Monday, 27 September 2010

Going For A Spin

It's been a while since I posted a music related blog here but things have been quiet and my dulcimer project has been side lined in favour of my youth group work (See Fleet Of Footies blog) Anyway I played a cover of a Jamie Cullum song at the folk club last night, no not someone you'd associate with folk or the electric guitar, not that every thing that is played at the club is strictly folk, it's nice to have a little variation too. But "All At Sea" is one of his more laid back numbers which inspired me when watched him play it live with an orchestra at the proms, with rain effects created by to blokes dressed as fishermen holding up punctured containers of water, I attempted to recreate an atmospheric sound with the whirl of my rotary speaker, I'd never taken it to the club before because I considered it to be too gimmicky but it turns out it's mellow non directinal singing sound exactly fits the bill, it got several compliments! Btw It's blue paint work meant it even blended in with the furniture. In fact they seemed to like the Les Pew more too, during the interval a couple of people had a play of it, something that's never happened before. One thing about the rotatary speaker is nobody is ever in it's direct line of fire (for too long) as they would be with a fixed speaker and also I hear exactly the same effect and similar volume when I'm sitting right over it. Next time I think I'll play something more outright jazzy, it sounds soooo good if you play anything with major and minor 7th chords in it! Only thing is I think I need to put wheels on it! It's a really awkward to carry- I still havn't unloaded it from the car yet.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Something's a foot!

Check out my new blog - Fleet Of Footys here!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

more of the same

The dulcimer is progressing quickly, yes my lining blocks are unevenly spaced but I'll hopefully never see them again once the top is glued down, which I must resist doing until I glue the staff & fingerboard on to it because it'll be easier to clamp. Not everything has gone to plan, the sides slope inwards just forward of the waist but I can't give up now!

The glider is finished and has been tested by being hand launched now the sky's the limit!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Real progress at last!

By getting the sides glued on I feel like I've made some real progress with the dulcimer at last! I'm so embarrassed by my attempts to clamp it all up that I didn't take any photos in case they fell off! But making proper mould to hold one instrument seems a lot of extra work. It's far from perfect (as usual!) and now contains rather a lot of glue mixed with sawdust to fill the gaps around the bottom but I think it will come out OK. (from a distance) Since this photo I have glued on the rosewood cap that sits at the base and cut the six vent slots in the sides that allow the air to move between the bottoms, this is my own slant on the design which yet is to be proved!
Btw on the glider front I have managed to coax my 1980's radio control into life so will get that fitted soon, then it's all down the the weather, it's been raining, windy and quite chilly here and feels like Autumn is all ready here!
Before I go I just have to mention that we went to see Jamie Cullum in concert at the proms on Thursday!!! An amazing evening! We were in the prommers (standing crowd) and were just a few feet from the stage!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Most instrument builders won't even look at plywood but my cigar box ukulele is plywood and I think sounds better than many solid uke's and these are hard times, anyway I like the fact that dulcimer was made from a 1950's? glass fronted cabinet that came from my mother in laws front room, it gives it a some personal history and makes it more folksy! But the top has been niggling me because when I tapped my knuckle the first top I made sounded just dead, no resonant bong,no tone at all, same if I rapped my nails on it, but I noticed the piece from the shelf is different all together! Very loud! So I abandoned the old one and drilled out all the sound holes again, this time using a hole saw to no tear outs as it when though the top of the grain though I forgot to rest it on another piece of wood so I got some nasty rips underneath! Doh!
So obviously even plywood is not all made equal.
Note in the picture I now have the timber for my ebony fingerboard and mahogany staff (that the bit that goes underneath) also note the double bottomed bottom! It means that when you lay it on your lap you aren't stopping the bottom from vibrating, my version will have six vent slots along the sides which is different from the traditional method of gluing lots of small blocks between the two bottoms my own stamp on the design- after all it's an English Handcross hill dulcimer rather than the more common Appalachian Mountain variety!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Sorry for the lack of instrument building blogging but I've been spending some quality time building a 6 foot wing span radio control glider with my 15 year old son as a summer project.Nearly ready to fly!

