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. []

Korean-American Day

My mother-in-law is a Korean-American in the sense that she immigrated to this country from S. Korea as an adult. She’s a naturalized citizen and has now lived in the US longer than she lived in Korea (by a over a decade).

My wife is a Korean-American in the sense that, as you just read, one parent is Korean and the other was an American (of European descent, if that’s relevant).

So, it surprised my wife and I to learn that Saturday, Jan. 13th 2018 is the tenth Korean-American Day. This day was picked to honor the original group of immigrants who came from Korea to the US on this day in 1903. We learned about this day from a wonderful story told on Twitter by Gary Lee, who was a former staffer of Pres. Obama. On Lee’s last day at the White House, the president greeted him by saying “An-yeong haas-eh-yeo” (안녕하세요) which means “Hello” in Korean. More specifically, this is the form of hello that shows the level of respect for mutual peers. Though the most common form of hello used, it’s not quite the level of formality that the leader of the free world would use for one of his staffers. And yet it’s exactly the phrase used by Obama (I sincerely doubt this was lost on him, either, knowing his attention to details). If you check out the story, look at the shear joy on Lee’s face at that moment. Let’s appreciate that Obama values and respects other cultures and their contributions in the greatest American way.

So, to my wife, kids, mother-in-law, 해순, and to the 1.8 million immigrants from Korean and their descendants, happy Korean-American day. 감사합니다

My Favorite 9 Photos of 2017

My favorite 9 photos from 2017

A post shared by Jason Coleman (@super_structure) on

Ok, well, it was pretty much impossible to narrow this down to nine photos. These cover at least some of the highlights of the past year. They may not all be the best photos (even of mine), but they certainly cover a lot of what happened over the past 365 days in just nine pictures.

From left-to-right, top-to-bottom:

  • Ainsley looking out over the bow of a Disney Cruise ship last January as we left Miami.
  • Pagodas from an ancient temple in South Korea.
  • Harry and Maggie hanging out on our stairs.
  • Angela, Wyatt, & Ainsley watching the eclipse (well, what we could see of it through the clouds).
  • My finished guitar boost pedal.
  • Me sporting my first bow tie, which my family gave me for Father’s Day.
  • My finished Gundam kit.
  • Angela and the kids on one of several Fall hikes we did with our moms.
  • Hargie being ridiculously cute.

Learning to Weld

Something I had wanted to learn for many years is basic welding. I’m not planning on switching careers or anythingThough you can make an excellent living as a welder and I would encourage any young person interested to learn about that trade.; I just wanted to try it myself. As a structural engineer, I’ve spec’d countless welds on paper. I’ve only ever done very limited metal work (mostly just cutting, drilling, & bolting), and I wanted to get a feel for what it’s like to join metal with welds. I’ve learned from some of my engineering friends, as well as watching Grady at Practical Engineering, that I’m not alone in this interest.

But it’s not necessarily easy to find a teacher for a curious person rather as opposed to a student who is seeking a career. I don’t have a lot of friends that weld, either. But, maker spaces often have introductory courses. So, I found a great “Intro to Metals” course at Fort Houston here in Nashville.

For better or worse, I was the only person who signed up that Saturday, so I got a three hour, one-on-one course from Courtney Daily, who is a local artist who happens to work & teach at Fort Houston. I really recommend checking out Fort Houston for all sorts of classes. Courtney, especially is a great teacher (and, from what I saw of her work, a talented artist and damn fine welder).

Welder (noun): a person who fixes or makes shit you can’t 😋❤️🔥

A post shared by Courtney Daily (@courtdaily) on

Fort Houston Metal Shop

I first made a bunch of really ugly test welds to practice on some scrap. We also practiced cutting & drilling, which though not new to me was (is) still something I had a lot to learn about.

Ugly welds

My little beginner project was to make a frame. I made a rectangle out of 1″ angles. Since we had the extra time, I also got to spend some time grinding it down (which probably took longer than actually welding did, given my work). It ended up looking better than I would have expected for the my first project. I’ll probably find a way to mount some art in it (or maybe use it for a guitar pedal board, though it weighs a lot for that).

Ready to grind

Finished frame

Ground to the core

So, as I was finishing up grinding I made the comment that it looked shiny now, but it’d probably rust over by the next day. Courtney corrected me that the steel would stay fairly polished where I ground it for a long time. Well, it’s over three months later and it hasn’t rusted a bit.

  • Smart welder lady: 1
  • Know-it-all dude: 0

Reminds me I always need to listen & learn.

Berry Smoothie

I really dislike bananas.

I’m not bragging or anything; just stating a fact. I truly dislike bananas. I always have. I know they’re very good for me and I wish I could eat one. I honestly don’t think I have ever managed to eat an entire banana by itself (that is, not in some other food).

The 2006 Richmond Marathon was the third (and last) marathon I ran. It was exceptionally hot that day, with temps around 80° in November. The last 10k was really rough on me and I knew I was in desperate need of some nutrition after the race. I sat down on a curb in Shockoe Bottom with a banana and a bagel, thinking that the banana was exactly what I needed. I managed to get about half way through it, forcing every bite.

Then it occurred to me: I’d rather risk serious injury or death rather than eat an entire banana.

Like I said, I really dislike bananas. Always have.

Berry Smoothie

None of this changes the fact that bananas are excellent to eat after strenuous workouts or runs. I still know this and I’m quite pleased that I finally found an easy recipe that I enjoy to have after working out. It does have quite a lot of sugar, but you can substitute water/ice for the juice to reduce that by about half.

Ingredients

  • 8 oz Apple Juice (substitute with same of ice water or ice or other juice to taste)
  • Medium Banana, frozen
  • 1 cup Mixed Berries, frozen
  • 1/2 cup Vanilla Yogurt

Steps

  1. Pour the juice, berries, and yogurt in your blender cup.
  2. Use a butter knife to slice the skin off a couple of sides of the frozen banana. It comes off very easily, even when frozen & you can just cut off slices into the blender while holding the two remaining sides.
  3. Pulse the blender 5-6 times to chop up the frozen bits.
  4. Blend on high for 40 seconds.

Serves 2 (who am I kidding, I drink the whole thing. So should you).

The best part: The frozen banana is almost undetectable in terms of flavor, smell, and texture. I mean if you get nose right down into the cup, you’ll detect banana; but that’s what straws are for. For people who really hate bananas.