Friday, May 1, 2015

Boss Legend Series FBM-1, FDR-1, and FRV-1 Review

The Boss Legend Series pedals are modelling pedals which are made in the spirit of three classic Fender amps and effects, a 1959 tweed Bassman Amp, a 1965 blackface DeluxeReverb Amp, and a 1963 brownface Fender Reverb Unit. Note that of the three pedals, Boss has discontinued the Bassman and Deluxe Reverb pedals while the Reverb pedal still seems to be available through the usual retail channels. It is pretty easy to pickup the amp pedals on Ebay or Craigslist, as I did recently with the Deluxe Reverb pedal. Boss used modelling technology to produce these pedals so they are a bit of a black box in terms of how the sound of the originals is reproduced. The pedals themselves are typical Boss pedals, ruggedly built, buffered, with JFET switches, with both a 9 volt  battery and 9 volt jack. The chassis for each pedal are painted and logoed in the style of the original amps and effect which is a nice touch.

I have been playing these pedals for a few months now and, as many board threads have suggested, the pedals don't replicate the sound and feel of the original tube amps, however they are fun and useful pedals in their own right. Since I don't own a Bassman amp, Deluxe Reverb amp, or Reverb unit, I have not attempted to A/B the pedals with their original tube inspirations. Instead, I have used them separately and in combination with a couple different amps, a Fender Champion 600, a 5E3 clone, a Fender Deluxe 85 (a solid state amp from the red-knob era), as well as direct into an audio interface and with IK Multimedia Amplitude products through studio monitors.

As I am sure is true of many people trying pedals, I first tried each pedal with all controls set midway to get a sense of the base characteristics of the pedal. With each amp pedal I tried to set the controls so that there was no noticeable change in either the tonal characteristics, overdrive, and level with the pedal on or off. Both the Bassman and Deluxe Reverb pedals have gain and level controls, unlike the original amps, which allow a wide range of overdrive and level settings. For a clean setting set the gain low, say at 9 o'clock, and level at 12 o'clock. For higher overdrive/distortion levels the gain control can be turned up to levels that go well beyond the distortion that the original amps were capable of. There are numerous videos, including original demos produced by Boss that show guitarists using these pedals at levels similar to a fully cranked Bassman or Deluxe Reverb. I have found, however, that both pedals produce digital artifacts at higher gain levels, especially with the guitar volume control at 10 and with a harder hard finger or pick attack. Of course distortion is what you are looking for with a tube amp, but not digital distortion. These artifacts are noticeable even with relatively low output vintage Stratocaster pickups that are not raised especially close to strings. These artifacts typically produce a sound like the note is out of tune with itself, especially with bent notes. If you back off the guitar volume, to 8 or 7 the artifacts generally are less noticeable. Another characteristic of the artifacts is that once you start to hear them, it seems like they be eliminated by turning the pedal off and then back on again. It's almost as if the software algorithms can't handle high input levels and the pedal produces artifacts until it is "rebooted."

The other significant characteristic of both the Bassman and the Deluxe Reverb pedals is their characteristic tone. The Bassman pedal imparts rich, deep mid and bass tone typical of Fender tweed amps. The tonal character is highly tweakable as the pedal, like the original amp, has separate controls for treble, bass, middle, and presence. The Deluxe Reverb pedal, by contrast, imparts a throaty tone with noticeably stronger mids and includes separate controls for treble and bass. Here it's important to remember that the original blackface Deluxe Reverb had a tone stack that included a fixed resistor for mids rather than a tone pot, thus giving the amp it characteristic tone. Of course all of this is tempered by one's guitar, playing style, pedal use, speaker choice, etc.  It's also important to to remember that the amp that you are using imparts its own tone to the amp. The manuals that Boss provides with the pedals suggest that if one is using a solid state amp (such as the Roland JC-120, 'natch) that you boost the treble control slightly (1 o'clock) while if you are using a Fender amp that you boost the mids slightly (2 o'clock). Of course a tweed, brownface, blackface, or solid state amp is going to impart its own tonal characteristics to the signal coming from the pedal. Fender tweed amps have a pretty flat tonal spectrum while Fender blackface amps have a typical scooped midrange tone. What this means is that you really have to tweak these pedals according to the tonal characteristics of the amp that you are using, What sounds good with one amp could sound like complete ass with another amp. It takes time to find the setting that work best with the particular amp that you are using. After a bunch of experimenting I was able to get a pretty flat tonal and gain response from the Deluxe Reverb pedal with Gain 9 (o'clock), Level 1-2, Treble 1-2, Bass Max, and from the Bassman pedal with Gain 9, Level 1-2, Presence 9, Mid 12, Bass Max and Treble 1-2. YRMV.

