Archive for May, 2015

DOD FX55-B Supra Distortion

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

DOD-FX55B-SupraDistortion

What is it?
DOD FX55-B Supra Distortion. Made in US, early 1990.

One of the pedals that DOD sold a lot back in the day. I assume this probably was the first pedal for many people in the late 80’s and 90’s. And why not. Widely available and in a low price range. The name was originally a Super Distortion, but due to aggressive protection of the trade mark by certain DiMarzio, the name was changed to Supra pretty fast after the initial release in 1986. This was exactly the same thing that happened with Boss DF-2 Super Distortion & Feedbacker. The first units with Supra written on then came out later the same year, leaving the first 6 months of Super Distortions as collectible items. These are rare to the degree that i’ve seen only one or two for sale so far. The supra versions are very common though. And they do come cheap.

DOD-FX55B-SupraDistortion-guts

What comes to the design, there is a schematic up at Fuzz Central. To begin with, the idea of this being some sort of Boss DS-1 derivative is completely false. As the schematic suggests, there is a gain stage with diodes in the feedback loop and the gain control is derived from OD250. After that there’s a hard clipping stage, the volume control and pretty clever tone section. All this accompanied by standard DOD electronic bypass switching and 1458 with both channels used for in/out buffering. Nice design and not as common as one might have first thought.

How does it sound?
Here’s the culprit. Sluggish on the output level and the overall result is just lacking personality. Slightly cutting the lows and while the tone control works pretty well, there isn’t that much good to be said. If we take comparison out and compare this to Boss DS-1, we have a winner here. This victory doesn’t mean all that much, but still. If i had 40€ to burn for a mod base, i’d get FX55B over DS-1 for sure. Just double up on the hard clipping diodes to get a bit more volume out of it and tweak a few of the cap values. Should make a nice beast of a distortion.

As a stock pedal. Not great.

Digitech XBC Bass Multi Chorus

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

Digitech-XBC-BassMultiChorus

What is it?
Digitech XBC Bass Multi Chorus from X-series. Made in china around late 00’s.

Makes seriously wonder i should just sell all the X-series pedals i currently have. Opening the first one back when i did was a severe “meh” situation that offered very little to be interest about. Opening the second one made this feeling even deeper. Nothing wrong in digital designs, but the hard core recycling lowers my interest to the point where i simply don’t see myself collecting the series to the full. This one here.. It’s blue and it’s a bass chorus. I did already know what expect when i opened this one up.

Digitech-XBC-BassMultiChorus-guts1

Yup. There are only two different boards in this series. The one with digital control as a potentiometer and the one with a rotary switch. This one os the former. All the units have the same Harman branded AudioDNA DSP chip in them. The same analog signal path for the buffering and AD/DA converters for every pedal in the series. The paint and print on the enclosure change, as do the programming of the DSP. Delay and reverb of the series have one more chip attached to the board, but it’s still the same board. Being an analog enthusiast, the secrets behind the software does not appeal to me.

Digitech-XBC-BassMultiChorus-guts2

How much more boring can a pedal series get? The same exact board with different software code. Even if the tone is sufficiently good, the appeal is not there. I might just photograph the ones i have and just let them go..

How does it sound?
Sure. These do not sound bad. Rather generic chorus with decent control range. For an all digital, software based chorus, i’d says it’s a very good sounding thing. Just slightly lacking in personality, but otherwise very ok. It’s not the tone that’s pushing me away. No, not at all. It’s the lack of interesting electronics. If was to record some bass tracks today, this unit would not make it even near to what i’d choose to use for the session.

Roger Mayer Voodoo-1

Monday, May 25th, 2015

RogerMayer-Voodoo1

What is it?
Roger Mayer Voodoo-1 Distortion. Made in UK in early 90’s. Possibly 1993.

Got this unit in a trade from a friend (thx Jaakko!). Mr. Mayer is The Original Boutiquer, so obviously i was interested. I’m not going into the history of the man, but if you are interested, you could check out the short history up on Roger’s page. The first image on that page tells you everything you need to know.

