Amp Project Fail/Win

A while back I purchased a lot of the parts needed for a Ruby Amp project.  This is a little 1/2 watt solid state amp. I started to put it together and then got side tracked. One of the things I’ve been trying to do this year is finish up all my little guitar projects I have collected over the years instead of getting more projects.  This is a difficult mind set to change. I am always on the hunt for new projects. And new projects usually consist of trying to get something for really cheap that needs a little help.

So I spent a big chunk of Saturday and a portion of Sunday putting together my Ruby Amp. On Saturday night I had everything wired up. The LED light would come on when I put a batter in or plugged in a power supply (yup, I went all out and added a an LED indicator light, on/off switch, and headphone line out to the schematic).  But I didn’t get any sound at all. Not even a bad hum.

I went over everything that evening and realized I had left out a two jumper wires on my perf board.  Got those on and I had hum!  No actual guitar sound, but at least it was humming. So I put it to bed and relaxed.

On Sunday I went over everything again. It is all there. But I started messing with where the ground wires all go.  Then I moved the wires for the LED light. The gain and the volume all impact the hum. The switch turns it off an on. The LED light functions with the switch (it was always on before).  But no guitar amplification.

I am not very technically minded. I cannot read the schematic very well and have mainly relied on pictures of other people’s boards online.  Maybe, if I’m free for a long period of time, I’ll draw up my own blue print of the Ruby Amp with the mods I added.  Of course, it won’t be a very popular blue print if it is for an amp that doesn’t actually amplify a guitar…

My whole goal for doing this (besides living that DIY spirit and being a “maker”) was to have a little amp on my work bench for when I’m working on a guitar out there.  In the same spirit I also got two junk amps from my local guitar shop.  One was the Raven RG100 that I turned into my 2×12 speaker cabinet.  The other is a sparkly red vinyl Kustom practice amp with a little 6 inch speaker.  Neither worked. I figured the Kustom could become a speaker cabinet or could house the Ruby amp I was building.

As I was working on my Ruby amp project I pulled out the Kustom for a distraction. I took it apart and found that the only obvious problem was broken input jack.  But replacing that is usually very easy. There must be something more to it because it was thrown away. But I had the right type of jack from the Raven and I just had to swap it with the broken one in the Kustom, so why not?  Today, in about 20 minutes, I swapped the broken jack in the Kustom for the jack in the Raven.  I plugged in a guitar and got sweet guitar amplification!

I could not believe it. It was so simple. And after I had spent so much time on my Ruby amp.  I will admit that the electronics board on the Kustom would not come all the way out. It was tricky to get my soldering iron in there and not damage anything else. I’m sure that the guitar tech at my local guitar shop told the customer that the cost of the professional repair would exceed the value of the amp… so it got junked to me… and I am much less valuable than a professional repair.

So I now have a little amp on my work bench just like I wanted. And what is the moral of this long tale?  Look around for alternate solutions before you dive into one of your DIY projects.  I could’ve spent 20 minutes on the broken amps and spent the rest of the day playing the guitar.

I’m sure someday I’ll come back to my Ruby amp.  It will be cool to say I, an inept DIY-er, made an amp.  But for now, I’ll just enjoy the Kustom on my work bench and worry about what I ruined on my Ruby amp later!

Late Night Blues

Last night I did a fencing demo at a local college campus. It was a lot of fun, and even though I didn’t fence, it was just great to talk about it and share something I love with others.

On my way back to my car I heard music.  More importantly, I heard the very distinct sound of Freddie King’s “Hideaway.”  At least I think it was Hideaway.

I turned the corner of a building and found two guys in the bottom of an outside stairwell playing guitar. One was on electric guitar (looked like a strat) playing through an amp plugged an outlet on the outside of the building and the other was playing rhythm on an acoustic guitar that was unamplified.

It was definitely more of a Freddie King sound with more treble than the Mayall Bluesbreaker’s Clapton version that is has a little more bass.  I was still on my high from sharing fencing, but it was cold. I didn’t join them and I didn’t get any closer, but I really enjoyed the fact that they were sharing their music. It was obviously something they love.  Nice job guys.

Power Outage

After 117 hours with no power, we finally got electricity back.  Some people in the Greater Northwest got theirs back sooner, others are still out, while still others never lost it.  Some lost it again with yesterday’s wind storms. Ah, weather.

So here’s my question:

Should I worry about my guitars going through such extreme climate changes?  Heated home to no heat to heated home? They seem ok, but should I be worried?  Is five days nothing? Am I just being silly?  Is there anything I could do now to fix any impacts? Should I do something the next time there is a power outage?  Anyone out there in the interwebs know?

Attached to my Pedal Board

How do you attach your pedals to your pedal board?

Lot’s of people put adhesive backed velcro on the back of their pedals. It works really well when your pedal board is covered with the opposite side of the velcro or some other material that works with velcro.

But I don’t like putting sticky stuff on my pedals.  I don’t like the sticky residue it leaves if I ever want to take the sticky velcro off.  So how do you attach velcro to your pedal without getting the sticky stuff on your pedal?

