Archive for the ‘Other Brands’ Category

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.

Big Jam (Multivox) SE-1 Phaser

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

BigJam-SE-1-Phaser

What is it?
Multivox Big Jam SE-1 Phaser. Designed in Hauppauge, New York, made in Japan. Most likely made late 70’s.

It was a cold and dark late winter night. Ok, it may have been closer to spring or early summer, but anyway. I was chatting with a friend who had spotted an ebay listing of four defunct pedals from germany. And the price for the lot was rather appealing. Since i was completely out of cash but still wanted more pedals (obviously), i suggested that he bids on the deal and i’ll pay around 40%, fix the lot once they arrive and he can choose what he takes first. Not a perfect deal for me since the better pedals of the lot were, well, better – and thus, an obvious choice for the one who gets the first pick. Anyhow. The deal went down, i paid my share, fixed all four and was left with one overdrive pedal (which may be covered here at one point too) and this unit. The faults with this one were quite modest. The switch rubber had fallen off (gladly this wasn’t lost!) and the metal plate doing the switching was gone. Battery door and the slide pot knobs were missing as well. So the unit was in no condition to call it collectible or even working. Since the swtiching matrix itself was in working order, i made a new metal switch out of a washer and used heavy duty two-component glue to put the rubber mat back to its place – and what do you know, it works. Due to missing battery door i removed the battery leads as the unit would be next to unusable with a battery anyway. Now the unit was just left with missing battery door and slider knobs. I don’t think i’ll be able to locate either of those, so this’ll be the state this pedal will stay. At least for now. But in a case a duplicate was to appear…

BigJam-SE-1-Phaser-back

Before anything, the aesthetics usually play a huge role how o perceive pedals. Just look at the hand pointing to the power jack receptable! That is the kind of thing that always brings the smile and good vibes. Just like this wasn’t enough, removing the bottom plate shows a circuit board that is true work of beauty. Beautifully assembled board with soldered strips and so on. One negative thing is clear though. The board can be removed from the enclosure by either breaking or unsoldering the in/out jacks. One will suffice, but break or unsolder nevertheless.

BigJam-SE-1-Phaser-guts

With extremely flat housing, not much higher than a 9V battery itself, this and its peers from the same series are true beuties, but still these manage to remain as weird birds of all pedals. These seem to get their high lisitng/asking price from the age alone. Not so much due to the aesthetics or designs. Which would be way more interesting factors.  For some reason this unit and series simply doesn’t feel solid enough to warrant the usual high asking prices. And remember kids. Detachable battery door is always a f*n stupid idea. Avoid those at all cost. Otherwise, Multivox engineers did not go under from where the fence was at its highest. These pedals exhibit heart warming examples of engineering of their day. When the size is taken as a factor, these are very beatiful pedals indeed.

By the sound, controls and fact that i saw the component side of the board (and didn’t realize to snap a photo at that time), i’d go as far as to call this a derivative of EHX Small Stone. Which does mean a few things as is..

How does it sound?
Fat, slushy, twirling, psychedelic and not hurt by its relatively sluggish control range consisting of only LFO rate and effect depth. Still the overall tone is not just powerful but sweet as well. I don’t have much negative pointers for the unit in any way. The battery door design may be the biggest one, when talking about issues of Multivox Big Jam pedals. Maybe one could also argue that the floating plastic jacks are another issue. If that was argued, i’d remain dormant and just maybe nod my head as a sign of silent agreement.

To sum it up, Big Jam pedals are beatiful specimens of design and manufacturing of their day. Not so much usable stuff for todays guitarists or keyboardists. I’ll definitely keep my eye out and get more of these, if the price is right.

P.S. If Multivox is unknown brand to you, i suggest you check out wikipedia.

Greg Fryer Brian May Signature Treble Booster Touring

Friday, July 15th, 2016

GregFryer-BrianMayTBT

What is it?
Greg Fryer Brian May Signature Treble Booster Touring. Monster named unit that’s made most likely in th UK around 2010.

