Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chorus as vibrato

Much as I hate to say it the sound of a chorus pedal is just not as popular as it used to be. However you can get some spacey sounds out of a chorus pedal by turning it into a vibrato.

The chorus effect is usually a mix of a dry signal with a vibrato (pitch modulated) signal. Many stereo choruses provide a split signal with a dry signal coming out one output jack and a vibrato signal coming out another output jack.

On the Boss CE-3 it's as simple as setting the mode to stereo and only using one of the output signals. The standard setting is a mono mode. In stereo mode the vibrato signal comes out of output jack A.

The modulation rate was a tad slow for my tastes to I modified the oscillator circuit to increase the maximum rate. While I was in there I also upgraded some electrolytic caps to film.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Tightening the play in the Snarlin Dog Wah

I was getting some good use of the Snarlin Dog Whine-o-Wah. But then the pedal started to have some loose play. The pedal wouldn't stay in a fixed position. When I took my foot off it would flop down into the full toe position.

Hmmm, time to fix it. Taking a look at the wah, it looks like there is a leaf spring that holds the pedal in position by friction.

So if the spring were a little tighter there should be more friction. Looking at the underside of the pedal I noticed a small hole in the heel. So I took the rubber heel pad off the pedal. Ah, we now have access to a screw.

Tightening the screw pushes down the leaf spring onto the rod that crosses the pedal. After a few adjustments I could lift my foot off the pedal and it would stay in the same spot.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

BOSS ACA to PSA power supply mod

The older BOSS pedals may not work correctly with a modern AC power adapter (like a 1-Spot or Boss PSA). These older pedals required the Boss ACA adapter and they have a sticker on the housing right next to the power supply jack. The ACA supplied a higher voltage than the PSA. The ACA voltage is unregulated and the PSA supplies a regulated voltage. The ACA-style pedals have a series resistor (and diode) that drops some voltage from the power supply. The pedal might not get enough voltage if you use a PSA power supply on a ACA pedal.

In my case I had a CE-3 chorus that worked fine with a battery. But when I used a PSA supply the LED wouldn't light up when I engaged the pedal. I also had a HM-2 that sounded really terrible and ratty with the PSA supply.

There are two workarounds:

1. Daisy-chain the power supply (in parallel) to some non-ACA pedals. These will drop the supply voltage.

2. Modify the ACA pedals to accept the PSA supply.

The mod is simple: jumper the series resistor. The newer Boss pedals do not have this series resistor. This mod has no effect if you are using the battery - the resistor is cut out of the circuit if nothing is plugged in to the power supply jack. The jumper can be placed at the numbered wire connections at the end of the board near the control knobs.

Here is the ACA sticker on a DS-1 Distortion pedal.

For all the pedals in my stash, the mod is to jumper the blue wire that goes to the power supply to the yellow wire that goes to the input jack. On the CE-3, that's holes 2 and 3.

Here's the jumper for holes 2 and 3 on the CE-3 chorus. I just used part of component lead for the jumper wire.

For the HM-2 Heavy Metal the holes are 4 and 5.

Ah, the DS-1 has two sets of blue and yellow wires! Joy! But by looking at the connections to the power supply jack and input jack you can see that holes 10 and 11 should be jumpered.

Here's the jumper between holes 10 and 11 on the DS-1.

The pedals can now be used with a single modern AC adapter power supply. They also sill work fine when daisy-chained to other pedals. And they still work fine when power by an internal battery. Joy!

This article by stinkfoot provided some very useful background information on the ACA/PSA issue.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Morley Wah sweep mod

There are a lot of things to like about the Morley Classic Wah pedal: rugged construction, spacious circuit board with abundant labelling, and most of all no scratchy pots. The Morley is famous for the "electro-optical" coupling in their pedals. In the late 70's this was a very innovative and radical design. However, the sweep on this Classic Wah was engaging much too rapidly. All the modulation was happening back near the heel position. Fortunately, the sweep can be manipulated to be a little more smooth.

Here is the pedal before opening it up. Another thing that I like about this pedal is that the on/off switch is off to the side so you don't activate the device by pushing the pedal in the full toe position.

