DS-1 Fleet

For my own future reference, here’s the status of my DS-1s. I switched the battery covers and knobs to get them back to “stock.”

OG “Dark Satellites” and Lab

On the left is my first pedal ever, circa 2001-02 for use in No Front with a borrowed double cut Les Paul Jr. and AC30. Cole performed the Casper Electronics mod and did the battery cover art around 2014-15, I did further Casper-related mods in 2016, and recently I put a tone stack mod on a toggle hidden in the battery compartment. This unit will live on the synth minirig board.

On the right is the “DS-1 lab,” my research platform and repository of all of my favorite adjustments, from 2016. It’s a studio piece for guitar, mostly.

Pedal work

Been working on pedals for the past few weeks while I write Fight Songs lyrics.

From top left: V4 MV, DS-1 mods, 404 M 2 ST, R2-T2

These are all one-off builds for my own use.

  • V4 MV – Passive master volume control for my Ampeg V4 amplifier. Ampeg used to sell these as an accessory but they’re dead simple to make; a single potentiometer wired as a variable resistor. The amp is incredibly loud so this will help bring it partially under control
  • DS-1 mods. This pedal is literally my first, from around 2002 (except for the battery compartment cover donated from the “DS-1 lab” unit). At my request Cole modded it years ago with the Casper Electronics gated feedback/oscillation mod. I added my flat + LPF tone stack mod, tucked away on a toggle in the battery compartment
  • 404 M 2 ST – A passive mono-to-stereo passive pan box mostly designed for use with my SP-404 sampler. The 404 can record in mono or stereo, and has stereo effects, but doesn’t have any type of simple pan control to move things around in the stereo image. With this I can pan stuff as it’s being sampled
  • R2-T2 – Breakout expression box for the Pigtronix Rototron rotary speaker simulator (which mostly lives with my Roland VK-1 organ). The footswitch and toggle engage the Brake function. The knob can be plugged into either the Low or High Rotor Control to defeat the on-board Speed control for that “rotor.” If it’s reminiscent of anyone’s favorite droid, well, that’s a happy coincidence
Daylight Express Deluxe 1776 Effects ‘Plex Delay

Then, I made two of these (one went to Drew). It’s a dual delay based on the 1776 Effects Multiplex Jr. with custom additions and modifications. I’m not aware of any other pedal on Earth that does what this does.

There are two big things left on this summer’s soldering list: rebuilding my AX-60 synthesizer’s power supply (already under way), and fixing whatever’s wrong with Scottie’s Rhodes amp (I suspect just a bad joint or hardware connection). Then I suppose I’ll turn to the breadboard and design something. No shortage of ideas.

“Fight Songs” Guitars Are Done!

I finished guitars for Fight Songs last week, I think Friday night. The last few tracks were Motown-inspired guitar DIs using the setup below.

Something old, something new, something I made, something from Radio Shack. That’s how it goes, right?

Signal path, from the right:

Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone Germanium Gold Micro – Quite a mouthful for this little optical compressor. Picked it up used on a lark based on how much I’ve enjoyed the DOD 280 reissue, and the added blend and grit controls are nice additions.

Fulltone GT-500 – Haven’t used this in quite a while. As I was recording I decided I wanted a kind of cocked wah sound, but an actual wah was too much. The inductor-based mids control on the distortion side of the 500 was perfect cranked all the way up. Only used this for the EQ, it’s not doing any distortion.

Mr. Furious Audio Falcon Heavy Drive – Getting some 2nd harmonic saturation here, using the bridged-T mid notch, and shelving off some low end.

Radio Shack DI – This is a cheap transformer-based DI that works great for the vintage, bandpassed sound I wanted.

Next I’m going to take some time to get the mixes into rough shape, write lyrics (about half the songs are already done, maybe more than half), and do a bunch of pedal projects before I dive back into recording vocals and miscellaneous percussion. Then keys, backing vocals, guest artists’ parts, and… we’ll just about have a record.

New Ampeg V-4 Day

I impulse-bought an Ampeg V-4 and matching speaker cabinet this week.

The Beast

Price was bordering too good to be true, but it’s in pretty great shape considering it was built somewhere between 1972 and ’75.

Unfortunately the serial can’t be used to give a precise build date. The potentiometers, only viewable by opening up the amp, would.

I’ve hoped to run across a deal on an old Sunn or Hiwatt to pair with my Sunn 2×12 cabinet for a long time, but it was always a long shot. This isn’t quite the same sound, but it is in the ballpark of big, loud cleans and classic drive tones. I’m considering it an upgrade to both that Sunn cab and my Music Man Sixty-Five and its 1×15 ported cab, which will be looking for new homes soon.

Cool badge

This is a huge amp, physically and sonically. I tested it outside, and it was rearranging my internal organs with the volume on about 3. The head and the cab each weigh something like 80 pounds. The output transformer is the biggest I’ve ever seen.

It needs a little TLC from a good tech and I won’t get to turn it up very often any time soon, but this is a super cool upgrade in the big clean and bass-friendly amp department and my first all-tube vintage amp. (The Music Man has a solid state preamp.)

Back In The (Soldering) Saddle

I haven’t done any meaningful soldering since making last summer’s Thereatari, but I’m getting ready to. The other day I modified my Caroline Guitar Company Meteore reverb.

