Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Project Powerslave: The Beginning

Back in 1984 an impressionable 6th grader out shopping with his mom asked for some cash to buy this vinyl album called 'Masters of Metal".

It was a K-Tel compilation with artists like Dio, Twisted Sister, Rush, Dokken, Y&T, and Iron Maiden. This kid had just started discovering the so-called "heavy metal" bands back then. Anything with loud, distorted guitars and screaming vocals was all he needed. Though Masters of Metal provided lots of heavy guitar riffage and vocal histrionics, one song on this album hit him like a sack of hammers: Iron Maiden's Run to the Hills. This kid then learned the delicate art of needle-dropping so he could play that song over and over and over again. Didn't have that handy "repeat" button like we do now. You had to pick up the phonograph needle, find the groove between the songs and drop it onto the spinning platter. It was tricky but well worth the effort. That way you could avoid very non-metal songs on that record like "Tom Sawyer" and "Dancing in the Streets". Seriously - when was Rush ever considered metal? And of all VH songs they picked that one on purpose. Maybe since it was a cover song it came cheaper. Who knows. Anyway...

Aside from the blazing dual lead guitar of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray and the air-raid-siren vocals of a young Bruce Dickinson, what separated Run to the Hills from the rest of the dreck on that album was the rhythm section. (not implying Rush's rhythm section is "dreck") Steve Harris and Clive Burr sounded like a thundering herd of pissed-off elephants, but mostly it was Harris' percussive galloping bass line made that song move. Lots of kids wanted to play lead guitar after hearing songs like this, but when a bass player can drive a band like Harris can, some kids want to take a different path. A path with fewer but heavier strings.

In case you've never heard it, here it is. Turn it up.

So later on, that same kid picked up Iron Maiden's latest album "Powerslave" and pretty much wore that tape out. There was no turning back. So when that inevitable moment happened when a young metal fan wants to learn to play guitar, he decided to learn bass, a decision directly influenced by Steve Harris and Iron Maiden. Now, almost 25 years later, that same kid is planning a Precision Bass project as a tribute to his first real musical influence.

Ok,so now that we have the dramatic back story out of the way, here's the plan: Build a P-bass replica of Harris' main instrument during the 80's, and name it after my favorite and most influential Maiden album from that era. Harris almost exclusively played a 1971 Fender Precision Bass with a maple neck, sparkly blue body, Badass II bridge, mirrored pickguard, and a Seymour-Duncan Quarter-Pound pickup. Very distinctive yet still a pretty standard Precision Bass. I'm not going into great detail to replicate every nick, every scrape, every part down to the exact excruciating detail, but will assemble a P-Bass that's heavily influenced by his and will be unmistakeable as a Steve Harris bass to anyone who claimed to be a fan of metal in the 80's.

Wookie, my brother from another mother, donated the majority of the parts for this project. I can't thank him enough. I got a beautiful Ash P-bass body, maple neck, chrome tuners, chrome dome knobs, and a bridge. I have a Leo Quan Badass II bridge on order, should be here soon. Anyway, I'm starting with this pile of parts so far:

I can't believe I got almost all of these parts for free. Again, huge thanks to Wookie. The mirrored pre-wired Eden pickguard came by way of an ebay vendor in Hong Kong, and it doesn't quite cover the route in the body for the controls. It was $35, so not expecting much. The suspect here is the larger-than-standard route by the body manufacturer Mighty Mite - several people I've talked to report the same thing. The Mighty-Mite pickguards supposedly fit fine, but they didn't have a mirrored one. So I'm either shipping my Eden off to the boys at Pickguardian ( and having them custom-cut a guard for me, or filling in the small area just above the output jack with s piece of scrap wood and Bondo, sanding it flat and painting over it. Jury's still out on that decision. What's more exciting is that i can actually drill the right holes for the bridge and neck because my wife got me a drill press for Christmas. No more shaky hand drill screwups like I had with the doomed Project Shredder. Did I mention how awesome my wife is?

Stay tuned, more updates to come on this project. Up the Irons!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Nate's Appetite for Destruction

So it seems that people will do some crazy things to get featured here. Not sure why - it's not like I'm battling Google, Youtube and www.clownpenis.fart for the bulk of the web's hits, but I guess it does bring a bit of notoriety. Someone went to the extreme and and broke his guitar so I could fix it and post it's sordid tale on the blog. The suspect in this beating is my very good friend Nate, who does have a bit of a violent streak. The guitar came into the 73 Guitars ER on Nov.23 showing signs of being in an abusive relationship.

