Archive for the ‘Other Brands’ Category

Axtron OCT-5 Octaver

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Axtron-Octaver

What is it?
Axtron OCT-5 Octaver. Made in japan, possibly in the late 80’s or early 90’s.

The sucker for down octaves that i am, i just had to get this pastic thing. It wasn’t even that cheap, but these japanese plastic oldies do not come by that often. So i went for it. There aren’t that many of these moving around, even in the other brand names these were offered back in the day. The same circuit in the same enclosure was apparently sold also under Axtar, Pickboy, Columbus, Profile+ and Vision brands. The same effect. In the same enclosure. Not that uncommon for japanese units back then. This series apparently had ten different pedals in its catalog. Haven’t seen many others for sale anywhere. Possibly the folks having them are still convinced they are worhtless garbage. That assumption is not that far fetched.

Axtron-Octaver-guts1

The build quality is cool. Hand drawn traces and neat solder joints. The sin of japanese designers in the 80’s was the plastic housing. If these units were housed in a metal case, the sales would most likely have been higher. Nevertheless, the work looks good and the pedal utilizes the classic japanese two stacked board layout we’ve seen in many other units. The elctronic switching seems to be similar to old Boss and Maxon/Ibanez flip-flop switching done with two BJTs and the actual switching by FETs. The effect circuit seems to be created with two Sony branded 4558 dual opamps and a 4013 flip-flop for the octave divider.

Axtron-Octaver-guts2

There are three knobs that control the clean signal level, octave down level and the distorted octave down level. So it’s not exactly like the big sellers, OC-2 from Boss, MOC-1 from Arion and so on. The circuit seem to have something personal going on for it. But even though it may be well made and the design of the boards look promising, there are some caveats.

How does it sound?
This being the biggest one. It’s a well tracking down octave, that’s created in a same way others have divided octaves since the days MXR Bluebox was first out (there may be earlier examples, but Bluebox is good to mention). The distortion side of the effect also has a nice structure and texture. Nothing wrong with those. But. The overall level, even with all the knobs maxed is below unity. This renders the unit more or less unusable. For a collector and a freak for down octave dividers, this may offer some value, but for anything else. Nope. Not that much. If you are not a collector, do not spend more than 25 buck for one. It most likely will not be worth anything more than that. May the brand be any of the ones mentioned above.

Acid Age Electronics Pale Mare

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

AcidAge-PaleMare

What is it?
Acid Age Electronics Pale Mare Fuzz Device. Made in USA and judging by the serial number, the unit is most likely made in 2013.

Seems like Acid Age electronics came to be after the brand Earthbound Audio seized to exist. And Acid Age Electronics seized to exist later and currently there is a brand called Earthbound Audio. Confusing, isn’t it? Either way, the pedal landed on my desk in a trade. Sure i was interested in the box, but not enough to have spent the money foolks were asking for it. Little did i know. The marketing texts online are pretty straight forward and honest about the design. According to that text, the design is a derivate of old Roland BeeBaa fuzz. That’s something you don’t see too often. And next point for my “little did i know” phrase comes real when the bottom plate of this beautiful, screen printed, black prism colored, powder coated enclosure is removed.

AcidAge-PaleMare-guts

When i get my hands on a small brand pedal, this is what i want to see. A quality build with no corners cut and no money or time saved on stuff that really matters. Sadly, this isn’t what i usually see. The usual hack jobs give a bad name for small brands, but seeing something like Pale Mare restores a bit of hope for the humanity. I don’t have any deeper insight for the circuit yet. I may have to study this unit with a magnifying glass soon. Still. The board looks very well made and the hand wired parts look like the guy who build this is truly passionate in creating pedals.