Don’t know where to begin. Got one of these in a trade and figured that i needed to have one, just to know what it’s all about. Sometimes i tend to look outside the box, but this is something that just doesn’t make all that much sense to me. Fryer guitars/amps/electronics is an UK brand that’s goal has been reproducing the Queen guitar tone since its formation in 2008. Mr. May is obvious idol for many for his high technical skill with guitar. I’ve listened to my share of Queen back in the day, so i’m quite happy that i don’t have to do so anymore. But then.. So a company based on marketing tools that can recreate this one guy’s tone? Sure. Why not. At least there seems to be a market and people to buy effect units, amps and guitars that’ll help them sound like mr. May. The original DIY amp that was used back in the day has been well documented and it’ll need a treble booster to make it distort per May’s tone. After all, it is just a ~0,75 watt germanium transistor loaded amplifier that runs on a single 9V battery. And since reissue and of the amp and a DIY kit of it were apparently a hit, there was a need to create suitable treble boosters for all the thousands of home guitarists chasing that May tone. There is some more info on Knight Audio Technologies page. And as the die hard May fans already know, i’m focusing on the factory made version(s), not the custom build original that mr. Fryer built for mr. May. The amp called Deacy amp and treble boosters are all listed at KAT store, with a bit more information that i can give. Anyway. There are three different boosters in this series, “Plus”, “Deluxe” and “Touring”. So far i’ve only seen a traced schematic for the Deluxe verion, but i believe these three are just voiced slightly differently between each other. And KAT shop descriptions agree with my assumption.

GregFryer-BrianMayTBT-guts1

The box has an input jack, output jack and a battery door. That’s it – all three versions are the same. Which makes me believe all three also share the PCB and contruction with the other versions. For the trace, you could head over to Paul’s page at paulinthelab.com. There you’ll find a schematic for the Deluxe version. Does it surprise anyone when the schematic shows a slightly modified Rangemaster? Probably not. But the real surprise comes when we check the board inside the unit.

GregFryer-BrianMayTBT-guts2

Yup. That’s goop. And reason to goop a Rangemaster clone? Seriously, i can’t come up with one. Trying to hide the fact that is is a Rangemaster without gain control? It is still just a single transistor treble booster that works in manner of dropping the lower frequencies and amplifying the treble content to a single transistor’s capabilities. As a gooped unit with such low feature list, i think it’s the best if we just move on.

How does it sound?
Like a treble booster. Kills your bottom and makes your guitar screech and scream. I have no access to Deacy amp or anything like it, so i can’t take a sip of the intended sound. As a standalone treble booster, this has a few advatages. Like the zeroconf. But then again, this feature has huge disadvantages as well. As is, this can only be used as always on unit, which i believe doesn’t suit that many guitarists. Think about it. You’ll spend a $1000€ on a guitar that has a sound that suits your preference, another $1000€ on an amp that, again, has a sound that suits your preference. Now, you take a $150€ treble booster that will discard most of the tone that your guitar and amp are capable of. And on top of this, you’ll be hooked on batteries for life. The current draw is minimal, but still. You’ll need to swap the battery at least before every gig so it won’t fail on you. I’d get the idea if this was presented as a basic stomp box which could be used on demand for leads and so on. Sure you can do that with a effects looper. But that’ll be still quite stupid idea as you get 5 EHX screaming birds for the price of one of these. You’ll really need to be in to May’s tone to even consider getting one of these.

Fender Yngwie Malmsteen signature overdrive

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

I know it’s been a while since my previous post, but i’ve never been away completely. Just swamped with other aspects in life. Like renovating a house to host my build desk and small recording studio and living quarters for the whole family etc…

Fender-YJMOD

What is it?
Fender Yngwie Malmsteen signature Overdrive. Made in china, 2014.

