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!

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).

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. []

Guitar Effect Test Box

I’m in var­i­ous stages of com­ple­tion for sev­er­al gui­tar effects at the moment and I’ll cer­tain­ly try to write a post for each of those in turn. How­ev­er, I first fig­ured I should post about my gui­tar effect PCB test box I put togeth­er. I by no means first came up with the idea. Paul of DIY Gui­tar Ped­als in Aus­tralia is who I first saw use & rec­om­mend one. In search­ing around for fur­ther ideas, I came across some notes on DIY Stomp Box­es about adding the probe, which can be used in diag­nos­ing PCBs that aren’t work­ing.

A MXR MicroAmp cir­cuit hooked up to the test box

As you can see, I went with a fair­ly large enclo­sure for this project. As it’s real­ly just the off-board wiring stan­dard to most any ped­al project, with no cir­cuit board, this is some­what a waste of space. How­ev­er, I want­ed to leave a bit of space for poten­tial­ly adding some more fea­tures at some point in the future1. This is a pow­der-coat­ed, alu­minum enclo­sure which is not at all nec­es­sary for this, as the wiring is out­side so the met­al box isn’t shield­ing any­thing. So the enclo­sure was a bit of a splurge. But as Mam­moth cur­rent­ly sells these 1590BB enclo­sures pow­der coat­ed for under $10, it’s not exact­ly a bank-buster. The entire test box is less than $25, and many of the parts I already had in my parts bin.

I cut up some cheap alli­ga­tor clips I bought off of Amazon.com to use for the con­nec­tors. They have lit­tle cov­ers over the clips, so they work quite well even when con­nect­ing into close­ly spaced wiring leads. I did knot these just inside the box to pro­vide some strain relief (though it’s not as though this thing is get­ting roughed up much). I used a Mam­moth Elec­tron­ics bypass wiring board just to sim­pli­fy things a bit. I tend to use a stan­dard wiring col­ors for all my projects: red for 9v, black for ground, green for sig­nal to board, and yel­low for sig­nal back from board.

The spa­cious guts of my test box

The one trick my box has is that I added a tog­gle switch to use a test­ing probe. This switch basi­cal­ly hi-jacks the sig­nal return (yel­low) and con­nects the probe (white) direct­ly to the box out­put jack. So if sig­nal isn’t com­ing back from the cir­cuit, I can flip this switch and then use the probe (which is noth­ing more than a 1μf capac­i­tor) to touch along the cir­cuit to trace where the fault is. It’s very sim­ple but incred­i­bly help­ful.

So to quote Paul of DY Gui­tar Effects, if you’re going to even build just more than a cou­ple of gui­tar effects your­self, you’re going to want to build some­thing like this. It’s so invalu­able to be able to test your PCB as soon as you get the com­po­nents installed but before you try to com­plete all the off board wiring & stuff­ing it into an enclo­sure. It’s also extreme­ly fun to hook up to a bread­board and test that way!

A Bazz Fuzz bread­board cir­cuit on the test box
My enclo­sure drill pat­tern
Wiring dia­gram for my test box


  1. For exam­ple, I also saw this post where some­one has added in the abil­i­ty to change the volt­age and add a volt­age sag (to sim­u­late a dying bat­tery), which is real­ly cool. []

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