Tuesday, 11 October 2016

TC Electronic Nova System (Flash ROM Issue)

Recently I bought a TC Electronic Nova System on eBay. I usually enjoy working on repair projects that make me resort to all sorts of solutions. That’s why I’m so keen on the idea of bidding on eBay when there’s a TC Electronic Nova System for sale, or any other pedals and effects available, for that matter. In many cases, the owner doesn’t know what has gone wrong with the unit; the only thing that he or she is aware of is that it has stopped working. That brings me to the equation as I try to discover the effect, the cause, and then fix the issue.
Before I share the video that I put together about the way that I was able to track down the problem, I’m going to talk about the system in general and tackle some of the issues that other guitar players just like me have had to put up with over time. The first mishap that I came across is the fact that the brand hasn’t released an update to the firmware since 2011. Of course, some might say that this is irrelevant for guitar effects and pedals, but if there were any bugs and there weren’t resolved upon the launch of the product, the manufacturer could have at least provided several solutions.
The TC Electronic Nova System manual might not be particularly straightforward about any issues you might encounter, probably because the brand doesn’t think ahead of things. Let’s get to some of the details that make this floor-based effects solution one of the most critically acclaimed ones out there. For one, it’s easy to use but provides the audio superiority most of us are looking for. Secondly, the obvious advantage of getting and using such a product is that it combines several pedals into one, and so you won’t have to carry them individually in your case and risk damaging them during transport. The analog distortion/overdrive section is programmable, which gives users a lot of room for adjustability. Then, you have the plethora of effects that compose the system, such as noise gate, modulation, delay, pitch, reverb, EQ - you name it, this system has it. But wait, there’s more. 60 user presets and 30 factory ones await you if you choose this model.
In short, some of the common pros of this system is that it has excellent sound quality, is versatile and compact, and provides a good selection of effects. Some of the people who’ve bought it, however, have emphasized that they’ve run into several problems. While some didn’t like the distortion, others found that the reverbs aren’t the stellar quality they’d expect from TC Electronic. Is it worth the investment? It’s hard to give a straight answer to the question because you live and learn. Nonetheless, it does cost a pretty penny as most websites that still have it in stock sell it for more than four hundred dollars.
Common problems
One of the typical issues encountered by users is that some of the chips in this system tend to get warmer or hotter than the rest, and may eventually get burnt. This has been documented on multiple forums where guitar players ask other pedal and effects users about whether or not they’ve come across the same malfunctions. Usually, what happens is that the DSP and Audio Receiver chip become very hot. Replacing the chips can be rather pricey if you don’t buy them from the right place or if you don’t even have any experience with doing this kind of thing. Most people prefer getting an entire mainboard rather than purchasing the chips individually.
My experience
This is not necessarily what happened in my case. I discovered that the Flash ROM was the main problem. First and foremost, I have to say that the Nova System is a somewhat old processor because new and updated models come out every year. The fact of the matter is that many of these modern options come with a myriad of selections/functions which may turn out to be confusing instead of simplifying the unit operation. Compared to many other processors, the Nova System shouldn’t lose its value over time because the sound quality is unparalleled and the ease of use simply can’t be compared to the usability of other systems.
My Nova System froze every time I started using it. Before I get any questions in the lines of ‘Have you tried turning it on and off again?’, I’ll note that I did, many times. After each restart, the same problem occurred time and time again. Since I was beginning to blame the Flash ROM, the simplest solution to my problem was to replace it with the one I had in my other Nova System. Yes, I already had one with a broken power supply before bidding on the eBay auction I was mentioning at the beginning of the post. In spite of its damaged power supply, this unit had a perfectly functional Flash ROM 39VF040, so why not give it a try? As you can see in the video showcased below, this attempt was successful. In the next episode, I’ll load the firmware and document it as best possible.

