Monday, November 3, 2008

Den outing (no 1) - Tokyo

So - I was in Japan for a couple of weeks with Charlotte and Kay in October, in Tokyo and Kyoto, with trips to Nagano, Hiroshima and Osaka (with our most excellent JR rail passes). I laughed, I cried, I got very tired - this holiday had everything. Whilst I didn't have guitars and pedals on my mind for most of the time, as there was just too much other stuff competing for my attention every time I opened my eyes, I did entertain the possibility of getting a guitar in Japan - I didn't really really want one, as I'd only just got the LP Jr this summer, but it seemed silly not to look at what was available, and take advantage if possible.
I did some research in advance, wanting to find older used guitars rather than shiny new ones or high end vintage guitars, so originally planned to avoid the big Ochanomizu guitar strip in favour of smaller shops elsewhere, but after wasting one afternoon looking for pawn shops in the suburbs I didn't have much time left, so I decided to go look there anyway, as it was close to where we were staying. It was quite dizzying, see hundreds of guitars everywhere. So many strats, teles and les pauls and copies, and not much else... I was hoping to see ESP, Burny and other Japanese makes, but these were few and far between, and a lot of the stock was aimed at beginners. I didn't go in any of the major vintage Gibson places as I'm not fussed with that stuff. It was interesting to see the prices of the lower end stuff - reasonable looking tele copies for about £55, but any name makes (even Epiphone) were not any cheaper and sometimes more expensive than UK /web prices. I went into about 10 shops, some 3 or 4 floors, but only one had anything really tempting - these Danelectro DC-59s, in a place called something like Big Boss Guitar Freak Emporium: I liked them, but not sure how much. They looked brand new, so I guess they are NOS (new old stock) from the 1998-2003 Korean period, as the new Chinese ones are quite different (and quite horrible). At about £200, it was good deal but not a bargain. I took the photo and looked at it a few times over the next week, and worked out I'd have time to return on the last day and get one if I wanted, and fit it in my luggage if I took the neck off. These guitars are allegedly in the "getting hard to find" bracket if you believe dealers, but really, they are still easily found in a range of colours. I'll get a Danelectro sometime, and probably a 90s one, but this just wasn't my time.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Burns Sonic guitar, 1960 ("The Aristone")

