Putting a P-90 pickup in a Tele partscaster


The mod mood hit me the other day. I was thinking about the various pickups and other parts that I had in my inventory and the thought occurred to me – why not put a P90 pickup in the neck position of my Tele partscaster?

The P90 is an intriguing pickup. It is a single-coil pickup but differs from Strat and Tele pickups in that the coil is not as tall, but is wider. It has a distinctive sound that has appealed to players for the 70 years of its existence.

I hade a P90 in the neck position of a Tele-style guitar a few years ago, but that guitar was sold long ago. I recalled that it was a good choice for that neck position.


In my inventory was a P90 that came from the shop of Buddha Pickups, a U.S. manufacturer of hand-wound guitar pickups. I got it in a trade with Tim, the owner of Buddha. He had rewound it. I measured it at a powerful 8.5K, a little hotter than a typical P90. I like hot pickups!

So, the next step was to get a pickguard. Guitarfetish.com sells a couple of P90 pickups for Tele-style guitars. I picked one with a white finish and ordered it.

However, any project runs into bumps in the road. After starting on the project, I discovered that I had neglected to get a cover for the P90.

P-90 in pickguard

I also noticed that one of the pickup mounting screws was bent. This led me to place an order with Stewart MacDonald  for a pickup cover and new screws. Often, when I buy relatively inexpensive items such as this, I buy extras. I bought an extra cover and, more importantly, an extra set of P90 mounting screws for an additional $.90. I also got some other miscellaneous parts, such as potentiometer mounting nuts, which I tend to run out of.

P-90 and cavity

I tend to lose screws and springs, despite my best efforts to organize and track them. So, spares are nice. Also, I might need a P90 cover in the future, so this would save me from having to order one.

The cover fit fine, so it was time to mount the pickup in the guitar. I wasn’t sure at first at how a P90 is mounted into a guitar. A trip to YouTube gave me my answer.  A Jason Lollar video showed how to mount it.

The P90’s two mounting screws go through the pickup, through  springs, and directly into the wood. The trick is to drill pilot holes in the right places so the screws will securely fit into the wood.

But first, there was a problem: I had to remove some wood from the pickup cavity. I placed the pickguard in place and saw that some wood would block the pickup from fitting.

cavity-2 copy

So, how do I fix this? I suppose a professional would fire up the router, use a P90 template and rout the perfect pickup cavity. I’m not a professional, and this is MY guitar, so I will fix the problem as I see fit!


Out came the one-quarter-inch chisel. I hacked away at the offending wood, intermittently using a vacuum to remove the chips. I finally got rid of enough of it for the pickup to fit. Nice thing about pick guards – you can get away with all kinds of woodwork abuse and  the pickguard hides all of it!


With that done, I put the pickup cover into the pickup cavity upside down. I used a drill with a small bit to drill through the mounting screw holes in the cover. The result was this:

clean cavity

Next came the matter of running the wire from the cavity to the cutout where the controls are located.

running wire

Next job was screwing in the pickup. Now, this is where I may have become careless or made some other mistake from inexperience. When I put the pickguard on, I realized that the pickup was not sitting level. It was slanted toward the bridge of the guitar. I Played with it some, then decided to live with it for now.

height adjust

Anyway, with this done, it was time to attack the wiring. My Tele partscaster is set up so that the volume knob is where the three-way switch is on standard Telecaster guitars. I first saw this modification used by Terry Kath, founding guitarist of Chicago (the band). It makes it easier to do volume swells, not that I do many of those or do them well.


Soldering pickup leads would seem to be a routine task, but I ran into another problem: the pickup had three leads. How would I tell which one was the hot lead and which ones were ground leads?

Out came the trusty multi-meter. I measured the resistance between the different leads and discovered that two of the wires, when checked for resistance between them, showed a reading of 8.5K. The other combinations of wires did not show anything.

So, I used the white wire as hot and soldered the red and black wires to ground. I think I got it right – the pickup sounds right and doesn’t seem to be out of phase. The  white wire was too short to reach its destination, so I soldered an extension onto it.



Now came the acid test. I returned the strings to pitch, I plugged the guitar into my Danelectro mini-amp, selected the neck position with the witch,  and played.

Voila!It worked. Now, I don’t take for granted the times when a project makes a sound on the first attempt. For me, at least, there’s usually something to fix.

I try to avoid that by using a multi-meter to check the continuity between various places in the circuit before I turn it on. It’s kind of like troubleshooting in advance.

testing it out

So, I buttoned it all up and played on it for awhile, The tone is fine. My acid test is the combination of the neck and bridge pickups together. I look for a bright, clean sound in this combination.

