What is it?

I probably shouldn’t mention the name. But it’s a certain “transparent overdrive” which currently sells for somewhere between $500 to $1500 or more and is surrounded by crazy hype. As you can see, my build of it looks a lot like spaghetti but actually sounds… golden. True to the hype this thing sounds radical, if you are waaay into classic rock.

Built to order for a client, decked out in megarad gold Hammerite, cream knobs… already miss the thing a li'l bit.


Finally completed my replica Sola Sound Tonebender Professional MKII. This is easily the most perfect-sounding fuzz/distortion tone I’ve yet created: it sounds just raw, defined and awesome on guitar or bass. Thus the intricate paint job. Matched germs from Smallbear, true bypass, obnoxiously bright waterclear green LED and no VOLUME control. For the moment, wired positive-ground, but I have a negative voltage inverter daughterboard to add to it so it can be daisy-chained. A beast. For sale too…

another for a client, this one’s a copy of the vintage EHX Pulsar, |\/|ark’s layout as usual. this thing sounds nuts. Every speed, depth and switch setting sounds like a whole different effect. subtle but so awesome. ennio morricone

back in business.

This one I built for a client. An easy-to-use distortion that RULES for metal. Modded D*A*M Sonic Titan without Tone or Volume controls. Just a drive control that works a little differently… noon is off, no volume. Clockwise from here is the rad distortion mode. Counterclockwise is a more mellow but still loud overdrive. Great for… Matt Pike ridiculously high-gain tones, and very loud output in a very small (1590A) enclosure. Very pleased with this one. More to come…thanks for waiting

what have I been doing?

Well, pictured is my prototyping breadboard with a circuit for a Sola Sound Tone Bender Professional MkII assembled. The three germanium transistors are a matched set from Smallbear. Other than that: six resistors, five capacitors, some wire, and that’s Jimmy Page’s fuzztone. Not pictured, the purple wires go to a 1K trimpot because I didn’t have any regular pots in that value; I don’t really like to turn the fuzz down anyway (doom) so I will probably take it out when I put this onto perfboard.

Also, the red wire is alligator-clipped to the negative lug of a power jack, and the black wire is clipped to positive. Why? This is a positive ground effect, which means that the current flows the opposite direction from most 99% of other circuits (not just effects circuits; almost all modern technology uses a negative ground standard. Wiring the power and ground wires backwards works, but this pedal can not be daisy-chained with others, so I will install a battery snap when I box it up. No problem.

What else? a first build on perfboard. I should’ve taken a picture of the solder side of this – that’s the interesting part. either way, it’s a Fuzz Face, using BC108 silicon transistors. sounds great, 8-bit like with higher fuzz settings, smoothing out a bit with lower input volume to crackly warmth. really this is about as simple as one can get… audio goes in, 820n capacitor (my own choice of value… more bass, more fuzz), over to first BC108, amplified, sent to second BC108, a pot controls how much signal is sent to ground between the transistors, another 820n cap at output (original called for 10n… too trebley for me), some resistors, etc. Call it a day. R.G. Keen has a much better explanation of how it works, too. mostly sharing this because I built directly from the schematic and soldered point-to-point – no ‘cheating’ with copper vero strips. Learning. that’s that for now.


oh, btw I also put this together in about half an hour, based on a layout from Beavis Audio Research (which I could only find here). I just took out the effects loop function for mine. this thing creates a completely passive (no LED no battery) FX feedback loop. it’s definitely a weird and interesting experimental noisemaker. it would be useful with a delay or echo in the loop for ambient oscillation soundscape-things, or, it could have functionality similar to the Boss FB-2 with an overdrive/distortion in the loop… either way, messing around with the knobs in the loop and the one knob on the box itself (blend control) makes some neat pitch-shifting warbly synth noises that are just, a joy.

