Improvizone

Paint and old effects

Andrew Booker 2008-01-02 23:23:43

I've been making a second effects cluster for use in gigs where I'm not recording. I used one last year which was basically a plank of wood with a several pieces of gear sitting on it, held together by their own connecting leads and cable ties. I wanted to consolidate this into something where the units were screwed into a frame, to increase the chances of getting to the gig without everything spreading itself all over the back of the car.

Sensible people buy professional rack unit containers for this purpose, such as the industry standard SKBs. Tough, purpose built and lightweight, these are also expensive. I make my assemblies out of wood, mainly to save a ton of money, but also because I use one or two things that don't come in handy 17" rack units, like mixers, half-width units (my Korg 05R/W) or stuff I've built myself (distortion/auto-wah). My effects racks would not survive being throw in and out of an aeroplane hold, but I never go much further than London these days, and drive myself everywhere, so they're fine.

My latest effort has been under construction from various DIY offcuts of MDF and planed timber. Its mainly for two single-unit rack effects, the Korg sound module and my Yamaha MG10/2 mixer. The mixer and sound module will be set at convenient angles so I can see what I'm doing. I do a reasonably careful job of getting all the bits to fit properly and tidily, but these are a pain to get right. I don't have any special woodwork tools or skills, just a saw, a pencil, a ruler and a try square. I cannot do woodwork without a try square.

This one is a very much simpler construction than the main effects rack I have been using for all of the Improvizone gigs so far. The size and complexity of that one arose because of the 14/2 mixing desk (Spirit Folio F1) and 8-channel firewire audio interface (Presonus Firepod), and a whole load of power supplies. It was to be my main PA desk, possibly having to monitor two or three other people as well as me, and record everyone at the same time. For this one I've left out the recording stuff and the drum power supplies, and it's all a lot simpler. I might be adding some home-made effects later, if I ever finish anything.

After sawing everthing up and self-tap-screwing it together, the next step is to paint it. I use blackboard paint because it only needs one coat. Painting it matt black turns a rough-and-ready primary school carpentry experiment into something... barely visible. Doesn't matter how mucky your saw cuts, or what state the wood was in, put that in a dimly lit gig and you won't see a thing, just lights and wires. Put it in a brightly lit gig it looks quite swish, if you ask me.

After letting the paint dry overnight it's ready to have some stuff screwed on. The two bronze age rack units are ones I've had knocking around in the attic for years. The top one is an Alesis Microverb. I use the delay, which I set up with no feedback and no dry signal. The bottom one is a Zoom 1204, not a great piece of gear, but which I want to try out for pitch modulation effects and other fun stuff for drums. It also has a rudimentary vocoder which I'm hoping to get working with the kit somehow. These two units are connected in series, the input comes from the pre-fade aux send on the desk, the output goes back to a normal input on the desk. This is how I get the delay feedback, which can range from none at all to screaming perpetual noise. The serial effects arrangement means that unlike simple delay units, you can corrupt the feedback path so that the signal naturally degrades in interesting ways. You can achieve all this with a single moderately sophisticated decade-old piece of gear (such as the DP4 I use on my other rack), but the advantage of this arrangement is that I have much better manual control, without having to push-button my way through loads of edit menus.

I might start using this at the Improvizone gigs, since Os has taken over most of the recording. Ordinarily I would still record the drums and the MIDI for recreating my nice synth sounds, but I played so little of those at the last gig (I don't need them with Os and Mike around) that it hardly seems worth recording at all. That would mean much easier and quicker mixes, because I wouldn't have to manually sync Os's audio with mine, freeing up more time and effort for working on my drumming and sounds.

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