modification

Music From Outer Space – WSG mods completed

MFOS WSG
Usually I will just post a couple images with brief descriptions of the process behind a project I post. But with the completion of my mods to the MFOS Weird Sound Generator I wanted to offer up a couple of the dos and don’ts I learned while working on this.

Dos

  • Do buy an Alesis Quadraverb on eBay for 10 bucks and use the 1 space rack case instead of buying something new.
  • Do save the seemingly useless Alesis front panel because you never know… you might need it (and I did).
  • Do take the time to measure twice, three and four times.
  • Do be prepared to find out that your measurements might still be wrong.
  • Do go with your instincts and spend the extra cash to make it look nice.
  • Do use pre-tinned solid wire (and save a lot of time).
  • Do drill or punch starter holes.
  • Do look up parts you’re unfamiliar with in Mouser’s four inch thick hard-copy catalog. It’s far easier to get an idea of what your actually buying sight unseen.

Don’ts

  • Don’t waste three weeks comparison shopping at on-line front-panel design shops. You spend a lot of time learning stripped down versions of proprietary CAD tools that can be enormously frustrating and in the end the price difference isn’t that significant.
  • Don’t do anything less than 2mm on the width of the front panel.
  • Don’t ever go back to stranded wire.
  • Don’t pass by the $20 Quadraverb and waste two and a half weeks looking for a better deal. 18 days is worth the extra $10 bucks compared to the money you save from buying new.
  • Don’t rush.

And lastly, Don’t do this:
MFOS WSG

When you can do this:
MFOS WSG

This is a nice shot of the whole unit which shows the excellent work the folks at Front Panel Express did on this. If you’re considering spending the coin on a custom front panel and on the fence about it I can say without reservation that my expectations were exceeded and I will never doubt that it was money well spent. Just make sure you have your measurements right. I made a couple mistakes which I was able to work around without major issue but it was at the expense of several days time figuring out alternative solutions.
MFOS WSG

You can see more images of the final build on Flickr here…

Jürgen Haible – Tau Pipe Flanger

Jürgen Haible from Germany redesigned the Tau Pipe flanger and documented the test and build in great detail at his site http://www.jhaible.de.

His site has more information than you could ask for when it comes to synth and audio effects DIY.  He includes schematics, block diagrams, design and test notes, high resolution pictures, mp3s, external links to resources, formula calculators, spreadsheets, etc.   He does this for over 25 projects.  It’s truly impressive.  Take a look at the images of his Tau Flanger/Phaser redesign…

Tau Flanger/Phaser Redesign by Jurgen Haible

Tau flanger/phaser redesign by Jurgen Haible

MIDI Ironing Board

The title says it all. This is way past old news but it’s still a gem. This photo comes by way of Flickr but it was taken at the first (as in 2007) “handmade music” event at Etsy Labs in Brooklyn NY, sponsored by Etsy.com, MAKE Magazine, and Create Digital Music.

Audio Test & Development Box

I frequently work on projects in the living room in front of the TV while sitting on the couch soldering away hunched over a disarray of wires, parts, wires, speakers, cords, breadboards, and tools. Whenever I want to work from the couch I have to go into the studio and make 15 trips up and down the stairs, cables, toolbox, parts boxes, soldering iron, etc. It’s always a major hassle. Then, when I’ve finally completed mocking something up on the breadboard and I want to test it I need speakers, headphones, a sound source and I have to connect it all with alligator clips. It’s really inefficient and makes me less apt to start a project because all I can think about is the huge mess it’s going to make.

So I decided to put everything I need into one self contained box; an audio test and development box. Below is a description of the parts and procedure I used to put it together. If you’re in a similar situation hopefully this will give you some inspiration to come up with a solution that works for you.

