Archive for August, 2013

Ibanez No.95 Renometer

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Just because i happen to feel like it, here’s another post for today..

Ibanez-NO95-Renometer

What is it?
Ibanez Renometer Model No. 95 EQ/Booster from mid seventies.

Got this unit in a trade some time ago. In very good condition i might add. Plugged it in and had no response. Gladly, the only broken thing was one of the battery snaps. This requires two 9V batteries, as it runs with +9V and -9V, using gorund as vref. Measured current consumption settles round 5mA, so those two batteries should last a long time. Couldn’t believe my ears how loud this thing is. The boost switches work in mouth watering manner – offering even more raw clean boost. While trying out the sliders, i noticed wah-like textures to the sweeps. Opening the box up confirmed it.

Ibanez-NO95-Renometer-Guts1

The sliders are basically five simplified cry baby wahs that are wired for cut and a boost. The print on the cover has +12/-12dB on it, but i’m having hard time believing that it is just 12dB that this thing adds to the signal. Maybe it is, but it gets multiplied by all the 5 frequency ranges. The photo above shows tha the inductors for lower frequencies are so huge that they are mounted on the “wrong” side of the board. The image below shows the smaller inductors next to the slides.

Ibanez-NO95-Renometer-Guts2

Didn’t have hard shell battery snaps with long enough leads, so i soldered the new one to the old wires and cleaned it up with heat shrink tubing. As you can see from the board photo, the part count is pretty low. Which made me question what was driving it to offer so much sheer volume…

Ibanez-NO95-Renometer-Guts3

Just one TI TL082. I heard loud effects with TL family chips, but not this loud. I could be just because of the +/- voltage swing that takes the volume to this level. I do wonder what the empty holes are for…

Oh. Once again, Dirk has a perfect schematic published on his site. His unit seems to run on JRC4558 and it has an dc jack. Neither of which are present in my unit.

How does it sound?
Clean and Loud. If it weren’t for the 5 huge inductors, this one would get cloned immediately and that clone would get a permanent spot on my pedal board. No distortion at all. Just a perfect, super loud EQ booster. Actually. I don’t know of a better sounding one to exist.

Danelectro DJ5 Tuna Melt Tremolo

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

DJ5-TunaMelt

What is it?
Danelectro DJ5 Tuna Melt Tremolo from Dano’s mini effects series.

This is one of those that should not be overlooked no matter what opinion you may have about the box/jacks/switch/whatever. Definitely one of the best and most desired boxes in the mini series in addition to Chicken Salad and a few other units. This will always have much more of user than collector value. Opening the  bottom plate reveals the basic electronic switching board, common to the mini series effects.

DJ5-TunaMelt-guts2

But taking that lower board off reveals the effect board. As always, the pots are just bigger trimmers with knobs attached to them, Hard/Soft switch is your standard submini on-on and so on. But wait. What’s the black blob next to lower opamp? Analog optoisolator (or also known as vactrol)!

DJ5-TunaMelt-guts5

So it is optical tremolo and it sounds like it. There are a few different ways to create good tremolo effect. Using analog optoisolator is one of the best. Optoisolators consist of two parts, the LED and LDR. LFO pushes the LED part to blink, which alternates the resistance of the LDR according to LFO speed. Which then causes the signal to go up and down in amplitude. Like i said, there are other good ways too. Here we have two TL072s for the modulation mixer amp and LFO driver. The modulation is applied to inverting input of the amplifier.

Quite simple design, now that i think of it. Mr. Clay Jones has drawn a traced schematic back in 2005. Found on FSBhere. The schematic shows that there are two switchable LFO wave forms. Other uses one half of other opamp and other has a transistor for faster decay.

DJ5-TunaMelt-guts4

Soldering work looks like the person soldering the components doesn’t really care for his/her job. Looks quite bad actually. Sad thing, but what do you expect from pedals in this price range?

I’ll post one more shot of the traces. Those looks pretty neat now don’t they!