I was about to place an order at one of the bigger music stores in europe and noticed that this Fender branded and Yngwie endorsed asian pedal was priced pretty nicely. So i got it as an extra side o’ fries. I was more than just convinced the insides would be nothing more than slightly modded DOD OD250 as that’s the magic to Yngwie’s tone. Or at least, has been for a couple of decades. Let’s get one thing straight before going further.. I’m not into metal at all (not any metal, unless it’s just good ol’ plain hardcore punk or some classic thrash) and thus, never been that interested in technical shredders that tend to get their names on guitars and pedals more often than my idols. Who are usually very heartful players with massive sense of style. Think Andy Cohen (Silkworm, Bottomless Pit etc.), Doung Martsch (Built to Spill), Frankie Stubbs (Leatherface), Dave Quinn (Tiltweel etc.) etc. While the shredding the scales up and down is definitely not my cup of tea, this goddamn swede is something quite different. Hats off.

Anyway. Got the pedal and for some idiotic reason i didn’t have suitable imperial hex keys to get the knobs off. At that point i tried it out and played with it for a while before packing it up to its box and let it wait for tools. Took me more than six months before i realised i had imperial keys in my desk drawer all along. Since the initial test drive was on par with my expectations of OD250 derivative, i was not in a rush to do anything. When i finally got to opening the pedal up..

Fender-YJMOD-guts1

Nope. That can’t be a board of a straight up 250 derivative. Way too much going on. And flipping the board over confirms it. I do enjoy it when i find i was wrong. 250 has something like 13 parts total and one single opamp. The YJM380, which is the previous signature pedal, has the same type 4558 dual opamp, but the second half is unused and tied to ground. Here it serves a purpose. Haven’t done a trace so can’t say much, but i believe the clipping stage and the main gain stage may be similar to 250/380. The switching seems to be way more complitade than what those previous models have. Still there are number of differences.

Fender-YJMOD-guts2

Most obvious differences come from the build methods when compared to the DODs. Everything is board mounted and overall build quality is very familiar with most of curren, better, made in china stuff. No super tiny SMD, but rather clean through hole construction. I should take on the circuit one day and reverse it to see if there really is as much in difference as i currently think.

But do the differences change the sound and feel enough to declare this a completely different sound from 250/380? Answer could go either way. For the purist end of tone hunters, who swear the tone of the Grey 250 is the only true “Malmsteen” tone, the cheaper Fender tryout won’t do. But for the rest of the folks, most of the population, this will serve well and deliver the parallel tone for the original.

For what it’s worth, i’m not that happy i keep comparing this with DOD overdrives. But then again, this is supposed to be the pedal for that “Yngwie tone” – which many of us will always connect with OD250/YJM380.

How does it sound?
Close to 250/380 (of which’ tone i assume you all are familiar to), but there are tonal differences. Output level is enough to boost your amp and the gain control works very well as it offers usable control all over the sweep. As the 250/380 do as well. I’d say that the single biggest difference is the overall feel. While the DOD predecessors have notable character and personality, this thing delivers its payload close, but it still feels somewhat tame. Like a lion versus a household cat. Same genetics, but still different animals.

Which doesn’t mean that one would definitely be better than another. Fender does not sound quite like the pedals previously associated with YJM, but it gets close. I personally find this a keeper – in addition to my 250/380.

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.

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.

DiMavery EPDL-50 Delay

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

DiMavery-EPDL50

What is it?
DiMavery EPDL-50 Delay. Made by Daphon in china around late 00’s or early 10’s.

I was on the hunt for the original Daphon branded E20DL as it’s apparently the same circuit as for Daphon E10AD. The reason for hunting down a low end brand’s delay unit? The schematic for E10AD on Dirk Hendrik’s archives suggest that the design is actually very close to certain Maxon developed analog delays. And since this chinese manufacturer was responsible for producing the plastic Ibanez soundtanks, my interest raised too high to resist getting one. Daphon branded units are pretty scarce here in europe, so i just couldn’t find one. What i did find was a DiMavery branded version of the E20DL from a german retailer. And the price was decent enough too. The shipping cost wasn’t cheap, but that’s mainly due to the unit weighting a ton. Once the parcel arrived, it was time for a test run and to see how the unit was made. First thing that caught my eye was the horrid “quick fix” (TM) on the boards dc jack side. As the number of solder joints shows, there will be a lot of components in there.

