The Bazz Fuss

You know a project’s been lingering too long when your son – who couldn’t care less about guitar or effects pedals – wonders into your office one day, points to a jumble of wires and components, and asks “are you ever going to finish this thing?”

That “thing” is the bazz fuss circuit I soldered onto a perfboard several months ago. I had watched Paul of DIY Guitar Pedals put together his “5 minute fuzz” effect and had read an article on Seymour Duncan’s site about building the effect with some nice mods to the original circuit. Some more details about the original effect are available here, but essentially it seems Christian Hemmo developed a fuzz effect for the bass that used the fewest components possible (and still generate a decent effect, anyway). The design is extremely elegant and produces a nice “dirt” fuzz effect (probably perfect for bass guitar). Hemmo’s original site is long lost on the internet (ah, Angelfire.com! – still available via Archive.org, though, of course) but his circuit lives on.

The bazz fuss effect on a breadboard with labeled controls

I built my first attempt at a Bazz Fuss effect by wiring the components in my breadboard, following along with the Seymour Duncan article (seriously cannot recommend that article enough). I went through the various iterations on the breadboard in the article and ended up with the “modded” version there-in. I even tried adding a battery sag control as well, to emulate a battery losing its charge which sounds good on some effects. This particular effect is one in which it basically just no longer has enough voltage to make any noise, so it just kills the sound below that threshold. This is the breadboarded effect that I used to demonstrate my test rig, in fact.

Inspired by this Make video on circuit skills on using perfboard to quickly build a circuit, I figured I’d try soldering the components down. I just bent over some longer leads and soldered them to make more-or-less a ground rail and a power rail, and then built the circuit from there. I sketched it all out on graph paper before hand, but the circuit is so simple I had nearly half of the perfboard free after soldering everything.

My initial perfboard circuit

And so this sat on my shelf for months until my son asked about it. I figured I really did need to wrap this thing up before moving on to any other projects. I had purchased a blue powder-coated enclosure for my tremelo kit pedal and had already transferred the guts of that effect to its new home. So I had an enclosure that only needed a couple of holes made larger.

I should note here that I use external nut AC jacks on all my builds. Yes, they stick out further and are less attractive. But, here’s my reasoning:

  • all the other external components (except LEDs) already have external nuts
  • I found that the extra 1/4″ of depth provided using an external nut AC jack really helped in a 1590A enclosure, such as my Micro Amp clone
  • most importantly: I can pull the guts of a pedal out without having to cut a single wire; nothing is actually even necessarily wired after going into the enclosure at all this way!

In the spirit of recycling old parts, one of the resistors I had pulled from my CryBaby Wah mod was the right value for the LED resistor! I don’t even know why I bothered saving it, but I was glad I did. I use some of the spare space on the perfboard to mount the LED and the resistor. I used a bit of hot glue to hold the LED in place (in fact, that’s the only thing holding the entire board in place!).

The LED hot glued into the enclosure – note the old tan, 5% tolerance resistor

I did use sockets for both the diode and the transistor. I don’t know that I’ll ever swap them out, but I have that option. In fact, Paul of DIY Guitar Pedals has an entire video just comparing different combinations. Though my pedal doesn’t have a ton of gain, it sounds pretty good using the BAT41 diode and MPSA13 transistor. You can see where I used a sharpie to mark the orientation for both, as well, because I won’t remember should I ever want to swap them out. On the subject of troubleshooting, I spent a lot of time troubleshooting this build only to ultimately determine the A100k put for the volume was just a bad pot! So I definitely don’t want any more headaches trying to figure out the correct orientation for a diode or transistor. I even got so paranoid, I lined the back of the pots and the back of the perfboad with electrical tape to ensure nothing shorts!

Overall, it’s not the prettiest build I’ve done but it is complete, works, and sounds pretty good. I’m proud that I was able to layout the components in an efficient way (which is of course important to printed circuit board layouts, which I hope to try out at some point).

The finished wiring. What a rat’s nest!

Game of Thrones Has Ended

…but A Song of Fire & Ice has not. I’m actually several seasons behind on the show so I didn’t even watch the finale last night. While I’m somewhat avoiding spoilers, I’m not too concerned about it. Because it became very clear to fans of the books series from about season 2 or 3 that HBO would finish the show long before George R.R. Martin ever finished his novels. So however the show ended; if it is anything like the books ultimately end it will be more of a coincidence than anything. Frankly, I doubt they’ll be similar at all but time will (hopefully) tell.

