Archive for June, 2014

Danelectro DJ-14 Fish & Chips 7-Band EQ

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

DJ14-FishChips

What is it?
Danelectro DJ-14 Fish & Chips 7-band graphic EQ from Mini-series. Made in china around mid 00’s.

The first thing that comes to mind is the Boss GE-7. Could this be one of those simple redesigns that feel and work like the design that it mimics? Sure does feel and work like it. Yes. This is a very close approximation of your big brand 7-band EQ pedals. Sure enough. Anyone could compose a graphic EQ with little engineering skills through a careful studying. So even if the frequencies are close to any other brand’s design, i would still not call this a complete ripoff.

DJ14-FishChips-guts

All SMD boards with unusual battery-in-the-middle box layout. There are other with this arrangement too, but the sideways battery slot is more common for the series.

From playing around with the effects for the time i have, i’ve noticed that biggest use for EQ pedals is when i want to cut out frequencies from the instrument (may that be what ever). For some reason, i’ve never considered using a graphic EQ as a booster. Every single one i have (or had) are more than capable of boosting the desired frequency or frequencies in clean and neat way. This could be a road that needs some exploring. Although there are number of booster designs that are meant for.. Boosting…

How does it sound?
Clear and clean. Cuts and boosts when and where needed. Usability for this unit is very high. Pedal board-wise, the footprint is small and the standard Dano electronic bypass isn’t that horrible either. Good, clean sounding EQ with good range for the controls. This is one of those Dano Minis that should not be overlooked.

Maxon OD808 Overdrive

Friday, June 27th, 2014

Maxon-OD808

What is it?
Maxon OD808 Overdrive. Reissue, made in japan around 2008.

Another Tubescreamer? Well. Sort of. Apparently the design for Maxon OD808 has varied a lot over the years, depending on the “re-issue”. Some schematics available show the input and output buffers to be implemented with a LM1458 opamp instead of NPN transistors. This unit isn’t per that schematic due to only one dual opamp being used. So this unit is apparently the latter re-issue, which is pretty much 1:1 with Maxon designed Ibanez TS-808 Overdrive. From what i can tell, the board layout is not the same as in either original Maxon TS808 or Ibanez TS-808, but something different.

Maxon-OD808-guts1

I do like the idea of fastening the board to the enclosure with several screws. This method should last a long time of careless (ab)use. The component side is neat and laid out evenly, offering more smiles in terms of aesthetics. Even the plastic shell protecting the bottom of the box from touching the board is fastened with screws. Solid boxing design.

Maxon-OD808-guts2

Controls are housed on their own board and much of the outboard wiring has been done without any sockets or other methods that reduce the labor. There’s a lot of hand craft for pedal that’s this modern. This is one great factor to consider, when you’re after a TS variant for your board and you’re confused about the pricing.

Maxon-OD808-guts3

Well made as every other Maxon box. And since the design is 1:1 with Ibanez TS-808, this is the closest you’ll get of having a brand new Ibanez TS-808. As for the hand drawn schematic (link above), the schem is exactly the same as TS-808 in all the component values. Only thing that differs is the electronic switching. This unit doesn’t have  the standard Ibanez flip-flop switching, but electronic equivalent based on a latching switch and a buffered bypass. Which is better, you might ask? Well. They are different. If you do have a strong opinion about which is better, i suggest you leave a comment with your justification for the choice. No. Really. I want to hear it.

How does it sound?
Surprisingly bright and open. Which makes me suspicious. Every single time i can hear a difference between two same circuits i’m puzzled. In terms of electronics theory this pedal should sound more or less like my 00’s TS9 reissue. But it doesn’t. Differences are subtle, but still noticeable. For the mid honk, that always makes me feel bad for the humble TS9, this one has it, but it isn’t as muffled as in, well, all the other reissues and derivatives out there. I’m forced to admit that this simply sounds better than most TS clones/derivatives i’ve played with. Why? I wish i could tell you why. If the original TS-808s sounded like this when they came out of the factory back in 1980, i sure am getting the cult reputation. Which was a deep mystery to me before this landed on my desk. It is a Tubescreamer. No denying that. But it is simply better than most other TS’s.