Have any questions? Feel free to leave me a comment with your input or inquiries.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Guitar Tone - Fender Twisted Tele, Lollar Royal T pickups

This article is more of a sharing experience type. For a musician who doesn’t have a music store where he can put his hands and ears on many instruments to choose and compare, it is hard to decide only over an opinion on a forum or even after hearing / seeing a video on YouTube or other video sharing sites. Talking about video and hearing a guitar in the hands of another player is the most tricky part. After many years of fooling around with gears of all kinds and hearing many good players, I came to the final conclusion: the tone is in your hands. By hands I mean you, as a summation of the music that you listen to, concerts that you’ve seen, books that you’ve read etc, and all the psychological and physical factors that you’re made of.
For example, if BB King had played on a Rickenbacker guitar instead of his Gibson Lucille, it would have sounded the same as BB King, and that’s for sure. Of course you could say that wouldn’t be the same on a pedal guitar for metal music (what with the very high gain). I’m sure that he would lower the volume and tone on the guitar or refused to play. I recommend you to see this workshop of Greg Kock’s beginning with 9:50

; it wouldn’t hurt if you had a look at the entire video. This is what I’m talking about. In conclusion, I must say that there’s no one in the world who could tell you how a gear in your hands might sound. Even if you see a demo that sounds really good, it’s not a guarantee that it will sound good in your hands, and that’s for two reasons. The main reason is your hands are not the same as the ones of the person doing the demo. The second reason is the gear combination. Stepping over the “hands” problem, in my opinion there is no bad-sounding gear; instead, there are bad-sounding combinations of gears. For example: I have an 65 Fender Deluxe Reverb RI which is very demanding in regards to the pedals that I use. At the beginning, I thought the pedals were bad. Only a few pedals were sounding really good to me. Then, I tried all the pedals on another amplifier. Other pedals sounded good, and so on.
Now to start on the main subject. What I’m about to say is only to give you a clue and not to convince you. I have a 2011 Fender Custom Shop Deluxe Telecaster. The main reason I bought this guitar was for the Twisted Tele pickup in the neck position and for the Ash Body lightweight hand selected. I only decided for this guitar after I had the opportunity to put my hands on a Fender custom shop unit with the same wood and pickup. At that moment, I realized it was the guitar that I was searching for.
After some years of usage on stages with a very good care, my Twisted Tele pickup started to have some connection problems (that I thought were due to a bad patch cable), and one day, the pickup didn’t want to work at all. I removed the pickup and I discovered that the problem was inside the bobbin. Well, I needed to buy another one. I was really pissed off when I found out that there are two types of Fender Twisted Tele pickups for this type of neck position: one with a green wire, used on the Baja Telecaster made in Mexico, and another with a white wire used in the Custom Shop. On ebay some guys are selling the mexican version as being the original one for Custom Shop. Very annoying. I’m sure that the difference between those two is more psychological but I’m a human being and OCD is a nice style of living. 
Fender Twisted Tele pickups
left - Custom Shop
right - Baja

On the other hand, I thought it was an opportunity to try something new and maybe better. With no possibility to try other pickups from the same sound range as the Twisted Tele, I started to search on forums and YouTube. The Fender Twisted Tele is well-known for sounding like a stratocaster pickup for telecasters, and this is what I was searching for. Why didn’t I decide for a stratocaster in the first place? Well, I don’t like the middle pickup (I hit the strings hard and this pickup was standing in my way), I don’t like the springs in the back of the guitar (when I bend a string the others slightly drop down), and I’m definitely a telecaster guy. After a few searches, I discovered the Lollar Royal T pickup. I found some guitarist on the internet comparing the latter to the Twisted Tele along the Dimarzio twang king.
After reading the description of the Lollar Royal T pickup  “We love Teles. But every once in a while even the most die-hard Tele-philes want to channel their inner Jimi. Don’t feel bad. We don’t blame you. We are here to help. You don’t need to carve up your pickguard. You don’t need to hack up your guitar. You just need some “Royal T”… ”, and seeing the following video 

  , as well as reading on a forum that someone was saying that this pickup sounded more like a stratocaster than a Twisted Tele (holy Stephen Hawking, more strat!!!... shut up and take my money), I bought this pickup. 
Lollar Royal T pickup

My first impression was that the pickup looked awesome and very well-built. Easy to install, it took just a couple of minutes. Immediately I plugged it in (at home) to hear it. At the beginning I was kind of disappointed. At that moment, the sound was not the same or better than the Twisted Tele. It was different. Not completely different. Just a little different. But that twang was there, for sure. The bass frequencies were not the same and there were some strong mids. At my home, the twisted tele sounded very warm and pleasant with the very beautiful low end that Lollar didn’t have. On the other hand, the mids were a strong ace on the Lollar.
After the first rehearsal with the band, the truth hit me. Those mids helped me make it through the mix. The low end was exactly how it was supposed to be. It was the best feeling I ever had. With the band, the feeling was the same as with the Twisted Tele, just with more beautiful mids. It’s still the same. This was it. The mids. I couldn’t notice anything different at the high end. My hearing is probably going down (in frequencies, of course).
We tried to record some songs at the rehearsal room and the sound engineer asked the permission to take some shoots, which resulted in the following clip.

