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CUBISTEFFECTS WORKSHOPS AT SOUND SUMMIT 2011

Sound Summit is an annual conference for independent artists, labels and people keen to explore and support brilliant, independent music from Australia and abroad. Held in Newcastle since 2000, the festival over the October long weekend sees panels, discussions, workshops and lots of live performers and bands who take on an experimental approach to their craft. This year the festival is headlined by MONO (Jpn), Moon Duo (USA) and Wet Hair (USA) and a long list of excellent Australian bands.

Last year I was proud to put on a wild fuzz pedal building workshop, and in 2011, cubisteffects is coming back for TWO workshops!!

This year I’ll be doing a workshop called D.I.Y ELECTRONICS.  This workshop/demonstration aims to show the DIY musician how to apply simple electronics know-how and a box of everyday items to make playing/recording interesting. The workshop is for everyone, especially those who have never soldered before. A basic introduction to soldering will be given as well how to create basic hand-made instruments. Learn how to make and repair basic cables that always seem to break at the most inconvenient time. Microphones will be made out of random toys and objects. See how to make contact mics from simple piezo transducers, and some pre-amp ideas to boost your weak signals. Also, learn the basics of circuit-bending. Bring along a toy, let’s crack it open and see what noise can be had!

The second workshop  will involve creating your very own basic CMOS MINI SYNTHESIZER from one CMOS chip. Learn the basics of analog synthesis, and how to unlock a wealth of oscillations and drones using these cheap and easy-to-find IC chips. At the conclusion of the workshop, you will walk away with a dual oscillator squelch machine that would make Bob Moog proud! Super limited capacity, so first in best dressed. A setup much like the pedal workshop of 2010, this time a small droning noisemaker. I will be putting up a video soon of the little beast on my Facebook page for those interested.

Program details and (small) costs for the workshops will soon be up on http://www.soundsummit.com.au/. Follow them on Facebook for the latest news, announcements and cubisteffects workshop details.

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LINE 6 M5 STOMPBOX MODELER FEEDBACK BOX MODIFICATION

The Line 6 M-Series Stompbox Modelers are the next incarnation of multi-effects from the makers of the DL4 Delay and other XX-4 modelers. The Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler has become a modern stompbox classic, with it being featured on many musicians pedalboards, like solo performers such as Reggie Watts to the multiple DL4 setup of Minus The Bear guitarist Dave Knudson.

The Line 6 M-Series takes the 100+ models from the DL4 delays, MM4 modulations, FM4 synths/filters, DM4 distortions and reverbs from the ToneCore Verbzilla to provide every effect any musician would want, and need. The range features three models, the monolithic M13, the DL4-sized M9 and the small M5. For those familiar with the original XX-4 series, you will jump straight into the M-Series, but new users will find the pedal easy to navigate. I have found a way to add my popular DL4 modifications into the M-Series and have done so first with the M5.

Two of the most popular mods I offer on the Line XX-4 series are an Expression Mod and Feedback Mod. I was able to put both of these mods into a breakout box for a mod I call the Feedback Box Mod.

The Expression Mod utilises the Expression Pedal functionality that many users don’t capitalise on. The mod allows you to save a heel-down and toe-down setting for each preset. If you have a Tube Echo, for example, you can increase the drive, and repeats at toe-down to shoot the echoes into self-oscillation. Or if you have the Rotary Drum model, you can control the speed of the horn for a subtle sound to a fast Leslie tone.

The Feedback Mod involves re-routing the output of the Modeler back into the input, and the new output selected by a switch on the breakout box. This is a feedback loop, and causes spontaneous bursts of noise, squeals, oscillations, drones – all unique depending on the modeler selected. This modification is definitely for the more adventurous musician, but with every effect, the feedback can be used subtly by adjusting the BLEND and INTENSITY knobs on the breakout box. Also, the feedback can be controlled via the pickup selector and volume controls of your guitar.

Having the two mods in the one box enables a wealth of experimental sounds from long, feedbacking reverbs, to resonant ring modulators, to static-like short decaying fuzzes. The experimenting is up to you with over 100 models to try!

Below is a demo of the Feedback Box mod for the Line 6 M5.