Dull-cimer? Possibly,I'm completely in unknown territory here and I'm making this recession busting instrument from an old plywood cabinet. What I have discovered is that because the body of a dulcimer doesn't bear the load of the string tension like a guitar it more a box to act as a sound amplifier and back in the day even cardboard dulcimers have been known!
To give my dulc a fighting chance I'm constructing it with a double back, this allows the (inner) back to freely vibrate when you lay it on your lap or stand it on a table. I'm not doing this the traditional way (of course) but am extending the sides right to the bottom and having vent slots in them.
Today I ordered some ebony for the fingerboard and a proper timber for the stock which unknown to me until I placed my order goes underneath the fingerboard to make up the thickness, (a bit like a neck) and is the bit that goes right to the bridge (Thank you David Dyke for you're help!)
Anyhow I'm thinking this dulcimer might sound a little more thin a nasal than the quality solid wood top quality ones I've seen and heard but never mind I quite like that sound I don't want it to sound too guitar like.
More photos and further blogs soon!

Friday, 6 August 2010

Summer update

Just a quick note to say that as you can see by the photo the glider is progessing and we hope tp be able to fly it before the school holidays are over. On a musical theme (which is what this blog is suppssed to be about!) the dulcimer is coming along too and I will post some photos of that soon!

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Summer break

Well it’s mid summer, the folk club is having abreak till September and my next booked open mic isn’t till October. So a break from music for a bit and time to spend with my family. I have a cunning plan to keep my 15 year old son off of the computer ,I’ve just bought a 2 metre wingspan radio controlled model glider/sail plane kit , it will be good to spend some quality father /son time building and learning how to fly it! I notice that people are fixing phones and cameras to their models and uploading their aerial movies to youtube, I guess I’ll have to risk taking my ipod for a flight!
Here’s one I found taken on the hill we hope to fly our from, who needs to charter a helicopter to make films like these? Ok not very summery but a good movie!

Friday, 2 July 2010

Testing my clock

My home made clock-next I have to add buttons so I can set the time then maybe chimes,not ugly electronic one but a relay connected to a little hammer striking a wind chime style tube would sound nice!

Friday, 25 June 2010

PENdulum test (BIC actually)

Here's a short video of my testing my pendulum system out, it's running a little fast so I need make the pendulum longer and the only way to accommodate t in that case is to raise the top and the coil up higher. I've already mover the opto sensor to the back and have a little pin in the back of the pendulum interrupting the beam. Even though the stanley knife bade fulcrum should be pretty well friction free bcz the coils magnetism has to jump a bit of a gap it's not so efficient and those 60 pulses a second are going to eat the batteries! Maybe a solar panel on top?

Monday, 21 June 2010

Video of me playing at Gary's club

About time I posted a video of myself playing here, I played at Gary's Club at the weekend, I think it went well. Anyway here's a couple of videos so you can make up your own mind!
Note I'm playing the Les Pew through the "new" amp and the rotary speaker, the copper gardening tags I found in a hardware shop have made much improved rotating speaker contacts! I wrote the songs too.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Bird's nest wiring!

Something that seems fairly simple in theory doesn't always work out like that in practice. It's certainly put my eye sight to the test! Though the bird's nest lay out is easier to trace than it looks you could hardly call it neat! (Dare I admit wiring is my trade?) Bcz the minute LEDs are small and are easy to destroy by over heating with the iron I decided to only wire one wire to each pin there is still the wiring for the seconds LEDs to be added but as these are larger I should be able to link them daisy chain style to keep down the bulk of the wiring! Oh-and I must order the IC's or it won't be doing anything!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Time - warp. (sorry that's the best I could come up with!)

Inspired by Time Hunkin's web site I thought I'd build a clock (also it makes a change to make something totally non musical)
It will have 132 LEDs _ and five cmos counters fanned out in a star shape in the center.
The outer ring will have yellow LEDs indicating the seconds- middle ring red for minutes and the inner rectangular green LEDS for the hour hands.
Yes a CNC machine would have made a better job of drilling those holes! Think of it as art! I will get them a little better as I glue them it place then fill any gaps.
it won't have a pcb of any kind all will have to be point to point hand wired! I must be mad! I want it to keep time via a pendulum with optical sensor and might add hourly chimes later.

The dulcimer is coming along, the side bending was a little bit of a struggle as I used a large soldering iron to steam them! No they don't want to stay in exactly the right curvature but are now bend easily into place.
I'm held up now as I need to put in an order for glue and might as well buy the finger board etc though my regular luthier suppliers in the UK don't seem to offer anything dulcimer sized!

