Monday, December 16, 2019

Best Volume Pedal Mods and Hacks

I know, volume pedals.  Boring right?  I used to only use them with lap steel or volume swells when I was younger.  And most my volume swells could have been done with the volume control on my guitar.  So I never pulled the pedal out much for a long period of time.  I think a lot of people are the same way,  That was until I started playing more dynamic music with a lot more volume changes and had a real need for quick control over my distortion vs clean sound.  The full on/off distortion control I got from my amp switcher or pedals wasn't cutting it anymore for the music I was playing.  I also started loving the clean sound of a driven amp with my volume control down.  With my hands busy playing I couldn't make the changes I wanted on the guitar quick enough, so I turned to my old volume pedal to control my gain with my foot.  Only problem was it was hard to get the pedal to turn down to where I needed it to be for a clean sound and not cutting my volume off completely.  Update* I did the same thing electronically which is a much better mod. 

Heightened Rubber Door Stop
A new minimal heel position for my "clean channel"
Solution:  A shaved down rubber door stop from a hardware store at the heel of the foot control.  There just happens to be a small rubber stop with a set screw there already on the Ernie Ball volume pedal.  If you replace that stopper with something a bit higher you can disable the pedal from turning the volume fully off.  Just find the clean tone position you want and measure the height to shave down your door stopper at.  This really makes for easier changes in a live situation.  Everything from distorting to clean all at your control, and no worries of cutting off your volume completely.

Treble Bleed Mods
Next up: Playing clean tone with a standard wired volume pot turned down leads to another potentially unwanted problem.  Just like with your guitar's volume control, you loose treble as the pot is turned down.  I decided with the way I was using my volume pedal, I would have to do a treble bleed mod.  There are a few versions of the mod to the right.  The best resource online is from JohnH on this board site:
There you will find all the EQ curves at different decibels with all the possible treble bleed mods, best component values and a improved circuit with a stacked dual concentric pot.  For most of my needs I find the parallel mod does a good enough job retaining the EQ curve across different volumes.  If you do end up doing this mod, you will need help putting the pedal it back together with it's string and string pulley. It's not as easy as it looks.  Plenty of tutorials on youtube to help you with that.

Volume Pedal Turned Expression Pedal
The Final Hack: Not a mod, but a use for a standard PASSIVE volume pedal that isn't well know.  Instead of buying an extra expression pedal many companies make for their pedals, you can use a volume pedal with a Y cable with a stereo jack plug.  Just plug the mono jack plugs(Y part) into the volume pedal's input and output, and the stereo jack plug(single tail part of the Y) into the expression jack.  You may have to switch the input and output jacks around if it doesn't work on the first try,  You could also double up or triple up the one pedal to control many different expression controls.  Just use an all female input headphone splitter adapter to run two stereo chords out to different pedals expression inputs.  Or multiply the expression control with more adapters if you want.

So, lots of things you can used a volume pedal for.  So don't overlook them.  Surprisingly it's has become the most essential part of my rig for controlling how much gain I'm getting from my amp.  Probably the most essential part of how my guitar playing works in my three piece band.  These tips and mods aren't all you can do either.  Control the amount of a direct effect in a wet/dry amp setup.  Perhaps make synth like pad sounds with a delay like David Gilmour's sound on sound setup.

Experiment.  Have fun.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Unorthodox Microphones

Thought I'd demonstrate  a few ways to make items not intended to be microphones, just that.

The first example in the video above, uses a guitar pickup as a mic.  Usually pickups have to be at least slightly microphonic to pick up the human voice or other non-magnetic objects.   Not to be confused with harmonic feedback which resonate as a guitar is intended.  Microphonic pickups are caused by the actual coil wires vibrating or resonating.   Often causing unpleasant squeals.  These are usually un-potted pickups.  Un-potted pickups will pickup other sound sources better than potted ones.  Sometimes you can coax a potted pickup to act as a mic with enough gain on the amp as well.  

The second example uses an everyday common loudspeaker.  The mechanics of a loudspeaker and a common dynamic mic we all use are the same.  A voice coil, a magnet, and a diaphragm, to either absorb or project sound waves.  Both loudspeakers and dynamic mics can be used in reverse.   Speakers can be used as mics and mics can be used as speakers.  However, I don't recommend using your favorite mic as a speaker.  The frequencies won't be reproduced well and you could potentially damage that mic.  Piezo elements as well,  used on a lot of musical instruments can also act as a pickup or a speaker of sorts
A common use of a speaker as a mic, is for a kick drum sub-kick.  To supplement another kick drum mic with sub frequencies.  These can be easily made from a variety of speakers.  Just connect the positive to the hot of any connecting jack and the negative to any ground wire connecting  jack.  Some people make nice enclosures and mounting systems, however I found I didn't really need to, as you can see in the photo to the right.  The magnet of the speak sticks to most mic stands and with a few bungee cords you can hold any speaker in place.  You will find some speakers pick up low frequencies better than others.  Size matters a bit, as well as cone material and flexibility.  You can experiment with other parts of the kit as well.  Word has it the snare drum on Queens of the Stone Age - Songs for the Deaf  used a small simple speaker as a mic on the side of the snare drum.  

