I’ve always wanted a Les Paul Junior.  Single P-90 pickup in a mahogany slab body.  It’s the Telecaster of the Gibson world.  Or, the Esquire, I suppose.  Anyway, it’s a bad-ass rock and roll instrument, and I wanted one.  So when an Internet forum member that I knew lived nearby put a cheapie sunburst Epiphone Junior up for sale I jumped on it pretty quick.

It probably wasn’t the smartest purchase I’ve ever made — body and headstock beat to hell, cheap electronics and tuners that make me extremely nervous.  I probably could’ve found one on Craigslist for a few bucks less, but this was an fast, cheap and easy transaction from a guy I know and trust, so I went ahead and brought it home.

The previous owner had swapped out the original cheap plastic nut with a Graph Tech TUSQ replacement.  It was certainly an upgrade, but the nut itself required a bit of sanding and filing that hadn’t been done.  (In fact, noodling around on this guitar with the unsanded nut for a week gave me a nasty case of tendinitis that didn’t go away for a few months.  Man, I hate being old.)  Luckily, the nut came out with just a few taps of a hammer and a flathead screwdriver, and, after a couple rounds of sanding, a tiny dollop of glue, a tweak on the truss rod and a new set of strings, Junior was ready to go!

Just in time, too.  Los Padres are scheduled to play the KIP fundraiser this March.  I gave Junior a spin at last week’s rehearsal and I think I like it.  If it holds up over the next few weeks I might just keep the tele tuned to Open G and only bring it out for select numbers.  We’ll see.


You know what’s been missing from my life?

Yup.  Microcontrollers.

I got this idea several months back to create a few two-in-one effects pedals.  I had an EA Tremolo board and a one-knob reverb ready to go, and I thought they might pair nicely.  While I was doing the layout for the 1590BB enclosure I thought it would be cool if the pedal ran in two modes: Separate Mode, where each switch activated it’s own affect; and Together Mode, where the right switch activated both effects simultaneously.  I spent days thinking about this and mocking up switch diagrams, but all to no avail.  It was too complicated for me to figure out — at least with some room left in the enclosure for the actual effects boards.  For a while I had a brilliant plan to use optoisolators, and while they do simplify things, the switching was still a catastrophe.  That’s when I broke down and started thinking about microcontrollers.

Two weeks later, I have an Arduino Uno and a working prototype on breadboard.


Arduino Dual-Effect Superswitch

With the added flexibility of the microcontroller, I’ve added a third mode: XOR Mode.  Very exciting!  More details to come….

Three-Mode Dual-Effect Superswitch Prototype_bb


This September I had the opportunity to play out again with my old friends from the the KIP Dad Band at the St. Francis of Assisi Fall Festival.  At first I begged out, since Simon had an out-of-town soccer tournament scheduled for that weekend, but it occurred to me that I really only get to play guitar and use all of my home-made effects pedals once or twice a year max.  This would be worth making a three-hour round trip.

Our pal Butch is still recovering from back surgery and was not available to play drums, so Adam invited his friend Brad to sit in, and he was a delight to play with.  Here are Vichan and I rocking out at Adam’s house.


One of my favorite parts of playing out is putting together a pedal board.  Mine was a full two-thirds DIY this year, only because I hadn’t had time to finish my JMK Super Phaser.


From front to back that’s a Madbean Sparklehorn (delay and overdrive for leads), an MXR Phase 90, a Madbean Pork Barrel chorus (Boss CE-2 clone), a Madbean Lavache (Lovepedal Les Lius derivative for Cinnamon Girl), a Madbean Ego Driver (Fulltone OCD derivative for my normal “dirt channel”) and a Boss TU-2 tuner.

And here is the whole band, Los Padres del Rock, on stage in the St. Francis courtyard.  It was a perfect night — great weather and a fantastic crowd!


Want proof?  Here’s a little bit of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl”.  My low D string is a bit flat, but do you think something like that would bother Neil?

Oh, and Tim is using SHO-TIME!, my Z.Vex SHO booster clone for his solo.  I think it sounds pretty sweet.

First thing yesterday, rumors went wild that Manchester City FC was going to sack their manager, Roberto Mancini. Later in the day, a sluggish City team lost a Cup final they were heavily favored to win. Today’s news? Manchester City set to replace their Manager. But I blame Khaldoon al-Mubarak for yesterday’s loss, since he’s the chairman and the one who let the team take the pitch with huge doubts hanging over their collective heads.

Roberto Mancini

Manchester City’s ownership behaved remarkably tactlessly this week and should be ashamed. They not only disrespected Roberto Mancini, but the players and the fans as well. They were certainly not obligated to keep Mancini on, but negotiating his replacement in full view of the media days before the FA Cup final was in remarkably poor form. I am a Manchester City fan, but this week I am much more proud of the other Manchester club’s program and legacy of tradition as they celebrate the retirement of their manager of 26 years.

I got to strap on the telecaster (and haul out the pedalboard) for the annual Keneseth Israel Preschool fundraiser party last weekend.  This year’s theme was “Sock Hop”, so the Dad Band put together a set of 14 rock’n’roll oldies.  My personal highlights were playing the harmonica on “Not Fade Away”, singing lead on “La Bamba”, and faking my way through the guitar solos on “Slow Down” and “Rock Around the Clock”.  As usual, I had a fantastic time rocking with the Dads.

KIP Sock Hop Band

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

Everything went great until I went to take a solo on “Johnny B. Goode”, stomped on my boost pedal, dug in and heard…nothing.  My first assumption was that the booster had stopped working, so I clicked it off, but still nothing.  I turned around to check the amp (a rental Blues Jr.) and the lamp was flickering wildly on and off.  Imagining a grounding fault or a short, I started to panic — I don’t want to die playing a Blues Jr.!   I switched it off and back on again.  Still nothing.  Luckily there were three other guitarists picking up the slack, so I just killed the amp, mimed along and tried to look cool for the remainder of the tune.



