Archive for October, 2013

Ibanez MF5 Modern Fusion

Monday, October 28th, 2013

MF5

What is it?
Ibanez MF5 Modern Fusion distortion from Soundtank series. Housed in metal enclosure and made in Taiwan in 1989.

Already had the plastic one, but saw this for sale with a reasonable price tag. The switch is in perfect working condition and i believe this hasn’t been opened up before, not even once. Only bad thing about this unit is that it sounds really bad with no real value for me. That may also explain the near mint condition and working switch though. But a collector can’t help himself… Apparently these units were a failure, as the manufacturing seems to be suspended before the series got their own typefaced labels.

Get your mullet out and put your silk shirt on. As the name suggests, the year is 1989. White suit pants and PRS guitars on a sunny jazz festival stage comes to mind. And to me, that’s not too pretty sight. This thing nails the yuppie adult jazz distortion just as it is. Shoulder pads.

MF5-guts1

Board traces are modern and quite dull. The schematic is available online and it shows the design having slightly tweaked TS-like first gain stage after the Ibanez standard input buffer. That is follewed by two gyrators and semi-active tone control. Then to a JFET buffer  before volume control and a standard output buffer after that. For those who are capable of coming up with your own mods, i’d recommend to tweak the hell out of those gyrators. Maybe even snip the gyrator transistor drains, so that the full frequncy contect from the clipping amp gets through. I konw. Pretty drastic. But i think you’ll have a hard time if you’re thinking this may be usable without any mods.

MF5-guts2

All in all, the frequencies tamed by the gyrators offer stability that’s not very common. From electronic point of view, the filtering is too much. Thus that’s what’s making it the Modern Fusion, the only and the most boring adult jazz distortion there is.

How does it sound?
Surprisingly bad. If i was to dig up one good thing about the adult orientated distortion sound this unit offers, that would be the consistency. The distortion is so squeaky clean that it kills all possibility of sweet harmonic overtones. Once you bend your strings around the 12th, it still remains sterile. Now that’s a feature you don’t run into too often. Treble content is clipped much louder than the bottom, so in best case scenario – playing with hot jazz neck humbucker one can get relatively useful tones. But let’s face it. This is probably the worst design in the whole series. Trumping even The Cyberdrive and the Autowah.

Danelectro DO1 Daddy-O Overdrive

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

DO1-Daddy-O

What is it?
Danelectro DO-1 Daddy-O overdrive, built in 1996.

Got mine through ebay for a very reasonable price. Some natural road worn, sratches and paint chips. It’s good only either in this condition or as a mint. Quite happy with aesthetics. Inside, there are two boards screwed on the very sturdy design enclosure. I think these could easily outlast humankind.

Neat and well designed board. According to russian trace of the unit from 2003, topology goes as follows: Input buffer taking care of the bypass splitting -> variable gain stage -> another gain stage -> hard clipping LEDs -> three band tone control -> volume control -> output buffer. Pretty standard stuff. Vref voltage is divided with 4K7 resistors, so i think that draws more current than it would need.

DO1-Daddy-O-guts

Schematic is not too far off from some Marshall designs like Drivemaster and Bluesbreaker, but there are differences. Traces are modern, but still look eye pleasing and neat. The construction and soldering also look like it’s done the way these should be done. Don’t know why these units have such a bad rep as they do. They are well made and they sound…

How does it sound?
Really good. Due to it being close to designs mentioned above makes it very usable with its 3 band eq controls and nice range of gain from mild overdrive to distortion. It is a redesigned Marshall, and it is at least as good as its predecessor. And what kind of distortion? Think of original Marshall Drivemaster making out with Mad Professor Sweet Honey OD with added 3 band EQ.  Very underrated overdrive pedal. One of the greatest examples why Danelectro pedals appeal to me.

DOD FX33 BuzzBox

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

DOD-FX33-BuzzBox

What is it?
DOD FX33 BuzzBox, made in USA around 1995.

Now here’s something you won’t see everyday. When something is worth overdoing, let the DOD engineers show you the real way of the beast. Design is just sick. The America’s Pedal article on the history of the design is a very good read. There is a schematic available online, named Leafblower. It’s drawn by Celadine and it is spread accross two pages. It’s not that complicated, but still a big design.

DOD-FX33-BuzzBox-guts1

So in fact the design has distortion and octave divider in parallel, which is nothing too special when compared to other low octave divider circuits around. But this time the voicing and gain are set quite perfectly for extreme buzz. The controls work well, even though the names are gibberish. Heavy is controlling the mix between distortion and low octave output, Buzz acts as distortion control, Saw as tone and Thrust is your overall output level.