Flip the pedal over and undo the four screws holding the bottom plate. There are two screws on each side.

You might have to open up the battery compartment to give yourself something to grab onto while pulling off the bottom plate.

Instead of a potentiometer, the Morley's use an LED and an LDR (light dependant resistor). A tab allows more light to hit the LDR as the pedal is moved forward into the toe position.

Power up the pedal (I prefer a battery when I'm working on pedals). Keep it on its back while you hook up the pedal to a guitar and amp. You can still work the foot pedal while the device is on its back. GENTLY push down on the LED. Moving the LED down means that the pedal will have to be in more forward position to pass the light. Try working the pedal after each adjustment. This should help smooth out the sweep.

Overall, the sounds of this Morley Classic Wah are comparable to a Dunlop Crybaby. It's a straightforward wah sound, not too radical, and a bit noisy. The pedal is solid but not high-end. OK if you're on a tight budget.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Modding the Screamer

The Ibanez Tube Screamer has always been a classic distortion pedal. Especially when modded back to the TS808 sound. I applied the Monte Allum modification for the TS9.

Here's the TS9 prior to any modifications.

Removing the battery cover provides access to the four screws that hold in the bottom plate of the pedal.

I followed the instructions and tested the pedal after each part was changed.

Two toggle switches are added to the pedal for this mod. Here is the pedal with the new holes drilled for the new toggle switches. These two holes could have been a scootch lower in the pedal, nearer to the crease.

Finished pedal! Monte Allum provides mods for several common pedals.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Taking the Scratch out of the Snarling Dog

My Snarling Dogs Whine-O-Wah started to "scratch" when I engaged the wah pedal. It would make a "scritch-scritch" sound whenever I moved the pedal up or down. This was a classic case of a dirty pot.

Most of the time, the usual fix is to apply some contact cleaner and work the pot until the dirt is worked out. It made sense to remove the pot from the pedal to provide access. In addition, the inside of the pedal would stay clean and free of contact cleaner. Here are the step to access the potentiometer and apply contact cleaner:

1. Flip the dog on it's back and remove the machine screws that hold the rubber feet on the bottom plate. It might be helpful to also remove the battery cover to have something to grab onto to pull off the bottom plate.

2. Carefully lift off the bottom plate. You'll want to be careful that you don't lose the lock washers between the bottom plate and the pedal housing.

3. From the topside remove the nut and lockwasher that hold the switch in place. Flip the pedal over on it's back again and remove the footswitch. Use a flat head screwdriver to work off the pinion gear from the pot. You can then loosen the 1/2 inch nut, the lockwasher and the flange that hold the pot into the housing.

4. You now have clear access to the pot. I put a paper towel behind the pot when I sprayed the contact cleaner into the pot at the shaft. Then I worked the pot and removed the excess grimey grease from the pot. Here I was able to plug in the pedal to a guitar and amp. I had to repeat the process a few times until the pot was cleaned out and wasn't making a scratching noise.

5. The only real trick to reassembly is to get the shaft in the proper position relative to the rack. Loosen the screw that holds the rack support in place. The support is the white plastic thing against the rack. Rotating the support out of the way allows you to move the rack around and get some clearance. Now put the pot back in place with the flange, the lockwasher and the 1/2 inch nut. The pinion gear can go back on with some help from a screwdriver. Turn the pot completely counter clockwise. Then put the pedal in it's fully forward position bringing the rack into the housing.

6. Put the rack support back in place, as shown in the photo below. Put the switch back into the top of the housing. Last thing to do is reassemble the bottom plate.

7. Time to WAH!!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Greenwood Harvest Festival

Many wicked witches, pirates, spooks and some ladybugs and Zorros played some games and partook in some free nachos. The Greenwood Harvest Festival was buzzing with activity. This festival was a lot fun for the kids and for Jorge too! Greg Spence Wolf played for 3 hours and I played along for part of that time. Paulette tapped for over an hour as well. Many thanks for a fun part of Halloween in Greenwood!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Neck realignment project

The low E string on a Fender Squire was sometimes slipping off the finger board when I played single notes. Barre chords seemed to work okay but when I would play some heavy riffs on the single E string it would slip off the finger board.

