Amp Channel Footswitch

Most amps have the ability to use an external footswitch to change between a clean and distortion channel. Of course, some have more sophisticated options than this, but the channel switch is a pretty common feature. My older brother recently got an awesome-looking, orange Fender Duo-Sonic and a small Fender practice amp to play it through. This little Mustang amp has a lot of presets and he can use a footswitch to select between a pair of them. Of course, it being an affordable practice amp, the footswitch is sold separately.

But a footswitch is a pretty easy thing to make yourself. In my case, I had the double pole single throw (DPST) footswitch taken out of my Dunlop Wah pedal when I modded it (post to come someday!) and an old stereo audio jack. That, a bit of wire, and something to put it in is all you need! In fact, the fact that it was a double pole switch and a stereo jack made them both overkill for this small project! But why not recycle the parts for a good cause?

I purchased a powder-coated 1590LB enclosure from Mammoth Electronics. At 2″ by 2″ by 1″ tall, this is about as small an enclosure as you can get, but plenty big for a small switch and a jack. I got the orange to match his guitar (well, as close as I can get with stock powder coat colors, anyway). I laid out the switch and jack to ensure I could arrange them how I wanted; though I could have also just had the jack on the “side” of the enclosure. The circuit soldering here is super-simple: just solder the “tip” lug of the jack to the center lug of one of the poles (three of the lugs in a line make a pole). Then solder the “sleeve” lug of the jack to either the left or right lug on the same poll of the switch. That’s it! Did you mess up and wire the sleeve to the center lug on the switch? It’s still fine! All this does is connect the tip to the sleeve when the switch is “on” and then breaks the circuit between the two when it’s off.

Now, this particular build relies on an instrument cable to connect the footswitch to your amp. But you don’t have to use a shielded cable for this as the guitar signal itself isn’t passing through that cable; just a relatively low voltage (around 4-5v1) is flowing through to tell the amp the gain channel should be on. So you could actually skip the jack and just use any old wire (speaker cable, a lamp cord, etc.) and wire that into a 1/4″ audio cable end. I was just using as many spare parts as I could. In fact, I finished the bottom by cutting up a kitchen jar grip pad and gluing it to the bottom with spray adhesive (it won’t slide on his hardwood floor!).

Given that the Fender single footswitch costs around $15, this probably is not much of a cheaper alternative. But it was a fun gift for my brother and if you’re interested in practicing some soldering, this is a great and practical project to start with!

So, amazingly enough, there’s a video in which YouTube channel MerwinMusic makes the exact same footswitch as mine – down to the orange color! Check it out! He also does a great job of explaining how to test out that this sort of switch works with your amp before you go to the trouble of building one, which is a good idea as some amps may vary (but all good amps just copy Leo’s original!).

I built this exact same project almost!
  1. The voltage is low enough that my Blackstar head’s footswitch doesn’t even have a resistor on the LED.

Mini MicroAmp Build

With each new pedal build, I try to focus on some aspect that makes it a new challenge or something new to learn. My first pedal build ever (about 18 months ago) was a boost pedal. I decided I’d build another boost: this one using the MXR MicroAmp circuit. I used the General Guitar Gadgets MAMP PCB, which in addition to selling the PCB sells entire kits and has excellent documentation1. Since it’s a relatively simple circuit and, therefore a fairly small PCB, I wanted to try to fit it into a “mini” enclosure (i.e., a 1590A format). This means having to really think ahead about aspects of the build so that everything can squeeze into such a relatively small enclosure.

The completed enclosure, including the mis-aligned hole for the input jack on the right side

The first thing is that this pedal format can’t utilize a battery for power; the pedal will be AC powered only. That’s fine as I don’t use batteries in any pedal anyway and only ever added a battery snap to that first pedal build. Secondly, the height of the components really matters. The taller components (generally, the capacitors) had to be bent over. For the electrolytic capacitors, I had to remove and replace a couple in order to facilitate this (I had planned ahead otherwise – as my sketched notes on the wiring diagram shows below, but I am just so in the habit of soldering the completely vertical I forgot!). In the end, the tallest component off the PCB was the integrated circuit (IC), as it was mounted in a socket. This way I can potentially swap out ICs in the future. Speaking of ICs, I went with a low-noise TL071 op-amp (in place of the original pedal’s TLo61 – which consumes less current but, again, I’m not using a battery so I don’t really care about that). The only other modification I made to the GGG circuit was that I swapped out a 10MΩ in place of the 22MΩ pull-down resistor (R1). Really, any fairly large (<1MΩ) resistor value will do here and 22MΩ are a little harder to find.