Friday, 28 May 2010

Tim Hunkin - Engineer - Artist

Does any one remember the TV sries The Secret Life Of Machines back in the late 80’s? Hosted by Tim Hunkin and Rex Garrod it explained the inner workings of domestic and later office equipment through experimentation, stunts and wacky cartoons! I considered this compulsory viewing!
A few day ago I looked on youtube to see if any clips were on it and indeed there where but then I discovered the website where you can (legally) download all 18 shows to keep!
If this wasn’t enough I found Tim’s own website and realised he had been rather busy since that series was made to put it mildly!
What a mine of inspiration not to mention a great way to earn a living! If only I could do a similar thing but with a musical slant to it? !
Sorry the links don't link here ,I've never managed to get them to work.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Dulcimer back and sides

The laminate on the inside of the side panels was damaged from where I had taken the cabinet apart but that was probably because it wasn’t very well stuck down in the first place and half an hour with a chisel had it all removed, what I have left is about 3 mm thick and can’t be described as ply because the grain of two layers of wood go in the same direction so it’s just a layer of birch and something prettier on top. These pieces will become the top and sides of my dulcimer the bottom is what used to be the cabinet’s top so is rather thick 5 ply. Rather than conventionally gluing the sides on top of it I’m going to stick them round the edge this will have the advantage of acting as a former, hide the fact it is ply and save me fitting kurfeling as I have a thick edge to glue to! I have already cut a maple wedge block for the tail and have off cut of rose wood to cap the end. Now I’m thinking about the headstock, I don’t have the wood for the finger board though and I guess it ought to match rosewood or Mahogany would look nice and I think I have some Mahogany in the cabinet/box of that digital amp project that I scrapped. Many dulcimer makers just seem to glue the headstock separately to the end block but I want mine to be extend to that area for strength so I need to make the headstock before I start bending the sides a challenge I must conquer but am not looking forward to! Just as well I have a spare strip to practice on!

Friday, 21 May 2010

Taking Stock

I‘ve just realised that this Dulcimer would be my tenth home made instrument! So I though it would be a good time to take stock of what I had built then I went on adding projects to the list and all this in the last ten years!

1. Mosrite copy – “Mozzie” Solid Poplar Body –Vox tremolo ( Bolt on Neck from old Eko stock)
2. Electric 12 string “Lady V” Semi Hollow Ash body, book matched flame maple top .
3. 12 string Mando Guitar “Woody” Maple Body homemade bridge
4. 12 String Mando Guitar-“Bluey” Quadruple strung! Ukulele
5. Electric Guitar “The Les Pew” 150 year old Semi hollow Pine Body
6. 6 String Octave banjo (A new shorter neck made for broken English Zither banjo)
7. Headless Bass -Pine body (Neck from a Westone Thunder 1A Bass)
8. Cigar Box Ukulele – Drift wood mahogany neck
9. 1 string Diddley Bow - Pew Body/neck
10. Mountain Dulcimer –in progress!

Other projects

Rotary speaker- utilising chocolate tins!
Beer bottle cap percussion machine (waiting reworking)
Double Treble booster/tone bender pedal
100watt general purpose amplifier rebuild (unfinished)
17watt Valve Amplifier-+ speaker cab From modified English 1960’s Hifi amplifier.
Digital amplifier (scrapped) –power amp is in the rotary speaker
Ultra low power valve amp (scrapped)

Song writing (listed only those I publicly perform)

The Grand Old Pier
Black River
Need and Want

Painting (Haven’t done any for a few years!) These spring to mind;

Nancy Kelly’s A Christmas Dream Cd cover (sold to NK)
Virginia Haze portrait (sold to “VH”)
The Muffs (on The Muffs myspace page)

Plus helping out with a youth group and of course a full time job! Well it beats watching TV! ..or washing the car. How does my wife put up with me?

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

First real Dulcimer blog

I have found a design I like, (though won't have heart sound holes) have scaled the photo up to a full size template and what do you know it fits my available wood from that plywood cabinet exactly!

Timber from top to bottom;

The top!

The sides- will have to have the varnish sanded right off so the steam/water can penetrate it for bending - scary must take my time!

THe bottom - Not ideal as it has an off set-unmatched join in the laminate but does have a piece of mahogany laminate stuck to the other side that will show nicely through the sound holes!

This is my first real acoustic instrument, this time no cigar boxes or tobacco tin sound box so it will be a challenge!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Mulling over yesterdays post

Well I flirted with the idea of a fret board that could be moved up and down under the strings rather that moving the stings and also a twin "neck" with side by side dulcimer and lap slide but maybe I should just make myself a a conventional dulcimer. Albiet rectangular.
Here is photo of the two sides of that cabinet, one showing the inside the other the outside ,they are both the same. Pretty eh?

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The Dulcide? Slideimer? - Americana in a box!