The different switching could explain some of this, but it shouldn’t. Puzzling.

Nevertheless. This is very good sounding Tubescreamer. If not the best i’ve played with, then its sitting in tight with the others in top three.

Colorless writings, part 12 – The Preference (aka Yet Another Gear Talk episode)

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Are you about to tell us what pedals you use and how you chain them?

Sure. I could do that. In addition, i’m asking you readers to reveal your preferences. My comments are moderated due to vast amount of spam i’m getting even with most current protection, so don’t worry if it’ll take a day before your comment appears.. More on that later, but to be honest i’ve never spkoken with a guitarist who doesn’t have any detailed preference to his/her gear. I think we should start with the guitar itself.

I’ll begin with saying that i have rather large hands. Due to that fact the Gibson style 24,75″ scale feels awkward and cramped when i try to play anything from around 12th fret. So i settled for Fender style scale. I did think of myself as a Tele man for a long time. I’ve always thought the humble Stratocaster to be the ugliest body design there is. I had even gone to such lengths as slandering some acquaintances for their instrument of choice. Needless to say i’m no expert in field of guitars, but i’ve owned a few dozen different ones over the years. As i happened to score a japanese Fender Contemporary Stratocaster for peanuts about a year ago, i just had to try it out at rehearsals once i got it up and running (it had missing parts etc. when i got it). Took it out of a bag and played loud with it. To my massive surprise, it was the first time i could hear myself clearly through the drums and bass. That started an avalanche of enlightenment. Even with a case of slight cognitive dissoonance, i had no choice but to retract all my previous comments about the strat. Sometimes only thing that can get you forward is admitting that you are wrong. Plain wrong.

The thing is, while Telecasters sound very good to my ears, mainly because of their fast and brutal attack, the body of the sound stays very thin regardless of pickups. In terms of envelope generator curve found on synthesizers, Telecaster has very fast and powerful attack. It’s decay is just as fast leaving the sustain short and meatless too. Not to talk about release. Teles die instantly. As for Stratocasters – the attack is definitely a bit slower, but the decay time is way longer. with sustain being fat and powerful. I can come up with only one explanation for this behavior. The bridge setup. Hard tailed bridge resonates the guitar body from a tiny area resulting in Telecaster behavior. Stratocasters with standard tremolos vibrate the whole body due to springs holding the tremolo. Plus the bridge is fastened in two different positions and the mass of wood is a lot thinner under the pickups. So there you have it. Stratocaster is the most powerful sound there is. Mostly due to its tremolo bridge. I believe the power comes from the bridge, not from the body shape.

Of course, you’re preference of strings and setup affect the power too. I wonder how a Telecaster body would sound with a standard strat tremolo.

Get on with it…

Ok, i will. For guitar, i prefer Stratocaster with standard tuning, rosewood fingerboard, 10-52 set of strings and high(ish) tension for the strings by fastening the tremolo springs rather tight. For pickup i’ve grown accustomed to Seymour Duncan TB-14 Custom 5 humbucking pickup on the bridge position. It is hot enough, but not dulling hot. Plus it has very pleasing clarity and bright highs to it’s overall tone. That’s basically all that i currently need. Sure, the preference may change, but the change would need to radically alter the tone, making it a lot better before i’m going to change anything.

Next up my “production” pedal board. The board itself is made from wooden Ikea cutting board that i’ve drilled full of holes. I tend to fasten my pedals to the board with large cable ties rather than velcro. Cable ties leave the pedal bottoms with their serial number stickers in tact, which is rather important to me as a collector. Pedal arrangement is subject to change from time to time. But as active player, i’ve come accustomed to certain sounds being available. Currently my signal on the board goes like this: Guitar -> TC Electronics Polytune -> Custom made Green Ringer adaptation to FYA STF Driver in a single box -> another Custom made Green Ringer adaptation to FYA Apiformis Fuzztortion in a single box -> Nux Mod Force -> Nux Time Force -> Amp. Up octaves, OD and fuzz are the ones that get a lot of stomping. The Nuxes are there just in case i want to fool around.

