Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Beginnings of Liquitone Audio Electronics

This is the story of how I got started in building pedals, of how things evolved over the years and some advice on how to get started  building your own pedals.

The Wah and The Worm; the very beginning...


It all started in 2008 when I needed to replace a broken inductor in my 1994 Vox847. .I found a webshop and bought a reissue red Fasel. Up to then all I knew was how to fix a battery-snap with ducttape, so now I  needed to learn how to solder and how to read the schematic of the Vox, which led me to sites about modifying.
Instead of just replacing the inductor I ordered more parts, salvaged some old radio's, did the 'sweep cap', and 'vocal' mod and painted it red. This led me to experimentally swapping parts and adding switches to my old EHX The Worm, trying to make it sound more like a Uni-Vibe. It had a expression pedal for speed, countless foot- and toggle-switches and a lot of LED's added. I changed the name of the pedal to 'Liquivibe' which in turn led to coming up with the 'Liquitone' brand name.

Liquivibe, 2008


While the pedal was a mess full of caps,switches and wires and LED's I somehow managed to fit a Small Stone circuit in the pedal. All the bad wiring started to cause all sorts of weird noises and at some point
it was as if the poor thing was trying to communicate with us during rehearsal breaks.
It didn't survive sadly, but it got me into pedal building, and I went on to read a lot about the basics of building and modifying, reading schematics and learn the theory through sites like geofex.com and the many web-forums, mainly newtone-online, diystompboxes.com and freestompboxes.org

What's left of it.

Building from scratch...


The next builds where all on vero-board. I built things like a EHX The Worm circuit in a wah-shell,
 an OCD circuit and I think the 3rd pedal was the Uni-Vibe circuit. It was a terrible build.

The many hours of debugging this vero-board drove me mad, so I thought of a different building method with a better clearance of traces and make parts-swapping easier by trying the turret-board method. The first one was again a Uni-Vibe, with the solder pins pressed in veroboard. Here is what is left of the first vero-builds, as I reused most parts in other projects.


The Worm circuit with envelope control and treadle operated speed control, 2009


The first Liquitone vibe, 2009

Debugging these wasn't fun...

The second vibe and first turret build, 2010

The next step...


The next change I made changing to FR4 circuit-boards and used vero-board as a drill template with my layout marked out. I make these in CoralDraw, I've draws a design template with all the part I use drawn in 1:1 size, that I can move around and connect across a grid. The Pulse is the first pedal I made that way. It's the circuit of the EHX The Worm without the tremolo, phaser and wah modes.

Pulse 001, June 2011

I still ran into a lot of reliablity issues, mainly caused by wires breaking off at the connections. I used silver coated teflon wire in these which often broke at the solder-pins caused by the wire-cutter damage and movement during debugging and assembly. I decided on mounting the circuit-board and all the parts on the same surface (the Pulse had its signal-board attached to the lid while the rest was mounted inside the enclosure.), having as much access as possible without the need of removing the board and use old fasioned solid cloth covered wire. It was the Tremolo 001 where I first took this into practice

Tremolo 001


Although I keep trying different little changes, mainly involving ease of access/debugging/fixing, reliability, layout and better, less cluttered wiring, I pretty much stuck to this method of building my pedals.

Building for yourself...


Well, this is basically how it all took form. I can recommend anyone with an interest in guitar effects to try and build or modify their own pedals. The basics aren't that hard and the parts don't have to be expensive either. You can buy pedal-kits for as little as 20 euro's that contains all the parts and instructions to build your own effect. The cheaper kits are usually very low in parts count which I would recommend as a starting point, but despite the simplicity these are often very useful and great sounding circuits. Things like the 1 transistor Range Master is as simple as a circuit can get, but it sounds so great that I used it up to this day and can't imagine my pedal-board being without one.
http://www.newtone-online.nl/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=76&products_id=452
http://www.smallbearelec.com/servlet/Detail?no=1336
Fuzzes and simple overdrives like the Fuzz Faces, Tonebenders, Big Muffs, Distortion+, etc. are a good starting point before trying out more complex stuff like modulation or delay pedals.

There will be lots of times when stuff doesn't work, but don't let that hold you back, as it are the mistakes and trying to solve them that will help you the most in understanding how a circuit works. There is a lot of information to be found online. The Technology Of... series at www.geofex.com are in my opinion among the best articles online because it is written in a way that is easy accessible for a beginner, yet goes into great depth so that you will find yourself re-reading them over the years, each time understanding a little more about the subjects discussed. http://www.beavisaudio.com/techpages/ is also good and easy to read.
Reading up on forums are also a great help, as you can browse through and ask advice about circuits and solutions for problems you may encounter. I found the DIY community very helpful and friendly towards people who are new to pedal-building.
http://www.newtone-online.nl/forum/              (Dutch)
http://www.gitaarnet.nl/forum/forumdisplay.php?9-Versterkers-en-randapparatuur      (Dutch)
http://www.diystompboxes.com
http://www.freestompboxes.org
http://www.madbeanpedals.com/forum/

The next post will be an overview gallery of most of the Liquitone builds, I thought it would be nice to have them all collected in one post.

Greetings, Kay/ Liquitone

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