When we put the pew into the kitchen it made a rather plain 1960's? glass fronted cabinet homeless, so plain that my wife actually let me take it apart (with a few taps of a hammer) and keep the wood. It's thin ply with rather a nice laminate on it so ideal for the back and sides of an acoustic instrument of some kind! I'd just have to buy a solid top. Square guitars went through my mind, a kind of unplugged version of Bo Diddley's Gretsch but now I'm thinking DUlcimer and Lap Steel all at the same time! YOu see I'd like both but don't have the space so why not make a convertible instrument where the 6 stings can be raised for slide playing then (and here's the clever bit) with a flick of a lever two two they drop down , four over the frets and two into slots running down the fret board so they are out of play and leave the correct spaces for a dulcimer! It won't be instant as the strings would have to be slacked and re-tuned but it should only take a few minutes also I might have to compromise with gauge I have yet to do any research, just remember you saw it here first! I hope!

Also... Note the photo below of the box I found in some junk- it reminds me of a small mixing desk ,it used to be fairly common to build your own but nobody bothers any more because they are so cheap, but so what! As you can see I've laid out some knobs to get an idea of what it could accommodate-about 5 stereo channels with pan and two band eq.
Anyhow no promises I'll build either but I keep you updated as always!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Diddley Cam!

Note: The key is permanently screwed to the tin now! (and this one isn't actually my back door key)

Monday, 3 May 2010

Diddley bow at open mic night.

I've just got back from playing my diddley bow at my folk club's open mic.

I arrived to pretty full hall (HELP!) and the way to my seat (the one nearest the power outlet) the stainless steel nut I was using as a bridge fell off and rolled away under a table so I had to improvise using my back door key which was probably more authentic anyway, I explained this in my introduction speech along with a little back ground history, anyway after about a minute or so of playing I had pretty much exhausted all I had learnt in a day and was wondering how to finish when my key slipped out from under the string bringing me to an abrupt halt! I explained that my back door key had fallen off which got a good laugh and was referred to by other musicians several time during the rest of the evening! Anyhow I think it's novelty value won them over because they loved it! I even got the offer to play a duet with a harmonica player but we ran out of time. Maybe another time then. I tried to get them to stomp along with the beat but they wouldn't play ball so next time I'll play it with my foot operated - beer cap- shaky stick thing. Now I need a mic and a way to inject my voice into my guitar amp so I can keep up with the volume!Ok better not push it too far! Oh and write some blues songs.
So it seems you can play cranked up electric rock and roll at a traditional folk cub as long as you call it blues and play it on a diddley bow!;)

The rest of the pew installed in our kitchen.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Going electric

Just a quick update to say that I have just installed my security door magnet pickup and it sounds great! Demo hopefully coming soon!
Ok so why should this work? This is how it's designed to work: In the center is a permanent magnet, that keeps the door locked (or in some cases open) even without the power needing to be on, around this is a coil, an electro magnet but this is connected up so that when 24 volts is applied to it it cancels out the permanent one and you can open the door! Anyhow a permanent magnet surrounded by a coil is exactly what a guitar pick up is!Now the magnet is a bit too strong and the coil should have a few more turns on it but it does seem to work and work pretty darn well! Btw I have it bcz it got scrapped bcz it's fixing hole's thread is missing.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Diddley Pew blog number two!

I have my Diddley pew playing and it's great fun! I've been using a large drill bit as a slide for now!
It's made from the other half of the back rest top rail of that 150 year old church pew I'm sitting on in my header photo. With a little experimentation I have got the sound quite loud, the upturned tin that acts as a resonator has no lid and overhangs the wood where it's curved so lets the sound out. It has no actual top nut because the tuner's roller does that job.
It just think looks a little plain at the moment and part of the fun of making these is customizing them, maybe I should carve the interval positions into the top.
Funny that the end section looks like a Fender guitar headstock, maybe I should paint the ends a brighter colour.
I am at work now and have found a potential pick up in our scrap! It’s actually an electro magnetic door catch. The kind of thing they use in keypad access security doors. Well it’s a coil wrapped around magnet isn’t it! And a quick test by plugging it into my PC speakers and pinging a taught length of ferrous wire over it reveals a good loud boing! Can’t wait to try it out for real!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Diddley Pew

Inspired by Shelley's Rickey's Piggy diddley bow I decided to build one of my own using up one of my last pieces of pew I found whilst tidying up my shed. Diddley Pew? I was stuck for a tuning peg so am hoping to use a bicycle gear change lever! See I'm using up that cycle junk already! Photos and demo soon! Pepare your selves for some authentic deep south (of England) blues!
Meanwhile here is Sea Sick Steve showing us how it should be done!

