Archive for November, 2013

Ibanez TC7 Tri-mode Chorus

Friday, November 29th, 2013

TC7What is it?
Ibanez TC7 Tri-Mode Chorus from 7/Tonelok series, made in china. Stamp on the enclosure suggest the build date to be around 2005.

Now here’s the first! There’s not a hint of blue on this box! And in other news, the three modes are quite interesting – at least on paper. There are basically two separate delay circuits for two separate choruses that are simply out of phase with each other. And there’s only one LFO driving those delays. Tri-mode in this case means that the first gives out mono chorus and splilts the clean signal to second output. Second mode is for out-of-phase stereo output and the third widens the delay time range and has both outputs active. Quite usable options.

Ripping one open shows a highly populated board with crowded joints and modern traces.

TC7-guts1

As with all 7-series boxes, the insides are made of five different boards. Well made solid build with pin terminals instead of board to board wiring to connect boards to each other.

TC7-guts2

Work is neat in many ways, which validates the point that there are good manufacturers in china. I do not know which of the companies have built these, but they probably should be credited.

Down to the design itself. Couldn’t find a schematic right off the bat, but i assume that the TL022 is used as LFO and JRC4562s are taking care of buffering, mixing and driving for the different outputs and modes. So there’s one LFO driving the two Mitsubishi M65850 digital delay chips.

TC7-guts3

M65850 isn’t that widely used digital echo/delay processor as some others. But it has quite interesting datasheet with notion to Karaoke on it (check it out on AllDataSheet.com). So i suspect one should be able to find those chips from inside a number of different karaoke devices.

How does it sound?
Solid and trustworthy. Nothing too special in the sound, but at the same time it does have some personal character to it. The longer delay times found on third mode have similarities to a flanger design, offerign quite wild and swirly choruses. Not completely unlike vibe effects out there. Not bad at all. The fact that the delay line isn’t your standard BBD or digital chip may be the root of the personality found here. Well designed.

If i needed to drop all other choruses from my collection and leave only three, this one would probably make it to the ones i’d keep.

Ibanez CF7 Chorus/Flanger

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

CF7What is it?
Ibanez CF7 Chorus/Flanger from 7/Tonelok series. Made in china.

One of the more complex designs on the series offers digital chorus and flanger. No blue here either. But then again, it is a flanger too. Got mine for standard market price for used unit and almost pulled my hair off once i opened to parcel. I do not mind the nicks and scrathes, but one should never (NEVER) sell a pedal with “in good condition” label if it really isn’t so. This one had all sorts of crud and human waste on it. That can be addressed with a towel and a considerable amount of turpentine. But the lost bottom rubber and dual-lock-velcro over the serial number is not exusable. Not in any way. So the bottom is practically raped and there’s no chance of salvaging the serial nuber as it’s just a paper sticker fastened to the type plate. I did let the seller know…

CF7-guts1

The horror didn’t even end there. Just check what’s going on in the picture above. To this day i have no clue what he was trying to do with adding two more caps and soldering the wire to the solder side of the board. Could be as it is supposed to be in the original, but i highly doubt it.

CF7-guts2

The source of all the crazy sounds is M50198 digital chip. The same one used in DSC10 and many other Ibanez digital effects. This time the designing engineer put the chip a good use and took it even further. The design has even more similarities with DSC10, but it has evolved to the next level. The “Crazy” switch seems to affect the overall delay time, but it is labeled as it is. With options for “normal” and “wack’d”.This is in my opinion a landmark in digital flangers. A flanger’s what it really is, although it can be used as a sub-par chorus as well.

As for the beaten and mistreated unit? I’m definitely on the look for reasonably priced replacement in a better condition. Once i find one, this one will have to go.

How does it sound?
In the gut of the metal worm! Blasted! Weird and good with enough options to drown you. From mellow classic chorus and flanger tones to metallic, cold chorus to shattering digital flange. Think of this as a bastard child of DFL Digital Flanger and DSC10 Digital Chorus. To me, this one is the shit. Amazing and very usable sounds for many purposes. Classic to noise.