You can hear the Lollar Royal T all throughout the song except for the solo where I used the bridge pickup (Seymour Duncan BG-1400).
One more thing. I never thought that a pick could influence the tone and the style of playing. Well I was wrong. With the Lollar pickup, I received a pick made of some bizarre material. I was amazed. This Lollar pick convince me. I plan to buy about 200 picks just to have some for a while. Being from Europe, they’re very hard to find here, and I need to buy them directly from the United States. What I’m trying to say is that the effort is worth it.
Lollar Pick

I hope this article will be useful for you. If you have any comments (good or bad) or suggestions, please let me know. It’s nice to know that there is someone at the other end of the wire. 
image credit: Forum theghearpage

Monday, 21 July 2014

Moto Guzzi Breva 750 throttle synchronization reasons

I will not show you an example as to how to do the synchronization, because this topic can be found easily at the next link:
The idea is to talk about the symptoms that a bike that's in a desperate need of syncing has.
The first and most annoying issue was that the engine, left on idle speed, would stop in about 1 or 2 minutes. It didn't matter if the engine was cold or hot.
The next video was filmed when I tried to get the engine warm (with the choke lever on). (It stops at the end)

The same problem happened at every red traffic light. The only way to avoid the engine to stop was to rise the idle speed at 3000 RPM by hand. Very annoying!
Another problem was the strong vibration in handlebar because of the engine. I have to mention that the bike was in this state when I bought her. The entire motorcycle vibrated proportionally with the RPM. It was a real massage device for my hands and butt. My girlfriend loved it, I think :D.
The third issue was the fuel consumption. For a trip of 240 km outside of the town, I had a 7.5% ( liters per 100 km). All this... at a very reasonable speed and RPM. Not exceeding 4000 RPM. I think the consumption was too high.
After I did some research on the Internet, I came up with the conclusion that I had to synchronize.
Many mechanics from my area gave me the wrong diagnosis about the injectors and the other parts that could have been the problem. I had a feeling that they were wrong and I’m glad I acted accordingly. In my region there are no dealers or mechanics for Moto Guzzi.
I followed the instructions from the link above. 

After the synchronization, it was a different bike. It had nothing in common with the one that I bought. The engine didn’t stop. It sounded very smooth. The vibrations became very low. And the consumption dropped to 4.0 l/100km outside of the town. 

I recommend doing a valve adjustment before the throttle synchronization. I will write about this in another post.
Leave a comment if you liked it :)

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Moto Guzzi Breva 750 turn light signals problem

When I bought the bike Moto Guzzi Breva 750, I didn't pay too much attention to many things, such as the turn signals. Being my first motorcycle I was too excited just to have it and to hear the engine running. I noticed that the turn lights weren't working. More specifically, they were working one time out of ten times of switching. The seller told me that it could be a fuse or the mechanical relay, or a bad electrical connection. I believed him.
When I arrived home, I realized that the bike didn't even want to start but this story you can see in my previews post. Back to the turn lights - I started to search for the problem. Having too little documentation about the motorcycle at that time, I started by checking the fuses. All the fuses, just to be sure. Then I wanted to check the mechanical relay. Surprise! There were no relay for turn light signals. The next thing I did was to check the path of electrical wiring, to understand the system. I used a DMM for that. The result was that all the wires go to the dashboard. In order to take apart the dashboard, I did a stupid thing because I could not find any info anywhere on the Internet. The PCB just didn't want to take off. So I cut the plastic shell to see inside and to understand how I can remove the PCB. I preferred to destroy the shell, instead of the PCB. The needles (speed&RPM) were the ones that retained the printed plastic with the numbers. So this is very important.

The needles must be pulled out with care.