Btw When I say everything I do on it sounds bad you'll probobly just have to agree.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Recycled drum machine?

For a while I’ve been thinking I need to have a few more up tempo songs or just a fuller sound to my devopelping set , when I went to the shed to unpadlock my bicycle at the weekend I realized how many old bike frames ,wheels and parts I had in there I got a flash of inspiration! Well maybe only I would look at this pile of scrap and think mechanical drum machine! Not the giant one like James Taylor used on stage but one more the size of my rotary speaker. A search on google shows a few but they are all electronically controlled and have solenoids (electro magnets) operating the drums, cymbals or what ever but I think that is cheating a little and it isn’t so obvious to an audience how it works, I rather something that is a piece of kinetic sculpture. I’m thinking more like a bicycle wheel with bolt heads sticking out around it lifting and dropping rods, I could even have a derailleur on it to change the speed! It doesn’t need to be able to play more than one or two rhythm variations as I’ll only use it for a few songs. I remember as a child of about five being memorized by a 5 minute film of this huge 20 foot tall kinetic sculpture on Play School and somehow I feel that since digital music and the lack oa spinning disc or hypnotically revolving reels something has been lost, it’s all a bit sterile. Anyhow it fits in with my eccentric inventor image! I’ll keep you posted of course if this idea develops into anything more than just an idea.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Treble booster/Tone Bender Mk2

I've had my homemade 1960's copy treble booster and Tone Bender distortion box for a about a year now and found the sounds really useful but the way they were constructed were really impractical so I decided to rebuild into one neat box and configure them in a way that would be useful on stage. I used the steel case of an old internal pc DVD drive and covered it with my last off cuts from the amp and speaker cab.
It now has two treble boosters. The top row of controls sets up the first booster (Gain 1) for my main guitar sound and the other controls the second (Gain 2) which can be switched into a following Tone bender (Red labels) for the lead solo sound (or maybe just a different song) Both treble boosters and bender are full bypass switchable so the box can stay in line all the time.The foot switch simply switches between the two channels. As there's nothing worse than a flat battery during a gig so I included a volt meter I had knocking around.
All I need to do is find some more suitable knobs. For you geeks it contains Mullard OC44,OC 75 & OC82D transistors. People are selling pedals like this on the net for silly money, there's not a lot in them but they do sound good! Btw the insides were photographed on my bench at work you can see I couldn't resist putting on one of my tested stickers!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Fiddlelele

The cigar box Fiddlelele –a cross between a cigar box fiddle and ukulele.
A crazy idea I know and only an idea but the thinking goes something like this: Guitarists can easily play the ukulele as it is tuned to the four highest guitar strings –as if they were capoed 5 frets up.(Ignore the re-entrant tuned detail) Well then they can play the fiddlelele! As it’s tuned the same and has (curved) frets so you know were to place your fingers you just have to get to grips with a bow! No it won’t have the range of a violin and purists will hate it but come on it’s got to be worth trying! Both instruments have similar scale lengths after all and Jazz violinist Mike Piggott bursts into a little George Formby during a gig on a standard violin! He can also bow all four strings at once too but you’ll have to go to a gig to see how he does that! Anyhow it seems like a good summer project and should cost next to nothing. A little Googeling reveals there was in the past such a thing as a Ukelin and a Violin-uke but both of these look like bowed zithers. Well there’s an idea but as you know my plans keep changing all the time!First I have to rebuild my treble boost/ distortion pedal box and also I have a little job to do on my 2nd electric mando guitar as I think the first two frets a fractionally out of place and explains why it always sounds out of tune! This has been driving me mad since I built it and since modified it to play as an extended 12 string ukulele (you play full guitar chords on doubled up strings- the top 6 strings being re-entrant (an octave up) so some notes are quadruped up!) tonally it sounds amazing so I want to get it sorted it’s just a nightmare to work on with 12 strings!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Friday, 2 April 2010

FInished! (well almost)

What a nightmare, so many corners! But finally it is covered and the finished amplifier and speaker can be relieved!Just a few more smaller jobs left now.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

I have to post this picture of the cabinet with the tapestry grill fitted! Just when it felt spring was around the corner the good old British weather has got wet and cold again! It's like February! I went out to the shed and hastily fitted the cloth and moved it all back indoors -so I can at least play it. It's supposed to get colder and stay that way for Easter. :( When the weather warms up I will finish shaping the woodwork and cover it to match the amp. (though I think it doesn't look bad in bare wood)

Monday, 29 March 2010

Speaker cloth discovery!