The Deluxe Reverb pedal also includes stacked controls for tremolo and reverb. The tremolo effect was standard on all Fender amps from the blackface and brownface eras (as well as a couple amps from the tweed era), and the tremolo on this pedal emulates the optoisolator circuit of the blackface Deluxe Reverb. This circuit was an off-on circuit rather than the gentler and richer tremolo of the brownface era. You can tap to set the tremolo rate or set it using the pot while pressing and holding the pedal footswitch. When not pressing the footswitch the pot controls tremolo level. The controls are a little wonky, but a descent compromise given the space limitations for controls on Boss pedals. The reverb control is singular, the same as on blackface Fender combo amps with reverb. As in the original blackface amps, this control works by adjusting the mix level of the "dry" and "wet" signals (more on this below in my discussion of the Reverb Unit pedal). This feature of the Deluxe Reverb pedal unfortunately also suffers from digital artifacts. It works well at lower levels, say up to 10 or 11 o'clock. Higher levels result in digital splashes and echoes that are often out of tune or glitchy. Better to keep the level of this effect lower. It is possible, however, after tweaking the gain, level, and tone controls as above to use the pedal as an almost transparent reverb and tremolo effect which is especially handy when using an amp that has neither, such as a tweed amp.

The Reverb unit pedal is another beast entirely. It is modeled on the original Fender tube Reverb unit which was produced before reverb became widely available on Fender blackface amps. As with the original unit, the pedal has three controls, dwell, tone, and mixer. For those unfamiliar with these controls, the dwell control originally drove a tube that sent the signal to the springs, the tone control is self explanatory, while the mixer control controlled the mix between wet and dry signals. Note that the reverb control on blackface amps (and the Deluxe Reverb) are the same as the mix control on the Reverb Unit, the dwell and tone controls set by a fixed resistor rather than a pot. With the Reverb Unit pedal, the dwell pot controls the amount of reverb, which ranges from off in the 7 o'clock position to full-on drippy surf twang. As has also been noted on several boards, the tone control seems to work best at a maximum of 1 o'clock or so. The mixer control, as with the original units mixes dry and wet signals. As with the Deluxe Reverb pedal digital artifacts are noticeable, but only at higher dwell levels. There is also a noticeably shorter tail compared to combo amp reverbs, but this is not a problem when playing in a group. The pedal also sounds slightly sterile, as I can get a slightly warmer reverb sound out my Fender Deluxe 85 which is a solid state amp. The key here is to adjust the tone control to warm up the sound once you are satisfied with the overall level of the reverb with the dwell and mix controls. Overall the pedal is amazing and several threads on the pedal have indicated that people using this pedal rather than their original or reissue Reverb units at gigs or as backups.

As an overall assessment of these pedals, they are good sounding. This is especially true with the FRV-1 Reverb unit pedal. It is comparable to spring reverb on a combo amp and comes close to the sound of the original Reverb unit. Rather than think of the FBM-1 and FRD-1 as replacements or substitutes for a Bassman amp or Deluxe Reverb amp, think of them as overdrive pedals with a lot of tonal flexibility that add character to whatever amp you are using. You can also use the Deluxe Reverb Pedal as a transparent reverb and tremolo pedal. If you really want the sound of a Bassman or Deluxe Reverb there is no substitute for tubes and speakers. These are certainly useful and fun pedals.

