Wednesday, January 28, 2009

DIY Tremolo Pedal

I finally got around to adding tremolo to my guitar setup this past weekend thanks to the EA tremolo kit offered by General Guitar Gadgets. The kit included the resistors, caps, transistors, LED, PCB, jacks, pots, knobs, footswitch, wire, and case--everything to put together a complete stomp pedal. The instructions are downloaded from their site. The build took about 4 hours from start to finish with a couple breaks and was a lot easier than it first appeared when I opened the box. The most time-consuming part was figuring out the resistor values. I have red-green colorblindness and it took a magnifying glass. The pedal sounds great. It has a volume control which allows you to match the volume when the pedal is bypassed. The speed control has a wide range, as does the depth control. The led flashes at the speed rate when on. I have an 80s-era Fender solid-state amp that has a great clean channel and spring reverb but no tremolo. The amp has an effects loop located before the power amp so I patched the tremolo pedal in. At first I thought that something was wrong in the build, as the pedal only worked when in bypass, but I realized that I had reversed the cables into and out of the pedal. So I quickly fixed that problem. Make sure you use a new battery--I used an old one and didn't realize how great the pedal is until I switched it out. Highly recommended. I am not a great solderer, but this actually wasn't too hard. I used small diameter solder for the first time which works great. It also helped to clip off the extra length of the components as I went along to make more room to get at the next point. Once you start cramming everything into the case the soldering gets a little harder, so measure all the wires carefully to make as much room as possible. I might swap out the red LED for a blue or green one just for fun. I don't have any interest in finishing it--nothing wrong with raw aluminum and masking tape.

Fender Stratocaster Rewiring

Here's the wiring I'm currently running in my Stratocaster. It is based almost entirely on the Strat Lover's Strat wiring available at GuitarNuts here. The basic premise is to use a push-pull pot on the volume knob which adds the bridge pickup in series to whatever you have selected via the 5-way switch. It only works for the first three positions, neck, neck and middle, and middle. Positions 4 and 5 just select the bridge pup by itself. This creates some really interesting humbucker-like sounds. I especially like the combination of the neck and bridge pickups in series. Not a sound that you can usually get out of a Strat. The other change is to use a push-pull pot on the tone knob to allow switching the middle pickup out of phase, which works both in positions 2 and 4 in normal switching and when the bridge pup is added in series. I always like the out-of-phase sound and this offers, in my opinion, the most flexibility. The only other major wrinkle is that I have used the Fender Samarium Cobalt noiseless pups and there is an extra ground wire coming out of each. Purists might balk at these pickups, but I love the lack of noise and they sound a lot warmer that the Fender-Lace pups which were standard on the Strat Plus in the late 80s and early 90s.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Drive Time Skywave

Old technology can be fun too. I have a weekly commute between Chicago and Ohio and this week I decided to run through the AM radio dial. I haven't done this in a long time as there usually isn't much worth listening to. Tonight a combination of favorable atmospheric conditions and the phenomenon of skywave, which I sort of remember from a physics class years ago, allowed me to pull in stations from all over the country on the factory radio in my Honda Civic. Here's a list of cities I managed to receive in my four hour drive:

New York
St. Louis
Des Moines
Cedar Rapids
San Antonio

The last two really surprised me. It was hard to believe that I could get a station from Boston and San Antonio at the same time. I lived in NYC and Philly each for a few years and it was vaguely disturbing hearing the traffic reports highways that I hated driving on. Chicago is bad enough. The whole experience reminded me of when my father bought my mother a shortwave radio sometime in the 1970s so she could listen to Spanish language radio from Latin America and Spain. I remember going through the sw bands and trying to guess where different broadcasts were coming from. Before the internet it was one way connect with distant corners of the globe. Fun stuff.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Fender Mustang Wiring

Here's a diagram of the original wiring for a Fender Mustang.