Back in 2015, there was a kickstarter for an all-analogue, tough-as-nails practice amp for guitar and bass. Intrigued, I followed the project. The project was successfully funded and I ordered my unit once the web site went live. It is a great little gadget! I ordered the kit, as it didn’t have that many parts and I needed to improve my soldering skills. I spent an evening assembling it and have used it mostly at night when the kids are sleeping. Another great use is taking it along with me to guitar shops so I can compare other guitars with the same amp.
My only complaint with the Whisper Amp was that I had to find a place to put it. Putting it in my pocket was a little awkward with the guitar cable protruding from the top. So I got to thinking about a way to attach it to my guitar strap. I wanted it to be relatively easy to attach and remove, so I knew Velcro would be involved somehow. As I often do, I turned to OpenSCAD to put my thoughts together. My first attempt was a solid band with a loop for a nylon strap. I would use 2 of these and fasten nylon through the loops. The problem with this design was that there wasn’t a good way to keep the bands secured to the body of the amp.
I quickly devised a second design and sewed together some straps with Velcro fasteners. This worked a little better, but it had the same problem. I needed a different approach.
The final design solved the attachment problem by securing a nylon strap between 2 “caps” on either end of the amp. This proved to be much more secure, but required a lot more design time to get the proper shape of the caps and the placement of the cutouts for the connectors. To get the curves on the edges of the caps, I resorted to tracing the shape of the amp on paper and calculating the radius of the rounded edge. Primitive, but it worked! To achieve this effect I used the minkowski sum function in OpenSCAD. It’s a really useful tool for nicely rounded edges. for the strap loops, I planned to use 1″ nylon webbing, so I made the loops accommodate one layer.
In a rare flash of maker inspiration, I got the measurements correct the first time. Well, on the rounded corners, anyway. I think I had to reprint due to the plug cutouts being a few mm off. I wasn’t sure how to finish the edges of the nylon. A quick search seemed to indicate that heating the frayed edges would melt them and nicely seal them off. I waved the cut ends over a gas flame on the stove, being careful not to hold it there very long. My caution paid off, as the ends melted quickly, finishing up very nicely. I sewed in a few pieces of Velcro and got it all assembled
Interesting note about using a 4-segement plug (TRRS). The output jack is designed for 3-segment (TRS) plugs, so you may need to slightly adjust the position of a TRRS plug to get stereo output.
And, finally, here’s a photo of the amp attached to a guitar strap while playing
Overall, I met my objective of making an easy-to-attach clip for the amp, which means it’ll be falling off of tables and other places a lot less. If you’re interested in making one, or just want to see how I designed it, I’ve put the STL files on thingiverse!
When I was a kid I got an Aria Pro II XR Series Electric guitar as a gift from my parents. The mists of time prevent me from recalling if it was for my birthday or Christmas or some combination of the two, but I’m fairly certain that it was 1989.
I played the heck out of that guitar for many years, and it has moved with me everywhere I’ve gone. After our first daughter was born, I didn’t play very much at all and it languished until recently. I got back into playing a few years ago, and longed for a new guitar. I finally got that new guitar and passed on the Aria Pro to my older daughter. She liked it, but said that she’d like to have a blue guitar. That was exactly what I wanted to hear! I’d been contemplating modding a guitar for ages, and this was the perfect excuse to try it out. We decided to refinish it, upgrade some of the hardware, and maybe even audition some different pickups. Before tearing it apart, I thought I’d take some commemorative photos!
Step 1: Disassembly
To refinish the body, we needed to remove all the electronics, plastic covers, hardware and the neck. This was the easy part!
Step 2: Remove the finish
After reading a few different posts about refinishing late ’80s Korean guitars, I decided it’s probably safe to try the heatgun + paint scraper technique. I had no idea what to expect, but read several posts indicating that this vintage of low-cost guitars would likely have a laminate body. I was hoping that there would at least be some semblance of an interesting grain to the revealed surface. There’s only one way to find out, I suppose!