The unit on hand has seen a lot, and i mean a lot of use. My friend had bought this in mid 90’s and had it ever since. The battery stoppers (very nice idea) and a tiny wood block to keep the DC jack in palce have been added by him. I saw no reason to take them down. Anyway. Just recently he had gone into this thing called “pickup roulette” and got himself a nice modern, hot set of humbuckers. His observation was that the unit may be broken as it can’t boost the signal like it used to do with strat single coils before. I promised to take a look and i did. And demonstrated how the design will not work the same with +15K humbuckers in contrast to ~5K singles. So it is a feature that should be taken into account.

RogerMayer-Voodoo1-guts

This doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with the design. It’s just that when the design was conceived, over 16K humbuckers were not as widely used as they are today. Some will argue that those do not sound “better”, and i must respectfully agree for most parts (anything under 12k for bridge is a waste of time, anything over 12k for neck is also a waste of time – but that’s just me and preference in tone is definitely a subject to personal taste). As a conclusion, this unit works as a boost very nicely. All the way to having too hot pickups.

What comes to desing, i find very little negative to say. There is a traced schem up at FIS, so check it out. There is a lot of out of box thinking going on in there. While some still deem this as nothing more but a Rat derivative, the schematic shows that it is not. Only obvious thing that’s common for both is the use of LM308 high gain opamp and utilization of hard clipping shunt to ground. That’s like saying everything with JRC4558 is a Tubescreamer derivative. In that case your old clock radio that wakes you up would be a TS-derivative. So no. This is not a rat. The signal path starts with a single transistor gain stage that drives the main gain stage. The gain there is set by taking a pot between inverting input and ground. Notice how the first gain stage also acts as a reference voltage supply for the non-inverting input. This is something i do not recall seeing every day. The main gain stage is followed by two pairs of diodes shunt to ground. This will result in hard, but still still mellow sounding diode clipping, that isn’t that far off from synth-like wave shaping. After the clipping there’s a tone control that may (or may not) have its root in the infamous Big Muff tone stack. After that, there’s an output buffer. One last thing to point out.. Check the 1M6 resistor acting as a feedback loop over the entire circuit. Yup. Figured you had not seen one like that before.

How does it sound?
Fat and big, if not massive. There’s a hint of fat Rat texture in there, but not much. It’s a good and usable sounding general distortion that will suit most styles and situations. Paired with an adult style delay one should be able to get those pesky 80’s thin lead tones. But with tone turned low, this will compete with many modern high end boutique pedals in the Marshall/Brown Sound territory.

Like stated, thepedal doesn’t exactly shine with modern high output pickups, but that’s the only bigger fault in its tone. The tone control is a thing of its own. Clockwise it’ll take a lot of lows away, but it offers very good control range from 7 o’clock to noon. In all, very good distortion design with its quirks. At least i seem to like it. A lot.

Colorless writings, part 24 – Nothing

Monday, May 25th, 2015

I’ve been busier than usual with all the other things going on.. So this time the part for Colorless writings will be about nothing. Nothing, to that extent that there is no article today. Move on. See you again in a month or so.

Way Huge WHE702 Echo Puss

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

WayHuge-EchoPuss

What is it?
Way Huge WHE702 Echo Puss. Made by Dunlop in 2010’s.

A guy offered this in a trade. And being the type of analog delay friend that i am, i had very little choice but to go for it. This is my first Way Huge box. While it isn’t the Way Huge that originally made the name, but a modern Dunlop factory pedal, i was somewhat enthusiastic. This continued all the way to the first test run. I’ll get back to that in a bit. As usual, i opened the unit up to see what was inside.

WayHuge-EchoPuss-guts

Standard two-sided Dunlop manufacturing read boards with ground fills, all the stuff board mounted and three boards connected with clip on terminals. At this point i didn’t have interest in taking it completely apart. Neat and modern, but dull, if you will.

About the design itself, we have an analog delay with modulation circuit with it. In addition to normal delay time, feedback and mix (called blend) controls, we have tone acting as a filter and two controls for modulation – depth and speed. The delay time is promised at 600ms. Quite impressive set of features for the price, right?

