping that this would possibly be something simple, something i could use to learn’a thing or two, tthe reality hit me hard. With the sound the unit has, and the complexity of the circuit.. No. I’ll just screw the bottom plate back on and put this back to its original retail cardboard box. It can stay there and wait if the sound will have any merit after couple of decades of waiting. On a brighter side, the unit does come with a power supply. So all of the money wasn’t completely wasted.

How does it sound?

Horrible. The Overdrive never grows to be completely around. Instead, there’s always clean signal present. So as an overdrive effect for the guitar, i must say that this is definitely one of the worst. For a bass? Haven’t tried it for myself yet, but there is some hope for this being a decent (or maybe even great) bass pedal.

Makes me wonder.  If a design goes south due to blatant over engineering, why do they keep marketing it as something that it clearly isn’t? Now, slap a sticker with “For Bass” on top of the retail box and it might sell. There is a chance that over engineering has resulted is cutting some of lower frequencies off. If that’s the case, then this unit isn’t suitable for anything.

Except for novelty special effect.

Ibanez FC10 Fat Cat Distortion

April 18th, 2014

FC10

What is it?
Ibanez FC10 Fat Cat Distortion from Power series. Made in japan between 86-89.

The first Ibanez take to replicate the ProCo Rat was a success of its own. A buffered Rat with standard Ibanez electronic JFET switching. Sure there are numerous other Ibanez takes on the Rat later on, most with more drastic changes on the designs, but this one – It’s pretty much one to one with the original Filter control reversed to act as a more commonly used tone configuration. Solid dull traces and everything is as everything is with most of the Power series boxes.

FC10-guts1

There are various schematics available, but from the experience, the one at Dirk’s page is the correct one. The board has a lot of room on it. The switching section is located at the lower left corner, so the size of the effect itself is just small. Due to asymmetry of the component layout, this one gets a harsh judgement from me. There’s enough room to paint pictures with the layout, but no.

The chip in the Fat Cat is JRC5534 single opamp, which has the needed compensation and balance features. Those are, however, in between other pins than in the original choice in Rats, the LM308. So one can’t turn his/her FC10 into 1:1 Rat by just swapping the opamp to ProCo specs.

FC10-guts2

For the units i’ve seen on sale, they all went immediately. I don’t think the unit is that rare, it just seems like it is very desired distortion. And by considering the sound, i do get it.

How does it sound?
Like a Rat with a way higher input impedance. Meaning that your pups won’t load as much as they do on the original Rat/Rat2. Aside from Tone control working in more conventional manner, there just isn’t too much of a difference to the sound. The changes are for the better, so this might be a nice option. If you can, get one. For cheaper than a reissue ProCo Rat/Rat2 that is.

Danelectro DJ-17 PB & J Delay

April 15th, 2014

DJ17-PBJ

What is it?
Danelectro DJ-17 PB & J (peanut butter & jelly) Delay from mini series. Made in china around early 00′s.

I thought i was getting a slightly used unit through ebay listing. Apparently not. It is in original blister packaking with only one of the corners slightly torn. Packaking indicates that this unit the early Mini series pedal. Later ones all came in cardboard boxes. As there is a little collector in me, you can take a guess if i’m tearing this one open? Hell no. So. This time i won’t be able to offer any analysis on the circuit. I may need to get another unit. One that has been already opened to do that. So this is probably one of the shortest pedal posts i’m ever going to publish.

If i ever come across a used one, i might update theis post. But for now. Just look at the ~12 year old thing in it’s original packaging. Beautiful, isn’t it?

How does it sound?
I have no idea. It has two stomp switches to change the delay time on the go, but as it is still mint in unopened blister pack, i’m obviously not able to try it out.

Ibanez MT10 Mostortion

April 13th, 2014

MT10

What is it?
Ibanez MT10 Mostortion MOS-FET Distortion from Power series. Made in Japan, late 80′s.

As the Ibanez Power series pedals come, there aren’t that many original designs that have risen into cult status and are priced as such on the used pedal market. The MT10 Mostortion is one of those, filling this void with OT10 Octaver. Both of these are sort of one offs in the Ibanez back catalog. Where the OT10 is the only Octave effect from Ibanez, the MT10 is the only MOSFET (metal oxide semiconductor field effect transistor) based overdrive/distortion and it has three band EQ as well. I try to think of other Ibanez driver pedals with Bass/Mids/Treble controls.. Nothing comes to mind (ok, the Tubeking distortion etc. but let’s just say that three band EQs are not a standard Ibanez way of doing things). Saw this unit for sale with a reasonable price and i just couldn’t let it go.

