replaced RAT in the signal chain with "Buck E Box"
contents CONFIDENTIAL (note: no bypass switch)

loooking forward to experimenting with replacing the wah with the recently modded Brownsville wah.


Amp Camp - Recap and Review

(note to self; "next time I do this - write the draft as I go)

To fulfill an ambition to become more self reliant with the maintenance of my rig, I began educating myself on the mechanics of my backline.  Since 1991 that's been a post CBS Fender Twin with some minor modifications. If you follow this blog, you'll know I was able to acquire a second, identical model (with slightly more modification).

A couple of months ago I got an email blast from Gerald Weber (Kendrick Amps) about a couple of Amp Camps. The first being "build your own amp" and the second "work on your own amp". I've been playing with a lot of low voltage, solid state gear for the last 10 years. I figured that using "work on your own amp" camp would be the best way to transition to higher voltage gear, complete with a lowered risk of electrocuting myself.

After a couple of arranged payments, I secured a spot for the camp and started pulling chassis in preparation for the trip.

Day -1: (arrived the night before)

Amp Camp is hosted at the Kendrick Amp facility near Killeen/Ft Hood (TX, natch).
My enthusiasm for the event was multiplied by anticipation of getting my first Whataburger since leaving El Paso in the summer of 88. 

Day 1:

I was so busy with filling my own orders (Monorocket) that I missed receiving the itinerary email, so I had no idea what the schedule was. I decided that 0800 would be a good guess so I started my day the TX way and headed to Kempner (one town over):

 0800 turned out to be two hours early and I was the only attendee at the ranch. Fortunately, one of the Kendrick staff was already there and had everything open. This gave me time to set up, settle in, drink shop coffee and hang out with Geralds dogs (both named Max).


One of the first "other attendees" to show up was someone who attended the previous weeks amp camp. In addition to building the kit, he wanted to work on his gear just like I did. He showed up early to get a jump start on repairs using everything he'd learned so far

Once all the other attendees arrived, things took a more positive turn. Everybody was really cool and friendly. Gatherings like this tend to go either way: either everyone's really cool and ready to revel in shared interests or each person stakes their own territory and works in isolation. 7 attendees x 2-3 amps each = a good stack of cool gear. There were Bandmasters, Super Reverbs, Bassman heads and even some Ampegs (a Gemini and Flip top bass amp) and a handwired, scratch built JTM45 clone (which was way more immaculate than anything I've ever seen Marshall do).

By the time everyone started calling each other by first names, a door opened behind me and in walks Gerald Weber. Without missing a beat after introductions, he launched into a ice breaker joke and started the instruction (I'm not sharing the content - that's what the tuition pays for)

The only thing I will share is that all of us were guaranteed that everything we were about to do was really easy.

The format was mostly informal and hands on. After dropping some rudiments, we were all sent to our stations to fire up soldering irons and start fixing.

I'll confess that I did a lot of prep before coming down (helps reduce information overload). I'd even watched a handful of youtube vids that Gerald did. Replacing filter caps and coupling caps before anything else is apparently SOP.

I've had my primary amp "overhauled" twice since 1991 and was really disappointed to find out that neither serviceperson replaced any of the filter caps (or most of the coupling caps).



After doing the cap job in both of my amps, the rest of the first day was spent on my primary amp (Norco). The only thing I didn't do was fire it up for a functional test.

Day 2

I showed up early again knowing that I could get a head start on amp 2 (Flames).

Better than the hands on training. were the decades of product knowledge between Gerald and Johnny. This was worth the fee alone. These guys have probably seen and forgot more stuff than I'll ever know. As mentioned earlier the other attendees brought a a wide spectrum of old gear and they had anecdotes and history for each piece.

A video posted by R (@rtopia) on

(Flames Twin recap complete)


(stack of discarded parts)

(Norco Twin Biased)

The best part overall was firing up my amps first the first time after doing all the rework.
Prior to coming down the Norco Twin was operating intermittent and the Flames Twin was humming.Both amps were running clean and quiet.

Before I left I'd consulted with Johnny about some mods to the tone stack. I was ready to drill a hole in the back panel for a switch, but he was more than happy to walk me through the mod using the existing BRIGHT switch. Naturally, anyone with this much backstory on the amps knows that the BRIGHT switch is usually on anyway, so why not make that setting permanent and use the switch for something else. I executed that mod before loading the chassis back in their cabinets (after I got home).

Bottom line: I want to do this again. The chalkboard time was primer enough for me to make the jump from PCBs to handwired/IC to tubes. Now I'm prowling the flea markets and yard sales looking for vintage pieces that need repair, to give me an excuse for going through this again.


amp camp - preflight 1

got an email blast from Gerald Weber about a two day workshop, dedicated to working on my own amps....
...so I signed up and the adventure begins

I'm taking 3 amps with me:

"bad eugene" (made from a Magnavox phono amp)
-needs new filter cap

"flames twin"

- restoring master volume
-"mapping" the previously installed mods
- power tube upgrade/bias (going half power)

 "norco twin" (my number one since 1991)

- hunt for source and fix recent dead bug event
- power tube upgrade/bias (going half power)
- tweaks for more gain and post inverter breakup

stay tuned for future updates


Brownsville CB Wah (CB200)

Picked up this Brownsville Wah via eBay.