The P90 seemed to overwhelm the bridge pickup. The tone wasn’t as bright as I though tit should be. However, this is a topic for another project. There are many options, such as a hotter pickup, blending pots, a resistor on the neck pickups, and who knows what else.

For now, I’ve got a great P90 trucking in my Tele partscaster, and all is rocking in the world!


Building a bi-polar power supply

finished bi-polar PS top

I took a break from the phase shifter rejuvenation project to have a go at building a simple bi-polar power supply. The basis for the project was this web page: http://sound.westhost.com/project05.htm.

It includes background information on the power supply as well as the schematic. All of the parts came from Jameco except for the wall transformer. It was an old Mouser 12 VAC transformer.

This power supply wouldn’t be as dangerous as some other power supply projects I’ve built. This project runs off of a 12VAC wall transformer. The wall transformer drops the voltage down to 12 volts AC before it arrives at the circuit board.

Back in the day, I built three power supplies in which the transformer was part of the circuit. This meant that the 110-volt current went into the enclosure before it was connected to a transformer mounted either in the case or on the circuit board. I never suffered a shock, but I’m not sure my nerves could handle it now.

Anyway, this power supply is supposed to deliver 12 volts of regulated power to whatever device is connected to it. I could’ve built it as a 15-volt supply, but I had a 12VAC wall transformer on hand. I figured I’d save the expense of buying another wall transformer.

Op-amps, which are the basis for many audio circuits, require a bi-polar power supply. On many electronic devices that take a DC input, there’s a section of the circuit that splits the current into a bi-polar output, but also cuts the voltage in half. The project I wanted to build would produce 12 volts of DC power, both positive and negative..

So, what’s the difference between AC (alternating current) and DC (direct current)?

This is what an MIT web page says (http://engineering.mit.edu/ask/what’s-difference-between-ac-and-dc):

AC and DC are different types of voltage or current used for the conduction and transmission of electrical energy.”

“Electrical current is the flow of charged particles, or specifically in the case of AC and DC, the flow of electrons. According to Karl K. Berggren, professor of electrical engineering at MIT, the fundamental difference between AC and DC is the direction of flow. DC is constant and moves in one direction.”

OK, enough for today’s electronics theory lesson.

The reason for building it, besides having another building adventure, was to provide power for two studio effects I recently unearthed. The devices are a couple of old Paia Electronics studio devices that ran on bi-polar power. The power supply that I built for them more than 20 years ago has been lost to history. I probably threw it out during a move.

The schematic is fairly simple. I decided to build it on non-conducting perf board. Non-conducting perf board does not have solder pads. The non-conducting nature of the perf board would lessen the possibly of short circuits. I later would find that I could build the power supply on one half of it and save the other half – maybe for another power supply?

The plan was to run the wires of the components through the holes and connect the wires together in accordance with the schematic. It would not be pretty, but I figured it would work.

I started from the left side of the schematic, where the wires from the wall wart connected to the circuit.

Please note that this circuit requires a transformer that outputs AC current, not DC current. If you power your pedals with a wall wart, it likely produces nine volts of direct current. This circuit calls for a transformer that outputs 12VAC, not 12VDC.

Some effects do run on 12VAC, though. I have an old ART Effects Command Center multi-effects board that runs off of AC. My ART Tube MP pre-amp requires AC input.

So, off I went. In went the diodes, then the (relatively) huge 4700uf capacitors. I went overboard by buying 50-volt caps when 35-volt or even 25-volt caps probably would’ve sufficed.

Bad weather actually helped this project. My workshop is in a shed that has no insulation and only portable heaters for heat. When I wanted to start the project, it was too cold to work in the workshop for any length of time. So, I brought in the components and the perf board to my house. I started running the wires and exploring different ways of connecting the components.

The placement of the voltage regulators was the biggest challenge. I wanted to place them so the circuit would take up only half of the perf board (longways). My parts layout generally was following the layout of the schematic. I couldn’t do that with the voltage regulators. I also had to leave room for the heat sinks.

When the weather improved, I went into the shed workshop and fired up the soldering iron. The commentary on the project suggests that heat sinks might not be necessary, but I went ahead and put them in as a precaution. The two regulators, 7815 (positive) and 7915 (negative) have different pinouts. I made a document on the computer that showed both regulators and their pinouts. The regulators and heat sinks were attached to the perf board with nuts and bolts. I tried to carefully bend the pinouts so they would go into the holes of the perf board. One of the pinouts didn’t cooperate, so I had to solder a component to it above the perf board instead of below it.