Looking at the fingerboard I could see that the low E was closer to the edge of the fingerboard than the high E string. This indicated a neck alignment problem. The neck was not coming straight out of the body of the guitar.

The solution was to re-align the neck.

I loosened up the strings but left them on the guitar as a guide. Then I used a screw driver to loosen the neck bolts at the back of the guitar. I put the guitar on a table in the playing position. I pushed down on the neck until the strings looked more centered. I had to keep pushing on the neck while I tightened up the neck bolts. The Squire was ready for action after a quick re-tune.

No more string falling off! The strings are much more centered on the guitar.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Guitarras de me padre - My Dad's guitars

My dad has been into wood for a long, long time. For the last few years he's been directing his wood skills into guitar making. He's made a few amazing instruments.

His guitars are classical, ie, nylon string guitars. They are designed for playing classical style, not for strumming out some folkie tunes.

Most of the guitars are ergonomically designed. Many are "parlor sized". They are a bit smaller, more lightweight, and more comfortable to play than a standard sized guitar.

Here's the website: http://www.georgethomasguitars.com/georgethomasguitars

Friday, April 10, 2009

Top 20 Guitar Albums

When I was first learning to play guitar, a guitar teacher took a few minutes to offer some sage advice. "Jorge, there are two albums that you HAVE TO listen to: BB King Live at the Regal and John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers".

Okay, so I managed to find these on vinyl and listened to them quite a bit. (I think BB King was in the supermarket, of all places). Sure, these are some awesome albums. In fact I still cop a few licks that I learned off these.

But I got to thinking: What ARE some of the greatest guitar albums? Can I limit it to just 2? or 5? After thinking about it for a bit, I think 25 is a more reasonable number. I would like to say that this is a guitar lesson and I'm giving you advice on some albums that you should listen to. It might be more realistic to say that these are my favorite guitar albums ever. However, it's true: if you are learning, these are some excellent sources of truly inspired musicianship. In a few cases, I couldn't pick my favorite for a certain artist - some options are provided so pick up what you can find.

1. Stevie Ray Vaughan - In step. Some guitar players take note that Stevie played fairly heavy strings on his guitars and really had to wail and have some beefed up callouses on his left hand. He really cleaned up his act by this album and his playing is really clean.

2. Iggy Pop - Raw Power. Some crazy, loud, crude simple playing that totally stands the test of time.

3. Buddy Guy - Slippin' In. Take some lessons from the MASTER. Listen to the way that he EXPRESSES with his bends. Buddy has influenced the biggest names like Jimi, Stevie, Beck, Clapton, Page, and so on and so on. Who else has the guts to play a polka-dot painted guitar (AND has some guitar skills)? Some people prefers his earlier more basic stuff. Whatever, you've got your pick of Buddy albums.

4. Jimi Hendrix - Electric Ladyland. Listen and learn.

5. Johnny Winter - Johnny Winter. His first self-titled debut is a great starting point. Man can this guy wail! He covers several styles of blues.

6. Jeff Beck - Blow by Blow. A seminal and bold album in the history of guitar. The dimished 5th car horn sound in Freeway Jam is a classic. Scatterbrain has some of heaviest riffs I've ever heard. Some alternate live versions are on the classic "Jeff Back and the Jan Hammer Group Live". Needless to say, I had a hard time deciding between Blow by Blow and Wired, which has the awesome 7/4 rocker Led Boots. Everthing that Beck does helps him express: slide-ups, pre-bends, tone changes, attack variations, pull-off runs on open strings.

7. Led Zeppelin - Presence. Speaking of Led...Presence is one of least appreciated Zep albums. At the same time, it's a return to some more stripped down stuff at a time when Page has some strong skills. Nobody's Fault But Mine and Tea for One feature some great bluesy solos.

8. Living Colour - Vivid. Heavy distortion and chromaticism that alternates with clean guitar sounds and volume swells. Listen to main riff of Cult of Personality.