The completed wiring. This was a tight fit! Notice all the taller capacitors look like a strong wind came through.

Lastly, the arrangement of the larger off-board components such as the footswitch, jacks, LED bezel, and pot really came down to millimeters. I had to use calipers to measure every last item and meticulous sketch it out on a printout of the enclosure. I still managed to mess up drilling one of the jack holes (I located it 1/2 the diameter off, which s about the worst place to mess it up!). I was able to re-drill the hole thanks to having a drill press and some clamping blocks. It’s a bit ugly and the jack’s nut is a bit crooked, but it worked out fine.

Re-drilling a hole for the output jack. Drill press & clamps absolutely required to fix this sort of bone-headed mistake.

The pedal works great. I mean, it’s about as simple an effect as you can get. It simply takes the guitar signal and makes it a lot louder (probably around the order of 20-25db). I’m pretty pleased with how clean the wiring worked out, as well.

My build cost around $27 for the parts I had to purchase. That’s not including resistors, capacitors, diode, and LED (nor hookup wire and solder), all of which I already had in my parts bins but would run you around $3 in total. I also had to pay around $9 in shipping. The PCB from GGG for was about $3.50 to ship. I bought parts for several builds at once in a large order from Mammoth Electronics (my parts supplier of choice), but smaller orders from there tend to ship for around $5. They have high-quality powder-coated enclosures for really great prices, along with generally good prices on other parts and kits. So, in total, this build is roughy around $39 in cost (and I still haven’t added any artwork, so consider what slide decal or other format might cost).

That being said, unless you really want to build your own, I would not recommend this build to anyone else. You can purchase a TC Electronic Spark for about $35 used on Reverb.com (plus shipping) right now. It has the exact same size as my build, but has their amazing non-latching (relay) footswitch and essentially the same amount of clean boost. If you don’t care about size, you can purchase a used MXR MicroAmp for around $49 on Reverb (plus shipping). Both of those are solid choices if you really just want a boost pedal and are less interested in practicing your soldering skills or learning how to layout a small pedal form factor. And honestly, as much as I think this pedal sounds great so far, those probably sound even better and have less noise at full gain.

But overall, I’m pleased with this build. On the clean channel, it just gets louder without adding anything else noticeable. Best of all: with the knob set to about 3 o’clock, it makes my Blackstar HT-5R head’s gain channel absolutely breathe fire!

  1. I think I could have pretty easily build this circuit on perfboard, but probably not to fit in the this small of an enclosure. So for a bit more cost I opted for the PCB, which has a fairly small footprint.

Guitar Effect Test Box

I’m in various stages of completion for several guitar effects at the moment and I’ll certainly try to write a post for each of those in turn. However, I first figured I should post about my guitar effect PCB test box I put together. I by no means first came up with the idea. Paul of DIY Guitar Pedals in Australia is who I first saw use & recommend one. In searching around for further ideas, I came across some notes on DIY Stomp Boxes about adding the probe, which can be used in diagnosing PCBs that aren’t working.

A MXR MicroAmp circuit hooked up to the test box

As you can see, I went with a fairly large enclosure for this project. As it’s really just the off-board wiring standard to most any pedal project, with no circuit board, this is somewhat a waste of space. However, I wanted to leave a bit of space for potentially adding some more features at some point in the future1. This is a powder-coated, aluminum enclosure which is not at all necessary for this, as the wiring is outside so the metal box isn’t shielding anything. So the enclosure was a bit of a splurge. But as Mammoth currently sells these 1590BB enclosures powder coated for under $10, it’s not exactly a bank-buster. The entire test box is less than $25, and many of the parts I already had in my parts bin.

I cut up some cheap alligator clips I bought off of Amazon.com to use for the connectors. They have little covers over the clips, so they work quite well even when connecting into closely spaced wiring leads. I did knot these just inside the box to provide some strain relief (though it’s not as though this thing is getting roughed up much). I used a Mammoth Electronics bypass wiring board just to simplify things a bit. I tend to use a standard wiring colors for all my projects: red for 9v, black for ground, green for signal to board, and yellow for signal back from board.

The spacious guts of my test box

The one trick my box has is that I added a toggle switch to use a testing probe. This switch basically hi-jacks the signal return (yellow) and connects the probe (white) directly to the box output jack. So if signal isn’t coming back from the circuit, I can flip this switch and then use the probe (which is nothing more than a 1μf capacitor) to touch along the circuit to trace where the fault is. It’s very simple but incredibly helpful.