I was being careful to solder the diodes and the .1uf capacitors in place. I checked and re-checked the placement and connections. To make one connection, I soldered a piece of stranded wire between two points on the underside of the perf board.



Honestly, an electronics engineer would cringe at my layout. It wasn’t neat, not all that well planned, but nonetheless functional.

I finished the connections of the components. Now, it was time to troubleshoot before applying power. I re-checked and re-checked it with the multi-meter set for audible continuity check.  There was a bad connection between the last ground component and the wire to which a device would be attached. A touch of solder fixed that.

Finally, time came to power it up. The electrolytic capacitors were of some concern. If one does not get the polarity correct, they can explode – literally. Those big 4700uf capacitors could do some damage if they blew up. So, I double and triple-checked the wiring of the capacitors.

Silly as it sounds, I put on a face shield before applying the power. I figured I couldn’t be too careful. I soldered the AC wall transformer leads to the appropriate points on the perf board. I plugged in the wall transformer and waited.

Nothing blew up, so I took off the face shield. I set the digital multi-meter to check DC voltage. The circuit showed 12 volts on both positive and negative outputs. Success! Honestly, it was one of the rare instances when one of my projects worked on the first attempt.

So, now I have my bi-polar power supply. I ordered extra components in case I ruined one. I have enough electrolytic capacitors to do another supply, plus the remaining perf board. Maybe a 15-volt supply is next up!

Resurrecting my old phase shifter

I have embarked on the challenge of reviving a 20-plus-year-old DIY device of mine. This blog post is the first of a series of posts describing the process of bringing back to life my prized Electronic Projects for Musicians phase shifter.



But first, some background:

During my first heavy binge on DIY musical electronics, I built around 25 devices or so. Very few of them survive today.

The ones that did survive were among my favorites, of course. They included a two-channel tube pre-amp, a noise-reduction device, a two-channel limiter, the EFPM dual tone filter, and my favorite – the phase shifter from EPFM.

My copy of EPFM contained sound samples from the devices in the book. Back in the dark ages, the sounds were provided via a piece of flexible plastic that was bound into the book. You tore it out along the perforated line, then fired up your turntable. You dug out one of your vinyl LPs, put the piece of plastic on it, and gingerly placed the needle on it.

Somehow, this set-up allowed the book purchaser to listen to the sound of the effects.

I fell in love with the sound of the phase shifter. It was amazing to me. I made it my goal to build one.

I wisely started out with simple effects. I did make plans for the phase shifter, though. I still have my copy of EPFM. The page containing the phase shifter parts list shows where I jotted down notes about price and quantity of parts.

Wisely, I bought a circuit board from Paia Electronics. I managed to score four of the hard-to-find Clairex CLM-6000 opto-isolators. (Nowadays, the readily-available NSL-32 would work in place of the CLM-6000.)

When Anderson needed a dual op-amp for one of his EFPM designs, he chose the Raytheon RC4739.  It was a fine op amp, but had an inconvenience: it was contained in a 14-pin DIP case. Most dual op-amps are built in eight-pin cases. Back then, you still could buy 4739s, but they are extinct today. I used two 4739s in the phase shifter.

I built mine with the specified parts. An aluminum Radio Shack (RIP) enclosure served to contain the device. The power would come from an external 9-volt AC-powered power supply, another project from EFPM. I still have the power supply. The phase shifter and power supply were connected by a plug, which could be separated. The power setup is cumbersome. I hope to change that some day, possibly as part of this project.

Anyway, I decided in earnest the other day to try to get the thing to work. When I put it in the true bypass position, it howled through the amp. In the un-bypassed position, there was no sound.

Initially, I tried to fix a few obvious things in the hope the problem was something simple. But I didn’t get anywhere. So, I decided to rebuild the device. The plan is to keep the enclosure, circuit board, the potentiometers and most of the switches. It will have a 3PDT true bypass stomp switch with an LED indicator light.



Anyway, I took a good look at it. I felt strange looking at work that I had done more than 20 years ago. The solder joints looked good. Hey, the thing had worked at some point!

Nonetheless, I would’ve liked to have had some conversations with my 20-year-younger self about this project

Current me: Was green the only color of wire you had?

Younger me: Do you think I was made of money? It worked!

Current me: Why did you leave that rat’s nest of wires? Have you ever heard of organization?

Younger me: I don’t care how it looked. It worked!

Current me: Why didn’t you use mylar or film capacitors? Those ceramic caps look downright nasty.

Younger me: Do you think I was made of money? It worked, didn’t it?