Yamaha CH10M II Chorus

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Yamaha-CH10MIIWhat is it?
Yamaha CH10M II Chorus from Sound Device series, made in japan. Datecodes on the components suggest manufacture date to settle at late 1984. The year of the Orwell’s instruction manual.

Can’t help it. The coin-op design box looks real good to me, which is the biggest reason for me to hunt these down. And just look at the traces. Simply beautiful. Design is your standard BBD chorus with two controls and added direct output for stereo use. Nothing new or special. Circuitwise, a standard analog chorus desing with added clean signal ouput for stereo use.

Yamaha-CH10MII-guts

All the boards in this Sound Device series look very pleasing. Acid trip traces with beautiful freehand drawn feeling to it. Soldering is neat and the inside enclosure design is good. These are very solid and recommended effects for your everyday use. Construction is strong enough to last couple of lifetimes.

How does it sound?
Quite mellow and soft with no particular character to it. Standard usable chorus sound that doesn’t lay too far away from mild sounding Danelectro choruses i’ve covered earlier. There is something missing though. The personality and edge. With the compressor, this is probably one the most disappointing boxes in Yamaha Sound Device series. Not bad but doesn’t get too close to the top.

Ibanez BC10 Stereo Bass Chorus

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

BC10What is it?
Ibanez BC10 Stereo Bass Chorus from 10/Power series. Made in japan around late 80’s.

As with CS5/BC5 covered earlier, the circuit is more or less verbatim with CS10. Funny. Four pedals equal one design, or the other way around. And the colour is… Slightly darker-or-more-violet-than-SC10-blue. As with its guitary brother, SC10, the BC10 has also three controls. With, Speed and Delay Time. If i haven’t written it already, the controls stand for: Width – the intensity of the LFO sweep affecting the delay circuitry, Speed – this one is changing the LFO speed and Delay Time – affecting the length of delay getting swept by LFO and BBD clock timer.

BC10-guts1

Modern board with modern traces. Very neat and professional soldering. The board size is not larger than what we find on Soundtank series, so it’s funny how the board here looks this crowded – even with LFO moved on the control board. Stereo output inverts the phase, so once again i’d recommend to try it as a stereo device.

BC10-guts2

The component side says it all. 1:1 board to SC10 Super Stereo Chorus. Some of the cap values are different, but otherwise the design is verbatim.

BC10-guts3

Upper board shows the LFO and controls. The controls are not complete workalike of SC10, with mild differences on the max speed and width. This may be diue to component tolerances and if so, the individual boxes of the same product will yield slightly different results. Damn i’m loving the analog circuits.

How does it sound?
With the minor differences on the circuits, this one sounds and feels pretty much the same as SC10. Just slightly fatter. If i place all four of these in series (CS5, BC5, CS10 and BC10), the differences are very minimal. Which is interesting and fun. Maxon engineers could have just created one circuit, preferably the one found on this one (BC10) and use that board and design for all the rest.

It sounds very good. Mellow, soft and fat(ish). Again, as with soundtank equilevant, the bass version lets more lower frequencies through, resulting in slightly softer sweep. Very good chorus to have.

Ibanez SC10 Super Stereo Chorus

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

SC10What is it?
Ibanez SC10 Super Stereo Chorus. 10/Power series box, made in taiwan  late 80’s.

You guessed it. Blue as it should be and without the stereo output circuitry, this looks like close match to Cs5 Super Chorus. According to schematic found online, the design is almost verbatim to CS5 – or one could argue (and be correct) that the CS5 is almost verbatim to SC10. The main (and only) difference is the output section.