The final clip of the video simply uses the speaker as a kick drum its self through a guitar amp.  A cheap kick drum, if you don't have one!  You could put a speaker in an enclosure and have yourself a stompbox to accompany you.   

Friday, September 13, 2019

Hey We Got on the World Famous Maximum Rock and Roll Magazine.
Hey sorry for the absence.  Been a busy year full of ups and downs.  Mostly ok.   Was nice of the folks at the east bay to review our white trash in Asia CD.  Back when there was a press this would have been huge for us.  Still love these guys, but really worried for the future of printed word.  However don't underestimate the value of these sites. Still better than the front pages most people check and SM outlets.  This band has a vinyl out in December which I engineered.  Starting another recording maybe in December.  Hopefully I'll get a weird recording blog up by then.   Oh and we made this painting and fable writing recently at the dojo.
and here

Well, thanks for taking the time.   

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Treble Booster, Secret Weapon of the 70's. Now in Standard Power

    Happy new year and rotation around the nuclear fusion reactor everyone.   Let's talk treble boosters.  For years I didn't understand them and just passed them off as an oddity of the past.  Most of us guitarist don't need more treble.  In fact some guys I've heard are ear piercing.  I used to think you'd get the same thing from and EQ pedal.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  What I found was using a treble booster helped cut through a band mix and they're great for solos.  It does this by cutting some of the bass frequencies that get covered up by the bass guitar or kick and boosts some of the really sweet spot frequencies so the guitar can stand out.  It also adds a bit of hair on an already distorted amp.  The tone is very unique and badass.  So let's look at how and why I built an odd take on this cool effect from the past.
    A while back I realized I had a bunch of germanium AC128 transistors laying around, and a super small enclosure I hadn't figured out what to do with. Around this time, a friend of mine sent me to tonefiend 's project of a flipped Dallas Rangemaster Treble Booster.  I was intrigued to try this circuit, after reading about positive ground circuits of the old days like the Fuzz Face and Dallas Rangemaster, which could be reversed to negative ground by flipping the circuit upside down.  Thus allowing us to run the pedal on a standard power supply, and daisy chain it to other pedals.  I was also intrigued by some of the illusive tones of the 70's like Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, Brian May of Queen, and Marc Bolan of T Rex.  The circuit seemed small enough I could fit everything in the enclosure.  With a lot of measuring, I barely made it.  

    However, I ran into problems after breadboarding it up.  It didn't work.  I gave up, until last fall.  Tried to test the circuit again; this time flipping the transistor around.  Worked!  I've ask folks with more electrical knowledge about why my circuit worked with a backwards transistor (emitter going to ground)  and didn't really get an explanation.  Seems every schematic I've seen for flipped positive ground circuits has the transistor in the wrong pinout?!  Everyone else can't be wrong can they?  If I get an explanation, I'll update this.  But I've got a pedal and schematic that works.  And it sounds pretty damn amazing.  That same friend of mine and I were testing it out last week, and it just seemed like the magical pedal that made everything sound better.  

My modded circuit
    I went with most of the same values as the tonefiend used and added a few different options.  I added an input cap selector switch like that of Analog Man's Beano Boost.  You'll need a ON-OFF-ON DPDT switch wired as in EX.2  In the "OFF" position, the middle cap gives us a standard vintage treble boost with .005uF.  The switch in the above "ON" position adds .005uF to .005uF to give us .01uF.  This acts as a bit of a mid boost.  In the bottom "ON" position with .005uF added to .01uF, gives us .015uF.  This is more of a full range boost, with more bass.  I also added a .001uF cap to ground at the very end of the circuit.  This helped cut down on some of the high end noise.  You'll have to experiment with different transistors to find one that isn't too noisy.  Germaniums can be finicky.  The bible of these DIY clones was written by geofx , with every detail addressed, right down to the voltage bias.  I couldn't get the same readings as his, probably because of the flipped circuit.  However, this pedal sounds great with my values without a tweaked bias.  

    In the end, I decided to go with a Texas flag paint job.  "Dallas", Rangemaster.  The only other advise I have, is keep this pedal in the front of your signal chain.  Much like a Fuzz Face, it needs the right impedance, or it sounds nasty.  Also, you'll find these pedals don't sound inspiring through a super clean amp.  You'll need to run it through something slightly to really broken up.  Have fun.  I'll try to get some audio or video clips soon.