Geek Archives

DIY Guitar Pedal Building Series

125-Enclosure-Model_thumb.jpgMy 2012 series on DIY Guitar Pedal building continues to draw visitors to planetz. I just went through and updated a few stale links, and I noticed that I never really posted entire table of contents for the series. So here it is. I also added these links to the top of each page. Better late than never!

  1. Intro to DIY Pedal Building
  2. Beginner’s Course in Sketchup, Modeling a 125B Guitar Pedal Enclosure
  3. Drilling a 125B Guitar Effects Pedal Enclosure
  4. Pedal Enclosure Finishing: Surface Prep, Priming and Painting
  5. Using GIMP to Create Pedal Artwork
  6. Printing and Applying Waterslide Decal to Pedal Enclosure

I also made a youtube playlist: DIY Guitar Pedal Building

Pickup Measuring Techniques

Pickup Measuring TechniquesI often refer to (and recommend) Helmuth Lemme’s article The Secrets of Electric Guitar Pickups.  The author succinctly describes the guitar circuit and discusses how each component of the circuit contributes to the resulting guitar tone.

Mr. Lemme recently got in touch with me, and forwarded me a new article Pickup Measuring Techniques that he wrote for Sustain Magazine.   The author discusses methods of characterizing the quality of pickups- from the useful (inductance) to the not so useful (DC resistance).  He also describes a Pickup Analyzer device for measuring pickups which generates an alternating magnetic field across the entire audible frequency spectrum and captures the results from the pickup, with a selectable load capacitance.  Neat!  Click here to read the article.  Thanks to the author for permission to share his article here with you.

Helmuth Lemme also has written a book- Electric Guitar Sound Secrets and Technology.

A PA Makeover

Welcome to John's worldI mentioned in a recent post how frustrating it is to mix live sound with my band, The Drop Daddies. After helping a buddy’s band with their recent ballroom sound check and being stunned by how good their sound was- I became very motivated to research and assemble a new PA for our live rig.   Well, the results are in. and the difference is astonishing!

Our old PA setupPrior to the new setup, we had been using an old powered Mackie 808s mixer, driving a pair of enormous passive Cerwin Vega 3-way 18” speaker cabinets.  We didn’t mic the guitar cabs effectively, so we had to blast the amps on stage to be heard in the back.  The result was a mushy mix, very prone to feedback because of high stage volume and lack of gates on the mic’s.  And it was a chore to adjust the mix, with the mixer installed at the back of the stage.  The mixer was underpowered to drive the speaker cabs, and the cabs were so heavy that we couldn’t get them up on stands, so the sound was directed at people’s knees.

What a mess!  We could never get a well-balanced mix- vocals were easily buried in the mix; you could rarely hear the harmonica loud enough;  the rhythm guitar was usually lost in the mix; and my lead guitar struggled to reach the whole room.  We bought a Feedback Destroyer to try to reduce feedback in the monitors, which certainly helped a bit, but was really just a bandaid.


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2 Million Views!


Just catching up on some replies today on my YouTube channel, and was surprised to see this on my channel!

Wow!  It seems like such a short time has passed since my channel reached the first million, but actually it was a year and a half ago.

In that time, I have indeed continued to play guitar every day – my chain is unbroken!  Unfortunately, due to work and band commitments, I haven’t had the necessary free time to produce many new videos and blog posts.  

Estimated Minutes WatchedSo, maybe it’ll be interesting to take a look at some stats for my existing videos.  2.5 million estimated minutes watched- that’s a completely mind-blowing stat! 

Of my 53 videos, the top 5 most viewed videos are:

  1. Potentiometers- How They Work, Disassembly and Exploration   (130,886)
  2. Guitar Ground: Dealing with ground noise problems (118,301)
  3. Guitar Tone Capacitors, part 1: Evaluating Material Types (114,661)
  4. Wiring Up Guitar Electronics 4, Connecting Tone Cap (111,317)
  5. Epiphone Riviera P93 Review (96,960)

Interesting to see the Epi Riviera Review video on that list.  It was my first video on YouTube, and was just a quickie one take low-quality webcam video, with lousy audio.   I’d obviously rather see that video fall to the bottom of the list, while my more well-produced videos get more attention.  But it is what it is!

