Acid Age Electronics Pale Mare

November 22nd, 2014

AcidAge-PaleMare

What is it?
Acid Age Electronics Pale Mare Fuzz Device. Made in USA and judging by the serial number, the unit is most likely made in 2013.

Seems like Acid Age electronics came to be after the brand Earthbound Audio seized to exist. And Acid Age Electronics seized to exist later and currently there is a brand called Earthbound Audio. Confusing, isn’t it? Either way, the pedal landed on my desk in a trade. Sure i was interested in the box, but not enough to have spent the money foolks were asking for it. Little did i know. The marketing texts online are pretty straight forward and honest about the design. According to that text, the design is a derivate of old Roland BeeBaa fuzz. That’s something you don’t see too often. And next point for my “little did i know” phrase comes real when the bottom plate of this beautiful, screen printed, black prism colored, powder coated enclosure is removed.

AcidAge-PaleMare-guts

When i get my hands on a small brand pedal, this is what i want to see. A quality build with no corners cut and no money or time saved on stuff that really matters. Sadly, this isn’t what i usually see. The usual hack jobs give a bad name for small brands, but seeing something like Pale Mare restores a bit of hope for the humanity. I don’t have any deeper insight for the circuit yet. I may have to study this unit with a magnifying glass soon. Still. The board looks very well made and the hand wired parts look like the guy who build this is truly passionate in creating pedals.

I must say that i’m not a fan of two stomp switches on a vertically aligned 125B sized box, as that takes extra effort for aiming. And that’s not something i want to do on gig. Basic controls are level, tone and gain. First switch is the bypass. The second switch activates the Voice control, which seems to affect the fuzzy gain of the middle frequencies. In other words, this feature adds a boost that can be used to kick the tone a bit louder. Nothing earth shattering about the controls, but i still can’t get my mind off of the neat build quality and overall greatness of the design. What’s worse, now that i know AAE, nowadays Earthbound Audio, produces this kind of high end builds for very decent prices, i can easily see myself getting another one from his catalog. And what’s even worse…

How does it sound?
This sounds just beautiful. I myself have tinkered with BeeBaa circuit and have loved it from the first second i heard its tone. This does not sound like a clone of Roland BeeBaa, but there is some of that magical mush fuzz in in there that definitely has its roots in the BeeBaa. Overall, this sounds just thicker and more modern than its idol. Fair and usable upgrade to the vintage design. In my opinion it’s always better to redesign and recycle obscure old circuits than to tweak the Big Muff and the Tubescreamer, and to claim those as a new and an original designs. Back to the subject at hand.. The controls have full working range, meaning that there is usable tones in every possible setting. And the Voice control/switch adds more content to the tone when activated. Just amazing fuzz. It has very little to do with the fuzz faces or big muffs, but it lands a lot closer to mushroom cloud blasts that are usually associated with stranger sounding 60’s and 70’s boxes.

For its sound, design and build quality. This is the shit. Probably the greatest small brand pedal i’ve ever had.

Bespeco Weeper

November 20th, 2014

Bespeco-Weeper

What is it?
Bespeco Weeper Wah/Volume pedal. Made in italy, sometime in the 90’s.

Nothing comes cheaper than this. Oh well. This may not be entirely correct thing to say. At one point i bought a Daphon Wah, just for its enclosure. I thought i could use that for some wah/distortion project, so i had zero hopes for that one. While i thought the Weeper was the worst plastic thing there is.. I was wrong. Daphon took the number one spot. Plus, one can score Weepers for 10 bucks as used, while Daphons cost a noticeable amount more. And i’ve rarely seen Daphon wahs as used, but i think 5-6 bucks should be a correct amount of money for one. Anyway. This Bespeco is italian made, but the brand hasn’t been too interested in being a follower of italian quality product manufacturers. I think the extremely low retail price has been the highest priority in designing process. But that must have gone wrong at some point. Labor intensity of all that wiring does not look cheap to execute.

Bespeco-Weeper-guts

As the gut shot shows, the dual pot is for wah and volume, according to which side the switch is. The sweep of the pot is very nice. Well on par with a Cry Baby. So we have our dual pot, input and output jacks, a dc jack and a circuit equipped with open coil inductor and two transistors. That’s it. Sometimes simple is beautiful. On this particular effect, not so much. The plastic takes the greatness away too easily. No matter what it sounds like, there will always be folk why won’t touch this due to its super cheap housing.

How does it sound?
Not bad actually. The super cheap feel doesn’t reach its claws to the wah tone. Want to hear something outrageous? This plastic puppy sounds better than low end Cry Baby or Vox wahs. If this was housed in thick aluminum instead of cheap molded plastic, i think this could have been a reasonable hit. So, if you’re looking for a super cheap wah to use in your home studio, this  is the one. Definitely the best wah you can get for 10 units of any of the biggest currencies.

Nux AS3 Modern Amp Simulator

November 17th, 2014

Nux-AS3-MAS

What is it?
Nux AS3 Modern Amp Simulator. Made in china around mid to late 00’s

I don’t know what it is. I really can’t point my finger to one particular thing on these and say; “this is why i like Nux Effects!”. But i do. Or least i did. I recall talking to people about how Nux is the solid brand that can turn the low brand value, cheap chinese pedals around. Unless they decide to start OEM’ng their designs to other brands that have low brand value to begin with. This, one of my mildest nightmares came into reality in mid october 2014. I noticed that at least one chinese retailer was offering the Force and Core series effects with another brand name. No. Please don’t do that. Nux was the only modern chinese brand that didn’t have a six year old graphic designer and they didn’t save money on all the wrong places (just on few key places, but not on all). That day was very sad day for me. But what can i do? Nothing. So let’s just forget that misfortune for now and focus on the unit on hand.

This Cherub/Nux series that i like to call “The First Series” hasn’t let me down yet. The overall feel of the boxes is solid and firm. The cheapest feel comes from the battery compartment lid, which in my opinion is placed rather geniously. The user can change the battery without lifting or even tilting the pedal. Not that i know a lot of people using batteries, but still. I think this is just the kind of ingenuity these factory built pedals need today. More on the feel, the pots in this series are not the cheapest kind and they feel solid too. Now, to open this puppy up.. Modern autorouted look. But still neater and more solid looking than current Bosses. And the rest of the manufacturing methods leave no bad word in my mouth.

Nux-AS3-MAS-guts1

And once the board is flipped over.. Awww. It reminds me of US made DOD FX series board. Warm and fuzzy feeling with its all analog, all through hole construction. The pots are mounted on their own daughter board.

Nux-AS3-MAS-guts2

I’m not aware of the exact topology of the circuit and thus, can’t analyze it much further at the moment. Looks like this has two TL072s and one 4558 for opamps. The D2-D3 silicon diodes look like they might be clippers. I’m not going much further in this guessing game, but even the design looks rather solid. While i do like this box like a young man likes his date, there is one caveat.

How does it sound?
And it is the sound. This is most likely a predecessor of the black AS-4 from the later series and the circuit has been revamped for that release. This earlier one works nicely as a light dirt driver, but it’s hollowness and mids leave a lot to wish for. While this pedal is way greater than its follower on the outside, the better version made its way to the cheaper feeling later version. The bright side is that the EQ section is powerful and working well (i’m guessing gyrators). So i’m left with mixed feelings. As an overdrive effect, this is a lot better than many Tubescreamer derivatives, but as a full blown preamp, not so much. I believe these have out of manufacturing line for a while now. So if you can score one for ridiculously cheap, i’d suggest you go for it. It may not sound like much, but there is some usability in there.

Plus this unit reminds us all what potential Nux had before they changed to cheapest parts and resorted in OEM manufacturing for even lower end brands. World is a cold place.

Yamaha CO-10MII Compressor

November 15th, 2014

Yamaha-CO-10MII-Compressor

What is it?
Yamaha CO-10MII. Made in japan, 1984. Date is determined from capacitor date codes.

Continuing with another fine specimen from Yamaha’s 10MII series. This unit is one of those i’ve sourced from a local guitar building wizard, Mr. Lindén. I know i’m a sucker for this enclosure type, so every time one shows up for sale for a reasonable price, you know i’ll be there lurking. The coin-op box. It’s just neat and has a high degree of personality. Candies keep on coming ones the bottom is opened up.

Yamaha-CO-10MII-Compressor-guts1

That is just beautiful. Hand drawn board design  that looks like it was created with a machine. Less acid trip style, but still visually pleasing. Very pleasing. The board thickness is also appealing. Like many japanese boxes from the era, there are two boards that make up the circuit. Many designs use the second board for controls only, but Yamaha engineers have taken everything they can  out of the space available. As the photo below shows, tis design is OTA-based and powered by Japan Radio Corporation manufactured 13600 dual OTA.

Yamaha-CO-10MII-Compressor-guts2

The pots are used for pretty standard set of controls. We have our output level (or volume), Attack time control and the amount of sustain. There are practically no schematics available for nearly any of the Yamaha pedals. Due to this injustice, i’m only guessing the design is your average OTA compressor in the vein of Ibanez CP9 and many others. Maybe i’ll need to do some reversing on these someday.

Yamaha-CO-10MII-Compressor-guts3

I’m pretty sure the CD4016 is there to take care of the electronic switching. Rest of the circuit most likely is for buffers, trigger, compression/sustainer stage and mixing amplifiers. The TA75559 is most likely taking care of the buffering or mixing. Or possibly even both.

Yamaha-CO-10MII-Compressor-guts4

So there you have it. A beauty. From the outside and from the inside. But even if everything made is like it should be, the pedal still may not reach to the level it may have deserved to reach. And there’s a reason for that.

How does it sound?
While everything else about this pedal is more than right, the base to it is quite dull and boring.  The tone reminds me of Ibanez CP9 a lot. In good and in bad. First of all, the control ranges are moderate at best, but it still feels like there’s something missing. That’s the kick. The same thing is also missing from the Ibanez mentioned above. While the sound is not bad, it’s not great either. For a collector, this unit has a value of its own. For a player? Nope. In my educated opinion, the mid-00’s Marshall ED1 Compressor simply does a better job and sounds better than this. This opinion doesn’t say anything the Yamaha compressor, but it says the Marshall has a high potential and user value. Even though this Yamaha compressor may not be as usable as many others. This works ands sounds the best as always on -style pedal and with single coils. If i was to give stars for these units, the CO-10MII would only get four out of then. It’s not that it’s a that bad sounding pedal. It’s about sluggish control ranges and lack of personality in its tone. Bunch of personality around this design, if we don’t take the the sound into account. Nice thing to have, but i don’t think i’ll be using this much for anything anytime soon.

Yes. If it didn’t look as great as it does, i’d be slamming it on this post. Hard.

Schaller TR-68 Tremolo

November 14th, 2014

Schaller-TR68-Tremolo

What is it?
Schaller TR-68 Tremolo. Made in germany, possibly around 90’s. Not sure about the date, but this version is without an indicator LED which is present in the later models.

I used to own one of these back in the days when millennium changed, but for a reason or another, i had to sell it around 2002. The memory served and i did miss the pedal. A lot. The i came home one night, drunk as a skunk and check out the pedal sale listings. Someone was selling TR-68 for peanuts as a broken unit. My first message to the seller may have not been the greatest piece of literature ever written, but we ended up making a sale.

The issues with the pedal were quite minor. The frequency pot was slightly loose and it was turned against the conducting wall of the enclosure, grounding the whole circuit. Plus the battery snap was turning in to dust. Former was an easy fix. Second too. I hadn’t fixed the second at the time i snapped the photo below.

Schaller-TR68-Tremolo-guts

Quite a lot of hand wired connections for a pedal of this age. The construction feels like good vintage. There is very little wrong with this pedal. Solid, original discreet design, high quality flip switch, most of the components are of german origin. The worst caveat is the non-bypass. Everything else just screams quality, integrity and sense in quality.

As for features, there are LFO frequency pot and amplitude pot. Former controls the speed of the amplitude modulation and the latter controls the effective depth of that frequency. Depth goes from near zero effect to silence versus unity level. Frequency ranges from very slow to fast.  And then there’s the speed switch, which changes that very slow to fast to from fast to very fast. Not fast enough for ring modulation speeds, but this is a tremolo, not a noise tool. And the LFO wave… To put it the best way i can,  LFO waveform is smooth.