So to quote Paul of DY Guitar Effects, if you’re going to even build just more than a couple of guitar effects yourself, you’re going to want to build something like this. It’s so invaluable to be able to test your PCB as soon as you get the components installed but before you try to complete all the off board wiring & stuffing it into an enclosure. It’s also extremely fun to hook up to a breadboard and test that way!

A Bazz Fuzz breadboard circuit on the test box
My enclosure drill pattern
Wiring diagram for my test box


  1. For example, I also saw this post where someone has added in the ability to change the voltage and add a voltage sag (to simulate a dying battery), which is really cool.

We Escaped!

Our nephew, Keith, invited us to one of the The Escape Game adventures. These are really popular and I can see why. Anyone who was a fan of point-and-click puzzle computer games (like me) would love getting to be inside the game and that’s exactly what this feels like. My older brother, Stephen, and Keith’s fiancé, Jamie, joined us and we had a great team. We were able to divide up for different tasks and finished with over 11 minutes to spare for our Mission to Mars adventure. The entire facility is really nicely done and it’s easy to get caught up in the fun and pressure of trying to solve the puzzles together in under 60 minutes.

The Escape Game: Mission to Mars
We escaped!

I Tried Hot Chicken

No, not that I tried eating hot chicken. Having lived near Nashville for over a decade, of course we’ve eaten hot chicken. Though, I don’t ever order the crazy hot stuff. I stick to mild and actually enjoy eating it.

No, I mean I tried making my own hot chicken here at home for family dinner. It’s no secret that cooking isn’t something I really enjoy. I’m starting to enjoy it more as I’ve learned to successfully cook some things beyond a cold-cut sandwich. Angela really enjoys cooking (and is also really good at it), but her style is more of experimentation. I’m one who can follow directions so if they’re clearly written, then I can generally pull it off reasonable well. A few years ago, we started Blue Apron meals and more recently made Hello Fresh meals. Both are great and I learned a lot about cooking (and also learned I wouldn’t last a day in a professional kitchen setting). I also learned about frying a bit more. Doing some more research, I found a really good Bobby Flay recipe for fried chicken. More importantly, frying chicken for chicken parmesan – one of my all-time favorite dishes. So I got some practice making that at home.

Angela suggested I try making some hot chicken and I found a copy-cat recipe for Hattie B’s chicken which is arguably just a copy-cat of Bolton’s, but that’s for another day. I used a lot less cayenne than the recipe calls for (that much is crazy) and I used the frying oil as the base for the hot coating. Therefore, mine is a lot browner and runnier than most glamor shots of hot chicken. But it did taste pretty good and the whole family enjoyed it.

Homemade hot chicken
Homemade hot chicken

Tremolo Pedal Build

Christmas in 2018 was a lot of fun and my family got me a lot of wonderful things. Among them, my brother, Dave, got me a guitar pedal effects kit. This was a tremolo pedal, which is definitely something I wouldn’t have gotten myself. If you don’t know, a tremolo pedal modulates the amplitude of the signal. That is, it’s as if someone is turning the volume knob up and down regularly. This effect was built into many early electric guitar amplifiers. In the late 50’s an Australian electronics magazine had an article on a relatively simple circuit for this effect. That design has since been modified and incorporated into many popular guitar effects. The kit I got is by Arcadia Electronics and uses the EA Tremolo design.

This kit has all of the components, even jacks and switch, all directly soldered onto the printed circuit board (or PCB). This simplifies building and is, in fact, what most commercial pedals utilize to speed up fabrication (and even allow for automated component soldering). As such, it was a relatively straight-forward build process that probably took me under three hours total. And mind you, I am intentionally slow with this things because I want to really enjoy the process and also to prevent making any easy avoidable mistakes.

Populated PCB for the Acadia Tremolo pedal. You can see that I intentionally bent over a couple of the electrolytic capacitors to keep them well clear of the Depth control potentiometer.

The instructions with the Acadia kits are very sparse. They basically include of a printout of the PCB (which is very nicely screen printed and clearly marked, though) and a component list. That’s it, there’s no other instructions or build steps given. So, if this was a kit for a new builder, I’d suggest downloading the instructions for one of the other Tremolo pedals at Mammoth Electronics. They’re generally similar builds and provide some good information if you’re new to pedal building or electronics. The Acadia kit came with high quality components. I tested some of the resistors and they were closer to nominal values than the ones I purchase. The single diode in the kit had legs that really didn’t fit into the drilled through holes, but I just swapped it out for another 1N4001 in my parts bin. It’s not that the part was cheap; just that the pcb design as-drilled can’t accommodate this particular part. There’s probably several solutions to this, but this would be pretty frustrating for a first-time builder, I think. Otherwise, I really have no issues with this kit. It’s the first pedal build I’ve done that I didn’t have to troubleshoot at least one mistake!