Fender Mustang Dynamic Vibrato Loose Trem Arm

One frustrating aspect of the design of the Mustang Dynamic Vibrato is how the trem arm is attached to the stop bar--the small grub screw tends to unwind itself and allows the trem arm to fall out. When this happens you have to find the right sized Allen key to tighten the screw, but this isn't always possible when you are playing. I've read about few different solutions to this problem, including modding the trem arm by filing down sides of the arm so that there is a flat surface for the grub screw to press against, filing or griding a circumferential groove in the trem arm for the grub screw, using locktite on the grub screw, or using a threaded Stratocaster trem arm which stays in the hole better. Another solution which seems to work pretty well is to remove the grub screw and use a different fastening device. Right now I am using a 10mm M5 bolt that is usually used for bicycle bottle cages or fender mounting. The diameter and thread pitch of the M5 bolt seems to be the same as the grub screw, but bear in mind that this is for a Japanese-produced Mustang Dynamic Vibrato which I assume is produced to metric standards. If you are using an original U.S.-made Mustang Dynamic Vibrato this solution might not work, although you may be able to find another bolt with English measurements that would do the job equally well. The advantage of the M5 bolt is that it has a knurled head that sticks out beyond the socket that allows you to tighten the bolt by hand whenever it starts to loosen. It also takes a 4mm Allen key is you really want to tighten it.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Fender Guitar Sales Figures 1966

Here are Fender sales figures from 1966 included in Tom Wheeler, The Fender Archives: A Scrapbook of Artifacts, Treasures, and Inside Information (Milwaukee: Hal Leonard, 2014), p. 69. If you are really into Fender history and memorabilia this is a great book. The sales figures for electric guitars and basses are really interesting considering the usual perception of what the most popular Fender models were and are today. Most striking is the number of Mustangs sold, but also that Jazzmaster and Jaguar sales were not too far behind Stratocasters and Telecasters. Although Wheeler doesn't indicate this, I assume that "Specials" include custom finishes, gold hardware, binding, etc.

Total Quantity
Total Amount
Regular 2254


Specials 1125
Regular 2680


Specials 1416
Regular 3424


Specials 1955
Regular 3174


Specials 1054
Regular 77


Specials 39
Telecaster Custom


Esquire Custom


Jazz Bass
Regular 3226


Specials 1522
Precision Bass
Regular 4526


Specials 1914
Bass VI


Mustang Bass


5 String Bass


12 String Electric




Duo Sonic








Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mojotone 5E3 Deluxe Kit

This was my first attempt at building a tube amp from a kit. I should state first off that building an amp like this is not easy to do and it is especially difficult to troubleshoot when you have no idea what you are doing. It is a learning process, start to finish. In the end, however, the amp sounds great. I had been thinking about building an amp kit for a couple of years and was debating between B.Y.O.C.'s Tweed Royal, or a 5E3 (Deluxe) or 5F1 (Champ) from Weber, Marsh, or Mojotone. Mojotone put several amps on sale the week after Thanksgiving and I picked up a complete 5E3 kit for $500 plus shipping. When the kit arrived there were a couple backordered parts (including the fiberboard) which arrived separately within a few days, and one part which was mispicked, which Mojotone replaced immediately. The kit components are all high quality--Carbon Comp, Sprague, TAD, Orange Drop, and JJ and EHX tubes. The cabinet is unlacquered tweed and not drilled for the chassis. The only component which I wish had been different was the Jensen C12Q ceramic speaker. I would have opted for a P12Q alnico speaker or perhaps no speaker and ordered a Weber 12a124a separately. The sale price did not allow for substitutions or deletions, however. Mojotone does not provide detailed instructions for their kit. There is a 5-page general instruction pdf available on their website, and the kit ships with a schematic and layout, the later of which was most useful in building the kit. I ended up relying on detailed instructions for other 5E3 kits and, well, figuring it out as I went along.