SC10-guts1

SC10 has splitted output unity drivers for stereo output where the CS5 has only one output driver. The boards are nothing alike in layouts, but the electronic design is nearly the same. Except the added output driver here inverts the phase of output signal for its channel, giving out the perfect bi-phased chorus output. (Sorry for super crappy photo below)

SC10-guts2

The delay and timer circuitry is created with 3102/3207 pair, and LFO is driven by TL022. Maxon engineers have apparently solved most of the possible clock bleed issues by taking the LFO on the control board instead of main board. The main board only having the mixers, buffers  and delay circuitry on it.

Quite standard design with no surprises. Solid.

How does it sound?
If i only had this and CS5 in reversed order, i would probably love this one more. Basically because the sound is pretty much the same. But i happened to get CS5 first, so that one made a bigger impression on me. Usable chorus. The addition of delay time control opens a lot of new worlds. One can easily use this as mild and focused chorus, or tweak the delay time to make it sound monstrous. Versatile and good basic chorus.

Ibanez DSC10 Digital Chorus

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

DSC10What is it?
Ibanez DSC10 Digital Chorus from 10/Power series. Made in japan, late 80’s.

Refined chorus in 10 series with more controls than usual. And it’s digital. So prepare yourself for some iron worm action. Well. Not exactly. At first glance, this seems like very desirable unit with lots of options. In the end it sort of lets you down. The controls are “Color” and “Delay time” switch in addition to standard width and speed. “Color” is a passive low pass filter control, which i think got included because the design team wanted it to sound and feel like analog devices. The idea in this control isn’t too far away from the Rat’s “filter” control. Otherwise, from functional point of view, there are two outputs that are out of phase with each other. So stereo use is more than recommended. Letdown comes from the fact that it just tries to be one of those omni-choruses, where everything from mild ear pleaser to noise monster is possible. It isn’t.

DSC10-guts1

You’ll find the schematic from Dirk’s archive of the most beautiful traces known to man. Removing the bottom plate shown the well and tightly designed layout. Packed with noticeable accuracy (again, sorry for bad photos). Modern traces can’t turn me down this time. Just look at the joints and parts placement. There isn’t much symmetry, but the amount of stuff fit in there is respectable. Now we should talk a bit about the schematic…

DSC10-guts2

Motorola M50198 chip is the key here, basically just replacing the need for BBD pair in clock and delay purposes. That is one cool huge chip (i currently have no idea whatsoever how those work). The input buffering and phase inverting output drivers are your common parts. Rest of it. Not so much. In addition to the main delay circuit being a digital one, the LFO is created with JRC2904D. The 74HC04 Hex Inverter that we commonly find in electronic switching flip-flops has parts of it used as sort-of buffers between the LFO and the digital delay chip. Yeah. I know. I lost myself in there too.

DSC10-guts3
As shown on the last picture, the LFO is placed at the control board, between the pots and the switch. Due to my current knowledge, i simply cannot shed any more light on the subject. But it is beautiful pedal on the inside. More than just beautiful.

How does it sound?
Meh. Sad thing really. A rare Ibanez moment of stunning beauty and nearly unusable sound. The controls and the effort on the design let me believe much more until i played with it. On maximum time/width/delay time and minimum color setting, it does get somewhat close to a flanger style chorus. The sound behind the color control really bothers me. You can achieve the same “warmth” with dialing your guitar’s tone know down. Both methods can give you something that’s close to vibe-style effect but not quite.

It does have some potential and it’s not completely in vein. But it doesn’t make it even close of the top ten choruses i’ve played. If you’re planning on getting a Power series chorus, then i’d suggest to look for SC10 or BC10 instead of this one.

DOD FX60 Stereo Chorus

Monday, November 11th, 2013

DOD-FX60-STChorusWhat is it?
DOD FX60 Stereo Chorus. Made in US around 1990-91.

For some reason i find this unit simply beautiful. Seafoam/baby blue colour and simplicity of two knobs. Even the straight DOD logo suits this look very well. For aesthetics, this is one of the finer examples why i happen to like these FX series pedals so much. There is an old factory schematic available online which doesn’t quite match this unit’s version.

