For the past few years, each April 26th I have to look up why it’s “Alien Day”. The date is named after the planet LV-426, where the xenomorphs are first encountered in the original, 1979 Ridley Scott film. Well, I’ve been a fan of the horror-scifi franchise since I saw the sequel, Aliens. I’ve since watch any film in the series (good and bad) and read a lot of the comics. So, anyway, happy Alien Day to my fellow sci-fi fans.
I’ve posted here before about playing Dungeons & Dragons with my kids. We played a few nights together last Summer, but most of our family game nights in the months since were spent playing board games or poker. But, as the coronavirus forced us all to stay put far more often than we’d all prefer, we needed to think of more things to do. Fortunately, my friend, Ted, has a son who has gotten very interested in all things D&D as of late. Ted and I had discussed the idea of playing tabletop games with the kids and I’d always thought it would be interesting to try a digital tabletop site.
So, about three weeks ago, we all got together via speaker phone1 and on Roll20.net. I ended up purchasing a digital package of the same adventure my kids had started (they fortunately hadn’t made it too far and you’d be surprised at the re-playability of an adventure with totally different decisions). The kids all rolled up characters based on what they wanted to play: a teifling fighter for my daughter, a dragonborne ranger for my son, and a halfling wizard for Ted’s son. Ted just picked the classic dwarven cleric out of the pre-generated characters. Don’t worry if half of those words don’t make any sense; just know that this is a fantasy adventure where they’re all playing fantastical races of creatures who fight the evil hordes to save a village and surrounding area.
My kids are interested in playing and seem to be enjoying. Ted’s son is really loving D&D and is even running his own game for some if his friends, which is awesome! But it’s definitely a great way to be able to do something with another family while still being together with the kids. All three of the kids have some interesting naming schemes for their characters, to be sure. We’re generally keeping the sessions to about 2–1/2 hours each week. This ends being about two encounters (read: fights with monsters) and the general decision making and role playing that comes along with the game.
As for being a dungeon master, I can’t claim it was ever something I was especially great at, but I’m having a really good time doing it. I’ve learned a lot about 5th edition D&D as well as the Roll20 platform (both are pretty great, if you ask me). I like to think I’m getting better as we go, too.
I hope it’s something we can keep going, at least for a few weeks longer. Of course, at this point, it’s not at all clear how much longer coronavirus response shelter-in-place orders will be in effect here (or anywhere, really). Of course, we could always just play in-person with our friends down the street should those ever let up. Imagine that, playing a pen-and-paper RPG together at the same table!
- My kids and I play together on PCs in our dining room while Ted & son play together in his home office. Though Roll20 has an audio chat feature, it has terrible feedback in general when everyone isn’t on headphones. So, since we’re just connecting two households, the speakerphone seems to work well enough for us. [↩]
This is a post that has been a very long time in the making. I started this project back in October of 2018. GuitarPCB had a sale and it looked like their Sabotage Drive would be an interesting challenge. There were six (!) transistors in this circuit. But I wanted to make this a really fun project so I designed some custom artwork as well, all themed around Black Sabbath — the inspiration of this circuit’s sound. This circuit further seems to be inspired by Catalinbread’s Sabbra Cadabra pedal, another pre-amp in a box effects that tries to capture Tony Iommi’s sound of a Dallas Rangemaster treble boost pushing a Laney Supergroup head1. Or, put it another way, the sound of doom metal!
I did some layout in an SVG file for the graphics, which you can see above. This is also largely where I did the drill hole patterns for the enclosure, as those go hand-in-hand. My graphics incorporated some of the Sabbath album covers. I was fairly proud of the design, if not the actual implementation. I then got to soldering the circuit components. Barry Steindel of GuitarPCB did a great job designing this for a relatively complex build, it is a very clean layout.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I am in the habit of taping out all the components to a parts sheet with labels that correspond to the PCB silk screen labels. This wouldn’t scale up to a large production, but for one-at-a-time builds, it really takes the stress out of trying to find the right component for each step.