Soldering components to the board is pretty easy.

I won't bore you with all of the details about building the kit. Mojo's website claims that the kit will take about 5 hours to build. I took about a zillion hours to put this thing together. I spent several evenings and a weekend putting the kit together, and many hours more troubleshooting, researching problems on the web, resoldering, etc. Of course once you build one successfully, the amount of time would go down significantly. What I will do instead is to describe the the various problems that I had to sort out in case you run into the same things.

1. Ground the fiberboard properly. The Mojotone layout schematic does not include any direct instructions on how to internally ground different parts of the circuit. It took me a while to understand that the chassis itself serves as a ground and that there are three ground leads coming to from the assembled fiberboard that need to be soldered or bolted to the chassis, pots or jacks. My first attempt at grounding the circuit was to solder all three ground leads from the fiberboard to one lug which I then attached to one of the bolts from the choke. This did not work and the amp was very noisy. By chance I started prodding leads and the fiberboard with a chopstick and, completely randomly pressed the fiberboard near at the top left, according to Mojo's schematic, and grounded all three leads when one of the soldering points on the back of the fiberboard made contact with the chassis. The amp sounded better when I would do this so I knew that I had to rethink how to ground the leads. My "accidental" realization that there was something wrong with the grounding was only possible because I had not used the backing board that Mojo had supplied with the fiberboard (see #2 for more on this). My solution to the grounding issues was to buy new grounding lugs and install them in two places, first on the same choke bolt  where I had first soldered all three ground leads, and second on one of the mounting screws for V1. I relocated the ground that comes off the top right of the board to this screw. I then relocated the ground that comes off the top middle of the board to the ground lug on the normal circuit volume pot. This seemed to provide a better overall grounding scheme for the circuit and the amp started sounding better.

2. Use the backing board. Mojo's instructions didn't indicate what I should do with the backing board, so when I originally assembled the kit, I didn't use the board at all. After working through the grounding issues, I realized that the backing board was necessary to prevent the soldering points on the back of the fiberboard from shorting out against the chassis. I first "solved" this problem by unbolting the pots and jacks and pulling the top of the fiberboard out just enough to slide the backing board in behind the fiberboard and then pushing both boards back into place. This of course was only a temporary fix, and eventually I drilled the fiberboard, backing board and chassis so that the whole caboodle could be bolted to the chassis. This is a bit harder to do once then entire amp is built, so better to do this first before everything is wired in place.

3. Double-check your soldering. It is worth it to double-check your soldering as you are assembling the amp. When I was unbolting the jacks to squeeze the backing board in, I realized that I failed to solder the #1 jacks to  the #2 jacks such that that two of them fell off when I unbolted them. They had worked when I originally assembled the amp because the resistors leads I used to connect the jacks had made contact with the lugs even though they weren't properly soldered. I resoldered the jacks which fixed the intermittent cut-outs that I had in the #2 inputs.

4. Don't use brute force to seat tubes in tube sockets. In my case I had a lot of trouble seating the 12AY7 tube in the V1 socket. I ended up forcing the tube in force rather than trying to figure out why the tube wasn't seating properly and I bent the tube pins as well as bending and displacing the metal in one of the socket pin holes. After removing the tube, I managed to gently bend the tube pins back to their proper position and to open up the metal in the socket pin hole using a unbent paperclip (one of the most important tools ever invented), but after seating the tube again, I realized that some of the pins fit well, and others not so much. I ended up ordering a new tube socket from Mojo and replacing the original one. I was much more careful installing the tubes after this lesson.

