Archive for August, 2016

Bogner Wessex Overdrive

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

Bogner-WessexOD

What is it?
Bogner Wessex Overdrive from Amplifier Transformer series. Made in USA late 2014 at esarliest.

Bogner started to build boutique guitar amplifiers way back in 1989 by revising and modding the classic Fender Blackface schematics. Those amps have been quite highly praised specimen. Company released their first pedals in 2012 and the sky has been the only limit since. The brand just glows the word quality. The price tags are laid out respectively. Whopping at high end range, Bogner pedals have made it to many big name boards and like a stealth bomber, all the way to many not-so-big-name-hobbyist-players as well. This obviously has made the previous pedals a item of interest to the DIY community. Bogner, that has made its fortune and fame copying and making Fender Amps better decided that there should always be something hidden in each pedal, so that their “own, new and original” designs stay a secret. Previous series have a daughter board that’s joined by pin headers and submerged in goop before housing the blob in hard plastic case. So at this point it looked like the brand’s good name and reputation wasn’t on as solid basis that i had hoped for. You kno how cough*hypocrite*cough it goes.

Bogner-WessexOD-back

As the opportunity arose to get one in a trade, i was of course optimistic and somewhat eager to get my hands on one. The guy who i did the trade with said at the beginning, that the unit is quite strange sounding thing. Not necessarily bad, but just different. This piqued my interest even more. Quick reading told me that the unit is a part of “amplifier transformer” series, where all the pedals utilize a Rupert Neve Design transformer. The enclosure design goes as the above photo shows – you can see the top of the transformer through a hole in the bottom plate. Elaborate and quite cool thinking. Once we screw the bottom plate open and take a look, the enthusiasm stops there. And basically turns into a yawn. There’s a massive transformer on all board mounted PCB – with a black box of obvious trade secret amount of goop.

Bogner-WessexOD-guts

Now, if there really is something completely new and original in play, the build method, may it use what ever type of components, will make this utter piece of trash the second the warranty date expires. Repairing the thing will be extremely painful due to gooped base circuit and special specific transformer – which i doubt you’ll be able to buy from you local component store. Anyway, decently built. I must admit that. Finish is definitely something to point out. It is a pretty pedal with decent set of controls (and control range), even thought the “unrepairable” tag.

How does it sound?
Now this i find interesting. The guy i got this unit from said that it’ll sound strange, very compressed. I figured it should have something to do with thte transformer on board. Once i wired this thing up and played first notes, i must agree. Very compressed, and thick sounding thing with lots of lows present even when those are rolled back at the bass knob. The Enhanced/normal switch seems like a clipping diode switch. It doesn’t affect the voicing all that much, just how much, or how quickly the pedal starts to distort. The gain amount is very much sufficient and the control offers everything from clean boost to near-distortion overdrive tones in decent feel of the knob. Same goes for the tone controls. There is certain high quality feel all over. But the tone. That is still fat and thick. In a sense, overly compressed. While the pedal reacts to guitar volume control in good manner, the guitar doesn’t mean anything to this pedal. I started by playing with a Tokai Love Rock model and slightly hotter than stock PAF neck humbucker. Liked the sound, but didn’t think it would see much use. Then i took my Fender Strat with single coil on the bridge – the sound was exactly the same as for LP neck humbucker. This pedal has a mind and tone of its own. It’s not “transparent” or “clear” at all. Not a bit.

It’ll serve perfectly for thoseDinosaur Jr. style, fat, overdriven tones with nice, ringing overtones and quite cool articulation. But that’s pretty much it. one trick pony with petaton of personality. Most likely this unit won’t see much use in my care, but it’ll be a definite keeper as a strange one trick pony. Just in case i need that Mascis tone from Gibson Melody Maker with a shitty single coil. Let’s just hope the pedal doesn’t ever break.

Ricken’s Fuzz FR III

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

Rickens-FuzzFRIII

What is it?
Ricken’s Fuzz FR III, made by Jen in Italy around mid 70’s for “Ricken’s” and molested by several people later on.