I must say that i’m not a fan of two stomp switches on a vertically aligned 125B sized box, as that takes extra effort for aiming. And that’s not something i want to do on gig. Basic controls are level, tone and gain. First switch is the bypass. The second switch activates the Voice control, which seems to affect the fuzzy gain of the middle frequencies. In other words, this feature adds a boost that can be used to kick the tone a bit louder. Nothing earth shattering about the controls, but i still can’t get my mind off of the neat build quality and overall greatness of the design. What’s worse, now that i know AAE, nowadays Earthbound Audio, produces this kind of high end builds for very decent prices, i can easily see myself getting another one from his catalog. And what’s even worse…

How does it sound?
This sounds just beautiful. I myself have tinkered with BeeBaa circuit and have loved it from the first second i heard its tone. This does not sound like a clone of Roland BeeBaa, but there is some of that magical mush fuzz in in there that definitely has its roots in the BeeBaa. Overall, this sounds just thicker and more modern than its idol. Fair and usable upgrade to the vintage design. In my opinion it’s always better to redesign and recycle obscure old circuits than to tweak the Big Muff and the Tubescreamer, and to claim those as a new and an original designs. Back to the subject at hand.. The controls have full working range, meaning that there is usable tones in every possible setting. And the Voice control/switch adds more content to the tone when activated. Just amazing fuzz. It has very little to do with the fuzz faces or big muffs, but it lands a lot closer to mushroom cloud blasts that are usually associated with stranger sounding 60’s and 70’s boxes.

For its sound, design and build quality. This is the shit. Probably the greatest small brand pedal i’ve ever had.

Bespeco Weeper

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Bespeco-Weeper

What is it?
Bespeco Weeper Wah/Volume pedal. Made in italy, sometime in the 90’s.

Nothing comes cheaper than this. Oh well. This may not be entirely correct thing to say. At one point i bought a Daphon Wah, just for its enclosure. I thought i could use that for some wah/distortion project, so i had zero hopes for that one. While i thought the Weeper was the worst plastic thing there is.. I was wrong. Daphon took the number one spot. Plus, one can score Weepers for 10 bucks as used, while Daphons cost a noticeable amount more. And i’ve rarely seen Daphon wahs as used, but i think 5-6 bucks should be a correct amount of money for one. Anyway. This Bespeco is italian made, but the brand hasn’t been too interested in being a follower of italian quality product manufacturers. I think the extremely low retail price has been the highest priority in designing process. But that must have gone wrong at some point. Labor intensity of all that wiring does not look cheap to execute.

Bespeco-Weeper-guts

As the gut shot shows, the dual pot is for wah and volume, according to which side the switch is. The sweep of the pot is very nice. Well on par with a Cry Baby. So we have our dual pot, input and output jacks, a dc jack and a circuit equipped with open coil inductor and two transistors. That’s it. Sometimes simple is beautiful. On this particular effect, not so much. The plastic takes the greatness away too easily. No matter what it sounds like, there will always be folk why won’t touch this due to its super cheap housing.

How does it sound?
Not bad actually. The super cheap feel doesn’t reach its claws to the wah tone. Want to hear something outrageous? This plastic puppy sounds better than low end Cry Baby or Vox wahs. If this was housed in thick aluminum instead of cheap molded plastic, i think this could have been a reasonable hit. So, if you’re looking for a super cheap wah to use in your home studio, this  is the one. Definitely the best wah you can get for 10 units of any of the biggest currencies.

Schaller TR-68 Tremolo

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Schaller-TR68-Tremolo

What is it?
Schaller TR-68 Tremolo. Made in germany, possibly around 90’s. Not sure about the date, but this version is without an indicator LED which is present in the later models.

I used to own one of these back in the days when millennium changed, but for a reason or another, i had to sell it around 2002. The memory served and i did miss the pedal. A lot. The i came home one night, drunk as a skunk and check out the pedal sale listings. Someone was selling TR-68 for peanuts as a broken unit. My first message to the seller may have not been the greatest piece of literature ever written, but we ended up making a sale.