What’s you’re preference for the amplifier?

About 12 years ago, i was dreaming about buying a AC30 and tried to accumulate cash for one. I always seemed to be a little short. Around those times, one local musician wanted to get himself a Fender Twin Reverb to replace a Marshall JCM800 2205. He was selling the Marshall for a low “need-to-sell-this-right-away” price. So i thought if don’t like it, i can always sell it and make a little profit in the process. But the amplifier sticked. I learned to love its sound and dynamics offered by a pair of EL34s. Later i stopped using the OD channel altogether and i’ve been on the “British clean” sound for about five years now. Sure. It has very little to do with clean, but to me, it is the greatest guitar sound there is. And we should not dismiss the fact the 2205 Marshall can handle almost any pedal at its input. All this makes it simply the perfect amplifier for me. I pair it with its original 4×12 cabinet.

To be honest. I currently have no idea how to make my sound “better”. I think i don’t even want to. This is the shit.

So.. If you read this writing all the way to here, i’d like to ask what do you, my readers, use and/or prefer? You could simply answer your guitar style, string gauges, pickup preference, pedal board setup and amplifier to the post comments.Of course it doesn’t hurt to justify your preferences too…

EHX Doctor Q Nano

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

EHX-DrQ-Nano

What is it?
Electro Harmonix Doctor Q Envelope Follower from Nano series. Made in NYC, USA around late 00’s.

There are a lot of recycled designs in EHX catalog. This is one of those that has been around since 70’s and later made its way to nano series in cost effective and more usable sized enclosure. Of course the board design has been reduced to SMD as well to keep manufacturing cost low. The design on the other hand, remains very close to the original unit.

EHX-DrQ-Nano-guts1

There are a few schematics available. The first one looks like original factory schematic, but the scan quality isn’t too great. I’d prefer to read the redrawn one. As the design has been rather popular in DIY crowd, there are number of additions available. Some of those add very good features and address the shortcomings of the original (like J. Orman’s Dr. Quack or Nurse Quacky that includes M. Hammer’s mods). In essence, the original design has input impedance on rather low level, resulting in possible pickup loading. That is, unless you have a buffered pedal placed before the Dr. Q. Other improvements are for stability of the trigger and for the effective range of the filter part. Original works fine, but for those building their copy, i’d suggest reading about the improvements before doing anything rash.

For the basic functionality, the incoming signal is splitted in two. The other part rushes to the filter for being modulated and the the other is sent for the trigger. Output is taken from the filter.

EHX-DrQ-Nano-guts2

The board is standard and modern EHX design. Nothing to write home about, but it works. The range trimmer is rather sensitive. To get it perfectly in tune with your chosen instrument (bass, guitar, organ, whatever), you’ll need to spend some time screwing with it. You can tune it throught the board, so there’s no real need to detach the board from the enclosure. The main differences between this Nano unit and the vintage ones are the added power filtering and parallel polarity protection.

How does it sound?
Usable, but pretty squishy. The design contributes to some noise, which will be present at all the times when filter sweep activates. Squishy noises do, however, leave us with sort of an vintage feel to the sound. So we could argue that this is not a “studio quality” effect, but it’ll serve well for vintage vibes on stage. Sure. There are other envelope filters that you might want to consider over this, but if the effect isn’t used that much.. Then the price range and quality should be right on que. Yes. That’s an idiotic pun.

Danelectro DJ-13 French Toast Octave Distortion

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

DJ13-FrenchToast

What is it?
Danelectro DJ-13 French Toast Octave Distortion. Made in china around mid 00’s.