One of my modest insights into the world of Ebay is that it's only good at finding things that are correctly identified. It's like cataloguing; one the places where parts of my job extend into my real life. If someone is selling an original Fuzz Face and they call it that in the main description, lots of people will find it/see it/bid on it. But if it's described as a 'round grey guitar peddle', a lot less people will see it. This was how I got the Silvertone/Valco - interest in Supro-type guitars was at a generally lower level than now, and someone checking a Silvertone listing would probably be looking for a Danelectro, and pass on it - I recognised it as a Valco and got it cheap. Look for the vague descriptions, and there are bargains if you don't mind wading through the crap. I got this Burns the same way, for £67. It sounds like bragging, but its just a case of looking a bit harder.
Sonic the headstock - Aristone logo, 1960
People with an interest in guitars of the early '60s would recognise it as a Burns, but the name on the headstock is "The Aristone", so that was the main Ebay description term. Deal! Aristone were a London company who had been making banjos and ukeleles and archtop acoustic guitars since the 1930s. I've seen one other electric guitar with the same headstock logo, a late 50s semi-acoustic, on sale for a huge sum at Andy's Guitar Workshop in the year they went into liquidation. How Aristone were related to Jim Burns is a mystery, but there's no sign of any other markings, and in every other respect it's a straight-up 1960 Burns Sonic - complete with maple fretboard, white plastic knobs, army surplus 3-way switch and first-stab trem system. My only guess is that if you're starting out trying to sell guitars and nobody knows your name, you might strike a deal to use a bigger name, even if they are best known for banjos. A lot of companies were testing the water of the future beat tidal wave, and Aristone must have been one of them. Whatever the arrangement was, it didn't last. The only other clue is that the word 'foreign' appears at the bottom of the logo - maybe it was an export model.
Burns Sonic, 1960
Burns Sonic, back, 1960
The tuner covers reveal another unusual detail. Guitar nerds will recognise these as Van Gent tuners from the Netherlands, but they are also stamped with the logo of their British distributors, Boosey & Hawkes. I've seen these on some 1950s Grimshaw guitars online, but mostly they are plain.
Burns Sonic - tuners, 1960
It's a funny looking thing, badly designed in some ways and brilliant in others. The major problem is the weight of the neck/body joint versus the tiny, admittedly kind of silly-looking body. I had a friend in a band in the grungeful early 90s. He was a very small person and my first thought seeing him playing it was that he must have chosen it to match his stature. I was plain wrong (and probably size-ist), but with this design, how could it be anything other than neck-heavy? This photo also shows up the brittle hollow scratchplate and military grade switch.
Burns Sonic neck joint, 1960
You see some examples with the strap button moved to the lower bout, to move the centre of gravity, but this one has stayed as Mr Burns (tee hee) intended. Balance problems come into perspective when you plug it in - theses are really great pickups, maybe even better than the Valco single coils I love, so why not just sit down if its a problem? They really bite - a very punky spiky beat sound, but with a smoother mid-range and a good growl in the bass. Yay! This the best guitar for fuzz ever.
Burns Sonic body, 1960
I mentioned the trem system above and you might be thinking 'what trem system?' I took the 'pat. pending' arm off and disabled it to get the action a bit lower, but the pieces are all safe. It didn't work too well. I also reversed the polarity of the bridge pickup, for more usable sounds. Originally the pickups were out of phase, which made for a strange hollow sound in the middle position that I didn't like. I changed it, but to me it's an improvement. It's been through the wars a bit, so I don't mind making a few positive alterations. To me it's still a working instrument.
Selmer strap, '60s
One last thing I should mention is the Selmer strap. This was another ebay find - it didn't come with the guitar, but it's a good match. American collectors call this kind of thing 'case candy'. I could never use that expression, but I don't have the case either.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tim Escobedo's Uglyface - a modern classic!

So mainly I like old stuff, but one reason I got into DIY was to discover new sounds. The Uglyface is one of THE classic DIY pedals, designed by an unassuming and generous experimenter, Tim Escobedo. I've built four of his pedal designs, and an ambitious double synthstick built into a guitar (more on this later). I think he came up with it in 2003. A lot of people on DIY Stompboxes were raving about it, so I built mine in 2006. By this time my Dymo tape aesthetic had reached the mature stage, although I probably should have the knobs away from the footswitch. In the DIY effects pedal world, there are clones or rare pedals, and there are home projects that become retail Product, and there are pedals that exist only in the pure DIY realm, because they are too weird or horrible-in-a-good way to have mainstream commercial potential, like the Uglyface. Guitarists are conservative as a group (= market). Tradition weighs heavy on their shoulders, and their music is boring. Most of them don't want a pedal that makes their guitar sound like a raygun. I didn't record this clip (Tim did), but it gives you a good idea of what this thing does. Here's another , from homewrecker/runoffgroove - if this doesn't get your attention, then we can't be friends. I built it from scratch on plain board with holes, called perfboard, or just perf. This is one of several building methods, and it's probably my least favourite. I don't use it much, but there was (and is) a perf layout of the Uglyface at homewrecker.com. It was one of my first builds beyond the basic fuzz circuits and I didn't really know what I was doing exactly at the time, but I put it together paint-by-numbers style. it took a while to get it right, but I got there in the end. The trickiest part for me was the Vactrol, which adds the envelope follower wah-type sound. I colour coded the wires carefully and made notes, so I wouldn't get too mixed up, and left myself plenty of space. So what is it? The clips should tell you all you need to know, but if I had to describe it, I'd say it's kind of like a fuzz, but instead of just taking the wave form from your guitar and amplifying/clipping it to make a square wave (like most fuzz/distortion boxes), the Uglyface takes your signal in on one side, but what comes out of the other side is a whole new signal that tracks the changes in a fuzzed out version of the input signal, but can't follow it exactly, or reproduce its complexity, so what you hear is a big wall of glitchy, synthy guitar noise. I love it. The basic envelope follower makes it even less guitar-like. Certain settings will get you the Star Wars thing going. There are a couple of ther DIY circuits that apparently have some similarity to this floating around - John Hollis' Crash Sync /Auto Crash and the 4ms Noise Swash, but this is the simplest to build, and best documented. There have been stripboard layouts and a modification or two in the last couple of years. Tim Escobedo rules. I can't help forming mental images of people I've never seen; I imagine Tim has short-ish dark hair and a full but closely cropped beard, a bit like David Fair from Half Japanese perhaps.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Epiphone '57 Reissue Les Paul Junior, 2007