DJ5-TunaMelt-guts3

Edit: The design has a “flaw” that i’ve run into earlier, but for some reason i’ve dismissed it. The depth control works only for the soft setting of the LFO wave switch. The control does nothing when the hard mode is engaged. The schematic mentioned above will confirm this.There’s no chance the depth control will do anything when using the hard mode. Also, i’ve seen photos with Tuna Melt units with three knobs instead of two and the switch, but i’ve never seen an actual unit with three knobs. I think there will be more updates to this post at some point…

How does it sound?
Very good. Both controls, depth and speed have a wide variety of useful stuff on the sweep. It sounds very mellow and soft, even with hard settings switched. Not as choppy as it could be, but this is still very nice tremolo. If you can score one for cheap – go for it.

Danelectro DJ-24 French Fries Autowah

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

DJ24-FrenchFries

What is it?
Danelectro DJ-24 French Fries Autowah. Mini series design in a standard plastic mini box.

As the designs in the mini series go, this is one of the ones you probably want. At heart, it is basically a EHX Doctor Q, with a tweak for smoother sounding envelope. Where the original Dr.Q may have some issues to high frequency swish, this one stays fairly quiet on those excess frequencies.

DJ24-FrenchFries-guts2

So yeah. One dual opamp and a transistor. How can it get simpler than this? Switch is there to tweak the range of frequencies that get to the  driving part of the opamp making it pretty much verbatim to the old EHX design. The envelope trigger seems to be the same too. Even the values are on spot with the two schematics found online – except for one resistor.

DJ24-FrenchFries-guts3

If you’re interested, schematics for both, EHX Dr.Q and this can be found online. When compared, the only difference is 390K resistor that is 470K in Dr.Q. So one could pretty easily make Dr.Q better by swapping one resistor. Maybe even come up with appealing name and sell the mod service for a lot of money. Bigger companies ripping each other off makes me smile.

One thing to consider. This is about the half a size of Dr.Q’s nano version. Sound is better, and the price is also about a half as used unit. Yeah. It is plastic, but you could also rehouse this in 1590B enclosure, take the trimmer outside etc. You’d still have better autowah than Dr.Q for about the same price.

How does it sound?
Good. If i was to give out stars, this little thing would definitely get 4.5 on scale from zero to five. It may not be the greatest autowah out there (and it’s not), but it is responsive and clean. Swapping one resistor value does make a difference. While it smooths out the swish, it does bring the overall output level a little lower. Is it noticeable? Some people on the internet seem to think so. For me, i hadn’t noticed it until i read about it. I’m glad i got one of these.

Colorless writings, part 1 – The Dark Ages

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

After each 10 or so pedal posts, i might try writing something different on the subject for a change. On this series of articles, i ask myself questions about some stuff i’ve been thinking. All these notes are based on my personal heresy and opinions. My articles should never be looked as hard facts. I try to keep these within or close to 1000 words, so you don’t get exhausted with my sub-standard english. Here’s the first article, taking a look at the “Dark Ages” of guitar effect pedals.

Why did we see a decline in effect sales and seemingly, in quality in the latter half of the 1980s?

