Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

IconProjects, musings about guitar builds, guitar repairs, vintage tube amplifiers, old radios, travel, home renovation, and other stuff.

Small DIY Pine Table/Stand for Equipment Rack

You may recall that in our last installment, I had lugged my 110 lb/50 kg studio equipment rack up 2 flights of stairs to the little bedroom corner where I record. I had planned to put it on top of a TV table similar to this one. (In fact, that may be the exact one I have).

At any rate, I discovered very quickly that a tallish 110 lb object is rather tippy when placed on a spindly TV table. It wasn't that the table couldn't support the weight; it was that the rack is so tall it wanted to tip over.

It's always something, isn't it?

After pondering my problem, I decided to make a super sturdy, heavy duty table to support the rack and prevent it from tipping over, and make it at a better (lower) height than the TV table.

Gathered up some hunks of wood and went at it. The pieces here are for the legs and frame.

You'll see that I cannot be confused with a cabinet maker. This is pretty basic and functional.

The main requirement is strength.

Drill some pilot holes for the wood screws that will hold it together.

Along with our very good friend Titebond.

I used about 2/3 of a bottle for this project. Crazy.

I countersunk the pilot holes and then drove the screws in. You can see the glue squeeze-out, which is A Good Thing. I cleaned it up with a damp painter's rag.

Remember the main requirement: strength.

This is the base and legs. I'll put a top on - that's what the rack will sit on.

Looks like an end table at this point. Sort of. If you squint.

Stickley, it is not.

Detail of one leg. The four screws on the legs are #10 and the one on the end holding the side on is a #12.

You can see the countersinks too - might have made them a bit too deep but I'll fill the holes anyway.

It's pretty sturdy. I think this is going to work.

If not, I'll have a small end table for The Dungeon.

Now to make the top. I used a piece of 1/2 inch birch plywood laminate (about 12.5mm in new measure).

Note my homebrew jigsaw guide. The piece of plywood was too large to cut on the bandsaw.

In the interest of strength and support, I decided to put some bracing in on the top.

Drove more screws.

I can't tell you how valuable a drill attachment to drive screws is. No way I could have done this by hand.

Test fit for the top.

In a nod to craftsmanship, I rounded the corners.

It actually looks like a small table. I am stunned.'s quite strong.

After looking at the almost-finished table/stand, I realized I had some excess space under the top.

So I got a bit crazy and decided to put a shelf on the bottom. Just the thing to store cables, microphones, picks, you name it.

I found a piece of 1/4 inch plywood laminate (about 6mm) lying around, so I put it to work. Lazy plywood! Get a job!

The cuts on the corner are so it will fit around the legs. Wild, huh?

Bracing! We need more bracing!

More screws and glue. More strength added to the thing.

You might note that I slipped the shelf into place before I put the braces on.

I flipped it over, and the shelf miraculously fell into position! Screwed and glued it down to the braces.

I put some pieces on three of the sides to act as fences and help keep objects on the shelf. I hate having stuff on low shelves side off onto the floor. And I really hate getting down on my hands and knees to find the stuff that slid off.

I'm thinking about lining the shelf with felt, since I may store semi-delicate stuff on it. Hmmm.

Here's the assembled table.  Came out ok.

It's about 18 inches (46cm) tall, 25 inches (about 63cm) wide, and 18 inches deep. It's quite light - just a few pounds I'd guess.

Another angle.

Now I need to fill the countersunk holes, sand it and finish it.


Custom Wiring Recording Studio Equipment Rack

For about the last 2 weeks I've been spending an hour or so a day working on wiring my recording studio rack. Finally, it's 95% done and is ready to be connected to my recorder/console (Akai DPS24 Mk. II).

I wired all the equipment to the patch bay using balanced cable and connectors. I have 3 pieces of gear that are unbalanced, but the recorder and everything else is balanced.

On the right you see one of the dozens of Amphenol TRS plugs I soldered. If I see one of these anytime soon I may scream.

They're a bit fussy to wire - there is a hook on the connector for the shield, which I like, but you have to thread the hot and cold wires through small holes in the lugs for the tip and sleeve connections.

I used Mogami 2944 console cable and I really like it. Easy to strip and tin.

So the process was strip the insulation, twist the stranded wires, tin them, and solder them to the connector.

The vast majority of the connectors were Amphenol TRS's. I would have gotten all Neutriks, which I much prefer, but they cost twice as much. Since I used about 70 or so of them, the Neutriks would have cost about $200 more, so the cost was bit prohibitive.  (I can put that $200 toward tools, guitars...something else).

I did use Neutrik XLRs though - I didn't have as many of them so I could justify spending the money. Much easier to work with.

They have a 'cup' that you lay the wire in and solder. And Neutrik has instruction sheets indicating the amount of insulation to strip off the cable for each type of connector.  (See a sheet in the background).  I can judge 4mm pretty consistently now :-).

The picture above is one of the Neutrik XLR connectors after soldering.