I visited my local branch of Hobbycraft in my lunch break looking for that elusive speaker cloth and the only thing I thought might do was hessian which I could lightly spray paint to the desired colour. But while lining up to ask the shop assistant to cut some off for me something caught my eye lying on the counter. BINGO! Strong -a dull Browny gold in colour –square open weave- TAPESTY cloth! It’s perfect like it’s been manufactured to my specification! And £9.99/meter (half the price of real speaker cloth) Photos to follow!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Coming together!

My next task is to find some cloth to stretch over the baffle that I have just painted black, not easy because I don't want it to look like a standard guitar amplifier. Then to route curves on the edges of the cabinet like wise file off the sharp edges off the three bars and paint them black. I guess it will look like a negative of what you see here! ...I've just routed those curves!

I'm wondering if I should have made it the same size as the amplifier head now, oh well it's too late!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

The baffle wasn't baffling at all!

As it turns out with very little modification the baffle from my old amplifier fits perfectly! It couldn't have worked out better if I had measured it!
I told you my plans would change! Btw It's called a baffles imply because it baffles the unwanted sound from the back of the speaker.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The speaker cabinet being glued together. The slats are only hanging there temporarily just to give me an idea what they'll look like. You can tell I've had to improvise because I'm short of long clamps!

I'll turn the photo around so it's the right way up to give you a better idea what it will look like.

The baffle that the actual speaker fits into won't be conventional either, what is the point of cutting a huge hole in a large peice of ply just to throw most of it away? I'll mount it on blocks than fill the four corners in with small triangular pieces and have an upright at each end for the fabric to stretch around, well that's the plan but my plans always seem to change!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Fuzzy picture of speaker cab progress

Just a quick update:
The sides resting on the top and bottom of my speaker,I guess it's the pine that makes it look like an Ikea flat pack.
The bars go into those cut outs to give them some rigidity.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Speaker cabinet ideas

Here's a little sketch.

It's a little more difficult to build but I'm thinking of a design with gold speaker cloth that wraps around the corners with three black bars that protect it , this means that I can use ordinary material for the cloth as it only has to keep dust out is far cheaper and I get far more choice of styles, I don't anything to be recognized as looking like it from anther manufacturer eg Marshall or Vox,I want my gear to look different and eye catching! The words Hi Fidelity are a nod towards it's origins and are true too, rather out of the ordinary for a guitar amplifier!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Onwards! The Speaker Cabinet!

Next job is to build a matching speaker cabinet. I have a 12" British made Grampian speaker from about 1960 it came with a rather rubbish RSC valve amp and was then used with my Selmer Treble 'n' Bass, later it was built into my homemade MOSFET amp.
I was concerned that I couldn't use it because a check with my multimeter revealed it was 12.5 ohms and not 4,8, or 16 which I have tappings for on the new amp. but this is it's resistance during DC reading-direct current and not it's AC (alternating current) impedance which gets higher with frequency (and you can't get lower bass than DC!) To get the correct impedance multiply by 1.3 = 16.25 ohms!Plenty good enough! A 12" speaker is much more efficient than a smaller one just because the same coil is moving a bigger cone and therefore more air and at a mere 15-17 watts I think it'll need this when I gig it in a large hall. (Gary's Club in June!)

So I'm planning on carrying on the black and gold theme and partly to save costs rather than buying proper speaker cloth I will use something thinner this will also give me more choice so I can find something more original than the usual Fender or Marshall cloth and I'll fit bars across it to protect it. This weekend I'll look in my local timber merchant for pine to build the cabinet.

PS Am testing the 12" speaker, it sounds far more open and clear than the smaller one but is somehow less jazzy and has far less bass at domestic volumes. But you should hear it when I crank it up a little......clear punchy defined bass wow! I was a little disappointed with the smaller one at the church evening bcz it sounded boxy.

Saturday, 13 March 2010


I got a little handy with the vinyl covering this morning and actual quite enjoyed the whole process! It's not like painting or varnishing as soon as it's stuck it's done! Instant gratification! I think with a little more practice I could do a perfect job but I'm pleased enough with what I have achieved. The badge is made from three lengths of tin-copper wire twisted together in a drill then bent with pliers and painted. The whole effect reminds me of British Norton and Vellocette motor bikes. :0)

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Plan C!