I think the quality issue was never there. Of course some companies went with the money and their business sense instead of thinking things through musical perspective – but that’s the thing that is still happening every day. Now think what happen to the amplifiers after the ’70s. The solid state amplifiers were all the rage and shops just had to throw all their Voxes away, as no one would buy them. Have you ever played a pedal through solid state amp? Of course you have. Every guitar player has played with a solid state amp. No matter how well it is made, it will always (and i mean Always) lose the battle with tube amps. Don’t get me wrong. I’m using one solid state head quite often myself. Solid state still doesn’t capture the soft compression and the dynamics of the tubes. Digital modelling amplifiers may do that, but have you tried boosting the preamp of the digital modelling amplifier with DOD OD250 or ZVex Super Hard-On? There is a reason why all the guitarists playing a lot all still use vacuum tube amps. And all of them will, until the end of time. Debate on tube/solid state is not the issue here, but you can think for a second what your pedals sounds like with Marshall JCM800 in comparison to Marshall Valvestate, both from the same year, for the sake of argument, let’s say 1989. In this hypothesis, let’s take on some pedal that is not supposed to be any good. Ibanez TM5 Thrashmetal, for example. Some of you might have played your Epiphone Les Pauls with Valvestate amp and TM5. You will then know that the combination sucks ass. While valvestate is a hybrid, capable of taking higher/louder signals in, the distorted signal that hits the current amplifier after the preamp will still sound dull and not dynamic at all. Now, take the same guitar and the same pedal. Plug them into JCM800. With similar settings, you’ll hear the dynamics of the way you’re playing. The same dynamics that are completely lost in the Valvestate.

I do believe that many of the pedals from 80s to 90s went “undiscovered” for more than 20 years because of the amplifiers everyone had at home. Why would you buy a pedal that makes your otherwise reasonable sounding amplifier sound bad? No you wouldn’t. But the same pedal will sound amazing with proper amplifier.

Valvestate is a good amp in many ways when compared to what people really had back in those days. Marshall released small practice amps under Park brand, and every other brand had their small solid state amp for sale. All of them sounding like crap. Many manufacturers even lost their faces because of this development. Think of VOX Valvetronix hybrids that came out around year 2000.

When tube amps started their renaissance, people found out that the Marshall Bluesbreaker they had in their closet for 20 years sounded just amazing. They could have bought those for five euros back in 2001, or had one since they bought it new. Just couldn’t have sold it to anyone as everyone else had the same, bad sounding amplifier.

I believe that this was the cause of the decline. Not the quality. Not the choices pedal companies made back then. Not anything else. Just a pie chart showing how much more solid state amps were sold compared to tube amps.

But there were bad designs and breakable switches in that era!

Of course there were. But show me just one year when no company or no private builder released a pedal that was bad? Bigger companies release a lot of designs. Some of those will always be bad. Some of the designs i’ve come up with are bad. It’s been like that since forever. Stop and think of Hornby Skewes Shatterbox. Is that a good pedal design? How about Gretsch Controfuzz? There are many, many more. From the very first to the design that hits effectsdatabase today. There’s always been bad designs. The main reason why you affiliate 80s and 90s with bad designs doesn’t come from the designs. Broken footswitch? Oh boy. From day one, so many boxes have had switches that break with heavy use. And still do.

If all the 80s were only bad designs, why do we still have tons and tons of classic circuits from that era? Even a few hard commercial flops have found their way to be the rare gems and many of those can be heard on great albums of today. Some very cheap, mass produced boxes have already gathered value in hundreds of euros/dollars. Like many of the US made DODs. Damn i miss the days when you could score basically any of the most innovating DODs for pocket change. Even the worst box in original FX-series isn’t that bad (ok, there are exceptions…). Too bad the company was on its prime at the wrong time.

But why do you refer to that time as the Dark Ages if there’s no real reason for it?!

Yes there is. We lost original MXR, EHX went bankrupt, tens of others struggled with their designs and so on. Many manufacturers released cheaper and cheaper boxes to raise the profit margins.

May it be that i have never seen the pedals as a high profit business. Still the examples above tell you a story what happened. I know some people that still rely on their amplifiers dirt channels – the people who won’t never ever touch a pedal again. Their reason: The first encounters with pedals sucked.

In a nutshell. You think that 80’s boxes sound bad? They don’t. You’re just under that impression because you used those boxes with super sucky amplifiers back in the day.

The 80s did lots and lots of bad things to this world.

Ibanez AF9 Auto Filter

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

AF9

What is it?
Ibanez AF9 Autofilter. Made in japan in early 1980’s.