I haven't been adding new posts in the last couple of weeks because I've been playing my new guitar instead. I've sold a couple this year and was hoping to snag a single (bridge) pickup Valco, but even the 3/4 size Supers and Tosca brand ones are out of my price range now, plus a lot of US sellers are refusing to send stuff abroad these days because of changes with Paypal seller protection... So I decided to go for one of these Les Paul Juniors as a reasonable substitute - solid mahogany neck and body, rosewood fretboard, Grover tuners, and a lot cheaper than the '59 Gibson Melody Maker RI that I tried and didn't like last year. These were produced as a "limited edition" of the Epiphone Custom Shop - if you equate Epiphone with crap this might sound like a contradiction in terms, but I thought long and hard about this, read all the reviews and forum posts before taking the plunge. It's a basic instrument, but well made and finished I think. If I didn't like it I could sell it on easily. From what I can gather from the serial numbers of various examples found online, they were made in two batches in Feb-March 2006, and a longer period in spring-summer 2007, at the Daewon factory in Dalian, Northwest China - there's a video of the place in 2005 here that gives some idea of the environment. I think the first batch were are all Vintage Sunburst, which looks cheap to me, I got an approximately 'TV Yellow' one instead, made in March 2007 - most of the second batch seem to be this colour. Of course it isn't "real" TV Yellow, and it's thick polyurethane, not thin nitrocellulose lacquer. It's very shiny and new looking, and it's not an exact copy of a 1957 guitar, but that's what Gibson's VOS ('Vintage Original Spec') series are for if you have a spare £1,300 to spend.

It was off ebay from a young guy, but basically brand new, with all stickers etc and protective plastic stuff intact. The yellow ones aren't available new anywhere anymore, but some German suppliers still have the sunburst. Some people have a problem with them being made in China, like it's automatically suspect, but they've been making stringed instruments there for hundreds of years, so I don't think it's an issue per se. I feel slightly bad about supporting the exploitation of Chinese workers - it's cheap because labour is cheap - but that's international capitalism, right? I didn't buy it new, but still. All my other electric guitars are 40-50 years old, so the newness was more of an issue. It felt big and heavier than I like, almost 8lbs. Some of the fret ends were a bit sharp, but I sorted those out. Frets are chunky, but ok. The neck itself is apparently thicker than a '60s neck, but not a true '50s thickness - I would have liked it thicker but it feels fine really. The fretboard is dense-grained and dark, and felt very dry at first, not like old rosewood at all (surprise!) I dabbbed on some lemon oil and rubbed my greasy fingers into it for half an hour to simulate some kind of preliminary wear. I also sanded along the edge of the fretboard so it wouldn't be so sharp, and dulled down the finish on the back of the neck with 00 steel wool, so it wouldn't be so sticky. These things all helped a lot with the playing 'feel'. I made some other changes too - what can I say? I'm a tinkerer. The tuners were perfectly good, but I changed them for some nickel plated Grovers I had; I cut the nut slots down by a bit and rounded off the sharp edges around the nut so my hands don't catch on them; I swapped the wrong-looking chrome wraparound compensated bridge for a repro '50s uncompensated bridge/tail, in nickel, naturally. I'm even going to change the strap buttons for nickel ones. I like it! I tightened the truss rod a bit as it was totally loose, and improved the action (though it was ok as it was). I was really willing to give the P100 a go, because I don't have any other guitars with humbuckers and I didn't want to be swayed by the fact that everyone else has replaced it, but after various experiments I decided I'd swap that out too, for a GFS P90 I had in a kind of frankenstein Supro neck Junior I flung together earlier this year (the neck didn't really work with that body...). The consensus on GFS pickups is they're good for the money, and better than the stock Epiphones, but not as good as the £100+ boutique hand-wound ones (surprise no.2) With the pole pieces slightly down on the bass side, and screwed right down to the top, it does sound pretty much like a brighter dirtier Supro pickup. I was surprised to see the treble bleed (tone) capacitor was was a whopping 0.068uF - I changed it for a '50s 0.05 WIMA ceramic I had, but I might replace it with a smaller value in time. Tinker tinker tinker. The verdict so far is - yes, I like it and it's not going straight back to ebay, but I would still sell it quick if a Supro Belmont came my way cheap. Been playing it every minute I get though, which is a good sign, still need to fine tune the intonation and action.... The acoustic sound is quite twangy, but not as bright as the oldies.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Silvertone Artist, 1958