As it turns out, there was a thick coat of finish on top of the wood, then a layer of paint, and then a protective layer over the paint. Removing all of this revealed a somewhat porous laminate beneath. The layers of the laminate are about 1/16″ thick each, and actually revealed a very interesting pattern at the contours of the body. The top layer itself wasn’t particularly interesting, but that’s okay, since the laser-etched images should give it some visual interest.
Once the finish was completely removed, I set to work with the random orbital sander to get a nice smooth finish. I ended up with 300grit or so, and that gave a nice, almost glassy smooth sheen to the wood. I was able to remove much of the scorch marks caused by incautious use of the heatgun.
Step 3: Frickin’ Lasers
Not content with a plain design, I asked my daughter if she wanted to put any custom designs on the guitar. Of course she did! So she set about drawing a few things she wanted on the guitar. She said sloths and cats had to be involved. In our search for ideas, we came upon an adorable image of a sloth hugging a cat, and she had to have it. She then drew her own sloth and a cat from her favorite book series at the time, Warriors.
After drawing them up, we scanned the images and tested them on some scrap material to make sure we liked the results
Step 4: The Headstock
I wanted to really personalize the guitar, so I decided we should “rebrand” it. First, I sanded off enough of the finish to remove the paint and the logo.
I then took the Epiphone logo and played around with it in the Gimp and came up with this:
One of the goals of this project was to have a nice finish that was easy to apply and didn’t require a lot of equipment. I opted for tung oil, as I like the look and feel of the oil finish, and it can be applied by hand with good results. As for the new color, we originally chose a deeper blue, but found that it was too dark and didn’t seem to want to stick to the wood. We removed most of that darker blue, leaving traces of it behind for visual interest and tried a much lighter, transparent antique blue. This was a much more pleasing result.
After settling the stain issue, it was time to apply the tung oil. I think we applied 9 coats of tung oil. It really started to get a nice soft shine after about 4-5 coats.
Step 6: Re-Assembly and Upgrades!
So, this was the hard part. Getting all that stuff put in place and working properly is always a challenge for me. I tend to get myself into trouble by not documenting things as I take them apart. I was careful to avoid that mistake this time.
I’m not the best with a soldering iron (working on it, though), but it appears that I got all the connections together correctly. The guitar makes sound and it sounds like a guitar. I consider that a win.
I took this opportunity to do a few upgrades. I wanted to improve a few things. Firstly, this guitar broke a lot of strings. Like a ridiculous amount. Long ago, I suspected that the poor quality nut and bridge saddles contributed to the problem. During disassembly, I happened to break the nut, so I needed to replace it anyway. So, I ordered a Graph Tech Tusq nut and a set of their String Saver saddles.
I also noticed that the tremolo springs ring while playing, so I replaced them with some noiseless springs that are wrapped in plastic of some kind. Lastly, I wanted to install locking tuners, but they are rather expensive. After some digging, I stumbled upon these Wilkinson locking tuners. They’re pretty ingenious, effective, and best of all, inexpensive.
How’s It Sound?
Unsurprisingly, it sounds pretty much the same as before. We didn’t end up changing the pickups yet. But for the curious, here’s what a late ’80s Korean low-cost guitar sounds like
Well, we have a few pickups lying around that we might try out, but honestly, there’s not a lot more we want to change. The one thing I’d love to do is remove the tremolo system and replace it with a fixed bridge. But, due to the nature of the tremolo design, there isn’t a good way to make the conversion.
A very nice retired couple was giving away a Hammond N-222 on Freecycle (I love Freecycle!). So, I asked my friend, Sam, to help me bring it home. We barely managed to wedge it into a Prius V, but eventually got it back to my garage.
After a bit of research, I learned that this model has a built-in Leslie speaker. The organ wasn’t worth much, plus a few of the keys were non-functional. I also learned that over the years, guitarists have used Leslie cabinets to add a tremolo effect to their rig. I thought building a speaker cabinet out of the parts I could salvage from this organ sounded like a fun project.