If you want to see all the project photos in high resolution you can find them on Flickr here: Audio Test Box Images

Initially I needed to build a box. I looked through all my scrap wood and it was all ¾” plywood which would be way to heavy. The smaller pieces were odd shaped and unusable. I looked at everything from cookie tins to shoeboxes and didn’t like anything I was coming up with. I checked Wal-Mart for something I could get cheap and hack into what I needed but I didn’t find anything there. Then I went to Hobby Lobby because I remembered they had some project boxes for putting flower displays in. After looking through the whole store though I found the perfect box. It’s a miniature “child’s desk” with a top that lifts up. It was exactly what I was looking for, I just didn’t know it. Best of all, it was only $15. You can find them here: Wooden Child’s Lap Desk

What I wanted was a box which had a variable DC power supply, an AC jack, an amplifier, speakers, an audio source, an AC outlet for the soldering iron, a place to put some tools or parts, a quick way to hook up audio ins/outs and DC voltage, and room for multiple breadboards.

Most of it I was able to find around the house. Here are the guts from a pair of old busted up (but functional) computer speakers. These had been lying around for years. But even if I didn’t have them I see them all the time at Goodwill for a couple of bucks. It was a bit of a pain to crack these open. Most of them are manufactured so you can’t service them so you have to break the seal on the plastic to get to the guts. I just used a screwdriver and pried the crap out of it until it snapped. Dirty but easy.

The DC power supply I used was one I had purchased a couple of years ago for a project. It’s a Meanwell Switching Power Supply that I picked up at Fry’s. Fry’s is one of the last few national stores that still carry electronic components. It’s convenient if you need something right away… just hop in the car and get what you need… but be prepared to pay a premium. Anyway, this is the power supply:   Meanwell Switching DC power Supply I’ve used this power supply dozens of times and it’s great. AC in, DC V+ and V- out with a neutral earth ground. The voltage is adjustable from 10 to 15V DC which covers just about anything I’ll ever do.

Skipping ahead, I started drilling and cutting openings for the parts. Depending on what you’re using for parts and a box you might have to do something different but this worked well for what I was doing. The two speakers in the bac and the AC cord jack on the front right corner so I could comfortably plug it in. I used two tools to cut the holes. The circles were cut with a Dremel tool and the rectangular hole I used a chisel. The wood on this Hobby Lobby box was really soft so chiseling out a hole only took about 10 minutes. One word on chisels… never use them for anything other than wood, store them safely, and keep them oiled. Nothing worse than a fucked up chisel.

The speakers fit perfectly in the back corners of the box. I really couldn’t have built something better than what I bought at Hobby Lobby. And like I said, the wood was really soft so I was able to screw in the speakers directly into the wood using the screws used in the original plastic enclosure. This was much easier than sifting through bins of spare parts finding something to fit. Screwing in the AC jack was equally simple.

Next I installed the amplifier section of the computer speakers. I wanted to use the original DC power supply that came with the speakers so I wasn’t running it off of the supply I’d be using for a project. I simply screwed in the transformer directly into the wood. Now, this probably isn’t the safest way to go about this. The wires are exposed, and there’s no heat sink so do this at your own risk. Next I needed to attach the amplifier to the box. I didn’t have any standoffs that were the right size and the mounting holes were in awkward positions. I decided to make my own brackets. I frequently make brackets for projects using ½” brass strips. You can find these at pretty much any art supply store or train/model hobby store. They’re cheap, really strong, easy to bend, and easy to cut with a Dremel. A couple cuts, bends, and holes drilled and I was set up. I used mounting screws and nuts to adjust the height and stabilize the front of the circuit board

So when soldering it’s important to keep a wet sponge near by to occasionally wipe the tip. I made my own little portable holder that I’ve used for years now. I love Pillsbury’s Flaky Supreme cinnamon buns. When you’re done baking them you slather on that super sugary frosting and they’re delicious. I keep the plastic containers that the frosting comes in and wash it out, cut two plain old sponges in circles and plop them in the plastic container. Add water. It’s just the right size and stays wet for a day or so. Only problem is that it slips and slides all over the place which can be a hassle.

So, to keep the sponge from sliding all over the place and keep it at arms length I chiseled out a circular depression in the top of the box which the plastic container can rest in. Again, the wood is soft on these boxes so it didn’t take long at all. Just took a little patience so that I didn’t slip and chisel out a huge piece of wood.