My then girlfriend (now wife), Angela, bought me a paperback copy of A Game of Thrones from the university bookstore in Blacksburg, VA for a birthday present after I’d finished the original Dune novels. I was starting to read for fun again (five years of working towards an engineering degree means you don’t read for “fun” much). That book was recommended to her when she told the bookstore clerk I liked Dune. Basically, it was all about politics and family intrigue, but only in medieval times. And I really did enjoy it. The third book in the series, A Storm of Swords, had just been released and these books were starting to gain popularity. Also, that time, GRRM was cranking out these novels about every other year!

I didn’t read the subsequent novels for a while as I stopped reading much genre fiction for a few years (outside of Dune prequels). When I did get back to them, I had discovered the joy of audio books. Particularly, getting to listen to audiobooks to pass the time rocking our baby daughter to sleep. That’s when I also discovered Roy Dotrice. As much as I enjoyed the first book, hearing his narration brought the series to life in a way that’s still hard to describe. I’ve been a fan of Peter Dinklage since “The Station Agent” but I will always hear the phrase “A Lannister always pays his debts.” in a Welsh accent thanks to Dotrice. Don’t get me wrong, the HBO series is fantastic and the acting is wonderful. But there’s a reason that GRRM wanted no one by Dotrice to narrate the audiobooks and it’s clear why.

“Roy gave his all in the studio,” said Dan Musselman, a producer who worked with Dotrice on the series, by email. “George R.R. Martin wanted Roy to narrate his books, and he was absolutely right. Roy was the perfect narrator for the series and no one else could possibly have done what Roy did with the narrative, the story lines, and especially the characters. It was an enormous undertaking and worth every minute.”

And he was meticulous in his work and research. The night before recording, he would go over pages of notes on the next day’s characters. By the end of recording all five books, he had every character name listed in alphabetical order on more than a dozen pieces of paper. 

The Man Who Spoke ‘Game of Thrones’ Into Existence

And it’s not just that they’re the books and books are always better than the movie (nay, television series). When Dotrice wasn’t available to narrate the fourth book the producers got John Lee, one of the finest narrators alive today. I have listened to a dozen books he’s read (mostly Alistair Reynolds or Peter F. Hamilton), but it just wasn’t the same for A Feast for Crows.

Unfortunately, Dotrice passed away in 2017 and he won’t get to finish the series. No one knows when those books will be done and who’ll narrate the audiobooks. I’m sure to read and listen to them once they come out, regardless of who narrates them – or who the HBO show runners put on the iron throne. But I’ll still have Roy Dotrice’s voices in my head as I read the words.

I.M. Pei

Fourteen years ago, when Angela and I visited Paris, I took this photo inside the Louvre pyramid. I posted it to Flickr with the attached caption.

The glass pyramid at the Louvre, designed by I.M. Pei. Usually referred to as the “controversial” pyramid. I was in awe, if you can’t tell by this photo.

Pei passed away yesterday at the age of 102 after having forever changed architecture around the world.

Honda Pilot Tow Hitch

We downsized from a Honda Odyssey minivan last year to a Honda Pilot. It’s been a great vehicle (despite the lack of a volume knob). However, one of the biggest disappointments last summer was that we could no longer toss four bicycles in the back of our vehicle and go to a park for a family bike ride. Our neighborhood is ok for very short rides, but we enjoy parking at one of the area greenways and going for a car-free ride, often on a shady path.

So I’ve been planning on getting a trailer hitch-mounted bike rack to solve the issue but of course, that meant having to get a trailer hitch first as our vehicle doesn’t come with one. I didn’t want a third-party hitch because 1) they hang below the bumper, which is an eyesore and 2) I had really bad luck with the wiring on a U-Haul tow hitch on our old Ford (the damage it caused to the system wiring cost me more than the hitch). My son has been really wanting to or more bike rides, so I figured the time had come to order some parts.

Tow hitch, torque wrench, and bike mount

I did some research and found a couple of videos on how to install the oem Honda tow hitch for a 2017 Honda Pilot. It’s about as simple as it could possible be, with only six bolts to mount it. The part comes with the replacement bumper inserts and bolts. I ordered the part from Amazon, but you can get it cheaper (though not with free shipping) from https://www.hondapartsguys.com. It does not, however, come with any instructions per se; just a note on the box that you have to download them. The first thing the instructions state is that this is not a job for do-it-yourselfers. Other than the fact that you need a torque wrench, I honestly cannot image why not. Well, except that they want to funnel some business to dealership service depts. But no way am I paying someone hundreds of dollars to tighten down a half dozen bolts for me. I can’t deep-link to the PDF on Honda’s site, but it’s easy to search for the year and model and then find the trailer hitch instructions.

