Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

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

Repainting MXL 990 Microphone Body

I'm going to rebuild an MXL 990 condenser microphone with a new capsule and board from Microphone Parts. They sell parts to vastly improve inexpensive condensers, and I'm taking the plunge.

I stripped the sickly stock greenish champagne color off with Citri Strip. Then I sanded it with 220 and then 300 grit paper.

Then wiped it down with naptha before hitting it with primer.

I had a recent warmish day - about 50° F (about 10° C) - just warm enough to paint outside.

I warm my rattle cans in a bucket with warm (not too hot) water to help the paint flow better.

You can still see snow on the ground from the last snowfall.   Also see the spray bracket for the body made out of a clothes hanger.  I masked off the internal threads that mount the body to the base.

I tried to show the spray in mid-air...but it's hard to hold camera in one hand and the spray can in the other!

Here I'm painting the body with black primer. I shot one light pass, then brought the body inside for about 10 minutes, then went back out for a second light coat.

After I shot the primer, I put about 4 thin top coats of Rustoleum Hammered paint on, following the same go outside-bring it in for-a-few minutes method.

This shade is dark grey. I almost went with a silver, but I'm aiming for a vintage 1940s look.


SAAB c900 Snowed Under

We've had a bit of snow lately.

The convertible is hibernating for the duration.

Which means that SAABmarine #1, the 3-door, aka S-Car-Go, is in charge.

He got buried by snow and snowdrifts. But if you see the spot indicated by the arrow, there was a small hole that formed in the snow.

This is what was visible through the hole in the snow.

Make of it what you will.


Klark-Teknik DN-410 Equaliser XLR Configuration Change

If you have sharp eyes, you may have seen the Klark-Teknik DN-410 Equaliser (aka 'Equalizer' in American) in my equipment rack.

Or not.

These EQs have a pretty good reputation for clean sound and having 'surgical' precision for boosting or cutting frequencies as needed.

It's made in England and looks really cool to boot.

It's a dual-channel EQ, so you could use it for tracking, for mixing, or as a stereo unit for mixdown.

The bandwidth goes from 2 octaves down to .08 of an octave! That would be like less than one note.

Surgical indeed.

The DN-410 comes wired with pin 3 of the balanced XLR inputs and outputs hot. I'm not sure why this is, since the AES standard (and most of the world, I thought...) is pin 2 hot.

Fortunately, as the manual says "The unit can be quickly re-configured to accomodate either XLR wiring standard by removing the top cover and changing the orientation of 4 plug-in links per connector, as shown on the adjacent PCB legend."

I'm going to change mine to pin 2 hot so it will match my other gear.

There are 2 screws on either side of the top cover to remove.

And 2 screws on the top as well.

Here's what the DN-410 looks like with the top cover off.

Very tidy PCBs and wiring.

I'm always a little surprised when I open up modern gear, since I'm so used to seeing point-to-point wiring in old radios and amps.

Here's where the input and output connectors are, and where the jumpers are.

Note the two cylinders - they're the output transformers.

Check out these big heat sinks on these transistors. And they say solid-state stuff doesn't get hot.


Just as the manual says, there are the jumpers and the PCB legend. You can see my unit is still wired for pin 3 hot. The jumpers are connected 'horizontally' according to the PCB.

So I'll just need to remove them and flip them around.

Recall that the manual says it can be "quickly re-configured."

There are 2 sets of 4 jumpers which prove to be a bit tricky to remove. I manage to get a small screwdriver under one of them and pry it up.

Then by careful, judicious use of tweezers I'm able to get the jumpers out. The jumpers are small connectors in a plastic housing to insulate them.

The tops of the jumper housings are fragile - I accidentally cracked the tops of 3 of them.

However, it won't affect their operation. I'm just noting this in case you try this. There may be a tool to remove this sort of connector, but I don't have one.

Now we just reverse the connectors to the 'vertical' position. There are 4 small pins on the PCB that the jumper connectors fit over.

Simple. But I'm not sure about "quickly."


DIY Recording Studio Equpment Rack Completed

I finished the DIY studio equipment rack I started a few weeks back.  This is A Good Thing because now I can put my rack gear in it, wire it up and start recording.  And, of course, get on with other projects in the queue.

