This is the page where I will display all the electronic projects and guitar effects I build. I've been soldering things together since 2003 or so and it makes for a good hobby. I can say I'm quite proud of some of the stuff I've made. The page will mostly feature guitar related projects, but other electronic things are here as well. Have fun! The stylish pictures were all made by Noortje. You can click on them for a larger view.
Finally, something new! I've always wanted to make a clean octave up, and this is what I settled for. It's fairly clean, though obviously not Hi-Fi clean. It's not a fuzz though, but combines wonderfully with my BMP or a Red Llama. Crazy sounds! This was built on a PCB I etched from the layout at Tonepad. I tried the mods, decided I didn't need them and that the box would be cool without any knobs. The little Fresnel lens LED holder is from Banzai.
The face is from one of my favourite web comics: dinosaur comics. The etch was too hot and ate through the PnP, so I had to put painter's tape all over everything and spray the image and text black. Looks pretty good now though, nice and rustic. I've found that painting the sides is more work and a longer wait than putting some tape over it, so that's what I do now.
Frank Zappa had these built into a couple of his guitars, as you can see in this video at Guitar Player TV (click artist features, then Dweezil Zappa, then Frank's SG.) I guess I don't have to wonder anymore how he got that shrill, biting tone!
Phase 45 update17/09/2007
This is the same Phase 45 as below, now with a better looking top! I didn't really know what to put on it (Flash Gordon's laser gun and Space Invaders were other contenders) and settled on a banana. For obvious reasons.
The etch came out really well, very clean.
Red Llamas 2, 3 & 417/09/2007
When I last visited Amsterdam, I brought my first Red Llama to Voicst's practice space. They liked it a lot, both for bass and guitar, and asked me to build them a pair. I gladly obliged, leaving the first one for them to take to the U.S. to record their second album. Cool!
The first one, for guitarist Tjeerd, was painted flat black and looks nice and clean with the aluminium knobs and blue LED. The circuit board is isolated from the enclosure with a piece of an old insurance card.
The second one is for Sven, Voicst's bass player. I was aiming for a nature theme (hi Sven) and just bought my girlfriend a new shawl with treestumps and birds on it. I etched this using photo paper, which is a real pain for such a delicate design. I advise you use PnP for delicate stuff and paper for normal things. The knobs are up on top so they don't get stomped in the heat of the moment.
Number three was made for a friend at the office as a birthday present. He bought his first electric guitar and amp and I think you shouldn't go without a good effect for too long. Atzepeng is Berlin slang for buddy!
All three pedals are regular, un-modded Llamas. The schematic moved in Aron's gallery, here's the updated link.
NPN boost II17/06/2007
Another NPN boost. I liked the first one I built so much that I decided to build another one, this time in a stompable enclosure. This is my first etched box, I followed this great etching photo essay by MarkM. Very helpful. At first my PnP wouldn't stick, the trick is to not check while ironing; let it cool off and the blue will stick to the metal perfectly.
The etch went well up until the end. I got distracted and let the box heat up too much, making the edges go grainy. I don't think the water-based paint shields properly either. Anyway, the clean design turned into a dirty design, which is kind of funny. A happy accident, as they call it!
I didn't have thin wire for the insides so I used thicker stuff. Not to be recommended. Doesn't look neat, hard to work with and there's no difference in sound.
Tweed Champ Replica
This is a teaser for my semi-weblog. I'm in the process of building a Champ replica and instead of filling up this page with status reports, I'm linking to there. So go there. When it's finished, I'll add the project here.
My first project with an etched board! This thing was just too complicated to perf. I know it probably can be done, but I wanted to try my hand at etching. The original Phase 45 was built by MXR and is the Phase 90's smaller brother. Less of a pronounced phasing sound, more subtle, vintage, round. Or so I'm told, I don't have a P90 to A/B with.
There are a lot of great resources about phasers on the net. More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Phasors is written by the people at Musitronics, very interesting. Then there's the splendid Geofex article The technology of phase shifters and flangers. Both were well worth my time reading.