This guitar was made by the Valco company of Chicago, for the Sears Roebuck department store house brand Silvertone. Valco also made the National line of guitars and amps, the ‘budget’ Supro line, and a range of brands incuding Oahu and other department store house brands like Airline for Montgomery Ward. It has some similarities to the Supro Rhythm Tone and Belmont models of the late 1950s, with a different headstock, scratchplate/pickguard and tailpiece. The serial number X86897 puts it in early 1958. Valco also made a two-pickup solid body guitar for Sears /Silvertone in 1958, much like the first version of the Supro Dual Tone. For some reason the two Valco guitars were given the same model name by Sears - The Artist, with the same distinctive ‘electric cowboy’ headstock logo. On the two pickup version it’s silver, on the single pickup one I have it’s gold. There aren’t many Valco-made Silvertones around, and they don’t seem to have lasted long enough to get into one of their famous mail order catalogues. The Artist is a basic guitar, but it feels really great to play. You hear a lot about ‘baseball bat’ necks online, but this is the real thing. I find it very comfortable to play, though my hands aren’t large - the neck is thick. but with a narrower than usual fretboard. Called the ‘Kord King’ neck in Supro catalogues, it has a ‘feather-light modern aircraft metal’ rod running down it but no tension adjustment. It has an ebony (rather than the usual rosewood) fretboard. It is worn in places and has a crack running down it, but the 19 narrow frets are in good shape. Valco moved to a 20 fret neck on most of their guitars in 1958/9. It has white block inlays rather than the dots used on the Belmont most of the lower end Supros, and It’s only really held on with one screw (with a second for neck tilt adjustment) but it feels very solid, with no wiggles. The scale is full Gibson length – 24.75”, though it looks shorter because of where the neck joins the body.. It’s been played enough to wear away most of the screenprinted Sivertone logo on the cracked and glued ‘deco’ scratchplate, but it’s original owner had the foresight to invest a few extra dollars on a hard case, which I also have, so it’s in good shape overall. The embossed cowboy motif leather strap is a nice touch – it’s an idea borrowed from Gretsch, who Valco built amps and at least one guitar for in this period. The finish is a thick black plastic coating that Valco called ‘Glossy Jet No-Mar’. It hasn't bubbled up flaked off anywhere. It matches the 1958 Supro line’s ‘Dashing new color theme of Black, White and Inca Gold’. The tuners are original, but with replaced buttons. I do have a spare rosewood Valco bridge I could use, but I like the brighter sound of the Tune-a-matic, plus it’s the right colour. The pickup is a single coil, but looks like a humbucker. Some people have assumed this is a deliberate deception, but Valco had their own patent, thanks very much, cited on Seth Lover’s later Humbucker patent documents. For a short time in the late 50s, Valco even took to printing their patent number (2683388) on the outer cover, I think to avoid confusion with the Gibson product. Most people seem to like these big single coil pickups, although there are some dissenters. A lot of people say they're 'great for slide', which is the main cliche used in describing Supro, National and Airline guitars. They are not super-loud, but they distort a little even at low volume through a clean amp, and I like that. They are often compared to P90s, but my limited experience says they have a weaker but more complex sound than a modern (GFS) P90 at least. It’s a little bassy for me in the normal channel, but sounds just right in the bright channel of my Davoli Studio 60 valve amp. Because the neck pocket is deeper than on later Valco solid-bodies, the pickup is set into the top rather than surface mounted. It’s my favourite guitar to play when I'm just sitting around - smooth low(ish) action and the perfect weight – only 6.5 pounds (just under 3 Kg). The range of amplified sounds from the neck pickup is not huge – but it’s great for fuzz, or with a treble booster! I would love a bridge pickup Belmont or a Rhythm Tone from the same period, but they are getting expensive now. I usually avoid stickers and things on my guitars, but this a special one – the blue dot is from Tyree Guyton of the Heidelgerg Project in Detroit, and it also reminds me of the National Enquirer’s old Lucky Blue Dot. On the back, Taking Care Of Business - speaks for itself. Charlotte got this for me at Graceland. I love the Enhanced Elvis Concept of not just TCB, but TCB In A Flash!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Terminology (digression no.1)