I stumbled across the schematic for Dead Easy Dirt the other day and (a.) it looked like something fun and easy to breadboard, and (b.) it got me thinking about diode clipping.  I cranked out and tested the original schematic last night — basically just an op-amp set for maximum gain straight into symmetrical diode clipping.  It was god-awful, but pretty much what I expected.  The more I monkeyed around with it, the more I caught myself wondering if this was related to the old ProCo RAT circuit.  Sure enough, it’s almost exactly the heart of a RAT using a different op-amp and minus any tone shaping or buffers.*  Cool.

I played around with several diode variations, but ripping them out of and stuffing them back into the breadboard was getting tiresome.  The solution: Simon and I ran to Radio Shack after our coffee date this morning and picked up an eight-position dipswitch.  I spent about a half hour this afternoon reworking the board with the switches, and now I’ve got 16 varieties of diode clipping goodness on tap.

Switch Positions:

  1. 1N4001, anode to ground (because I have a million 1N4001’s lying around)
  2. Red LED, anode to ground (lights up more the harder you drive it — fun!)
  3. Nothing (for single-sided assymetrical clipping, kinda redundant)
  4. 1N914, anode to ground (the original RAT diode)
  5. 1N4001, cathode to ground
  6. Red LED, cathode to ground
  7. Two 1N914’s in series, cathode to ground (for double-sided assymetrical clipping)
  8. 1N914, cathode to ground

Select one switch from switches 1-4 and another from 5-8 and you’re in trashy distortion heaven!


* Also seen in the MXR Distortion+, and I’m sure several other distortion pedals.  So-called overdrive pedals frequently use diode clipping, too, but tend to put it in a less intrusive portion of the signal-shaping circuit.

Inspired by the Beavis Board and other similar designs, I finally got around to building my own effects circuit test box.

+9VDC in from an adapter goes to a MadBean Road Rage board, which uses a TC1044 and a voltage regulator to provide 9V, 12V, ~18V and -9V — the leftmost knob is a rotary switch. Power then goes to a voltage sag knob before it heads to the outside world.

I used a four-output speaker connection panel from Radio Shack for my connections to the external circuit. From top to bottom it goes: power, ground, circuit input, circuit output. The 1PDT switch is there to select whether circuit output or test probe output goes to the out-to-amplifier jack, but I haven’t wired in the test probe yet.

To test the test box, I connected an old BYOC Confidence Booster board I had lying around. Worked like a charm.

Here I am testing Channel 1 of my MadBean Aristocrat board. Sounds great configured for overdrive with a B250K Gain pot. I’ll try the B100K later today.

It’s great to “rock it before you box it”. Not only do you make sure the circuit is functional before you spend a lot of time cramming the board into the enclosure and wiring up the jacks and the switches, but you can make subtle tweaks much more easily, too.

Of course if you really wanna tweak an effects circuit before you even heat up your soldering iron, you can breadboard it first. A friend of mine has expressed interest in the Echoplex preamp booster, so I put this together last night. (Notice that I have the voltage selector knob on the left in 18V position.)

It’s essentially the schematic for the MadBean FatPants board, but I replaced all the potentiometers with median-value resistors.

The problem with working on these guitar projects at night is that, unless you live by yourself in an underground bunker, you can never properly test them at serious volume when you’re finished. I could tell there was a boost, but I couldn’t tell how much it was fattening up the sound or if I even liked it.

Sounded great this morning when I finally had a chance to crank up the amp! I’ll grab some pots and alligator clip leads and head over to my friend’s place later this week to see if he likes it.

Congratulations to the Boston Celtics (including Louisville native and University of Kentucky alumnus Rajon Rondo with 21 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists and 6 steals) on their huge win earlier tonight against the L.A. Lakers to clinch the 2008 NBA Finals. They’ve had a heck of a season and a heck of a playoffs, and they finished this series out with a heck of a game, blowing out L.A. by a stunning 39 points (131-92).

Now I can finally get some sleep this year. This Eastern timezone up ’til midnight stuff has been killing me.

Shortly after the big server rebuild a few weeks back I was examining the web server logs and I noticed that several sites were stealing okcomputer.org bandwidth by linking images from the okcomputer.org Photo Gallery directly into their web sites. This is just a tacky thing to do on numerous levels. In the past, I’ve had people contact me and ask for permission to use an image from the Photo Gallery, and I’ve always been happy to direct them to the photo’s owner. If they are given permission, I expect them to download a copy of image file and serve it directly from their own server. Otherwise, every hit to www.jack.ass causes a hit on my web server and uses some of my bandwidth.

So while I was rebuilding the web server I implemented a very common Apache mod_rewrite recipe so that these bandwidth thieves would get a very different image than the one they linked to. I didn’t do anything gross — just a small version of the pic of me playing the ukulele that I drag out every now and then. I week later I checked in on one of the bandwidth thieves’ web sites — a tourism site for some city in the Netherlands — and there I was wailing away on the uke. Not only was my recipe working, but this doofus hadn’t even noticed it yet.

As usual, I (a.) didn’t think this one through very well, and (b.) forgot I had even done it. That is until my dad tried to print some Photo Gallery photos through Shutterfly the other night. Luckily I was watching over his shoulder. Still, I was stumped for at least 8 seconds when the picture of Simon that my dad had selected showed up as me and my uke on Shutterfly.

Fixed now. As much fun as implementing this type of recipe always sounds when you read about it, it’s almost always more trouble than it’s worth. Almost.

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