As I say at the end of most of my videos-  “hope this has been helpful, and thanks for watching.”

Play on,


Don’t Break The Chain

CalendarIn my Millionth Anniversary video back in 2012, I talked about Jerry Seinfeld’s motivational technique for tricking yourself into getting things done.  “Don’t Break The Chain!”

Since February 19, 2012- I’ve kept my pledge to play guitar every day, no matter what.  That’s 660 days!  Yes, sometimes it’s just a few minutes right before bed.  But more often, once I pick up the guitar, I end up playing for a good session.

I no longer need to draw X’s on a calendar, as in Jerry’s technique-  I just know that I don’t want to miss a day.  This technique really builds new, effective habits.

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Satchurator Volume Mod

Vox SatchuratorMy pedal board is flush with overdrives, but sorely lacking in distortion.  I’ve never loved my RAT – it has scurried on and off my pedalboard over the years, never finding a permanent home there.  I’ve really been needing a solid traditional distortion lately, to use with my band covering tunes by Green Day, Blink-182, Weezer, etc.

I love my Vox Ice-9 overdrive, so I decided to try out the Vox Satchurator.  It’s apparently a boutiquey version of  the classic Boss DS-1.   When I received it, I immediately plugged in and lost myself in its glorious tones for an hour or so.  It sounds really really good.   Very different from my overdrives and fuzz.  It has a big, saturated, overtone-rich distortion.  Excellent for thick heavy leads, but also equally good for massive chunky rhythm.

So, when I first played with the Satchurator in a loud rehearsal context with my band, I was utterly disappointed to find that the thing just isn’t loud enough.   No, it doesn’t go to 11- not even close!!  Searching for answers, I see a number of other Satchurator users with similar complaints.   Even with the volume up full, I find there is very little volume boost when switching on the pedal.  And unlike the Ice-9’s 12db volume boost when engaging the “MORE” switch, the Satchurator’s “MORE” switch instead kicks up the gain voltage, providing more gain and distortion, but not much volume boost.

These pedals are a collaboration between Vox and Joe Satriani, and I’m sure these work great in the context of Joe’s live rig.  But in my rig, I need more volume out of a distortion pedal.

Reluctant to bail on the Satchurator, I instead decided to modify the circuit.  There’s no simple component change that’ll boost the signal, so I added an extra clean boost stage:

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Les Paul’s Estate Auction

Les  Paul Auction CatalogLester Polsfuss passed away at the age of 94 after a fight with pneumonia on August 13, 2009.  Nearly 3 years later, the property from the estate of Les Paul went up for auction in Beverly Hills, CA. 

The auction company put together a beautiful 400 page book listing the items of the estate.   In case they end up taking down the book, I have saved the PDF here (68MB) for posterity.

The estate items range from the awesome, to the slightly disturbing, to the nostalgic and the just plain silly. Let’s take those in order:

  • awesome: tons of guitars of all types, prototypes, design drawings and notes, amps, oscilloscopes and test equipment, electronics (pots, tubes, caps, transformers, etc), mixing desks and early multitrack tape recorders, and even some  hand-cut wood acoustic wall panels
  • slightly disturbing: his social security and union cards, Chase credit card, drivers license, passport, Christmas cards, and signed checks.  Oh, and a white terry cloth bath robe.
  • nostalgic: photos, awards, scripts and letters, the bronzed army boots that Les was wearing when he met Mary Ford, and his gloves and glasses.  Ok, also slightly disturbing!
  • just silly: $400 of used picks, a New York state license plate reading Les Paul, a signed vegetarian cook book from Linda McCartney.  Lots and lots of turtleneck shirts.   Apparently the license plate sold for $10,000!
  • I don’t know where this fits- but a  top-hat given to Les Paul but Slash (Valued at $6000-$8000! Hah!)