I use a small block of wood. I attach the plywood to the pedal using zip ties…

and then put the sticky velcro onto the wood.

It works pretty well, but keeps the flexibility of moving my pedals around on my pedalboard that makes velcro so popular.  In the pictures above I am finally attaching my Boss DD-7 to the pedal board using a 3/8 inch piece of plywood, a zip tie, and the self-adhesive velcro.  You can see I’ve done the same thing to my Electro Harmonix Holy Grail reverb pedal right below it.

For the pedals on the second row of my pedal board I used 1/4 inch ply wood to get a bit more height.  It doesn’t add that much weight and it negates the need for a second layer or shelf for the second row of effects.

Power Friends

Going on 96 hours with no power and no running water has taken a toll on our camping supplies and clean clothes. But we have a heat source and more importantly we have friends with power and hot water.
So thanks to friends’ generosity we are clean, well fed, and have charged phones. Thank you to all those people who have been generous and kind. We haven’t been able to accept all the invitations. But we thank you all.
Anyway, there is some guitar stuff even in the midst of all this fun. We had dinner last night with my daughter’s piano teacher’s family. We started talking about my guitar playing and that I can’t read music, but have been learning with my daughter. Her piano teacher then told us about the old guitar she got at a garage sale for five dollars and how she wants to learn to play.
Turns out it is an old made in the USA Stella small bodied parlor acoustic guitar with a floating bridge and metal tail piece. I’ll get a picture of it someday.
I tuned it and played a few things. Then we started talking about swapping me teaching guitar lessons for her piano lessons to my daughter.
I don’t know if our schedules will line up in the near future, but it is fun how we may never have had either of these conversations without the power outage and their generosity.
It is a great reminder that we, as human beings, need to take care of each other.

Snow Guitar

You may have heard about the snow storm that hit the Great Northwest states. It was pretty intense, but a mediocre storm compared with other parts of the world. However this part of the world rarely gets this kind of weather. There are over 270,000 homes without power. Schools have been cancelled. Work places have been closed. Trees are down everywhere under the weight of the ice and snow.
So I am at home with my family safely in front of the fireplace. I’ve had some chances to play the guitar but most of my time has been spent entertaining and interacting with the kids. I am surprised at how dependent we have become on technology to keep the kids out of the way when we want to do something on our own.
This isn’t really about the guitar other than the fact that this power outage (over 24 hours now) has been a great reminder of what I may be giving up to play the guitar.
It is ok to play the guitar, but it better be a cognizant decision with all factors accounted for. Anyway, I must conserve battery power. Take care. And next time you go to grab your guitar, just be aware of what you are not picking up.

Pedalboard Changes

After my fun Drive Quest, I finally put my pedalboard back together. I’m sure there will be changes in the future, but this is what I decided to do for now.  My goal is to stick with this for a while, finish the projects I have laying around the house, and practice playing the guitar (see last blog entry).

First, I took all fuzz pedals off. That’s right. Blasphemy to some of you, but as I’ve mentioned before I just haven’t been happy with fuzz.

I also took off my Marshall Guv’Nor Plus 2. I’m sure it will go back on someday, but I decided to explore the two channels on my Boss SD-2 Dual Overdrive as my sole source of drive and distortion with the help of the remote footswitch I am almost done building…I just have to find an enclosure.

So first is my Boss TU-2 tuner that goes into my Boss SD-2 Dual Overdrive.

Next is my Morley Wah. I am still not entirely satisfied with the voicing and “sweet spot” of the sweep of this Wah, but I don’t use it a lot right now. I do like the external footswitch to turn it on and off. So much better than the internal footswitch on a Cry Baby.  I can set it at a specific sound and then turn it off and on when I want to use the Wah as a filter/overdrive/whatever.

Then I added in the effects loop/feedback pedal I modified earlier. It doesn’t currently have anything in the loop, but I can easily add effects via this pedal. I.e. my Digitech RP200 that I’m using to try to get a pseudo organ sound.

Then I have my DOD Flanger that I am trying to use more as a chorus pedal rather than a flanger. I hope to have a future post about what settings I use to turn this flanger into a chorus pedal.

Next is my Electro Harmonix Stereo Pulsar Tremolo. This is an effect that I didn’t really get at first (but for $5 at a thrift store, who’s going to argue), but I am using it more and more. A tremolo with tap tempo would be nice, but again, I’m just trying to use what I’ve already got.

That goes into my Ernie Ball Jr. Volume Pedal, which goes into my ModTone Analog Delay, which I use for swells.

Then I have my Electro Harmonics Holy Grail Reverb set to a mild hall setting to warm things up. However I do switch it to a heavy spring reverb when I want to get some twang or rockabilly!

Then I have my Boss DD-7 Digital Delay which I use mostly for the loop function or the dotted 8th note delay right now. The tap tempo pedal I made for this thing is invaluable for the dotted 8th notes setting!

All of this goes into my Morley ABY switch that allows me to choose between the Fender style preamp, the Marshall style preamp, or both preamps together on my amp.  Everything is powered by a VooDoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus.