Archive for April, 2015

Danelectro DT-1 Dan-O-Matic

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Danelectro-DT1-DanOMatic

What is it?
Danelectro DT-1 Dan-O-Matic from Dano “Original series”. Made in china around 1996 or 1997.

This model was the very first of tuner pedals in the Dano pedal catalogue. It was replaced with the red DT-2 a bit later (which i’m still missing to complete my Original series collection at the time writing this). Due to not having the DT-2, i can’t compare the two. Anyway. To begin with, the housing is the classic big heavy cast metal as with the others in the series.

Danelectro-DT1-DanOMatic-guts

Housing is the same as in others, having the two battery slots while only one in use. It’s a digital tuner pedal, so i didn’t have the enthusiasm to take the boards out. I’m pretty certain that all Dano tuners utilize the same technology. This meaning that while the accuracy may be sufficient, the dim liquid crystal display is the biggest culprit. Using this at home in a broad daylight isn’t a problem. But once you take it to the stage, you’re f’d.

So it is pretty much the predecessor for Mini series tuners. Only in less usable metal housing and with same ailments.

How does it sound?
Like most if not all tuners. It doesn’t. It’s reasonably accurate stage tuner with standard Dano electronic bypass. Due to it’s relatively dim LCD, it’s next to useless. Sure it is decently built and a nice looking thing. But that’s where the good stuff ends. No. I do not have much good to say about it, so i might as well just stop here.

Colorless writings, part 23 – Learn to read

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

What now?

I think the title says it pretty well. I was thinking about going through the basics of reading schematics, but that is more or less useless. I will talk about it a bit nevertheless. And get to the bigger picture in a while.

If we take a look at any analog guitar effect circuit’s schematic, we notice that there are the same symbols in use all over. Saw line represents the resistor, capacitors are represented by two parallel lines that do not connect in the middle. These are the two main ingredients found in every single schematic. Other important ones are the semiconductors. Bipolar Junction Transistors with either NPN or PNP configuration and Field Effect Transistors that come in N-channel and P-channel types – these can be standard silicon or metal oxide semiconductor (or MOS). Then we have our Operational amplifier blocks of various types.. And let’s not forget the diodes. Sometimes, in contrast to mechanical switching, switching can be handled with CMOS (complimentary metal oxide semiconductor) switches like CD4066 and many others. Some special chips may be used as well. These usually mean regulators (positive and negative), power amps (i.e. LM386), BBD (Bucket Brigade Device) analogue delay chips and timers or DC to DC conversion chips like MAX1044 or ICL7660S. In some relatively rare cases the bypass could be configured with a mechanical relay. This is a quite common way to achieve “clickless” true bypass. In addition to those there could be inductors, but usually very few of anything else. Let it sink in. I know i just listed more than twelve different component types with their own symbols that you need to visualize for yourself.

Next, you need to ask yourself what is a schematic. If you don’t know it as an easy answer, i’ll tell you. It’s a drawing of how the components listed above connect to each other. Once you are familiar with the symbols, you should quite easily get the point of the lines between the terminals on them. All the others have their own symbols, except for the “special” chips. Those are usually depicted as the chip itself, in a manner that the symbol looks just like the actual chip on in the circuit. Sure, sometimes these special chips can be depicted as square blocks with just a number next to the line that connects to the block. This method seems to be quite standard to, lets say for an example, NE571 compander. And yes. Regulator is a “chip”, even though it physically appears and looks like a common transistor. These are commonly depicted as blocks as well.

Then there are potentiometers that are in the simplest terms, variable resistors. Also jacks for the inputs, outputs and the power.

The things above are the components every single circuit is made of. In addition to those, we have couple of more things that are found in every single circuit ever made. The power supply and the ground. Most designs take advantage of switching between a battery and a supply that transforms the wall AC voltage to the 9V we usually want. These connections should be in the schematic for the drawing to be whole. Sometimes we see drawings of the signal path and power supply only. The jacks need to be there in your guitar effect unit, whether they are actually drawn in the schematic or not. Obviously.