So far for theory, let's get going! I started with the excellent ready-for-transfer at Tonepad. Note that if you are going to use this layout, make sure you get the pinout of the FETs right! Mine (2N5952) had to be inserted the other way around, so not as shown on the layout. They also have a handy photo essay on making a PCB with Press 'n' Peel and one on etching the board. I used a hotter iron, though, because at first it wouldn't peel off easily. All the parts were bought from Banzai Effects, here in Berlin. Good selection, he has the 2N5952s pre-matched (in 4s, for the Phase 90.) The etching went really well and I'm very pleased with this new skill. Drilling and cutting was a breeze with my new Dremel that I got for my birthday.
Another nice thing about this effect is that there are a couple of easy mods for it. I "Univibed" it (a 10:1 ratio capacitor pair), this makes for a very subtle univibing, almost rotary sound. I also installed the rate LED, which shows me how fast the effect is phasing even if it's turned off. The information comes from this Phase 45 mods page.
The effect didn't work at first. After a while I found out that the FETs had to be turned around, but it still wouldn't phase... until I turned the bias the right way! I thought it would phase at least a little bit, but off of the sweet spot the phasing is nonexistent. Don't give up, there's a sweet sound in there! The sweep is pretty deep, the effect isn't as subtle as the description made me think. It's not EvH in-your-face, but that's fine. It phases great and sounds awesome.
When I started out building guitar effects I thought that using only discrete elements was best, so no ICs and chips and whatnot. This was until I came across the schematic for the Way Huge Red Llama. It's basically a Tube Sound Fuzz from Craig Anderton's book Electronic Projects for Musicians which I sadly do not own (yet). It is getting rave reviews and high prices in the second hand market (search for Way Huge on Ebay.) See the price increase on the Harmony Central page: from $150 in '98 to $385 in '05! I must add that Way Huge is no longer in business, but ofcourse they still have the copyright on the name and the design of the effects.
There is a layout for veroboard but I used perf and made my own. It's quite an easy project. I noticed that the layout becomes easier if you use two inverters on one side instead of one on each, so I did that. The inverters are all the same anyway. I used 11->12 and 14->15 because they have convenient spacing. Pins 13 and 16 aren't used. Here is the CD4049's datasheet. The circuit is using about 2.4 milli-Ampere of current, which is decent for a 4049-based project. The only change I made from the original schematic is to increase the series resistor from V+ to pin 1 from 1K to 2.2K. This didn't change the sound and it lowered current consumption a lot.
I had forgotten that it's not at all easy to make a good looking box! The one I used is a 'type B' which may or may not be the same as a Hammond B. Its measurements are 111 x 60 x 31mm. I ordered all the parts for this project at das Musikding and when I got the box it looked small. It's quite low, which means it's kind of cramped inside. That's why I decided to build without the DC jack, which I might add later. While drilling, I cracked the box. Bummer! It's not that bad though, nothing a coat of paint can't handle. The people over at Musikding have a pretty nice effects DIY page as well, it's in German. Yes, I am aware that the box needs a coat of paint.
The sound is amazing. It has a nice midrange boost that I like and is very touch-sensitive. When I strum lightly, the sound is just boosted a bit, but when digging in, the effect starts to growl. I am very satisfied with this project.
A very nice mod is to make a footswitchable 'extra channel' by adding the 10M resistor in the first feedback loop like in the Tube Sound Fuzz. I breadboarded mine before I started the actual soldering, so I had a chance to try some different values in various places. I must say that the original components are very well chosen. Adding an extra resistor in series with the 100K that goes to the 1M Fuzz control will drive up the distortion a lot. I added 4M7 which I thought was better-sounding than 9M4 (two 4M7s). The Fuzz pot will become nearly useless then but that's OK. You can have a regular drive channel, controlled by the pot, than a fuzz channel which is just way huge (ha). I thought about installing a switch but decided against it so it was all stock and because I thought it might not fit in the box. In retrospect, it probably wouldn't have. Luckily I ordered two CD4049s so I can build another incarnation of this device, which I intend to modify and add some switches and pots to. The variations are endless!