Plan C!
Despite saying they had one length of Vox basket weave covering in stock I got a call from Kate at Allparts UK saying when she went to pull it off the roll it was far too short. So I changed my order to a pretty standard black Fender covering which is fine. I may even have enough to make a matching speaker cab, I'll see.
To break up the black on the front panel I've decided to fit two gold lengths of piping. I felt like a bit of a vandal today as I cut those two deep slots into the front of the cabinet, maybe because two sections of the ply panel came loose, one has fallen off! Probably because I didn't clamp it properly while drying. Any how does my amp look (British) 60's or what!Well the way I (just) remember it anyway! (Btw the slots left from sawing in the sides are filled, the piping only goes across the middle panel and no the piping isn't glued in yet) Can't wait to see the full effect but MUST take my time!

Friday, 5 March 2010

I only discovered this Vox amp a couple of weeks ago and am disturbed by it’s similarities to mine, I wanted to make something original not just copy an existing design!
It's not just cosmetic either. It has a similar output using the same tubes , an EF86 tube channel (with a single tone control) that I know I borrowed from Vox but also has the second ECC83/12AX7 channel with treble and bass controls with the panel laid out in a very similar way. I know there is only so many ways to build an amplifier but this is eerie!
Ok the differences: Mine was 95% made in England. (Only the two small toggle switches and the two Russian EL84 tubes weren’t!)
Mine is vintage- a little rearranged maybe !
Mine was once a hifi so uses negative feedback so doesn’t distort, that may sound like I’m missing out on the holy grail of tube amp design but it still sounds like a vintage rock’n’roll amp and can be used for jazz too, yesterday I discovered it makes a pretty good bass amp, something you can’t do if it distorts!
(I’ll use my home made - from 60’s parts - Range Master and Tone Bender for that!)

Plan B

After much searching I can't find the coloured 60's style covering I want anywhere so I have a new much simpler plan:
Cover the amp in black Vox type material so it matches my digital Vox AD30 combo. Remove the amplifier chassis and Vox handle and badge from the AD30 and convert it into a plain speaker cabinet making it a new full height speaker baffle with a proper cloth (I hate that steel grill!!) The only fly in the ointment is that it is just a fraction narrower (less than half an inch) than the new amplifier head I just hope it won't look top heavy but I can't have everything!
Then make a new head cabinet for the old digital chassis,and fit the Vox badge etc. This way I have plenty of flexibility, I can use either amp head with the speaker and use the Vox amp to power the rotary speaker!(This sounds far better than it's existing one I've tried it!)
Then add some gold colour piping to set off the black (the tube amp will have gold ventilation gills) and make the whole set up look more classy!:)

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

My tube amp's projects history in photos.

A potted history and some photos I’ve found on the web relating to my valve (tube) amplifier
It was built between 1963 and 1966 by Armstrong Audio as a 226s (stereo) hifi radio/amplifier in their factory above a row of shops in the borough of Islington, London. (Building demolished in 1980)
Here is a link for some photos of the 1960’s production line, scroll to the bottom that woman with the bouffant could be building mine!
I can remember it as part of my hifi system when I was about 19-20 in the late 1970’s and I thought it was old then! It had a bad tendency to crackle and because I had a pair of far superior Quad valve amplifiers (which I still have) and it was so bulky (in had a tiny bedroom) in around 1985 I stripped it down discarded the radio and used just part of the chassis to make a basic guitar amplifier, but with the original compromised ECL86 valves which was maybe the reason I can’t remember it being that good in either form!
In 2010 I discovered the remains in my attic and decided to use it as the basis of a proper guitar amplifier and the rest you have probably read in this blog. I converted it to use EL84 valves, ( by adding an extra ECC83) increasing the power from 10 watts (rms) to around 17 and added an EF86 channel and all I can say is it sounds stunning! Pure 1960’s! The problem with digital amplifiers is they may have umpteen simulation of different amplifiers on them BUT they make all of your guitars sound the same! Maybe a good analogy would be its like listening to a digital recording of an electric guitar. I’ve discovered by building this that valves are the REAL sound of the electric guitar and bring out all of the character of your pickups and switch settings AND GET THIS - this is an amp that is perfectly clean-no in built overdrive, no crunch just how amps used to be. Valves are so much more than distortion! (I’ll use my home made - from 60’s parts - Range Master and Tone Bender for that!) Needless to say my (Chinese made) digital Vox AD30 has been relegated to an emergency standby amp.
I’m trying to decide on a badge to put on the front just to finish it off.
Either AS 10-65
Or AS/45
AS= my initials or Armstrong –even Arm-Stone
10-65 =2010 & 1965
45= an amp built from 45 year old components!
I still haven’t decided whether to paint it over cover it.