The initial medical report:

Here's the patient: "Bridgecraft" Strat copy. Typical Chinese or Indonesian plywood El Cheapo electric guitar. Complains of sharp frets, wacky neck angle, finished in a thick candy goop, ugly rosewood fingerboard, and high action. Presents with split tremolo block.

Diagnosis: Somehow, Nate managed to screw the trem arm into the block so tightly that it never came out. He then tried to wrench the arm hard the other way in a failed effort to remove it that the block actually split in half. Now, that's Ok. Shit happens with guitars, and these low-end Chinese axes are probably made from wadded-up cheesecloth and old fence wire so I'm not surprised something broke. However what followed can only be described as the most ghetto-ass fix I've ever seen on an instrument, and I've seen some real winners in my day.

Yep, that's electrical tape.

So once I composed myself and changed my underwear after letting out a gleeful pee squirt from laughing so hard, I peeled off the tape to get a better look. The tremolo arm had become one with the block, and the block had to die to separate the two. Kinda romantic if you think about it for a minute. Go ahead - think. I'll give you a minute.

Ok, enough Romancing the Trem. While it's perfectly acceptable to rag on ol' Nathan for taping up a split trem block and trying to play it, I must give him credit and show respect where it's due. Nate heard the roar of the rock-and-roll animal deep within him, and it was just too much to contain. Broken guitar? F that. He's gonna fix it any way he can, crank it up to 11 and feed that animal. It almost brings a tear to my eye.

Repsect for Nate's appetite for destruction aside, we still have an unplayable guitar spitting up plywood wood chunks all over the 73 Guitars emergency room. This guitar is NOT about to rock and as such cannot be saluted. We need a bridge, STAT. So Jay and the good folks at come through for me with a replacement bridge kit. Vintage style bent steel saddles, post holes spaced for import low-end Strattycaster knockoffs, can't beat it for $30. Not sure how toneful it is, but when the guitar is made out of old Chinese newspapers and ground-up coffee cans, it doesn't matter.

The bridge lined up perfectly, but something sinister lurked underneath the attractive blue finish on this guitar: the wood. Check this out:

The bridge claw has been mounted on two new holes, just next to the stripped-out original holes. Yikes. As I suspected, the crap wood that made up the bulk of this guitar's material wasn't so welcoming to the mounting screws after being removed once or twice previously. The wood was crumbly and soft and then I realized this job was going to be like installing a tremolo on a birthday cake.

Somehow the 6 screws on top held OK, One or two didn't really grab any wood, but it held. Underneath I re-used the second holes to mount the claw. It took some finesse but the screws held. Maybe the birthday cake was a bit stale by now.

So now we have the bridge installed and I'm ready to bolt everything back up, string it, set the intonation and give it back to Nate the Rock and Roll Animal. It's against my personal convictions to return a guitar to someone without fixing painfully obvious playability issues. The neck angle on this thing was so far out-of-whack it looked like a crippled dog's hind leg. Like one of those dogs that has the plastic funnel around their necks and use those little doggie wheelchairs that they drag themselves around on? You know, like when you see that you wonder why the owner doesn't put the poor thing out of it's misery but maybe it's all that person has. Maybe their husband died and it was his dog and they can't part with little Barky Poo so they just spend everything they have to keep the pathetic thing alive when it's living a miserable existence to just represent a happier time in the owner's life and the poor mutt has to pay for it's owner's guilt and sadness by living one more horrible day trapped in that broken little doggie body.

Wait - where was I...oh yeah. The guitar. Here's where the great internal struggle about whether or not to fix the neck started.

Do I just give it back like this, knowing it could be better? Nate's my friend and if he's trying to learn guitar, it would be nice if it played a little better. Nobody else is gonna fix it for free. Or, do I take a chance on unscrewing the neck and stripping out the holes in the neck? It looks like solid maple, but even a mozzarella stick looks solid until you rip into it and the innards just drip out. Maybe the neck has the same empty-pizza-box consistency that the body does. If I can't get the neck back on, Nate's rock-and-roll animal will kill me and scatter my bones. What to do...

Of course I unbolted the neck and started shimming it. It already had a thin piece of sandpaper in the neck pocket, so I'm not the first person to recognize it was beyond bad. I kept throwing cardboard in the neck pocket, testing it and shaking my head in disbelief as I cut another shim out of a shoebox I had laying around. Eventually, this neck angle required a pile of cardboard roughly as thick as one of those Hershey's Miniatures to get it lined up.

So here we are: new bridge, shimmed neck, new lease on life. Discharged from the 73 Guitars ER on December 6.