Saddest thing is that it took me twelve years to get it back.

How does it sound?
Sine waved tremolo that just sounds awesome. The LFO wave is tweaked to perfection, so there is no need for a wave control. This circuit footprint simply works and sounds great as a sine type wave. Non-bypass is a know tone sucker, but somehow it feels right on this one. Or at least it doesn’t bother as much as bad electronic switching buffers that sometimes suck your tone in a bad manner.

This is a beautiful sounding tremolo effect with certain personal, vintage feel. Highly recommended tremolo.

Colorless writings, part 17 – Words

November 14th, 2014

What now?

With a title “Words”, i’m referring to the difficulty of humanly express the tone and its qualities. You know, almost everyone is familiar with what anyone means when he/she is referring to that “mid-hump” usually associated with Tubescreamers and derivatives. But how does one describe the difference between yellow, red or blue clipper LEDs in the feedback loop of a non-inverting amplifier? Thought so. Like some of you, i do have an aural memory, or recognition, accompanied by strong gut feeling of clipping textures of different materials. This can be easily achieved by just playing and listening to the same circuit with different clippers as many times as it takes to recognize the different textures. The memory develops as you listen. I’ve listened a lot over the last five years. Or how does one define the difference of 2N5089 and BC550C silicon transistors in otherwise exactly the same fuzz circuit? Or a differences in sound of two Tubescreamer circuits, one loaded with JRC4558 and the other with NE5532? If the diode texture takes rehearsing to recognize, these differences aren’t as noticeable. Sure. There are differences in tone, but in all honesty. Really hearing a difference between old glossy JRC4558D and modern NJM manufactured JRC4558D? But for the ones that are more obvious – Why is it so hard to describe what we hear?

Even the most basic questions like does this sound good or does this sound better than the other example, are highly subjective. Artists, fashion designers and all the others have spent decades to come up with peach, fuschia, aero and beaver to name each and every color they can. There’s a full list of colors on wikipedia. Sounds do not have a similar list. Yet, the colors have certain wavelength we humans detect. There may be millions of more colors out in the universe, but we just won’t be able to see them. The sound has similar qualities. We humans can only hear what is an amplitude modulation in frequency range of about 20 Hz to 40KHz (Hz being the modulations per second). We all are aware of lows, low mids, mids, high mids and highs. Sometimes we even recognize upper highs as “presence”. Some more technical minded, or just professional sound people might go to lenghts of  expressing the exact frequncies as numbers. But that’s as far we usually go with the frequency or pitch. Just five or six frequency ranges. But sound has other qualities too. The waveform. The attack and release. Just to name a few.

Could it just be that as opposed to fixed colours, the different qualities in sound make it exteremely hard for us to describe? Sound we want to hear is rarely static or fixed. If the static colors had the ability of changing in short periods of time, the naming would have been a lot more difficult. But. Let’s compare the sound to other aspects of our senses. Taste. Now that’s a closer thing to think of. We have our sour, sweet, salty, bitter and a few others. And for the physical taste, there are same subjective things of good, bad and better as there is for the sounds. Wine tasters have done their best to come up with wild comparisons so they can put the wines in order. I urge you to check the wikipedia page for this subject too. Then, why there isn’t similar list of earthy, black pepper and dark fruits adjectives to describe the sound? This is, after all a much better analogy that the colors. Sure. I could start using the similar words to describe sounds and tones, but i might get simply frown upon for doing so.

If there is a consencus for describing sounds, i’m not aware of it.  Maybe it’s just for the best to stop talking about it and keep on listening. If you like what you hear, there is a great chance you’ll find other people who agree with you. If you come up with a tone that’s “earthy”, you can reproduce it and you’ll find people who agree with you – Let me know. I sure would like to start using that word for a tone.

Ibanez MSL Metal Screamer

November 10th, 2014

MSL

What is it?
Ibanez MSL Metal Screamer from Master series. Made in japan around 1986.