DiMavery-EPDL50-guts1

And there are. Most of the board design looks a lot like the ones we see in every Soundtank. So everything’s in order so far. The DDB is modern BL3208, a 2048-step BBD. The noise content for the delay line is tamed with a compander. In all, pretty straightforward analog design in a box that’s way sturdier than most others. Weighting in at about 700 grams, the box is definitely one of the sturdiest of all.

DiMavery-EPDL50-guts2

The enclosure may be great, but. What comes to build quality, i’m not too impressed. Insides are made with cheapest parts available, and while the workmanship beats most Danelectro mini series units, it’s still sub-par when compared to Ibanez Soundtanks. Which is pretty odd, since we are talking about the same factory. Maybe the profit margin for current OEM’d boxes is less than what it was with Ibanez. Either way. This represents the cheapest metal housed analog delay in existence. Sad thing, but low price point doesn’t usually add up to high quality. And. I’m afraid there’s more.

How does it sound?
If we start by playing around with slap back type delay times, set the feedback accordingly and dial the mix to suitable levels. Then, this is very nice effect with smooth and soft analog feel to its tone. I’d estimate the maximum delay time to be something like 300ms. But there’s an issue. If and when the delay time is set above half turn, there is distinct higher frequency distortion present. My guess is that this is due to slightly misbiased BBD. And since the board doesn’t have a trimmer, this can’t be remedied simply with a screwdriver. So as it is, the short delay times work well and sound good. Longer times are next to unusable. I bet this could be modded to work better, but i haven’t found it in me to do so. Maybe some day. On the other hand, the distortion on long times in addition to self-oscillating feedbacks do make this very reasonable and cheap analog delay unit for all you noise heads. Looking for a hifi analog delay? Look somewhere else.

Rolls RFX970 Vibraflange

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

Rolls-RFX970-Vibraflange

What is it?
Rolls RFX970 Vibraflange. Made in USA, 1993.

For some reason i wasn’t aware the amount of stuff in the back catalog of this company called Rolls. The reasonably priced headphone amplifiers and patch bays i did know. But then again, the main reason might also be that the bigger part of  Rolls catalog has been paraded in the US a lot more then here in europe. This thing caught my eye on auction listings. The price was cheap and the shipping plus taxes weren’t too high either so i thought i’d give it a go. Once the parcel arrived i felt pretty enthusiastic. Had to try it out right away. But there were a slight problem in the paradise that day. Effect turned on an everything seemed to be in order, but the LFO didn’t seem to pulse correctly. After a short debugging session, i was aware of the issue’s nature. The speed pot didn’t connect properly inside the pot. And during this investigation, i got pretty certain why. The original board mounted pots were the worst pots i’ve ever seen in a production pedal. Ever. Cheapest things with tendency of disconnecting the sweeper if the pot were bent a fraction of a millimetre to suitable direction. Sure, i contacted the US seller, asked and got a partial refund, since the issue was most likely present when he shipped it out. It couldn’t have appeared during the shipping since the broken pot was one of the middle ones. So i got my partial refund (thanks to the seller, if you happen to read  this) and went on to replace those crappy parts for something that works. I had to widen the pot holes a bit to get the industry standard Alpha brand pot shafts to fit through the panel, but otherwise the task wasn’t too massive. Instead of original board mounted cheapos, i now have hand wired, panel mounted, sturdy pots in there. And the unit works as it was originally intended to. I had to replace the knobs though. Originals were flying high on the standard 17mm shafted pots i normally use. Black knobs, so the visual difference isn’t too remarkable.

While the unit was open i could straight away see how, when and with what the unit was made. My first surprise was the date codes on the electrolytics. Year 1993. I was aware of the fact that David Oreste Di Francesco formed DOD in 1973 and that he went on to build Rolls electronics afterwards, but i had no idea Di Francesco had started Rolls that early, at the time DOD was still its prime. (Please do correct me if i have any of this information wrong.) Anyway, the board design looks very familiar to those who have been inside any DOD FX series pedal. The feel and look of the design doesn’t differ much.