Next I wanted a built in outlet for my soldering iron so I didn’t need to keep an extra power strip handy just to use one outlet. I went to home depot and bought a wall jack with only one outlet. In this instance I bought a safety outlet. I figured since I’m mounting the outlet directly to wood, with no switch, or fuse the least I could do is get a safety outlet. I’d suggest putting in a power switch and fuse if you try this. Chiseling out this hole took a bit longer and the wood needed to be notched out so the outlet would sit correctly. Also, because of limited space on the side panel I had to trim off the ends of the mounting brackets (not shown in this picture). The Dremel saves the day again.

Skipping ahead, here’s the AC wired up. I stripped out the heavy gauge wire from an old busted power strip and trimmed it to size. I added some heat shrink tube for color coding. The wires on the end of the AC input jack needed to be soldered but on the other ends I crimped on some spade tongues so I could connect/disconnect the wires quickly and easily if needed. I did this for all the AC lines. The wiring is pretty simple. White and black or the power inputs and the center is ground. I go from the input to the outlet to the power supply. Not visible in this picture is the AC power going to the amplifier in a similar fashion.

I had to drill a number of holes on the lid of the box so I could mount binding posts, switches, and jacks. Because the wood was ½” thick I needed a small hole on one side and a large hole on the other to fit the body of the component. Drilling the small hole is easy. Just choose the size that matches the width of the threaded mount on the component. To make a larger hole that sinks in to the correct depth I use an old trick. Measure the depth you need up the drill bit from the tip and then wrap a bunch of masking tape around the drill. Now drill your larger hole over the smaller hole and only go as deep as the tape. I tend to add a lot of tape so in case I push to hard the tape actually stops the drill so I don’t go all the way through the wood and ruin the hole.

Here I mounted three binding posts across the top of the box for DC power. I simply drill holes and screwed the plastic posts into the holes. The wood is soft so they took really well. I did have to tweak the size a bit with a round wood file but that was minimal. Because you can’t get in under the top of the box it’s necessary to solder the connection wire to the bottom of the binding post before you screw it in. I made sure to use heat shrink given the proximity to the DC & AC power wires.

Here are all the binding posts jacks, and switches installed followed by an image of the underside of the lid. All jacks were wrapped in heat shrink tubing. I tidied up the wire using staples from a staple gun. Instead of using the staple gun though I gently pushed the staples in with needle nose pliers so as not to knick the wires. After I had put this all together and tested it I was having a hell of a time getting the audio out to work right. The wiring wasn’t at all complicated so I had no idea what was wrong. I should have known though… one of my switches I bought at Radio Shack. So besides being completely ripped off by having to pay $3.99 for a $0.20 switch, I also got totally hosed because their parts are worthless shit.

These last two are the finished box (for now). You can clearly see I can fit around four or five breadboards vertically on the top of the lid if need be and all my ins and outs are in easy reach. The lid opens up and provides enough extra space to keep the AC power cable, a soldering iron, the sponges, some solder, needle nose, a pencil, or whatever. On the second picture if you look inside you’ll see a little RCA .mp3 player. I bought this at Wal-Mart for 30 bucks. It’s 2GB mp3 player/flash drive that runs on 1AAA battery. What I’ve done is load up 25 clips of various types of instruments or sounds. Guitars, vocals, drums, bass, synths, full songs, etc. This way when I’m testing an audio circuit I’m working on I can listen to how instrumentation actually sounds running through it. And when I’m done I can grab it and go. I used to have an iPod and lost it… which I was OK with because iTunes irritated the crap out of me. This thing was super cheap, has plenty of storage for what I need, and all you need to do to add .mp3s is drag and drop.


And last but not least, here’s a poorly drawn diagram of the entire operation. I’ve set it up so that either an internal or external audio source can feed the development circuit via the internal .mp3 player or an auxiliary stereo ¼” jack. Just connect the input binding posts to the circuit you’re working on (left, right, gnd). If your not working on a stereo set up I’ve added a mono/stereo switch which merges left and right and sends it to the ‘left’ binding post. Second you can easily hear the impact your circuit has on audio I’ve added a bypass switch so you can toggle between your circuit and direct audio out. Third, when the audio exits your development circuit it feeds into the binding posts on the right which subsequently feed the internal amplifier and speakers. Should you prefer to send the signal out to an external amp (or whatever) you can do so via a second stereo ¼” output jack. If the signal from your development circuit is mono, there is a stereo mono switch that sends the mono signal (connected at the L binding post) and feeds it to both the L & R inputs of the internal amplifier. I’ve tried to draw it out so it makes more sense than I’ve written it here. Of course, if you have questions just leave a comment or email me.