This one is one of the more classic designs in the series. The internet reveals that the design is 1:1 with a classic fOXX Tone Machine with added standard Dano Mini series electronic bypass switching. In other words, it is a four transistor fuzz that features a switchable octave up. There are a few schematics available, here’s one from Gaussmarkov.

DJ13-FrenchToast-guts

Looking at the schematic shows an gain stage at the input, followed by a transistor stage that is responsible for the octave up. This stage uses two germanium diodes to mangle the signal in octave mode. Diode arrangement isn’t completely different to one found in latter version of Roger Mayer’s Octavia, while the setup leading to those diodes is. On this point we have our “gain” control. Yup. You can call it what ever you want, but it is simple volume control setting the level for the next stage. After that there’s one more driver stage pushing the tone control, which isn’t completely different to one found in Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi. Not completely alike either. Finally, there is one more gain stage before pushing the signal to the the final volume control.

There have been numerous boutique clones of the Tone Machine around for years, but seeing one coming in this price range by big brand was new and exciting to me. This, in addition to Chili Dog Octave (and a few others), are the greatest offerings in Mini Series. Definitely recommended pedal – if you can look beyond the plastic housing..

How does it sound?
Wild and great. Amazing redesign if the Tone Machine. Mean, piercing up octaves. It’s in no way clean or dull, but lively with tons of harmonics, for both non-octave and octave modes. For the price – this is the closest you’ll get to having a classics Tone Machine sound.

Barber LTD Silver

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Barber-LTD-Silver

What is it?
Barber Electronics LTD, Silver edition. Made in USA, 2005.

Barber pedals pretty well known for high quality in their designs, as well as for their build quality. This unit is the first Barber pedal for me. Got it in a trade, played with it for a while and opened it up. Yup. There are only a few of these modern “boutique” brands that are not likely to get ridiculed on builder/analysis/diy forums. Opening the bottom plate gives you the first clue why Barber is one of those. Although there is not much eye pleasing symmetry on the board design, everything has its place and all the parts are connected neatly. In essence, this is a prime example how i would like to see more of the bigger name “boutique” pedals done. Barber has posted a schematic for this design on his page.

Barber-LTD-Silver-guts

Two trimmers that control presence and bass response are marked on the board. This surely suggests that these are controls in addition to external ones. As the schematic shows, the design has non-inverting clipping amp stage with dual pair of Si diodes and added presence control to standard non-inverting arrangement. After that, there is a low pass / high pass filter as tone control – not completely unlike the one you’d find in a Big Muff. Although, the values on Silver edition are the key to the design being the Silver edition. Pot offers very mild tonal changes, which are meant for fine tuning rather than for affecting the overall tone in drastic measures. Presence and Bass controls do offer a lot of tweakability and one of the resistors on the following non-inverting gain stage can be swapped for a additional mids control per the shared schematic. For the tone control, one  could also swap the 150K resistor from pot pin three to ground with a potentiometer to add a “body” control. The last gain stage has interesting, but simple way for controlling the bass (and treble, in customized version of the schematic).

But i do not see a reason for tweaking this unit. It is very nice, usable design as it is. I wouldn’t mod mine for the world. As for biggest downside.. The font for the labels. Really?

How does it sound?
Organic, mild/medium range overdrive with very nice dynamics and smooth, harmonic symmetrical clipping. It offers enough sustain for leads, but truly shines as mild ovedrive, used to boost a good sounding amplifier for your base sound. The trimpots inside offer a lot of control range, while keeping the outer shell simple. In my opinion, the tone control could have been a trimpot too, as its range is limited to fine tuning the frequency response. The footprint of the enclosure is rather big for the designs, but should be counted as a con only if there are other pedals with similar overdrive features on your board. As only overdrive, this one shines bright. Simple, yet very effective, recommended overdrive.

Boss SYB-3 Bass Synthesizer

Friday, June 13th, 2014

Boss-SYB3

What is it?
Boss SYB-3 Bass Synthesizer. Made in taiwan, september 1999.

