Falcon Noise Reduction

When I took the Falcon to Drew’s last week it sounded great, but we noticed it was pretty noisy (hum/interference-type noise, not the good kind).  So I’ve been on a zag to improve the power filtering.  I’ve added a part to #0001, and will add it and change the value of another part for future builds.

Here’s a test running several pedals direct into Reaper with their controls dimed:

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  1. Falcon (pre-change)
  2. Fulltone GT500 (OD side, then distortion side)
  3. Moog MF Drive
  4. BYOC Large Beaver (EHX Triangle Muff specs, with a larger input cap)
  5. Falcon (post-change)

This test did not control for different levels of gain available from each pedal; while it looks like the Large Beaver is the noisiest pedal, it’s also the fuzz in the group and probably has the most gain available.

While today’s change didn’t reduce the Falcon’s noise in dB it did change the frequency of the noise some, reducing bass frequencies.  I judge this to be an improvement.

An ear test with the Falcon maxed out vs. the MF Drive set for a similar gain and sound resulted in similar noise levels between the two pedals.  This lets me feel like the Falcon’s noise is acceptable, if not necessarily optimal.  The tradeoffs for better power filtering internally are a greater part count and/or a small loss of voltage available to the circuit.

I’ve learned a way to further reduce the switch pop you see at the beginning and end of each test (the large spikes when turning the pedal on and off).  It’s impractical to go back and implement on model #0001, but I’ll incorporate it into future builds.  #0001’s pops are already comparable to many high-quality pedals – usually passing unnoticed, especially playing into a dirty amp – so hopefully this change will reduce future Falcons’ pops below average.

Why “Ventura?”

In the back of the blog topic file I found a question from Jill; why is Ventura called “Ventura,” and is it because of Cory?

It is, but I don’t remember why exactly.

The collection of songs was gathered together under the name “Ventura” prior to my one visit there with him in 2006, almost certainly prior to even planning that trip.

At some point early on the east-to-west movement that connected those first few songs became apparent.  With the Pacific as the end point of this twenty-something punk symphony to leaving home and growing up, Ventura could stand in for a more mythic place of serenity.  It’s a milestone from which to look back on the journey so far, and prepare for the one ahead.

Plus, it’s a cool-sounding, lesser-known California town.  I certainly wouldn’t have known its name without knowing Cory.

Ventura, California’s relationship to Ventura is more concrete than Dodge City Kansas’ is to You Have To Wear The Boots’ Dodge, but there’s a symbolic similarity too.

Falcon Drive #1 Enclosure

Made this yesterday to house the first Falcon Drive.

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I have an idea how to improve the =F= design a bit, but this is pretty much the idea.  This will be the demo unit and ultimately go on my board, unless someone has a hankering for serial #0001.

Falcon Drive Design Complete

This morning I finished the design for a new pedal, the Falcon Drive.  I’ll be taking reservations for a small run of them soon.

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There it is on the breadboard. Doesn’t look like much, maybe, but it’ll do a nice JFET mostly-clean boost (slight compression, fatness, & edge on the pick attack; nice!), an asymmetric MOSFET/LED overdrive, and a scuzzy Schottky diode drive.

The finished enclosures will be laid out like this, with Kingman-style stamping and finishing. The second footswitch, LED, and colored knob are for a second gain/saturation preset.

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True bypass, quiet switching, extremely high (10M) input impedance and low (3.3K) output impedance are featured to preserve treble and drive long cables. The Falcon has a huge range of useable gain; I love it for everything from always-on unity gain buffer to dimed out.

Video coming soon-ish. Before the reservations are closed, for sure, so you can decide if you (or the guitarist in your life) need one!

Kingmen #0001 and #0002 Finished

Over the past two weekends I’ve made progress on my first run of six Kingman pedals, and have finished the first two.  I know #0002, the one I’m keeping, will go into immediate use as Mars Lights continues to record our double LP.

Last weekend was given over to figuring out how to finish the enclosures.  I tried various combinations of paint, stamping, Sharpie, dry sanding, wet sanding, and clear coating.

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Finished enclosures #0001-0006, left to right

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Simple as the Kingman circuit is, there’s no circuit board; just parts mounted to the enclosure, point-to-point wiring, and two capacitors.

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Dry-fitting jacks, switch, LED, and potentiometers

Yesterday I started wiring.  It’s not the prettiest but the connections are solid and it gets the job done.  No one can hear my wiring!

 

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#0002 with its LED working

The first one took two and a half hours, but it worked on the first try.  I consider that a win.

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#0002 alive and kicking!

After getting #0002 running (I numbered based on the enclosures.  Wanted to do something special with #0001 and thought it would benefit from me making and correcting any wiring mistakes on my own) I wired #0001 up today.  #0001 is the only enclosure I painted and will be the only one with black knobs.  Future Kingmen will look more like #0002 with the clear knobs, but without the purple smears.  I learned how to fix that, but thought that since purple is a royal color I would leave mine with the weird blurs.