I can think of two different types of power supply sections. Once you’ve read enough schematics you’ll spot these out easily. First, the basic 9V and ground supply method. Seen in simple, classic designs, such as Fuzz Face. There isn’t anything else in there but the 9V and the ground. Second, a bipolar supply. In essence this means that there are +9V and -9V voltages present. This equals in our amplifiers seeing 18V. Bipolar supplies must be used with the basic supply on some of the designs. Take a Tubescreamer for an example. The operational amplifier needs the supply voltage and a reference voltage for it to operate properly. We can divide the original supply voltage in half with just two resistors, which will work great as a reference voltage. Note that these both are referenced with ground, being 0 volts. If we don’t divide the voltage, we’ll need +/- voltages present, and the ground will act as a reference for the operational amplifiers. Let this sink in for a while too…

Then there’s the most important thing. Signal path. As some of you probably know, the “signal” your guitar sends is nothing more but an alternating current (AC) signal. This signal basically vibrates in voltage between the ground and the signal path. Faster the vibration, higher the pitch in tone. It’ll pass through of all our capacitors with little trouble and it’ll make its way through our filters and amplifiers too.

With a well drawn schematic, you’ll be able to follow where the signal should be travelling and where the power supply sets the voltage. With this tiny piece of information one could basically learn everything there is to know about any analog guitar effect circuit. Just remember, capacitors block DC voltage by not letting it pass.

Now, if you were able to follow my thought through all the way to here, there are two choices. Either you know all this already and found the text rather boring. Or. You really tried to visualize things and learned something. You probably noticed that i didn’t use any images in describing things. It was surprisingly hard for me to go through these things and explain them as i just did. Words in certain order can teach a lot, but i wrote this from my memories and gut feelings. Both of which i’ve gained from tinkering with guitar effects for nearly five years on a daily basis. The internet is good, but it is also evil. Anyone can write anything they want and if you read just bits and pieces from here and there, you might very well get a picture that’s broken. So please. Learn to read. And more importantly, learn to think about what you just read. There may be two opposing views on any subject. It’s up to you to determine what is true, what is false and what is XOR.

DOD 525 Compressor Limiter

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

DOD-525-CompLimit

What is it?
DOD 525 Compressor Limiter from the Performer series. Made in USA in early 80’s.

My first contact with any performer series boxes was with 525A Compressor and a few other i serviced a while back. At the same time someone was selling this unit for a very decent price. And since i’m quite fond of all DOD units, i just had to get it. I have not seen the original battery door on any of the performer series units yet. If the older FX-series units are prone to lose their battery doors, this series is even worse. The battery compartment is designed to hold two 9V batteries, so the covered area is way bigger than in FX-series. Which then means that the plastic clip design is even worse. There is some crude beauty in the Performer series, both inside and out. The board represents the same type of hand made mojo as the first series boards. No ground fill and everything looks, well. Hand made. What comes to the electronics, we have a CA3094 OTA based compressor that’s not too far off from any other OTA compressor of the era. The 18V operation is the thing that separates this from the most. There is an old factory schematic scan up at FIS.

DOD-525-CompLimit-guts

The biggest weirdness is with the DC connection. Sure, the 18V requirement had to be addressed so it wouldn’t be confused with the 9V supplies¬† that every other pedal series wanted. But to go with 6,35mm guitar plug was probably not the greatest choice. Good thing though. The jack has about 11mm hole diameter, so swapping it for standard 2,1mm, 12mm barrel bodied jack with a switch is easy to do. Haven’t swapped the one on mine yet, but i’ve done it for a few other pedals. This series is the ultimate example of 9V vs. 18V. It may offer unwarranted hazzle to have two different voltages on your board. But..

How does it sound?
Nearly the same as most good OTA compressors out there. With exception of higher headroom, level of presence and studio quality compression. Dynamics are richer and without the knowledge of the voltage in play, there is something quite magnetic about the tone. Almost magic. Decent level of boost and sufficient controls. Yes. This unit can take on any modern compressor. Maybe the signal to noise ratio could be better, or the general noise floor lower. This is not meaning that the unit is noisy in any way. It’s just that i tried to think what would be the negative thing to mention. There is very little wrong with this compressor. If we disregard the missing battery door and the original, weird power connection, we have amazing sounding vintage effect on our hands.