Clip Details: Hamer Flying V> cubisteffects modded Line 6 M5 Feedback Box Mod > MI Amplification Megalith Beta
Recording: SM57 in front of MI Amplification 4×12 (Custom MI Eminence Wizards) > Mbox2 > Logic Pro 9

 

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MALEKKO SPRING CHICKEN REVERB DWELL MOD

The Malekko Spring Chicken is now a discontinued pedal and becoming a collector as one of the great spring reverb emulators. At its core is a reverb module, commonly called the “Belton” brick after the manufacturer. It seemed as soon as the brick was made available, a whole gamut of builders started making the same reverb pedal such as the Neunaber WET, Wampler Faux Spring Reverb, Mr Springgy, Hermida Reverb as well as two DIY kits (1), (2) for those so inclined.

Compact in size, the Spring Chicken has just one knob – CLUCK – and controls the mix of dry signal to reverb signal. It can be used sparingly, to emulate the reverb of a classic Fender amp, or at maximum provide a real slappy spring emulation. The Spring Chicken also comes with an Expression Pedal jack to control the cluck by foot. However, a second version of the Spring Chicken soon appeared, the LE, that had another, unique control to the others on the market – DWELL. This mod pushed the spring sound to a far bigger reverb, allowing the control of the decay of the repeat from short spring slapback into huge soundscape cave reverbs. The LE was limited edition, but the Dwell mod is well sought after to expand the functionality of the pedal. It was offered directly from Malekko for a time, but they then moved on to the Omicron sized Chicklet reverb pedal – a unique design in a tiny box.

I have performed the DWELL mod to this Spring Chicken, fine-tuning the mod to create self-oscillation at maximum CLUCK and DWELL. By using the expression pedal, the amount of feedback/oscillation can be tamed and swelled in for a really unique effect. The pedal now behaves exactly like the rare LE pedals, as seen in the demo below.

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CUSTOM SITAR SWAMI T-WAH NOISE BOX

This monster of a pedal is a bastard child – two rehoused effects and an original circuit, each circuit bent to hell to give a wide range of crazy sounds.

The first pedal is a Danelectro Sitar Swami, a flanger that has an octave down to simulate the drone of a sitar. The controls are LEVEL and EQ, which sweeps the peak frequency from the bass to treble range. The Sitar Swami has three circuit bends – one that self-oscillates the PT delay chip, one that creates a feedback loop before the delay line and another that interrupts the repeat rate of the delay chip.

The second is a Boss T-Wah – a “touch” or auto-wah that has a two-way up/down filter switch, SENSITIVITY and PEAK. This also has been circuit bent to create two different notch boosts that adds some drive to the signal as well.

The third is a cubisteffects oscillating fuzz circuit. A wild and diverse fuzz that can give you anything from gated, static sounds, to garage-rock 60′s fuzz to oscillating madness. Turning the level knob to max sets the oscillation mode into overdrive and can then be used as a standalone noisemaker. Add the swami and some T-Wah filter and circuit bends and this thing gets crazy real quick.

 

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TECHNO-TARI 2600 ANALOG SYNTHESIZER

The Techno-tari 2600 is an analog synthesizer that replicates a basic square wave synthesizer . It is a synth in its most basic form – but with a handful of controls, can provide anything from squelching Techno bass lines to glitchy arpeggios and droning bass notes. The Techno-tari 2600 provides thick analog synth sounds in a rehoused Atari 2600 console, as a nod to all of those computer game sounds from your childhood.

The basis of the Techno-tari 2600 comes from a well-known circuit by Forrest Mims. Mims has introduced many people to the basics of electronics and has done so with his many beginner’s books. Each of these books contain a wealth of information by providing hands-on learning with dozens of circuits to experiment with. One such circuit is based around the 555 timer and is called the Stepped Tone Generator (STG). This circuit has been made with many iterations, perhaps the most well-known of those called the Atari Punk Console. The circuit, and the name Atari Punk Console, intrigued me to experiment with the circuit and after several modifications, the Techno-tari 2600 was born.

NOTE: Before reading further, this block diagram from Music From Outer Space will serve as a glossary/explanation for the details I will describe. MFOS is an excellent resource for Synth DIY-er’s and is highly recommended for those interested.

After experimenting with the Mims’ Stepped Tone Generator, although it is a fun design, I found it sounding a bit thin and a bit limited as you had to press a killswitch or move the knobs around a lot to get the most out of the effect. But the pulse wave generated had a lot of potential as the basis of an analog synth as you had two controls over the pitch, PITCH 1 and PITCH 2. You could detune them, much like having a two oscillator (VCO) synth, to thicken up the sound and they seemed to work intuitively (i.e. the frequency of the stepped output is reduced in smaller increments as you move the PITCH knobs). So by having the VCO at its core, I added a circuit that emulated three more elements of an analog synth; a voltage controlled filter (VCF), a low frequency oscillator (LFO) and a voltage controlled amplifier (VCA).