Click for Hi Res

MC303 Mod-Blue LEDs & Burr Brown Outs

I remember I though this thing was so rad when I first bought it back in 97-98ish. These days it pretty much collects dust except for the occasional use of its arpeggiator. Nonetheless I thought it would still benefit from some blue LEDs under the keys. What can’t be seen is the addition of two Burr Brown OPA132 Op Amps to the output section. They won’t do much for the timbre of the lousy PCM samples but they do make the outputs sound brilliantly crisp.

Jakob Lysgaard and the Dub Siren

JakobLysgaard

Jacob Lysgaard recently contacted me while he was working on building the Dub Siren I posted here and on Flickr. His documentation and description of the required parts, where he bought them, his findings, troubles, and experience while building it is far more informative than my images and flagrant plug for Bastard Jazz.

I’m happy to see someone has not only successfully built the dub siren but is finding use for it in their performance. All the best to Jacob.  You can find the post on his blog here:  DYI Dub Siren – the complete rubdown.

AD633 Ring Modulator

This is a Ring Modulator or similar sounding effect box based around the AD633 (Analog Devices Four Quadrant Analog Multiplier). The original design is taken from Roman Sowa. His website has further details on his design and the schematic I used as a starting point. The above photo shows the finished version albeit without knobs. This is mostly because I, despite better judgment, bought pots from Radio Shack, and didn’t want to waste them. As you can see the shafts are just a bit long. No matter; they work.

I made a few modifications. The first was to remove the option to select AC/DC coupling. I felt that I had no need for DC coupling so I hard wired it up AC coupled. Secondly I added some gain on the clean channel. The clean signal was coming through a little light which I personally didn’t like. Lastly, I added a LED meter on the output volume which you can see in this picture. Using a LB1403N I made a level meter which increases as you turn the volume up. This doesn’t actually monitor signal level but the position of the pot. There’s no real purpose other than I like blinking, flashing, pulsating and adjustable lights on all my gear. Who doesn’t? It’s wired through a dual ganged pot with a trim pot to adjust sensitivity. The detailed photos can be seen at the full Flickr photo set.

From a distance the paint job looks OK but as you can see in the first photo there’s definite room for improvement. Wet sanding, Clear Coat, and Polish would definitely help but it’s not a bad first run. The fluorescent paint however had a tendency to get ‘powerdery’ and presented some problems. Check the sound samples below to hear what it sounds like.

Many more photos and comments on the build can be found on Flickr here:
AD633 Ring Modulator

Sound Samples:
Before & After Number 1
Before & After Number 2
Before & After Number 3
Before & After Number 4

DJ Paul Digs Fuzz

dj-paul-digs

This is my second design from scratch that I put together for DJ Paul Diggs. He mentioned to me he wanted to add some fuzz to his Fender Rhodes and this seemed like a great chance to take a stab at an original design. Well, almost original. The distortion circuit is a portion of a larger circuit which I found on the web but unfortunately did not document. The remainder however, the sweepable low pass filter and second tone control I added in myself. Overall this is a pretty versatile sounding fuzz box with a pretty wide range of tones. It utilizes diode clipping so it still can be a little harsh although with the filter and clean/dirty mix you it can be tweaked for a nice sound. This is hopefully only the first version, I’ll be working with Paul to refine the tone and the layout to hopefully make this a perfect compliment to his Rhodes and bring about the sounds of classic rock years gone by like those from Joe Zawinul and the likes of Weather Report… though that’s just my taste, I’d bet it will end up a bit different.

This time I actually took notes and threw together a schematic. I’m hardly an engineer and my understanding of analog circuits is elementary so I welcome suggestions and criticisms from anyone familiar with these types of things. As with the other projects you can see detailed photos on the build at Flickr.

More photos, comments, and the schematic can be found on Flickr here:

Paul’s Fuzz

Sound Samples:

Unfortunately I neglected to sample this box before popping it in the mail. Version II will definitely have samples. That will be better anyway.  Incedentally I’ve repalced this fuzz with a better one.. the Big Muff Mod.