kevinblank.com

Maker & Developer

Posts by admin

My Ibanez has reached its final form (almost)

I purchased my Ibanez AG75 about 2 years ago. It’s not an expensive instrument by any means, but it’s pretty well put together. I use it strictly for when I want that jazzy, hollow-body sound that you can’t get out of anything besides a real hollow-body guitar.

The components are fairly cheap, so I’ve been slowly upgrading pieces to bring it up to the level that I’m looking for. The first thing on the list was replacing the pots. The factory pots were terrible and within the first year, the tone knob on the neck pickup was scratchy. I replaced those with some CTS pots. The holes in the guitar needed to be enlarged for the larger pot shaft. While I was doing the dirty work of replacing electronics in a hollow-body, I swapped out the caps as well for Orange Drops.

The next piece I decided to replace was the nut. The factory nut was just a cheap plastic piece. I replaced the nut with a TUSQ nut which I’m using on all my other guitars. I picked up the pre-slotted PQ-6114-00 directly from Graphtech. It only took a little bit of sanding and get it in the existing nut slot. I feel like the sustain is a little better and the tuning seems a lot more stable.

Finally I wanted to change out the neck pickup. Because this is my jazz box, I really only live in neck pickup land. The factory pickups are pretty cheap ceramic pieces, so a definite sound upgrade would be a pickup with Alnico 2 magnets for that classic voice. To save some money and try them out, I picked up a GFS Professional Alnico II Neck from GuitarFetish.com (PRO_KMZIINI_NK). This is their take on classic PAF trying to match the components and construction of the Gibson PAFs. The difference isn’t huge, but it does sound more open with a little more high end. The original pickup had a muddy sound and this doesn’t. Of course I always roll the tone back…

And for the final jazz upgrade, swapping out strings to D’Addario flat wounds.

So to add up all the costs to upgrade this beginner guitar to something more appropriate for an intermediate jazz player:

  • $7 for two Orange Drop caps
  • $30 for CTS pots (with shipping)
  • $20 TUSQ nut (with shipping)
  • $40 for GFS Alnico II Pro pickup (with shipping)

So for just under $100, I’ve made some huge tone and sustain upgrades to my jazz box. That means I’m only $500 all in on this guitar and it sounds pretty damn good!

The only upgrade I still have on the list is to build a custom pau ferro (Brazilian rosewood) pickguard to replace the plastic one that came with the guitar.

Quick portable speaker from spare parts (guitar amp and phone speaker)

I had a set of old computer speakers laying around. I thought to myself, “What could I do with these?”.

Then it came to me. Mini amp!

At first I tried to use the amplifier IC that was on the board in the speakers themselves. But after finding I didn’t have all the right parts on hand, it was easier and faster to buy a LM386 chip already put on a PCB board with the proper components to make a small amp. You can pick these up from Amazon by searching “LM386 amp”. They’ll be anywhere from $5-$7.

I found the box at a garage sale for $1.50. I might have overpaid… The original sticker on the box said $19.99 which I thought was really steep.

I started cutting holes in the box for the speaker, 1/4 inch jack and switch. The box didn’t come with a latch, so I drilled a small hole for a small magnet and put a wood screen on the lid so hold the box closed. A little wiring, a little solder, and a little super glue later, all the components were installed.

I did a quick design of a 9v battery clip to hold the battery in place. Then I hot glued the amp and battery clip in place and I was good to go!

Quick pedal board you can build yourself

Here’s a quick pedal board you can build yourself in an hour or two. I built this out of wood I had on hand. Most of the stock was approximately 3/4″ thick. This thickness will keep things from flexing too much when I stomp on the pedals themselves. For this I used walnut, poplar and maple because it’s what I had. A few quick passes through the table saw and miter saw got everything down to the dimensions required. I’ve attached a photo with the final important dimensions scribbled on top if you want to make your own. The inside width is 15″ on mine. All the wood is glued and screwed. I used 2″ brass wood screws on the top pieces. The supporting rails have three 1 1/2″ screws. Just need to add velcro and I’m ready to go.

And here’s the final version with the velcro and pedals applied:

How to purchase an expensive (sounding) guitar/rig without your wife, girlfriend, or significant other noticing

I’m talking about on the down-low, under the radar, sneaking around…

For the last year, I’ve been on a quest to get the best sounding guitar and amp for the least amount of money. It’s easy to drop $1,500 to $3,000 on a quality Fender or Gibson and another $1,000+ on a reasonable sized amp for bedroom/studio playing, but let’s be honest… Your wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend/significant other may not be super pumped that you’re willing to drop $4,000 on a guitar and rig (before you start on pedals) when the car you’re driving might only be worth $6k. A big part of me agrees with them. You should be able to acquire a quality instrument and functional amp that plays well, sounds good, and doesn’t leave your credit card a smoking pile of plastic.