You may recall I chose pine for the box. This was a good and bad thing.  Good because pine is inexpensive and easy to work with.  Bad, because pine is difficult to finish.  Well, difficult if you want to use a stain or transparent finish to show the grain.

I'm confident I could have stained it and finished it with gloss nitro lacquer, which was the original plan.  But it's getting colder here and spraying outside is a problem.  I tried using a toner on it and it was just too cold and it looked bad.

So I waited for a decent day temperature wise, and just primed the thing.  The temperature was in the low 50s F.  I put my rattle cans in a bucket of warm water to help the paint flow more freely.

After the primer, I hit it with black paint, and then a few coats of clear.  I had one bad run and found a couple of dents.  Pine is really soft, and on this project, if I even looked at this thing wrong, it dented.

So I filled the dents and sanded the bad spots out and waited for a warm day again.  The warmest it got was low 40s (!), so I put the rack in the sunroom, and used a heat gun to warm the part I needed to respray.  

Then I took the rack outside and painted the repaired spots with warmed-up cans.

It came out ok.  The main thing is it's functional.

Then back to the shop to put some feet on it.

The bottom is one of the bad areas, it was difficult to paint given the size of the rack and the fact that I was working quickly due to the temperature.  I shot a couple passes of black on it and flipped it over.  It will never be seen again.

The rattle can paint is not lacquer.  I really suffered with it, because you can't wet sand it to get any gloss out of it, unlike our very good friend nitro lacquer.

So I waxed the cabinet with Butcher's Bowling Alley Wax, which I quite like.

And every time I use it I think of Sir John Gielgud's line to Liza Minelli:  "One would have to go to a bowling alley to find a woman of your stature."

Not so bad.  It IS solid wood and not MDF.  So it does have that going for it.

I'm going to put 20-space rails in it.  Hopefully I won't outgrow it.

I spaced the rails about .250 inch back from the edge.  That way the front panels of the rack units will sit back just a touch from the very edge.

You can see I used a square, clamped down to the rack, to align the rails as I screwed them in.

Here's one of the rails installed.

I used #12 x 3/4 inch wood screws to mount the racks.  Ten screws on each rail.  It seems to be very sturdy - nothing I'll put in here is so heavy that it will pull the rails away from the rack.

I hope.

Here's a few pieces put in the rack.  I have a few more to go but this gives you an idea of what it looks like with equipment in it.

Midiverbs...funny, no?  Shows you how long I've had some of this stuff.

I still have to make up a lot of cabling to run everything to the patch bay (not in the rack yet) and to the recorder.  But getting this far is a milestone.

Would I make a rack again?  Hmmm.  Hard to say.  I just don't like the looks of the inexpensive MDF racks.  I only spent about $30 on materials, including paint, and I have about 5 hours of time in this project.  But I do have the exact configuration I wanted for my gear.


Danelectro Guitar Kills Cancer!

Now for the finishing touch on the Danelectro.

You may not have seen that the guitar is pink. It's pink!  The color really grew on me as I was working on it.  Very cool I think.

And you'll see in a minute that the pink is an appropriate color for this specific guitar.

And I also thought a decal for it might be appropriate as well. So I did the artwork in Photoshop and then printed it onto some laser decal paper.

First we cut out the newly printed decal.

Then gather our decal-applying materials.

The Micro Set is what you put under the decal to help it adhere. The Micro Sol is what you put on top to help it assume the shape of what you're putting it on.

Both are made by Microscale Industries and you should be able to find them easily from many suppliers.

They're really intended for model making where you might have a rough surface with scale rivets, simulated wood, etc., for decals to adhere to. Even though the pickguard is smooth, I'm using those products to ensure the best quality application.

Apply the Micro Set to the surface you're going to put the decal on. As mentioned, in this instance, it's the pickguard of our Danelectro.

Place the decal in warm water for 30-45 seconds. The decal will begin to separate from the backing.

This decal is fairly large, so I had to handle it with care.

The first one split into 2 pieces, so I needed a second one. I'm glad I printed a few copies.

I try to plan for the worst.  I generally know the limits of my abilities and where I will likely goof.

With the decal placed where you want it, gently apply some Micro Sol onto the decal.