Since, I've found a lot of other cool projects using the CD4049, like the Runoffgroove's Double D and their Mr. EQ, Frank Clarke's Hot Harmonics and Tim Escobedo's CMOS boost. These all look exciting, especially since a lot of the gates of the IC remain unused (there are six inverters!) and circuits can be added with a few variations. So for example a clean boost into a Red Llama into an eq. Sounds delicious.
Solar Sound Module
It's an inverter with a couple of capacitors and resistors attached to make it produce a waveform that can be heard through the attached piezo speaker or amplified by other means. Power is unstable because it comes from a solar cell. The fun starts when you add other caps and/or trimpots to tweak the sound. Loads of alligatorclips and handwaving over the solar cell makes for beats, tweaks and beeps. Ralf creates rooms full of these, he makes them interact with a couple of wires, varies the light, varies resistance on some of the trimpots... Endless possibilities. At the workshop there were a couple of these lying around making background birdnoises!
AMZ mini booster
This is becoming a real booster addiction! The AMZ mini booster has a nice sound with some good overdriven tones. Some modifications and more useful stuff can be had from the General Guitar Gadgets site.
I couldn't find a layout for this schematic, so I drew one myself. When I was done soldering, it didn't boost at all... just a little less volume! What a disappointment. Luckily, it was an easy fix. I forgot to make the dotted connection! That connection should be made, or it will not work. I found this out very quickly with the Audio Probe. That thing can save you a lot of time.
I am unsure of the sound of this effect so far. It's OK sounding, but I haven't tried it on a big amp yet, just on my Ruby. It sounds good, just not amazing.
This next project is great fun. It's a persistence of vision toy based on Atmel's AtTiny2313.
I first learned of this project via Flickr's Make magazine pool, which is very nice. There I saw a picture of a this project in someone's bike wheel and, being from the Netherlands, I knew I had to have this.
Schematics and howto are on Lady Ada's site. There's also a minipov 1 and a spokepov, but I made the minipov 2. It's nice that the microcontroller can be programmed in-place, so you won't need a PIC programmer, a hacked printer cable will do. It's a fairly easy build, which I did on perf. PCBs can be obtained through the same site. I built the 2.0 version, which is incompatible with the code there! It's an easy fix, but if you can help it, build the 2.1 version. There should be no difference in functionality and the programming is a bit (haha) easier. If you have built the 2.0 version and it doesn't work, download this version 2.0 specific code. The piece of shrink tube I used probably isn't necessary, but I put it there just in case. Those wires run close together! Looks ugly though.
What does it do? Check out the pictures! When held still, it just blinks rapidly, but when you move it fast enough, you can see that it spells words. You can put anything in its memory, shapes and letters and numbers... The pictures were all taken by myself by putting the camera on a long shutter time and moving the board quickly across the area of the photograph. I still haven't attached it to my bike yet. The actual pictures are a lot sharper than the downsized JPGs here, which is a pity.
We don't own a standalone DVD-player, so we watch our DVDs on the computer, with tv-out to the TV. This is fine but for the fact that we have to sprint to the bed (where the TV is located) from the computer when we start a movie or get a snack.
Enter the iR receiver. This simple circuit captures the remote's output and sends it over to the computer via the serial port. The circuit came from the Linux Infrared Remote Control project and OverClocked Inside (German).
For about €5 in parts and an hour of my time, this is a good investment. I used the TSOP1738 which receives signals around 38KHz, the frequency most remotes transmit on. For the cable to the serial port I used one of those internal CD-ROM to soundcard cables that I never use anyway.
This is the iR's schematic. I used a different layout than on the LIRC page, because I didn't want my connection-to-serial on the side of the perf but on the back. As you can see, it will fit on a very small bit of perf board, I used 9x4 holes. 2x4 is only used as support for the connector plug!