Current me: Thank you for using the Vector T-42 clips to make connections to the circuit board much easier!

Younger me: You’re welcome.


vector T42 clip

I proceeded to disassemble it after I failed in my feeble attempts to get it to work. The circuit board came off of the standoffs. All of the connections to the board were de-soldered and removed. The T-42 clips made this work easy. The clips fit into a standard circuit board hole. They should be soldered, but they’ll hold pretty well on a friction fit. Because of the clips, I didn’t have to de-solder one side of the board and then try to quickly pull the wire out of the other. The clips also will make it easier to solder the new wires. A pack of T-42 clips is on my want list. They can make connections much easier.

After de-soldering the wires from the pots and switches, I went to work on removing certain items from the circuit board. I theorized that the integrated circuits (4739 and 4136) had been fried or otherwise had gone bad. So, I planned to replace them.



It was a battle to remove the sockets of the 4739. They had to come out because I planned to replace them with eight-pin op amps such as the NE5532. However, the footprint is a 14-pin design. I have a plan to solve that problem, which I will discuss later. There also is a 4136 quad op amp on the board. It’s not a common chip, but is still available.

I de-soldered the solder-side connections of the sockets as best as I could. I managed to pull the socket out, but many of the metal legs didn’t come out of the circuit board. What was left were small pieces of metal, sticking out of the board.

Further removal of solder on the solder side of the circuit board was fruitless. Then, the light bulb came on! I applied the solder iron tip to the bottom of the socket legs. That sent heat to the solder side. The pieces of metal then came out easily.



While doing battle with the sockets, I accidentally tore the top of a ceramic capacitor. I looked at the schematic and discovered that mylar or film capacitors would be better than the ceramic ones. So, out came all of the ceramic capacitors.

The resistors and electrolytic capacitors remained on the board, as did the Clairex CLM-6000 opto-isolators and the 4136.

Replacing the capacitors won’t be too risky. I don’t want to change too many parts, though, because of the risk of introducing new problems into the circuit. I’ve sourced some NSL-32 opto-isolators in case the venerable CLM-6000s have stopped working.

I bought some parts from Jameco to get the project rolling. Among the parts are upgraded capacitors, a few NE5532 op amps and 14-pin wire wrap sockets. The wire wrap sockets have long legs.

The plan to replace the 4739s with 5532s is based on a product sold by Paia Electronics some time ago. I will insert the 5532 into the bottom of the socket, or on the side without the notch.

I will cut off a small piece of stripboard. I’ll mount the 14-pin wire-wrap socket in the 14 holes in the circuit board. I will then use jumper wires to connect the circuit board signals to the appropriate NE5532 pins.

Anderton nicely included in EPFM a guide for substituting 8-pin dual op amps for the 4739. It should prove very helpful. The NE5532, in addition to being available, is a good value for a low-noise dual op amp. There are better (and more expensive) dual op amps, but the NE5532 is a good compromise of price and performance.

I also plan to order some NSL-32 opto-isolators in case the CLM-6000s don’t work. Digi-Key, sells both the NSL-32 and the 4136 op amp.

However, I’m not going to replace everything at once. The first step will be to insert the 5532 setup. Re-wiring of the leads to power and potentiometers will follow. This time, I’ll use different colors of wire to avoid confusion! I also hope to keep the leads shorter and better organized. I also will replace the ceramic capacitors with an upgraded capacitor.

At that point, I’ll test it. If it doesn’t work, I’ll double-check all of the connections, be sure that power is getting ot the chips, and give it a good “eyeballing.” If it doesn’t work, I’ll assume the 4136 and/or the CLM-6000s are not working. I’ll order the parts and then install them. If that doesn’t work, I’ll start pulling my hair out!

Stay tuned!

The DIY time warp

As mentioned in previous articles, I recently returned to a serious pursuit of the DIY musical electronics hobby after being away from it for a long time – I’d say about 20 years.

Strangely enough, I got out of the hobby at about the same time the Internet was coming into its own. Now I know what I’ve missed!

Lately, I’ve spent hours surfing the Internet and finding great circuit ideas. There are several forums that give advice. Small parts and pedal businesses have sprung up – something they probably could not have done before the Internet.

So, how did one get information on musical electronics back in the stone age? First, there were books. The classic is Craig Anderton’s Electronic Projects for Musicians. I have both the first edition and the revised edition.

I also stumbled across a book by the British writer R.A. Penfold. The use of veroboard (stripboard) in the book’s projects was a discovery. A friend of mine who went to Great Britain actually brought back a piece of it for me!

