Tag Archives | guitar

Boutique vs Premium

WTF?

I have to say, I hate the “boutique” name used for music gear.  In today’s market, if you’re not mass-produced, then you must be boutique.  Boutique has come to include everyone from the most fantastic, start up designers putting out quality gear at competitive prices to the overpriced, under-constructed klones that flood the market.  It’s so unfortunate that most of the latter are so poorly constructed, they simply aren’t worth the the asking price.  They’re not built to last, they’re not built and marketed with integrity and that’s a shame.

Be wary.  Hand-wired does not not always mean Cornish quality.  More often than you would like, hand-wired means fragile.  This is not to say these “boutique” pedals don’t sound great.  Some of them certainly do, but is it really worth your money if its so fragile?

How it should be done.

Now I’m not going to name any names here.  I’ll leave that to the independent bloggers and reviewers to shed light on, and I think they should.  Musician’s should know what their hard-earned money is going towards, especially if its not worth what they are paying.

Alternately, I suggest we carve a new class of pedals out of all this.  One worthy of buyer’s confidence, built to last with integrity and uniquely designed, not just uniquely marketed.  For lack of a better term, I propose we make the distinction between the Boutique and the Premium, because here’s the thing.  If you building products with integrity, you aren’t afraid to show the insides to back up your claims about wiring, and construction.  You’ll take the time to explain and demonstrate how bulletproof your manufacturing process is, and you’ll back that shit up with a worthy warranty.

Of the current manufacturers, I see at least the following as the Premium class of effects , and worthy of your hard earned money.  I’ll to update this list as I discover others.

  • Caroline Guitar Company
  • VFE Pedals
  • Mr. Black Pedals
  • Dr. Scientist
  • Subdecay Studios
  • Catalinbread
  • Earthquaker Devices
  • Strymon
  • Neunaber Technology
  • MI Effects
  • Blackout Effectors
  • Spaceman
  • Eventide
  • Empress

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P3 Power System – Part Deux

Last week I announced that Coldcraft has licensed the P3 Pedal Power technology from DC Voltage Co., to be employed in our future products.  I may have mentioned that I’ll also be offering retro-fits to any previously released products featuring the relay-bypass system as well.  Today’s post is about the P3 System specifically, and how it can make your rig simpler, more reliable and easier to use, expand and change.   Coldcraft Effects is joining an all-star list of manufacturers already using P3, including:

  • VFE Pedals
  • Barber Electronics
  • Fuchs Audio Technology

In a nutshell, the P3 System lets you use TRS Stereo cables to transmit “phantom” DC power to the pedals, while sending the guitar signal in the opposite direction to the amp.  In this post, I’ll be describing two very important components of the P3 System, the Power Station and the Power Splitter.

Power Station

The P3 Power Station, is made by Fuchs Audio Technology as part of their PLUSH line of processors and pedals.  The website description is as follows,

Based on the innovative P3 phantom power technology, the Plush® P3 Power Supply is a self-contained DC power supply, which provides 9-VDC of regulated and filtered DC power to up to 1500 ma (1.5 amps) of pedals.

The Power Station is designed to sit back at the amp, where you use a TS Mono cable from amp input to the Power Station.  The other end of the Power Station would run a TRS Stereo cable to your pedal board, supplying the DC power while bringing the guitar audio signal from board to amp.  This means your board doesn’t need any extra power supplies, adapters or other on board.  It keeps the power transformer as far away from the board as possible, eliminating a lot of noise and hum, as well as any ground loops caused by multiple signal and power lines run throughout the board.

Power Splitter

Of course, the P3 System wouldn’t be very good if it didn’t have the ability to play well with unequipped pedals, so the designers also offer the Power Splitter, also manufactured by Fuchs.  The Power Splitter is essentially the mirror opposite of the Power Station.  It accepts the powered TRS signal from the off board supply, and splits the power from the audio.  This allows the board to use more traditional 3.1mm DC jacks and cables to power other pedals.

It would seem that the DC Voltage Co. has thought of everything with these products and their system.  I encourage you to head over to their site and check out the rest of the applications, including power station-equipped amps, and even P3 powered active guitar pickups.

 

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The Case Against True Bypass – Revisited

You’ve seen this argument many, many times.  Hopefully, my peers who have written about this before me have convinced you that the revered 3PDT stomp switch, the “True Bypass with LED” savior is really just a bad idea.  Mechanical parts fail, and they fail way before electronic components.  Things wear out and its just how it works.  When it comes to signal switching in electronics, electronically controlled relays present a much more robust solution than simple mechanical stomps.

