Guitar Pedal Board

I real­ly make a point to try to learn some­thing new with each mak­er project I do. Whether it’s a wood­work­ing project, a gui­tar effect, or some oth­er hob­by project, I want to add in at least some­thing new to each one. First, it just keeps things from feel­ing redun­dant. But also it helps to expand my skills.

Steel and ply­wood ped­al board

I’ve need­ed to make a gui­tar ped­al board for a cou­ple of years now. Most­ly just to clean up the cor­ner of my office where my amp and effects sit. It’s not like I’m ever going on tour or any­thing. I fig­ured the met­al frame I made in my intro to met­al­work­ing class would be fun to use as a basis for a ped­al board. Up until now, it’s just been sit­ting in our garage; lean­ing against a wall. Of course, the more I start­ed plan­ning, I quick­ly real­ized it was real­ly just a dec­o­ra­tion around an oth­er­wise wood­en stool (albeit a short and slant­ed stool; that’s real­ly all this is). I had want­ed to put a shal­low rab­bet around the edge of the board so the top of the steel frame would be flush with the wood. I tried using both a router bit and my table saw and both were pret­ty much com­plete fail­ures. Odd­ly enough, the sam­ple board I tried on the router worked fine, but that was with the veneer grain run­ning along the direc­tion of the rab­bet. When I tried using par­al­lel grain on the “real” board, it just shred­ded the veneer. The table saw gave a clean­er cut but was just far less accu­rate (and was­n’t much clean­er than the router).1

Cheap router bit and slop­py wood­work­ing don’t result in clean rab­bets, I guess

So, I basi­cal­ly just build my ped­al board out of 3/4″ ply­wood to dimen­sions that I could slide the met­al frame over it. The ped­als don’t sit entire­ly flat, but they work fine for my needs still. I still need to get some more Vel­cro tape to attach them (which would just main­ly help allow me to up the pow­er cords under­neath). It’s prob­a­bly a bit too tall to be very prac­ti­cal and I’ll almost cer­tain­ly replace it at some point. Whether or not I try to include the met­al frame is anoth­er mat­ter…

So it does­n’t real­ly begin to hold all my gui­tar ped­als (note those sit­ting on top of the speak­er cab­i­net)
  1. I ful­ly attribute both of these fail­ures to my own inex­pe­ri­ence. It does­n’t help that I have some very basic setups and things like feath­er­boards, zero clear­ance inserts, etc. would also help actu­al­ly accom­plish what I had in mind. []

Recycled Tool Stand

Ten years ago — not long after we moved into this house — my younger broth­er and I built a pair of work­bench­es. I designed a “tall” work bench for stand­ing and a “short” work bench that I could sit at (aka, a desk). The idea was that I’d do elec­tron­ics or oth­er work at the desk. How­ev­er, “near wood­work­ing tools” is a pret­ty lousy place to do sol­der­ing , etc. and this end­ed up just being a place to pile scraps and store my drill press, band saw, and pow­er sander. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, to use any of those then, I had to haul it out of the cor­ner and put it on anoth­er space. They’re not ter­ri­bly heavy but none of this was ide­al. So I had decid­ed I’d tear out the “low” bench and put rolling tool stands in that space. If I’m going to move these tools out to use them, it should at least be eas­i­er to do!

Thurs­day morn­ing, I just so hap­pened on Face­book to catch that my neigh­bor post­ed he was giv­ing away an old rolling stand. It looked per­fect so I drove over (two blocks away) to grab it. Pret­ty quick­ly though I real­ized this was for far larg­er tools than I own.1 I could­n’t even shut the door on the Pilot! For­tu­nate­ly, Angela was out of town so she did­n’t need to park in the garage. Yes­ter­day, I tore out most of that “low” bench in order to be able to park the stand in place. You can see that it took up almost the entire 4′ x 3′ space! Those slant­ed legs were fine for a very heavy piece of equip­ment, but my Ryobi band saw and Wen pow­er sander weigh maybe 80 lbs com­bined. I did need to bend one of the cast­er mounts such that it was lev­el with the oth­ers. This would­n’t be the last time I got to bend some met­al on this thing.

He must be very tall to have tak­en the pic­ture at that angle!

So I knew I want­ed to re-tool the stand such that the legs are ver­ti­cal. I gave it some thought and real­ized that I could piv­ot the legs about one out of the three bolts that con­nect each side of each leg (i.e., two bolts on each leg — one for each con­nect­ing side). I had mea­sured out and cut a bot­tom shelf from the “low” desk’s MDF sur­face so I had some­thing to align the legs to. Then I could just use my lev­el and speed square to get the leg align­ment. I used a white paint mark­er to mark the four new holes and num­ber each of the points so I could re-attach them (nom­i­nal­ly it would­n’t mat­ter, but it just helps to reduce error when things oth­er­wise don’t align because noth­ing’s “nom­i­nal”).