For me, this quest has been a bit frustrating mostly because of YouTube.

I enjoy watching channels like Andertons, Rob Chapman, Crimson Guitars, YourGuitarSage, Norman’s Rare Guitars, etc. The issue with watching these channels is these people tend to play with high quality gear through high quality amps using high quality microphones to record everything. This makes their setup sound really good. I’ll even argue, maybe too good in some cases. Yes, when you mic an amp, you’re getting the best sound that amp can make, but rarely is that the sound that amp is going to make in your house which can lead to frustration and an unsettling feeling that the guys on YouTube know some secret that you don’t. Or worse, you feel like you need to drop $2,000 on an 2 x 12 handwired combo amp to sound the same which you know will get you put in the dog house.

There has to be a better way to sound good, find your tone, and not kill your bank account in the process.

I’m still on this journey and I’m not an expert. I think I’ve arrived a pretty good place as far as the guitar goes. The amp situation is still in flux, but each iteration of my rig is getting better. What my goal for this series of blog posts is to share what I’ve learned and discovered, what is important vs. what can be ignored, and ultimately, how much can you expect to spend to sound good and find joy with your playing. If you’re willing to experiment and do a bit of the work yourself, you can save a bunch of cash while still finding great tone and playability (and hopefully keep your relationship intact).

The Guitar

  • The essential components to a great sound and tone
  • Upgrading your axe vs. build your own
  • What matters for playability (neck, strings, quality electronics)
  • Considerations for bedroom play vs. gigging and how this affects price

The Amp

  • Why practice amps suck
  • Why big amps aren’t the right answer either
  • Stay flexible and don’t get locked in

The Rest of the Story

  • Overdrive in a bedroom settings, pedals are your friend
  • Flexible pedals vs. one-hit wonders
  • Instrument and speaker cables
  • Accessories you might find useful

 

Check out my Etsy store

After the Christmas rush of making gifts for family and friends, I ended up with one or two items that were extra. I decided I wanted to set up an Etsy shop to sell these items. To help me build out inventory, my father will be designing and creating items as well. We will be focusing on wood gifts and accessories.

Please check out: https://www.etsy.com/shop/SplicedBits

Ubis 13S Hot End Review for the Printrbot Simple Metal

Almost two years ago, I purchased a PrintrBot Simple Metal kit for my family with the heated bed option. For 3D printers, this kit provided an inexpensive way to get into 3D printing. It shipped with the original Ubis ceramic hot end. For smaller prints this hot end worked fine. Each time I would try a more ambitious print, I would get a failure. At one point, the hot end completely jammed up and I wasn’t sure if I could even get it to print again.

I was able to get it going again, but never reliably. It seems that whenever I printed something that took over 2 hours to print, it would fail somewhere in the process. I became very frustrated as this limited me to small objects if I could get it to print at all.

After a bit of thought, I came to the conclusion that at least on a few occasions, the long print time was allowing the heat to travel up the hot end to the cool zone and melting the plastic where it shouldn’t melt, causing the jam. After a few times of this happening, there was probably plastic residue left behind causing jams to be more frequent. I felt like the heat moving up the hot end was a design flaw, so the only real fix to my problem was a new hot end.

The Ubis 13S was designed to combat my problem. The cool zone of the hot end is metal with fins to allow lots of cooling on long print times. There’s still a small ceramic piece just above the tip which I imagine keeps the temperature more stable. This hot end is designed with the same dimensions as the original hot end, so it’s a direct replacement.

Installation

To install this hot end, I just unplugged the two connectors from the original, pull out the old and put in the new. PrintrBot strongly recommends running a fan across the fins at all times for maximum performance. I haven’t printed the adapter for my fan yet, but using a small desk fan keeps things cool for prints lasting 3 hours or less.

I did reflash my motherboard with the latest firmware. I’m not sure how much this helped my print success, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. I hadn’t upgraded the firmware since I purchased the machine so it was time.

After installing the Ubis 13S, you should go through the Z calibration process again. Even being super careful with the installation, the exact Z position of the tip probably has changed and it’s good practice to double check all your settings before jamming the hot end into your build plate.