I wish I had not torn up the book through overuse. It’s going for $70 on Amazon now!

I scoured the magazine racks for electronics magazines in the hopes that there might be a musical DIY project in them. Guitar Player was running Craig Anderton’s column, which would feature some DIY projects. Electronic Musician and EQ magazine ran good projects fairly often. Jules Ryckebusch, a Naval officer whose specialty was nuclear reactors, created and wrote about some nice projects, particularly for the home studio.

I drove the local librarians crazy. I would track down DIY articles by finding references in books, articles, and in directories of periodical literature. After identifying an interesting article, I’d submit an inter-library loan request for it. Usually, a photo-copy of the article was in my hands within a couple of weeks after putting in the request.

I started a notebook of DIY audio articles and schematics. It survived several moves over the years. I almost threw it out once; I’m glad that I didn’t.

So, some old-fashioned research and digging kept me well supplied with DIY information. Back then, one had to work hard to get any information; now, the hard work is in determining what information is worth keeping and what should be disregarded.  There’s just soooo much good stuff!

It’s nice, though, to see some good old standbys hanging around. Anderton’s EPFM is still out there. He also did another nice DIY book: Do-it-Yourself Projects for Guitarists.

EPFM still soldiers on. Many of the parts used in the projects, some of which were hard to find back in the 1990s, are even more difficult to find now.  Thanks to folks such as Small Bear Electronics, the hard-to-find parts are accessible.

Parts hunting was a major part of the hobby. The thrill of the hunt and the excitement of finding that rare part was a nice rush! I accumulated several electronics suppliers catalogs, some of which were two inches thick. I identified the suppliers who were more suited to what I wanted and stayed with them.

Paia Electronics was great – they offered circuit boards and kits for the EFPM projects as well as a host of other great analog devices. Paia founder and DIY legend John Simonton died a few years ago, but Paia carries on. They’re carrying the flame for DIY electronics, especially analog synthesizers.

Two of my favorites were Mouser Electronics and All Electronics. Mouser was/is a huge electronics parts distributor catering both to hobbyists and huge manufacturers. They did not have a minimum dollar amount for an order and charged only actual postage.

All Electronics, on the other hand, was somewhat of a surplus electronics parts store. Even though they were a fraction of the size of Mouser, they stocked a surprising amount of the stuff I wanted.  I looked forward to their monthly catalog just to see what new exotic goodies they had unearthed!

I also found an electronics store in a nearby big city that had counter sales. Through special order, I managed to snag some SSM2120 chips for some of the Paia studio devices.

Interestingly enough, I now live in a town of about 35,000 people and it has a full-service electronics store. They don’t stock many analog components, but I’m often surprised when I need a rare part and they have it.

I’m friends with one of the owners. We always have a pleasant chat when I come in, even though I rarely spend a large amount of money there.

What I would’ve given to have had a resource such as Small Bear Electronics back then! Small Bear mastered the art of sourcing  exotic music electronics components so we hobbyists wouldn’t have to.

As stated earlier, my main musical gear is in the digital realm. Recently, though, I dug up some old analog signal processors that I built in my first run at the hobby. Analog is cool and I might find a way to integrate those old projects into my digital setup. Regardless of what I can do with them, those old projects were worth it just for the fun of building them and that incredible feeling of plugging one in and using something that I had built!


Getting bi-polar power the easy way

When I started out making DIY electronic projects, I did projects from Craig Anderton’s classic book Electronic Projects for Musicians. Most of the projects in the book required bi-polar power.

The typical stomp box uses one battery to provide what I would call “single-sided power.” This works well for most stompboxes because of good design. The power provided to the effect is positive and negative. Simple enough.

Bi-polar power is positive, negative, and ground. In a circuit that uses operational amps, or op-amps, bi-polar power provides more headroom and better performance. However, providing bi-polar power is more complicated than using single-sided power.

The most basic way is to use two nine-volt batteries. When connected correctly, you can get +/-9 volts (nine volts bi-polar power). For a project that doesn’t consume much power and has plenty of room in the enclosure, this works well.

The next option is to build a power supply. EPFM has a project to build a nine-volt, AC-powered bi-polar power supply. A WORD OF CAUTION: this project involves connecting an AC power cord (the kind that plugs into the wall) to a transformer. You’ve got to be very confident in your skills to build this. I built one on a perfboard for a multi-effects project  and lived to tell the story. Later, I built one in a plastic box using a printed circuit board. That was  much easier and less harrowing to do. Still, it required caution and great care.