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Brothers #0001 (left) and #0002

Like I said, not the prettiest at all.  Neither were a lot of great-sounding vintage pedals!  I appreciate today’s beautiful PCB and wiring jobs as much as the next guitar player, but they’re not necessary for a circuit to do its job.

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Gut shot of #0002

What have I learned?

  • How to finish enclosures in a unique way.  None of these first six are exactly how I plan to do them in the future; I learned how to avoid the smearing you see on #0002 (and to a lesser extent on subsequent ones) as I did the very last step.  Future boxes will look similar to #0006 but even cleaner around the stamps.
  • Stuffing PCBs is a very small part of making a pedal!  Honestly if the Kingman had a PCB with 20 components, it would only add maybe an hour or less to the 3 1/2 – 4 hours of labor I put into each of these pedals.  I imagine I’ll get faster over time, but there are limits.
  • Stamping is tricky.  Got to hit the stamp (not one’s fingers) square, hard, and on the intersection of any lines (such as where the three lines of a “K” meet).
  • I’m proud of fitting the input and output jacks on the same side of a mini enclosure, saving players’ pedal board space
  • I’m not done with this run – four more wiring jobs to do – but I’d do it again, and plan to.

Howwwlllllorrible Lyrics

While Drew’s over this afternoon, checking out my work mastering his new Dark Satellites record “Be Still,” please enjoy the track below.

I don’t know how many of you are familiar enough with late-period J.V. All*stars to appreciate this jokey butt-rock take on “Straighten Your Hair” (go listen!) but it is. spot. on. and just gets better as it goes on. It even includes a grunty metal “Ooohhhh!”

Original Studio Gear

The list below was in a folder of stuff from Mom on my last visit home.  It’s all the stuff Scott and I bought for our first home studio, and the core of which (the Digi 001 and a generic PC, which isn’t listed) I’ve used up to now.

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I think I wrote it for my tax preparer in 2003 or 04.

It’s coincidental for it to show up now, as I’m halfway through buying a new core system (Focusrite Scarlett 18i20, new Mac, Reaper DAW) to replace ProTools and the Digi.  A lot of music has passed through the old rig over the years, and I’ll do an appreciation post once everything is unplugged.

DS-1 Lab Update

It lives, with thanks again to Jack Orman and Brett Miller.  I’ve mixed their ideas with my own and as you can see, if you look carefully, I have six new component values working in the DS-1 lab.  (They’re the ones on the tall, spindly legs.)

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It’s sounding great; clearer, more responsive, gain range brought under control.  At minimum gain it’s a barely-there overdrive, just a dirty edge to the string attack, and if less drive is needed you’d need to not start with a DS-1!  At maximum gain I played Sabbath riffs for ten minutes.  The distortion is amp-like without trying to be anything it’s not.  That’s in keeping with my goal; to bring out the best in a cheap, widely available platform with the minimum effective number of changes.

I haven’t messed with the tone stack yet, but I have some ideas and it’s up next.

DS-1 Lab

I spent the afternoon installing sockets for some components in a DS-1 pedal so that I can easily experiment with some mods, turning it into a DS-1 laboratory of sorts.
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You can see the sockets well in the photo below.  They’re the little black legs on the PCB that components can just pop into, instead of soldering components directly to the board.  There’s a transistor labeled “Q2” close to the center of the frame; look to the right of that for two socketed resistors.IMG_0340

No component values have changed, yet; I don’t have a real amp at home to test things on, just a tiny practice amp that’s enough to let me know I’m passing signal :-) Video to follow once I figure out some sounds I like.

I socketed:

  • R6 and R9 (input transistor bias and gain, respectively)
  • R7 (opamp gain)
  • Edit 2015 Nov 14 – C5 and C7 (different values than the MIJ DS-1s, as described by Brett Miller.  I left C8 alone, though he includes it in his MIJ mod, because I like the cutoff frequency created by the stock MIT DS-1 value for C8)
  • D4, D5 (the hard-clipping diodes), and C10 (low-pass filter)
  • R16, C12 (the low pass filter side of the tone stack), C11, R17 (the high pass filter side of the tone stack), and R15 (in series with the high pass filter side of the tone stack, reducing its output)
  • R18 (a resistor in series on the output; just cuts output, from what I can tell, though now that I type this I realize it may be part of biasing the Q7 transistor)

That amounts to two gain stages, the hard-clipping stage, three post-gain filter sections, and possibly the output level.  I plan to jumper all of the socketed components from the output back to the first gain stage to hear what that sounds like, see what improvements can be made (likely the Jack Orman phat mod), and build back toward the output from there stage by stage.

I’ll be experimenting with various hard-clipping options as well, with the goal of finding a few good ones to put on a switch.

Good times, and no soldering iron burns today!