DOD-FX60-STChorus-guts

3101/3007 design. Basis of the design has remained, even though there are reportedly at least five different versions of the board. At least the delay section with that particular BBD pair is the same on all of them. This unit is the second latest board design, sharing the board with FX65. Which i do find intriguing, as the stright logo label would have us to believe that the unit would have earlier board in it. Ah, the mysteries of DODs. More quirks on the FX60 and all the different board revisions/versions – read about them on the DOD information heaven, the America’s Pedal site.

Overall, it has your standard controls of width and speed. Both having nothing but usable parts on the range.

How does it sound?
Mellow and soft. Like a good simple analog chorus should. There are no extreme settings, but just plain and simple warbling mild chorus. Very usable, but with no recognizable personal character. For a cheap DOD pedal, you really can’t or won’t go wrong with this one. It does sound very good, but doesn’t make it in to the top three for me.

Colorless writings, part 4 – The Builder

Monday, November 11th, 2013

Let’s take a look at me as a builder with a slightly longer article…

So you build pedals? How did it start?

Yes. I’ve built quite a few by now. It started out by accident. A happy accident. Back when i though myself as very average pedal user, still relying on my two channel amp for drive and clean. I wanted to try out up octaves, so i bought a cheap Joyo Ultimate Octave which is basically 1:1 clone of Fulltone’s unit of the same name. Just with cheaper build mentality. Wasn’t too happy with it, so i searched around the web for DIY build kits for upper ocatave. Found the General guitar gadgets and their Dan Armstrong Green Ringer replica kit and ordered it. Put the kit together and blam. Worked right of the bat. I just had the status indicator LED in reverse. But otherwise, success. The feeling you get from building something sucecssfully is unimaginable. Of course i started to look for that natural high again and found german Musikding store. Bought and built couple more kits for Si Fuzz Face, Super Hard-On booster and Red Llama. Success again. Only kit i couldn’t get to work was GGG’s LPB1. I still have that board somewhere in the back of my closet. I bet i could now debug and bring it back to life quite easily. But somehow i think i need to have it as a reminder that mistakes will always happen.

After couple of kits, i found couple of excellent websites that published stripboard layouts. Sabrotone.com by norwegian enthusiast Harald Sabro and the greatest of them all, tagboardeffects.blogspot.com, by british gentleman with screen name |v|ark (later on i got affiliated with the latter, but that’s a different story). The stripboard locked my interest after trying it out for the first time. The strips on basic boards are thicker than most traces on cheap commercial PCBs, making the connections more solid and durable. Well drawn stripboard layout will always beat the crap out of mediocre PCB designs in size and durability. I’ve built some boards on point-to-point tagboards and turretboards as well. Those are really good board materials, but they do limit the design complexity to very small circuits, or the final circuit won’t fit to any box that’s reasonably sized. Issue in this is that i rather use as small enclosure as possible. I’ve build more printed boards later on too, but i still tend to prefer stripboard for its solid connections and reasonable space requirements for small and medium sized circuits.

Sounds easy. Is there more to building than just reading ready instructions and basic soldering skills?

Yes and no. Like Indyguitarist once said, the electronics theory is not necesserily needed to build a great pedal. That is true. Simply following instructions will give basic knowledge of what the components are and what they do. Resistors and capacitors? What do they do in a circuit? Oh, and the switch. Do you know how 3PDT switch works? It should have this thing called on-on configuration, but it has 9 pins. How about the pot. Do you know how the pots work? These should be variable resistors, but they have 3 lugs. Knowing how these things work will make your life a whole lot easier. In addition to knowing the components, the debugging is another crucial skill. Soldering and reading instructions should be walk in a park for almost anyone – but getting your non-functional circuit to run is quite a different thing. On some debugging occasions when i can hear where the problem is just by listening to the circuit. Makes me smile. For a first timer, there just simply isn’t a chance of that happening. Novice debugger should know how to use a multimeter and how to construct an audio probe. With those two things at hand, one should be able to tell where the problem is. Quite often the problem is in the build and not the documentation. Almost always. If not always. All the documentation is created by people, which means that there is always a possibility of an error in there. All components are created by people. Same thing applies here. One should also remember that a faulty component is way more rare occasion than a error in build itself.