5. Clean up internal lead dress. The amp still didn't sound right and after often reading about how lead dress affects an amp's sound, I decided to rewire most of my connections to the tube sockets, jacks, and pots. It's pretty easy to find pictures of the various ways to dress leads online--pick one and try your best to follow it. Shorter leads are best, and avoid crossing over leads if at all possible. Common practice also seems to be to run leads against the chassis wherever possible. This is more an art than a science. I ended up shortening most leads, especially to the pre-amp tubes, jacks, and pots. In the end, the inside of the amp looked much better, and seemed to be less noisy as well.


6. Double-check your soldering again. After all these problems the amp still didn't sound right, the biggest problem now seemed to be that the amp's volume was really loud with very little distortion, and seemed to reach maximum volume at around 3-4 in both the normal and bright circuits. I decided to check all my soldering again, and this time I found another loose wire, from pin 4 of V3 which connects the power tubes screens to the caps on the left of the fiberboard. While I am only beginning to understand how this amp works electronically, this seemed to have the effect of producing no screen voltage and no attenuation of the power tubes, thus producing full undistorted power at 4 on the volume pots in either circuit. I resoldered this lead and the amp was significantly quieter and, for the first time since I had assembled the kit, the amp would distort with both volume controls at about midway. I was making progress, but I wasn't quite there.

7. Use Voltage charts. I finally decided to compare voltage readings from my amp with what was available online, in particular Doug Hoffman's Valve Data Page. There are several users who have posted voltages from their 5E3 amps to make comparisons easy. I was hesitant to check the voltages in my amp because I didn't want to stick anything conductive in the amp and kill myself, but once I got over my fear of death and got voltage readings from the amp using a cheap Radio Shack multimeter, it became pretty clear that the voltages for V2 were not correct. Everything else, the rectifier, power tubes, and V1 were more or less within tolerances of what different users posted on the Hoffman site. After thinking about this for a while I decided to double check all the cap and resistor values on the fiberboard, especially in the phase inverter section to see if I had made a mistake with the components. After everything checked out O.K. I thought that there might be a problem with the 12AX7 tube, probably due to my own repeated installation and removal of the tube. I decided to order a new 12AX7 tube just to be sure. While I was waiting for the tube to arrive, I realized that I could use a 12AX7 tube from my Fender Champ 600 reissue amp to see if this would give proper voltage readings. When I removed the suspect V2 tube I realized that I had, in fact, installed the 12AY7 tube in the V2 socket, which doesn't provide nearly the amplification factor that a 12AX7 tube would. Which leads to:

8. Install the V1 (12AY7) and V2 (12AX7) tubes in the correct socket. Just double check this as you are installing the tubes. I ended up with two identical 12AX7 tubes since I thought one was bad, and a common substitution for the V1 12AY7 is a 12AX7 which increases preamp gain significantly.

9. Crank it up! In the end, after much trial and error, the amp sounds great. I'm still learning how to use the interactive controls, but the classic Fender tweed sound is amazing. It's also given me the desire to build more amps, and I am considering a 5F1 Champ kit, a blackface Deluxe Reverb kit, and a tube reverb unit kit to give the tweed amps a little twang. The folks at Mojotone provide an excellent kit and are super responsive to issues with parts. They do not provide detailed instructions, but I sure learned a lot as I put together the amp!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Fender Jaguar Rewiring with Series, Parallel and Phase Switching

Here is a fuller diagram of a wiring circuit for a Fender Jaguar with series/parallel and phase switching based on this diagram which I found on the forums. The basic idea is to make available all possible switching options for two pickups. This is a relatively easy mod to make. You only need need to rewire the three DPDT switches in the lower bout. If you have a Jaguar with older SPST switches they will need to be replaced with DPDT switches. The diagram shows the wiring from the bottom, so in this diagram both pickup switches down selects both pickups in parallel, both pickup switches up selects both pickups in series. In original Jaguar wiring both pickup switches down turns the pickups off, both pickup switches up turns the pickups on in parallel. If you want preserve the "up on in parallel" aspect of the original wiring you can use a reversed image of the wiring of the three switches.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Super Duper Wicked Awesome Strat Rewiring