MT10-guts1

There’s some visual magic going on with the traces. Normally i would dismiss traces like this with a snarky “meh” comment, but not this time. Maybe it’s just how all the components are distributed nice and even all across the board, instead of super-engineering the left upper corner  and leave everything else blank. The schematic is up at ToneHome, and it shows how the EQ is made. Pretty cool to see something of a standard three band EQ drawn like that. Base topology is a buffer -> clipping amp -> three band EQ -> EQ recovery amp and an output buffer. Quite standard, but still something we won’t run into everyday.

MT10-guts2

It’s the opamp that makes this a MOSFET desing. Harris CA3260 to be exact. This obsolete amplifier may be the biggest reason why this design doesn’t have reissues and the number of available clones is low too. This, at least in part, would also explain the prices these currently sell for.

How does it sound?
The sound is definitely one of the factors affecting the prices. From slight, cool boosting overdrive to harsh and cold metallic distortion. Way more versatile than the first modern box i would compare this to – the ZVex Distortron. Overall tone also reminds me of a Marshall MOSFET 100 Lead head’s distortion channel. There’s this MOS signature sound going on that some people just love. It does have a face and sound of its own. Which is only a very good thing. I don’t think we really need that many more TS sounding boxes in the world. Besides. This simply rocks.

DOD FX12 Tuna

April 10th, 2014

DOD-FX12-Tuna

What is it?
DOD FX12 Tuna. Guitar and bass tuner pedal. Made in USA around 1996-98. The enclosure is in line with the last US made series and the original box doesn’t have “made is USA” printed on it. There is no chinese made “V” version in existence. I’m thinking that the box was designed without “made in” notion, because it was planned to continue manufacturing FX12 in china with other VFX models.

DOD Tuna is one of the first pedal tuners to hit the stores in 90′s. The idea and purpose is there, but the reason why these units were basically butchered in sales when compared to Boss TU-2 is clear. It is a bad tuner. Collectible? Maybe, but a useful tuner? No. Also, that may be the reason why this design never made it to the chinese mass production in the end of 90′s. The fishnet paint is cool.

DOD-FX12-Tuna-guts

The guts seem well made and the aesthetics of the whole pedal are nice. It’ s not bad looking box at all. But sadly, all the good things end there.

How does it sound?
It’s a tuner so it doesn’t exactly sound like anything. It’s not even supposed to. It’s supposed to show you the frequency and note on the LEDs. It does that. Sort of. When i tried to tune my guitar with this unit, it showed every string to be in tune. When i strummed a chord.. No. Annoying little thing. I’m keeping this as a collectible novelty and a historical item. But to use it? One needs to be completely insane to even think about using this on his or her board. It is crap.

Tokai TMD-2 Metaldriver

April 7th, 2014

Tokai-TMD2-MetalDriver

What is it?
Tokai TMD-2 Metaldriver from Tokai Z-II Super Effects series. Made in japan somewhere around early to mid 80s.

Saw this on sale and couldn’t let the guy rest until we had a reasonable deal on the unit. I’ve been into pedals for a few years at the time of writing this, but i had never before ran into Tokai branded pedals. Which of course piqued my interest right away. For some reason these units do not seem to be hot, or they may be too hot. Very few units are available through usual internet auctions. As most of the items from the 80s with labels “Tokai” and “Japan” are instant collectibles with hefty price tags, the effect pedals by Tokai Gakki seem to sell for cheap – at least if you happen to find one for sale.

Now, first thing i noticed was that the knobs have been replaced. Wouldn’t have noticed it if it weren’t for Effectsdatabase. As the knobs are simple push-on type that tend to become loose with sunken 15mm T18 shafts, my guess is that one of the originals went missing at some point and one of the previous owners simply replaced the knobs with something that simply fits. It’s not that bad and i can live with the “error”. Next up, the Tokai Z-II series logo on the stomp lid’s rubber… Wow. Man. I mean Wow. Instant flashbacks from playing Ikari Warriors and Operation Wolf back in 1989. With all the rest about the outer shell correct, my hopes for the unit kept rising.