First time builders may have difficulty in separating the different parts of the pedal. The standard true bypass switching is usually completely different thing from the circuit itself. One should never solder the switching and ultimately the box to the circuit if one isn’t sure about if the circuit is working right. Debugging a sort-of completed build is a lot more painful than debugging the circuit board without switching and the box.

In general, debugging is a crucial skill that one can only learn by doing it. A lot. At the moment i can safely say that i can repair almost any broken analog pedal with through hole components – even without a schematic.

Do you build just clones or original circuits too?

Both. Building “clones” ia a way to start out. We could talk for a few hours about these “clones” and whether they are really clones. The computer you’re reading this is probably a clone of someone else’s work. Most of the pedals you will ever play are just “clones”. As the transistor can be hooked up in just couple of different ways, there isn’t a lot opportunities to do something completely profound that hasn’t been done before. Saddest examples i can think of are the Big Name builders that rip off tubescreamer and threaten to sue anyone trying to reverse engineer their “work”. There have been so many examples that i don’t want to dig into that. Reminds me of a quote on Dan Armstrong dot org. (Whole site is something that i’d recommend everyone interested in pedals should read…) “At one point, according to Dan “an MXR® rep tried out the Blue Clipper at a NAMM show and was amazed, not only of the sound we got out of it, but also how we managed to fit everything into such a small package”. Dan continues stating ” not too long after that they more/less copied the Clipper and went on to produce the ‘Distortion Plus’®, which was their version of the Clipper, but it wasn’t as smooth as ours”.

 When I asked Dan about all the copying that was going on he replied “well, it’s true that many copied our work or our ideas, but it’s also true that we borrowed ideas from others as well. The Green Ringer & Red Ranger, for instance are built on the ideas of others. We just made it so that the effects work the way they should have. That was our goal all along – to make effects that work right. There was a lot of copying going on, I know. The effects market was really nothing more than a bunch of beggers and thieves, all building off one anothers work. The trick was to get the effects working and sounding right – then they sold”.

No matter how hard someone tries to tell you anything different – all the circuits ever made are copies of another circuits. The real value comes from usability, quality and truly, from the effect working and sounding right. Dan’s words tell us that the classic MXR Dist+ is nothing more but MXR’s attempt to recreate Blue Clipper. It surely doesn’t sound like the Clipper, but it is good…

I’ve drawn quite a few sketches of different circuit ideas and some of those have made it to the “production”. How original are those? Others more and others less. All of them still use semiconductors as buffers and/or amplifiers, diodes for hard or soft clipping, etc. The basic stuff.

None of this is a rocket science. Anyone could learn how to build a pedal. I’m definitely not saying that everyone should. Dickehead pedal builder is probably a dickhead in all the other aspects of life too.  Who i think should be a pedal builder? Number of attributes may apply here. Anyone with humility and stamina to understand what he/she is doing and why. Is it only to make money or is it for the greater good? Can’t say. I’m doing this for personal gain, which translates to growth of my own knowledge of how the universe works. In this case the universe being the best possible sound i can strum off from my guitar. If you think you can be a respected builder without being a dick about it, you are more than welcome to try it out. The best practices will shape up along the way, so don’t expect to become new Mr. Mathews overnight.

Are going to be release more new models?

Definitely. My sketchbooks are filling up and every now and then i do find the time to try out some things that are interesting to me. Can’t say anything certain about the future, but i think there is a chance of me turning to professional builder some day. If everything works out perfectly, that may be true in a few years. I don’t think i’ll be able to make a million with guitar effect circuits – but then again, that’s not what i’m aiming for. My ultimate goal would be to create such pedals, that the users want to use stage and on recordings they make. Nothing more, nothing less. I’m not here to create incorporeal or intellectual property or to make a quick buck. Right now i’m here to try out new things and share what i’ve learned. Can’t really say what the world will look like in five years. I’m not even interested in that.

