A couple of years ago Aaron Osborne loaned Drew a bunch of his vintage synthesizers while he had his floors re-done. Drew started messing with them, making 4-track tape recordings as he figured them out, at night after his family had gone to sleep. These experiments resulted in an album and a project name, “Night Mode.” The album will be out soon.
Most of the synths are still at Drew’s.
His adventures reminded me of some drum synth ideas we’d had even longer ago when we first saw Expo 70. I started playing with some software sequencers, then doing overdubs, then selling Drew on the idea that it would be ridiculous for us each to have separate synth side projects, and now I have a Night Mode record too. It will be out later.
We have more ideas. We’re going to get Matt and Damon Mar from Marsynth involved. I suppose it could be called a collective, with Drew exercising some editorial influence.
It’s different enough from our other music – by turns krautrock-influenced, ambient, droning, sampled and twisted beyond recognition – that it definitely needed a name. It’s an entirely different mode of music-making.
I’ve been on a deep dive on biasing JFET gain stages for guitar pedals over the past couple of weeks. It’s been a lot of time in the weeds, but I’m emerging with a quicker and more consistent method of biasing for the results I want.
Setting aside the details aside (links here, here, here, and here if you want those), within a batch of JFETs of the same part number individual characteristics will vary quite a bit. To get reliable performance, JFETs must be measured and either 1) sorted into a group that will work in a given circuit and a group that won’t, or 2) individually biased to work in a circuit by adjusting the resistors surrounding the JFET (Rd and Rs in the diagram above).
I’ve been running controlled experiments, recording results, and generally doing low-level basement science and engineering with the goals of learning what matters and what doesn’t, and figuring out efficient ways of achieving the results I need for pedals.
There are a couple more things to check, but I’ll present conclusions and my biasing method (nothing novel, just a straightforward step-by-step process) here or at mrfuriousaudio.com when I have them.
This video taught me about phase change in EQ. It freaked me out a bit because I’ve used plenty of EQ in parallel processing during mixing on reverb and drum compression sends.
I did some testing in Reaper that reassured me that I haven’t made egregious mistakes in my mixes. The phase change around an EQ’s cutoff frequency is worth keeping in mind, but doesn’t drastically affect the summed output of signals in parallel.
What you see above is my test Reaper session. Fuzz’s song “Rat Race” is on two tracks playing in parallel; one has a high pass filter at 500 Hz (the top plugin window) and it’s phase change is also displayed as the orange line. You can see that the EQ’d signal is somewhat out of phase with the unprocessed signal well above 500 Hz, potentially resulting in phase cancellation above 500 Hz when the signals are summed.
The spectrum analyzer (lower plugin window) shows the summed signals (the green background spectrum) and the unprocessed signal by itself (the pink foreground spectrum, which mostly looks lighter green where it’s overlaid on the summed signal).
What I notice is that the difference between the original (green) and parallel-processed-and-EQ’d (pink) signals diverges right at about 500 Hz and the difference is pretty consistent above that point. For me, this is great news; the parallel processing behaves almost exactly as I naively expected it would, before I knew about the phase change described in the video.
A bad result would have been if the difference between the green and pink spectra began diverging around 500 Hz but grew slowly, up to 5K or 10K. That would have meant that in my mixes, I was losing information between (in this example) 500 Hz and 10K without realizing it or compensating for the loss.
tl;dr – Sighs of relief and feelings of bullets dodged in the Studio/Laundry Room of Fury.
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:
Fulltone GT500 (OD side, then distortion side)
Moog MF Drive
BYOC Large Beaver (EHX Triangle Muff specs, with a larger input cap)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Simple as the Kingman circuit is, there’s no circuit board; just parts mounted to the enclosure, point-to-point wiring, and two capacitors.
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!
The first one took two and a half hours, but it worked on the first try. I consider that a win.
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.
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.
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.