 Then I pasted the shell with Poxipol. Some unsoldering must be done also to get to the PCB.

 Inside, I had a very big surprise. Before, the PCB had had very big problems. They had apparently not been solved all the way. With the help of the DMM, I succeeded to understand how the turn light system worked.
An image can be more than a thousand words, so I made some pictures from my sketches.

The schematics is simple. There are 5 elements: 1. the handle bar turn lights switch; 2. the main processor - Motorola MC68HC908LJ12 ; 3. the SMD power switch - Infineon BTS 740s2 ; 4. the turn lights ; 5. the power supply (12V and regulated on the board 5V).
Unfortunately I didn't take pictures which include the processor. I didn't know I will write about this.

The behavior is simple. When the turn light switch is pushed left or right, the processor senses that and sends +5V to one of the two channel (left or right) of the power switch BTS 740s2. The power switch sends then +12V to the light bulbs. Very simple.

I discovered that the power switch BTS 740s2 was the problem. The main processor sent correctly those +5V when the hand switch was pushed left or right but the power switch BTS didn't send the +12V to the light bulbs. I replaced the power switch and the problem was solved. It cost about 15 euro with shipping. I was very proud to solve this. I am still now :D .
 The PCB had a serious problem with the regulated 5V section. Seems like it was some kind of explosion on the board. I think this was a cause for the fail of the power switch.

I hope this post is useful to someone. If you have questions please don't hesitate to comment or to contact me.
Have a nice day and dry roads. :)

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Self switching channel FENDER TWIN AMP 94 - the "EVIL TWIN"

I know this is a issue about this guitar amp. I've done some research on the Internet to find the problem before I proceed with the investigation of the amplifier.

Unfortunately I couldn't find something to give me an exact localization and solution of the problem. Again, I hope this post will be useful for someone.

CAUTION!!! Inside the amplifier there are VERY high voltages even after unplugging it from the outlet. If you're not sure you know how to handle an open amplifier, let a professional do it.

Subject: FENDER TWIN AMP '94 "EVIL TWIN" guitar amplifier

Symptoms: It switch itself from normal to drive channel for 1 second or less at very loud peaks.
This is one of those guitar amplifier that sounds the best. The problem is that it is too loud and heavy. Being so loud and because it's a combo format, the big vibrations of the loudspeaker affect all the components inside the amplifiers. So many old amplifiers have problems because of that.
This amplifier works normally except that at some loud peaks the normal (clean) channel switches itself to the drive channel.

Problem solved: YES
The first thing to do was to test it, to see how it was switching. As in 90% of situations, when I arrived at the owner's place, the guitar amplifier didn't want to reveal the problem. No matter how loud it was, he performed without the issue. It's like when you have a bad tooth ache and the pain stops just when you arrive to the dentist's.
 So I decided to open the amp and simulate the vibration with the wood stick test mentioned in the previous post. 

But first, with the help of the schematics I locate the component that was doing the job of switching the channels. I measured the voltages with the DMM to is if are as the schematic indicates.

Voltages were very good. As you can see in the video, taping the all the PCB was very sensible for switching the problem.  My guess was that could be a cold / broken soldering connection. It was a good guess :D.
Because there was no visible connection problem, I reinforced all the soldering on that PCB, the amplifier stops switching itself and the job was done.
Conclusion: When servicing, and not only electronics, it is good to have a detective's eye. It's very useful to know some history of the product and the conditions of use. Many combo guitar amplifiers that I know have some problems derived from vibrations. Vibrations have two sources: transportation and loudspeakers' use.

Those vibrations affect two main components over time: low quality soldering and the vacuum tube filament.

Hope this is useful for someone that encountered the same problem.

Good luck!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Guitar amp hiss. Roland Jazz Chorus 120 JC-120


This is my first electronics-related post.
As I said in the previews posts, I hope it will be useful for someone.
Please let me know in a comment if it does.

CAUTION!!!!  If you are not familiar with terms like high current, high voltage and other electrical phenomenon that could harm you, please let a professional do the job. You know, the electric shock could tickle you a little...till death.

Subject: ROLAND Jazz Chorus JC-120 guitar amplifier

Symptoms: The amp is working well, except there is a very big hiss (I hope you hear it in the video).
The owner told me that after a show where the amp performed very well, he transported it at home.
The noise appeared at the same time when it was turned on after the shipping.
Hmm ...transportation implies sometimes big vibration so I guess it could be a mechanical contact failure.