Peavey HFD-2 Hot Foot Distortion

Friday, April 24th, 2015

Peavey-HFD2-HotFoot

What is it?
Peavey HFD-2 Hotfoot Distortion. I’m not completely certain about the country of manufacture, but several things point to this being US made. Around mid to late 80’s.

I recall stumbling on to the schematic of this unit a few years back. There is not much special about it. From electronic point of view, we have here just our basic LM308 Rat with tweaks to the buffering and switching. But. This pedal just isn’t all about the electronic design. The housing and other manufacturing decisions should be mentioned as well.

Peavey-HFD2-HotFoot-guts1

The housing is sort-of a wrap around. The thick bottom rubber is the same that goes around the pedal’s axis and also acts as a stomp rubber. This seems to be molded to the metal parts which makes the enclosure design extremely solid. There are two separate boards, one for the main circuit and the other for the connectors and pots. Two boards are connected via ribbon cable and pin headers.

Peavey-HFD2-HotFoot-guts2

There are nice thick, white plastic films used as insulation for the boards. Not that those would be in real need as everything is fastened with screws and there’s plenty of room between the boards and the metal parts of the enclosure. Looking at the board itself, i can’t help but to think if the same PCB factory has been involved with these and the ones found in Morley Jewel Box series. Even the time factor could suggest this. Also, the traces and a few other manufacturing methods could point to the same manufacturer. I’m not certain if this is the case. With very little hard facts available, i’m just making guesses based on what i’ve seen.

Peavey-HFD2-HotFoot-guts3

Idea of having all axial board will always look great. In this case it also means quite a few links between the components. My guess is that for a board this size the Rat-like design could have been laid out way prettier and with way less link wires. It’s not an ugly design by any means.

Peavey-HFD2-HotFoot-guts4

In all, the housing looks very pleasing and the build quality is very high and to put it mildly, solid.

For some reason, completely unknown to me, this unit has been listed in the Pro Guitar Shop’s “worst effect pedals” blog post a few years back. The reason could be that the author of that post had the unit back when it was cool to play with super crappy amplifiers. May that be the case or not, i must strongly disagree with PGS on this one. Why? Let me tell you why…

How does it sound?
If someone calls this a bad and mushy sounding distortion, they must hate the ProCo Rat too. There are only very few and slight changes to the design, so the sound is exactly what to expect. A Rat. That great, almost fuzzy distortion tone, just with a slightly smoother switching mechanism and a reverse log pot to get the original “filter” control in reverse – you know. As more traditional “tone”. Very nice and fat sounding Rat derivative. Nothing new or special, but this will look even more mean on your board than any of the current Rat reissues.

Calling this one of the “worst” effects ever made makes the person making the claim a person with wooden ears. Just my opinion, but should be justified.

Arion MDS-1 Distortion

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

Arion-MDS1-Distortion

What is it?
Aria MDS-1 Distortion. Made in Sri Lanka, possibly around mid 00’s.

As plastic, low price point pedals come, i’ve found Arion to be one of the best. The housings are way more solid than what we find in Rocktek, Aria and similar 80’s/90’s cheapos. Earlier Arions were made in japan, but the more current production is done in sri lanka. The designs are the same, more or less, as for those 80’s classics. And the quality assurance is probably still over seed by japanese mother company. At least the build quality is very good. After all, sri lanka may not be the biggest exporter of guitar effects.

It’s always pretty cheap to move the manufacturing to somewhere else once the design has been proven to be on spot. As the circuit board below shows, there is that certain acidy feel to the traces and the board design could possibly be traced back to earlier versions of Arion Distortion. And it can. There are still “UKM Japan” prints on both sides of the board.

Arion-MDS1-Distortion-guts1

At first i just thought this would be nothing more but a dull sounding, plastic feeling remake of Boss DS-1. Quick glance at the component side does not support this assumption. And quick eyeballin’ the internet didn’t yield a schematic, so this would make it to my list of units to trace. One thing’s for certain. There are LEDs in there, and i’m thinking those are at least partly, doing the clipping.