Below is a diagram for the wiring I currently run in my Stratocaster which allows a lot of switching possibilities beyond the standard 5-way switch. The diagram is a further modification of a Strat wiring diagram I came up a few years ago which is in turn based on the Guitar Nuts' Strat-Lover's Strat diagram with the addition of a "Neck-On" switch also available from Guitar Nuts. The circuit also includes a phase switch for the middle pickup. My starting premise for wiring mods in all my guitars is that I want the guitars to look stock rather than to drill holes or rout for new or additional switches. This is best achieved by using either a Fender S-1 switch (which are expensive and the knobs don't look stock), or push-pull pots. All that is required to do this modification is the purchase of three 250K push-pull pots (Fender part 0992257000) available online from parts dealers for about $12 each, extra wire, and soldering equipment. With all switches down the circuit functions as a normal Strat with 5-way switching. Pulling up volume knob adds the bridge pickup in series to whatever pickups are selected via the 5-way switch. Pulling up the tone 1 knob puts the middle pickup out of phase. Pulling up the tone 2 knob adds the neck pickup in parallel to whatever pickups are selected via the 5-way switch. The switches do work in combination, but there are several combinations which are redundant. The new pickup combinations that this circuit allow are:

1. neck and bridge pickups in parallel (tone 2 switch on and 5-way switch in position 5).
2. neck, middle, and bridge pickups in parallel (tone 2 switch on and 5-way switch in position 4).
3. bridge and neck pickups in series (volume switch on and 5-way switch in position 1).
4. bridge and middle pickups in series (volume switch on and 5-way switch in position 3).
5. bridge pickup in series with neck and middle pickups (volume switch on and 5-way switch in position 2).

The middle pickup phase switch can be used at any time to add to the variety of tones selected above, or with standard 5-way switching (think Jimmy "Chicken Stratch" Nolen and the JBs). It would be relatively easy to modify this circuit by swapping wires so that the volume switch adds the middle pickup in series rather than the bridge pickup which would result in the combinations of bridge and middle pickups in series and neck and middle pickups in series. You could also swap wires to add the bridge pickup in parallel rather than the neck pickup. If your middle pickup is reverse wound reverse polarity then you will have humbucking in both series and parallel. I really like the sound of the neck and bridge in series and in parallel, however, and the diagram below allows both. The circuit may seem like overkill, and more importantly like bowl of spaghetti in your wiring cavity, but it's fun to try different wiring schemes. Leo Fender's original Strat wiring included only a three-way switch, selecting each single coil individually, but there are many more possibilities.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

DIY Crown Race Setter from PVC Pipe

You need the right tool for the job, but sometimes the right tool is just too expensive. I work on my bikes all the time, but I haven't bought a crown race setter as installing a fork crown race is something I almost never do. The Park CRS-1 can be had for about $70, but I use a couple of pieces of PVC pipe instead. I first tried using a 1" inside diameter length of pipe, but it was not large enough and would get stuck on the larger diameter section of the fork steerer tube near the crown. I then tried a 1 1/4" inside diameter length of PVC, but it was too loose and was difficult to center and keep in place when using a rubber mallet to set the race. It then occurred to me that two lengths of PVC might nest, with the 1" PVC serving as a guide for the 1 1/4" PVC. This was the easiest time I've ever had setting a race. I didn't even have to use the mallet--I just slid the outer PVC down really hard twice or three times and the crown race was set. You might have a couple pieces of PVC laying around or you can pick up a couple lengths from the hardware store or home center. Remember that PVC is measured by inside diameter. Make sure that the larger pipe is cut longer than the steerer tube, especially if you're going to use a rubber mallet or hammer.. It's also a good idea to use the factory-cut end of the PVC against the crown race as this provides a smooth even surface. In the photos below I used 1" and 1 1/4" PVC on a 1" steerer tube. I haven't tried this on other diameter steerer tubes, but 1 1/4" PVC alone might work on a 1 1/8" steerer, or some combination of other diameter PVC.