What I wanted to achieve that differed from similar projects was to retain some of the original character and visual design elements of the organ.
It has taken all my will power to avoid the organ harvesting puns while writing this. As I was taking the organ apart, I got a better idea of which materials from the organ I could use to build the speaker cabinet, including some buttons, knobs and the Hammond nameplate. I was a bit disappointed to discover that much of the organ’s cabinet was made of particleboard. The parts that were either plywood or solid wood were not substantial enough to be used in building the speaker cabinet. At this point it looked like I would need to construct a new box from other materials.
I also discovered a spring reverb unit in the bottom of the cabinet. I had planned to incorporate this into the design, but I decided to keep things simple for this build. So, I’ll do something with the reverb tank in another project.
Once disassembled, I put some of the materials together to get a sense of the aesthetic. I think these elements together really preserve the look of the organ.
I wasn’t sure how to orient the parts in the cabinet, but here’s a first take at what I thought the resulting box might look like. If you can’t see the lighter strokes, I’d intended to have the flat sides of the spinning cylinder face the front and rear of the cabinet.
After some careful measuring and some reflection on how the sound will get out of the box, I changed the orientation of the sound wheel, and therefore the entire enclosure. In my research, I found varying opinions on geometry, construction techniques and preferred materials. I settled on 3/4″ plywood for the structure of the box, as it would result in a really strong box. One of my favorite design tools of late is OpenSCAD. I’ve been using it to visualize a lot of projects, and I thought it’d be useful to get accurate dimensions for this project. I’ve put my OpenSCAD files online if you’d like to take a peek, or use them for your own project.
Lastly, the 8″ speaker that came with the organ was a rather non-descript and blah-sounding affair. I chose to upgrade it with an actual guitar speaker. I found an 8″ Celestion Eight Fifteen (15W) speaker on Amazon warehouse for under $30. It had good reviews, so it seemed like it was worth a try.
I got lucky on the plywood front. My friend, Eddie, had lots of scrap 3/4″ plywood and was generous in letting me use that instead of buying new material. For the covering, I wanted to get tolex that would be similar in color to the wood of the organ. Mojotone Brown Marvel Leather seemed to be the right color, and it happened to be on sale!
I opted for black hardware to match the nameplate, and picked Reliable Hardware cabinet corners. I purchased a set of 3-screw corners for the rear of the cabinet and a set of 2-screw wrap around corners for the front. I decided against using straps, because of the size of the cabinet. I didn’t think adding straps would make lifting and carrying the cabinet any easier than picking it up from the bottom.
Step 1: Checking That the Motors Work
Before ordering parts, I wanted to make sure that I knew how the motor worked and what would be required to switch between speeds. I quickly wired up the motors to make sure they worked and that I understood how to switch between them.
Rather than having a variable speed motor, the system has 2 motors, one for each speed setting. This was unexpected, but led to a simple solution. I thought I would have a separate power switch and Leslie speed control. But my friend, Ben, helped me realize I could do everything I needed to do with a single 3-position switch.
This was my first project that used AC power, and of course, I forgot about a fuse! That was quickly remedied by using a fused AC power connector on the rear panel.
Step 2: Designing the Leslie Control and Power to the Motors
Since I wanted to use the original control button for the Leslie, I had to figure out a way to convert the button’s angular motion into the linear motion of a switch. First, I thought of using a toggle switch underneath the button, but Ben suggested a 3-position sliding switch instead. I figured I could 3-D print the parts I needed to make this work and set to work devising a harness for the switch and original button.
To incorporate the old Hammond buttons, I selected the one marked “Leslie Slow/Fast” to control the motor selection. I went to my local makerspace, thelab.ms, and 3D printed a housing and mechanism to actuate the 3 position switch. The switch cover plate for the button I 3D printed using a wood-impregnated filament that could be sanded and painted to match the cabinet. However, this proved to be too brittle at the dimensions I used, and so I opted to print in black ABS.