These seem to be rather rare these days. And with rarity, or scarcity, come a price tag that’s not for everyone. I happened to score this unit with some nicks and dents from Mr. Lindén in a batch deal for a good price. Needless to say i’m not parting my way with this one anytime soon. Somehow i wish Ibanez should have manufactured these commercial flops in greater numbers. Mainly because people are simply stupid. Number of SML Super Metals available today is high, since people bought them a lot. It’s not a great pedal, but still it apparently sold better than the Metal Screamer. One wise man on the internet once said, this is the one design in all Tubescreamer family that’s usually just forgotten from the TS canon. The truth is that MSL is more of of a TS than TS10. Before going deeper in to the circuit, let’s open it up.

MSL-guts1

Opening the bottom plate shows your standard Ibanez board with similar traces as most pedals of the series. The boards (controls have their own board, as  all the other boxes in the series) are thick and overall feel of the electronics is just solid. Not a beauty, but all solid. Black silk screening also looks very pleasing with thick lines.

MSL-guts2

Chip here is JRC4558D and it is socketed. So i’m fairly certain that’s not original part. Schematic up at Tonegeek page shows the chip as 4558, but knowing Ibanez, there may have been another chip in there when this left the factory. And Maxon/Ibanez boxes never used sockets, so this part replacement assumption is based on well educated guess. Now. If we take a look at the schematic, we see standard Ibanez electronic switching and input/output buffers are also per many other Ibanez boxes. Reference voltage for input buffer has its own network, separate from all the rest reference voltage points.

MSL-guts3

Tone control and rest of the topology is is per TS9. So yeah. It is more of a TS9 than anything else. Since we’ve now established that the circuit is pretty much TS9, let’s focus on the differences. There is only one.

MSL-guts4

And this one difference makes a world of difference. Notice the C6 capacitor coming from non-inverting input to R9, 4K7 resistor. This cap is 47nF in every other TS. This capacitor determines the roll-off frequency for the high pass filter created in the clipping amp. Value of 82nF lets a noticeable amount more bass through than the stock TS9 configuration. This means that one could easily just swap that capacitor for 47nF and voilá, instant TS9. Doing this wouldn’t make any sense though. This is the cap that gets its value up in every possible mod know to TS***/SD-1 world. 82nF is a lot better choice instead of TS9 stock value.

How does it sound?
Like a Tubescreamer with slightly added bass content. As Tubescreamers come, this is simply better sounding than any other version. Ok, maybe not better than Super Tubescreamer from 9-series or TS7 with its hot mode. But as a vintage styled TS.. This takes the cake. Added bass takes a bit of the worst honking away, while the overall tone still feels like a TS. This is good. Highly recommended pedal. Especially if you don’t have to pay massive amounts of money for one.

EHX Octave Multiplexer (XO)

November 7th, 2014

EHX-OctaMultXO

What is it?
Electro-Harmonix Octave Multiplexer from XO series. Made USAaround late 00’s

No. I’m not writing everything about this again. Just check out the post about EHX Octave Multiplexer Reissue. The main points for the design are written in there. There are a few differences between these two units, mainly on construction methods – that’s why i’m posting these separately.

EHX-OctaMultXO-guts1

From electronic point of view, this is exactly the same effect as the big box reissue. Only differences are the manufacturing methods and the type of components. While the reissue tries to stay true to the vintage Octave Multiplexer, the XO series version just tries to add more user value to the design.

EHX-OctaMultXO-guts2

The main difference in features is the “Dry out” jack placed next to the “Wet” output jack. This allows the user to split the signal to two paths. First for the sort-of bypass and second for the processed signal. Nice feature, but has few applications. Supports experimentation though. And that’s not a bad thing.

How does it sound?
Exactly like the huge box reissue. Both of the versions sound exactly like each other, so in reality there’s not much point in having both. Unless you love down octave divider effects and are a pretentious asshole, also known as the collector. Again – For a bit more in depth article on this circuit, check out my Octave Multiplexer Reissue post.

Ibanez TK999HT Tube King Distortion

November 4th, 2014

TK999HT

What is it?
Ibanez TK999HT Tube King Distortion. Made in china, late 00’s.