One of my favorite EFPM projects was the Phase Shifter. It had several operational amps and other power-using circuitry. It was not practical to run it on two batteries. I ran it using a power connection from the aforementioned EPFM power supply. It was inconvenient to lug that big plastic box around and connect it to the phase shifter box, which was not too small itself.

Before I took a hiatus from DIY electronics many years ago, I decided to find a way to run that phase shifter on something more convenient. A few years ago, I briefly resurrected the hobby to try to find a solution. As it turned out, either my EPFM power supply or my phase shifter died, because I couldn’t get the phase shifter to work. That left me dead in the water.

I dug out a few old studio DIY projects from the attic a few days ago. They included a PaIa dual compressor and “HissWhacker” (a noise reduction device). Both had power connections to a 15-volt bi-polar power supply which I also had built. It apparently didn’t survive one of my residential moves, because I can’t find it.

So, if I want to play with those devices, I’ll need to find a good source of bi-polar power.


wall-wart image

I have set my sights on a wall-wart based power supply. Wall-wart is a slang term for a wall transformer, one of those black boxes into which the plugs are built in. They’re used in all sorts of electronic devices. You probably have several. You might even run your stomp boxes  off of one.

There are a couple of options: a wall-wart with AC output or one with DC output. The typical wall-wart has DC output. That’s probably what your stomp box uses. (However, some musical devices use AC output wall warts. I have an ART tube pre-amp that uses one.)

Many Paia electronics projects use an AC-output wall wart. Circuitry to turn the AC signal  into a bi-polar supply was designed into the circuitry. I suppose one could analyze those schematics and build the circuitry to use an AC-output wall wart for a project that requires bi-polar power.

However, my plan is to use a DC-output wall wart. They are easier to obtain than a VAC-output wall wart. However, the key to doing this is building the circuitry to turn a single-sided DC current into bi-polar value.

Fortunately, there are magic chips that make that possible, and in a simple circuit to boot! Meet the MAX1044 and the ICL7660. Both can take a 9VDC current and output bi-polar +/- 9 volts.

How do these chips do it? I don’t know. I tried to figure it out from the data sheet, but it’s beyond my knowledge.

Still, the circuit is simple:

bi-polar from 9V

All you need is a chip, two 10uf electrolytic capacitors and a  power source.

I breadboarded the circuit to see if I could get it to work. Over the years, I have mangled many a good circuit beyond recognition. I used a  ICL7660 chip. It and the MAX1044 basically do the same thing, but the ICL7660 is less expensive.



Above is the breadboarded circuit with a 9-volt battery connected. After I carefully laid out the circuit, I connected the battery and tested it with a digital multi-meter. It worked as advertised! It put out bi-polar nine-volt power! Yes!

However, working with a battery wouldn’t solve the problem of the phase shifter and the other devices. So, I set it up to test the current from a wall wart.

My breadboarding setup has a power jack and breadboard power connections.  So, I plugged in my trusty Boss nine-volt wall transformer. Nothing blew up, so I figured I was OK to that point.

Out came the multi-meter. I checked and double-checked. Yes again! It worked! Whoopee!

Now, my excitement may be premature. I don’t know if the setup will power the phase shifter or any of the other bi-polar-power-gobbling devices in my arsenal. I’ll dig out that phase shifter, solder up a little power board with the ICL7660, and see what happens!



“Bread-boarding” your projects

If you want to try out a circuit without going to the trouble of soldering the components together, a solderless breadboard may be just the ticket for you.

A solderless breadboard allows you to make all of the connections in a circuit, test the circuit, then make corrections and changes very quickly. The breadboard connections are not permanent.

Breadboards may be used to create new electronic circuits or verify a circuit. This is called prototyping.  If you’re planning to build a project, you may want to breadboard it first to ensure that you know how to connect all of the parts correctly.


breadboard diagram

If you find a circuit in which you’re interested, you can breadboard it and quickly determine if it’s worth committing to a permanent project.

In my previous DIY life, I planned to put together a breadboard. However, I lost interest in the hobby for awhile, thanks to the typical demands of life and my tendency to rotate hobbies.



However, I had purchased a small breadboard and a set of jumpers. Those items managed to survive a couple of residential moves. As I returned to the hobby, I renewed the plan to make a breadboard.

The breadboard is just part of the total bread-boarding operation. Ideally, the breadboard is part of a setup that includes a power supply, input and output jacks, a provision for potentiometers, and anything else that might be part of the project.



Just how does a breadboard work? It consists of a pattern of “holes,” for want of a better term. The holes are arranged in horizontal rows in a grid pattern. Stiff wires, such as the leads of electronic components, can be placed in the holes.