The issues with the pedal were quite minor. The frequency pot was slightly loose and it was turned against the conducting wall of the enclosure, grounding the whole circuit. Plus the battery snap was turning in to dust. Former was an easy fix. Second too. I hadn’t fixed the second at the time i snapped the photo below.

Schaller-TR68-Tremolo-guts

Quite a lot of hand wired connections for a pedal of this age. The construction feels like good vintage. There is very little wrong with this pedal. Solid, original discreet design, high quality flip switch, most of the components are of german origin. The worst caveat is the non-bypass. Everything else just screams quality, integrity and sense in quality.

As for features, there are LFO frequency pot and amplitude pot. Former controls the speed of the amplitude modulation and the latter controls the effective depth of that frequency. Depth goes from near zero effect to silence versus unity level. Frequency ranges from very slow to fast.  And then there’s the speed switch, which changes that very slow to fast to from fast to very fast. Not fast enough for ring modulation speeds, but this is a tremolo, not a noise tool. And the LFO wave… To put it the best way i can,  LFO waveform is smooth.

Saddest thing is that it took me twelve years to get it back.

How does it sound?
Sine waved tremolo that just sounds awesome. The LFO wave is tweaked to perfection, so there is no need for a wave control. This circuit footprint simply works and sounds great as a sine type wave. Non-bypass is a know tone sucker, but somehow it feels right on this one. Or at least it doesn’t bother as much as bad electronic switching buffers that sometimes suck your tone in a bad manner.

This is a beautiful sounding tremolo effect with certain personal, vintage feel. Highly recommended tremolo.

Tone Freak Effects Abunai

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

TFE-Abunai

What is it?
Tone Freak Effects Abunai. Made in USA,2008.

More like a boutique brand, the Tone Freak Effects apparently gained some recognition in the latter half of the 00’s. However, the little respect from the diy community turned into a frown pretty quickly. For those who do not see it, i can point out already – it is obvious why. For this particular unit, i got it in a trade as a defunct pedal. The interest for the brand and designs marketed on it did not exactly warrant the purchase of a new unit which is considered higher shelf boutique thing and is priced accordingly.

As always with broken pedals i get, the first thing was to debug the issue and find a cure for it. Opening this one up revealed somewhat ugly PCB design and all handcrafted board. Board design does not look very appealing and the plastic plate, in credit card thickness, says it all. Abunai 808.

TFE-Abunai-guts1

Found the issue pretty quickly. A burned out polarity protection diode. Swapped that and the pedal was rocking again. You got your socketed opamp and switchable clipping configurations. Otherwise, the topology is pretty much a Tubescreamer. Now, those who didn’t understand why the brand’s profile isn’t as high as it could be. This is the reason.

TFE-Abunai-guts2

Do we really need a new, slightly modified Tubescreamer derivative every month? Do these really sell well enough to warrant their existence? No matter what way you look at it, it is still nothing more but a slightly modified Tubescreamer. These modifications may, and usually will, make the unit sound better than the TS9 reissue you can buy from just about anywhere. This unit incorporates the modifications that are quite usual, clipping options, more bass and more gain. Main reason that  makes this dull is that you can go out and get yourself a TS7 for less than 1/4 price and get the same “TS on steroids” sound. It wasn’t just this model on the Tone Freak Effects catalog that made the brand look far from great. It seems that most of the brand’s designs are slightly modified versions of known designs. If the board design looked even a bit more interesting, the hand made part would appeal a lot more to me.

How does it sound?
Like all the other “TS on steroids” boxes out there. Definite TS sound, including tamed mid honk, but with clipping options on a switch, added bass and gain content. Boxes with same tonal results are out there in numbers, so what makes the Abunai stand out? Nothing. Soundwise, this is just another souped up Tubescreamer. In fact i find the TS7’s Hot mode  to sound pretty close, if not better.

DigiPlay CH-70 Chorus

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

DigiPlay-CH70-Chorus

What is it?
Digiplay CH-70 Stereo Chorus. Made in japan in early 80’s.