The first steps, and in my opinion, the most difficult (or at least time consuming) is to remove the old bumper insert. It’s just a bent piece of plastic but it’s held in by multiple screws, bolts, and clips. The only real trick is to understand how the pair of center-push clips work. This video does a great job of explaining how to easily pop the center down to slide them out. You save a couple of metal clip-on-nuts to reuse on your replacement insert that has the openings for the hitch. Getting the new insert back in placed required some persuasion, but once it was aligned onto all the clips and holes, it was very easy to reverse the process.

Mounting the hitch itself wasn’t hard to do by myself, either. I literally just sat it in my lap and the slid myself under the bumper. I was able to rest the hitch in the insert’s hitch opening and get two of the bolts started to then support the rest of the weight. I used my small power driver to get the bolts snug tight (I set it to 20, which I assume is Nm). The bolt heads are 19mm, but you can safely use a 3/4″ if you only have SAE sizes (19 mm = 0.748 inches; which is within the tolerance of most sockets anyway). I didn’t use an extender, but rather just a 1/2″ to 3/8″ adapter on the 3/4″ socket and was able to get all six bolts tightened to spec. The instructions mention a 22mm socket, which I didn’t have but purchased at Lowes for 99¢. However, I never needed it and honestly don’t even know what it was supposed to be used for!

Torque wrench dialed to 95 N-m (70 ft-lbs) and the useless 22mm socket

I saw at least one video where the installer only lowered the spare tire but I’d recommend getting it entirely out of the way. The spare wench system on Pilot allowed me to just drop it onto a furniture dolly. I also saw where one person detached the muffler to get better access to one of the mount bolts. As I had gotten that one very tight using a small ratchet, I didn’t need a lot of room to get it to the full 70 ft-lbs of torque with the large torque wrench. I had never used a torque wrench before, but it’s pretty straight forward. The relatively cheap ($25) one I purchased from Amazon seemed to work fine and was easy to set to the desired torque (loosen a small nut, turn the handle to the measurement, tighten the nut back down). Just tighten until it “clicks” (which sounds a bit like a ratchet going backwards). This video demonstrates it nicely; though they apparently were using some after-market part and mention “140 pounds” (sic: foot-pounds) but the oem part was far lower torque.

Just for estimates, the difference between 30 ft-lbs and 60 ft-lbs was less than a full turn of the bolt, I think. The difference between 60 ft-lbs and 70 ft-lbs was maybe only 1/8th of a turn! But that last 1/8th of a turn required me to get into position for each bolt and brace my knees to the frame to pull. You’re not likely to accidentally over tighten these bolts to the full tension using a driver (unless it’s an air-powered hammer tool) or a smaller ratchet. I’d strongly suggest buying or borrowing a torque wrench and getting these tightened up right, though. They are so much more unwieldy than a driver or small ratchet, I would only recommend them for going from snug (or tighter) to full torque, though. Sure, $25 is a bit much for a tool you use so briefly but it’s good knowing the hitch is on to stay.

Torquing down one of the hitch mounting bolts to the frame. The frame itself has three threaded holes along each side on the Pilot.

The nicest thing about the oem Honda kit is that it’s hardly noticeable once installed. It doesn’t stick out past the bumper (it’s actually recessed a bit), so no one is going to lose a knee cap or shin bone to this thing. It came with a little rubber Honda insert to stick in the receiver when it’s not in use, too.

The finished trailer hitch is barely noticeable

I also ordered a Yakima Longhaul bike rack. It appears this model is intended for RVs or similar vehicles, where you would likely leave it in place. It doesn’t move out of the way or fold down. Further, it attaches with a large thru-nut. However, it was the cheapest Yakima-brand rack for four bikes supported on a trailer hitch. I’ve had very good experiences with their equipment so I decided to go with this one. It’s fairly massive but does the job. The bikes were easy to mount onto it using their zip-tie style straps and didn’t budge at all to-and-from the bike trail.

Wyatt and I ready to go on our bike ride

One downside we noted to the bikes mounted is that the backup sensors constantly think collision is imminent. So any time you’re in reverse (such as backing out of the garage), there is a constant beep that must be ignored.

Check Your Surroundings! We’re all gonna die!

As I was installing this for the purpose of a bike rack, I didn’t spring for the additional $175 wiring harness. I think I’ll likely have to take the trailer hitch back off to place it in the mount, which is not going to be fun (though at least I’ll get some more value out of that torque wrench investment!). That’s something to consider if you’re looking at doing something like this yourself as well. I’m not sure a dealer will be willing to install only the trailer hitch without the wiring harness (they’d probably still charge you just as much even if they did).