Danelectro DC-1 Cool Cat Chorus

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

DC1-CoolCat-ChorusWhat is it?
Danelectro Cool Cat Chorus, later 9V version, made in china around 1999-2000.

Earlier versions were fed with 18V supply and supposedly sound even better. My unit is the later one with standard 9V input, making it very common and easy to obtain chorus box.. Got it for a reasonable price a long time ago. Comparison between the two versions would be very nice thing to experince. Oh well. I guess i’ll just have to keep an eye out for the old one. The 9V supply is way more popular and easier for people to use. So i see Dano’s point in changing the supply for later models. By my experience (and due to not having played with original 18V version), this is the king of all choruses. Built to take a large hit from a large beaver. On the negative side, the box is big.

DC1-CoolCatChorus-guts1

The traces are sturdier than on most factory pedals in the same price range. Soldering is also neat with just a tiny hint of sloppiness around here and there.

The Danelectro way of building these things is admirable. Circuit boards stacked and cut to fit the enclosure perfectly. Techinally the designs is your standard 3102/3207 timed chorus with standard controls of LFO speed and width/depth, that is now called “chill”.

DC1-CoolCatChorus-guts2

By today, i still have not seen one of these units with a broken or non functional switch. Maybe i just don’t know about those cases, or they just last time way better than other similar plastic solutions. I have heard complains about the plastic jacks, but i’ve personally never ran into problems with those either.

DC1-CoolCatChorus-guts3

All in all, there are lots of similarities between the “original” series and later mini series, including the switching (which is not bad), the pots (not that bad either) and the jacks (not great, but not too bad). So the main difference between these and some of the mini series boxes is the metal vs. plastic enclosure.
This. Definite workhorse.

How does it sound?
Like a landmark for soft analog choruses. Doesn’t bend to extreme settings, but does the thing i expect it to do and does it really well. If i was to use a chorus on my board, this would be very high on the list. Did i already mention it sounds soft and pleasing on all possible settings? Guess not. But it does.

Danelectro CC-1 Chorus

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

CC1-ChorusWhat is it?
Danelectro CC-1 Chorus from Cool Cat series, made in china around 2004.

Got this unit used for a very reasonable price. That reasonability ended once i openend the parcel. Bottom was velcroed and the type plate was long gone. Those do not contribute to the sound in any way, but i’m usually after pedals that are in good or better condition (unless they are more rare and more collectible). As this series is not at the highest spot on my collector’s list, i think i can live with the faults. It is quite interesting how and why most manufacturers choose blue as a colour for their choruses. Dark or light, but most of them are blue. If not blue blue, then light or dark, but still blue.

CC1-Chorus--guts

The Danelectro method of creating effects has mostly been interesting. If you take a look at any board from the “original” series or from mini series, you’ll notice that the boards are designed and cut per the enclosure. Rather than making the enclosure to house the circuit. In this case the two stacked boards are really small and leave a room for a battery in the middle.

Next issue i’m  going to need to raise with these boxes is the switching. Danelectro had a long experience in electronic switching which wasn’t that bad at all. Only couple of the mini series boxes were reported to be sucking the bypassed tone, but when we leave the plastic momentary switch solution aside, the switching was (and still is) not bad. So the choice to go for sometimes unreliable 3PDT standard true bypass leaves me puzzled. Will it make the effect better than its electronically switched, buffer bypassed peers?

How does it sound?
Good with quite wide range of settings.  it has your standard depth and speed controls in addition to “mix/eq” control which acts more like a mix than eq. Nice cheap pedal. Nothing to shout about, but well working and reasonably good sounding chorus. Small footprint for pedalboards can be counted as a plus.