Even though i don’t see myself as a huge fan of autowah/envelope filter genre, i happen tohave a few specimens. The way envelope filters, aka autowahs usually work, is that there’s an driver part that triggers the filter when certain input level threshold is achieved. Then the filter sweep is mixed with the incoming signal. I do believe this design works in the same manner. Quick googling around did not give me the schematic. Because of this (and in part because i haven’t had the time to analyze the circuit more deeply),  i can’t offer deeper understanding of the circuit at the moment. Reliable sources tipped me off that this should be close to Ibanez AFL, the Auto Filter from the Ibanez L/Master Series.

AF9-guts1

Older Maxon/Ibanez PCB layouts are just beautiful pieces of art, don’t you think? The traces are like perfectly aligned acid trips. Just beautiful. Even the joints are beautiful.

I find all the controls useful. Sensitivity affects how easily the filter sweep is applied to the signal, Peak then takes care of how hard the sweep affects it. The slide switches alter the filter type between low pass, band pass and high pass, all of them affecting the different parts of the frequency range. The sweep can be driven from up to down and down to up with a switch. And finally, Range setting makes this usable with bass.

Apparently these boxes have quite a lot of user and collector value.

How does it sound?
Greatest sounding autowah i’ve ever played. Versatile, yet simple. Schoolbook example of how autowahs/auto filters should be made. It can do wild, almost synth-like sweeps and standard funk sounds. From rhythms to leads. Useful, even when your music isn’t funk.

The range of settings are good. None of them kill the signal or behave badly in any way. This unit makes me feel good in so many ways.

Digitech DDM Death Metal

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Digitech-DeathMetal

What is it?
Digitech Death Metal distortion. Modern issue from Digitech Distortion series. Built around 2009.

Why would i post this effect? To be honest, i acquired it just because i was curious. Didn’t check any demos or read any reviews before i got it. Didn’t even think about getting one, but as the opportunity where i could get one for next to nothing with some other pedal that i needed showed up – well then. Here we are.  Once i opened this up, i was convinced of the genius about the enclosure design. It doesn’t leave a of lot room between the board and top of the box, but the way metal top and bottom hold the PCB and jacks is very nice. For some reason i find it interesting that the components used are sort of an hybrid. SMD, through-hole mylars and panasonics. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – capacitance is still capacitance, no matter what material rocks your boat. But is it neat and/or convincing? Maybe not. or maybe even definitely not. The splitter feature at the output is good to have, while i don’t see any application for using it.

Digitech-DeathMetal-guts

Other thing that made me smile. DigiTech continues with the DOD heritage of using one board for multiple designs. Apparently this one shares a board with modern layout version of the Grunge distortion. These designs may have a lot in common, but it puzzles me how the gain/hi/lo/level setup of the Grunge can be transformed into hi/mid/lo/level. Looking at the Grunge schematic, Death Metal would need a new filter to where the gain control is. This can be achieved with omitting couple of components from the Grunge board – while adding them to make it Death Metal. Plus the active filters after the main gain stage will need all new component values to match the frequency response of each of the designs.

Does the main gain stage look familiar to you? I think i’ve seen it somewhere… Yeah. In about 350 different distortions since 1980. 100K pot for gain and a hard clipping after it. I’m calling it “The Mouse Design” (or YAM) from now on.

How does it sound?
Not bad. I’ve used it in a couple of rehearsals for leads. Not sure if i’ll ever attach it to my main board, but it is a good, cheap tool for rich super high gain sustaining leads. Output level is more than just satisfying, while the noise levels stay in tolerable amounts. This hound (not exactly a puppy) doesn’t have a gain control at all (not a con, when was the last time you turned the gain down on any metal/high gain box?) Just an usable three band EQ to dial it in max on bass, treble and leave the mids slightly scooped. There you go with beautiful hardcore lead sounds. To be honest, this may very well be a decent budget alternative for Metal Zone. Don’t know what more to expect, but this is very cheap and durable tool. Wouldn’t call it perfect or even desirable. But as a tool, it may very well stay with me for a long time. I almost sold it already. Glad i didn’t. A tool.