Saw this unit up for sale with a price tag of small pack of peanuts. What was i to do, but to get it. The switch was acting up, but simply cleaning it up with suitable chemicals did the trick. I didn’t know much about Digiplay boxes, other that they are from japan and vintage. Heck, i still don’t know much more. There isn’t that much of documentation around of Digiplay boxes. For now, the best source of extra information is Effectsdatabase. FXDB knows that the unit is basically one of those pretty generic designs that emerged in early 80’s. Apparently the box is pretty much the same as Wasburn’s most acclaimed chorus, the A-SC7. And close to Loco Box CH-1.

DigiPlay-CH70-Chorus-guts1

As with many others, there may have been one designer and one manufacturer for all these generic boxes. But why should it matter if there are about ten brands out there with the same exact effect? I do not know any reason why it should. No matter about the prestige of the brand or design, here we have extremely pleasing acid trip traces on vintage japanese style board.

DigiPlay-CH70-Chorus-guts2

Clean hand soldered board, but wait a minute? CD-chip and the BBD+clock have been sanded? Apparently sanding the markings out isn’t a new trick brought to us by bad boutique designers, but it has been around for a long time. Yes, the estimate of DIP-14 chip being a CD4000 series chip and those two DIP-8s being BBD and a clock is pure speculation. But it is a chorus, so chances are the chips are some sort of vibrator/BBD/clock combo.

DigiPlay-CH70-Chorus-guts3

I’m about 99,99% sure the design is all analog. Could the brand name be a hint of simpler times when everything digital was a huge advantage as a selling point? In general, the work and wiring is neat. Everything is looking like it should. This is one of those well made japanese units from early 80’s.

How does it sound?
Usable, soft and nice. But very generic and rather faceless. The sound is exactly what you’d expect from any two knobbed stereo chorus pedal of the era. There is a reason why Ibanez CS9 and Boss CE-2 are pricey classics and Wasburn/Loco Box/Digiplay choruses aren’t. One does get close with a fraction of a price and let’s face it – if you are playing gothic rock, you’d be better of with this unit than one of the highly praised ones. Not bad. Not too great either.

ProTone Pedals Body Rot II

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

ProTone-BodyRot2

What is it?
ProTone Pedals Body Rot II Distortion. Made in USA around early 10’s.

Once again, a pedal that the original owner put up for sale as defected unit, for peanuts. And once again, i had no choice but to grab it asap. I do not own too many small brand boxes, so i must admit being excited. There wasn’t much information about this particular pedal available. Just the marketing speak, which was more of a typical attempt on hype raising than actual good and informative product description. So all i had to begin with was a marketing praise and nothing else. So without hesitation i opened the unit up as soon as it arrived.

ProTone-BodyRot2-guts

Ok. Handcrafted  from start to finish. Lots of work put on those offboard wires. All pots handwired. All industry standard Alpha pots, except for one (which definitely does not feel like all the others). Standard chinese 2PDT stomp switch controlling a millennium bypass. At this point i needed to know what was wrong with it. LED lit up, but there was no signal passing through the device. First thing i noticed, was a 220µF power filtering capacitor. Rated for 10V. This puppy looked like a puffer fish. So i obviously swapped that for a new one, rated at 16V. The heart of the design is a single 2N5088 transistor, followed by a LM386 power amplifier. Traced my way from the input to that power amplifier and its output was dead.

ProTone-BodyRot2-guts2

Swapped the chip for a new one, and yes. The pedal was back to its original  glory. Since i had the unit open already, i snapped a few photos and posted them to a known stompbox forum. One kind soul called Manfred traced the unit from these photos and component values i picked up. It was quite interesting to find out that the pink component that looks like a resistor in weird color, is actually a capacitor. You can find the schematic from Freestompboxes.org, if you have an user account there.