Tokai-TMD2-MetalDriver-guts1

Under the bottom plate, there’s a 30 year old piece of cardboard acting as an insulator between the bottom plate and the board. The board being thick, strong and hand designed. Exactly like most of the japanese units from that era. The reason why so many of the units from that era are praised. Looking at the components give out some details, like Sharp 94558 opamp (which i’m guessing is a Sharp’s make of the JRC4558), standard signal diodes in clipping formation and a few FETs for buffers. Looking at the pots, the overall design brings Pearl OD-5 to mind. One of the pots is a dual gang, which acts as a giveaway. The controls for Level and Drive are self-explanatory. The Bright controls acts as your standard tone control with opening the high end when turned clockwise. The Frequency control is a powerful EQ control that cuts the bass on CW and treble on the CCW. I’ll leave the technical design at rest for the moment. I’m sure i’ll revisit the board with a magnifying glass at some point…

Tokai-TMD2-MetalDriver-guts2

On the outside, the enclosure has a lot in common with Boss housings. But once the box is opened, the harsh reality unfolds. It is in fact a thin aluminum enclosure. Thinner than Bosses. I don’t see any reason why this shouldn’t be able to take a few years on the road, but it is still a lot weaker housing than many other boxes of the era. I must say that near par enclosure design is the weakest link in this unit. So it can’t be all bad?

How does it sound?
And it isn’t. Soundwise it is somewhat close to Pearl OD-5. Without doing any footwork on the design, i strongly suspect that it is in fact a Pearl OD-5 with a marketing twist. Does it sound like a decent and usable overdrive? Yes it most certainly does. With gain maxed, level at 12 o’clock, bright at near max and frequency at the middle it sounds very, very good overdrive. Where as thrashers tend to love old TS9s in front of Marshall JCM800s, this, in my opinion, should serve a lot better in that situation. The controls let you even get decent mild, bluesy overdrive tones out of it. Versatile overdrive box with good EQ/Tone controls. Now does it instantly give out the “Metal” sound? No. It doesn’t. But it is still a very good sounding unit.

Ibanez EM5 Echo Machine

April 4th, 2014

What’s a better way to continue after DL5 than the other delay/echo from the same series…

EM5

What is it?
Ibanez EM5 Echomachine in plastic enclosure from later soundtank series. Made in taiwan around 1997-99.

The Internet Archive’s wayback machine has a snapshot of Ibanez site from june 1997 and on that page there is a mention the EM5 being the new and exciting pedal in the series of 18 different pedals Yes, 18. So it’s safe to assume that all the existing EM5s were manufactured in between 1996-1999, since all Soundtank production was taken over in 1999 by the next series – the Tone-Loks. In addition to those 18, the rest of the Soundtanks are in fact from the original, metal housed Soundtank series of six different dirt pedals. Namely PL5, TM5, CM5, SF5, CR5 and MF5. Only four of those made it to the plastic series as a continuation, the four being TM5, CM5, PL5 and SF5 (which had it’s model name revised to FZ5). So the latter Soundtank series produced 14 new designs to the bowl and it left out the super good Crunchy Rhythm and super bad Modern Fusion. Sort of like a ski jumping scores. You leave the best and the worst out.. All this should total at 20 different designs. Maybe i should write a Colorless Writings episode about soundtanks at one point. Or maybe even start a new writing series on history of some brands…

Ok. Let’s get back to business. The EM5 Echo Machine is a digital tape echo simulation delay/echo. I got this unit from the bass player of Versus All (huge thanks to Jason!) in perfect, nearly unused condition. Opening the bottom plate up shows your standard modern Soundtank traces. This time somewhat neater work on the joints than most other taiwanese Soundtanks. And the board is pretty crowded.

EM5-guts1

The digital chip responsible for the sounds is Mitsubishi M65831AP. Like many other Mitsubishi chips utilized by Ibanez, this one is too one of those you may find in many karaoke devices. The dual opamps used for buffering and mixing are C4570C, which are not your average choice, but they do perform quite well in this circuit. The schematic for the effect is up at Free Info Society.

EM5-guts2

As stated above, the EM5 Echomachine was apparently manufactured only for about two years, which means that the number of unit produced is somewhat low. Lots of maybe’s on that last sentence, but that’s all based on the little information that is available. If this is the case (and it probably is), these units should be quite valuable. At least when comparing to PL5 Power Lead or TS5 Tubescreamer which were the two most selling designs on the series. But then again. The TL5 Tremolo isn’t as valuable as it should be, so why this one should stand out?

How does it sound?
Like an angry tape echo unit gone slightly mad with the tightness. The sound is without a doubt one of the best digital tape echo emulators of its day and it has not been killed by time, not even now. It has tightness that sounds personal. Nice collectible, and most of all, usable unit.