DOD-FX33-BuzzBox-guts2

As a nice curiosity, there’s a sticker inside with ” Dana B 232″ printed on it. These units usually sell for a lot. I happened to be quite lucky and got one from a friend in a trade that was good for both of us. Thanks Markus.

Due to the circuit being more complicated than its peers, it’s not your average suspect for cloning. After all, there are three dual opamps and a CD4013 flip-flop in addition to a few transistors and clippers. But from economical point of view a reissue should be welcome.

How does it sound?
Massive low octave noise monster. Some folks claim it to sound like a Rat driving a Bluebox, but to my ears it’s not even close. Think of two DOD Grunges in parallel and blasting the resulting hyper distorted signal through quadruple bass booster that has all the frequencies divided into lower octaves ála Bluebox. Yes. It is that sick. in the same time this sounds like a mash of a leafblower, a vacuum cleaner and a demon possessed NES system on speed.

DOD FX66 Flashback Fuzz

Monday, October 14th, 2013

DOD-FX66-FlashbackFuzz

What is it?
DOD FX66 (V) Flashback Fuzz. Made in china around 2000.

DOD has only produced two fuzz pedals in all of its existence. That’s not much. Plus both fuzzes in DOD back catalog are not fuzzes in traditional manner. Neither of the designs are transistor based, nor rely on own unique design. Both of them are rehashes of previously released circuits and they share PCBs with their predecessors. Where FX52 is basically a revoiced FX50B, the FX66 Flashback Fuzz is revoiced FX66 Grunge. A few interesting details can be read at America’s Pedal website. Lack of 6 components and some value swapping can apparently make a completely new effect.

DOD-FX66-FlashbackFuzz-guts

Note that the board has FX69 printed on it. Funny how tweaking the board really changes the characteristics. This doesn’t share anything else with the Grunge, except for the PCB, electronic switching and power filtering. Don’t know how the engineers at DOD pulled this off, but the result isn’t that bad.

In reality i was after the first production run US made unit, but this one was the only one i could find. And it suited my wallet too.

How does it sound?
Not bad at all actually. There is definitely some of that Fuzz Face analog feel in there, but it’s not really that close. It sounds more clinical than simple FF circuits, while still remaining quite musical. There is a lot of fuzz character in its sound, which is amazing as it still has nearly the same topology as FX69 Grunge. Quite usable, even though the uncontrollable overtones and glitching scratches are limited to minimum with all opamp and clipping diode design. I would personally recommend trying one out if you get a chance.

Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer (Reissue)

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

TS9

What is it?
Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer Reissue, made in japan. According to my guess on the serial, this is probably made in 2008. Got it used but in fair condition.

This must be one of the pedals with most information written. Sad thing that the reissues aren’t getting as much attention. No one seems to care about dating back the serials on these. Oh well. Teared mine open, and the box is exactly like the original 9-series boxes from the early 80s. The bottom insulation is better and non-removable though. The sight that welcomed me was like meh. Modern looking traces on modern thickness board. Not the acidy cool traces, nor the thick board that spreads confidence. All three of my Soundtank TS5s has thicker board than this specimen.

TS9-guts2

Components are close to the original, which makes this function like the older units. This specimen even has the JRC4558D chip in it. Not sure if there really is an audible difference between 4558 and TA75558. I’ve modded couple units before and tried both on with a DIP8 socket. Slipping in to heresy section, i personally believe that NE5532 is the best suited chip for this circuit.

Once again, refer to GEOfex article for more information on the circuit itself.

TS9-guts1

This one will surely get modded if i come across another unit for reasonable trade or price. Designwise this reissue is really nice pedal. Soundwise…

We could have a debate on if this design gets better with true bypass. My personal view is no. True bypassing buffered effects with electronic switching should only be done when there is something very wrong with buffering or there’s too low input impedance which leads to pickup loading and therefore oscillation. Hype of true bypass just isn’t worth it. I’ll talk more about this issue at some point. Maybe on some Colorless writings chapter…

How does it sound?
Well. What can i say? The cold dead hands slaps you on the top of your head. Unless. You have super sucky pickups. Then this puppy rocks. Sounds exactly as it should. Mid-honkin, bass-strippin medium overdrive with medium output. For live situation to get your mids heard over everything else. Not for anything else. A classic one trick pony. Prime suspect for modding the inverting input for more bass and gain.