ProTone-BodyRot2-guts3

Best part for the last. Just look at it. And not to mention that this “groundbreaking, all new” design is actually a few component values away from another well known german high gain metal distortion design. Somehow i knew it. If the marketing is all about raising hype, then there must be something wrong with either the manufacturing methods or the design found inside. I think this pedal will easily take years of use and abuse, but it still doesn’t feel that professional to me.. It’s not all bad though.

How does it sound?
Actually, very good. I do find that minimum settings for gain is killing the signal pretty stupid (as i do find all the designs that go quiet with anything else or more than the volume knob). I haven’t played with the design this is obviously based on, but this one sounds good. Mean, super high-gain, with very nice EQ section. Did i already mention it offers a lot of gain? Good metal distortion, either way. If you really want one, i’d suggest contacting the manufacturer instead of getting one from the store. The store price for a new unit seems a bit steep.

Hughes & Kettner Warp Factor

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

HK-WarpFactor

What is it?
Hughes & Kettner Warp Factor from early 00’s.

The unit here has seen a lot of use before landing in to my collection. There are good reasons for pros and cons and both are weighting more than with usual pedals we see. Since the positive notions are all mostly on the sound, i think it’s best too look at everything else first. Opening the bottom plate shows a massively sized modern board with lots of joints.

HK-WarpFactor-guts1

Flipping the board over. Everything is board mounted and number of through hole components is high. Not a bad looking board design, but as i am a huge fan of symmetry, it doesn’t mean that much. Note the four 2200µF filtering capacitors. That’s what we’ll need when the design calls for 12V AC power supply. The supply is rectified to DC on board, which does explain a part of the board and enclosure size. The schematic can be found on the web (try freestompboxes.org), but since it isn’t behind simple image search, i’m not posting it for now.

HK-WarpFactor-guts2

Design is rather huge, and the power supply section spews out +15V and -15V, with reference voltages per each polarity. We could say the unit runs at 30V. So this time there is a fairly good reason for running the effect with 12V AC supply. Circuit design and supply together, however, make the pedal big. And to have a need for 12V AC supply may also be a hassle. But then again, the 30V swing offers headroom that we won’t reach with with 9V DC supply.

As for features, we have electronic bypass switching, level and gain controls, plus a deep tone control called warp. The sub switch boosts lows and low mids to a degree which is rather impressive.

Now, if the size was a bit smaller and this accepted more usual power supply…

How does it sound?
F*n awesome. From Marshall 2203 JCM800-styled massive rock overdrive/distortion to sheer metal madness, this unit sounds great on any volume level. From bedroom practice amp level to loud rehearsals and gigs. I’ve been a fool for many metal distortions before, but  none of them has ever left a impact of this size. Usually the drive/gain setting for metal distortions works in maximum setting or in some cases at minimum as well. For this one, the control range is simply usable all the way of the sweep. Added low frequencies from the sub switch make Boss HM-2’s crushing lows feel like a mosquito passing by. While the usability may be limited, we still have a colorful range from rock overdrive to rock distortion to metal distortion to massive metal sounds. Very impressive pedal.

Systech Phase Shifter

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Systech-PhaseShifter

What is it?
Systech Phase Shifter. Made in USA in mid-70’s. Pot date codes considered, the unit has most likely been built in 1974.

I’ve got this unit more than a year ago and after initial testing it just sort of was forgotten to a spot on my museum shelf (for the units manufactured before 1980). As the testing didn’t raise much more but eyebrows, this didn’t get much more attention. But about a month or two ago a friend from nearly across the globe acquired one after decades of not having one (yeah, Pink! I’m talking about you!). His memory was that the unit was really good sounding and extremely deep phaser, almost pushing the limits of a phase shifter.

Systech-PhaseShifter-guts2

Sadly. He wasn’t correct about the pedal. Or he was. But not about this pedal per se. It did come as a surprise to me too. These phasers have apparently three different revisions of the Systech Phase Shifter. According to the dedicated forums, the first unit was in similar silver/yellow/black housing like this one, and the circuit design in those were pretty standard 4-stage phaser. According to same sources, this board revision is the middle one. Similar enclosure, but eight phasing stages. Not completely different to MXR Phase 100. The third one is the winner. This is the one with silver/red/black colored enclosure and optical design instead of JFET phase stages.