Ibanez DL5 Digital Delay

April 1st, 2014

DL5

What is it?
Ibanez DL5 Digital Delay from later Soundtank series. Made in taiwan in mid 90′s.

More from the better side of the palsticky soundtank series. These units are well used by almost everyone. It’s rare to see of these in mint condition and mine isn’t exception. Some wear and nicks, but otherwise clean look. Taking the bottom plate off shows a board layout with one big chip in there. Could it be…

DL5-guts1

Yes. The Ibanez’ weapon of choice for digital delay circuitry. Mitsubishi M50195 with 4164 DRAM chip as an companion. It may be more complex by the design than most current PT2399 based delays, but to my ears, it’s not any worse. On the contrary. Check the schematic and see for yourself. One is online and can be found via google. There are couple 5218A opamps that take care of the mixing and buffering.

DL5-guts2

Board features standard Ibanez JFET swicthing with 74HCU04 logic chip and a trimmer to handle delay time range. The board is in good use with not much free space. Neat. Indeed.

How does it sound?
Warmer than most competitors with a hit status. Nice analog feel to it, but with a lot less noise and sharper sounding control to repeats than  BBD-clocked analog counterparts. It does wide range of delay timing and can be mixed all the way up to being almost 100% wet. No wonder it’s still a popular and widely used pedal. Good delay with simple controls. Max the repeats and you’re off to noise land with neverending feedback.

Colorless writings, part 9 – The Switcheroo

March 31st, 2014

Back on the subject of bypass switching are we?

Partially yes. But i think i’d like to say thing or two more about switches in general. Actually. I was sitting on my desk that i use as work bench and killing myself with a build. That’s when the title of today’s Colorless Writings came to me.

As i personally hand-wire everything in my builds, i only use switches with solder lugs. In the time i’ve built and repaired pedals, i must have soldered on way more than 600 switches altogether by today. At first, these mechanical components seem solid. But if you take a closer look of how those are made, you might convince yourself that the first impression isn’t as accurate as you thought.The pins/lugs are held in with plastic housing. Now, those may seem sturdy enough, but when you’re soldering your wires to those lugs and apply just a little too much heat and pressure, you can see and feel the lug moving. Once the lug moves a fraction of a millimetre, the structural integrity is compromised. In a sense, those components are probably the most fragile thing in any build. I don’t want to think how many semiconductors i’ve soldered on in all this time, but never burned any transistors by accident (yet). But have i burned switches? Many. And if we count the ones that have landed back on my desk with them becoming faulty after six months of use, there are a few more. Someone on the mighty interwebs said that firm, decisive and quick is the way to go with all the switches. I couldn’t agree more.

How do the switches work?

The most common toggle and stomp switches we use for pedals are SPST, SPDT, DPDT and 3PDT (of course there are others as well…). Next you might ask what do these initialisms mean. Well:

  • SPST – Single Pole Single Throw
  • SPDT – Single Pole Double Throw
  • DPDT – Dual Pole Double Throw
  • 3PDT – Triple Pole Double Throw

As you might have guessed, the SP/DP/3P part means how many vertical poles the switch has. The second part tells us the effective “throws”, or positions. This may be a bit misleading, since there are different ways the toggle connects the lugs. First, the SPST has only two lugs. The other position has these two lugs connected and the other has them apart. Simple, right? But then we get to the SPDT which has three lugs. There are two different toggle types of this switch. On-On and On-Off-On. Meaning that there’s actually three effective throws on the On-Off-On switch. One position connects the middle lug to the upper lug, other connects the middle lug to the lower lug. Middle position connects nothing to nothing. The DPDT has six lugs and those work exactly like the lugs on the SPDT, except that there are two vertical poles that both respond to the same flick of that switch. Same thing with 3PDT. The nine lugs represent three different poles that all connect or disconnect the same way as SPDT. There are just three of those vertical poles connecting and disconnecting at the same time. 4PDT has four poles, but those too act in the same way. Different poles can be used to connect and disconnect different things on a circuit – for a single flick. I’ve drawn a memory guide for myself a long time ago. It also includes the pot lug numbering convention that i’ve adopted for my use.

Other types of switches you might find on a pedal are tactile or momentary switches, rotary switches and possibly On-On-On types.

