Synth DIY build part 2 (brief)

A quick update before a more detailed post coming in the next few days.

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After building, and populating, the front panel for the MFOS SoundLab I started populating the pcb.
Besides a few minor issues (I didn’t have every resistor value needed so had to combine a few) this went smoothly. I was still missing a couple of components, and with the arrival of summer the whole project was put on hold.

I started back in to it a couple of weeks ago, ordered the missing components, wired the panel, and wired the panel to the pcb.

I also built the wall-wart power supply, also from MFOS, which will provide my +/-12Vdc to power the module.

So, as of now this is the status of the project:
All the wiring is complete
After an initial test I’m able to provide power to the module (without it blowing up!)

To do:
A more comprehensive check on the unit. (Ray from MFOS has a very good check list for voltages you can measure across the pcb to ensure no shorts etc.)
Build an enclosure, probably from plywood.
Fit the matched transistors and tempco resistors (waiting on delivery of these).

Then, hopefully start making some noise.

Oh, and upload a more detailed blog post with the build steps and pictures.

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Synth DIY build part 1

This will be the first in a series of posts on my first Synth build.

How many will be in that series? I’m not quite sure yet. I wouldn’t like to put a number on it as I really don’t know how long this is going to take me. My previous DIY builds have been  guitar pedals, but I decided to go big for this project.

I found a world of information and projects on the wonderful Music From Outer Space website.

While some of the smaller projects interested me at first I went “all in” and opted for the Sound Lab MkII build. I ordered the pcb, and the power supply pcb from MFOS, and components from Tayda Electronics. I also signed up to the Irish Synth DIY group, which is full of knowledgeable, friendly folk.

Anyway – so to the project.

I have made a start on the front panel hardware side of things. I decided not to get the front panel available from MFOS, both as a cost saving measure and as I would like to do as much as I can myself.

I knocked up a front panel template design and printed it off. I based my sizings on the large format 5U size, as it will be a stand alone unit, and space isn’t really at a premium.

A bit of skip diving got me a metal sheet that used to be part of a shelving assembly.

I cut it to size, and started cleaning it up with a wire brush. I then glued the paper template to my front panel and drilled out the various holes.

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Cleaning off the paint and rust patches with a wire brush.

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Paper template glued to front panel. I have left space in either end for any extra modules I might add at a later date.

Next step was to remove the paper template. At this stage I realised I was probably a little liberal with the pva glue, so ended up sanding off the template.

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Holes drilled. Paper template sanded off.

Then, with the project pages from the MFOS site printed off I began fitting the pots, 1/4″ jacks and switches.

As my front panel doesn’t match the MFOS one extra care was needed to ensure the correct components went in the correct holes. This will also be the case when it comes to wiring up the panel.

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All hardware installed.

My design for the front panel is a sort of mock-modular, as you can see from the pictures. My original intention was to print this with white text on a black background similar to the classic Moog style. This may change, however, as I kind of k=like the bare metal look. I may keep it pretty lo-fi looking. Another option is to try engraving the panel, but those decisions are well down the line.

Issues so far:

With the front panel a little thinner than it could have been, and a hand drill rather than a press my hole alignment isn’t spot on. But nothing’s way off, so I’ll just call it ‘character’.

Next up is to start on the pcb assembly.

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…But I don’t do New Year’s resolutions.

Oh dear, have I become on of those people?

You know, the ones who make new year’s resolutions.

The ones who panic detox the first few days of January.

The ones who throw a chunk of money at a gym just to use it for the first week, then never go again.

It wasn’t meant to be like this. I started back on the bike with a regular spin in November. I started doing a mid-week run to try and keep things ticking over.

I decided I wanted to do more, but wasn’t going to go into crisis mode over Christmas. No, I would wait until afterwards, then knuckle down, get back on the regular spins (which fell by the wayside over the holidays) and start a workout routine.

Whatever way I squared it with myself, I still ended up walking into a gym in January with a big “RESOLUTION” banner looming over my head.

