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…

Danelectro CO-1 Drive

June 27th, 2015

CO1-Drive

What is it?
Danelectro CO-1 Drive from Cool Cat series. Made in china, late 00’s.

Last one i had missing from my Cool Cat series collection. Pretty rare specimen actually. Finally found one from polish auction site and a friend delivered it. I’ve seen only couple of units on sale, mostly in US and with no shipping to europe. This makes me think the number of unit manufactured before switching to V2 were modest to say at least. The rumour was (and still is i guess,) that the CO-1 Drive is supposedly straight up clone of certain OCD and due to OCD trademark owner’s active protection of his intellectual property, Danelectro was somehow forced to revise the design. All this is just a speculation i’ve seen on the web. Truth is that the unit is pretty nice pedal. Even if it was a straight up clone, (which it obviously isn’t,) the original OCD is not exactly original either.

CO1-Drive-guts

The release of V2 sure did keep this assumption of plagiarism alive. Well. There is a Cowprez traced schematic up on FSB (link may require user an account), which shows the circuit being rather close to the one mentioned above. Plus the CO-1 doesn’t have a switch for so called hp/lp modes, so the similarities end at the base sound and parts of the topology, mainly around the main driver circuit. But then again.. How many TS style circuits are out there with minimal chages to the original?

Or i could simply take this to another direction. The electronics inside the CO-1 Drive are extremely close to classic Voodoo Lab Overdrive, with added tone control. This could probably take your mindset away from the later boutique brands.

As for the rest of the pedal, we have our standard 3PDT true bypass and two small, stacked boards in a sturdy housing. In all, this is very decent driver/distortion. Pretty much exactly like with the others in the Cool Cat series.

How does it sound?
Open boutique styled drive pedal with nice amount of gain on the knob. Output level is also sufficient to actually drive your amp instead of just clipping the signal. Tone control range is also quite usable. It may very well save you from too bright amp/speaker combinations, as well as help you boost your top end. There’s very little negative to say.

Vox V830 Distortion Booster

June 14th, 2015

Vox-V830-DistortionBooster

What is it?
Vox V830 Distortion Booster. Made in china around early to mid 00’s.

Sharing the box and switching/power circuitry with V810 Valve overdrive, the V830 is nothing close. Obviously one would instantly assume this to be a DS-1 derivative. What makes this assumption obvious is the fact that V810 is a Tubescreamer. And since there are just two boxes with these aesthetics, that was exactly what i was thinking before i checked the schematic or opened mine up.

Vox-V830-DistortionBooster-a

By just looking at the guts i was certain this isn’t a DS-1 derivative. And after checking the schematic up at FSB this was confirmed (you’ll need to be logged in to see the attachement on the FSB post). Actually. No other distortion unit came straight up to my mind when looking at the schem. At first we have a gain stage that’s familiar from all the TS-style designs. After that there’s another gain stage that shares the control with the latter. Then a hard clipping shunt diodes and a active filter stage, BMP-style tone control and output buffering. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but still not too common.

Vox-V830-DistortionBooster-guts

Which also means that the behaviour isn’t that average either. Drive control is very effective and there is a lot of usable range. Tone control is what it is. Variable LP/HP filter that is cutting some of the frequency range. The previous filtering stage is most likely in place to keep the mids in tact with the tone circuit. Anyway. This look neat and…

How does it sound?
Sounds pretty damn good. The combined soft/hard clipping has nice texture to it and the the two stacked gain stages offer levels of gain that could be described simply as enough. No, this isn’t one of those “metal” distortions by far. Running this to a slightly dirty amp will give you that big and thick distortion lead tone that still has some vintage color in it. Not to mention it will keep your preamp stage alive and gives out the best of the amp. In all, great looking and sounding device.

TC Electronic Röttweiler

June 14th, 2015

TCE-Rottweiler

What is it?
TC Electronic Röttweiler Metal Distortion, made presumably in china, early 10’s.