To begin with, Jen used to make their III Fuzz for couple of brands, Ricken’s being one of them. Opportunity to trade one serviced unit in arose, and of course i was curious. Alert started to ring in my head with the word “serviced” as this claim was not followed by a name of anyone. Not anyone with reputation or experience with pedals or not, but not a name at all. Usually, when museum age vintage pedals are serviced, the seller or trader wants everyone to know who did the work as this will usually affect the value more than expected – and not necessarily towards a good direction. Next alerting fact that was when i said “you can send the blue pedal to …” and the answer was “the pedal is white”. So the unit was painted by someone and that someone didn’t even bother to remove the label plate from the face. The new coat nicely covers up the corners of the aluminum plate. I went ahead with the trade anyway, as the Jen version is rare enough to take action. These OEM’s even more – even though those are way less desirable and thus, sell for way less when available. Another thing was about the foot switch. The seller told me that it didn’t work perfectly. I told that this wasn’t an issue for me as i could fix it rather easily by just replacing the part.

Rickens-FuzzFRIII-back

So the trade went through and i got the fuzz. The original knobs were in decent condition with just a few chips. Flipping the pedal over showed the original bottom rubber with cutout for the “Made in Italy” label and the original blue color. I bet the original paint job has been in horrible condition, since the new white is very thick and matte in finish. But the “Made in” label is just beautiful. Don’t know if the early seventies were simpler times. At least the typeface and fonts made by hand in preproduction of the prints make me feel warm and fuzzy. Nope. This is not a statement about the tone, just for print used by european silk screeners of that day.

Rickens-FuzzFRIII.guts1

Next up was to remove the bottom plate to see what’s in there. The circuit and the battery both have their original foam pads in tact. At first test run, the switch did indeed leave contacts out. Only about 2 of 50 presses resulted in proper switching. I gave up on the original and replaced it with 2PDT standard true bypass. I saw no point in wiring the new switch per the original, as the switch had four poles, only two of them used and still the input of the circuit was connected all the time. Next up was to check out the circuit itself. Yup. I paid way too much for this unit in the trade.

Rickens-FuzzFRIII.guts2

Well. Some you win, some you lose. This was perfect example of the latter. The fixes for the broken board strips are for the faint hearted. But since it works and the traces are bad, i left is as it was. Sure i could have made it prettier with any other repair method than soldering bare resistor legs over the original strip between the joints. Sure it works. But since it’s all about that 70’s piercing silicon fuzz with notable mushroom cloud factor, i saw little point in tampering with the fixes. After all, the value of the pedal in this condition is less than the parts for a proper clone and repairing it further would probably not make it any better. Ugly fix. I wouldn’t have done it this way myself. Now, for the more interesting part..

Rickens-FuzzFRIII.guts3

Component side of the board shows BC239C transistors, basic carbon film resistors and green mylar caps with a few diodes thrown in. And luckily there is a approximate schematic up at Fuzz Central. By the schematic alone i can take a guess how this will sound. And since it’s loosely based on the Tonebender family, i can suggest one or two mods for the circuit just by looking at it. First, which isn’t the best option, would be to up all three 10n caps to something like 100n to let more of the lower frequencies through. This method has a few downsides, one being too much gain which leads to hard audible oscillation. So i wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, i’d suggest anyone owning one not in museum grade condition to add one more 10n cap from input to ground. This will dump a part of the highest frequencies to ground and it’ll let the circuit do it’s magic in a nice sounding manner. So…

How does it sound?
As a stock unit, run with a full battery and modern guitar humbuckers – horrible. Screeching and horribly piercing highs. Think of a maxed controls of a Fuzz Face with a Screaming Bird in front of it and at the end of it, a hard clipping diodes ala Rat. Oh. That’s basically exactly what the circuit is, so imagining it shouldn’t be all tha hard. Strong, piercing, but rather unusable would be how i’d describe the tone. But once we mod it slightly and add the 10n cap from input to ground, the sound clears up, the oscillations are gone and the pedals starts to play along nicely with the guitar controls.

Without mods and assuming there weren’t any to begin with, the Jen III Fuzz and the OEM versions of the same unit are next to unusable as they are. With a very simple addition of one capacitor will make it very nice and powerful sounding fuzz unit. These will never stand up against modern requirements what we want and need from pedals. But instead, these will serve their purpose as collectibles and niché specialities for me and every other tone freak out there.

Sadly, muy unit had zero collector value when it arrived. But i still find it interesting enough to keep.