The decal may wrinkle in a few spots due to the fact that the solvent will soften the decal as it conforms to the surface you have it on. Don't panic! The wrinkles will go away as it dries.

The paper I've been using is pretty good, but it's a bit thick...I find you can see the edges of the decal when you're close up to them. I may look for some different paper eventually.

Here's the decal on the guitar.

My friend is part of the fight against breast cancer, so she can use the guitar to send out the message!

The decal is an obvious nod to Woody Guthrie, who of course had 'This Machine Kills Fascists' on a number of his guitars.  (Billy Bragg, in a more oblique reference, wrote "This Guitar Says Sorry").

The decal came out pretty well, I think.

Here's the guitar before it leaves The Dungeon and goes off to, well, kill cancer!

It's really fun to play. It plays super easily and you can play all over the neck since the intonation is good.

These are the stock pickups - they have that clear, chimey Danelectro tone. You may not have known this, but unlike a lot of 2-pickup guitars, Danelectros were (and are) wired so that the pickups are in series rather than parallel when in the middle switch position. So the middle position has the most volume and, to my ear, sounds the best.

Here's that way cool CJ Guitar Tooling bridge I put on it a post or so back.

Highly recommended. Adds more sustain and twanginess.  And looks really cool.

The earlier reissues such as this one have these cool "D" logo tuners. Really neat.

Another shot of the whole guitar.


CJ Guitar Tooling Danelectro Bridge Installation

Danelectro guitars were built to a price. Which means that if there was a place where money could be saved in design or construction, it was. Masonite body? Check. Using lipstick tubes for pickup covers? Check. Cheap non-intonatable bridge? Check.

Regarding the bridge, players have done modifications over the years to their Danelectros to get better intonation. Jimmy Page had a Gibson Tune-O-Matic on his, for example.

I also wanted improved intontation, so I decided to put a better bridge on the pink Dano DC-2. Several of the reissue models have a 6-saddle bridge, and I contemplated that. But in the end, after searching the interwebs, I discovered CJ Guitar Tooling.

I never cease to be amazed at the plethora of incredibly well-made aftermarket guitar parts made today. Guitar players are so fortunate to have so many choices of great stuff.

On the left you see the stock Danelectro bridge, thin plate with rosewood saddle, and on the right, the CJ Guitar Tooling replacement.

The new bridge I'm putting on has a beautifully machined thick aluminum plate, and cold rolled steel Telecaster-style saddles.  It's a work of art.

Jim Szalwinski at CJ also (surprise) sells Telecaster bridges which look great as well. He offers a choice of saddles, so you can customize your guitar easily.

The CJ bridge is a perfect fit on the Danelectro. A nice touch is that two sets of saddle height screws are included - helping to fine tune your installation.

The bridge comes with installation instructions which are helpful. It's very easy to install the bridge.

I mentioned the two sets of saddle height screws. Here they are - a taller and a shorter set.

I wound up using the short set. Really nice to have both on hand.

This is the kind of thoughtful touch you get with a small shop. So great to do business with folks like this.

Here's the bridge installed on the Danelectro.

You see I put a piece of tape behind the bridge - I don't want to scratch the finish when I do the intontation adjustments.

It's easier to move the saddles back rather than forward in my experience. So I used my Saddlematic to put the saddles in the approximate position, which was toward the end of the bridge plate.

To properly set the radius on the bridge, we need to know the radius of the fingerboard. I measured it at about 16 inches. I say "about" because it seems to be somewhere between 15 and 16 inches.

Either radius would work - it's not a big enough difference to be an issue.

With the guitar strung up (I have DR Pure Blues .011s on it), I can set the string height and the radius of the saddles.

Just like adjusting a Fender guitar - straightforward.

As part of the setup, we adjust the truss rod. There is a 4mm hex nut at the end of the neck.

It's easy to loosen the neck now that we have machine screws instead of wood screws holding the neck on.

I detuned the strings and put a capo on at about the 10th fret. Then I took off the two screws nearest the body, and loosened the other two so I could push the neck up out of the pocket and tilt it to get access to the adjustment nut.

With the rod adjusted and the string height set, we set the intonation. I was able to get it set just about perfectly. With the 3-saddle bridge, even with compensated saddles, I usually find one string of the pair will be a tiny amount (a couple of cents) off on the strobe.

