Category Archives: Blog

Behind the Iron With C. Isaac Nelson (Pt. 2 – Installing Hardware)

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On to hardware! It’s a pretty simple process but there are some tips that can help out. I usually do pots first because they are normally the lowest profile part when it comes to hardware. I have been asked what to do about the little tab that is on some potentiometers, which is really just to stop them from spinning. If you have holes drilled for that, great! Align the pin to the hole and you are good to go. If you don’t have a hole drilled for it, break it off! It is not necessary, and is often more of a hassle than it’s worth. After the pots, I usually go onto the led bezel. For some reason the LED bezel on many drill layouts fights for room with the DC jack. Do yourself a favor and put the bezel in first. Then install the DC jack, input and output jacks, and the stomp switch.  On the stomp switch, use the two nuts that come on the stomp switch to adjust the height up or down inside the enclosure. You might also go ahead and install a 9V battery snap into your pedal as well (sometimes it can be really helpful to not have to rely on a power source being available)

Quick tip on trouble shooting that has to do with hardware. When you install an input or output jack, it might seem like it has enough clearance from the bottom of the enclosure. if the hole has been drilled to low, then when you put a plug in, the prong may bend enough to touch the enclosure and short out your audio signal. You either need to change the orientation of the pot, adjust the hole position upwards, or put some sort of protective piece (thin plastic, business card, electrical tape) under the prong to insulate it from the case.

Another time this can happen is if the jack gets turned when you are tightening it and the prong hits up against the metal part of the stomp switch, that will ground out your signal out as well.

And speaking of grounding out, another hardware problem that accounts for quite a few dead pedals sitting in closets is the pot turning and touching the side of the case. If you were messing with a pedal one day, turning knobs and what not, and suddenly your pedal goes dead, open it up. More than likely you will see a pot that has spun internally and is now touching the side of the case or another pot. Just straighten it out and it should work just fine.

On the next installment of ‘Behind the Iron’, we’ll talk about wiring. I hate wiring passionately, but it must be done!

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The Nitty Gritty On Distortion Pedals

Hello All. Since we just released our new (and dare I say great?) distortion kit this week, the Dust Bowl Distortion kit, I figured I would talk about distortion effects for the new pedal builders out there. I was trying to think of how to talk about distortion without doing the “distortion vs. overdrive” thing but they are so intertwined it is almost impossible. So here it goes. Distortion effects are basically the extreme versions of overdrive effects.  Now some fairly consistent differences between distortions and overdrives that I have seen over the years are these (Note that these are not absolutes! I’m sure there are overdrives that can get insanely distorted and distortion pedals that can clean up perfectly. Feel free to list those in the comments below!)

  1. Distortion pedals don’t usually clean up as well as overdrives. Basically if an overdrive effect is designed to go from 0 to 10 on the amount of distortion it can produce, a distortion effect is geared to go from 4 to 14. Since their circuits are usually made to give the most distortion possible, even when the distortion control is turned all the way down, it will still be a little distorted. Or it just won’t sound very good. Normally an overdrive with the drive control turned all the way down will still have a pleasant, useable tone.
  2. Distortions usually emphasize the midrange a little less than overdrives, or have a “scooped” sound as in they cut the mid-range frequencies. This gives many distortions very buzzy highs and very chunky lows, which makes for heavy rocking action! On the other hand, overdrives tend to emphasize the mid-range frequencies, often described as having a mid-range “hump”. This gives it a very smooth, easy on the ears sound that cuts through well and is good for leads.
  3. Circuit wise (and as stated before, this is not always the case) it seems like a lot of the time, distortion pedals create their clipping via diodes after the signal leaves the IC. In overdrives, that diode clipping usually occurs within the feedback loop of the IC. I’m sure there are a myriad of exceptions, but in general, this seems to be true. Other circuits achieve the distortion without diodes at all by just pushing ICs and transistors to the point of distortion.

The good thing about distortion kits for new builders is that they are usually not very complicated. They normally don’t have very many parts, very much hard ware, or any complex wiring. So go check out our Dustbowl Distortion kit or any of the awesome distortion kits from GuitarPCB, GrindCustomsFX, Tonefiend.  Now go build your own distortion kit and go rock someone’s face off.

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The Down-Low On The Wah-Wah

So for the people new to building your own guitar pedals, let’s talk Wah-Wah pedals. Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Slash, 70’s porn,  The voice of any grown up in a Charlie Brown cartoon. These are just a few places where you might have heard one of the most, if not the most popular guitar effects of all time.  How does it work? Well to put it laymen’s terms (of which I mostly am one), most wah circuits, through a strange relationship between the wah inductor, a capacitor, and a transistor, create a resonant frequency peak. By moving the wah pedal up and down via the treadle connected to a potentiometer, you are moving the peak up and down the frequency spectrum, which creates the very vocal “wah” effect. If you want to get deep into wah technology, check out this article from R.G. Keen that will tell you more than you ever needed to know about how wah pedals work. Prepare for math!

So, what can you do to help out your wah pedal? A big step is giving it true bypass switching. Wah pedals are notorious tone suckers so true bypassing them can really bring the life back to your clean signal. I will cover all things true bypass in a soon to come blog, so be on the lookout for that.