Not sure if the TK999HT is currently in production anymore. Ibanez site doesn’t list it and many european internet shops don’t have it on their listings. At least not any more. This high gain distortion is somewhat impressive by its appearance. The box is huge and heavy. The rubber pads on the bottom plate are something like 40mm in diameter, while the box itself measures 15x15x5 cm. Enclosure isn’t aluminium.

As the features go, we have the usual drive/level controls, a three band EQ with low/mid/high controls and a presence switch. Since the amount of gain is very high, there’s also a “Void” control. This is your noise gate. Other Ibanez boxes have had the same feature, name some high gain distortions from 7-series. The box feeds itself on a 12V AC power supply and has its own transformer and rectifier diodfe bridge inside.

TK999HT-guts

In a sense, this configuration reminds me of those hybrid guitar amps that exploded in popularity in the 90s. In fact, this comes pretty close, minus the output amplifier. Dirk Hendrik has drawn a schematic of this one too – here. Even without the noise gate and power supply section, the design is taken one step further from the basic boxes we see more often. In essence, we have input buffering, followed by driver amp and gain control. After those there’s two tube driver stages, a buffer to decouple the tube. After that, there’s presence switch and tone controls. All three tone controls have their own cutting/boosting gyrators. Followed by output buffering. Void circuit in on mode, is attached in parallel with the effect circuit. Dirk’s schematic doesn’t disclose what’s the voltage being fed to the tube, but it sure isn’t the same 12V DC being fed to to rest of the circuit. Complex and somewhat impressive.

If i was to come up with one, biggest negative side to the design, it would definitely be the location of the tube. The ventilation is sufficient, but the previous Tube King boxes had the tube in plain sight, making it simple to swap for another type of tube if desired. This time the tube is placed so that it’ll require disassembling most of the insides to get to the tube. Somehow reminds me of older cars versus newer cars. One should be able to change the burned out headlamp by oneself. At least in my opinion.

How does it sound?
Modern High-Gain. Maybe slightly too modern and too high-gain for my personal taste. Due to amount of gain, the noise gate (or Void) is a good thing to have. While this may be a bit too much in distortion department, the output level is high enough to use the unit as a soaring lead monster. Due to it’s nature, i don’t see myself using this for base sounds on any set of settings. But as a solo distortion? Yup. In that scenario the pedals shines. And bright.

EHX Germanium OD

November 1st, 2014

EHX-GeOD

What is it?
Electro-Harmonix Germanium OD, “Vintage Overdrive” from XO series. Made in USA around late 00’s.

Creativity. A threat or a possibility? Sometimes it manifests itself as both. And at the same time. I got mine as used for a fair price with velcro on the bottom. By the way, you can use the detached strip to get the residue glue off the metal. Anyway. The internet had only a few guesses of how this circuit was made. This was one of motivators in play when i decided to buy one. Opened it up as usual.

EHX-GeOD-guts1

And traced it. If you take my drawing and mirror it vertically, there are some similarities with Arbiter Rangemaster – but not much. The point of the design is PNP transistors reversed with negative ground and odd controls that affect resistance on both, emitter and collector side of the main transistor. Which looks a lot like remake of NKT275. Or possibly even a re-branded NKT275.

EHX-GeOD-guts2

Everything about the circuit and the build quality is more or less on par with all the other modern new york manufactured EHXs. No handwiring involved and most of the circuit is made with SMD components. I brought up the creativity in the first paragraph, because this design falls easily into “drunk or genius” category.

How does it sound?
Unusual. Wouldn’t call it good, but it offers that broken 60’s tone when applied in front of a decent tube amplifier. But folks looking for an overdrive.. This may feel like an awful mistake if you are not exactly sure you know what you are getting into. OD may not be a perfect description for the sound this produces, in my opinion. I’d rather call this Germanium Warmer. If considered as a “warmer” instead of an overdrive, this might be a useful tool to nail that sixties teenage garage punk clean tones. Think of this as a Rangemaster style treble booster with full frequency range and less boost. With rather senseless controls, of course. That should land you in the correct park.

Not bad at all. But i still wouldn’t call this an OD.