Colorless writings, part 3 – The Madness

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Third part of these articles takes a look on the madness that eats up every tone freak person.

Madness? What are you talking about?

Dealing with used gear, guitars, effect, amps, you name it, you’ll need to be in contact with the people who are more or less tone freaks. It is rare that you can buy or sell a pedal from someone who doesn’t know what he/she is buying or selling. Those occasions are usually benefitting me and all the others who know their stuff. But these moments are rare. I’ve met people who are 10 years (or more) younger than me that list hundreds of instruments they’ve tried and used to own. I’ve met older people with spark ignited after they have turned 50. There’s one thing common with these people and me. All of us are on the hunt for sounds and nuances that are new to us. We all are on the hunt for that exact tone that may not even exist. There won’t ever be a person who has played with every single stompbox design ever released.  Every piece of the puzzle affects every other piece. To be more exact, there are basically four common variables:  Guitar, Effects/Pedals, Amplifier and the Cabinet

We could add cables to the mix, but unless you are not using the cheapest cables that came with your sister’s karaoke set, the audible difference can be debated for a long time. I mean that if you’re using good basic cables, you’re going to be fine and you don’t have to bother yourself with that. Back to the variables. Change one item in that chain, and the overall tone will change. You’ll be able to hear the differences. Always. That’s why i think most of the pedal demos are just wrong. You might get the idea what is happening, but you won’t have any real surface to the sound before you’ve played the pedal with your own  gear. Commercial instances who make the demos are usually trying to sell more stuff they have on stock, so the demo should sound good. When was the last time you saw a stomp box demo that was truly and constructively critical about the product? I surely can’t remember seeing one.

Someone could write an article about his hunt and catch, but then again, that article would only cover the hunt for his/her preferences. Some people even hunt the existing tones. Some are deliberately trying to match D. Dimebag, B. Corgan, J. Mascis, S.R. Vaughn, Slash, EVH and so on. To be honest, i feel slightly sorry for these guys spending massive ammounts of money to nail the sound that already exists. I also feel slightly sorry for myself and rest of the world who are trying to nail what they think will be the greatest tone ever – spending massive amounts of money trying to get there.

This is where the madness steps in. May the goal be whatever, the gear that needs to be tested to get there will always be a lot. Not to mention that human mind is pretty stupid thing. If you eat oatmeal every morning with peaches, you’re going to end up hating both in just a few years. There is always that one little thing that could work and/or sound just a little better or different. This is the main reason why we need pedals.

So the madness is the hunt for tone?

Basically no.  Not everyone playing a guitar/bass is affected by the consuming mental phenomena. But it turns to madness when you have more than 50 pedals, more than 20 guitars or more than five vacuum tube amps. We are called hoarders in some parts of the society. Some people will even go deeper than that. Like myself, i want to understand how and why the tone sounds like it does. I need to understand it. In some cases i might even trust my knowledge of electronics theory more than my own ears. That’s what makes this a madness. And the endless yearning for more of unexplored tones.

I can’t take myself too seriously. If i did i’d be already too deep – past the point of no return. Some people will always collect automobiles and some get their kicks from collecting stamps or vinyl records. I find my inner peace from electric guitars and sounds created with pedals, amps and those guitars. Yes it does interfere with my everyday life. Just as much as my everyday life interferes with my electronics. Once you are too deep, you’ll know it. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone, but once you’re in there – you’ll know what i’m talking about.

Ah. I think i get it. The madness is when you don’t care about anything else but the tone?

Now we’re getting closer. In the past i watched TV. In the past i jogged considerably long distances. In the past i needed to get drunk way too often. I may be getting fatter and out of shape, but i really don’t care. Sometimes i even forget to eat. All of this because i do my best to get even deeper in the understanding of tone. I’ve been at this for a few years and i’m still learning new things every day. Not a day goes by that i don’t think about this stuff. It is my stuff. I live and breathe it. It is my sound.

I just happen to know that this is the chosen way of life to others too. None of us will ever be able to verbally express why this sound like that and why that sounds like this. We all just know it by heart and by gut feeling. When we rather spent our last pennies on rare 70’s pedal than get our fridges full to support our bodily functions for the next three weeks – that’s when it goes past the limit. That’s when we’re in the zone. That’s the madness. Couldn’t say that i didn’t like it here.

Dunlop JH-F1 Fuzz Face

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Dunlop-JHF1-FuzzFace

What is it?
Dunlop JH-1F Fuzz Face. BC108 Si transistors and branded as “Authentic Hendrix”. Manufactured around 09-11.