How does it sound?
But then comes the sound part of the unit. Sure, there ain’t that many crystal clean analog delays around. The ones that are are usually priced at higher range of the number on the price tag. And the reason is rather simple. The 600ms is your maximum delay time as advertised. But. I’d say the usable part ends with 280ms as anything over this time will result in BBD chip distortion. This distortion is rarely wanted and its texture isn’t very pleasing. The tone control can be used to hide parts of this distortion and by cutting highs i was able to go near 400ms without the distortion bothering that much. It will be present with the delay time knob over half way. This is the biggest culprit. The modulation works well and sounds very good on the repeats.

I’d say the price/sound/feature ratio is well balanced. After all, the analog delays that are actually good do not often come in this price range. Not bad. But nothing mind blowing or too good either.

Dunlop JDF2 Fuzz Face

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Dunlop-JDF2-FuzzFace

What is it?
Dunlop JDF2 Fuzz Face. No idea where Dunlop currently makes these. If pot date codes are correct, this unit may have been rolled out in 2010.

I’ve already written about the blue Jimi Hendrix model, which seemed like a decent silicon transistor remake of the unit Jimi used back in the day. That unit did look like a vintage board. But it turned out to be a borg with its surface mount components and trimmers hidden on the solder side. I was quite reluctant to open this up due to the experience provided by the Hendrix model. Somehow i’m glad i eventually did.

For these later units, the board doesn’t even try to look like vintage units. It’s your standard modern Dunlop board with ground fills and lead-free solder. On top of that, we have trimmers for bias, which are hot glued to their places.

Dunlop-JDF2-FuzzFace-guts

Jacks and pots are connected with a clip on terminal and to minimize the amount of labour, the tiny board is mounted to the stomp switch terminals. This makes me wonder if those mini Fuzz Faces introduced in early 10’s have the same board inside. It would make sense. The transistors are AC218s, or at least they try to be. Those look a lot like restamped germaniums to me. If i try really hard to find something good to say, the pots, jacks and the battery snap are quality items that should be able to take a hit or two on the road.

No DC jack, nor any other good things we usually find in modern effects. Expect for the board, obviously. In all rather disappointing use for this enclosure. One should be able to score a period correct reproduction PCB through internet and use the enclosure with that.  But then again.. This is a piece of evidence how big brand and volumes can shift the idea in a design to something completely different. This will also be a part of Fuzz Face history, there’s no disputing that. In all. Decent unit. Nothing great and definitely nothing even close to the units sold as Fuzz Faces just a decade or two ago.

How does it sound?
Like every other Fuzz Face and its straight-on derivative. Sluggish output level, all or nothing -type of controls, decent behaviour with guitar controls and well. Most of that original Fuzz Face magic in sound is present. I’d say this is very nice entry level fuzz for the youngster who want to get their hands dirty with their very first germanium fuzz. Some might consider this a keeper due to it’s tone. I find it as a keeper only because it resembles the golden oldie visually. Tone is rather close and visual aesthetics are in place. That’s about it. Very cheap to manufacture and due to its reputation, the price is also easy to keep high. Still. Recommended for a first fuzz device (never mind the Big Muff Pi for this urpose), but that’s pretty much it. Get one if you can, but don’t pay too much for this Dunlop model.

DOD FX53 Classic Tube

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

DOD-FX53-ClassicTube

What is it?
DOD FX53 Classic Tube from DOD’s FX series. Made in USA, 1991.

A unit that’s been mostly put down by the misconception about its design for decades. I know i was under the wrong impression for a long time too. The name may point to the direction of all the different tubescreamers and derivatives, but no. There is practically nothing from TS-family in here. If you don’t believe me, check the hand drawn, traced schematic up at FIS. I do get the idea for the name. The designer may have been after that certain accent on the mids, but that’s not the main thing for this design at all. Look at the first gain stage after the input buffer and the switching. It’s a cross breed with TS-style feedback loop clipping diodes and a 250 OD-style gain control. The diodes in the feedback loop is the only thing bearing any resemblance. This driver stage is then followed by a hard clipping stage before the volume and the tone controls.