There comes a time in every fuzz fan’s life when someone says “so, what is it with all these fuzz boxes then? Aren’t they all the same?”. One day over the xmas break a year or two ago, I decided that would do a an impromptu demonstration-cum-lecture on the history of fuzz for Charlotte and Kay, partly to pre-empt this slightly awkward question, and partly to account for all the time I was spending in the den fiddling with transistors and soldering irons [and yes - I know I’m mad; but we make our own fun]. I choose an early fuzz (Maestro FZ1-A, 1965), a “classic” Germanium fuzz (Marshall Supa Fuzz), and a 70s big rock fuzz (op-amp Big Muff), introducing and playing each one in turn in the front room. Could they tell the difference? Not really. I mean they could hear they sounded different, but not very different. Fuzz is elusive - the apocryphal story about Inuit people having 100 words for snow comes to mind. My current vocabulary for describing fuzz is inadequate. With this in mind I tried to compile a list of terms used to describe fuzzy sounds, on diy sites and forums and Harmony Central. Some of them are sizzling, abrasive, smooth, muddy, sweet, warm, squishy, thick, fat, thin, gated, tubey, fizzy, saturated, crunchy, mangled, sharp, buzzy, dynamic, grinding, raspy, fartty, creamy, mushy, woolly, dirty, psychedelic... plus many qualifying references to compression, sustain, halo, bloom and Jimi Hendrix/Jimmy Page/Ron Asheton/Billy Corgan/whoever. I don’t think these are always hugely helpful in putting across the sound of a fuzz circuit, but they are part of the cloud of associations that are part of the mystique (real or imagined/manufactured) of old (oh, I mean Vintage) pedals, that in the commercial world falls under the heading ‘marketing’. It’s also part of the mythology of ‘getting great tone’, which I won’t go into. Although it’s rarely used without a certain irony, the term ‘mojo’ does come up more frequently than I’d like. The fact that comparisons with other known circuits are more useful than most of the above terms also says a lot. They are at best a shorthand for a certain language spoken mostly only by guitarists that is mildly alienating. It masks the undeniable truth that many fuzz pedals do sound similar (there! I’ve said it!) but also that they sound different with different guitars and amps. I'll try to include short sound clips instead of getting bogged down in this. They are not recorded under laboratory conditions. On three separate occasions Inow I've tried to record a clip of the Pep Box, and been unsatisfied with it - this is nuts - from now on it's rough + ready, and probably me playing badly - clips are just to give you an idea of what each thing sounds like, but I will try to use the same guitar and amp for them - a 1960 Burns Sonic through a Selmer Little Giant with a 12" extension speaker (an early 60s Celestion G12).