This unit powered externally via a 3.5mm mini jack (pos tip).
The first mod as replacing it with the 2.1mm (neg tip) standard and removing the battery clip).

The circuit was identical to most inductor based wahs I've seen. 
Cleaned the pot and did the following mods:

Q Vocal Mod - Changed R1 to 100K (originally 33k)
Increase Gain and Bass Mod - change R12 to 330R (from 390R)
Volume Mod - Change R3 to 47k (from 68k)
Midrange Mod - change R4 to 2.7k (from 1.5k)




A video posted by R (@rtopia) on

didn't blog or photo enough of this meet up...


Edison Voicewriter

Edison Voicewriter

A photo posted by R (@rtopia) on


the new (old) DAW pt 4

..became an issue. I originally started by recording a clock signal from the modular to track 16 on the AW and then routing that back to the modular via OMNI out 4 into a Doefper A119. Some of the modules didn't like the gates they were getting, so I put another device (Alesis SR16 Drum Machine) in the chain that would receive/send MIDI clock from the AW. The modular now syncs via a Pittsburgh Modular MIDI3.

This allows me to "rehearse/jam" without the AW being in PLAY/REC - the SR16 generates its own clock. This also guarantees I get a correct tempo setting for the AW (when it becomes then lock source)

routing update: 

AD1: Waldorf Blofeld L
AD2: Waldorf Blofeld R
AD3: SE Boomstar 4075
AD4: Modular Demo rig 1
AD5: Modular Demo rig 2
AD6: SR16 Main R (kick out)
AD7: SR16 Main L (snare out)
AD8: SR16 Aux R (hat out)

(Presonus DigimaxLT via ADAT)
SL1-1: empty
SL1-2: empty
SL1-3: empty
SL1-4: empty
SL1-5: Shure KSM27 to modded TubePRE via insert return
SL1-6: Ibanez AD200 Return
SL1-7: Eventide H9 Return
SL1-8: Eventide H9 Return

...is the new challenge. 

I can't just throw anything down and chop it up the way I'm accustomed to*
Individual parts have to run a minimum amount of time to be useful. 
Sources for these parts are in different locations and require different methods to generate them. 

I've decided that I should have a "workable" patch on the modular that will deliver melodic and rhythmic parts on two separate outputs as a guide for the entire piece. The rule I've set for myself (for now) is to be able to play the patch live. This also has the side benefit of being prepared for the meetup  (oscpgh) this weekend.

I was originally programming parts on the SR16, but I seem to be getting more interesting things in real time on the modular. 

Percussion patch is:

Sequencer: MFB SEQ01
Kick: PGH Mod LPG
Snare: Livewire Chaos Computer (clocked by Dalek Modulator Square out) Binary Gate out to VCA 
The SYMMETRY control of the Dalek waveform and PROBABILITY switches on the Chaos Computer affect timbre of the noise shaped by the VCA. 

Melodic patch: 

(2) Livewire AFG, sync'd, SAW out mixed into Livewire Frequensteiner, into Doepfer VCA 
PGH Modular KB1 controls 1voct and triggers ADSR (fed to VCA and Frequensteiner) 
Livewire Vulcan Modulator LFO L to FM in on AFG1 (vibrato), LFO R to FM in on AFG2 (sync sweep)

I went into the weekend with the idea that I'd give specific musical/sonic roles to the Modular, Boomstar and Blofeld. A couple passes at this approach didn't seem to intrigue me as much as limiting myself to "Modular only" and layering additional takes on top of the "workable patch". For the moment this is a really good thing, considering I won't have anything but the modular and H9 at the meetup (and I really need to be sharp on it). 

I'm really motivated by the idea of an entire project made with a single source (modular synth).

I didn't come up with anything I'd keep, but I also didn't produce another folders worth of stuff that will sit unused on a hard drive, promoting anxiety as to whether or not it should be thrown away. 
This new way of working delivers a kind of satisfaction similar to learning an instrument or first experiments on reel to reels (over 40 years ago). 

*actually, I CAN do a lot of chopping and rearranging with the AW, it's just a lot faster to redo takes at the moment. I fully intend to get good at the surgical editing later. 


the new (old) DAW pt 3

preparation for OSCPGH 2016 has become a good bit of source material (read: motivation) to stay in the trenches on the new playflow.

OSCPGH is a synth meetup and I build synths. It's a demo gig for me. 

The next two weeks of posts will be equally divided between prep for the meetup and current production technique. In addition to dumping the DAW, I decided to go minimal on sources:

Studio Electronics Boomstar 4075
Waldor Blofeld Desktop
Eurorack Modular (just the 9U demo rig for now)

All three synths will be used to make rhythm and melodic parts (I suspect the modular will do most of the rhythm work).

here's my first pass at a demo rig:

Basic objective is get as much Livewire in the box as possible while still leaving room for whatever makes it function as an instrument. After yesterday's exploration, it definitely needs another oscillator (AFG).