One limitation of the original design as I commented earlier was the need to constantly move the knobs/switches to make it sound interesting. By adding an LFO, the waveform is modulated at a set rate leaving hands free to control other parameters. The RATE knob is used to control the speed and can give anything to a throb to fast Techno-speed beating to a drone. Setting the control at maximum is like having the original sounds of the STG.

The FILTER knob acts a tone control or VCF. Swept to its minimum, it acts like a high pass filter i.e. all high frequencies above a fixed point are passed through, cutting out the lower frequencies below the threshold. At its maximum, it acts like a low pass filter. This is subtractive synthesis at its most simplest – subtracting frequencies away from the whole (VCO) to provide a synthesised sound.

A FREQ switch allows a shift in octave of the oscilltor so you can go from chirpy, glitchy sounds to rumbling deep drones with one switch. Due to the change in frequency, the PITCH knobs act in a different relationship than before so experimenting here will give you a different low end result. Switch to the left is low frequency, to the right is high frequency.

Finally, I added a bit of a fuzz boost to beef up the filtered pulse wave, The stock sound was thin but by adding this VCA-esque stage, a thick squelchy sound is sent from the Techno-tari straight to the mixer/amplifier. The LEVEL control is the large knob and controls the final output of the signal.

The Techno-tari 2600 operates off 9V DC using a standard 2.5mm negative tip power supply commonly used to power effects pedals. It has an on/off power switch and OUTPUT jack for pluggin into headphones, mixer, amplifier or effects pedals.

So there you have it – the most basic analog synth with controls of each stage ready for pumping beats, squelchy bass lines or glitchy drones. Run it into an effects unit and come up with more sounds, like the ones in the demo below:

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CIRCUIT BENT ROLAND AP7 JET PHASER

I received a Roland AP7 Jet Phaser that was taken out of its original case (top left) and housed in a plywood shell and gigged to no end. The owner is Mitch Jones from Australian legendary post-punk band Scattered Order. The AP7 is a phaser/distortion pedal that provides the swooshing lead sound made famous by the hair metal gods of the ’80s. A six way MODE switch selects between two clean phaser modes, and four jet modes – a combination of differently filtered distortion plus phase sounds. There are also knobs for LEVEL (volume), RESONANCE of the phase and SLOW RATE. The final knob allows a “base slow speed” of the LFO of the phaser that is ramped up to maximum with a stomp of the FAST/SLOW switch. This take-off sound gives the Jet Phaser its signature sound.

I was asked by Mitch to move the RATE switch to a toggle instead of a stomp. In its place, a Mute/Killswitch was put in as he runs the effect into a mixer. The RATE switch is more of a ramp switch, with the rate increasing and decreasing much like a jet taking off! I was also asked to make the pedal extreme! So after much prodding around, I managed to find several circuit bends that took the pedal from an 80′s shred machine to a unique textured phaser. If you have heard Scattered Order, this will fit in quite nicely.

When circuit-bending I aim to provide a few different types of noises. Oscillations (sustained high/low pitched notes) are common, as are different EQ options by concentrating on filter/tone sections. I also like to add in some white noise bends and volume boosts to take the effect to the next level. Luckily, I was able to find all of these bends in this phaser. The video demo below shows the various EQ shifts in resonance, some white noise and some level boosts that work with different frequencies of the effected synth. Also, with circuit-bends being completely chaotic and random, some unexpected combinations of these bends gave some fantastic results.

After bending, I rehoused the pedal into a large new white enclosure, added the MUTE switch and a blue LED to show the rate of the LFO. The artwork is from the cover of a Scattered Order 12″ “A Dancing Foot And Praying Knee Don’t Belong On The Same Leg”.

The video below is a Korg Trident being played through the new AP7 and going through each of the circuit bends to show the combination of new sounds available.

C.

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CIRCUIT BENT MXR BLUE BOX OCTAVE FUZZ

The MXR Blue Box Octave Fuzz has been a unique and peculiar effect from its inception. The clean signal is taken and a two octave dropped square wave output is spewed out. You can control the blend with your guitar signal and volume of the effect with the two knobs – and that’s it. This effect is at its best with a strong line level signal or neck pickup, past the twelfth fret, for some really lo-fi bass lead sounds. The pedal is chaotic and wild and not one to be reigned in. It does not track chords or the high string very well and is known for its volume drop, even with the OUTPUT at 5 o’clock. So I tried to address these issues and make it even wilder.