So dig this, the more complicated the mechanical switch, the more moving parts it has, and the lower the mechanical life expectancy should be.  The best of the best Single-Pole Carling Switches are rated at 100,000 cycles.  You can bet your ass that a run-of-the mill triple-pole switch comes doesn’t even come close.  Possibly within factor of 5, maybe 10 of that, meaning 10,000 cycles. Total shit.  And that’s a statistical figure, with a BIG spread because in the real world, shit breaks, a lot.

Now dig, the Panasonic TQ2-5V relay used in Coldcraft products, and by many colleagues in the music business is rated at 10^8 to (10^7 minimum) cycles.  That’s 10,000,000 activations, MINIMUM.  The MOMENTARY single-pole switch used to activate the relay will wear out before the relay gives up on you.  Unfortunately, relays can still cause switch POP, or audible clicking when used, but luckily, the same logic controls that switch the relay can be used to silence or quiet the switching action.  This is the basis of our bypass system and others including the Jack Deville-designed “Clickless True Bypass” now available at Mammoth Electronics.

Now the problem of reliability has been solved, dare I say its been obliterated.  However, there’s one more thing to consider, and that is Contact Voltage.

What the F is Contact Voltage?

Well, anytime there is a mechanical connection, there is a resistance present because the connection is imperfect.  Maybe the surfaces are rough, possibly oxidized, corroded or just don’t make great contact.  When a voltage is applied across the contact (AKA your guitar signal), the resistance creates a voltage drop across it, known as the Contact Voltage.  We already know that relays are sealed from the outside dirty world (read: your dirty shoes, beer-soaked bar floors, and worse).  The contacts inside the Panasonic relays are made of Ag and Au (Silver and Copper), two of the most conductive metals in town.  Contact Voltages inside a relay will be very, very small, but what else is involved?

Jacks.

Yes, every pedal has 2 jacks, and requires 2 plugs.  So lets say you have a modest pedalboard of 10 true bypass pedals.  If you were in the know, and purchased effects from VFE Pedals, Dr Scientist Sounds, and the like (that includes Coldcraft…), your pedals have relay-based bypass.  Minimal contact voltages inside the relays.  Ok, so back to the MATH.  2 Jacks, 2 Plugs, 1 DPDT bypass connection (2 contacts), 10 pedals.  That’s 80 contacts using a mechanical stomp switch!

80!

What I am getting at here is that’s an awful lot of places where your signal can degrade.  80!  It really only takes one faulty, dirty or otherwise weak connection to wreak havoc on a passive guitar signal.  So lets do some more MATH.  Suppose a typical mechanical connection is 10 ohms of contact resistance.  10 ohms is tiny, minuscule.  No one even uses a 10 ohm resistor when building pedals because its basically a jumper.

Now dig, 80 mechanical connections X 10 ohms = 800 ohms!  800 ohms is basically 1K ohm, and that can be a big deal on a passive guitar signal.  And this is all assuming there are no problem children, err, dirty, broken, intermittent contacts.  And don’t even get me started if you’re using one of those fancy programmable switchers.  You should just give it another factor of 2-4x.

Now for the punchline.  Say you have a buffer.  Doesn’t really matter if its an Op-Amp or Discrete, you just have one.  A buffer is any preamp/active element that presents the guitar with an ideal input impedance (resistance) and provides a lower, more ideal output impedance for driving heavier loads.  Put that buffer after the guitar, (or some where in the middle of the pedals even).  The output of that buffer will have no problem handling an extra 1k ohm on its output.  Hell, it was designed to do this.

Here’s a nice, tidy example of an Op-Amp based buffer.  This is my Micro Buffer/Splitter design that I have been selling for almost two years as a pre-built mono buffer, or a DIY project.  Personally, I think this buffer sound best AFTER all drive and fuzz pedals, but before any modulation or time-based effects.  That’s just my opinion anyway, your ears may tell you otherwise.  It can be configured as a splitter, mono or stereo buffer depending on how you populate the jumpers (J1, J2, etc). Micro Buffer Schematic

There are many other interesting products out there such as the Cornish LD-2 which is a discrete, bootstrapped design, as well as the Visual Sound Pure Tone, which is another Op Amp buffer.  You can read an argument from Pete Cornish against True Bypass here, and another here from Andrew Barta of Tech 21 NYC.

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