based on |\/|ark’s layout of the “Seamoon Funk Machine,” I built this glorious t-wah (autowah). I also had a buffer board lying around (a clone of the Klon buffer) and had read that a buffer might give better results before this effect so I installed it in the signal path, switchable via a toggle. Pretty pleased with the guts on this one but I haven’t gotten the DPDT’s wiring in yet so I won’t post ‘em. Not visible in the photo are two extra 3/8" holes in the sides I drilled before realizing the jacks wouldn’t fit with the stomp switch in that position so…. awesome. Still, I fit two boards in here just fine with all components facing up so that rules and leads the way for effects in the future with switchable boosts or fuzzes with overdrives built in…
not feeling 100% pleased with the crackly white paint job on this but I’m glad I finally found a w.o.n.d.e.r.f.u.l use for those disgusting gold knobs I’ve had forever.
as for the sound on this one, it rules, it has a pretty odd response to dynamics which I still haven’t quite figured out, but sounds funky and quacky nonetheless and I’ve had more fun with it than the EHX Q-Tron I owned and liked for about 5 minutes.

here 'tis

what? an out-of-focus photo of my latest circuitboard project?? absolutely. my pleasure. this is a redux of the first circuit I tried to build on stripboard, the “Green Russian” Big Muff Pi. a couple items of note; here I used my new red mylar caps to great effect, and more importantly and excitingly, my small collection of tantalums came in use (the small round yellow things… all 1uF in this build replacing all polarized caps in the audio path). also outmoded 1N914 diodes for maximum uh,,, something. there’s some originals going on eBay for about $400 right now..apt because these are a piece of history (read about it on Kit Rae’s page)! but, I built a sound-a-like for just under ~$10 and just a couple hours of work. really, I cut, sanded, and stuffed the board in about an hour last night and finished some quick wiring in another small hour today, as seen below. just three pots and a tone switch and no debug necessary it’s DONE. an ugly greenish box for it to go in, labeled ‘the PIG’:
those alligator clips are my new testing method; right now they are connected to a standard in/out/power jack setup in an otherwise empty enclosure, this allows me to quickly make the connections and test circuitboards, it’s great!! tried it out briefly and the tone this thing makes is incredible, bassy as hyped and capable of great doom, certainly. very stoked on this project which has been several months in the making! interested to try it though an actually decent amp, and into my other beloved complete project, the Way Huge Red Llama.

I don’t think I mentioned that previously. I built it cause I wanted 1 an overdrive to replace my beloved Marshall MG15DFX (which I actually do adore the sound of)’s drive channel so I’d have a full-DIY signal into a clean amp and 2 a loud-ass gain-boosting beast for super volume and it really satisfied both goals. love it and it’ll be hard to pick between it and the newly-completed BMP for favorite dirtbox… excellent.

PS a couple other things I have worked on: 
this is a copy of a devi ever circuit… the Ruby fuzz. this was a cuper-super-simple build, just a pair of MPSA18 Darlington silicons providing a ton of gain create a noisey, oscillating broken-sounding fuzz, although it doesn’t feedback terribly which is nice. this was a good break from building complex/pleasant circuits.

I also built just the buffer stage of a KLON Centaur… this is a bit of a legendary circuit, and I can’t say that with a brief test I discovered why. Sounds good, sounds like maybe my guitar sounds a little better through it… maybe? not sure. testing in high-volume environment would lead to more accurate results.

next? I’d really like to branch out into something that’s not fuzz/distortion/overdrive, although I love them. working on several boosts (AMZ, JHS, zVex SHO, and maybe others??), the Madbean Cave Dweller reverb/echo/delay which should be amazing, still debugging the MXR Blue Box, and I’d like to build some kind of tremolo next because I think they sound so rad, after that a phaser or chorus… feeling great about these sweet projects

boxing it up - stompbox completion

boxed my 4th complete effects unit – took an absurd amount of pictures detailing the process:

to start off, I have my complete and working clone (from |\/|ark’s layout) of the Earthquaker Devices Speaker Cranker - an overdrive. that’s the board for it there – it is damn tiny. perfect, I thought for a 1590A enclosure! commercial stompboxes are hardly ever seen in this size – maybe the idea is that bigger is louder?

all the tools for the job… i found it was good to sand the aluminum down a little bit. I also used some olive oil which…seemed to be good?? that bronze spike thing is a center punch, which reeeally helps to make holes in the correct places. the bits I use are:

½" for the switch and for the power jack
3/8" for the audio jacks
¼" for the 5mm LED and for the pot

here’s the thing with just the stomp switch in place. I found it was a really good idea to start by placing this so I could arrange the other hardware around it.

part of the fun of drilling without a vise: gouging your hand with a ½" bit. rad! jacks are in though, and a very unique cut for the 9v jack has been made.