Man, did Les Paul have an amazing guitar collection!

Fender 1951 No-CasterIn addition to the gorgeous specimens from Gibson and Epiphone that you would expect, you’ll also find lot 722- a 1951 Fender No-Caster signed by Leo Fender (valued at $40,000-$60,000).   It actually sold for $180,000 (!) as documented in this handheld video from the auction floor.  That’s some kind of crazy, right there.

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A Little Love for the Les Paul Tribute Plus

Epiphone Les Paul Tribute PlusAfter nearly a year, I’m still loving my Epiphone Les Paul 1960 Tribute Plus.  I‘ve played a number of gigs with it and it has proven itself absolutely reliable and roadworthy.  It has really excelled in every situation – loud indoor gigs, scorchin hot outdoor summer gigs, and of course my everyday practice, both unplugged and amplified.

This model seems to be a diamond in the rough at Epiphone- a truly great collection of features, including the awesome Gibson ‘57 Classic pickups, for a very competitive price.  

140 Years. Epiphone Les Paul 1960 Tribute PlusI’ve often wondered why I haven’t seen Epiphone really promoting this model as much as it deserves.   Well today, I noticed that it’s currently featured on the front page of Epiphone’s website, as part of their 140 years (1873-2013) anniversary.  There’s a nice write up with a few choice quotes from Les Paul, and some gorgeous pictures. 

Maybe they’ve finally decided to seriously promote this gem of a guitar!

New Amplitube iRig HD interface

iRig HD with iPhone and AmpliTubeIn my series on building your own iDevice Guitar Interface, I demonstrated an interface which connects through the headphone/microphone jack.  This is similar to the commercial products like IK Multimedia Amplitube iRig, Peavey AmpKit Link, Griffin GuitarConnect.   And like all those, it works well, but it is not the most high-fidelity solution.

There are also a number of products that instead connect using the dock connector on the bottom of the iDevice, for example the Apogee Jam, Sonoma GuitarJack, Alesis iO Dock and Line 6 Mobile In.  These interfaces have their own A/D converters, and pass the signal digitally to the iDevice providing higher quality audio.   The downside is that you can’t charge the iDevice on battery while using the interface, which may be an issue for live performance and recording.

There’s a new contender in the dock-connected interfaces, and it looks pretty nice: the IK Multimedia iRig HD.  In appearance, it looks very similar to the Apogee Jam.  I prefer this style of interface, rather than the Sonoma, and Line 6 approach which have the entire unit hanging off the dock – that seems very precarious and likely to break the dock. 

iRig HD connector cabllesAlso, at $99 the iRig HD is cheaper than the $129 Apogee Jam.  If you have a newer iDevice with the lighting connector, the iRig HD is an even better deal, as it includes the lightning adapter cables as well as the older-style 30-pin connecter, and also a USB connector for use with a computer.

All that said, I’m perfectly happy with my DIY interface for practice, but if I was using it for recording or live performance, I might consider buying this iRig HD.

Alternative Pedal Enclosures from Rixen

Rixen Pedal EnclosuresIn pedal building, we almost exclusively see the Hammond-style diecast aluminum enclosures.  You know their names- the ubiquitous 1590B (aka 1290NS) and its plus-size cousin the 125B.  Then there’s the larger 1590BB, and the tiny and temperamental 1590A.     What these all have in common is the simple generic rectangular shape.

Rixen Chorus ExampleBut what if you’re a fan of the spring-loaded foot-pedal enclosures made famous by the BOSS and Ibanez pedals? 

Typically, the only way for DIY pedal builders to achieve that look was to buy an old pedal and gut it- but then you’re stuck with the original pedal’s drilling layout. 


Now there’s a new option- I just came across these new enclosures from Rixen Pedals.

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