Tips & Tricks

This is a collection of random stuff that I wish I knew earlier or payed more attention to. This is just to start with, I’ll add more on the fly.

  1. When working on amp or any other device other than a stompbox, always check that the power cord is unplugged from the wall. Even when the amp is off, there’s still high voltage present on the IEC socket, fuse and the power switch. I got zapped once with 220V straight from the wall – no fun at all.
  2. Always put one hand behind your back or in the pocket. That way you’re making sure that your hands won’t complete a circuit in an unfortunate event or touching something you will turn your body into a conductor.
  3. When turning the amp for the first time with the guitar plugged in to hear how it sounds, make sure that you’re not holding your guitar with one arm while trying to turn the amp on, flick a switch or touch anything else. Guitar strings are grounded, so if there’s positive potential on whatever you’re touching you’re going to get zapped which makes this similar to 2). Once I miss-wired standby switch on Kalamazoo, so the lever was on the B+ potential (around 200V). Guess what, I got zapped again. It’s not a bad idea to measure voltage between all exposed metal parts on the amp and the ground in case there’s a problem similar to what I had.
  4. Waiting to complete all the preparations for the first fire-up is one of the hardest thing in amp building. Also, safety is the first thing that we forget when anxious to hear the thing that we put so much effort into. There’s good chance that something is bad – wiring, component value, bad joint…rushing things may cost you expensive parts or harm/kill you. Take your time.
  1. I found that some tube sockets hold the tube like crazy when brand new, but get to normal after few times. Some of my builds were tight so there’s no much place for my hand to be able to grip the tube and pull it out easily. It’s not a bad idea to take the tube in and out two or three times before mounting the socket to the chassis.
  2. Drilling large tube and IEC holes can be a pain, especially with no specialized tools. If you’re building amps every day you’re probably going to need a professional solution, but this works for someone like myself who builds amps every few months. It requires a simple drill and a file (round for tube holes, flat for IEC). The idea is to outline the hole that needs to be drilled and drill a series of small holes (2.5-3mm) inside the outline one next to each other. They need to be close enough to be able to punch out the middle piece. At that point, I’d file the remaining metal until the hole is good enough. It’s not a bad idea to mark the small holes before drilling with a pointer tool if using a hand drill and also to leave ~1mm between the holes and the outline just in case.
  3. When using powdered coated enclosures, make sure that the lid makes electrical contact when installed. Powder coating (or paint) often insulates the lid from the rest of the enclosure, reducing the shielding effect. The easiest way to do it on stompbox enclosures is to scrape the paint inside bolt inlets on the lid using a 6mm (1/4″) drill bit, allowing the bolt to make electrical contact with the lid (and the enclosure). The noise level can drop significantly. As an example, I have recorded my Friedman BE OD clone with gain set relatively low, around 40%. The first 5 seconds of the clip show noise with the lid isolated from the rest of the enclosure. Then after the pop you can hear 5 seconds of noise with the lid making solid contact with the enclosure and finally at the end I played a quick riff to show where the noise floor is. Noise level drops for over 1.5db after ensuring electrical contact. High gain pedals could amplify this noise significantly.
  1. Changing strings on a guitar with floating tremolo like Floyd Rose is a dreadful task but it can be a bit less of a pain if you swap the strings one at a time instead of removing them all at the same time. For starters, you don’t have to worry about blocking the tremolo because other 5 strings will hold it just fine. When a new string is installed, I usually repeat stretch-tune sequence two or three times until tuning doesn’t change that much after I stretch it. Then I move on to the next one. In my experience, this method takes less time to bring the guitar back to tune and ready to play.
  2. This could be useful for those of you who have Edge (Pro) equipped Ibanez. The idea of replaceable washers is nice because any material will wear out after some time, so why not make it replaceable. The only problem is that they can hold tight for two weeks before wearing enough that the trem arm doesn’t stay in place any more. I tried a couple of things, none of which worked, before finding the best solution on the web. The idea is to use heat to harden the washers and expand them a bit. 5 seconds over a cigarette lighter flame while slowly rotating the arm did the trick for mine. Two years later and I still haven’t replaced them.
  1. When buying or building a new piece of gear, don’t always judge by the first impression. Sometimes it takes a while to get used to the sound. I found myself a couple of times in the situation to not be impressed by something (Dr Boogey pedal, DiMarzio Liquifire pickup, etc), but after some quality time I’d turn back to it.
  2. Take it easy with gain level. Before, I would start with gain maxed and turn it down when needed, but I found that the opposite works better for me. Starting lower and increasing gain until there’s just enough crunch/sustain, no more. For rhythm sounds, it helps if you hit low E string palm muted while slowly increasing gain. It’s not hard to hear when it starts to sound boomy/muddy. When you reach that point, just back it down a bit. If there’s an equalizer in the front stages of the amp (Mesa Mark for instance), backing down bass also helps.
  3. Guitar won’t sound the same when played alone and when mixed with the rest of the band. I found that when I play over backtracks I need to add a bit more treble to the mix. Also, time based effects such as delay and reverb are more pronounced when playing alone. I usually need to increase delay level when playing over backtracks to hear the delay at all.
One Response to “Tips & Tricks”
  1. Petar says:

    Thanks for the ibanez trem arm washers trick. I have a Ibanez js1200 guitar and its trem arm makes me crazy every time before the gig. I will try the trick ASAP.

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    The idea behind this site is to share my experience with Do It Yourself approach to guitars, amplifiers and pedals. Whether you want to save a couple of bucks by performing a mod or upgrade yourself instead of paying a tech, or want to build your own piece of gear from scratch, I'm sure you will find something interesting here. Also, this is the home of DIY Layout Creator, a free piece of software for drawing circuit layouts and schematics, written with DIY enthusiasts in mind.