To be honest it's actually a nice guitar. I had fun bashing it a little bit but thanks to the hockey-puck sized shim in the neck and some new strings it plays pretty well and even sounds almost good for a $100 guitar. And don't think I let the delicious irony in this guitar's brand name go unnoticed. That's funny right there, i don't care who ya are. Nate really "crafted" the bridge on this one.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Antimatter Demo

Here's the video demo of the Antimatter Octave Fuzz. Guitar used was my Fender American Standard Strat with a SD Lil' '59 humbucker in the bridge and a Laney AOR 50 combo. As always, sorry about the playing. This demo covers the wide range of fuzz and strange noises this pedal can make.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Antimatter Octave Fuzz

I'm certainly no physicist and I'm not qualified nor cranially equipped to speak intelligently about quantum physics and particle theory BS. In layman's terms, Antimatter is this mysterious negative-image of everyday matter that we can touch and see. However should the two ever meet, it's cataclysmic. Everything goes boom and it's scary. It's also the world's most expensive material and it annhiliates everyting it comes in contact with. I like that last part about the annihilation. So...thus we have the Antimatter Octave Fuzz. Mysterious, dangerous, and when used improperly can cause such annihilation.

Ok, not really, but it is a damn cool fuzz pedal. It's an Octavia clone with a footswitchable feedback loop and octave on/off switch. Basically it's a BYOC Octave Fuzz PCB in a 1590BB enclosure and some additional tweaks. The right-side switch and pot activate and control the feedback loop.

Got the enclosure from Small Bear, powdercoated white. Not thrilled with the quality of the powdercoating, though. Full-face laser decal on the top. I still need to clear-coat it.

Obviously I'm going for a "warning" sign look, with graphics inspired by the signs you might see around high voltage lines or nuke plants. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The guts - the 9v jack isn't hooked up and there are still a few spots that need some heat-shrink, I'm going to do that after I clear-coat it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Evil Nasty Fuzz demo

My friend Sean let me borrow his Univox Super Fuzz, an all-original relic from the 70's. Sonic mayhem ensued. I took it down to the basement/dungeon 73 Effects laboratory, vid cam in hand to capture it's sickening blast of hate when I plugged it in for the first time. I can't adequately describe the rancid, stinking, evil fuzz that this pedal produces. It's like satan in a box. I really, REALLY want to clone this beast. I think I scared off the mice permanently.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fuzzy Logic

Although I've never been a fan of the fuzz effect personally, I'm building an Octavia clone with a feedback control. It's mostly a BYOC Octave Fuzz kit that I'm rehousing and modding a bit. More details later, but here are some preliminary build pics:

Final Mock-Up

Waiting for wires

Monday, September 22, 2008

Project Guitar Updates

Although I've been working on a lot of pedal projects lately, I have been working on some project guitars as well. Now that the summer is over and the humidity has dropped, I can spray again. Mostly been working on the Timmy GT, which is almost ready for the racing stripes. Tim and Danny were out back spraying the metallic silver color coat with me over the weekend! Tim did fine but Danny had a hard time pressing down the spray valve, so he had me do it and he moved the can. Somehow we avoided getting paint runs. Not sure if that's due to the Duplicolor being easy to work with or the inherited painting skill of my boys. Hopefully we can soon finish this project that was started almost 2 years ago.

I've decided that Project Shredder is being scrapped. The neck I bought never fit the body correctly, and even though I modified the neck heel it still won't work right. The post holes for the Floyd Rose were drilled incorrectly from the factory, and my attempts to fill and re-drill were sloppy and imprecise. I really need a drill press for this kind of thing. I'll be using the body fpr paint practice and may use the neck for re-fret practice. Oh fun... The shame is that I have all the hardware needed to finish it - pickups, Mighy-Mite Floyd Rose, knobs, switches, etc. may ebay them or try another Shredder project later on.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Early Christmas in Brooklyn

Today I shipped out two pedals for Mike in Brooklyn. To add to his bass/spaceship noise "Sonic Fiction" rig he'll soon receive the "Cut Off" momentary switch/nuclear missile launcher and the "Infinity" feedback/bypass looper. Here they are:

The Cut Off

Built to Mike's inexact specs and not really designed right, it enables Mike to play a recorded passage or some crazy noise he created into his looper and toggle it on/off like a piano key, creating a stutter effect. It has some weird signal bleed issues but I think I have a suitable workaround. We'll see if Mike thiinks it's suitable. We could be scrapping this and going a very different direction, we'll wait and see how it works for it's new owner.