This pedal is an original 1977 Script logo that came in for some upgrades. First, the pedal was true bypassed, indicating LED added, and a DC jack added. Then, I aimed to give the pedal a bit more of a volume boost. If you read about Blue Box mods, a common one is the ‘C11′ mod. This involves cutting the C11 capacitor off the board to give more of a boost at output. However each board is labelled differently so if you haven’t modded one before beware that the C11 does not apply to all Blue Boxes. This pedal didn’t even have markings for any capacitor but I was able to find a similar capacitor to bypass for the boost.

But finally, the owner of this Blue Box wanted it to be extreme so I went about finding some mods and circuit bends for a unique effect. This included a switch to select between one octave or two octaves down. The other small toggle on the face is a gated fuzz sound – an almost square wave tremolo that chops up the -2 octave drop. The top toggle is a big volume fuzz boost that bypasses the octave divider and provides a really nice fuzz sound that pushes the amp’s preamp for a great overdrive/fuzz sound.

If the pedal was wild before, I think it can now be called extreme…

Below is a demo from Dunlop showing the sounds of a stock Blue Box if you haven’t heard one before:

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ELECTRO HARMONIX MEMORY BOY EXPRESSION MOD

One of my all-time favourite effects pedals is the Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man analog delay. I have yet to find a delay (for me) that can beat that rich, analog warmth found in those bucket brigade chips. The dark, slurring oscillations, and warbling chorus and vibrato put the icing on the cake. This ad from 1977 I think shows the introduction of a pedal to the market that would change preconceptions of effects pedals forever.

I have owned a few of these, and fixed a few as well, and have watched with interest the launch of the new line of Electro Harmonix “Memory” analog delays. These include a more compact Deluxe Memory Man, a Deluxe Memory Boy, a Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai, a small Memory Toy and this pedal shown above, the Memory Boy.

The most interesting part of the Memory Boy’s features is the option for expression pedal. It allows you to control either the delay time, or rate of modulation, by foot on the fly. This feature, coupled with the insane modulation, changes the standard analog delay to a delay experimenter’s dream. However, a lot of musicians do not wish to use an expression pedal, or have it take up valuable pedal board real estate, so the cubisteffects Expression Mod aims to fix that.

The modification of the Memory Boy involves two changes;

  1. A small potentiometer is placed to the left side of the pedal and is equipped with a chunky knob that can be rolled back and forth with your foot – just like an expression pedal.
  2. The pedal’s circuitry is tweaked to provide wilder modulation sounds and for oscillation to be easily controlled using the Expression Mod.

What is now left is a pedal that can produce a number of unorthodox sounds by changing the rate of modulation or delay, and also a much more flexible and controllable delay. Check out the demo below for some examples of what the modded Memory Boy can do…

Details for the video demo of the cubisteffects Memory Boy Expression Mod
Clip Details: Hamer Flying V > cubisteffects modded Memory Boy > Marshall JCM600
Recording: SM57 > Mbox2 > Logic Pro

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LINE 6 MM4 MODULATION MODELER MODIFICATIONS

PLEASE NOTE: THIS MODIFICATION IS ALSO AVAILABLE FOR THE
LINE 6 DL4 DELAY MODELER and LINE 6 FM4 FILTER MODELER

The Line 6 MM4 Modulation Modeler is a multi-effect unit from Line 6′s popular Modeler range. Line 6 provided with this box, a got-to tool for any kind of modulation any musician would need – Leslie tones for the keyboardist, Mutron Bi-Phase for the funk, vintage Fender amp tremolo for the old-school guitarists and off-the-wall ring modulation for the experimentalists. Vox, Fender, MXR, A/DA… they are all modeled here to provide the next inspiring sound at a click of the switch.

Like the FM4, the blue MM4 has four footswitches that allow you to instantly recall four saved presets. The five control parameters allow you to select the Speed, Depth, Tweak, Tweez and Mix of each setting. Expression Pedal control allows you to morph between two different saved settings in the one preset. For example, heel down of the expression pedal can be saved for 50% Speed and 50% Mix and toe down can be saved for 100% Speed and 100% Mix. This lets you morph between these two settings and stop at any parameter along the way – useful for keeping in time with a fluctuating rhythm section.