a few holes for the LED and the single pot and we’re golden. I remove all the hardware I had placed and prime it with some auto primer I just bought. Just one coat does it - and honestly this greenish-gray would be pretty sweet by itself on a heavy-duty distortion, i.e Russian BMP. Someday…

then a few shots of this mini Krylon hobby paint – awesome yellow! I do something like 5 coats in all. Some bubbling and chipping occurs – oh well. Looks “old school”…

I hit it with several coats of Krylon clear and it’s good to go! shouldn’t chip and dries smooth and glossy – the thing’s color is not unlike the DOD 250 or Boss OD-1 – who decided yellow means overdrive exactly? Now to load up the box with all the good guts – fun!! I wire up the stomp switch using a new (to me) method from gaussmarkov. facing down on the switch lugs, with them oriented horizontally, it’s like this:

TO the circuit board | 2K2 resistor to LED | FROM the circuit board
IN jack tip lug | ground to OUT jack ring lug | OUT jack tip lug
bottom-right switch lug | top-left switch lug | bottom-left switch lug

..of course it’s explained better in gaussmarkov’s article.

aand the jacks. the ¼" patch cable is there to make sure nothing shorts when it’s plugged in on both sides… the pot is there too but its hard to see in this pic. PS the big huge 1uF input cap is out of its socket in this photo… obv I replaced it before closing everything up.

there’s everything! I had wanted to mount the circuit facing down (components visible with the enclosure bottom plate removed) but it ended up being too close to the 9v jack lugs. oh well! a small piece of double-sided mounting tape on the solder side of the board keeps it from shorting against the enclosure and…

that’s that. Yes that is an enormous stupid knob on it. how does it sound… with my badass 1972 Ibanez LP copy? killer. not as much volume boost as I had hoped but if I had read that writeup from Earthquaker at all before building it did say right there that it doesnt provide much boost. that’s not to say it isn’t loud, which it definitely is. loud and gritty, very nice. it won’t be replacing the glorious drive channel of my Marshall 15w which was the initial inspiration to build an overdrive anyways, but sweet sound nonetheless and of course I’m stoked to have made something that works.

Nexts for the drive project:

-I socketed the 2N3904 transistor on the board so, as usual I’ll try replacing it with something dumb-loud like a Darlington. Also maybe try rolling back the input cap value to something more regular and see how those changes sound.

-I’ve read a bit about the Red Llama from Way Huge providing a massive volume boost. Sounds good, I’ll try it in the future. I’m also working on debugging a Lovepedal Eternity board, which is the same as the famous TubeScreamer but minus the buffers. Lastly, since my real goal is to replicate the sound of the drive channel on my Marshall, I should just build Thor.

building on stripboard step-by-step

I’ve been eagerly awaiting a shipment from Tayda to start this project I’ve been wanting to build from the beginning: the MXR Blue Box! I’ve played through an official re-issue of this pedal and I love the sound… but I’d rather build one. Here’s what I do:
I start with a piece of stripboard (also called veroboard or prototype board). It’s made out of something like thin plywood with a grid of holes on the front and strips of thin copper on the back… so, any components mounted in the grid become connected with everything on that row. Convenient and a nice half-way point from working with perfboard (which has no strips) for complete DIY building. I’m building this up based on Harald Sabro’s excellent layout, btw.
Like I said, the stripboard is made up of rows. This is a bigger circuit though so we make some cuts in the strips to disconnect some of the components from eachother. You can use a drill for this but I prefer my trusty Leatherman… PS at this point I have already made a mistake and put the very first cut I made in this board in the wrong place… it’s good to be careful and precise but I just lack that ability sometimes. I bridge the incorrect cuts and the results are not pretty, but work.
Here’s all the cuts in place. You can see a few areas with bridges I had to make (mostly on the right side of the board in this photo) and how some of the copper is burned already… beginner’s solder technique at work here. This one’s a beast with 29 cuts total.

Now I’m populating the board. Starting with the jumpers! These connect the rows we just cut apart back together in the order they should go… I re-use wires cut from the ends of components from old builds for these, except a few longer ones which I use lengths of insulated wire for. Then I add the rest of the components, from shortest to tallest. I love this part! I could do this all the time and I wouldn’t mind if nothing I built ever worked (I don’t mind!), placing components is so satisfying.
First the diodes (the little orange and black things). These things are great. They’re responsible for the signal clipping that creates my beloved distortion. They’re about 2mm long but are utterly important! The original bill of materials called for 1N914 but I only had tons of 1N4148s, a more standardized modern replacement/equivalent. It would be interesting to get some of the original value diodes and compare the sound…something to try in the future! The resistors… I try to use just one material per build but a few of the values I did not have in carbon film (tan ones) so I used a few metal film ones (blues).