Step 3: Building the Cabinet Box.
Eddie cut the boards down to size on a table saw for me. then, I clamped the parts together to make sure the measurements were close enough. Things were really starting to take shape!
With everything test fitted, I decided to try out the sound and see if there was a discernible difference if the back of the cabinet were open or sealed. I preferred the sound of a sealed enclosure. Here’s a video showing the Leslie in action in both slow and fast speeds.
Satisfied with the resultant sound, it was time to put it all together. Eddie recommended doweling the walls of the enclosure for added strength. First, I glued and screwed the Leslie assembly to the bottom panel of the enclosure. Then, I doweled the side panels and glued it all up. Once it was dry, I screwed the top panel into the top of the Leslie assembly. To say the least, it is a solid build!
After constructing the box, I sanded the edges to even them up, then I hit the edges with a 3/8″ roundover bit in my router. The cabinet corner specs indicated a 1/2″ inner diameter, but it looked a bit smaller to me. The 3/8″ bit was a perfect fit.
Step 4: Covering the Cabinet in Tolex
I ordered a single yard length of the tolex, which had a 54″ width. I underestimated a bit, so I decide that the rear panel would be covered in grill cloth instead of tolex. I am happy with how it turned out despite the error in estimation. The hard parts with the tolex were cutting the corners. The How-to video from Reliable Hardware shows mitering the corners, but you have to be careful not to overshoot the corners or the cuts show. Sadly, I missed a few of them.
Step 5: Final Wiring of the Motors and Speaker
The next step was to do the final wiring of the speaker and motors. This was my first time using heat shrink tubing. This stuff is great!
Phase 6: The Finishing Touches
I wasn’t sure how I’d cut down the nameplate, but I had a lot of room for error. The final piece only needed to be about 12″ long, and I had about 36″ of material to work with. My first attempt was to use metal snips. It cut easily, but because the nameplate is c-shaped in cross-section, the snips bent the edges. The metal appears to be aluminum, so I decided to try a cutting wheel on the Dremel. This produced a much better edge, but was hard to steady. I mounted the Dremel on the press stand and elevated the nameplate to the level of the cutting wheel. I was then able to slide the nameplate across the wheel in a smooth fashion. After making the cut, I tried smoothing things out with a grinding bit, but it made the edge uneven. I then tried some medium grit sandpaper, and that worked well.
The Finished Project
Overall, I’m very pleased with the look and sound of this cabinet. I’m really impressed with the Celestion Eight Fifteen speaker. It has a lot of low-end for such a small speaker.
When the cylinder stops spinning, there isn’t a way to make sure the opening points toward the front of the cabinet. I’ve thought through a few ideas, but most are overly complex and require a lot of effort.
Because I wanted to keep the cabinet as compact and as simple as possible, I didn’t design in a way to replace the speaker. If it every blows, I’ll have to rip apart the cabinet.
Slow down when cutting the mitered corners of the tolex
Fill in any surface divots or other irregularities before applying the tolex. There’s a good chance they’ll show through.
Don’t touch bare AC wire connection points when they are plugged in.
I’d like to thank Sam for not blinking when I asked him for help picking up the organ. Big thanks to Eddie for donating the plywood and for cutting the big pieces on his table saw, as well as for suggesting the dowels (and letting me borrow the doweling kit). Finally, I’d like to thank Ben for helping me figure out the electrical bits.
So, I recently added a NAS to the network. I also added a new Mac mini. My goal was to have all the media stored on the NAS and shared it out to all the computers on the network. Since iTunes allows you to share your library, and the ReadyNAS has an iTunes server built-in, I thought this would be a piece of cake.
However, there were a few hiccups that delayed my achieving iTunes Nirvana:
You can’t create playlists from iTunes shared libraries
FrontRow doesn’t show artwork for items on shared libraries
You can’t sync your iPod to a shared library
Clearly, these limitations make the shared library approach less than ideal.