So, money down, hopefully I will still be getting regular use of it by the time my 3 month membership is up for renewal.

In the meantime, on behalf of all honest, decent, Resolution noobs I would like to apologise in advance to all regular gym-goers for any annoyance we might cause in the next couple of weeks. I’ll hopefully pick up some ettiquite tips from nerdfitness.com, get my head down, and make sure that membership wasn’t wasted.

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Back in the saddle

Winter cycling – if anything sums up the attitude of putting on a coat and getting on with it then surely this is it. Or, at least putting on an extra pair of socks, and a few layers of lycra.

A couple of weeks ago a facebook post from my local cycling club caught my attention – a Group 4 Sunday morning spin, about 50Km or so, at a steady 23-25Km pace. Considering I had barely been on the bike all year, even missing the Sean Kelly tour in late summer, this seemd like a perfect opportunity to get back in the saddle, literally, and get out on a regular basis riding with a group.

 

As it happens I wasn’t the only one and by all accounts the club were delighted with the response, with over thirty riders turning up on the first day, and more since then.

 

That was mid-November, and last Sunday, saw the fourth outing of the newly formed Group 4. I didn’t make the group spin myself, but did manage to get out for a spin.

 

I don’t have any particular aims for next year, yet, but it feels good to tip away at staying fit over the winter months, rather than waiting for the weather and bright evenings to return.

I guess it gives me a head start on working off the impending Christmas binging.

Check out dungarvancc.com for further details.

 

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Pretty in Pink

A quick picture-based post on spraying a guitar.

The guitar in question is an ’89 Squier, in it’s original ‘Priest sock’ black

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Here’s the body with all the hardware removed. You can see my previous DIY shielding project.

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80 grit sandpaper on an orbital sander made light work of the old paint.2014-02-08 11.37.44

A side view of the ply body in all it’s glory

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And the back…

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Shielding covered and ready to be sprayed:

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First coat of primer. I gave a second coat before the paint.

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Three coats of paint, an hour apart, with a light sanding in between:

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And the finished product:

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Not perfect – a little paint run on both horns (which I gently sanded down), and a grey strip next to the knobs where I masked but the scratch plate didn’t cover. Also it’s far from a smooth pro finish when you look at it up close, but I wanted a bit of a rough DIY effect.

Paint used was Rust-Oleum Candy Pink, and Rust-Oleum Primer.

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VHT Special 6 – modded

At the end of last summer I splashed out and treated myself on a new amp, my very first ‘new’ amp!

I was on the look out for a small tube amp that would suit my needs – i.e. plodding away in the front room, and not for gigging. The VHT Special 6 kept popping up with very favourable reviews, so I bit the bullet and went for it. I opted for the head and cab version.

This is a great little amp, straight out of the box, hand-wired, with a  12AX7 preamp tube and a 6V6 output tube. There is a boost feature, which is footswitchable, although the huge jump in volume isn’t the most practical. It can get pretty loud when pushed, in a home-practice context. There is also a half power option for late night playing.

Simple controls – one tone pot and volume pot. Hi and Lo inputs, and on the back three speaker outputs for 4,8 and 16 Ohm respectively.

The cab is a closed-back 16 ohm with a VHT Chrome-Back speaker.

The finish on both the head and cab are top notch.

One of the attractions of the amp is the ease of access to the hand-wired board, which makes it ideal for modding. Heck, they even say it on their website:

“The mod-friendly Special 6 is easy to customize for home amp builders and tube amp enthusiasts.”

VHT seem to be actively encouraging mods with this range of amps, so I thought it would be rude not to.

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VHT Special 6 internal shot.