Week one summary:

First pass at signal routing made it possible to put things together quickly, without the typical frustrations that come with doing things a new way.

 Current config:

AD1: Waldorf Blofeld L
AD2: Waldorf Blofeld R
AD3: SE Boomstar 4075
AD4: Modular Demo rig 1
AD5: Modular Demo rig 2
AD6: Eventide H9 Return
AD7: Eventide H9 Return
AD8: Ibanez AD200 Return

I have an additional 16 inputs via MY8AT cards. I'm only using one of the MY8ATs with a Presonus DigiMaxLT (the only thing connected is a Shure KSM27).

RECORDER inputs change based on the track. Tracks 1 - 4 are usually recorded from input 4 (or 5 if I want parts of a patch recorded separately).

The modular demo rig got most of the set up attention, but there were a couple of "deep" features on the AW that needed to be set up:

I installed a Pittsburgh Modular MIDI3 module into the demo rig specifically because it converts, and even divides, incoming MIDI clock. The AW has a dedicated port for MTC but I used the MIDI CLOCK sent via the MIDI OUT port.

Some may not consider these deep, but my definition of deep (in the mixer section) is anything beyond the IN/OUT and MONITOR controls. My OMNI assigns are:

OMNI A: Aux 1 - sends to Eventide H9 L
OMNI B: Aux 2 - sends to Eventide H9 R
OMNI C: Aux 3 - sends to Ibanez AD200 (nice and gritty analog delay)
OMNI D: Aux 4 - send to anything I connect (re-amp, pedal effects, etc)

All the returns come back via input channels.

Getting down to work:

Everything starts with the modular.
The newly configured case is the starting point based on some preconceptions and I start patching with those in mind - especially building patches around clocked elements. Before I can use the AW to clock the modular I have to set a tempo is and the AW has to be playing. Until I'm at a point where I can make that decision, I rely on clock signals generated by the modules (gates from Chaos Computer, squares from Vulcan Modulator or AFG). Once I get something I'm ready to work with, I do some calculations and set the AW tempo.

Week one recap:

overall audio quality (running 48k 24bit)
overall better summing (part of "overall audio quality" but mentioned because of how quickly mixes happen)
(even though expectations were lowered) faster results from being forced to "make decisions"

exporting/sharing finished mixes and clips less convenient that simply rendering a .wav file

Handling the final mixes was the first thing I considered before making the decision to transition back to the AW. At the moment this only becomes an issue when wanting to share samples/clips of ongoing work. I could easily put a computer in the studio and send a feed of the ST track (mixdown) to it (via ADAT) and defeat the point getting all the computers out, but that'll take a couple of weeks to get over my purism.


AW4416 repair

A photo posted by R (@rtopia) on

A photo posted by R (@rtopia) on

(return of) the new (old) DAW


"the new (old) DAW pt 2"

once I get all my post tags together, this post will make sense as it shows up next to "part one"

There's been a lot of push/pull (here) regarding how I've been writing/recording the last couple of years.

I didn't have a lot of pressure to finish anything beyond a couple of mastering projects and demoing my work with Eurorack Modules. The final decision as to whether or not I should get out of the box and go back to "older methods" had been deferred.

Two years ago I was able to pull off remix on my HDD recorder in 1/3 of the time it would've taken "in the box". The difference between the two approaches is primarily "me". I've concluded, 25 years of tape and recording tricks before using software to produce, has conditioned me to visualize everything as a multi lane sonic highway. All of the looping and plugin signal chains eventually become frozen stems with very little automation beyond a master fade. Logically, this is an extra step when compared to hitting record and and maybe a few punch ins to do something better. It's probably a good thing that using software is efficient enough to make that extra step appear effortless (read: not last long enough to notice).

The most significant advantage with software (to me) is the potential to infinitely undo everything. Compared to what I call the "linear process", I can change my mind. I can go back with the knowledge I have today and "do things better". Despite the options, none of them come close to the value I place on "doing something NEW and better".

(note: not going to spend a paragraph on "infinite capacity to record everything")

It's two years later and there are a lot of folders containing the beginnings and rough mixes of things that were intended to become finished projects. They're all good places to start and they all have "next steps" that "didn't work for me". Regardless of how quick and easy non linear playflows have become, they're useless to me if I'm not staring at the monitors in disbelief during mixdown.

(note: also not going to spend a paragraph on "time spent sifting through raw recordings for new ideas")

Maybe, the sticking point is starting out with things that I can go back and change to the point of being unrecognizable. If the initial idea isn't strong enough to remain permanent, should I be surprised that it isn't permanent enough to attach to anything I put next to it?

Two weeks ago I pulled the iMac out of the studio and swapped all the routing to the back of the AW4416. In addition to adding a second part to the topic, this post is a marker for where I commit to using this process for at least a year to see what happens (expires 3/30/2017).

here goes...


studio clip 20160311

rhythm bed made for the Stranger Kings

kick = Pittsburgh Modular LPG
clicks and blasts = Malekko Wiard Noise Ring

A video posted by R (@rtopia) on