All of the holes in a row are electronically connected to each other. Depending on the breadboard’s design, there may be channels that separate the sections of a row and break the circuit connection.



Jumpers are wires that can be used to connect one row to another.  They also can be used to jump a signal across a channel.  They are an essential part of breadboarding. They are the equivalent of wire in a permanent circuit.

In a breadboarded project, you will use electronic components as you would in a permanently-soldered project. A breadboard allows you to try different values of components and different semi-conductors in the circuit to find the best combination.

A much more thorough description of a breadboard may be found here:


My personal breadboard is in its preliminary stages of construction. It’s far enough along so that I can do some basic circuits with power provided.



My breadboard consists  of a small solderless breadboard attached to a piece of lumber that came out of my junk pile. There is an electrical junction box screwed to the board to serve as the mounting point for jacks, potentiometers, power connections and who knows what else.

The box cost me all of $1.25 plus tax at a home improvement store. It was in the electrical section.

When planning this setup, I wondered how I would mount the solderless breadboard to keep it from moving. Much to my pleasant surprise, I discovered the solderless breadboard had an adhesive backing. So, I just peeled off the paper and stuck it on the lumber in what I hope is a good location.



I drilled several three-eighth-inch holes in the metal box. The box was difficult to drill, even though I used my drill press. I had to ream some of the holes later. I didn’t have any grand plan for the holes; I just drilled a bunch of holes that were not too close to each other. I also opened up one of the punch-out holes in the side to have an opening through which to run wires.

I screwed the box vertically onto the piece of lumber. The only thing I’ve installed in the metal box so far is a power connector. I soldered two wires to it, one red (for positive) and one green (for negative/ground). I also soldered a separate green wire to part of the metal box.

This was enough to handle my first breadboard project. As I try more projects, no doubt this setup will expand!

Back to the world of DIY stomp boxes


About 25 years ago, the DIY-electronics bug bit me. For several years, I fired up the soldering iron, tried to understand schematics, pulled out my hair when the darned things didn’t work, but generally had a blast.

Other hobbies came along, though, and the advancements in commercial stomp boxes took some of the financial benefits out of DIY electronics. However, you shouldn’t do DIY stuff unless it’s for fun. Unless you are really, really good, you likely aren’t going to save any significant amount of money by building your own stompboxes.

However, the bug bit me again recently. It may have started when those old electronic skills helped me resurrect my Cry-Baby wah-wah pedal. I then salvaged an abandoned project and got it to work.

Then, I discovered Tayda Electronics. This company  offers a nice selection of PCB boards and instructions for guitar-based stompboxes. They also sell a huge variety of parts at very nice prices.

The Tayda parts are less expensive than the parts I bought 20 years ago – and the value of the dollar is quite a bit less now. Ten metal film resistors for 12.5 cents? I couldn’t get one metal film resistor for 12 cent back in the 1990s.

I’m not going to tell you that Tayda is the only company that sells parts at these kind of prices. I haven’t done comprehensive research on parts prices. I stumbled across Tayda’s site, liked what I saw, and off I went.

Tayda doesn’t sell guitar stomp box kits per se; for a given project, they offer a circuit board, on-line instructions, and sell the individual parts that you will need.

Each project’s web page lists the parts needed to build the project.. In some cases, there are links to order each part at Tayda’s store.

I decided to further wade back into the DIY stomp box world. My DIY skills once were pretty good. (Hey, I built the Craig Anderton Quadrafuzz!) But those skills needed refreshing. A simple, fun kit would be the ticket.

Back in the DIY day, I built the treble booster from the book Electronic Projects for Musicians by DIY guru and general musical electronics genius Craig Anderton. I liked what it did to the sound of my guitar. Or, perhaps the high end of my hearing was starting to go.

Anyway, I thought I would revisit the treble booster idea. I went for the Brian May treble booster. I have May’s book about how he and his father built the “Red Special,” which to this day is Brian May’s no. 1 guitar.

There were numerous references in the book about how May used a treble booster to create his signature sound. The Tayda project sounded like a good bet, so off I went.

I dutifully ordered the PCB board, a bunch of parts, and an enclosure. I eagerly awaited the arrival of the goodies.

I placed the order on a Sunday night. Arrival time was advertised at 7-16 days. The package arrived one week and a day later – Monday. Everything arrived in good order.


The parts all were enclosed in a bag. When I opened up the bag, I discovered the parts were in their own little bags! And labeled, no less!

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This will make it much easier to identify the correct parts as well as store the leftovers for future use. I was very impressed with how the order was packaged.

