Soccer Goals

Wyatt & I went to the Nashville SC match with Memphis 901 FC tonight. We attended with his Cub Scout Pack and got to sit in one of the field level suites. The game was rain delayed an hour and there was rain on-and-off during the game, but we stuck it out. Mostly because, as part of the suite package the group got, we got to go out on the field and shoot a few goals after the game. Most of the families & kids had left due to how late it had gotten, but we stuck it out. Wyatt got 2/3 shots and I missed my one shot (trying to shoot for the corner). Still, was a really fun experience and glad he & I got to do it.

Wyatt 1, Jason 0

Also, Nashville SC won 2-0.

Electro-Harmonix Small Stone Mods

This project has been “in the works” for a while. I’ve had the pedal working for sometime but finally got around making the modifications to make it a modern pedal.

EH Small Stone with working LED indicator

Let’s start with a bit of backstory: Last summer, my wife and I were helping to clean out my late father-in-laws tool shed. He had a lot of stuff and a lot of that stuff was entirely random. One such item was a late 70’s Electo-Harmonix Small Stone phase shifter. It was in decent shape, but upon opening it, the 9v battery corroded and ruined the battery snap. So it was unusable as-is. There’s not a definitive way to date it, but the pot is labeled 1377825, which means it was manufactured the week of June 19th (25th week) of 1978 by CTS (manufacturer’s code 137). So the pedal was likely build and sold in late 1978 or 1979.

EH Issue J board: the red (9v for LED), gray (ground), green (signal in) and yellow (signal out) wires were ones added as part of this mod

The Small Stone is the other phaser sound from the late 70’s, where as the MXR Phase 90 is the one that Eddie Van Halen made famous (I have some theories on why that might have been, too.). That being said, it’s a great sounding phaser. I’m not a fan of the color switch on, personally1. But with the switch off, the effect has got a rich, space-y sound. This particular pedal just needed a bit of love.

The first thing was to put in a new battery snap to power the pedal. This pedal had a 1/8″ audio jack-style power jack. There are adapters for using this with a modern, Boss-style (2.1 mm barrel) DC power plug. However, it was a pretty simple operation to just drill out the case a bit larger and install a modern power jack. That got the pedal working again and how it stayed for about a year. And it sounded great.

Well, except for one issue and it’s why I think this pedal was never nearly as popular as the MXR or, for that matter, many of EH’s other pedals such as the Big Muff π. That is there is a serious volume drop when the effect is on. Imagine Eddie Van Halen turning the effect on for the drop-C# chug in “Unchained” and then back off for the chord progression. The riff would be ruined! 2. So I really wanted to fix that. Fortunately, 40+ years of history with this design and folks have figured out ways to address the issue. There are two resistor values that can be changed that dramatically improve the volume drop. I swapped out R11 and R42 and a quick test (outside of the case) saw the issue improve dramatically.

Mods completed: 1) Boss-style AC jack, 2) LED indicator, 3) resistors swapped for volume drop (blue resistors), and 4) true-bypass switch wiring

The bypassing mechanism on this pedal was fairly transparent. I personally can’t tell much of a difference when it’s in my signal chain or not. However, I did decide to make it a true bypass pedal along with the other mod, mainly just to add an indicator LED. Though I’m not a serious guitar player and never actually play live (or record), I do like having indicator lights on effects. If nothing else, it just reminds me to turn them all off when I’m done playing for a bit as a break during work hours! The updated switch, even just a cheaper “Taiwan blue” is still a lot less of a “ka-chunk!” than the old switch, too.

The last step was to drill out the hole for the LED bezel. Drilling steel is a bit harder than aluminum. I used a step bit as usual, but cutting fluid is a must in this case. Unfortunately, a couple of steel shavings scratched rings around the opening as I was drilling. I can probably buff them out, but a simple piece of painters tape would have protected the surface when drilling (and I usually think of that when it’s a powder-coated enclosure!). I boxed up the effect, plugged it in, and SQUEAL-EEE-OOO-EEAAA! Turns out, the output jack can rotate just a bit and short out on the color switch connectors. A small piece of black electrical tape fixed that, though.

Black electrical tape over the color switch connectors to prevent it from shorting on the output jack

Reverb has these vintage v7 Small Stone pedals going from between about $150 to $200, depending on their condition (they retailed for around $80 back in the 70’s). Even non-functioning, this one could have sold for $75-$100 (which would have easily covered the cost of a modern “Nano” re-issue model). So did I reduce its value? Maybe. Maybe not. There are some modded Small Stones also sold on Reverb going for even more. Many of those have additional controls added or the ability to attach expression pedals or other more significant modifications.

However, none of that is really the point for me. I think it’s really cool that this particular one belonged to someone in Angela’s family (most likely her late uncle, John, who played guitar some). I think of all the effects in my collection, this would be one I’d never really want to part with anyway. It’s got some real history; used by people I knew. And it’s been fun to take it and make it hopefully even better than before. It sounds great and though it may not have been the phaser I would have bought otherwise, it’s even better to me.

With all apologies to EVH, my incredibly rough take on the intro riff to “Unchained”

Some notes on that demo: first of all, it’s just recorded from my iPhone X on a tripod (as if the leg wasn’t the giveaway). The iPhone attempts to level out sound, so trying to show that the volume doesn’t drop when the pedal is engaged in this recording isn’t too useful. Next, even though you can clearly hear the switch clicking, it’s truly just because the amp volume is relatively low. There’s no pop through the amp. Lastly, I’m barely passable at playing this riff and trying to coordinate the pedal on-and-off with it was a particularly challenge for me.