After remov­ing 2/3 of the leg bolts, I could rotate the legs to ver­ti­cal

I used the drill press and my step bit to drill the holes. Drilling steel is sig­nif­i­cant­ly more dif­fi­cult than drilling alu­minum (which can be gen­er­al­ly cut with wood­work­ing blades or bits). I recent­ly read Adam Sav­age’s book “Every Tool’s a Ham­mer” in which he has a chap­ter titled “Use More Cool­ing Flu­id” and, man, is that every sound advice for cut­ting steel. I typ­i­cal­ly call it cut­ting flu­id, but giv­en the amount of smoke I was gen­er­at­ing, it was def­i­nite­ly get­ting hot. Also, unlike alu­minum, steel is going to have burs that need to be filed off, even when cut­ting with a step bit. So I had to clean up each of the six­teen holes drilled.

Always use lots of cut­ting flu­id when drilling steel

I got the legs re-assem­bled and cut a top sur­face (also cut from the old bench’s MDF sur­face). I did have to replace a few of the bolts with spoiled threads but I hap­pened to have some spare 1/4″ bolts & nuts. It was at that point that I real­ized that the sur­faces of bent steel that were for­mer­ly par­al­lel to the floor were now about 10° out of flat. Enter the 5 lbs sledge. I basi­cal­ly whacked the hell out of the top lip all around until the to sur­face lay near­ly flat. Using some screws through the mount holes then got it nice and lev­el.

It may be only 5 lbs, but I wore myself out swing that ham­mer today

The cast­ers are the thread­ed bolt post type. If you’ve nev­er seen these before, please know that they are the worst. The end of the thread­ed rod is some weird star thing (no, not a Torx bit) which you can­not hold and just spins with the bolt. So, there’s no real good way to loosen a stuck nut — of which I had two. My design required that these cast­ers come off so that I could use them to also mount the bot­tom shelf. So, some Liq­uid Wrench and some vice grips to hold the thread­ed rod (which mess­es up the threads some, but was­n’t impor­tant as that’s where the shelf now sits), I pre­vailed.

I absolute­ly love Vice Grips. I used those a lot on tak­ing all these bent pieces of steel, too.

I final­ly drilled some holes in the cor­ner of the low­er shelf so I could sand­wich that shelf with the leg bot­tom and the cast­er nut & wash­er. I had to use the sledge to some­what flat­ten out the base of each leg. Oth­er­wise the cast­ers would all be at a tilt towards the cen­ter of the cart and it would be mis­er­able to move around. This ham­mer­ing allowed me to get the nut start­ed on the cast­er thread­ed rod. I could then tight­en it enough to make the entire thing stur­dy again.

Hard to believe that’s the same cart! It fits per­fect­ly and is exact­ly what I need­ed.

So, this was a sim­ple adjust­ment that took me about five hours of work. I could­n’t be hap­pi­er with the results, though. It rolls smooth­ly, is plumb and lev­el, and fits per­fect­ly into a tight area. I may put anoth­er shelf into this (I still have plen­ty of left­over MDF!) so that I can store sander belts, band saw blades, fence, etc. But for a project that I did­n’t have to buy a sin­gle item for, this is exact­ly what I need­ed for this space.

  1. He has con­vert­ed on bay of a 3‑car garage to a very nice wood shop with nice pow­er tools. []

Battery Charging Station

This is a small project I came up with an evening last week after clean­ing up my shop bench some. I’ve always just sat my bat­tery charg­ers on top of the bench area, but they take up pre­cious space there. After get­ting anoth­er Ryobi quick charg­er recent­ly, I fig­ured it was time to make a ded­i­cat­ed space for these.

Small set of shelves for bat­tery charg­ers and bat­ter­ies

There’s not short­age of shop projects for this same pur­pose, but it seems that most folks area ok with putting their charg­ers on a shelf semi-per­ma­nent­ly. I fig­ured I’d need to occa­sion­al­ly get the charg­ers off the shelf as well, so I built in a small chase so the cords don’t inter­fere with the French cleat sys­tem and can easy come out.

The dimen­sions of this project are very spe­cif­ic to the set of charg­ers I have (two dif­fer­ent Ryobi and a Bosch), as you can see here. How­ev­er, I’ve post­ed my set of plans below and it should be easy to change the dimen­sions for dif­fer­ent charg­ers. Just make sure to account for the pow­er cords!

My three charg­ers squeezed per­fect­ly into 1′-5 1/2″ by 5″

I used pock­et holes to assem­ble the entire project (edit — which was made entire­ly from 3/4″ maple veneer ply­wood I already had on hand from repair­ing my kid’s bed). 28 pock­et holes is a lot for some­thing this small, but when the back is split as in this design, I want­ed to makes sure it was plen­ty rigid. I could have glued it up as well, but by the time got it all dry fit, I fig­ured that would be overkill. I can always dis­as­sem­ble it and glue it lat­er. The real trick with this was get­ting to all those pock­et holes. Basi­cal­ly, but the shelf fronts on first and then put the back/sides onto the shelves.

