This one’s for the gear-heads, like me*. We’re back from the East Coast and have some downtime between shows, so I figure it’s high time for a demonstration of all the wacky effect pedals we tour with. This is the actual rig used at a bunch of shows this year.
EDIT: the VW pedal is a Phase 45, not 90. Slip of the tongue.
I learned how to build these effects with the help of various online forums, like:
Enter the Tiny Giant, an amplifier design from Musicpcb.com (whose projects I fully endorse). Based around the use of laptop power supply, as there are a gazillion of them floating around without a functioning laptop to give power to, the Tiny Giant bypasses the danger of high-voltage and allows for a very compact, yet powerful amp.
This happy little dude is capable of putting out 20 watts of crystal clear clean volume (depending on the speaker) and cost me about $40 to build (including getting the power supply off eBay). We’ll be taking it on tour as a backup along with a homemade speaker cabinet I made out of an old reel-to-reel box—the pair sounds awesome!
In fact, lately I’ve been playing it through a 1/2-sized Jay Turser I got for $60 (pictured below with the homemade cabinet), so that’s an entire rig that sounds great for only about $100!
There’s nothing that a DIY pedal enthusiast loves more than fuzz. So many variations on such a simple effect. Hell, you could probably make one with an elastic band, a pipe-cleaner and an old orange. However, in the case of the Andrew Carrell designed Seven, maximum tweakability was the name of the game, hence the namesake number of knobs.
With a few tweaks the Seven fuzz can go from all out swarm of angry bees to farty sputtering robot. It might hog a lot of space on the ol’ pedal board for one effect, but in a studio setting this guy will have a myriad of options to cut through any mix. I just hope I don’t forget what those knobs actually do, as labelling ain’t my thing.
Laura (re: half the band) was away for the last two weeks of January working on her tan. Of course, we all know that when the cat’s away the mouse will…uh…build a ridiculous guitar pedal.
In this case, I had a few quirky circuit boards kicking around and decided to cram as much as I could into a single alphabet-themed cookie tin. All in all, I’m not sure how useful this will be on stage, as it’s pretty unwieldy, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun.
The breakdown is as follows: the first switch (and 2 yellow knobs) operate an auto wah—the Dr. Quack circuit (a better version of the EHX Dr. Q). The second switch (and 4 red knobs) controls a crazy fuzz/echo circuit based on the “Noise Ensemble” (I added a few extra knobs). Finally, the third switch (and 2 green knobs) works the modified “Little Angle” chorus (I’m still tweaking this one to taste*).
All told, it’s a crazy mess of sonic destruction that is both versatile and absolutely insane. For a sound sample of me going through some of the various possibilities click the little red play button below:
UPDATE: after band practice last night I tweaked this monster even further, adding a toggle switch in place of one of the red knobs so that I could make room for a knob to control just how crazy the chorus can get—the answer: real crazy.
It’s no secret that I have zero will power when it comes to buying new gear. In fact, some might even say the band exists simply because I had to justify owning so many instruments. Case in point, if you follow the band on Twitter you likely saw me agonizing over the decision of whether or not to buy yet another vintage Japanese Saturn electric guitar. Surprise, surprise—I bought it (it’s the small one on the left). What can I say? I love these wacky axes.
Some say they were built in Japan by Kawai, others say Guyatone, but everyone seems to agree that Saturns first appeared in a 1968 Eaton’s department store catalogue. Personally, I don’t know how I’ve ended up with three of these (all different, mind you), as I’d never even heard of them before I saw the first one on Craigslist last year. However, I was instantly enamoured with their wonky shapes and mystique.
They also get a pretty bad rap, as they were cheap entry level imports for kids who couldn’t afford a Fender or Gibson. In my humble opinion, that negativity isn’t entirely deserved, as with a good setup these bad boys play very well (I wouldn’t have three if they were garbage…). Guys like Hound Dog Taylor and Ry Cooder championed this notion with cheap Japanese guitars of their own (just check out the cover of Hound Dog Taylor & The Houserockers for a multi-pickup beast).
Of course, I don’t have a lot of “high end” axes kicking around to compare these to, as I’m still a kid who can’t afford a Gibson or Fender, but there’s a reason the rest of my electric guitars have ended up on Craigslist. Actually, price is another beautiful thing about these mysterious relics—I paid a total $350 for all three of them (not including setups and a little work here and there by my amazing guitar tech*)! As for how they sound, I’m by no means a “tone aficionado,” but I know what I like and these are fine by me (especially through my homemade Fender Princeton).
They also get a lot of comments when we play live and suit the rest of our homemade gear very well.
Hmm…it just occurred to me that this entire post is pretty much self-aggrandizing piece of effort-justification so that I don’t feel bad about buying another piece of gear…yep.
Oh well. Guitars is purty.
*The hollowbody needed the most work (it as also the cheapest), as a bridge inside had collapsed, but now it plays very well and might just be my favourite of the bunch.
In honour of the festive season, here’s a guitar pedal I built a while back that has become a necessity live. It’s a homemade Snow White Auto Wah on one side with an Easy Drive distortion on the other. I call him Santa Wahs (I hope that’s an obvious enough pun for you…)—makes for some very funky Jingle Bell Rock.
In fact, the wah portion featured heavily in the recording of “Hot Air Balloons (and Submarines).” You can hear it mostly in the lead guitar (along with a homemade phaser, for extra warble—starts about 13 seconds in).
It’s cold and sporadically snowy in Toronto, which means it’s time to throw some wild noise-making device into a festive watch tin for seasonal sonic destruction!*
This little bad-boy is my homemade take on the Mid-Fi Electronics Clari(not)—an insane echo/fuzz box that can go from subtle tape warble to all out elephant farts. Doug from Mid-Fi was kind enough to post the schematic online, so folks have been able to tweak it to their tastes. All I did was add a toggle that turns the fuzz on or off (making the yellow eye light up too).
We did another new demo on the weekend and used this to thicken up my electric guitar a little. I’ll try to post that soon.
Suffice to say, this is yet another in the long line of semi-musical noise boxes that I build to annoy Laura. Look closely and you’ll see it on my pedal-board at shows.
*…er, something like that. I actually built this in the summer, but we’ll keep that between you and me.
At our show last week I mentioned having dropped my newly homemade amp off the stage. Thankfully the damage was minimal and after a quick fix she’s up and running without issue.
Falling 3 feet isn’t really on the same level as the old Traynor tests (supposedly they used to drop their amps out a second story window), but the fact that my little guy only suffered a broken fuse holder is pretty reassuring.
Anyway, here are a few pictures of the amp in question. It’s a modified Fender Princeton 5F2-A made mostly out of old radio parts (the box itself is from an old portable turntable). At about 5 loud watts with great crunch it’s the perfect amp for smaller shows and recording—we’ll be posting some new demos made with it soon!
For all you gear-nerds like myself, the modifications include a solid state rectifier, switch to toggle the negative feedback in or out and an easily disconnected speaker so I can hook it up to something larger. If you want to build amps too, I suggest doing some reading/asking questions at Ax84.com. I couldn’t have finished this without the help of the forum over there.