I labeled the pedal once it was all closed up for testing. I’ll paint and decorate the case another day.

I got the hardware all soldered onto the board. I did add some electrical tape to the back of the pots as well as to the inside of the case back. This is probably not necessary, but I wanted to prevent any possibility of the pots or components grounding out.

The pedal sounds great. The volume boost on this was pretty surprising, in fact. Just dialing the Rate and Depth controls to zero makes this a pretty effective clean boost, even. The range of the tremolo is all the way from nothing to complete volume clipping. I recorded a fairly poor sample for this post, but the sound is really great in person.

Tremolo Pedal Demo

Repairing a Kid’s Bed

As part of my goals for 2019, I am going to try to write about some of my DIY and maker projects. So, here’s an unexpected one to start off the year…

The other evening, I heard a thud and an “uh-oh” from my 11yo daughter’s room. Turns out, when hopping on to the bed to read that night, the bed rail snapped. The bed rail was made from pressboard, veneered to look like the rest of the furniture (which I think is of slightly higher quality). Our daughter felt terrible about breaking the bed, but in reality it’s a wonder it lasted for the 7 years it did. An average size toddler could break this stuff, let alone an average size 11 yo girl. The pressboard had cracked in two pieces, right through one of the screw holes for holding the slats.

We considered purchasing a new IKEA bed or similar, but she said she really like this bed and would prefer if we could just fix it. Maybe that was partly her still feeling bad for having done it, despite my wife and I assuring her it wasn’t really her fault at all. The only downside to this was that I was going to have to purchase a full size sheet of plywood at the big box store to get the 6′-6″ rails out of them. I normally have the store cut the board along the short dimension, so that it’s less than 7′ long as to fit into my Honda Pilot. However, in hindsight, I should have had them then rip down some strips to make it easier to manage. A 6′-8″ by 4′ sheet of 3/4″ plywood is only slightly easier to manage by yourself than a full size sheet.

Old, pressboard rail (broken) and new, improved rails with hardware

I did get to try my hand at edge banding the plywood. Edge banding is a narrow, thin strip of veneer (almost exactly like the surfaces of hardwood plywood) that has a heat-activated glue on the backside. You simply iron-on this to the edge of your cut plywood.1 It’s actually a lot of nice furniture and cabinetry is made and it’s a pretty amazing transformation. Of course, it’s also how a lot of cheap furniture is made, too, but that’s often a plastic veneer rather than actual hardwood. I couldn’t find maple veneer at my big box store, so I took a trip to my local Woodcraft shop. There, I also got a self-centering drill bit. I’d always considered one of those to be for someone who makes a lot of furniture or cabinetry, but it’s worth it to buy some even for DIY’ers like me. It’s a huge timesaver for mounting hardware and really makes the process more accurate.

Using a self-centering bit made mounting the hardware a breeze

So, I ripped down the nearly full sheet of plywood on my little band saw. Again, I should have had the store cut this down, because it’s just not easy for one person to do this on even a high-end cabinetry saw, let alone a my small Ryobi2. It resulted in some not-so-straight cuts, but they were good enough for this as I wasn’t jointing anything. I straightened out some of the bend metal slat supports in my machine vice and then got all the screw holes drilled out.

I did a small test piece with the edge banding and tried using one of those spring loaded edge banding trimmers. The banding went on easy, but the trimmer was not so great. It ended up tearing the banding in a lot of places. I still tried using it one the first rail, which was a mistake. When trying to sand everything, the orbital sander grabbed one of those tears and ripped off a huge chunk of the banding. Fortunately, I was able to cut out that piece by re-heating the glue and Angela helped me put on a patch. It ended up looking just fine for our kid’s bed, but I learned my lesson. For the second rail, I simply flipped the piece over and cut along the edge with a box-cutter blade. I then lightly sanded over the corner with a sanding block.

I used a single (though pretty heavy) coat of wipe-on polyurethane for the finish. The final step was to stamp the work and then it was ready for assembly this afternoon. The final clip sliding in to place was so satisfying! The maple matches the furniture, but of course it will have to darken over time with exposure to light to fully match. But, I’m pleased with the final result and I’m confident this will last longer than the original.

Stamped and in place
Like new again!
  1. If you want to know more about edge banding, Bob of ILTMS made an excellent “Bits” video on the subject late last year.
  2. It’s actually my older brother’s table saw. He just needed a place to keep it and I needed one to use, so that worked out for us.