TCE is quite highly regarded brand. And there are several good reasons for it. The brand’s rack units for studio use shook the recording professionals in the 90’s and they’ve been pushing solid products ever since. For example, it was TCE’s polytune that made working polyphonic pedal tuners available in reasonable price range. Which then obviously meant a hit. One that the brand was recognized by guitarists as well as the recording engineer folk.

TCE-Rottweiler-guts

Construction is quite solid, but i just didn’t find the interest to open this completely up. We have relay based true bypass and SMD construction under the metal shield plate. As for the controls, we have low/high EQ-knobs, volume and gain. The gain control behaviour reminds me of one found in Boss HM-2, which makes me think the circuit may very well be similar to the classic Heavy Metal box. The voice switch feels like it takes one gyrator stage on and off from the circuit. This would be rather close to a modification i’ve seen done on the mentioned idol. It’s basically an “add more treble” switch. The EQ range is sufficient, and i’m quite certain the controls are for gyrator based active EQs.

How does it sound?
And by sound too. The HM-2 definitely comes to mind. Not sure if the design is actually close or if it even has anything similar going for it. Still, the sound is close even if the design isn’t. The mids sound like they are fixed and set on a level that ok. Not scooped or boosted, so they’ll fit to most ears out of the box. Simply to sum it up, this is cheap and nice high gain distortion with adequate output level, sucky gain control that is pretty much usable only with all or nothing settings. This accompanied with decent and usable EQ-section. Nothing bad, but somehow slightly boring. Modern take on HM-2. For the price it’s very decent metal distortion.

Danelectro DC-1 Cool Cat Chorus

June 7th, 2015

Danelectro-DC1-18V-CoolCatChorus

What is it?
Danelectro DC-1 Cool Cat Chorus, the original 18V version. Made in china, 1996.

Again? Didn’t i write about this already? Well. I did, but with the later 9V version. This is the first edition that runs on 18V. Are there a lot of differences between these two? Well. Not that much, but i thought this would still warrant the overview. On the outside, the differences are minute. The only noticeable thing is the “18V” note next to the power supply jack. Once the bottom plate is removed, there are two battery snaps in place.

Danelectro-DC1-18V-CoolCatChorus-guts1

This is definitely the most interesting thing about the whole series. As the enclosure is the same for all “original series” boxes, there is this dual battery slot present in every single one. The reason must be that the 18V DC-1 was designed first and i’m assuming there were plans to use the 18V supply voltage on later models as well. Other 18V units never happened, but the dual slot remained in every pedal. Which is quite funny considering that the Dan-Echo uses only 5V for its entire operation. Due to two batteries and the doubled supply requirement, the jack board is slightly different too.

Danelectro-DC1-18V-CoolCatChorus-guts2

Rest of the circuit remains closer to the latter 9V version. As Dano pedals come, this is the most beautiful board design in them all. Completely filled and there is something that reminds me of Ibanez L-series boxes with extremely crowded boards a bit. Tight squeezing also resembles some of the old japanese boards i’ve seen. Although this isn’t as packed as, for example, the Pearl Electro Echo. No standing resistors.

Danelectro-DC1-18V-CoolCatChorus-guts3

The factory that was chosen to build these had their quality high gear on with this first run. This doesn’t mean that the later pedals are done in a sloppier manner, but the plant was obviously not in a hurry when they produced these.

Danelectro-DC1-18V-CoolCatChorus-guts4

Either way. It’s very close to the latter 9V version by all the other standards. And by design. I’d go as far as saying this is the Danelecto equivalent of Maxon/Ibanez FL-301/FL-301DX. Same box with same design. Just different power supply requirement. And that does affect one thing…

How does it sound?
Great. Fat and lush. Extended headroom and simply beautiful swirls. Definite competitor to Boss CE-2. I do not pull this card out too easily.. But. I think it’s warranted here. Very good sounding chorus that shows dedication to detail from the design crew. I’m fairly certain the world was expecting a lot from Danelectro when these came out in 1996. Sadly, it’s been quite a steep downhill ride from there. But this unit is really top notch. No way around it. Possible the best Danelectro pedal ever.

Excalibur Holy Grail Distortion

June 6th, 2015

Excalibur-HolyGrail

What is it?
Excalibur Holy Grail Distortion. Made in china, late 00’s.

Got this one with the Tubescreamer derivative and the fake analog delay from the same “manufacturer”. The quotes are there for a reason. Since the brand is just OEM’ng stuff from chinese brand with questionable prestige, i wouldn’t exactly call Excalibur a manufacturer. Due to have been inside the two units mentioned above, i knew exactly what to expect. Not by the design, but for the manufacturing methods. The overall feel of these boxes is somewhat sturdy. Not that great, but ok. The highest points come from screws that fasten the board to the enclosure. It’s not much, but i can’t come up with much more positive to say.

Excalibur-HolyGrail-guts1

Pretty standard cheap china build quality. Made for extremely cheap and fast. And of course, with cheapest solutions there is. See the jacks in the photo above? Yup. Those are not fastened to the enclosure at all. Sort of reminds me of the method found in Ibanez L- and 10-series, with one exception. Ibanez has bigger part of the jack shafts outside, so the  pressure applied when inserting a plug isn’t that hard.  Also, on Ibanezes the board fastening screw is placed so, that the board doesn’t come by too much strain when jacks are inserted. Here, the jacks jus float behind the enclosure wall and the board is fastened tight. This means that there are bound to be jack failures in the future. If the pedal sees lots of use.

Excalibur-HolyGrail-guts2

The component side  Continues with the boring china stuff. While the mechanic switch tries to mimic as a basic, sturdy switch with a metal stomp, the actual switch is something quite different. LEDs for clippers and on the more positive side, the design doesn’t seem to be 1:1 clone of Boss DS-1. If i was to take a guess, the roots for this design would be closer to the 90’s Marshall distortion units. Not sure where the design comes from, and i have very little interest in finding out. Not because this would sound bad, but because everything around the schematic is just utterly bad.

How does it sound?
Not that bad. Capable of delivering decent amount of boost and the controls work well. Overall tone doesn’t cut lows too much, so in all, the overall tone is ok. Decent, reasonably clear, but powerful sounding distortion. For a unit that costs 20$/€/£ used, you can’t go wrong too badly. It’s not a great (nor even that good) distortion unit, but definitely not the worst i’ve seen. The best of the bunch. But that isn’t much said since the rest of the Excalibur pedals are very bad indeed.

Ibanez GEL Graphic EQ

June 3rd, 2015

Ibanez-GEL-GraphicEQ

What is it?
Ibanez GEL Graphic EQ. Made in Japan, 1985.

Graphical equalizer from Ibanez Master series. Mine’s missing two of the slide pot knobs, but otherwise in decent condition. What comes to similar EQs, there is basically two ways to get the job done. First is the oldschool method of using inductors to create tight band-pass filters side by side. And the second, obviously cheaper, method is to use active gyrators to achieve the same results. Soundwise the difference between the two is quite small. Inductors aren’t as stable in changing the peak frequency as gyrators, but that’s about it. One can read about creating graphical EQs from GEOfex’ site. This article pretty much covers every single graphical and parametric EQ ever made.

At first, it seems that the GEL is just rehash of GE9 and predecessor of GE10. This is mostly true. The board design is completely revised in comparison to its 9-series sister and what’s more interesting is the fact that the board design, from layout to traces, is more modern than the most other pedals in the L-series.

Ibanez-GEL-GraphicEQ-guts1

All the way neat, but much more clinical than the last batch of acid trip boards we find from most L-series units. Not that this would change anything for the better or worse. It’s just different.

Ibanez-GEL-GraphicEQ-guts2

So. Due to linking the GEOfex article, there is not much more i can say about the electronic design. The board decisions are great. There is notable amount of symmetry in place and the work looks very professional. Just what you’d expect from a pedal from the series.

In all. It is pretty standard 7-band graphical equalizer with approx. 15db of cut/boost per frequency range. And what’s the best part…

How does it sound?
Neutral. Adds very little of it’s personal scent or feel to your tone. Exactly like modern equalizers should. Powerful tool in cool package. Although this might suffer from having slightly less personality that your usual Ibanez pedals, there is still nothing wrong with its sound. Good and versatile tool.

To be completely honest, i can’t put my finger on anything that would make this better or worse than any other graphical EQ ever introduced to the public. So, in other words. It’s not special, but it is very good at what it does. From subtle frequency correction to Lo-Fi cuts and all the way to big, massive, clean boost for the desired frequency areas. Not bad.

DOD FX55-B Supra Distortion

May 31st, 2015

DOD-FX55B-SupraDistortion

What is it?
DOD FX55-B Supra Distortion. Made in US, early 1990.

One of the pedals that DOD sold a lot back in the day. I assume this probably was the first pedal for many people in the late 80’s and 90’s. And why not. Widely available and in a low price range. The name was originally a Super Distortion, but due to aggressive protection of the trade mark by certain DiMarzio, the name was changed to Supra pretty fast after the initial release in 1986. This was exactly the same thing that happened with Boss DF-2 Super Distortion & Feedbacker. The first units with Supra written on then came out later the same year, leaving the first 6 months of Super Distortions as collectible items. These are rare to the degree that i’ve seen only one or two for sale so far. The supra versions are very common though. And they do come cheap.

DOD-FX55B-SupraDistortion-guts

What comes to the design, there is a schematic up at Fuzz Central. To begin with, the idea of this being some sort of Boss DS-1 derivative is completely false. As the schematic suggests, there is a gain stage with diodes in the feedback loop and the gain control is derived from OD250. After that there’s a hard clipping stage, the volume control and pretty clever tone section. All this accompanied by standard DOD electronic bypass switching and 1458 with both channels used for in/out buffering. Nice design and not as common as one might have first thought.

How does it sound?
Here’s the culprit. Sluggish on the output level and the overall result is just lacking personality. Slightly cutting the lows and while the tone control works pretty well, there isn’t that much good to be said. If we take comparison out and compare this to Boss DS-1, we have a winner here. This victory doesn’t mean all that much, but still. If i had 40€ to burn for a mod base, i’d get FX55B over DS-1 for sure. Just double up on the hard clipping diodes to get a bit more volume out of it and tweak a few of the cap values. Should make a nice beast of a distortion.

As a stock pedal. Not great.

Digitech XBC Bass Multi Chorus

May 31st, 2015

Digitech-XBC-BassMultiChorus

What is it?
Digitech XBC Bass Multi Chorus from X-series. Made in china around late 00’s.

Makes seriously wonder i should just sell all the X-series pedals i currently have. Opening the first one back when i did was a severe “meh” situation that offered very little to be interest about. Opening the second one made this feeling even deeper. Nothing wrong in digital designs, but the hard core recycling lowers my interest to the point where i simply don’t see myself collecting the series to the full. This one here.. It’s blue and it’s a bass chorus. I did already know what expect when i opened this one up.

Digitech-XBC-BassMultiChorus-guts1

Yup. There are only two different boards in this series. The one with digital control as a potentiometer and the one with a rotary switch. This one os the former. All the units have the same Harman branded AudioDNA DSP chip in them. The same analog signal path for the buffering and AD/DA converters for every pedal in the series. The paint and print on the enclosure change, as do the programming of the DSP. Delay and reverb of the series have one more chip attached to the board, but it’s still the same board. Being an analog enthusiast, the secrets behind the software does not appeal to me.