Arion-MDS1-Distortion-guts2

A plastic housing that’s ok, decent build quality and neat design. I feel like these “re-issues” do not come far off from the original japanese units. Biggest culprits are the weak(ish) pots and their knobs, which have a tendency of simply falling off without any agitation. Also the battery compartment door is good to mention. It’s not holding on to the enclosure by anything but just quite brittle plastic clamps. I do not find much wrong with the rest. This, including…

How does it sound?
The big, boosting and solid sounding distortion we get out of it. The texture is very pleasing and there’s no broken quality to the tone usually associated with simple diode or LED clipping. And the output level. Oh boy. This thing can boost even your modern high output humbuckers. So no. It doesn’t sound anything like the Boss DS-1, but it’s very usable, thick sounding distortion. Almost sonic bliss. This here is the reason why the plasticky overall feel doesn’t matter that much for Arion boxes.

Danelectro DSD-1 Shift Daddy

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

DSD1-ShiftDaddy

What is it?
Danelectro DSD-1 Shift Daddy Echo Pitch Shifter from original series of rocker pedals. Made in china around late 90’s.

I must admit that i was interested. And local music store happened to have one left behind. The unit had seen better days as it had sat in direct sunlight for years. Still unused, but with visible ageing and discolouring. The photo below may not seem much, but the flames should be in a lot deeper red. Otherwise the unit is in great shape.

DSD1-ShiftDaddy-1

Had to snap a shot of the tail lights too. Some dust around the edges, but nothing that a moist rag won’t fix.

DSD1-ShiftDaddy-2

What comes to the features of this unit, we have something not so common. Or that’s how it seems at first. Sticker with “this ain’t a wah” suggests that we are in for a treat. Sure there are a few Danelectro designs that are out there and this does apply to Shift Daddy as well. Echo Pitch Shifter. What comes to mind first is a weird digital effect with mashed up features borrowed from Boss pitch shifters and delays. But actually. No. Although some may consider these as valuable tools, and are amazed by the weirdness, i must disagree to some degree.

DSD1-ShiftDaddy-3

Why? Because once i fired this up, i knew exactly what it was all about. The rocker simply controls the delay time of a PT2399 chip. So in other words, this is nothing more but a quite standard delay design where the delay time setting has been moved to a pot controlled by foot. Rest of the pots (feedback and mix) are replaced with push button switches that look like exhaust pipes. So in fact, there’s nothing even resembling a real pitch shifting effect. Just basic delay unit.

DSD1-ShiftDaddy-4

There you have it. I had certain hopes for it, but those all got stumped when i played with the unit. And checked the insides. From the feature point of view, this is sadly the dullest one in all three rocker pedals ever made by Danelectro. You know, there are real tool like delay units that accept the use of external expression pedal for the delay time. Usually those are way better all digital designs too.

How does it sound?
Decent, but not much to write home about. It’s a delay. Nothing more. And it’s a digital PT2399 based delay, so do not expect anything else. It does what it does in a good way, but there just isn’t nothing special about it’s tone. The delay time range of the chip isn’t that great for this type of application. When the delay times goes from something like 40ms to 400ms, the sweep acts just way too fast and this makes it just plain annoying to use. It’s not a pitch shifter. Just a delay with time control on a rocker. And it doesn’t do even that feature extraordinary well. Disappointing, but there is still a bit of Danelectro magic in there. Not the worst, but not good. Proceed with caution.

Rocktek MWR-01 Metal Worker

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

Rocktek-MWR01-MetalWorker

What is it?
Rocktek MWR-01 Metal Worker Distortion. Made in china, around early to mid 90’s.

For some reason i dig these old cheap plastic things. For what’s interesting is that while these were clearly intended as an entry level boxes for the folks who bought their kids the very first guitar set, the designs are not bad. The plastic boxes follow strictly the methods of a decade older japanese designs. While these were made in china, the feel inside is per Arion, Aria, Monacor and tons of other japanese brands from the eighties.¬† I somehow feel like these all were originally designed by the same people. The obvious downsides are the brittle and cheap feeling plastic and weak pots with annoyingly loose fastening of the knobs. Not to mention the battery compartment lid, which can be lost. But once we open these up..

Rocktek-MWR01-MetalWorker-guts1

The board looks a lot like the japanese ones found from the brands mentioned above. Traces look neat and the work isn’t bad at all. Without the “made in china” text on the bottom plate, i’d think this was a japanese build.