I love those things. Beautifully made and so wonderful to work with.

I didn't keep an exact count of how many connectors I did, but there are 38 plugs in the back of the patch bay - all TRS phone plugs. And most of the other ends are TRS except for about 8 - so that's...hmm....68 TRS plugs plus 8 XLRs just on the patch bay - 76 total.

Then I have about another 20 XLRs running from my mic input panel on the rack to the recorder.

So call it about 100 connectors in round numbers. At 3 lugs each, that's about 300 solder joints.

Not to mention all the solder joints on the two Altec mic preamps I just built. Wow.

It was tedious, so I only worked about an hour a day or so on this project - long enough to have 4 to 6 cables done in one sitting. When I got tired of it, I stopped. I figured I wasn't in a race and I needed to do a thorough job. I certainly don't want to track down bad connections later, after it's all wired. I also tested each cable for continuity as I made them up. So as far as I know, all of this should work :-).  (If it doesn't, you'll probably read about it here).

Here's one of the cables. A TRS phone plug on one end and a male XLR on the other. I have a handful of these - the vast majority are TRS on both ends.

The advantage of doing it yourself is that you can have custom lengths, and use the connectors and wire you want. Mine are all good quality. And they're easily serviced in the unlikely event that something happens. Not easy to do with cheap commercial molded cables.

This is a shot of the back of the rack at the start of wiring. Looks like a mess at this stage.

I labelled everything with stick-on numbers on the connectors at each end. I also created a spreadsheet with all of the patch connections listed - with the wire color, the connector code, and if the equipment was unbalanced or balanced.

I figured it might come in handy if I ever start rewiring stuff.

Here's the back side of the patch bay. I used all different color cable to help identify connections down the road.

Did I mention I used a LOT of connectors?

By the way, I get my connectors and wire at Redco Audio. Hands down the best prices, service and shipping.

Here's the finished wiring.

I used velcro wire ties to make harnesses of groups of cables.

You can also see where I used metal hooks on the sides of the rack to hang cable bundles on. For the most part, signal leads are on the right side and AC power leads are on the left.

You can't see it in this picture, but there is a group of a dozen or so cables that will run to the recorder. These are aux sends and inserts/returns from the recorder as well as 5 microphone lines. I put a strip on the front of the rack with female XLR connectors in it so I can just plug mics in there and not have to plug or unplug much from the recorder.

Some of those inputs in the strip connect right to the Altec preamps in the rack. I tried to think ahead and make everything as convenient as I could.

Here's the front of the rack.

This thing is really heavy - I weighed it with my bathroom scale and it's about 110 lbs., or 50 kg! It was brutal getting it up 2 flights of stairs to my 'studio.'  If I had to do it again, I'd probably make 2 or 3 smaller units.

The mic panel I metioned is near the bottom  under the two green Altecs. You can see the row of XLR female panel plugs there.


DIY Car Coolant Anti-Freeze Measuring Jug

I was doing some maintenance on my SAAB c900 convertible over the weekend. I noticed the coolant was low and I went to fill it up.

Now, when you have a container of anti-freeze, it's not pre-mixed. You have to mix it with 50% water to have the most effective concentration of the stuff. Which means you need a second container to mix the coolant in.

For decades I've just grabbed whatever container was handy, did the mixing and put it in the car.

I've been thinking for years that I should make a simple container to use for this. You might think, well, of course, dummy, that makes sense. So I did it.

It's hard to eyeball 50% in a container, at least for me, so I marked the level on the jug as you'll see below.

Now, I drink a fair amount of Tradewinds iced tea. The jugs the tea comes in are nice, thick plastic. I use them for old oil, and they also make a perfect coolant container.

First step: label the container so you don't mistakenly think it's iced tea, and drink it.

Next, use a measuring cup and fill the jug with water, marking various levels that make sense to you. I chose Imperial measurement, since that's what I mainly think in, but metric would work too.

Note that I've filled the jug up to the 2 quart/half gallon mark with water.

Also note that as I said above, if I had filled this thing to what I thought was halfway, I would have been way off.  Since the jug is narrower at the top, the marks are not equally spaced.  But they are accurate.

Fill the rest of the jug up with anti-freeze.  Exciting, huh?

Fill your coolant tank as needed.

I really should have a funnel for this - I always have spillage.

Another side benefit from having a dedicated container is that you can also see how much coolant went into the car.

In my case, I put in close to a half gallon (about 1.75 liters)!  I think I have a slow leak in one of the coolant hoses, and I need to investigate.

My coolant warning label is trilingual: Swedish, English and French.

I wonder if domestic Swedish models only had Swedish labels?


Callaham and Reverend Bigsby B11 Upgrades on the ES-225

Back in March of 2015, I put a Bigsby B11 vibrato on my 1958 Gibson ES-225.

I've been playing the guitar a fair amount since then and decided to make a few changes/upgrades to the Bigsby, and also to the type of strings I've been using.