Rolls-RFX970-Vibraflange-guts

Of course i was assuming this would be an analog design with BBD involved instead of seeing anything digital, but the use of MN3207 and a MN3102 for its driver was still a pleasant surprise. Like i just said, the board design looks and feels a lot like most circuits we find in DOD FX series. This is not  a bad thing at all. It feels more warm, fuzzy and home-like to see this design method elsewhere.

For the features and controls we have two stomp switches, one for bypass and second for activation of “Mode 1”. I currently have no idea what this “mode” actually  does, but the overall tone of the pedal gets softer once it’s on. For the knobs, we have Depth, which controls the intensity of the flanging, Speed, which controls the rate of the LFO pulse, Manual, which affects the LFO’s intensity and a Peak, which controls how high the Q will get on the highest part of the LFO sweep. Quite a pack of controls for a flanger that, at first, seems pretty basic.

How does it sound?
Nothing like a basic flanger or the image of a basic flanger you currently have in your mind. I was blown away once started to play around with this.With zero speed setting, the tone of the pedal is like mild, shimmering octave up with nice glassy feel to it. The controls allow setting the tone from that to a vibrato, that i can call a vibrato (in reality not too many phasers or flangers get to this area). And this can also stretch to that classic velcro’ed airplane flange. Versatile modulation sounds with all the good and bad that comes with the use of analog BBD chips. This thing sounds just amazing.

One can always change the bad pots to something else if needed. But if the design sounds awesome… I may need to keep my eye out if i happen to come across some other units from this RFX pedal series with reasonable price tags.

Monarch MCO-22 Compressor

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

Monarch-MCO22

What is it?
Monarch MCO-22 Compressor. Made in japan around mid to late 80’s.

Got this one in a trade. Could have bought it straight off, since the price was right. There is always something interesting in these 80’s japanese cheapos. Mainly because most of them are really good sounding and usable circuits, despite their cheap and lousy plastic overall feel. A little research pointed out that Monarch was a brand that was basically just OEM’d catalogue of Aria effect pedals. And as such, this pedal is exactly the same unit as Aria ACP-1 Compressor. This particular unit has seen some use too. The knobs are not original, but for a unit that’s seen use this isn’t a surprise. Well. At least the plastic battery compartment cover is in its place. Of course i then needed to know what the electronic design held in store, so i opened it up. Typical japanese board design with pleasing looks and a mark of hand crafted trace design.

Monarch-MCO22-guts1

By testing and looking at everything else, i was pretty sure the design is the standard OTA-based compressor like so many others in the genre and from the era. The stacked control board only houses the pots and and the indicator LED. No other parts of the circuit extent to the control board. The image below shows the component side and its layout. The switch (which someone has repaired with a piece of non-slip tape) and the electronic switching components are at the bottom. The diodes are for actual switching transistors that are grouped between the switching and jacks. So the effect circuit itself is placed above the jacks.

Monarch-MCO22-guts2

And the circuit is nothing else but a 3080 OTA-based compressor/sustainer. A quick search on the susbject showed up a DIYStompboxes forum thread where good folks were sorting out issues with a Rocktron Big Crush pedal. As Analogguru states on that thread – “Funny to see the schematic of the Aria ACP-1 (and similar units) in a Rocktron pedal.” So let’s take a peek at the Big Crush schematic that user jwbink1500 has uploaded. There are some similarities with the standard Dyna/Ross compressor, but the trigger part differs to a degree. According to Analogguru, the main difference between a Rocktron and Aria/Monarch compressor is the value of one resistor. Which he believes is an error that came to be in the cloning process. Nice design. And what’s more important…

How does it sound?
This actually sounds better than many modernized versions of the OTA compressor. The controls have good usable range and and the mushiness isn’t an issue. For the attack control, the feel is a lot better than for many similar designs. Despite its overall plastic feel, the sounds are very good. This was an interesting find and i’m actually very happy with the unit. Even if it doesn’t have the original push-on knobs in place.