Performance

I’ve printed three objects so far with the Ubis 13S hot end and I can’t be happier. The first print was a bust of Yoda at 0.2mm layer height. It took just over 3 hours to complete. There are a lot of overhangs with the chin and ears which was a good test of the support structures. I use Simplify3D to slice my models. The supports came over really each and the print quality is great. The old, ceramic hot end didn’t leave a good finish on the last layer. That issue is gone with the new hot end.

The next two pieces were the same model, the Maker Faire Robot action figure. With two nephews, I needed two robots, and this would be a good test to see if I got repeatable performance out of the new setup. Both robots came out looking really good with all supports coming away easy. This object has built in sockets and hinges to give movement to the arms, legs, and head. With a little coaxing I was able to break all joints free. This means the layers didn’t melt into other layers or over-extrude, otherwise the joints would be frozen.

Overall

So far, I haven’t printed with anything besides PLA from PrintrBot. This hot end is rated to reach temperatures of 270 deg. celsius, so it should make printing ABS easier. The more fans to encourage rapid cooling definitely helps with details and finish.

I feel like I have a new printer. I love the simple design of the PrintrBot Metal, but I never felt super comfortable with the ceramic hot end. I read posts of other PrintrBot owners that had already moved on to different metal hot ends to get better performance. Now I have the official metal hot end and the performance I expected from this 3D printer. Thank you PrintrBot and Ubis!

img_6158

img_6155

Walnut Picture Frame

I wanted to create a unique gift for my father-in-law for his 70th birthday. Not long ago he gave me a number of pieces of walnut, most of it at least 90 years old. He also gave me an old frame that I cut up to frame my DiResta print. So I decided I should give him a frame to replace the one he gave me, but make it something special.

Instead of trying to find the glass and hardware to make a frame that stands on its own, I started with a cheap frame, kept the glass and back piece and chucked the frame itself. The outside dimensions of the frame were arbitrary, only the inside needed to be able to fit the glass. The old frame would serve as a good guide for setting up the table saw, so I pulled it back out of the garbage…

I cut the frame from a piece of 8/4 walnut, approximately 4 inches wide. I cut a strip from the walnut at 5/8 of an inch thick. This made my frame pieces 2 inches wide. I was sure to include the knot and burl present on the piece in the final frame to give it some added character. I set up my chop saw at 45 degrees and went to work. Once I got close in length on the side pieces, I would cut matching sides at the same time so I wouldn’t have to measure to get perfect length.

Glue up was a little difficult without a frame clamp. I didn’t have the time to print out the corner pieces I needed to make my own, so I took some scrap wood larger than the frame and screwed four small pieces of wood to it that would allow me to slip in wedges to make my clamps. Izzy Swan and Jimmy DiResta have multiple videos showing this technique for clamping.

To strengthen the corners, I cut slots for splines in each corner. A quick spline jig for the table saw made quick work of this job. To give the piece contrast, I used some reclaimed poplar from pallets to make my splines. I measured the width of the kerf and cut a piece of wood the same thickness on the table saw. A little glue and hammering later and I have some nice looking splines strengthening each corner of the frame.

A little wood glue and sawdust helped fill in small gaps. I sanded everything down to 320 grit, then added a coat of tung oil. I let this tung oil dry for 18 hours before finishing with a coat of paste was to bring a little bit of shine and protection. I hope he likes it!

Walnut picture frame with poplar splines handmade woodworking walnut burl picture frame with reclaimed pallet wood splines

Pictures of my guitar after final assembly

Here are the final shots of my custom, handbuilt guitar. The body is solid black walnut that is approximately 90 years old from my wife’s family farm. I designed the body with an effort to page tribute to some classic guitar shapes.

Final Specs:

  • Solid black walnut body
  • 24 3/4″ scale length
  • Warmoth neck
    • Roast maple
    • Standard thin neck shape
    • 10-16″ compound radius fretboard
    • Warhead head stock
    • 24 3/4″ scale length conversion
    • Stainless 6150 frets
    • 1-11/16″ nut width
    • GraphTech TUSQ XL nut
  • Grover 505C6 locking tuners/machine heads
  • GT500 matched humbucker pickups from Monty’s Guitars
  • CTS Volume pot
  • CTS Tone pot push/pull for coil tap
  • Rosewood knobs
  • Orange Drop cap
  • Switchcraft three-way toggle and jack
  • Hipshot fixed bridge
  • String-through body

Custom walnut body, handbuilt guitar with two GT500 Monty's Guitars pickups Custom handbuilt solid walnut guitar body. CTS pots with coil tap on the tone knob, Switchcraft three-way toggle and jack, Hipshot bridge. DIY custom solid walnut guitar body. Hipshot bridge with matched GT500 pickups from Monty's Guitars in the UK. Handbuilt and custom designed walnut body. Warmoth neck with stainless frets. Rosewood knobs.