Rocktek-MWR01-MetalWorker-guts2

There’s no schematic available, but to me this seems like a three 6458 dual opamp distortion with two of the channels used as gyrators for the tone controls. In a sense, not that far off from Boss HM-2, DOD American Metal and others. I can see three diode clipping sections, but none of them look like germaniums. So there is a great chance that the designs isn’t that close to the HM-pedals. Either way, the tone controls are effective and other than cheap aging plastic, there isn’t that much bad i can say.

How does it sound?
Beefy with decent output levels and reasonably good EQ controls. The tone does not go to the chainsaw territory, while it still has a noticeable metal quality to it. To be completely honest, this doesn’t sound bad at all. In fact, i’d choose this over either one of Danelectro Cool Cat series metal pedals in a heartbeat. It doesn’t sound as good as Boss HM-2, but very good nevertheless.

This brand keeps surprising me. The housing may be cheap and the pots weak on all Rocktek pedals, but there is one aspect where they have not saved money on majority of the pedals from this brand. The board and sound quality. I know this is a lot to say about one of the cheapest brands in the history of the guitar pedal. But sure enough. Rocktek did a number of things right. I just may need to get my hands on more of these…

Excalibur TS-4558 Tone Screamer

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Excalibur-TS4558-ToneScreamer

What is it?
Excalibur Overdrive TS-4558 Tone Screamer. Made in china as an OEM for german brand Excalibur, around 2007.

As i got a bit burned with my not-doing-my-homework and hoping for something decent from the delay sold side by side with this one, i must say that my enthusiasm was not very high to deal with this. These come relatively cheap and as the color and the name suggest, it’s a screamer. Didn’t even bother to open it up to show the flux residue of the chinese toaster oven.

Excalibur-TS4558-ToneScreamer-back

Why would i. It’s nothing more but a JRC4558 hearted, ever so slightly modified tubescreamer that acts exactly like all the other 1500 TS derivatives out there. Add this to floating plastic board mount jacks and you got your Tone Screamer. If there ever was a pedal to give out extreme case of meh, this makes the top three by any standards. Funny how the word “Germany” is retained on the bottom rubber. It’ s not “made in”, but simply “Germany”. At least the lying and cheating mode on this one isn’t nearly as high on this one than on the delay. At least on this one they say it straight to your face by calling the unit a Tone Screamer. This way there won’t be any doubt about what the unit does and what it sounds like.

How does it sound?
Like a Tubescreamer. Is there anything more to add? In the vast ocean of the units built around this late 70’s circuit, i see very little point in getting this one. It tries to look like a german made high end product, while it is nothing more than your average chinese, mass produced unit with questionable quality. Soundwise the difference is slightly more output and a hint of more gain. Nothing to write home about. There are a lot of good TS derivatives out there. Get any of those instead. I’d go for Nux green overdrive instead of this in a heartbeat. Same tone in more affordable package. And no bullshit.

There is very little positive i can say about this unit. Again. Do your homework before you buy into “The quintessential overdrive pedal.”

Excalibur AD-350 Analog Device

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Excalibur-AD350-AnalogDevice

What is it?
Excalibur Analog Delay AD-350 Analog Device. Made in china around 2006.

Someone i know was selling the lot of these Excalibur brand pedals. Local musician’s forum had no bad words, just a few descriptions about tone and such. The price for the three pedals was ok, including this (which was the most interesting one), the Tone Screamer and the Holy Grail Distortion. These three are apparently the only pedals in the Excalibur catalog. At first everything seemed ok with the slightly customized 125B-style enclosures and the original retail packaging.¬† Initial testing left me a bit puzzled. Why the representation in my are had seized and why the brand had never released more designs (slight edit/update: there have apparently been at least two design from the Biyang catalog, sold as Excaliburs in late 00’s). The testing and bang for buck ratio seemed nice, but i had still a few questions left in me. The box has several references to analog delay, but the first impression on tone left me feeling like something was a bit off. Brand promotes itself as a german brand and there are just overdrive, distortion and delay. If i’m worrying about nothing, then i’d definitely praise these things to the world’s end.