Sometimes you can improve a wah by changing the pot. Changing the pot taper or value can have a big impact on sound. Many boutique wah pedals come with ICAR or “S” taper pots that have a sweep that emphasizes many wah circuits and is very popular.  Our new Weeping Willow Wah circuit seems to sound the best (in my opinion) with a B taper pot. Vox wahs come standard with an A taper pot. Try out some different values and see which one works best for you.

A different inductor like our ME-6 inductor can give a circuit that little extra something it was missing. Other popular inductors are Fasel, Whipple, and Halo inductors. They all offer something a little different, although some are WAY more expensive than others. There are also those that say that the inductor really doesn’t matter that much at all and that the “magical” effects of certain inductors are all hype. I won’t get into that here but feel free to debate each other in the comment section below (be nice!).

So as you can see, if you aren’t that impressed with the $20 wah pedal you got at the pawn shop, there are several ways to spruce it up and tailor it to give you the sound you want. Or you can build your own wah pedal very easily via a wah kit that you can get at Mammoth Electronics, including the very versatile MoWah Kit from GuitarPCB, the rocking KWAWK wah kit from GrindCustoms, or our very own Weeping Willow Wah kit.

If  you haven’t ever messed with a wah, give it a shot. There aren’t a lot of parts and most parts are pretty easy to replace and experiment with. I will have some in depth videos/blogs on how to replace wah inductors, pots, and true bypass wahs in the near future so if you are stumped, just hold on a bit!

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Behind The Iron With C. Isaac Nelson (Pt. 1)

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Some general guidelines for building an effects pedal kit for the first time: For the N00bs!

First off­—it always helps to make sure the kit that you are going to build has instructions that you understand. Most kit makers have good instructions and wiring diagrams to make everything as easy as possible.  Beware ever buying a kit with no instructions. There’s nothing worse than spilling out a random bag of parts, a bread board, and an enclosure only to think “Hey, I have no idea where any of this stuff goes!” You may be thinking “Well Isaac, that’s just common sense.” But believe you me; it happens.

Secondly—make sure you have some decent tools.  Don’t try building a kit with some dull scissors and blow torch—it will not turn out well! You don’t have to get anything fancy, but good tools make every job easier. When it comes to soldering irons, I recommend Weller or Hakko. I try to avoid the RadioShack “plug directly into the wall” style. If this is all you have, you can still make it work, but you may end up with a fried pad or two (or a hole in your desk.) Here’s a list of tools that aren’t to expensive that will make your life easier:

• The aforementioned soldering iron (The brands Weller and Hakko are both good).

Wire strippers and wire cutters (Excelite is a good brand for these tools).

• A screwdriver, almost any regular Phillips head screwdriver will do (We are talking about the tool here, not the alcoholic beverage, although that doesn’t hurt).

• A digital multi-meter (Again, you don’t need this if you do everything perfectly the first time, which some of you do. I, on the other hand, like to make things interesting and regularly make mistakes on my builds. A multi-meter is a tremendously useful tool in trouble shooting problems in effects pedals. There are good ones available for not very much money at RadioShack, Harbor Freight, or on the web. I will go over what you need in a multi-meter in a future post because they can do a lot).

• An adjustable wrench is very handy. That, or a socket set. Don’t scratch your new shiny enclosure (that you got at Mammoth Electronics of course!) by tightening your input jack with some needle nose pliers.

 

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*Look for the next installment of ‘Behind The Iron…’ in the next few days!*

Installing A Clickless True Bypass Mod Into A Boss PS-3 Pitch Shifter

At first, I was a little skeptical as to how to install the Clickless True Bypass System into a digital pedal. But decided to give it the ‘ol college try. This is a bit of a longer video than most of our install videos, and a little more complicated. But the process of installing the Clickless into a digital pedal like this really takes the capabilities of this mod into a whole new direction.

From start to finish, this install took me somewhere between 15 to 20 minutes, but don’t get discouraged if it ends up taking you a bit longer, I’ve been doing this stuff for years.

For this install, I employed a slightly different technique to defeat the BOSS switching system. In short, I didn’t! I made it work for me. The PS-3’s switching system is controlled by a microcontroller; there really isn’t a good, simple way to disable this type of switching system. So what do I do? The trick actually comes from something inherent in the almost all of the BOSS 3 series pedals and some of the other digital pedals they make. Once the 9V power is applied, the pedal is already in the “On” position. Effectively all I had to do is make it not turn off. So I attached the BOSS switch to our Click-Less unit and removed the purple wire to the BOSS board. Without that wire connection from the switch to the board, the pedal never gets told to turn off! Then I wired the ins and outs as usual, as well as the LED so even though the effect is always engaged, the LED still indicates if the pedal is in Bypass or Effect Mode. A big thanks to our friend Goran Gubic for helping us out with this one, and also thanks to Gabe Searles for sending in his PS-3 to be our test subject!

Really hope this inspires you guys to go install a Clickless into your own pedal. Of course, if you don’t have the time it takes to do an install like this, you can always send your pedal to us here at Mammoth, and I’ll install it for you!

Check out the Youtube video of the install below!