Simple tablet stand

Here’s another tablet stand I created. Some nice live-edge walnut. I did the inlay with a piece I printed in white PLA from my printer, then filled with blue crushed glass, glow-in-the-dark powder and epoxy.

tabletstand

Simple DIY tablet stand made from reclaimed wood

img_6123

For this project, I wanted to create something simple but useful while giving myself an opportunity to test some different wood finishes that I would ultimately be using on the custom guitar I’m building. The final product is designed to be used with an Apple iPad, but works with the majority of Android tablets as well.

A video of this build will follow, so check back!

Cutting

I started with a piece of reclaimed oak. The wood was originally from a spinning wheel and was approximately three inches thick at the thickest point. I was happy with the depth of the wood from the start, so my first cuts were to square the corners and find a length I liked. I chose to make the stand thinner than the width of my iPad, so I measured and subtracted 1 inch from the width of my tablet.

After comparing the tablet with my stock, I decided it was too high for my liking, so I took the piece over to the table to cut 3/4 of an inch from the bottom. I raised my blade to almost its full height and pushed the piece through slowly, listening to make sure the blade wasn’t slowing down too much as I fed the piece through. I typically use a thin kerf blade on my table saw which helps the small motor cut through thick material. The blade isn’t high enough to cut through with a single cut, so I rotated the piece and pushed it through again. This leaves a relatively flat bottom, but rough along the point where the two cuts meet. A quick sand with 60 grit on the orbital sander brings everything flat.

My first cut is to create a channel to hold my Apple Pencil when not in use. I chuck up a triangular bit in my router and using my custom router table, I fix a fence at the distance I was the channel to sit back from the front of the piece. I take two passes at routing, setting the bit deeper for the second pass.

Because I’ll be cutting a slot in the wood to accept the iPad which obscures access to the home button, I will use a forester bit to create a half circle cut-out to give my finger access. Since this is a offset cut, you can’t make this hole with a paddle bit. Clamping the work piece to the drill bit table will keep things from moving as you plunge the bit.

The final cut is to create the slot to hold the tablet itself. First I set the angle of the blade to 20 degrees. I find this angle to work well when the tablet is a little closer to eye level or you’re sitting back from your desk. If you’re more likely to be viewing the tablet from a higher angle, 22-24 degrees might work better for you. If you’re not sure, cut the slot in a test piece before the final to be certain you’re happy. I cut the slot about 3/4 of an inch deep which seems to hold my tablet well. For a 12 inch tablet, I might cut it a full inch. Moving the fence to make 3 or 4 passes opens the slot enough to accept my iPad.

I felt like the stand was a bit plain, so I took it over to my chop saw. I angle the blade at a shallow angle and holding the piece carefully, made a number of cuts to give the back a faceted look. Because of the lines in the grain, this gave the piece an almost digital feel.

Finishing

I only sanded the faces I cut. I started at 100 grit, then 180, finishing with 220 grit paper. A sanding block keeps the facets flat and doesn’t round edges.

Previously I had experimented with one piece using tung oil with a polycrylic sealer and another piece with paste wax. For this piece I wanted to try Tru-oil. Tru-oil is a drying oil finish originally formulated for gun stocks. The oil goes on easy and is hard to mess up, but it does take a number of coats to build up thickness. The ends of the oak were especially thirsty. This is just a characteristic of this type of wood. I put on 3 coats in fairly rapid succession (3 hours between coats) then allowing 24 hours of dry time before a final coat. This did make the curing time take longer. I should have let the first thick coat sit and dry before starting on the next coats.

The Tru-oil hardens as it cures. It changes the feel of the piece and resists scratches but isn’t suited for a lot of rough treatment. This finish is better suited for items that don’t get a lot of handling.

Wrap-up

Overall, this project took me a little over an hour of work if you include the coats of finish. The drying time worked out to 48 hours before I could use the piece. After 2 weeks, the smell of the Tru-oil went away which would indicate that the oil has cured. The wood itself has its own smell which is either good or bad depending on how you like oak. It’s a fun little project that can make a nice looking accessory for your desk or kitchen in a small amount of time.

img_6115 img_6112 img_6108