The Line 6 Modeler range has gained a bad reputation as unreliable due to some design limitations. Firstly, the switches used are not on/off switches, but spring actuators that “click” a surface mount switch on and off. These switches feel unsturdy and are normally the first things to break. Secondly, many users noticed a volume drop when activating the pedal. The output level was affected by component values in the buffer circuit with varied levels of “drop” in different pedals.

The DIY community was pleased when pedal designer Jeorge Tripps (Way Huge, Line 6, Dunlop) released information in tackling these initial limitations, it led to a number of pedal makers and modders to offering their services to improve the Line 6 Modelers. Robert Keeley offers a hi-fi mod involving the replacement of IC chips for Burr Brown’s and some part-time modders (DRASP at Harmony Central Effects Forum) improving on the flexibility of the pedal. After intensive experimenting successes (and failures), cubisteffects now offers a number of modifications to the Line 6 Modelers.

cubisteffects offers not only a modification to rectify the initial design flaws but also has a number of modifications that can improve the flexibility of the unit, and some that push the pedal to become a new experimental tool.

STANDARD MOD

The Standard Modification involves three changes;

  1. SWITCHES – The spring actuators are removed and momentary SPST “soft-touch” switches are installed. These switches are screwed to the pedal chassis and are wired to the place of the switch providing thousands of clicks without touching the PCB.
  2. VOLUME DROP – Selected capacitors and resistors are removed and, if required, replaced with metal film components.
  3. LEDs – The four red LEDs are replaced with superbright, waterclear LEDs of your choice.

EXPRESSION MOD

A rugged 24mm Alpha pot is placed on either side of your preference. This allows you to use the Expression Pedal controls without having an expression pedal take up pedalboard real estate. The modification enables you to save and morph between two settings per preset by rolling your foot over the knob. Settings are saved as per the Line 6 instruction manual.

FEEDBACK MOD

This modification involves re-routing the output of the Modeler back into the input, and the new output selected by a switch on the top of the chassis. This is a feedback loop, and causes spontaneous bursts of noise, squeals, oscillations, drones – all depending on the setting selected. This modification is definitely for the more adventurous musician, but with every effect, the feedback can be used subtly. Most times the feedback can be deafening so it must be used with caution. However, I have installed a small knob that sits aside the switch allowing you to control the amount, pitch, speed of the feedback. A superbright, waterclear LED indicates whether the feedback loop is on or off.

The cool thing with this modification is that the MM4 becomes a stand-alone noisemaker or “synth” as a loose term. I found it best run through a mixer to control its levels more accurately and left as a table-top unit.

Other modifications offered are:

TWIN PRESET MODIFICATION

This preset lets you save two different settings per preset as per the Expression Mod. However unlike the Expression Mod, the two settings are selected via a stomp switch. This allows you to instantly switch between two settings without the need for an expression pedal. The selected preset is indicated by a superbright, waterclear LED.

DISTORTION CIRCUIT BENDS

WARNING: Volatile and extreme modification. Not for the faint-hearted.
This mod involves two circuit bends that work around the same principle as the Feedback Mod but are much more pronounced and distorted. Crackling, white noise, fuzzed insanity can all be activated via two independent toggle switches with a knob controlling the output volume for both. Superbright, waterclear LEDs indicate whether bend is on or off (but you can clearly hear them if they are on!)

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PROCO BRAT DISTORTION PEDAL MODIFICATION


After working on my cubisteffects Four Headed RAT modifications, I got this ProCo BRAT pedal in to see if I could modify the pedal in the same way. The BRAT was introduced as a cheaper version of the RAT, containing momentary plastic switch with FET switching, input/output buffers, different tone circuit to the RAT’s Filter circuit, and designed for high throughput manufacturing. The pedal sounded a bit thin and lacked the sustain of its big brother.

So I modded this BRAT in the same vein as the Four Headed RAT mods -  changed the capacitors to hi-fi grade WIMAs, tweaked the buffer circuitry, added a DC jack and a two-way switch to approximate the sounds of Mode 2 and Mode 3 of the Four Headed RAT.

What eventuated was a pedal that now sounded like a true RAT, and more. The pedal become more open sounding with improved clarity and attack in overdrive mode, and the distortion mode had thick harmonic sustain for days. The pedal was also able to clean up better with the guitar’s volume knob to go from a gritty low gain drive to screaming high gain crunch. Not bad for a pink pedal :)

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