The Infinity

A pretty standard feedback/bypass looper. I suggested one of these to Mike and he was like "Hell YES! So I built it. It's a bit more practical in that it has a low-value (B100k) pot for the feedback control. It doesn't give you the most crazy feedback, but it allows the user to have greater control over the lower range of available feedback. Instaed of just making a hellacious racket it camn be used as a more subtle textural effect. Of course it all depends on what you use it with. Therein lies the fun.

It sent my old DOD Octaplus off the edge into wild oscillating what-the-furk-is-that-hell-noise, but also let me smooth things out and get some cool ring modulation effects. I was able to create an unholy shriek with my Hiwatt wah, and the pitch would change as you rocked the pedal. With a bit of practice I was able to play the riff from 'Iron man" by just moving the pedal. It didn't self-oscillate my Phase 90, but thickened it into a rich, chewy phase. Also, I mounted the send/return jacks on top to save some pedalboard space. That way you can still fit this thing next to other pedals without the extra jacks getting in the way. That's an exclusive 73 Effects design...:)

Short bio on Mike (hope he doesn't mind). Mike and I go way back. 1993 to be precise. As a nerdy orientation counselor at Cabrini I (along with my future wife) went to the train station to pick up a prospective student who never showed up. But here were these two guys with funny Noo Yawk accents, overnight bags and confused looks on their faces. Mike and his little brother Dan decided to hop a train in Long Island and show up at Cabrini for orientation with no arranged transport back to the college. So we piled them and their gear into my Mustang and off we went to campus. Quickly learned that Mike was a musician and Dan was an athlete. Since I'm about as athletic as Helen Keller, Mike and I got along immediately, formed a band, experimented with strange and fabulous beers, created havoc and mayhem around the campus and kinda became like brothers. I even made him wear a tuxedo and forced him to clean himself up for my wedding.

Anyway, Mike now lives back in Noo Yawk and does this crazy live show with his 6-string fretless bass, tons of effects and a Loop Station. we'll be collaborating on some future additions to his live rig. Mike has been a great friend, a willing partner in crime, a world-class drinking buddy and a great musical influence to me for years. Now he's graciously agreed to be my lab rat.

Check him out here:

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Overdrive prototype

Here's the prototype for the DOD 250-based OD pedal I'm working on. My plan was to keep the stock 250 specs but have a footswitchable "hot" mode that swaps out a resistor for higher gain and turn on a LED indicator. Here's what it looks like so far. I used a 1590 enclosure so I could fit the extra stomp switch.

The knobs are gain and level, the left switch turns the pedal on, athe right swiutch activates the higher-gain mode. If you;re in the "hot" mode The red LED stays on even if the pedal is bypassed, so you know what to expect when you turn the pedal on again.

The guts are messy, but the next build should be much cleaner.

Still trying to decide where I want to go with this. I have one more component I can switch out with the second footswitch, so maybe mess with a cap value to add bass, or see if I can swap a clipping diode. More experimentation and more beer is in order.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Stuttering Mike

Here is the result of two brilliant minds and some Smuttynose IPA: The Cut-Off Switch. Mike from Brooklyn was using a broken Morley wah/volume for a "stutter" efffect in his Sonic Fiction bass/spaceship live rig. I said " why not build a momentary switch thingie and you could clear some space on your pedalboard" The lights went on, and after some brainstorming and lots more IPA, here it is in all it's hacked-together glory, built to Mike's inexact specs.

Built from an enclosure I was going to use to house the Confidence Boost, I dropped in the momentary switch I got from Small Bear Electric, and some assorted Radio Shack Parts. I hastily sprayed some sparkly blue paint I had left over from the Timmy GT project and Sharpied on a "73" logo. Very unprofessional.

Here's the thing in action:

Mike decided on the fighter-plane toggle vs, a stomp switch. I kinda like it, reminds me of the nitrous setup I had on my old Cobra. Got some wiring assistance from the boys at BYOC, so thanks!

Monday, July 7, 2008

The "Two Fitty"

My second build - the BYOC 250+. I built it to original DOD 250 specs, so it's just an overdrive. This was a very easy build, about as difficult as the confidence boost but adds the LED and 3PDT switch. Went together in about three hours from start to finish. The only minor screw-up was that i inserted the LED backwards and it didn't light. So I desoldered, flipped it around and bang - done! I tried a thinnner gauge of solder than I used on the Conf Boost and it made a huge difference - much easier to work with on the PCB.

Rather than paint something flashy I decided to just polish the enclosure - I hit it hard with 320-600-1000-2000 dry to wet and it came out pretty well. Smooth as glass.