“Ok”, I thought. “I’ll simply point iTunes to the shared volume where the music and the library file reside.”
This didn’t seem to work. No music appeared in the iTunes browser window. After trying several permutations of this arrangement, I gave up.
My last thought was to make a soft link, or “alias” in Mac parlance, to the shared folder and name the alias “iTunes”. I deleted the “iTunes” folder in my home directory, “~/Music/iTunes”, and created the alias there.
To my surprise, this worked (I really didn’t think it would). The only painful part is that you may have to rebuild your library, losing ratings, etc. However, all the limitations of the shared library are now gone.
I did encounter some issues where iTunes reported a corrupt library file, but I think it was due to my stopping the “importing library” process when I first started iTunes after making the library change (it was late and the import was taking a really, really long time). I also had to “consolidate library” to get some of the content that was local to one of the computers. Another issue I encountered was that startup of iTunes was slow. No biggie. I think the benefit of the remote library outweighs the performance issue. Speaking of performance, the final issue I uncovered was that FrontRow seemed to experience weirdness if iTunes is open. It claimed that there was no content in the library. I quit iTunes, and FrontRow was happy. This may have been due to the delay incurred by the network communication, but it seemed to be related to iTunes being open.
UPDATE: I continued experiencing the weirdness where iTunes on the mini would report a corrupted Library file, and recreate the Library from the Library.XML file (very time-consuming). I suspected this was due to something that the iTunes Helper application was doing. To test this hypothesis, I disabled the helper by selecting (in iTunes) Preferences->Syncing->”Disable automatic syncing for all iPhones and iPods”.
I think it should be OK to have this enabled on one machine, but I haven’t tested that out. For me, manually syncing my iPod isn’t a big deal.
Also note that you should select “Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library”. Sine your Music folder is on the network now, you’ll want all your content going there.
when they realize they’re really getting old. The other day, I saw a Wendy’s commercial. The song being used was “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes. Back in my day, that song was an anthem for the misfits, freaks and nerds. VF was the band that embodied the struggle of the outcast in a society of jocks and cheerleaders.
And now, it’s the background track for a Wendy’s commercial. Lovely. Although I’m sure that’s how the previous generation felt when their music was used for the shameless foisting of schlocky upon the unwashed masses.
Haha! Via Music Thing, this is the funniest Flash animation I’ve seen since I first watched Homestar Runner. Mr. Fastfinger is a guru that can play M34n Lix0rz. It’s interactive, so you get to make him jam and you have to use his abilities to defeat a demon accordionist. Very funny!
because they’re going to end up with all of my money. Okay, to date, I’ve spent only about $30USD, but the fact that I’ve spent any money at all is a testament to the draw of iTMS.
For the most part, music I’m looking for is there. There are a few big examples of absent artists (the Beatles for instance), but it changes every day. Also, you gotta love the fact that you can audition a track before you buy it. And, at $0.99 per track, it’s sooo within the impulse buy range.
At first, I thought that this type of buying would severly limit my musical breadth, but there are a few things that mitigate the narrowness. First of all, the search feature tends to be “greedy” in its matching. That is, things that aren’t exactly what you were looking for appear, and I tend to investigate those results further. For the most part, I’m not interested, but every once in a while, I find something I normally wouldn’t have sought out and like. Also, these other results tend to remind me of other things I was looking for. I’m one of those people who knows exactly what music he’s looking for… until I step foot in the music store. Then my mind draws a blank. This happens in the video store as well and results in a complete sweep of the recent releases.
But I digress. The other factor that mitigates tunnel vision when purchasing music is the fact that you can audition all the tracks on an album. I used to go by the maxim of, “if there are 2 good tracks from one album, consider buying it”. I no longer need to worry about this any more. I can audition all the tracks, and if I only like one, I buy it.