  1. The color switch seems to add second layer of phasing at a slower rate than the first so there’s a weirder change amplitude. I think this was more popular with organ and electric piano players than guitarists. I certainly can’t think of any recordings where I may have heard that color switch effect. []
  2. I’m not saying EVH ever actually even used one of these… In fact, after about 5 min of research, EVH actually used a flanger rather than a phaser for that particular song; but he did and does famously use a phaser for other songs such as Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love), but for anyone who did they surely would have noticed the volume drop. []

Burying or Embracing the Past?

The first trailer for Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker came out today. There’s so much to unpack and enjoy about it, but one thing that caught my eye from the trailer & the Star Wars Instagram post about it was Kilo Ren’s helmet:

Good News About Black Holes

For the moment, CNN’s headline is about grad student Katie Bouman who helped accomplish something extraordinary because she’s really brilliant. The world’s pretty messed up, but for its great to see smart people get famous for awesome things.

Thank this grad student for first black hole image

[Addendum: Dr. Bouman gave a TedX Talk a couple of years ago on how a computer scientist such as herself ended up working on a globe-spanning astrophysics project and how the her imaging algorithm would eventually help make the image possible.]

LED Wiring

This is a basic element of many electronics projects: how to wire up an LED with a current limiting resistor. Most effects have a 5 mm LED and many wiring diagrams show a 4k7Ω resistor. There’s a fairly wide range of values you can use, depending on how bright you want the LED (and what the LED’s specs are). You can calculate out the exact value to use if you have the specs for an LED, but using a 4k7Ω works well enough for most situations.

What’s a bit less obvious is how to solder a resistor’s legs to an LED leg and the connecting wires. Here’s my method:

  1. Using a pair of craft tweezers, I roll up the positive leg of the LED.
  2. Then take the resistor leg and bend it through this loop, then twist it around once. This forms a chain-like connection.
  3. Solder this connection and then trim the resistor leg back.
  4. Curl up the outstanding leg of the resistor in a similar fashion.
  5. Bend the tinned tip of your hookup wire at a 90° and hook around this loop to solder just like you would a jack connection.
  6. Curl up the negative leg and solder a 90° bend from another hookup wire to this end.
  7. Apply heat-shrink tubing over both connections. I picked up using the barrel of soldering iron from Collin of CS Guitars.

You could do NASA-spec solder joints if you want, but this is typically more than strong enough for connections. As for the resistor, it doesn’t really matter which leg you attach it (that is, before or after the LED in the circuit) as it will have the same effect. However, by definition, current will only flow through a diode in one direct, so it does matter that you have the LED leads clearly identified. That’s why I try to be consistent with using red as the positive (and typically black for the negative, but I was out of black hook-up wire during this particular project).

Shop Air Filter Installation

My garage is sort of organized, but it’s covered in dust. I knew it was getting bad and so I ordered a relatively inexpensive air filter for shop spaces. I’d had my eye on the WEN 3410 3-speed air filter for a while. Home Depot has the best price for this item, but it’s routinely out-of-stock. It came back in stock in February so I ordered one then. It arrived, I plugged it up just to make sure it worked, and then it sat on my workbench for the past 6 weeks or so.

The WEN Air Filter installed

I had purchased the necessary hanging hardware a couple of weeks later, but still didn’t get around to hanging it up. You see, our garage has really high ceilings (12′-6″) and the dinky 12″ chains that are packed in the box weren’t going to cut it. The instructions state to hang it at least 7′ above the floor, but I’m pretty sure 11′ in the air isn’t going to capture a lot of dust. I purchased some pre-punched angle and about 20′ of 300lb chain. But still, this all sat on the workbench (ok, so maybe my garage is less organized than I’d like…).

So, today I finally decided it would the be the day to install this thing. And apparently none too soon. My son wanted to go over to his friend’s house but told me he didn’t want to ride his bike because it was covered in dust (he’s not wrong, but we got it down and aired the tires anyway).

My first time cutting steel with a cutting wheel on an angle grinder

So the angle I purchases was a 4′ section, and I needed to cut it in half. I also bought a cutting wheel for my angle grinder. This was actually the first time I’d ever cut steel with an angle grinder. I did wear a full face shield but didn’t cover my arms. The sparks were minimal, but I wouldn’t wanted to have cut several that way. I could have uses the same cutting wheel to cut the chains to length, but my bolt cutter was faster.

The first angel and chains installed (that’s a 9′ ladder by the way)

After that, it was just a matter of getting the angles lag screwed into the ceiling joists. I used some threaded quick links to attach the chains, just in case the unit started swinging around. That proved to not be a problem. Frankly, this was probably all overkill to hang a 31 lb unit, but it’s room to grow if I need something bigger.

I had to add an extension cord to get it plugged into the same outlet as my garage door opener and my retractable extension cordBy the way, the retractable extension cord is one of the single best items I’ve gotten for my shop. Between that and my rolling workbench, it feels like having a whole new shop area.. Then it was ready to test. Admittedly, this isn’t a very powerful air filter. At full speed, it’s 400 cfm. Fortunately, that’s not enough to get it moving hanging from hose 4′-6″ chains.

Air filter and garage door motor sharing some ceiling space

I don’t yet have much of a sense of how well it works, but it gets pretty good reviews. I’ll put it to the test soon enough by taking my air compressor to start blowing dust off of everything.