The Fuzz Face is one of those that everyone should play at some point. Because if they haven’t, they’re really missing out on a lot. Fuzz is not a distrtion as in Overdrive/Distortion. Not at all. Usually your standard fuzzes are created by pair of transistors driving the hell out of each other, or shunt-series-feedback amplifiers. The basic schematic is very simple (courtesy of GEO). It’s a nine component circuit, plus two pots. As for the origins of Fuzz Face, well. The Vox/Solasound Tonebender had been released earlier in the same year, 1966. So there’s a chance that the Fuzz Face may be the first known example in a very long history of a company ripping off other company’s design.. But let’s get back to this particular unit.

Dunlop-JHF1-FuzzFace-back

Backplate has “Athentic Hendrix” stamp right next to all the common modern day labels. Yes. It’s lead free. Reportedly, mr. Hendrix used original germainum version until he got fed up with unreliable behaviour that comes naturally with Ge-devices. So he later on used only the version with Si-transistors. In which point the microphone stand bottom inspired enclosure turned blue, i really can’t tell. Must be earlier than when Arbiter reissues were assimilated by Dunlop as i’ve seen couple of old Arbiter units in blue for sale (needless to say that you’ll buy a car for that amount of money..). Anyway, the transistors in JH’s unit were BC108Cs. A lot higher in hFE gains than original NTK275 versions. Nowadays commonly loved Fuzz Face transistors, the AC128 were introduced much later in a Dallas Arbiter reissues.

Dunlop-JHF1-FuzzFace-guts1

Insides look like they are true to the original unit. Board layout and resistors are as expected. There are no modern day luxuries here! No indicator LED, nor power jack. Just a crude place for a 9V battery. 26mm pots and big semi-closed jacks. At first glance, in all the simplicity it is quite beautiful.

Dunlop-JHF1-FuzzFace-guts2

Board has everything laid out neatly. Four carbon composition transistors, two Philips electrolytic caps and one non-polar. which looks to me like it is 100nF and not 10 as in basic schematic. Looking deeper in to it, there are different versions of Fuzz Face. So hold the press. There should be trimmers, hidden caps and resistors.. And there are…

Dunlop-JHF1-FuzzFace-guts3

Unscrewing the board shows the Borg. The face is still there (and it is blue), but inside there’s the Locutus. SMD bias trimmers and tamer caps and so on. At first this unit sounded like it was slightly misbiased, but i thought that was a feature with BC108 transistors. In fact the trimmers were misbiased. No wonder the guy i got this from couldn’t get it thing to sound right. Tuned them by ear and got it running like it probably should. And just look at how the short on the right edge is fixed. You may now have a better idea why i sold off all my Dunlop made MXRs. I’m wondering if i should sell this off too as it gives me more reasons to dislike Jim Dunlop Manufacturing. Their plectrums are very good though… Sad thing you can’t score these for cheap. If you could, you should really think about getting a reproduction PCB and rebuilding the insides to match the 60’s specs with NKT275s. Maybe even repaint the enclosure to get your Picard back.

How does it sound?
Just as i expected. Harsher and colder than germanium versions i’ve played with. Actually. The guy i got this unit from told me that he bought it when he was after that “Fu Manchu” sound and got dissappointed. At that time i didn’t know that the unit was blue and it puzzled me a bit. Once i opened up the parcel, i wrote him back saying, “no wonder you couldn’t get it to sound right”. It sounds almost like a fuzz face, but in reality it is the day of the undead. Resistance is not futile. I’m thinking that i should probably stick with pedals with through hole components. You know, to stay organic. If you are looking for this exact sound, you should probably seek for modern chinese clone called “Blue Faze”. It is 1:1 and does not try to hide that it is the Borg. Plus it has all the modern day luxuries in miniature enclosure that sort of looks like three cubes in attack formation..

Pearl F-605 Electro Echo Analog Delay

Friday, October 4th, 2013

Pearl-ElectroEcho

What is it?
Pearl Model F-605 Electro Echo Analog Delay, made in japan around 1977-79.

Saw this unit for sale and couldn’t help myself. Even if it meant that i was to eat dry bread for the rest of the month. Price wasn’t too bad, and i wouldn’t sell this for the price i got it – never. As analog delays come, this may be one of the greatest. It has input and output level selectors, which make it usable with synthesizers and other devices with line level output. In/out level settings depicted in the photo above work reasonably well with electric guitar.