But to be honest, to my ear, it sounds right on, and that's what matters. The tuner is far more accurate than my ear. I can't hear that tiny bit of difference.

And that difference is probably down to the gauge of the strings in any event. With different gauges, the results would be different. It sounds perfect, so that's it!

(Aside: I had already done the intonation and removed the tape for that staged shot above, if you were wondering).

That bridge looks great, doesn't it? Looks perfect on that guitar.

I discovered a place where the binding tape was coming away from the body. Used a toothpick to get some glue between the tape and the body, the I heated the tape with the heat gun on low.

And taped it down to dry.

Did you notice the guitar is pink?

I wanted to include a shot of the guitar in the fantastic guitar vise. Lookit that! You can hold a whole guitar with it. I can't tell you how great that thing is.


Fret Level and Crown on the Danelectro DC-2

Did a quick level and crown on the DC-2. I want to get it playing as well as possible. My friend who is getting this guitar is a perfesshinul moosishun so she deserves the best.

I've documented this a few times but here we go again...because we can!

Adjust the truss rod so the neck is flat. As flat as you can get it. I have a long Stew-Mac straightedge I use to judge how flat the neck is.

Then mark the fret tops with a marker.

I have an appropriately-sized piece of Corian to use to level the frets with. I attach a piece of 300 grit paper with spray adhesive (temporary bond strength) and go at it.

When all the marker is gone from the frets, they are levelled. Doesn't take long at all.

Then we crown the frets. I have a couple of different fret files - this time I'm using one with a wide and medium side. These frets are wide, so that's what I used.  Makes sense, right?

Usually I work on instruments with narrow or medium frets. Not his one.

You may be wondering "how do you know when you've filed enough with the crowning file?"

Good question. I've tried to show this in the picture on the right. If you look at the fret with the green arrow pointing to it on the left, it's flat on top. You can see the flatted surface.

The one on the right has been crowned; it doesn't have that flat surface. As you file them, take a few strokes, then look at the fret. Gradually that flat surface will get smaller (narrower) until it's gone. You can also see the curved (crowned) shape if you view the fret from the side.

I usually find that I have to tilt or angle the file a bit as I work it so it removes that flat surface. It's not rocket surgery, but it does take a bit of practice to get used to.

You may be thinking, "well, first you used sandpaper, now you've filed the frets.  How much fret will be left?"  A lot.  We're really only taking off a couple hundredths of an inch (or mm).  Very little material in reality.  If the frets are in good shape, only enough to level them gets removed.  The only time more material comes off is if some frets are worn.  Even then, it's possible to level down to the wear.

If the frets are badly worn or deeply grooved, then it's time for a refret.  (That Martin ukulele in the link did get refretted eventually).  I've found a set of frets can be dressed a couple of times before new frets are needed.

Now we go over the fret ends to take off any rough edges and file them a bit round. This guitar only had a couple places to touch up.

When you do a full refret, you'll have to bevel the ends and you'll do more smoothing of the ends than in a level job like this one.

I take a finger or my thumb and run it up and down the side of the fingerboard to find rough fret ends. It will make a big difference in playability and comfort if you file any sharp ends off.

Next step is to use Fret Erasers to polish the frets. These are abrasive blocks that run from 150 to 1000 grit. I really like them. When you get up to 1000 grit the frets are nice and shiny and super smooth.

Stew Mac is now selling a couple grits higher than 1000 now...I need to check them out.

Now we clean the board. I've been using Dunlop fretboard cleaner and conditioner. You may have seen some of the really grimy old boards I've done...this one was surprisingly dirty.

Final touch is Fretboard Finishing Oil. I starting using this a year or so ago and I like it. That bottle is probably a 20 year supply! I takes just a small amount for the fingerboard.

Apply it, let it sit for a few minutes and then wipe off the excess. It looks shiny here, but you'll see it in a couple posts from now when it's dry - it looks great.

There's been a LOT of discussion in guitar forums about using oil on fingerboards. Most folks now think lemon oil is not good unless it's pure without additives. I do have some good oil, but since I started using this stuff, I've stuck with it.  Seems to work well, not oily and makes the board look good.

Did I mention this guitar is pink?