OK, so now it was time to plunge into it.  I holed up in my infamous mini-barn/workshop/man cave, turned on the heater and fired up the soldering iron.

Whoops, not so fast! One must survey the project and plan its construction before plunging into it. But that’s no fun! Well, anyway, I decided to drill out the enclosure and place the outboard parts before doing any soldering.


The enclosure was an aluminum Hammond 1590B, which appears to be a standard among stomp box enclosures.  I printed out the parts placement guide from the on-line instructions and proceeded to plan the drilling.

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Carpenters say measure twice, cut once. So, I attempted to do that.


I had an idea of where the input and output jacks should be located, based on the diagram. However, I did get into a bit of a rush and didn’t carefully plan the location of the other holes.

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I used this handy drill gauge to determine the size of bit to use for the potentiometer. A one-quarter-inch bit was the ticket for this one.

However, I couldn’t find my 3/8-inch bit to use for the jack holes. I re-organized my barn recently, and, as you might guess, I can’t find anything!

11-reamer and box

So, how would I create a 3/8-inch hole for the jacks, much less a half-inch hole for the 3PDT switch? The tapered reamer, pictured above with the enclosure, would be the ticket.


However, the reamer is uncomfortable to use. I had to take several breaks during the process of expanding holes from one-fourth inch to three-eights inch and to one-half inch. I have since bought a 3/8-inch drill bit!

10-drill press

Backing up a bit, here’s how the drilling part worked. I am fortunate to have a small drill press. I used a clamp to hold the enclosure in position and drilled the initial holes with the one-fourth-inch bit. As mentioned previously, a tapered reamer finished the job.


In the picture above, the holes are drilled and I have begun test-fitting the parts. I drilled the potentiometer hole in the wrong place, so I drilled another one. I figure that the knob will cover up the mistake! (Hey, this is do-it-yourself stuff!)


So, now we’re ready for some soldering! The small size of the board amazed me. The current practice seems to be to directly solder the pots to the board so that the pot(s) serve as the mounting for the board. That requires a small board.

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Here’s one look at the circuit board after I’ve soldered in a few resistors. Periodic inspections of your soldering work will save you much grief later.

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Here’s the project not long before completion. I didn’t do a very good job of following the layout, so thing are kind of crammed. I may or may not be able to get a battery in there. However, I probably will run it off of a power adapter most of the time anyway.

Problem spots included the LED . With the 3PDT switch, it should’ve been possible to active the LED when the circuit was engaged. With a 3PDT switch, you can set it to either run your guitar’s signal through a wire and to the output, which leaves the sound unaffected; or click the 3PDT switch again, and sends the signal through the circuit. Those functions take four of the six switches in the 3PDT switch.

A 3PDT switch consists of  six open/close switches. When you push the button, one set of switches are closed. Push it again and the other set of switches close.

One of the remaining switches was for the LED.  However, after much frustration, I discovered that the individual switch for the LED didn’t work.  I pushed the 3PDT button to the point I was certain the switches were set to send the effect through LED.

However, some detective work with a multimeter disclosed that the particular switch used for the LED didn’t work. It didn’t close, which means that the power signal could not connect to the LED.

I tried some experiments with the LED. With a resistor wired in series with the LED, I touched the appropriate end to a lug of the power supply and the other end to ground.  It didn’t work immediately. I suspect I didn’t use the right resistor.

If the wiring of the 3PDT switch sounds complicated, Tayda has produced a PC board to which the  switch is soldered. After solder ing it to the switch, you may then attach your wires to the appropriate pad, such as input, output, or positive and negative power,  The LED also is connected to this board.

So, no LED “on” light for now. After some final testing came the big moment for a DIY’er. I plugged the guitar into the effect and then plugged the effect to a Mustang I amplifier. I plugged in the power chord.

I hit a chord. Success! It worked. So, now it was time to play with it. I compared the bypassed and effected sounds. The potentiometer increased the volume as the treble increased. It indeed was a biting sound.

Back in the day, I liked using a treble booster before a distortion. I didn’t get that chance at the moment, but I will try it later.

So, here are the overall impressions of the Brian May treble booster: the instructions assume some basic knowledge of electronics. The instructions, which are online, are not detailed step-by-step instructions. However, the project is basic, so such instructions may not be necessary.

The board is priced reasonably at $6. As mentioned before, the parts prices are very good. The enclosure cost $4.99, also not a bad deal.

So, if you’re looking for a basic DIY stomp box on which to learn skills; or, if you just want another stomp box for the board, then this is for you.

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