It sounds great! Very simple yet effective overdrive. My plan is to see if I can get more gain out of it, and add a switch to go between the original resistor(s) and whatever new resistors I might need for the higher gain. Then the fun really begins.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

First pedal project

Ok. It's a little too humid to spray guitars, and haven't really had the time anyway. I've been kicking around the idea of making my own pedals for years and finally took the plunge. I ordered the BYOC (Build Your Own Clone) 250+ kit, which is supposed to be a clone of the old-skool DOD 250 Overdrive Preamp with the option to modify it to the specs for the similarly-old-skool MXR Distortion+ pedal. The circuits are nearly identical except for a few resistor values. I really wanted to try a good overdrive with my new/old Laney amp, so why not build one.

One of many cool things about BYOC is when first-time customers order a kit, they throw in a very simple project called the "Confidence Boost". It's a very easy low-parts-count build for a linear boost circuit. It's a legit, useable effect but the kit that they give you isn't complete - no enclosure, on-off switch or knobs. It's designed to get you familiar with the various components and more importantly, how to solder them to a printed circuit board and make the thing actually work. Easier said than done. The idea is to build the confidence boost first and if you decide that you hate soldering tiny components and can't deal with the teeth-clenching frustration when something inevitably goes awry, you send back the pedal kit you bought for a refund. It's a no-brainer.

So that brings us to the Confidence Booster. Here's where we start: A soldering station with magnifier and "helping hands", the kit components, and an essential and often overlooked part of any guitar project: a good IPA.

Going off of the excellent step-by-step directions on BYOC's site, I organized the parts on a piece of paper. What I was not prepared for was the tiny size of these components. They looked much bigger in the pics on the site, but when you're holding a 2x2" circuit board and see about 60 tiny solder pads, it was my first "oh crap" moment.

The magnifier proved to be extremely helpful, so I started soldering. Here's the first three resistors:

I got a lot of solder drip-through to the component side of the board, but eventually got the hang of it. I never have soldered parts this small before and never on a PCB. For the second (middle) resistor I'd heat the joint on the back and apply solder and the solder would just disappear. So I added more, Same thing. Finally after doing this about 4 times I flipped the board over to see the resistor hanging almost vertically off the board with a huge blob of solder connecting it to the board. I laughed out loud - It looked like it would have worked fine, but I desoldered and started over, Screw-up #1 but not a show-stopper.

here's the board with all resistors, the diode and the IC. You can see some big blobs of solder poking through to the component side on the IC, but still making good contact as far as I can tell.

Now we have the completed board, including the trim pot, capacitors, and transistor,

The jack and battery clip wires

And here she is:

Now, to plug it into my kid's itsy bitsy Marshall practice amp at 2:30AM

It works!!!!!!! It more or less acted as a volume control for the baby Marshall, but when I plugged it into my Laney 50-watter it definitely boosted the signal and gave it a bit more gain, albeit compressed and a bit smushy on the bottom end. Sounded great with my Hiwatt wah.

So that's what the thing does, and what it looks like as it's going together, The soldering wasn't top-notch but for a first build, I'm satisfied. It took about 2 hours from start to finish, only had to break out the desoldering wick a few times to fix some boo-boos, but it worked perfectly the first time I plugged it in. Consider my confidence boosted. On to the 250+...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Laney Amp Demo

Here's a 7-minute sloppy mess of an amp demo I made with my new/old Laney AOR Pro-Tube 5012 combo. Aside from the obvious Zep, Joe Walsh and Def Leppard riffs, this was all stuff I just made up on the spot while recording it. Just mostly messing around. I tried to cover the clean, mid-gain and high-gain tones.

I used my 1995 Fender American Standard Strat with stock neck and middle pickups and Seymour Duncan Lil' '59 in the bridge. Also my 1991 Explorer with a Seymour Duncan Screamin' Demon in the bridge and Tone-Pros AVR-II bridge/tail[piece combo. (Thanks Wookie!) I had an Aphex Guitar Exciter in the effects loop, it was on the whole time.

This Laney was made in 1985, looks like a floor safe, runs on 2 EL34 power tubes, 4 12AX7 preamp tubes, has onboard reverb, effects loop, switchable speaker impedance. The preamp has 2 modes, normal and AOR, but one shared EQ with pull-boost on bass/mid/treble.

Some pics:

Huge cabinet for a 1x12, original Fane speaker. Jolly good, Guv'nah.

Cryptic writing

Look at the size of the transformers.

Grimy Guts