DOD-FX53-ClassicTube-guts

Not even the tone control topology show any resemblance to TS circuits. So the design here is not like many the others. I wonder what would have happened if DOD had decided to paint these green. Since majority of players at the prime of this unit’s selling days were about to slam it as a TS-derivative anyway, the green colour would have been a nice touch. Then some folks would have possibly noticed that the TS and Classic Tube do not sound alike.

The build quality is common with all the others from this era of FX-series units and the electronic switching follows others too. And if we try to find a continuity in the design presented in the schematic, this might very well be the link between FX50-B Overdrive and FX55 Super/Supra Distortion. After all, it is brighter in red (could it be called more yellowish?) than the Super/Supra – so in a sense, also a missing colour between the FX50 and FX55. You could also check out the notes on Americas Pedal on the FX53. I believe the author in there is right about the unit trying to be a competitor to TS9, not to copy it in any way.

Even if there were similarities in the tone to the “suspected sisters”, the design does not support that claim. And again, no. Neither does the sound.

How does it sound?
There is a certain emphasis on the mid frequencies that may have led some people to think TS. To me, however, words like amp-like and smooth come to mind. Neither of these are words that i would use to describe a TS or its derivatives. The amount of gain available is quite different too.

Now i’m starting to piss myself off. Why on earth do i keep comparing this to TS, when it has clearly very little to do with that design? Because most of the world still do call FX53 a “DOD’s take on a Tubescreamer”. The design, nor the sound, have very, very little to do with it. How can i be more clear about this? Please. Stop referring to TS when you talk about this effect. I know i’m going to stop doing it. Right. Now.

Arion MTE-1 Tubulator

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

Arion-MTE1-Tubulator

What is it?
Arion MTE-1 Tubulator. Made in Sri Lanka, around early 00’s

A Tubulator? Yes. Can anyone guess what the base circuit design is? By the name and three controls, Level, Tone and gain, which is named as Dist, there should not be that many questions. There is a schematic up at Matsumin’s page (switching not depicted). So let’s take a look at those extremely beautiful, acid trip traces with pretty hand drawn feel to it before examining the schematic a bit.

Arion-MTE1-Tubulator-guts1

Pretty. Isn’t it. Anyway. To read the schematic a bit, we don’t have an input buffer for the circuit input, just for the bypass path. This does look a bit strange, since it’ll mean that the circuit input is connected to your guitar at all times. It seems, however, that the input impedance of the JFET bypass buffer is higher that the gain block’s impedance. The capacitors at the input of the first gain stage (two 33n caps in series) seem a bit low in terms of letting lower frequencies in. Still on par or at least close to what we find in the design this is obviously derived from. Then for the gain block. This is very common setup for these “tube overdrives”. Noticeable and somewhat audible difference comes from 56n capacitor form inverting input to ground. This’ll shift the high pass filter created by the gain stage a hint lower, affecting the lows for the better. The value versus the value in several other “tube overdrives” is pretty close but should make a nice, subtle difference.

Arion-MTE1-Tubulator-guts2

Then for the Tone control. This part is the same as in those “tube overdrives” mentioned earlier. Yes. I’ll be using quotation on this all the way until i say it out loud.. Then we have the Volume control, shunt to ground instead of the usual VREF. And then comes the output buffering. Simple, yet effective. I just had to snap a photo of the original retail box. Notice the short spiel – Very Intense Tube Emulation Pedal.

Arion-MTE1-Tubulator-retailbox

I sure do hope all of you got the point for this design without me saying it? Yes. It is an ever so slightly modified, Yet Another Tubescreamer.

How does it sound?
Close to the ye oldee Maxon design. Nothing new, nothing special, but still slightly more pleasing in its overall tone when compared to TS808/9. If it wasn’t housed in plastic (which in this case isn’t that big of a minus), this would probably stand out nicely form vast majority of all the other Tube Overdrive (un)designs. Maybe not much, but a bit. It acts close to TS808 and TS9 with its relatively sluggish output level and mid-honking cold, dead hand slapping you on to top of your head. Subtly more content on lows, but not much. Reasonable controls too. As with 98 per cent of all TS derivatives, the overall tone shines on vintage output pickups, but goes from horrible to completely unusable with modern pups with over 12K DC resistance. For the price, this is very decent TS-derivative.