Now the sockets… in past builds I’ve used way more to socket the input and output caps, mostly to up the values for a bassier sound (for DOOM) but I opted only to socket the ICs and transistors this time. This is just a really good idea because these parts can be finicky, especially in germanium builds, and its easy to burn them up applying direct heat to them. PS that’s my 25W Weller which has some sweet built-in LEDs to help me see what I’m doing. Luckily the tip isn’t in the photo; it’s degraded almost to the point of unusability.

Here’s the caps. I like to use mostly all the same material if I can in a build, these are all Mylar film “Greenies.” The layout did call for one 330pF cap which I used a ceramic disc for, its barely visible in this picture behind the IC socket on the left. I love capacitors too… as I mentioned it can be very easy to hear the difference in the sound of a whole circuit by swapping one cap in the signal path. Some commercial pedals are marketed as entirely different “versions” (i.e. “for bass” or “for guitar” usually) which have just a couple changed caps between them. A single cap is responsible for the action of a tone control on a guitar, too. Rad…!

This somewhat “artsy” photo shows the ICs in place, on the left a JRC4558D from Small Bear, I wasn’t aware previously that these had a reputation as “mojo” pieces due to their use in the legendary TubeScreamer… just a dual op-amp in an 8-pin case! On the right is the special chip I bought (several of) just for this project, a Texas Instruments CD4013BE which is a “Dual CMOS Flip-Flop”… of course I don’t really know the technical details of what that means… but its responsible for the gnarly low-octave the Blue Box puts out. Also visible are the transistors, all three 2N3904s, simple and very common NPN low-power amplifier. Oh yeah and the electrolytic caps are in now too… these are mostly for power. Aluminum polarized cans and the tallest components on the board. And that’s all the on-board components btw. Phew!

Lastly the wiring. The two 50K logarithmic pots control Blend and Output and they wire up pretty simply. I’m using the last of my 22-gauge stranded here from RadioShack. There are a number of ways to wire the offboard components (audio and power jacks) but I like |\/|ark’s method. Wiring can be kind of the least fun part, but the Klein wire strippers I use make it pretty easy and, quite enjoyable sometimes!

Now to wrap things up my Blue Box circuit does not work yet. You can see in the last photo I left the (green) output wire to the output jack unconnected. This is because I figured I’d need to troubleshoot the circuit, which is the step I’m on now. About 2/3 of the board is working properly and receiving the audio so it’s just a little bit more debugging that’s left! That’ll be for next time, and I’ll take some better pictures of my next Scuzzbox build with a better camera… turns out the one on the Kindle Fire isn’t so high-res… woo!!

complete for the moment. simple toggle bypass works surprisingly well and it’s sounding great! first plug-in of my guitar sounded a little… tinny? like a speaker crapping out. made a few mods to the circuit: replaced input cap with a 1uf (original schematic called for a 680nf which I don’t actually have)… gives the fuzz effect noticeably much more “oomph”… more bass is let through and more distortion is created. I also swapped the first 2N2222A transistor for a gnarly MPSA13… a Darlington pair with thousands of times the current gain. sounds much more beefy and chunky than before… perfect! clearly the hole-drilling could’ve been planned a bit better but I definitely like this tiny, funky-looking but super-twisted fuzz. no LED, no battery snaps. a future mod could involve swapping input caps to make it more of a clean boost or overdrive. just needs a name now.

SUCCESS! my first WORKING build. I’m so excited about this one! it’s a Black Arts Toneworks Ritual Fuzz based on |\/|ark’s excellent layouts: it’s got two 2n2222A silicon transistors, a handful of resistors and caps, and only one knob (volume). I really took care in this build and I think that’s all that was needed to get it working. I’ve socketed both transistors and the input cap for experimenting, too. visible in the photo is the 1590A super-small box it’ll be mounted in, and that’ll wrap up my very first handmade pedal! feeling very accomplished and looking forward to building more,