The tactile and or momentary switches are very common and usually used in electronic bypass switching circuitry. These come usually in two different configurations. Namely NO and NC. These mean that there is always only one “pole” that is either connected or unconnected when the button isn’t pressed. NO is short for Normally Open (not connected) and NC is short for Normally Closed (connected). Now, when you push a button that is NO, the connection is made for the time you are pushing the button. Once you release your hold, the connection is gone. Momentary switches come in all the variation of different numbers of poles with usual On-On configuration. I haven’t seen this kind of switches on pedals, since the circuitry behind the 3PDT momentary switch is usually complex – unless it is used for momentary feedback or mute control.

The rotary switches are fun. These come in many, many different configurations. For example, 2P6T and 4P12T. First part of the type “code” is for the number of poles. Usual number of poles are one, two and four. Second part tells us how many positions the pole can have. 6T is for six turns and 12T is for 12 turns. Common boutique use for these switches is to place different cap values or different clipping diode arrangements on the turns. For the cap value switching, the simplest example would be the good ‘ol Rangemaster with 1P6T switch. On that configuration, the input of the circuit should be placed on the middle pin. Then the board should have six different values for the input cap. Let’s say 4n7, 10n, 22n, 47n, 120n and 470n. All those caps need to have the other lead at the transistor’s base, while the other leads connect to the six lugs on the switch. This way the Rangemaster can be used from treble booster to bassy wide range booster and everything in the middle. There are, of course, numerous different pole and turn variations of these switches available.

The one type that’s quite rarely used in a pedal is the DPDT On-On-On switch. There are exceptions. You may have come across one of these switches in your time. Most Les Pauls, SGs, 335s and basically any of the guitars with two humbuckers have this type of switch for the pickup selector. The up and down settings work exactly like in On-On switch, but the middle position is different. While down position connects middle lugs to the upper lugs and up position connects the middle lugs to lower lugs, the middle position has fthe first pole’s middle lug connected to upper lug and the second pole’s middle lug is connected to lower lug. This gives out even more switching options than the previous types.

Yamaha MBD-20M Multiband Distortion

March 29th, 2014

Yamaha-MBD20MII

What is it?
Yamaha MBD-20M Multiband Distortion. Made in japan around mid 80′s.

Got this unit from a guitar guru J. Lindén some months ago. He was selling the unit for a very decent price and i almost did let it go. We were at some gig back then and he said to me that “you’re stupid if you don’t take it”. So i did. Reason i wasn’t too interested on the unit at first was the non-uniform size of the pedal. I do dig those Yamaha 10MII-series pedals quite a lot, but this one has a lot wider footprint than the other pedals in the series. But am i glad i got it? Yes.

Yamaha-MBD20MII-guts1

As most of the 80′s japanese pedals, there is nothing negative i can say about the design or the board. As usual with the Yamaha pedals, the quality of soldering and box design is very nice to say at least. I couldn’t find a schematic for the circuit, but There is some information about the box on Effectsfreak.com. Apparently, the design has two separate distortions on board. One distorting the lower frequencies and the other for highs. There are two Panasonic AN6555 low noise dual op-amps to give out the gain.

Yamaha-MBD20MII-guts2

The circuit is spread on two separate boards. One for main switching and the other for the controls and a bit more.. The controls are your average distortion box controls, “Out Level”, “Distortion” and “Tone”. With addition of “Balance” which mixes the low and high distortion bands together. There are obious reasons for why the world needs a distortion with blended bands. First of all the low and high frequecies clip differently. So pushing all of the audible 20Hz – 20KHz frequencies through the harmonic clipping diodes witll result in some parts of the range clipping better the others. This is highly affected by the types of diodes used.

Yamaha-MBD20MII-guts3

Even thought the idea of multiband clipping/distortion isn’t offering a huge wow factor, it is still quite ingenious. And of all the pedals i’ve dealt with – this is rather unique method of controlling how the distortion affects the guitar’s signal. Should it be unique? I think not. It is a very good idea and it probably should be used more on the boutique world.

How does it sound?
At first the feeling on the sound is quite baffling. Only thing i count as a plus is the definition and clarity. But more i play with the box the more it gives out. Level, Dist and Tone controls are your standard bread, offering nothing too interesting. Just sufficient output level and and good range on the Tone. The distortion control goes from high gain distortion to higher gain distortion and i wouldn’t call the minimum setting an overdrive anytime soon.

Then we come to the Balance control. From muddy low band distortion to clear, open wide band distortion to cutting high mids/high distortion. Versatility is enough for many purposes from sort of emulating JCM800 driven over limits for rhythm parts and the screeching high gain lead sounds that are able to cut temepered glass.

It does sound good.