This is one of the pedals that have stayed with me for a long time. Got it somewhere around 2002 and i’ve used it mostly with a guitar with occasional bass hook when recording. Due to its very complex digital design, i won’t be able to break the design down. So i’m forced to leave you with an overview of the features and aesthetics. Opening the bottom plate reveals a two sided PCB that is pretty crammed. On the board design, there’s not much to mention. It’s your standard SMD-board with focus on functionality, rather than aesthetics. Like most Boss boards. I’d say it’s dull.

Boss-SYB3-guts1

Bottom layer is for caps and resistors. The upper sider has all the semiconductors. As you can see, the number is quite high. The reason for the complexity? Well. It has eleven modes, ranging from “internal”, made up digital synth-like sweeps to standard, clean autowah sweeps. As the controls go, there are individual level settings for clean and synth signals, which gives you the option of blending the signals the way you want – all wet being rather wild. Next up is a very synth like filter with frequency and resonance controls. If there was one thing i’d like to see added to this one, it would be a expression pedal input for either of these controls. After these, there is sensitivity and decay controls that control how the trigger performs.

Boss-SYB3-guts2

Last control is 11 position switch that sets the effect type. Types are “internal” from settings 1-7. These are the programmed synt-like sweepers that are more or less unique to the pedal design. Settings 8-9 are “W-shape” modes, which are closer to standard autowah sounds than the internals, but still something rather odd. Last two settings are for “T-Wah”. So its safe to assume the last modes are digital recreations of ye oldee boss T-Wah autowah/envelope filter. Haven’t been able to play with original T-Wah, but something tells me these modes are a bit wilder or tighter than the ones found on the old analog pedal.

Either way. There is a ton of versatility. I’d label this as one of the top ten Compact serie pedals. When Boss engineers take a design over the top, the results are still usable.

How does it sound?
Wicked. Extreme envelope filter on steroids. Wild filter sweeps with great, completely unnatural synth-style modes. Of course, there are milder autowah settings available, but it’s the wild ones that will roll your socks. The blend controls give the possibility of nice, subtle effects too. Very versatile and fun effect. Maybe the tones offered aren’t the greatest thing for your base sound, but for those hidden hooks and shock effects.. This is the right stuff.

Danelectro DJ-25 Blueberry Muffin Chromatic Tuner

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

DJ25-BlueberryMuffin

What is it?
Danelectro DJ-25 Blueberry Muffin Chromatic Tuner from Dano Mini series. Made in china around mid 00’s..

So this is the “fixed” revision of the Lemon Pitcher tuner pedal, the first one i called utter crap in the series. The colour of the unit is pretty close to DJ-11. The main visual difference is the “#” on the display. Well. Does the chromatic remake save the tuners for the series?

DJ25-BlueberryMuffin-guts

You guessed it. No. It doesn’t.

It’s similar to its predecessor, offering slightly higher accuracy and half note support. Still the dark illuminated old school LCD display still makes the unit completely unroadworthy. The greatest single thing that offers any interest is the use of the same PCB for the lower buffer board. Tuning results feel are more accurate and the needle seems more stable when compared to  Lemon Pitcher, but none of those do not address the biggest issue of dim LCD display.

So yes. Danelectro tried to make up for the mistakes with Lemon Pitcher. But failed again on this chromatic revision. On the brighter side, this one stands pretty well against DOD Tuna.

How does it sound?
As a tuner it doesn’t, but for usability? No. There isn’t enough of that to mention either. I can only think of one reason to buy one – You’d need to be collecting the series. For a tuner you want to use full time? Try anything else, or make your life easier by coughing up the needed amount of cash for a Boss or TC Electronic tuner.

DOD FX25B Envelope Filter

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

DOD-FX25B-EnvelopeFilter

What is it?
DOD FX25B Envelope Filter in “final” US DOD enclosure. Made is USA in the late 90’s.