Once the components were in place, it was time to finalize the enclosure layout. The relative placement of the pots/knobs are fixed since they are soldered directly to the PCB. But the placement of everything else is dependent on getting it all to fit. I would have loved top-mounted jacks as you can see in the original sketch below, but that wasn’t going to happen with this PCB layout (in the size of enclosure I chose, anyway). I needed to forgo that in order to squeeze everything in place. Regardless, no 9v battery in here! I don’t use ’em anyway.
When it comes to drilling the enclosure, I use a step bit in my drill press. Another thing I’ve probably mentioned: I have a small medicine syringe with machine cutting fluid. That way I can use my center punch to mark the point on my template and the put 1–2 drops of cutting fluid right at that spot.
As you can see below, I actually tested the circuit before I even completed drilling all the layout holes. I drilled the holes for the pots to get those mounted to the PCB in the correct orientation. I think wired up some leads for signal in/out, the 9v power, and ground to hook up to my testing rig.
Then it was time to finish drilling the holes and wiring up the off board switch, jacks, and LED.
It was a bit of a tight fit into the enclosure, but part of that was my desire to place the LED near the top of the pedal I really don’t like LEDs right by the footswitch, where the get covered up by your foot! Sure, they’re a lot easier to put there, but they don’t make it easy to tell you’ve properly engaged the effect.
I tried using our vinyl cutting machine to create painting a painting template from my SVG file. My first mistake was using some cheap vinyl which didn’t stick to the powder-coated surface well.
Then I used acrylic paint which bled under that template. Also, the tiny lettering details were just about beyond the scale was which the Cricut could successfully cut this vinyl. The end result looked about like I’d just hand-painted the whole thing. I wasn’t at all happy with the paint job, but knowing I wasn’t likely to improve on it, I went ahead and sealed it with some spray clear coat.
So I finished all this December of 2018. I never posted about it all last year though because I really wasn’t able to get a good sound recording of this. My iPhone demos so far have been pretty lackluster. And this effect didn’t sound as great as I’d liked anyway because it’s really meant to run into a cranked amp. Though I used my pre-amp, passive volume control I couldn’t really push the power amp section of my tube head. Well, in the past couple of months I got a power attenuator and a pretty good mic to record some audio with. My amplifier has a “cab emulation” output, as does the power attenuator but both frankly sound pretty terrible. None of the recordings with those ever had any of the low end that the amp actually produces. But using the attenuator with the head volume cranked and the mic into my recording interface, I’m finally happy with the sound I can get recorded.
So here is the full signal chain:
- My Fender Telecaster with a Lace Sensor Deathbucker pickup in the bridge position2
- This runs through a TC Electronic P0lytune 3 (I mention this because it has a buffer — all other effects are true bypass) and then into the Sabbath Drive pedal.
- The Blackstar HT5 Metal head on the clean channel (cranked to 10) and a TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2 reverb pedal in the effects loop.
- The head runs through the Bugera PS1 power attenuator into the Blackstar 1x12” cabinet with a Celestion G‑12T speaker.
- The cabinet is mic’d with a MXR R144 ribbon mic into the Behringer UMC22 audio interface.
I use some of the EQ setting in garage band for the guitar and the overall mix. This particular recording was used with one of the “auto” drummers in Garage Band. This video is the live recording you’re hearing; just poorly sync’d to the audio. The guitar is a single track.
On the whole, I’m really pleased with the sound of this pedal. The Range and Presence controls give a really wide tonal range. I’ve cranked the distortion here (honestly, not even sure why that knob exists! Just fix it at 10!). The volume is about at noon. I shudder to think just how loud this pedal would be with that cranked.
- For the record, even though the older Sabbath records were recorded using those, it doesn’t appear Tony Iommi uses those any more. He has a signature Laney head that appears to have the treble boost “built in”. Laney also has a similar, signature pedal which claims to box all this up, but apparently Iommi doesn’t use it at all according to his site. [↩]
- Yes, I need to write an entire post on my guitar and the modifications I’ve made to it. [↩]