I spotted Bill Callaham's Bigsby upgrade parts and decided to give a couple of them a spin. I've also been less-than happy with the super-stiff spring on the Bigsby - I tried both 7/8 and 1 inch springs and neither made me happy. So I found a new spring to try as well.

And I wanted to try out a longer arm on the vibrato. Finally, I was itching to try some Thomastik-Infeld flatwound strings on the guitar.

Sounds like a lot of stuff but it got done in a couple hours. And I have a boatload of pictures.

Here's the Bigsby before the operation. You can see the length of the arm. That's a stock 6.5 inch arm, and I'm going to put on a long (9 inch) bar.

I felt like the current bar is a bit short so I'm giving the long one a spin.  Don't know until you try.
We need to take the strings off first, and since the bridge isn't attached to the top, I made some tape marks to aid in relocating the bridge when it goes back together.

One of the new Callaham parts I'm putting on is a main string bar which is countersunk for the string ball ends. As opposed to the infamous Bigsby string pins you see on the old bar here.

Removed the strings. And posed the new goodies on top of the guitar for this picture.

From the left we have the new longer arm, a Callaham 360 degree arm mount, the Callaham main string bar, and a 'soft touch' Bigsby spring from Reverend Guitars.

Removing the Bigsby is easy...undo the three screws on the bottom of the hinge.

To replace the arm mount, and to remove the string bar, undo the 1/4 inch allen screw holding the mount onto the main shaft.

I thought the string bar would just slide out after I took one of the nylon bushings off the end where the arm mount was attached. I was sort of right.

It looked like there was enough clearance between the pins and the hole for the bushing to tap the bar down to get it to drop out without damaging the pins.

There was, but in the process, I still managed to shear one of the string pins off after all. Not a big thing, since I won't be reusing the bar. And if I ever did, I could maybe just put a new pin in, I thought.

Note the missing pin near the bushing. All of the pins have to be removed to get the bushing off the one end, since the bushing is held on with a spring clip.

Seems that the suggested method of disassembly is to take the pins out while the bar is still in the body of the thing. (Or remove the clip, but I don't have a spring clip tool).

As it transpires, if I had tried removing the pins with the bar in place, I would have failed. Because I was totally unable to remove the pins!

If you look closely at the picture of the pins, you'll what they are - just a rolled piece of metal. You can see the seam on the one on the end.

So it seemed like squeezing them to reduce the diameter and then pulling them with pliers would do it. (As is mentioned on the interwebs).

Nope. Not for me. I soaked them in PB Blaster, tried 3 different types of pliers, tried heating them with a soldering iron...they refused to budge.

You can see where two more pins snapped off in the process.

I stopped to think. (A rarity).

I'm not going to reuse this bar, right? If I ever needed it, I could just get a replacement, right? Yes to both questions.

Ok, now to remove those stupid pins.

Sometimes brute force is required.

Sixty seconds with the Dremel and a reinforced cutting wheel, and our pins are gone!

I also had to grind down the stubble that remained of the pins after cutting them off. Doesn't look pretty.


I got the bushing off!

Here's the Callaham string bar. Stainless steel, and countersunk so you don't have to hassle with putting the string ball ends over those insipid pins!

Is that beautiful or what?

Here it is installed in the B11 body. It turns much easier than the old bar did, to boot.

This is getting exciting.

Now we take the old handle off the mount.

You might be able to tell the arm bolts were not the 'official' Bigsby nut with a nylon insert - they were generic nuts. I procured the proper nut and will use that for the new arm.

The old mount is on the left, and the new Callaham 360 mount is on the right.

And the old 10-32 (I think) nuts, which will wind up in my 10-32 nuts drawer (I kid you not).

Now we put the new mount on the string bar. The new mount has a lovely stainless allen screw on it.

The new soft touch spring is on the right and the old spring on the left. The new one is definitely softer - note it has less coils.  The height is part of how it is less stiff, I think.

Here's the B11 reassembled and back on the guitar.

I'm going to try these Thomastik-Infeld George Benson flatwounds this time. I was using DR Pure Blues nickel roundwounds, but I have flatwounds on my Rickenbacker 12 string and my Breedlove bass and they're fantastic, so I figured, why not on this one too?

All back together.

The Callaham arm mount doesn't have that 'stop' machined into it like a stock Bigsy, so you can swivel it anywhere you want. Very cool.

I'm getting used to the arm -it's really long!  But it's right under my picking hand, and easy to use.

And you can see how the ball ends just snug right up into the bar now. Easy to string - just run the string though the hole, over the bar and up to the tuners. Nice. And looks clean too, especially compared to the alternative - the ugly Vibramate. Bleh!

And the view from the top.

Couple of notes: first, the Reverend spring is amazing! The vibrato is now super touch sensitive and responsive. Now I can get gentle or dramatic pitch changes with it. Most highly recommended.

Second, the T-I strings are fantastic. Smooth touch, zero finger noise, and a great balanced tone. Plenty of treble, unlike a lot of flatwounds. Expensive, but very much worth it.