Grabbed this one off from eBay as the price was correct. I was totally expecting a V-serial unit for the price and once this thing arrived and i opened the box – no type plate sticker. Damn. But there wasn’t a “made in china” stamp under the DOD logo on the rubber mat either. I still wasn’t convinced. So i headed over to America’s Pedal site and checked the info for the FX25B. What do you know. All the components are exactly as depicted in the AP’s article. Check here to compare. But then again.. From the article, i get the impression that the FX25B was never issued as a chinese VFX unit. And furthermore, there are apparently only three Final Series designs that never went on to VFX, namely FX91, FX84 and FX25B. Funny how you learn something new every day.

DOD-FX25B-EnvelopeFilter-guts

The design is evolved FX25 with added blend control. This control was probably added so the effect would work better on bass. On the board design point of view it is the usual, dull modern DOD design with nothing special in there. There is a schematic up at FIS. Should be worth noting that the filter is created with LM13600 OTA. Trigger driver is JRC4560. TL072 takes care of the mixing and blend control. I can’t recall any other OTA-based envelope filter right of the bat. I’m sure there are some though.

Well. I’d like deconstruct the working idea behind all envelope filters. First of all, we’ll need to split the incoming signal in two. First splitted signal needs to be sent to filter and the other to trigger.  Trigger needs to have some sort of threshold so it knows when to trigger the sweep. When the incoming signal for the trigger is strong enough, it will pass voltage to LM13600 control pin in a sweeping manner. From that signal the OTA knows to modulate the frequencies of the signal passing the filter. Filters come in many forms, shapes and sizesall of them have components to determine frequency and gain of that frequency. OTA-based filters are usually used due to their capability of offering tight frequency ranges with reasonable amount of components around it. All methods can do the same thing, but different methods result in different tones while the working idea remains.

How does it sound?
Nice. Not squishy or mushy. Straight up clean filter sweeps all the way. As basic analog envelope filters come, this takes its place in top 5 with ease. The frequency ranges this circuit can sweep are good for most instruments. Haven’t tried this with a synth, so i can’t be sure if it will stay unchoked when driven with line level signals, but it is very well working and good sounding envelope filter for guitar and bass. Low noise floor and even lower noise on the sweep make this very attractive effect. Recommended as top shelf quality sounding effect.

Danelectro DJ-12 Chili Dog Octave

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

DJ12-ChiliDog

What is it?
Danelectro DJ-12 Chili Dog Octave from Dano Mini Series. Made in china around mid ’00s.

For one of the coolest mini series boxes. There are quite a few that are simply 1:1 ripoffs of higher end brand designs. It seems that mainly Boss and MXR have been hit hard by the Dano design team. Granted there are others too, but for this one.. I’m pretty certain that the design is derived from Boss OC-2 Octave. Only it’s about a half in size and squeezed in with tiny SMD components to make that happen.

DJ12-ChiliDog-guts

As there are no distinct differences in sound when compared against OC-2, i felt little enthusiasm in opening the whole unit up. Circuit is big enough that Dano engineers had to use both boards to accommodate everything. On many Minis, the bottom board only houses electronic bypass switching and sometimes in/out buffers. As you can see, that number of CMOS flip-flops isn’t used only for the switching. As with many other units of the series, the downsides are plastic housing and buffered Dano bypass switching. All the rest? An underestimated diamond in the rough.

As for the controls, the layout and feel of them is exactly one to one with OC-2. There is your dry signal level, plus own mix controls for one octave down and two octaves down. To put in in one word, Sweet.

How does it sound?
Sweet. Haunting, fat and the tracking is neat with occasional wandering thought. Like the flip-flops forget the signal they are getting in and head to south instead of west. The best tracking can be achieved with playing single notes around 10-15th fret. For chords this isn’t very useful, just as its Boss big brother. It offers quite clear down octaves that could come handy in number of occasions. For its cheap price and extremely high fun factor, this unit should be at least tried out. Playing with this one at home will result in severe brain melt, probably not as severe as with DOD BuzzBox or modded MXR Blue Blue, but still. Severe.