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Marshall Supa Fuzz, 1967-ish

I've mentioned this on various forums etc in the past few years, because it's the rarest pedal, I own, but here's the story again. I bought this for £6 in 1986 or so, from the short lived used musical instrument store that was part of the Music and Goods Exchange chain (originally Record and Tape Exchange, I won't go into the details of my love/hate relationship with these shops just yet, but it might come out later). It was a ramshackle shop, with a load of scruffy amps and 20 or so guitars, and a small cabinet of pickups and tuners and pedals. The Supa caught my eye, mostly because it was the cheapest thing in the place, and it looked old. I regularly grazed the Record and Tape shops, which are still mostly grouped together in Notting Hill, just to pass the time when I was unemployed and had no money, concentrating on the bargain bins and deletions department, where you could get all sorts of 60s records in Fair or even Poor condition for CHEAP (grading was very strict back then, so Fair usually meant 'Pretty Good' , and Poor 'Playable' to someone on my budget). There wasn't a lot of interest in '60s gear in the dread 80s, it was all about being Modern. Horrible bands like U2 and The Cure and The House Of Love held sway with a collection of horrible flangers and choruses and abominations like the Electric Mistress. Yuck! I mean, some of you reading this might be into that stuff, but I was not interested at all. Bands I was in at that time were mostly of the stubbornly inept post-punk vein, that barely (or never) made it to first gig level, or played every 3 months. I had a half-broken WEM Joker amp, that I traded in for a Laney Linebacker (not cool, sorry). I could have got an AC30, but they were too heavy, and too expensive (though cheap by today's standards). The Supa Fuzz was the only pedal I ever used, throughout the 80s90s.

supa fuzz side

When I got it was unpainted, rough aluminium. I painted the word FUZZ on it - seemed reasonable at the time. The glitter was was probably not such a good idea, but it's only nail polish; removable. I used to laugh at the size of the components - they seemed huge. I had no idea it was anything special for about the first 10 years I had it, other than that it sounded great. Then Rob from The King Cheetah (then based in London, now in LA) told me it looked like a Marshall Supa Fuzz. I wasn't really convinced, nor did I realise the significance of this info straight away. Eventually I put a photo of it on my first website (that I never updated), and got into contact with fuzz expert Stu Castledine. I sent him some photos of the board, and noticed something odd:

supa fuzz guts

That gold thing (an elecrolytic capacitor) at the end, was on top of a smaller one (in parallel with it, even). Both are rated at 25uF (micofarads, units of capacitance, like), so that makes 50uF altogether. I considered de-soldering it, but it looked original, and Stu said he'd seen a few different values in early Supas. But if it was added at the time, wouldn't they have use two identical caps, if they just ran out of 50uF and wanted that value? Anyway, it sounds amazing, so I think I'm leaving it. I did consider some kind of switch but I don't want to touch it really. Anyone seen this before? The transistors are Mullard OC75s. Here's a clip - neck pickup of 1960 Burns Sonic. I hear a lot of clips on the internet that are just sqiddly lead runs, I don't think these give much of an idea of the sound of any given pedal and they can be painful and embarrassing to listen to - my clips are more basic, but illustrate the fuzz sound and how I'm likely to use it. This one has a bit of Black Keys in there.

Marshall Supa Fuzz

The Supa Fuzz is a close relation to the Mk2 Tone Bender, designed by Gary Hurst. For a great history of these pedals and their variants and to see where the Supa fits in, see David Main's excellent page A Little History. Dave reckons my one is around 1967, about the time of this advert:

supa fuzz advert

[minor edits + pics restored, Dec 2011]

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pepe Rush fuzz part 2

I wanted to make this one because it was a 'new' circuit from the Dawn of Fuzz - 1965! Well, that's not quite true, but it was the dawn of fuzz-as-we-know-it. Maestro, a Gibson subsidiary, introduced their Fuzztone (FZ1) in 1962 and tried to sell the new sound to country players initially. Nobody wanted them, until they heard the intro to 'Satisfaction' in '65. American hardware was expensive and hard to get in Europe in the '60s, so a few enterprising London sound/electronics guys like Gary Hurst and Pepe Rush made variations on the American original for home consumption. Fuzz was happening!
This is what the original looked like - same size and shape as the Maestro, same controls, different colour.