Digitech-XBC-BassMultiChorus-guts2

How much more boring can a pedal series get? The same exact board with different software code. Even if the tone is sufficiently good, the appeal is not there. I might just photograph the ones i have and just let them go..

How does it sound?
Sure. These do not sound bad. Rather generic chorus with decent control range. For an all digital, software based chorus, i’d says it’s a very good sounding thing. Just slightly lacking in personality, but otherwise very ok. It’s not the tone that’s pushing me away. No, not at all. It’s the lack of interesting electronics. If was to record some bass tracks today, this unit would not make it even near to what i’d choose to use for the session.

Roger Mayer Voodoo-1

May 25th, 2015

RogerMayer-Voodoo1

What is it?
Roger Mayer Voodoo-1 Distortion. Made in UK in early 90’s. Possibly 1993.

Got this unit in a trade from a friend (thx Jaakko!). Mr. Mayer is The Original Boutiquer, so obviously i was interested. I’m not going into the history of the man, but if you are interested, you could check out the short history up on Roger’s page. The first image on that page tells you everything you need to know.

The unit on hand has seen a lot, and i mean a lot of use. My friend had bought this in mid 90’s and had it ever since. The battery stoppers (very nice idea) and a tiny wood block to keep the DC jack in palce have been added by him. I saw no reason to take them down. Anyway. Just recently he had gone into this thing called “pickup roulette” and got himself a nice modern, hot set of humbuckers. His observation was that the unit may be broken as it can’t boost the signal like it used to do with strat single coils before. I promised to take a look and i did. And demonstrated how the design will not work the same with +15K humbuckers in contrast to ~5K singles. So it is a feature that should be taken into account.

RogerMayer-Voodoo1-guts

This doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with the design. It’s just that when the design was conceived, over 16K humbuckers were not as widely used as they are today. Some will argue that those do not sound “better”, and i must respectfully agree for most parts (anything under 12k for bridge is a waste of time, anything over 12k for neck is also a waste of time – but that’s just me and preference in tone is definitely a subject to personal taste). As a conclusion, this unit works as a boost very nicely. All the way to having too hot pickups.

What comes to desing, i find very little negative to say. There is a traced schem up at FIS, so check it out. There is a lot of out of box thinking going on in there. While some still deem this as nothing more but a Rat derivative, the schematic shows that it is not. Only obvious thing that’s common for both is the use of LM308 high gain opamp and utilization of hard clipping shunt to ground. That’s like saying everything with JRC4558 is a Tubescreamer derivative. In that case your old clock radio that wakes you up would be a TS-derivative. So no. This is not a rat. The signal path starts with a single transistor gain stage that drives the main gain stage. The gain there is set by taking a pot between inverting input and ground. Notice how the first gain stage also acts as a reference voltage supply for the non-inverting input. This is something i do not recall seeing every day. The main gain stage is followed by two pairs of diodes shunt to ground. This will result in hard, but still still mellow sounding diode clipping, that isn’t that far off from synth-like wave shaping. After the clipping there’s a tone control that may (or may not) have its root in the infamous Big Muff tone stack. After that, there’s an output buffer. One last thing to point out.. Check the 1M6 resistor acting as a feedback loop over the entire circuit. Yup. Figured you had not seen one like that before.

How does it sound?
Fat and big, if not massive. There’s a hint of fat Rat texture in there, but not much. It’s a good and usable sounding general distortion that will suit most styles and situations. Paired with an adult style delay one should be able to get those pesky 80’s thin lead tones. But with tone turned low, this will compete with many modern high end boutique pedals in the Marshall/Brown Sound territory.

Like stated, thepedal doesn’t exactly shine with modern high output pickups, but that’s the only bigger fault in its tone. The tone control is a thing of its own. Clockwise it’ll take a lot of lows away, but it offers very good control range from 7 o’clock to noon. In all, very good distortion design with its quirks. At least i seem to like it. A lot.