Excalibur-AD350-AnalogDevice-guts1

Had to open it up to see what was going on. The first impression was not that pleasing. Yup. This is not made in germany. Flux residue tells us everything we ever need to know about the board and component origin. If this isn’t chinese, i know nothing about pedal electronics. But that’s not all. Notice how the board mount plastic jacks are just floating behind the holes in the enclosure. And flip the board over…

Excalibur-AD350-AnalogDevice-guts2

And all i see is a regulator, one opamp, one through hole FET and a chip that is not an analog delay bucket brigade device. Let’s look a bit closer…

Excalibur-AD350-AnalogDevice-guts3

Yup. F this. It’ s nothing more than a standard PT2399 based delay that is slightly tweaked to sound more vintage, or in other words, bad. Not too great SMD construction and there we have it. No. I’m not pleased. I feel swindled. Not by the guy i got this from, but the Excalibur brand itself.

If we count the pedal itself and the box, there are 8 references to “Analog”. And since the PT2399 is definitely NOT an analog chip with its built-in high (or at least reasonable) quality AD/DA converters. After reading about this a bit more, the unit is apparently the same circuit we find in Belcat branded “Analog Delay”, another cheat in the market. There are others too, like the cheapo Artec Analog Delay, which all are PT2399 based digital delays.

Conclusion? Do your homework before you buy anything. You don’t want to end up like me with these three… Unless you just want to find out what these things are made of. That’s basically the only good reason to get one.

How does it sound?
Decent modelling of an analog delay. In a sense it’s worse than most PT2399 pedals, but that’s what you get when you try to use this chip for recreation of a true analog device. Stays clean on short delay times and dirties up on longer. No endless feedbacks or any other out-there features. Just basic delay. Not that bad sounding, but the lies just taint it up and bad.

No i don’t recommend any Excalibur brand pedals to anyone. Cheapest china crap peddled by a german business men. If you want the same tone, just grab the Blecat cheat for an “Analog delay” instead. You’ll get the same amount of street cred from me in both cases.

And no. This is not an analog delay.

EHX Graphic Fuzz XO

Monday, April 6th, 2015

EHX-XO-GraphicFuzz

What is it?
Electro-Harmonix Graphic Fuzz with variable envelope response, from XO-series. Made in NYC in the late 00’s. Most likely in 2009.

A friend was letting this one go and i just simply couldn’t help myself. Pricing for an used Graphic Fuzz isn’t too cheap, but then again – it definitely isn’t one of your average straight up clones or slight derivatives of something else. The box is big, but there are ten large slide pots for the controls. Reasonable spacing for standard rotary potentiometers would have possibly called for even bigger box. That would also have taken the graphic EQ out of the equation. I took a peek inside once i got my hands on the unit.

EHX-XO-GraphicFuzz-guts

I see six dual opamps and no inductors. This means that the EQ section is done with gyrators and in the same manner as found in most modern graphic EQs. Rest of the features are not that simple to see by just looking at the board layout. There is a fuzz that can be switched on and off and there is a “variable envelope response”, which acts almost as a compressor. But not quite. I’d say it functions closer to an envelope generator we find on synthesizers. No, it does not act exactly like those either. Still, the dynamics slide sets the attack of the tone and sustain sets the release.

So the set of features is pretty much a thought that comes from outside of the box. Original idea, but does it carry us far enough?

How does it sound?
Almost but not quite. We are stuck with relatively faceless graphic EQ and a fuzz/overdrive that’s quite close to the one knob Muff Overdrive. Not any version of Big Muff. The one knob Muff. You know, the one that comes in red and green from the nano series. The EQ works well, while it is rather generic. Then agai, no of us might even want a graphic EQ with a personality. It does, however, make the fuzz/overdrive a lot more usable. For the envelope part.. I do not have that many good words about it. It works like nothing else, so it’s hard to wrap your head around it. Versatile, yes. Usable, well, ok. Good? Maybe i wouldn’t go that far. Interesting. That would be a good word to describe the unit.

Nice set of features and these could serve a purpose for those who want something different ™. Wide set of features, but the tones leave me somewhat cold. Not the worst EHX box, though.