Three modes on the right are Delay, Chorus and Duplex. Duplex, like the name suggests, mixes both delay and chorus together, resulting in quite spacious soundscapes. Unit runs on 12V DC supply or two 9V batteries. The latter seems to be quite a standard for these older designs. The photo below shows the circuit board. It’s pretty crammed…

Pearl-ElectroEcho-Guts

But the traces are neat and the design looks pleasing. That box could have housed a bigger board, but i do find this tightness intriguing. Board designer shows some great disipline. I didn’t take the pots off, so you’ll need to live with a shot of raised board. Yup. It is crammed.

Pearl-ElectroEcho-Guts2

The chip responsible for the delay is MN3005, a 4096-stage long delay BBD (Bucket-brigade device). I know i should dig deeper to the design to see what’s really happening in there, but this seem quite complicated analog delay device to begin with. I may have to start with something a little more straight forward.

Anyway. As a closing, here’s a shot of the bottom plate. Everyone will get what the text means, but i think that grammar beats even mine.

Pearl-ElectroEcho-Back

How does it sound?
One of the best analog delays i’ve played with. Versatile design that has useful modulation section. Not really sure if these units were meant to be guitar effects in the first place, but it works and sounds.. Well. Analog. Overall, analog delays have their own character which is in many ways worse than modern PT2399 or otherwise digital based delays. This one has cool vintage clang to it, which is not too bad. Unit may be collectible, but i can already see myself using it next time i’m in studio…

UPDATE! There’s a traced schematic up at Freestompboxes (for those who have an user account). This shows there’s no regulator at the power supply side. On battery use, the unit uses 18V, but the dc jack has 12V 300mA printed next to it. This being said, the unit sounds awesome on battery and a power supply that gives 15V and >100mA out. Since the batteries can handle about 20 minutes of use and 12V supply sounds like s**t, i’m under impression that the label next to DC jack is in error. If you have one, feed it with 15V supply and be amazed.

Danelectro DJ9 Surf & Turf Compressor

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

DJ9-Surf-n-Turf

What is it?
Danelectro DJ-9 Surf & Turf compressor from Mini series.

Finally. One of these that make the original look bad. Like i”ve pointed out on numerous occasions, to refine or rediesign existing design, the result should always be better than the original. Not much poin if it isn’t. Here we have your standard CA3080 OTA-based compressor that derives from Dyna/Ross. In reality the design is so close, that there’s not that much difference to the original 70s designs. You can do the comparison yourself. Surf & Turf by Cow4prez and original Dyna by AMZFX.

DJ9-Surf-n-Turf-guts

Prime example of succesful redesign. Even if the build quality of my unit is slightly sub-par in build quality with the best ones in the mini series, it’s still good. Much better unit to spend your hard earned cash on than current Dunlop Dyna.

How does it sound?
Close, if not exactly the sound of old 70s Dyna comp in compact box. Meaning that it is not the shock effect like current Dunlop versions, but the usable, warm compression with slight vintage mush due to its operational transconductance amplifier. So in a few words – really good sounding usable compressor.

Danelectro DJ6 Pepperoni Phaser

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

DJ6-Pepperoni

What is it?
Danelectro DJ-6 Pepperoni Phaser from the Dano Mini series.

Standard mini plasticky box. Bought it for cheap and now that i have it – i can say that no-one should pay good money for this. Mine came in as horribly misbiased, so i needes to tweak it quite a bit to get it running as it should. Although i’m not using a lot of pahsers, i tend to like them. Which leads to me having a few. The schematic is posted at Experimentalists Anonymous, and it shows the design to be very similar to Phase90 and many other four stage phasers. Accompanied with your standard Danelectro electronic switching, the build quality seems ok, if not better than average minis.

DJ6-Pepperoni-guts

Note the empty pads. Those are for through-hole JFETs. I enjoy running into such curiosity. Definitely something that i didn’t expect to see.

In general the layout, all SMD construction and everything else is on par with mini other series boxes.  Could be a nice, small footprint alternative to Phase 90. Assuming you can get one of these for next to nothing. Otherwise it may not be worth the trouble.

How does it sound?
Not too good, but to my ears the overall sound is better than current reproduction versions of MXR Phase90, which is very overrated phaser. The bias trimmer may need adjustment, as for my unit the setting was off enough to kill the whole signal on certain parts of the sweep. To get it just right, the trimmer needs to be turned very, very carefully. I do suspect that the SMD JFETs are not as perfect match for each other as they should be. So taking a use of empty pads and using your own matched quartet of JFETs could be a nice improvement.