As this was my first AMP mod, and first experience with tubes I decided to get some expert guidance, so I got myself a mod kit from Alnico Magnet

Here’s a description of the mod kit, taken from the Alnico Magnet website:

“The stock Special 6 circuit is loosely based on the classic Fender AA764
(mid-sixties Blackface) circuit, (also used in the Champion 600), but biases
the preamp tube to sound dirtier. In place of the Blackface Champ’s Bass and
Treble controls is a fixed value tonestack network. My mods keep the typical
Fender mid-scoop sound, but bring more clarity and less preamp distortion. I
also remove the “LO” input jack, and change the control layout to give separate
Bass, Treble, and Volume controls as per the original Blackface Champ.”

I cannot recommend this kit highly enough. High quality components, a very detailed 19 page instruction manual, and 50 or so photos detailing every step.

Each of the mods were broken down separately as well so you could pick and choose which ones to do if, for example you decided not to do certain ones.

Perhaps not for the complete novice, but for me, with a good understanding of electronics, and competent soldering skills it was a great introduction into the world of valve amps.

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Modded VHT Special 6

The above picture is an after shot, with most mods in place, just the Negative Feedback mod to be installed.

As you can see on the board a lot of the components have been upgraded, with Orange  caps replacing the original.

Also there has been a Bass knob added, so instead of the original (black knobs) Tone, Volume and hi/lo inputs the modded version has Bass, Tone, Volume and one input. I could have kept the lo input as well, but I don’t really have a use for it.

All the original pots were upgraded, and the push/pull volume pot, used to engage the boost was replaced by a standard pot. Instead the Boost option is engaged by a switch next to the boost pedal input.

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Back of head, showing boost switch next to foot switch input.

While I was at it I changed the stock 6V6 output tube. Instead of a straight swap for a known-brand 6V6 I took the opportunity to re-bias and fit a 6L6 in it’s place. These tubes mean that there’s a little more clean headroom in the amp as they don’t break up as early as the 6V6. I don’t often get the opportunity to crank this amp to the max, so I was more concerned with getting a good clean tone out of it. A tube screamer in front adds my overdrive when desired.

The pre-amp tube I changed to a JJ/Tesla ECC83S

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Budget Wah

So a couple of days ago I picked up a second-hand Wah pedal. The DF2210 Daphon Wah Wah Pedal are usually available on e-Bay for no more than €30 new. Made in China in a plastic enclosure, they are definitely on the budget-end of the market. I’m not a big wah user but for the price I reckoned it was worth a punt to have a go at modding it.

Removing the base reveals the guts of the pedal. I haven’t traced out the pcb yet, but my guess is that it’s a Cry Baby knock-off with cheaper components.

A couple of other observations:

While the switch isn’t wired for true bypass, it is a DPDT switch, but only one half of it is wired.

The 9V socket is non-standard (ie not Boss style).

So first up was the DPDT switch. As you can see in the photo above only three out of the six pins were used. So a very simple mod will make this pedal true-bypass. You can see a closer view of the switch below, after I had wired it for true-bypass.

Top row (l-r) is a black wire link; red input jack wire; yellow effect input.

Bottom row (l-r) black wire link; red output jack; green & brown effect output.

Next up was the 9v power jack. I removed the non-standard narrow jack (see first photo) and wired in a standard 9v jack. I kept the battery wiring in-tact to still give the option of running off battery power.

I removed the adhesive label from the front of the pedal, which revealed a couple of other pre-drilled holes. This saved me the hassle of drilling out the smaller hole as one of the other two holes took the 9v jack with just a little reaming from a penknife.While I was at it I swapped the input and output jacks as originally they were opposite to most other pedals and a little counter intuitive.

The last thing to do was to sort out the DPDT switch. The pedal was missing a rubber foot that sits above the switch and depresses it when you push your toe down on the pedal. From reading other reviewers it seems this missing rubber is pretty common. I just took one of the rubber feet from the corner of the pedal and popped it in above the switch.

Reassembled the pedal worked fine – so no soldering errors this time! As an effect it does a passable impression of a wah, although I have only played it through a headphone amp so far.

The next stage will be to examine the components on the pcb and look to what I might mod to improve the sound.

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