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There's a picture of John Lennon in the studio recording Revolver, with a box like it. You can see the shape and a few letters that look like they might say "PEP BOX" with a WEM logo, but it's not at all clear whether this is the same thing as the red pedal which seems to have been called the Fuzzy. Nobody knows!

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This photo has been discussed at length, and Beatles nerds are fairly sure it wasn't used on the finished album, so it's a bit of a mystery. Rush did make a deal with WEM (Watkins Electric Music!) to produce a fuzz pedal in 1966, but the WEM pedal that eventually came out is a flat box with wooden sides and a different circuit using the more stable Silicon transistors. The original uses Germanium transistors - they are more difficult to get to sound right, but the fuzz sound is better to my ears - smoother, looser, woollier and more compressed. Here's the schematic and stripboard (or veroboard) layout I used:

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 ... and an interior photo:

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This is slightly different from the layout, because I niftily mounted the board on the PEP control. I also added a small bulb (not an LED), so you can tell when it's on: I used Newmarket NKT213 PNP Germanium transistors - they're normally quite rare and expensive but I got lucky with a box of 20. The original transistors are unmarked, but have the same metal can package. NKT213s are also used in the Burns Buzzaround (more on that later.) The original owner of the red pedal above sold it soon after. He didn't like it, saying it was like the typical can-of-bees 60s fuzz, like the Fuzztone. I think he's more into the heavier sounding 70s pedals. I haven't heard the original, but with these transistors, it's a much fuller bassier sound than the slightly screechy (in a good way) Fuzztone, and it's also a lot louder. The PEP control behaves much like the Attack pot on the FZ1, but where the only good position on the original is full-on, the PEP pot gives good fuzzy sounds all the way back to about the 6 o'clock position. I think it's down to the transistors. I like the way it sounds now, but often I'll change them around, try different ones after a few months, as I use sockets rather than soldering them direct to the board. It's amazing how different they sound to each other. Battery access is awkward in most DIY pedals - you have to unscrew the bottom most of the time - I solved this problem by bending the back panel inwards and mounting the batteries there, on the outside - a little bit like another early guitar pedal, the Dallas Rangemaster treble boost, which is sort of the look I was after for this one.  I haven't decided how to do the sound clips yet, that's for the future. There's a whole bizarre vocabulary that has grown up to attempt to describe the many sounds of Fuzz that people use on the DIY forums I spend time on. I'll try to avoid these terms, but it's hard to describe the nuances of one fuzz compared to another - it might get difficult as time goes on - I'll need the sound clips. Once I thought that all fuzz pedals sounded the same. Now I'm a fuzz geek, cursed with trying to explain why they don't all sound the same!

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

First post (Pep Rush fuzz)

So - this blog is intended to be a view into the den, at my guitars and home-made fuzz boxes etc, with photos, probably sound and possibly video. I'll write a bit about each thing, why I like it or why I built it etc.

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This is a fuzz I made in June - a copy of one produced in London in 1965 by a London sound engineer called Pepe Rush.
He is still around, and for the record, he is of Russian extraction, not Italian as I originally said. The pedal is as obscure as they come, it's not even clear what the original was called, but like Gary Hurst's orginal Tone Bender, it was based on the Maestro Fuzztone, although it's a different circuit to the one Rush licensed to WEM a little later.
I like old, primitive sounds and equipment, and this one fits that category well. It works on 3 volts - 2 AA batteries - and 3 old stock Germanium transistors. The schematic came to light this year after a series of interior photos appeared on the DAM forum. It amuses me to make my pedals look like faces. [edited 2011]