Bob Clagett Answers My Question

One of my favorite YouTube channels is “I Like to Make Stuff” from Bog Clagett. He has a wide variety of projects, from home improvement to programming arduinos to making life-size toy props. And he seems like a genuinely inquisitive and nice guy while doing it, admitting to mistakes along the way as he learns.

He posted a chance to answer questions from comments on one of his videos ask I was pleasantly surprised to see him answer mine. I know he plays guitar and I enjoy most of the music he includes, so I asked:

Bob Clagett of ILTMS answers my question
Bob Clagett of ILTMS gives me the stare

I appreciated his answer, which you can see at the 1:21 mark in his video. The whole video is good, as he also has part of his Q&A session from Maker Fair New York.

Woodworking

When I was a kid, my younger brother, Dave, and I would routinely watch Norm Abram build houses and projects on This Old House and The New Yankee Workshop. Our dad probably wasn’t (isn’t) the handiest guy with woodworking tools, but he could certainly build some small projects. But woodworking wasn’t a big hobby around our house as kids. There was just something about Abram’s no-nonsense delivery that appealed to us. Dave and I joked all the time about “cutting a dado” even though we really had no clear idea what that was.

As I got older, I got into making things around the house. I built a workbench in our old basement in Richmond and did a lot projects around the house there. My older brother, Stephen, and I even got back in soldering when we had to fix my old washing machine. When we moved into our current house here in Tennessee, Dave came over and we built a workbench in my garage.

I also got into watching the DIY network, as they had all sorts of low-budget (but great) shows on how to use tools and build projects. Over time, though, the shows got replaced with less informational and more “reality television” style shows. Some of those are ok, but I’m far more interested in learning how to actually builds something in my shop than watching a Mega Deck get built. There are very few, if any, informational shows left on DIY, HGTV, etc.

However, there are plenty of great builders who teach you on YouTube. My nephew Keith, who recently moved to Nashville and brought all his woodworking equipment with him, got me watching Steve Ramsey’s channel Woodworking for Mere Mortals. I also found Bob Clagett’s channel I Like to Make Stuff because of some of his zany projects (like the world’s largest water pistol). There are many others who I’ve also found awesome to watch: April Wilkerson (Wilker Do’s), David Picciuto (Make Something), and Jay Bates (Jay’s Custom Creations) are some of my favorites.

So, Norm Abram is long-since retired (They New Yankee Worksop went off the air nine years ago), but there are loads of no-nosense makers and woodworkers who have great programming available to teach you how to make loads of great projects, no matter your level of experience.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

A couple of years ago, I decided to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” on the MLK Day, as I have the day off from work. The federal holiday was intended to be a day or service, but perhaps we can at least start with learning about the man and his beliefs through his most famous letter. I can’t imagine that anyone could read this letter and not come away changed. It is truly one of the finest writings I’ve ever read.

It is a rather long letter (as he even admits to near in its closing). So, if you prefer to spare the hour with a reading, then this video has you covered. The first four minutes are a reading of the letter by a group of clergymen that prompted King’s response. This embedded video starts after that.

I felt compelled to share this as during our parent’s Sunday school class yesterday, one person raised the question “Why does this person even have a holiday? He wasn’t the only civil rights leader.” I choose to give him the benefit of the doubt that he was raising the question in good faith (the talk immediately changed to a slightly different subject, as these group conversations often do). He stated that his children and others had asked it, and I believe he was saying this so he could justify that the MLK Day holiday was because Martin Luther King Jr was a great American and civil rights leader.

That is true, and even in his brief lifetime (I’m now two years older than he was when he was killed), he became a symbol for a movement much greater than himself1. He was a brilliant and courageous leader who believed in the best of the Christian church and of America. This letter is strong evidence of these things. So the holiday isn’t just a memorial to his service, but I believe to all of what he represented. Its to remind us of the ability of people in this nation to be able to move mountains. Its to remind us that complacency and the desire to maintain order is not an American virtue, but the antithesis of what America was founded on. America can always be a better place for all and no one else is going to come do that hard work for us. Some of us will have to give up some privilege. Some of us will lose time and money to the work. Some people have given so much more, as King risked and ultimate lost his life in doing his work.

So that’s why we have a holiday. Not because of what Kind did, or at least not entirely because of it. Also, to remind us of what we have left to do. We have to do it not because we owe it to King’s memory, but because we owe it to every last American. It’s precisely what it means to be American.

  1. I’m basing a great deal of this statement on Rep. John Lewis’ March graphic novels, which are an amazing read, too.