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!”

The Best Music We Heard In 2015

Here is the best music we heard in the past year. Most, but not all, was also released in 2015.

Top 12 (in random order) (it would have been 13; Cory tried to list “1989” again!)

Honorable mention
Best Coast, “California Nights” (2015)

Waves x Cloud Nothings, “No Life For Me” (2015)

Selena Gomez, “Revival” (2015)

Beach House, “Depression Cherry” (2015)

A Is Jump, “Weird Nostalgia” (2015)

Blackalicious, “Imani vol. 1” (2015)

Brandon Flowers, “The Desired Effect” (2015)

Carla Morrison, “Amor Supremo” (2015)

Elder, “Lore” (2015)

Failure, “The Heart Is A Monster” (2015)

Halfwit, “II” and “III” (2015)

High on Fire, “Luminiferous” (2015)

Kowloon Walled City, “Grievances” (2015)

Monolord, “Vænir” (2015)

No Cave, “Eyes Brighter Than The Sun” (2015)

Sheer Mag, “II 7″” (2015)

Sleater-Kinney, “No Cities To Love” (2015)

Tame Impala, “Currents” (2015)

Torche, “Restarter” (2015)

Viol, “Deeper Than Sky” (2015)

Descendents, “Milo Goes To College” (1982), “I Don’t Want To Grow Up” (1985), “Enjoy!” (1986)

Joy, “Under The Spell Of” (2014)

Run-D.M.C., “Run-D.M.C.” (1984), “King of Rock” (1985), “Raising Hell” (1986), “Tougher Than Leather” (1988)

Sturgill Simpson, “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” (2014)

Excited to check out:

Leon Bridges

Fuzz

Joanna Newsom

Introducing the Kingman Anti-Drive

I breadboarded my first partly-original pedal design this afternoon, and it worked!

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The Kingman Anti-Drive is a passive volume cut circuit based on the Kinman treble bleed. It’s designed to give guitarists a clean/clean-ish/cleaner sound when placed in front of a saturated amplifier or overdrive/distortion/fuzz pedal. Unlike turning down the guitar’s volume knob (which results in a dark, bass-heavy sound) or the Kinman circuit (which is optimized for only one particular point on the volume knob) the Kingman Anti-Drive offers a customizable frequency response with controls for volume, treble level, and treble cutoff frequency.

It’s simple (three pots, two capacitors, and wiring) but really, really useful. My basic live pedal setup for Mars Lights is an always-on treble boost and a Bass Big Muff Pi for choruses and big riffs, but I’m planning to replace that with an always-on Catalinbread Karma Suture (Happy Winter Non-Denominational Snow Time to me) and the Kingman in front of it for verses and quieter parts. (See how it works kind of backwards? You kick it *on* for “less”/quiet parts/cleaner sounds.)

It was really fun to play around with the volume turned pretty far down, the treble level about mid-way, and the cutoff anywhere at all. (Adjusting the cutoff is effectively a mids control, varying from a cool mid-scooped sound to a fairly flat frequency response.) Once I got the circuit in place I played Stones-y riffs for a solid 20 minutes just for kicks.

I’m also breadboarding on a new rig. The briefcase* and mounts for power, input and output jacks, and potentiometers, lets me store and transport breadboarded circuits safely. This first draft of the Kingman will be making its way to Mars Lights practice next week for a bit of testing.

A first test run on Kingmen will be completed in the next month or two I hope. Once everything is worked out I intend to open a store on Reverb.com with the first products being my “Jack of All” DS-1 mod and the Kingman.

Nice to have something work on the first attempt after some months of experimentation, frustrated Googling, and spending money on parts I wasn’t sure I’d need.

If you’re interested in the Kingman and have my email address, please reach out; I’ll be ordering parts this coming week. If you don’t have my email, I’ll be sure to announce the opening of the Reverb store here.

* My old pedalboard, back to howie&scott days

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!

Adventure Capitalists (Rob Spectre) EP Out Now

Stream and/or snag the debut EP from Adventure Capitalists (featuring Rob of Arturo Got The Shaft infamy) at https://www.adcap.biz/ and https://soundcloud.com/adventurecapitalists/sets/mvp !

Rob, James, and Business Cat have planted the flag of the geek rock revolution farther inside the neoliberal front lines than ever before, celebrating and skewering the dot com economy with equal nerve and verve. Check it.