I always liked (and haven’t changed!) the sound of this pedal, but I had a couple problems using it: the sweep of the reverb volume knob made it hard to dial in the amount of reverb I want, and the “Havoc” switch went to instant oscillating madness when the size, regeneration, and gain controls were above about halfway.

To address the first issue, I switched out the stock anti-logarithmic “C” taper potentiometer for a linear “B” taper. No change in sound, but more fine control over low and medium reverb volumes.

For the second, I put a potentiometer wired as a variable resistor in the “Havoc” switch feedback path. This is the new knob on the side of the pedal. At maximum, it gives the stock sounds. As it’s rolled back, it reduces the feedback when “Havoc” is engaged. This is great because I can set the reverb how I want, and still get a useable sound from the “Havoc” switch (instead of immediate blaring chaos… though it can still do that, too!).

Had no problems, other than cleaning off my iron’s tip, so it was a good warm-up for summer projects like a pair of semi-modular delays for Drew and I, my AX-60 power supply (finally), and maybe a short run of pedals (probably a transistor boost). We’ll see how far I get on that list.

Van Ripper & Galactifader

Our own Cory Kibler and Mike Papagni are Van Ripper & Galactifader, a seriously funny and oddly poignant rap duo. You can check them out on Spotify below.

There’s no way to explain this music that makes it sound cool or real, but it is both. Mike is an incredible drummer, and Cory worked his way into bars that reflect his point of view without pretending to be anything he’s not or assuming any kind of weird affectation, and a delivery that manages to put a touch of edge into his dad jokes (“Extra Virgin” being Exhibit A).

Pluckin’ Away

I’ve been working steadily on guitars for Fight Songs, switching over from electric to acoustic a few weeks ago. I think I have six left, something like that.

Keepin’ it DIY

Most (all?) songs are getting two guitar tracks to start with. Then I’ll add some shakers and tambourines and other percussion and get the mixes roughed together before doing vocals. At that point the question will be “What details will help this song?” and the answers will be different for everything, “None!” being a viable option.

Mic is an Audio Technica PRO-37, which I am absolutely loving. It happens to be a very affordable mic, but it sounds like a million bucks to me. To my ear is has a full-frequency, flat-ish response for a small diaphragm condenser, and most importantly the off-axis phase cancellation that’s an inherent aspect of condenser mic design is minimized. Really great.

Finished Minirig

I finished the Monotribe-based Minirig – quite a while ago – and have had some fantastic jams on it, though I haven’t recorded anything with it yet.

Long story short, there’s drums, two synth voices, two drones (Thereatari, DS-1), and effects. It sits in a sweet spot of possibility and limitation; there’s certainly enough to keep busy and make a full, if minimalist, track, but whatever I make with it retains a kind of smallness befitting the rig itself.

One of the design goals was to build something that could be used for solo performance, and I hope to give that a live test soon.

All the geek stuff below.

Before I go into the different signal paths here, there are two important secrets to know about this collection of boxes:

  • The Thereatari (left side, multi-colored knobs) contains 3 circuits: the Thereatari noise synth itself, a sub mixer for the Monotribe’s external input (jacks on the Thereatari’s right side with attenuation knob), and a main mixer (jacks on the left side)
  • The Monotribe has been modded many ways, one of which is to separate the drum and synth sounds (mostly; there’s a bit of drum bleed in the synth path)

Signal paths:

  1. Korg Monotribe (modded) drum sounds > Ibanez PM7 phaser > VFE Triumvirate multiband distortion > main mixer
  2. Korg Monotribe (modded) synth sounds and external input > EHX Memory Toy delay > main mixer
  3. Korg Volca Bass synth > DigiTech Turbo Flange flanger > Boss DS-1 distortion (“Dark Satellites” modded; can be a drone oscillator) > TC Electronic Flashback delay > main mixer
  4. Thereatari noise synth > switchable: main mixer or sub mixer
    1. Sub mixer (inputs: Korg Monotribe synth sounds, Thereatari, extra jacks for other inputs) > Ibanez DE7 delay > Korg Monotribe (modded) audio input

Night Mode Data Visualization

I challenged myself to come up with a way to visually communicate the sequence of Night Mode recordings and releases, and the result is below.

Click to embiggen

OTHER was first recorded, and first released. Dirac Spike was second. So far, so good.

Then Damon and I made a collaborative album that’s finished, but hasn’t been released. In this chart that means it has an entry in the left side “Recorded sequence” column, but no line (because it doesn’t have a “Release sequence”).

The line for Gentleman Scientist was tough to place, but I went with its approximate recording sequence based on when Drew started working on it. This chart displays sequence only, not absolute time; there’s six months between Load Exceedance and Gentleman Scientist, then only one month from GM to Capsule even though the visual gap is larger. This choice prioritizes the story of artistic development from project to project over an accurate depiction of the passage of time.

You can see from the angled line how Your Pain Matters was recorded early but not released until much later. In contrast, we put out Thinking About The Meaninglessness… very shortly after I made it (shown by a nearly-straight line).

Our recent appearances on compilations with “No One,” “No Two,” and “Sonar Love” were sourced from the unreleased albums “Merritt” and “Murder Mountain.” They’re b-sides, not album tracks.

I did this in Excel, with a lot of customization of the data labels.