Monday, 22 February 2010

The tube amp in action!

On Saturday I played at my church's home grown entertainment evening even though I used to played in church it's the first time I've sung solo in front of my church friends rather than a folk club. It was a great evening, it would have been nice to see a few more people there but there were enough for it to not feel too empty.Thank you to The Rev Gary Simmons and son Sam for the hilarous Monty Python Cheese shop sketch and Paul Hollinshead for the immitation bouzouki playing on guitar! The video came out a bit echoey and sometimes the guitar sounds distorted but I know it was better than this in reality coz I was there! It definaletly isn't the right song for distortion! But anyway the amp didn't blow up or for that matter fall apart which was a real possiblility because I had only glued on the front of the cabinet that day and only took the wood working clamps off an hour before I put it into the car!
So here i am with one of my own songs played on my homemade "Les Pew" guitar and that amp.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Power on and it sounds great!

The first time my homemade valve amplifier has had a guitar plugged into it! Now to build it a better cabinet than a cardboard box. It sounds 10 x better than my digital modelling VOX AD30 even though the speaker has no cabinet!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Wow, it actually works!

At lunch break today I finally dared to switch on my home made valve (tube) guitar amplifier and to my work mates surprise and my relief no bang, smoke or sizzling noises! So I connected it temporarily to the PC's sound and it came out loud and clear with NO hum! Can't wait to plug a guitar into it! Tomorrow I have to take multiple voltage measurements and do some maths to work out how hard the new tubes are working -too lower wattage and they won't sound their best-too much and they won't last as long. Then I can see if I can get the final (or first) tube working, it's just an option and can be switched in and out but I'm still a couple of components short. I've learnt so much already by building this thing!

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Tube amplifier progress

The valve amplifier is coming together nicely, as most of it is over 40 years old I'm hunting through my parts to try to keep it vintage looking. Although it is a separate head the controls are on the top like a Vox so I can access them easily, putting them on the front only seems to make sense if it is up high on a huge speaker stack and I assure you it won't be! I'll keep you updated and maybe post a video once it's all working.
Hopefully at my next gig at Gary's Club I can play my own songs on my homemade guitars AND amp
Optional techie bit;
The chassis came from the remains of an Armstrong 127m stereo tuner/amplifier, it originally used ECL86 triode-pentode valves but these are hard to find and not as good as the EL84s pentodes which are found in most smaller British amps so I have rewired the holders for El84s and added a separate ECC83/12AX7 for the two triodes (Driver/phase splitter stage) Also I want to add a switchable EF86 pentode at the input try try and capture some of that VOX chime but I'll add that later.-The rectifier is solid state. THe whole thing should push out 10 watts in A class, I'm not too worried about distortion though a nice overdrive would be a plus.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

One man's junk....

Junk? Oh nooo! Gold dust! This is the remains of a guitar amp I built about 20 years ago from the remains of a valve hifi amp from the 1960's! I found it in the attic and I'm rebuilding it and converting it to take readily available (and better) valves. It's a 10 watt class A amp that is similar to a Vox AC10 except it hasn't got the EF86 valve (tube) in the preamp so I'm planning to add one. No I haven't finished the last amp yet! I'm building these in the warm at work during my lunch breaks and come the spring I should have two working ones to take out to the shed and put into cabinets!

Friday, 1 January 2010

A new year and new projects to build!

2010? It it doesn't look like a date does it? More like something out of Star Trek! Star date 2010-- thing is I've just seen Bernard Cribbens on Dr Who acting like Luke Skywalker what is going on?
Anyhow I have a couple of nearly empty roses chocolate tins on the kitchen table, anyone got ideas what to do with them?
Actually I'm starting the year with at least potential six projects waiting to be built! I have 3 (no make that 2 as I have to build a ukulele for a friend) cigar boxes and one larger wooden box waiting to become various strange woodsy acoustic instruments. Also my newly rebuilt 100 watt sold state guitar amp has been tested and is all working that is except the swanky 5 control tone mixing circuit which needs sorting! And also I unearthed over the Christmas break a valve (or tube) amplifier I built about 20 years ago from some ancient hifi equipment Some of the valves are missing though and are hard to find nowadays so I needs to redesign it a little- I think i know what I'm doing!
All shall be blogged as usual! Just don't tell my wife as I'm rapidly running out of space! That's the good thing about song writing!