Ibanez FLL Flanger

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

Ibanez-FLL-Flanger

What is it?
Ibanez FLL Flanger from L-, or Master series. Made in Japan, 1985.

Now, there is a reason why i’m posting this one right now. I just wrote a post about the SF10, Swell Flanger. Due to that article, there is very little to say about FLL. It’s is the same effect with minor cosmetic differences, which i already disclosed on the SF10 article. I know i’m repeating myself, but these differences are the visual appearance, the stomp lid and the pots.

Ibanez-FLL-Flanger-guts1

Trying to write something truly meaningful about this after the SF10 would be like writing two completely different articles about TS7 and TS7C. Sure. In that case there wouldn’t be any other difference but the colour. Here there are a few minor things, but again. I just wrote about them. Twice.

So why don’t we just enjoy the photos this time?

Ibanez-FLL-Flanger-guts2

..and don’t even try to come up with profound differences. There is very little time between the two units manufacture dates and there is practically zero difference in the electronic design. Even though this design lasted for nearly a decade in production in couple of different forms, the main reason to even try to say something about these is…

How does it sound?
The sound. These all sound great. Versatile and more than just usable. A solid standard in analog flangers.

I’ll try to take some time between these post and the forthcoming FL9 post. Just to get a bit more out of the third Maxon designed flanger that shares the design with this and the SF10.

Ibanez SF10 Swell Flanger

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

Ibanez-SF10-SwellFlanger

What is it?
Ibanez SF10 Swell Flanger from Ibanez 10-, or Power series. Made in Japan, 1987.

Swell. I have no idea where the name comes from. But does it matter? Probably not. Solid 10-series pedal with nothing off from the rest of the bunch. The series is rather large with “only” 36 titles in it. And when we take in to account that this series wasn’t manufactured for too long (from around ’86 to ’89 – less than four years), there are bound to be some recycling on the designs from earlier series. The number of different units and the vast number units being traded at auction sites makes me think that the Maxon factory had to be running on full between 1986 and 1989.

Ibanez-SF10-SwellFlanger-guts1

Board and build quality is on par with the others in the series and also on par with the L/Master series. After all, both series were made in japan. Actually, the difference between the series are minor. The rubber mat on top of the stomp lid vs. the hard plastic lid and the slightly cheaper pots. Of course the naming of the units and slight visual differences too. But for the main boards, these two series are a very close to each other. Now that i remember, i’ve actually seen more Master series units with broken pots than Power series units with the same fault. Funny. Most folks will simply repeat the mantra found on numerous forums – “the power series pots are worse than the good pots on master series”. Due to my limited empirical experience, no. That is not correct. Sure the Master series pots feel sturdier. But right now, i’m not that convinced about them being simply “better”.

Ibanez-SF10-SwellFlanger-guts2

To get on with it, this design is the newest of the bunch. Meaning that the four knob flanger design we all love to play around was first introduced as 9-series unit, FL9 in the early 80’s (this FL9 design is a derivative of FL-301 and the other older Maxon/Ibanez flangers). This circuit was then redrawn for the Master series and sold as FLL Flanger. And then we have the SF10, which uses the same exact PCB as the FLL. So it is the same effect in yellow enclosure instead of greyish black. And since this is the same effect…

How does it sound?
It sounds exactly like FL9 and FLL. Deep, powerful flanger with great set of controls. This unit goes from that glassy, brittle, static and thin tone all the way to the airplane territory. In addition to those two ends, there is everything in the middle. A chorusey flange, a vibrato-like wobble and so on. Exactly like a great flanger unit should. What more can i say? Versatile flanger that will suit most situations where flanger is needed. A classic. And a standard in great flanger units.

If you are in denial about greatness and proper use of flangers, this (or any of its sister models) is the unit to try out.