All three versions have a ramp feature for the LFO speed, which is very nice feature. There’s also an independent rate control for both foot switchable rate settings. Ramp works very well and has very nice gradual speed up and down.

How does it sound?
Sadly. Quite dull. This would stay behind just about any phaser if it wasn’t for the ramp. There is some notable personality to its overall phase, but still it is dull. Well working controls and there’s still some usability in there. Like most Systech pedals, this is a classic and highly collectible. Nice thing to have, but will this see much use? I doubt it.

Washburn LSEBOD Blues Overdrive

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Washburn-SLEBOD

What is it?
Washburn LSEBOD Blues Overdrive. Made in china around 2010. Should it ever even been made? Not so sure.

So. It is 1:1 with Artec Blues Overdrive. Artec is a korean brand that’s been around for some time. It has produced couple of interesting, or at least promising designs. I’ve had some contact with a couple those korean units and those are not too bad design wise. There are couple of Artec boxes that i might be interested in, even at the moment.

Before getting deeper, let’s talk a second about Washburn as a brand. Without any wikipedia checking, i think Washburn is a US brand that moved all of its guitar manufacturing to korea back in 80’s. Those korean made guitars were still very good guitars (which i know from personal experience). In early 90’s, the brand was still somewhat prestigious. The following ten years basically killed the brand. Since the earlier products sold under Washburn brand were actually good, the reputation carried on. But. In 00’s the not-so-ingenious heads at Washburn decided to provide even cheaper guitars. We all know how that works out. Compromise the quality to get the price cheaper. That’s what happened. All new Washburn guitars i’ve touched since 2005 have had nothing to do with the guitars that were made ten years earlier. The crappy guitars left everyone believe it was just one of those super cheap, super bad brands. I think there are not many people who know that the brand’s earlier work was more than sufficient in quality. Even if they did get the quality back on upward track recently, the facts still leave the brand not wanted.

Turning this unit around had one really funny detail.

Washburn-SLEBOD-back

“Warranty void when modify”. That’s basically an invitation to tweak the $20 pedal. But once opening the unit up… No. I want to screw the bottom plate back to its place and try to sell the unit for the price i got it. Which will be next to impossible (and didn’t happen. It did cost too many currency units me to take these crappy photos…). This kind of utter crap lands on my desk rarely. And that’s what it is. Utter crap.

Washburn-SLEBOD-guts

I don’t mind about all SMD, but just look at it. Worst build quality i’ve seen to date. I wouldn’t dare to take either of the boards out, as that would definitely mean that something would break. Washburn already burnt all bridges with the guitars later than 2002, now they are making OEM deals with korean brands that outsource their bad build quality to even way worse chinese manufacturers. Do any of you think that i would feel good about playing my 1993 Washburn at a gig? Everyone will be looking at me like “why’s that dude playing with $50 guitar?!?”. I know my 1993 guitar is very well made and it sounds very f*n good. But everyone in the audience will only see my playing a “cheapest brand” guitar. Thank you Washburn for all your lousy decisions. If you want to wreck your brand – follow the example of Washburn. Buy Artec design, badly made in china and sell it for more than korean Artec box. Yeah. Everybody loses.

How does it sound?
Horrible disfigured hybrid child of Marshall Bluesbreaker and a Ibanez Tubescreamer. Mid-honking it’s way through with broken sounding clipping stage. The EQ controls won’t help you out of this mess either. It is definitely the same box as Artec blues overdrive. If you want a Blues Overdrive, look at anything else than Artec/Washburn. Anything else. This unit sounds like a toxic waste that you won’t ever be able to get rid of (gladly i did get rid of it). Of all the overdrives i’ve played with, this is without a doubt one of the worst. Simply put. It is Bad.