It works really well, even in bright light. The DVD playing computer uses Windows as its operating system and there were some problems with WinLIRC recognising the remote, so I installed LIRC on my own machine (running Ubuntu) and created the config file that way. WinLIRC can read LIRC's configs, so that was good.
WinLIRC then feeds its output into Girder, which has a lot of plugins and add-ons that can control different programs. We only use it for WinDVD at the moment,
These snaps are homemade and a lot better than the flimsy ones you buy in the shop. The process is easy. Take any dead 9 Volt battery and carefully bend back the side so you can pop off the top where the snap connects to it. Cut it loose if you have to. Now solder on some nice and thick wire and apply hot glue. Done! Idea from Mark Hammer. Look down that page for a PDF with pictures of the process. The wire I used comes from a discarded computer PSU. Lots of colours!
You can put a diode under the hot glue that prevents current to flow when the battery is touched to the snap the wrong way around. Haven't tried that yet, it may come in handy on projects that have limited PCB real estate.
Ruby guitar amplifier
I have a special website for my Ruby amp so I won't go into a lot of detail here. The schematic and layout come from the great Runoffgroove. They have some good empty layout pictures so you can draw your own layouts.
The Ruby has a good sound and can be loud enough for bedroom use. It's a great practice amp. No need to break out and warm up that tube amp all the time!
Switcher and Feedback Loop
My first succesful build, the NPN booster, didn't have room for a switch to turn it on and off, so I made a true bypass switch.
The switch is a simple effects loop type: it either routes the guitar's signal directly to the output or it goes through the effects loop. You can put any number of effects in the loop, that will all be switched on and off with one button. I've added a bright purple LED indicator to tell me if the loop is engaged or not. Here's another schematic of the switch. For true bypass with LED indicator, I'm using a 3PDT switch bought from Aron Nelson's shop. Great and fast service, even to Europe! Highly recommended.
Here's a sample application, this way it'll switch in or out a Big Muff and a DD-3 at once.
For even more fun, I added a small SPST switch that connects FX return with FX send. This is red on the schematic. The pot labelled Volume controls how much of the signal is fed back in, it's a 500K logarithmic. This is an effect similar to Death by Audio's Total Sonic Annihilation. Weird sounds!
The newspaper wrapper is an Asian (Korean?) paper from the newsstand, pasted on with gluestick (Pritt ftw!) and sprayed over with lacquer. I am not completely satisfied with it, because the glue is showing through and the lacquer isn't nearly as hard as I would like it. It does look cool though!
Lava Rim 2
This is one of the projects that has been lying around for ages. It's a pretty good distortion device designed by Aron Nelson. The forum on that site is amazing. The schematic, some tips and sound samples are here.
This is a very versatile circuit. As you can see, I've made the input cap, both transistors and both clipping diodes swappable, and biasses can be set with the trimpots. I haven't experimented with it as much as I would like. Recently I've found that putting different diodes in instead of two similar ones creates a better sound. Needs more tweaking.
When I first started out building effects, I tried to make an Easy Face, which failed. Then I tried a Rangemaster treblebooster, which also failed. Each time I was pretty bummed that it just wouldn't work and put the soldering iron down for a couple of months. Finally I found the beginner project on Aron Nelson's stompbox forum. It has step by step instructions on what parts to get, how to read the schematic, how to solder it right, how to wire it up, how it should sound, everything! The effect was designed by Gus Smalley. Build it, it's great.
I was so happy I finally made a working effect! And it sounds good, too. A nice clean boost that has a bit of distortion at the end of the volume pot's turn. Great to push an amp over the edge. Why let a box do all the work when you have an amp that can do it better? It's also nice to drive another effect with this one. I love it. Brought it with me to a guitar shop in Amsterdam to show it to one of the guys working there, he had some fun with it too, playing through a 4 x 10" Fender amp. It just fattens the tone a bit. As you can see, there's no room for a switch in that tiny box I put it in, that's why I made a true-bypass switch as well! Here is my proud build report.
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