Danelectro DJ8 Hash Browns Flanger

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Let’s post up two flanger boxes today….


DJ8-HashBrowns

What is it?
Danelectro DJ8 Hash Browns flanger. This series of mini effects was made from around ’99 to 2007 or so. Not much dating information around, maybe because of the super low price and massive volumes manufactured in china.

First, i’ve been surprised about Modtone Minimod Flanger and this. I bet you can’t squeeze a flanger in to much smaller enclosure. And still have a slot for a battery. Think about EHX flangers. Those are about 12 times the size and do they really sound that much better? Or better at all? How much do you use a flanger in your pedal board? Once in a blue moon? Once in each set you play? Even more often? For me, the room on my compact board is quite limited. If i needed a flanger on the board, i’d definitely be looking at this, Minimod, or Ibanez FL5. All are good sounding, working flangers with reasonable footprint for pedal boards.

Like most of the effects in this series, this one is praised for its tone as well as Tuna Melt Tremolo and Milkshake Chorus. Still disliked by “pros” due to super plasticky box.

DJ8-HashBrowns-guts

Didn’t feel like tracing the unit to see what the circuit has eaten. Maybe i one day will. I do find the pots intriguing, as those are basically trimmers with knobs glued on top of them. To add, this is one of those that could be nice rehousing/TB’ing project. There are a lot of detailed projects around the web for rehousing a Dano mini effect, like this one. Google should give you a thousand more. I’ll just wait until all of the existing minis are rehoused. That’ll be the only way the value of these will rise over $20/20€.

How does it sound?
Does not sound too far from Ibanez FL5. It’s really good basic flanger. Almost surprisingly good. Even the bypass buffering doesn’t suck as in some highly praised boxes *cough*bosses.

Ibanez FL5 Flanger

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

FL5

What is it?
Ibanez FL5 Flanger from Soundtank series in plastic enclosure, made in Taiwan, late in the 90’s. So it’s pertty new unit in my collection with only about 15 yesars of age.

According to notes from (one of my heroes,) Dirk Hendrik the circuit is pretty much verbatim clone of Ibanez/Maxon FL9, with delay control omitted. So in essence, it is poor man’s version of one of the gratest flangers ever designed. MN3207/MN3102 pair driven by TL022 and two Mitsubishi 5218As for LFOs. One of the most crowded boards in the series. For some reason i can’t find a schematic for this design, while FL9 schem can be found online. Anyone have a copy?

FL5-guts

Circuit is a rock solid workhorse. I acquired one board as an addon to other deal some time ago (thanks Brent!). That board had some bad traces and all the caps were removed. One day, if i find the time, i’m going to try and resurrect that board. Maybe add the missing delay control and rehouse it in D box. That will be huge, but somehow i think it could be worth the trouble. The unit pictured above is my working specimen with high serial number.

How does it sound?
Nothing negative to say. Very warm and soft, while it can be turned to be massive airplane shattering windows in a small town. Exactly like its big brother. This box is really good to have. If you can score one for cheap, do it. You won’t regret it. Just replace the switch and you’ll be golden.

Ibanez LF7 Lo-Fi

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

LF7

What is it?
Ibanez LF7 Lo Fi from Tonelok/7-series. Apparently made in the year  2000, as the enclosure has the date 1/2000 stamped on the inside.

The board itself has a lot of components left out, so it seems that the same board may be utilized in other designs of the series too. I think i may need to do some reading on this. As the circuit is what it is – a distortion with active filters, i think i’ll focus on the enclosure and how the 7-series are made, rather than trying to analyze the circuit on this particular design.

LF7-guts1

The base design for 7-series boxes is made of 5 (!) boards. One for input jack, one for the switching, LED and slide switches (picture below), the main board (above), the control board (aka VR Board) and one for the output jack. It is crowded in there, but this type of design leaves a lot of room for the main board. Which is huge when compared to compact size of the pedal itself. There is a downside to this. Over engineering. You need to use all the space available, right?