So, if you haven’t yet discovered iTunes, by no means should you click this link and download iTunes. And by no means should you enter your credit card info. You have been warned.
It all started with that old ADA preamp. Since then, I’ve fixed Ken’s Tobias bass (just needed to re-solder a wire to a potentiometer), and I’ve revived my old fretless bass.
Way back in 1992, I bought my first bass. I don’t even remeber what brand it was, but it had a cherry burst finish, and a small body. I really liked that bass. I had it setup by the one guy in my hometown who *really* knew how to set up a guitar. Dave Pickett was his name, and if Pickett couldn’t fix it, it couldn’t be fixed. Needless to say, when I got it back, it played like a dream.
Then a friend of mine, Jay, wanted to know if I’d trade him for his fretless. He needed a fretted bass to do some recording. He sweetened the deal by throwing in a Crybaby wah-wah pedal. This was an offer I couldn’t refuse. So, I traded my first bass for this fretless and the wah pedal.
Many years passed, and since I didn’t play enough to be good at the fretless, I really didn’t play it much at all. Eventually, I moved out to the east coast and got the itch to play again. Unfortunately, years of neglect had taken its toll on the fretless. The battery for the active electronics had corroded and took the battery connector with it. Also, the output jack corroded. I thought it was finished. “Maybe one day I could fix it”, I thought. And so, it lingered amongst my possessions until a few days ago.
With my new-found interest in fixing things, I thought I’d fix my gaze upon this old thing and give it a shot. I looked at the electronics, and it looked like I really just needed to replace the jack and the battery connector. Everything else seemed to be okay. So, this Saturday, I headed over to a local guitar shop and got the jack and the connector. A grand total of $12. I figured it was worth that much to see if it was fixable. If it didn’t work, I was out $12 and I could get rid of the bass with the knowledge that I had at least tried to fix it.
To make a long story short, after one failed attempt, I realized my mistake and rewired one of the connections. That did it! I plugged it in and I was in business. How cool is that?!
About 5 years ago or so, I purchased a bass preamp from my bass instructor/mentor/friend, RustySpringfield. The ADA MB-1 was a real masterpiece of engineering, and had both a tube portion as well as a solid state portion that could be mixed together for that “perfect sound”. This unit had seen a lot of use, as Rusty used it in his travels with the Big Apple Circus, and it survived roadies, tent dust, and endless use. So, when I decided I wanted to do a little home recording, he was willing to sell it to me for a good price.
All was well until about a year and a half ago. For some reason, the little guy would just stop working and dump its programming. If I could get it to work, bumping it would upset it again. I searched for a place to repair it, and after much procrastination, took it in. The guy said it would cost around $60 bucks just to bench it, and then he still didn’t know if it could be fixed. And, since ADA had been out of business for some time, he didn’t know if it’d be worth looking at.
So, I went online. There were places that could repair and service it, but it was still going to be pretty expensive. So, for the time, I gave up, and chalked it up to “well, I got good use out of it while I had it”.
Fast forward to last week. As you know, I’ve started a new job, and in the course of 5 months, I’ve learned a lot about hardware, and much has been demystified. So, armed with these new learnings, I decided I had nothing to lose by at least taking a look at the preamp and see if it could be fixed. Worst case, I’d need to replace some parts. The guys at work could probably figure out what I didn’t know, so the prospect was good in my mind. So, I opened up the case and looked around. Lots of chips and lots of other electronics that I have no clue about. So, I decide that maybe a chip is loose. I start poking around with my fingers on all the chips that are mounted on sockets. There was a lot of creaking and flexing of the mainboard, until finally, one of the chips I pushed on gave a little. Hmmm, it seems it was loose after all. So, I plugged it in, and, “voila!”, the preamp ran through its normal POST, then warmed up the tubes, and displayed its normal screen. Needless to say, I was ecstatic. I immediately plugged in my bass, and there was nothing but sweet, sweet music 🙂