Yes, I put eleven pock­et holes in a 5″ by 17 1/2″ shelf

Anoth­er small thing that made this lit­tle project fun: my table saw sled. I’d real­ly been some­what dis­ap­point­ed in using it. I put a decent amount of work into get­ting it right but it just was­n’t slid­ing well. I’d sand­ed the run­ners down as much as could (more and I fig­ured there be too much slop). So I just hap­pened to buy some paste wax today as I’d seen it men­tioned. It real­ly should be stressed more: put paste wax on your table saw sled run­ners! The sled glides along with very lit­tle force now and cross-cuts are a breeze!

My mas­sive table saw sled on my lit­tle Ryobi table saw works great after adding some paste wax!

So this was a good lit­tle project and went off with (almost) no mis­takes thanks to putting in some decent plan­ning and tak­ing plen­ty of mea­sure­ments of what I want­ed to store. I saw almost, as the cut-out above the bot­tom shelf to accom­mo­date the AC adapter was ini­tial­ly cut with­out account­ing for the bot­tom shelf depth. Anoth­er quick pass on the band saw and it fit fine.

The after­noon sun creep­ing into my work­space

In case you can’t quite read those sheets on my rolling work­bench, here are my plans for any­one so inclined to build some­thing like this. One poten­tial mod­i­fi­ca­tion would be to put some han­dles (either hard­ware attached to the top of the sides or hand­holds cut into the sides) and a bungie cord across the front of the low­er shelf. That way, with just unplug­ging one cord, I could take all my charg­ers with me.

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!

Miter Saw Fix

One of my ear­li­est “nice” tools was a com­pound miter saw. I bought a “new“1 Ridgid 10″ miter saw about 15 years ago. It’s been pret­ty handy over the years, but I noticed last year (on my fin­ish­ing stor­age rack project) that the fence was bowed. As the blade would cut through he piece, the piece would then pinch into the blade. At best, that just ends up mess­ing up an oth­er­wise clean cut. But worse, it can be a bit dan­ger­ous any time a piece is pinched like that (at least with a miter saw, the blade is gen­er­al­ly pulling it down­ward into the sup­port). I searched for a replace­ment part, but those are no longer avail­able for this mod­el.

Thus it was time to just try to fix it. The fence is a very odd­ly shaped piece of alu­minum. I had to unthread the four hex bolts hold­ing it in place. They were pret­ty tight, to say the least.

I near­ly broke my Allen key set get­ting these bolts loose

It’s impor­tant to have a ref­er­ences for “straight” and for “square” and so any mak­er should know what the flat­test and most square things in their shop are for a true ref­er­ence. I don’t have any machin­ist’s squares or a heavy, cast-iron table saw, so I just make do with some alu­minum tools that are pret­ty good. I grabbed the large dry-wall square to use a flat ref­er­ence. Sure enough, there was about an 1/16″ bow in the fence.

Tough to cap­ture with a cell phone cam­era, but both points in the mid­dle are off the straight edge

I placed some scrap pieces on the garage floor and used a 4lb sledge to ham­mer the cen­ter of the fence. Alu­minum is a brit­tle met­al, so I had to go slow. This usu­al­ly mean 1–2 firm whacks and then check to see if it was lev­el. I actu­al­ly went a bit too far, and the fence start­ed rock­ing side-to-side on my straight edge. A cou­ple of whacks on the oth­er side got it right on. I did have to shore up one side as the points near­est the blade weren’t in line any more (or maybe they nev­er were?).

Pre­ci­sion sledge work

This was the most tedious part, but I got it so I could just slide a piece of paper under it. That’s going to be about as accu­rate as I can get using this method I think.

A lot of effort to close a very small gap

The fence is attached with round (or fixed) holes on one side and slot­ted (or adjust­ment) holes on the oth­er. I got the fence placed on one side and then used my alu­minum speed square on the oth­er. This is where a good machin­ist’s square would be used if I owned one, but again — this whole fix is a bit rough any­way, so the speed square is good enough.

Not the ide­al square device

I also noticed that in addi­tion to the “fixed” fence hav­ing been warped, which would have just result­ed in the same issues. So I quick­ly adjust­ed that one too (no sledge ham­mer required).

While tight­en­ing the main fence, I noticed the bolt-on wing was­n’t in line

A quick test cut and I imme­di­ate­ly could tell the piece did­n’t move a bit as soon as the blade cut through. And, just as impor­tant, it was square! (well as sure of square as I can be with my tools!)

  1. Though as it turns out, it had been used to cut some stuff and returned (prob­a­bly by some 2nd rate con­trac­tor), only to be sold as “new” by Home Depot. But it worked fine and I need­ed it for some­thing at the time, so I just lived with it. []

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. []

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.

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. []