LF7-guts2

Meaning that the same results in sound could have been achieved for a lot smaller board and lower parts count. The factory schematics can be found online, but study them with caution. These are the worst schems i’ve seen with depicting of all the 5 PCBs, showing some parts of the layout and having massive, unnecessarily long lines. These also notes how all 5 boards connect together. Good information,  but difficult and/or frustrating to read.

Back to the good things. These also seem to built for war. Couple of the units i have were mailed to me wrapped in just two pages of newspaper and a thick paper bag. Knowing how the postal service treats the parcels, i was quite surprised how none of these had any issues after such treatment. The Tonelok-idea is not a bad idea at all. I’ve run into issues accidentally kicking the pot knobs on some pedals (think ZVex’s Fuzz Factory) that have the stomp switch way too close to the knobs. Add trigger happy controls to that equation, and you’ll find out why locking knobs is a very good idea.

LF7-guts3

Other downside to this series is the use of the same tact switch that’s found on Soundtank/5-series. Swapping the switch takes about double the time compared to Soundtanks, due to complexity of the 5 boards that need to be disassembled. So, disregarding the switch – These are built to last and can take a hit, plus locking controls work great. Overall, i think these are the most underrated pedals ever made. Can’t wait to see if the switches outlast the Soundtank switches or not. And more importantly, how the value of these develop in next 20 years…

How does it sound?
Back to the LF7. This design was just perfect specimen to talk about the series in general. The reason being that this may be one of the worst sounding  Ibanez designs ever. It is truly Lo Fi as advertised. Really bad, ugly misbiased distortion with active, bad tone controls for highs and lows. Doesn’t work for guitar at all, but i can see this being used with a blender circuit for vocals and drum buses. Nice studio tool, but i can’t see any use for this on any pedal board.

Ibanez FZ5 60’s Fuzz

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

FZ5What is it?
Ibanez FZ5 60’s Fuzz from Soundtank series in plastic enclosure, made in Taiwan. Manufacture date unknown due to missing label that’s been ripped off by velcro at some point before this landed to my care (Grrrrr!).

Techically pretty close to Ibanez OD850 and OD9 (which are damn close to BMP), with some value changes to every single spot of the design, plus completely rewritten tonestack and output driver. The design has remained, but the 60’s Fuzz has been around as metal boxed SF5, then plastic uniform typefaced FZ5 and finally this – FZ5 with its own font and Soundtank “logo”. I’m thinking about getting another one of these, preferably metal boxed one to keep as original and tinker around with this individual. Mainly because i can’t trace this unit back to it’s origin without the serial number. I could take closer look at date codes on components, which should give out estimate that should suffice. Either way, this one is from newer manufacture date, probably from 96-98.. I’m quite interested about modding one to OD850/OD9 specs. This time that won’t happen with just swapping components. The board will need some work too.

FZ5-guts

Good thing there’s room on that board. Note the sticker placed on the PCB label. As stated above, the design used to be SF5, so the PCB type remains as such – only with a sticker saying that it is now “FZ5”.

How does it sound?
Not too great i’m afraid. May be because of the tonestack, but it literally sounds like BMP held down by pack of wild horses. The fuzz is in there, but it’s on the brink of choking to scon at five o’clock tea. It’s a Fuzz. Wich is a good thing. Modding some other companys work should always mean that the end result should be better than the original. This is not the worst effect i’ve had, not even the worst i’ve seen this year. Still nothing to write home about. Probably marketing guys at Ibanez wanted it to sound more mainstream than BMP/OD850, which resulted in adding modified tone control that sucks the life out of it – and other fault is leaving the recovery gain too low. Funny thing is that you can get modern BMP reissue for a lot cheaper than this. One of the few bad (re)designs in Soundtank series. Good to have, but as it is.. Don’t see myself using it a lot.