DIY Gear Projects
I am obsessed with tone… To me, the sound that an instrument or piece of hardware makes is a further extension of the music being created through the artist. I have come to dislike anything that is “virtual.” The problem, however, is that most of the gear that makes the sounds that I want is practically unobtainium… whether because of vintage prices, rarity, or the unreliability of vintage gear. This eventually led me to build my own. I started with guitar pedals, then an analog modular, and eventually graduated to build a few guitar amps. There is a bit of a learning curve, but if you have the level of concentration necessary to do it, and the right soldering tools, it can be a very rewarding experience. Many of the projects I build are customized and tweaked further to get just the right the sound I am looking for. Here are some highlights from my journey:
’59 Telecaster Guitar
Dubbed “418” (the actual serial number of the custom alder Warmoth body), I set out to create a modern replica of a late-fifties to early-sixties era Fender Telecaster electric guitar. It features a custom vintage profile 9.5″ radius rosewood/maple neck by USA Custom Guitars, ’59-style top loader bridge by Glendale Guitars with compensated steel saddles, Analog Man/Jim Weider Big-T pickups, and a custom-wired 5 position Bill Lawrence mod (half out-of-phase) pickup switch.
MOTM Modular Synth
This 5-unit Synthesis Technology MOTM system is based on the original Moog modular from the 1960’s, but with many modern features. Most of these modules were built by me, as well as the 17×10 unit custom walnut cabinet. It would take a room full of synths to get the versatility and spectrum of sounds that this modular is capable of.
Modules installed: MOTM-650 MIDI-CV convertor, MOTM-300 VCO, MOTM-310 µVCO, MOTM-820 VC Lag Processor, MOTM-320 VC LFO (with Tellun mod), 2x MOTM-800 Envelope Generators (with Tellun mod), MOTM-830 Dual-Mode Mixer, Oakley Multimix, MOTM-120 Sub-Octave Multiplexer (with Tellun mod), MOTM-510 WaveWarper, Blacet MiniWave, MOTM-101 Noise/Sample and Hold, MOTM-490 Moog 904a Lowpass VCF, MOTM-420 Korg MS-20 Multimode VCF, Tellun-428 Oberheim Multimode VCF, 2x MOTM-190 µVCA, Oakley Envelope Follower/Gate Extractor/Pre-amp, Oakley Overdrive, Tellun-156 Neural Agonizer Dual Spring Reverb, Happy Nerding Supersawtors, J. Haible Triple Chorus, Oakley Deep Equinoxe Phaser, & Blacet Time Machine. In-progress: J Haible Tau Phaser, J Haible “Krautrock” Optical Phaser, Thomas Henry SN Voice, & Yusynth VC Standards.
’67 Princeton Reverb Amplifier
Meticulously hand-wired to recreate the holy grail tone of the original Fender Princeton Reverb, this kit was built with parts from Mojotone, Stokes-modded AA1164 circuit, Weber Jensen C10N 10″ clone speaker, carbon comp resistors, Jupiter Vintage tone caps, shielded spring reverb tank, and custom Mojotone black sparkle speaker cabinet. This is THE amp for clean and slightly-overdriven 60’s sounds.
Drip Electronics Pultec Tube EQs
The original Pultec EQP-1A EQs are one of the most sought-after pieces of high-end studio gear on the planet, fetching prices from $3k-10k. Luckily, the fine folks at Drip Electronics in the UK offer PCBs for the DIY’er who wants the unparalleled “sparkle” and musical-sounding low and high frequency at their fingertips. You’ll hear studio engineers often warn that they cannot create something from nothing, but these EQs prove otherwise. If you’ve wondered why a mix sounds a bit flat, even after mastering, it probably didn’t involve one of these (or one of it’s modern clones) in the process. The plugin versions only get it about 50% of the way there, IMO. This build includes matched NOS Telefunken tubes, custom-wound Sowter inductors and transformers, and Collective Cases enclosures.
Austin Ribbon Microphone
Ribbon microphones have made a comeback since their early days, mostly as an alternative in situations where a condenser mic might sound too brittle. The smooth frequency response is said to sound the closest to the sensitivity of the human ear. Austin Microphones offers a DIY kit to build your own ribbon mic, including tools to make the actual ribbon. This version features a boutique Lundahl 2912 transformer, sounds excellent on electric guitar, and allows the engineer to push the EQ into further extremes than other mic designs.
Metro Marshall JTM-45 Amplifier
This is George Metropoulos‘ DIY handbuilt point-to-point replica kit of a 1965-era Marshall JTM-45 guitar amp. Affectionately referred to by vintage enthusiasts as a “Plexi” (the gold plexiglass faceplates were later replaced by brushed metal ones), these early Marshalls are known for their rich, shimmering harmonics, and dynamic interaction with the player’s picking style. The tube rectifier ads an extra dimensional quality to the notes, allowing expressive detail in every note. Since there is no master volume on these amps, if you want distortion you just turn it up louder. A Weber MiniMass attenuator is used to bring the volume down to practical levels while still letting output transformer and the 50 watts of KT66 power tubes saturate the tone. There are a few custom modifications made, including a Mercury Magnetics ToneClone OT, NOS vintage Mullard/Phillips mustard capacitors, and NOS Allen & Bradley carbon comp resistors. Matched with a THD 2×12 cabinet with custom-made Weber pre-Rola spec Greenback clones.
’70’s Jazz-style Bass Guitar
“The Cream Machine,” this one was built to deliver a 1970’s era Fender Jazz bass tone, but with the rare ’62-style stacked (concentric) knobs that allow independent volume/tone controls for each pickup. It has a 7.25″ vintage radius maple neck, StewMac ash body, Nordstrand NJ4 “70’s-wind” pickups, Hipshot bridge, and Schaller tuners. It’s got a great scooped-mids snap for disco/funk/house, but roll down the tone knobs and it’s a smooth operator.
Seventh Circle Audio Microphone Preamps
Having a diverse palette of microphone preamps is every studio engineer’s secret weapon. Different circuits deliver different amounts of saturation, frequency response, and transformer color. This fully loaded SCA rack is packed with a pair of N72s (based on the legendary Neve 1272/1073 circuits, and great for pushing things forward in a mix), a pair of A12s (API 512C circuit with iron OT, great on drums and electric guitar), a pair of J99s (with John Hardy discrete op-amps, lovely on airy female vocals), and a pair of C84s (the cleanest preamp I’ve ever heard and great on acoustic instruments, based on the super high-end Millenia pres.)
Serpent Audio SB4001 Bus Compressor Build
The SSL G-series bus compressor is one of those mythical pieces of gear that will make your songs “sound like an album.” It’s a VCA bus compressor that was part of the Solid State Logic consoles, and works like glue for your mix. Serpent Audio shipped a limited number of these as a DIY kit, and are now highly sought after. The SB4001 is the 500-series version, with a few really awesome mods, like the “Grind” button (adding tube-type harmonics), dry/wet mix for parallel compression, and the A2 & variable release settings.
Introspectiv TR-9090 Roland TR-909 Clone
The TR-9090 is a cloned circuit of a Roland TR-909 analog/digital drum synthesizer with internal MIDI-to-trigger converter and a few extra mods. The kick drum is second-to-none for dance music. Lots of classic sounds that can be tweaked and filtered without digital artifacts. The project is enclosed in a custom 2U rack.
Guitar Effect Pedals
Various home brew, point-to-point, and DIY kit pedal designs and mods. Favorites include: customizable BYOC Flanger that I customized to switch different capacitor values, and the 3 knob Tonebender in 100% fuzz enclosure.