9. Rage Against the Machine - Battle of Los Angeles. Tom Morello has pioneered crazy and unique sounds to come out of the effects chain, along the lines of Robert Fripp's Frippertronics. Except that Morello rocks and never goes jazzy. Many of his solos are beyond my comprehension. But then he dishes up some simple pentatonic rock riffs that we can gobble up. I think he does a lot of stuff in dropped D tuning.

10. Yes - Fragile. Back in the day there was a thing called Superbands where every band member excelled in skills. Steve Howe provides a legendary mix of rock with classical influence. I think he often played a Gibson ES-175. He obviously knows his scales and time signatures inside and out and backwards.

11. Santana - Abraxas. When you hear ONE NOTE of Santana you know who you're listening to. That can be your new goal: when someone hears ONE NOTE of your playing, your style is so distinctive that they know it's you. ONE NOTE.

12. Ozzy Osbourne - Blizzard of Oz. Randy Rhoads totally set up Ozzy's solo career. Back in the day we were all blown away by how Ed Van Halen had revived the whammy work of Hendrix and how he was amazing every one with his right handed hammer-ons and pull-offs. All of a sudden, WHAM! along came Randy out of the blue to further evolve the Van Halen LA-style of rock guitar. Randy often TRIPLE TRACKED his solos. Did it hurt to build up those callouses on your left hand? Time to get going with callouses on your right hand for your right handed hammer-ons and pull offs. Listen how Randy throws in a passing note or two in between Ozzy's singing phrases.

13. Infectious Grooves - It's the Plague That Makes Your Booty Move It's the Infectious Grooves. More of a "project" than a band but it really caught on. Distorted punk riffs alternate with clean funky guitar work. Features Mike Muir (Suicidal Tendencies), Robert Trujillo (Ozzy, Metallica), Stephen Perkins (Janes Addiction, Porno for Pyros).

14. Molotov - Dance and Dense Denso. Mexican rock/hip hop in Spanish and English.

15. Deep Purple - Machine Head. Ritchie Blackmore rips out some clean blues rock guitar solos on Lazy. Space Truckin has some great basic rock riffing.

16. Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger. Listen to early Soundgarden. Listen to Rage. Some things are great on their own. Like chocolate. Or mustard. Not so great when mixed together.

17. Alice in Chains - Facelift. Not so hard to pick out some of this stuff. Great motivation to stay off the horse.

18. ZZ Top - Tres Hombres. The early stuff with guitars totally rocks. Billy Gibbons is the master of the right-handed thumb harmonic. Nice trick, just don't over-use it. Their Deguello album is also very cool. (Just blues and rock guitars, no synthesizers).

19. Queens of the Stone Age - Songs for the Deaf. This is their best work.

20. Ry Cooder - Mambo Sueno. Features Manuel Galban. Here's a whole new universe for you to explore.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

I'm a b-b-b-bad country boy!

I've been practising "Thank God I'm a country boy" in a super heavy version.

Think of crossing George Thorogood's "Bad To The Bone" with "Thank God I'm a Country Boy". Lyrics are belted out over a heavy blues riff. Bad ass!

Sooo, I'm not sure about playing the nylon string. This version calls for a big acoustic with heavy strings so I can knock the snot out of them with some heavy hitting. Might have to adjust some lyrics, too

"Got me a pipe, got me some whiskey
Ready to fight, it's gonna be risky
Life's nothing but getting really, really frisky
Thank god I'm a country b-b-b-b-b-b-boy!"

Hmmm, well I might hold off on the lyrics changes....

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Saddling up for the John Denver Tribute Concert

What are your favorite John Denver songs? You'll get a chance to hear a few at the
John Denver Tribute Concert on Sunday May 17 on Baingbridge Island, Washington.

I plan on playing a few FAROUT tunes in honor of the prolific performer and songwriter.

My current plans include these tunes:

1. Country Roads (a waltz in Spanish)
2. Thank God I'm Country Boy (heavy blues version)

Yes, you're right. He didn't actually WRITE all those songs, but he did perform them.

I hope to play a George Thomas hand made nylon string parlor guitar.

Brad Yaeger will be playing along with me. We'll split up the singing duties.

This concert, hosted by Chalice Music and Music Community Resources, will be a fundraiser for Teen Music Scholarships.