Problem solved: YES.
 Well, first  I did the wood stik test. What is this test about?
I opend the amplifire so I could see and touch the electronic parts inside the amp.
With the amp plugged in and turned on, I tapped the wood stick (or other nonconductive material) on every component  and at the same time, I listened for changes in sound from the loudspeaker.
Lucky me, when I hit one multiwire connector (depicted in the picture) the noise stopped right away.
So this is it. A bad connection because of shipping vibration.
After I ensured that the connection was good, the job was done.

Conclusion: First check for visual clues and then for mechanical connection failure with wood stick test.
The problems could be much more simple than they seem to be.
It would take much longer time to use DMM to find the problem.

Good luck!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

How I got into motorcycling and how I bought my first motorcycle.

The story.
Well, first thing's first. It’s kind of a nice story about the will to ride. When I was in high school, I wanted to have a motorcycle. My mother told me she used to ride a motorcycle when she was young. I found that very exciting. At one point, I had raised some money but I was in love with playing the guitar and I had to choose between a very old and rusty Zundapp from the World War II and an electric guitar. I went for the guitar back then and I don’t feel sorry for that. As time passed, the desire to ride two wells never disappeared. The thought that 5 of my friends have died in stupid accidents while riding or related with it, made me delay for about 15 years my decision to apply for a motorcycle driving license.
 So I was standing in a bus station alone waiting for the bus, with very confusing thoughts about the things I wanted to do in life, had recently broken up with a girlfriend and it seemed to me like I was going nowhere.  Suddenly, a guy on a white motorcycle came (in the bus station) and parked in front of me. I can’t figure out why that image had such an impact on me. Not the guy, if you’re thinking that :)). That rider saw that I was impressed, so he invited me to get on the bike. He told me it was written on my face that I wanted that.
I shyly accepted while he was buying something from a store nearby. I didn’t ride it. I just got on the bike. It was clear to me that I wanted to ride a motorcycle, from that moment.
That bike was a Yamaha DragStar. Pretty close to what I have in my mind.
The next thing I did was find a good school for riding license. I had the best luck in the world. My brother gave me the number of a very good teacher. For a  fair price, I learned to ride naked street, enduro and speed motorcycle. I was taught to ride, not only to pass the exam. For example, I was taught how to get over the border of a sidewalk and other very useful things. Thanks Robert! You are the best!
My teacher - Robert Necsulescu
After passing the exam for the riding license, I had to decide what bike I should buy. I had in mind the Yamaha DragStar but with my spinal cord problem, I couldn’t resist in that riding position.

Choosing the bike.
 The bike that I wanted would have followed the next parameters:
•    Cardan transmission
•    V-type motor with 2 cylinders
•    500 cc or more
•    The feet had to be under the body during riding
•    Not a very big bike
•    A good brand
•    Reliable
After a long research on the internet, I discovered the Moto Guzzi brand and their beautiful products. I fell in love with the V7 model. Unfortunately, even a used one was too expensive for me. However, there was an old model with the motor block identical and with a lower price, on the second-hand market.  That bike is the Moto Guzzi Breva 750 i. e.

Getting the bike.
My girlfriend - Cristina :*
While researching the bike market from my country, I realized that Moto Guzzi is a very rare bike. I hardly found one Breva at 300 km away from my home. Even if I didn’t have all the money, my beautiful intelligent girlfriend helped me get the bike, not only from a financial point of view. Thanks Cristina :*.
My ex-boss (colleague as he preferred)Cristi Garlea.
I also got some help from my ex-boss, who frequently travels to the same town  where the bike was located. He does it to buy articles for his store. Thanks Mr. Cristi!

Just happy to feel it.
Being so excited about getting the bike, I didn’t make a proper verification before I buying it. I just wanted to see it start. Anyway, I was very happy and that mattered the most. I got the bike on the van and the night I arrived at my place, some friends were waiting for me. And surprise: the bike didn’t want to start with all my friends around me :)) Even so, I was very happy to have it :D .

The end of the beginning.
The next posts will be about the problems and solutions that I found for the bike and other stuff that I think could be useful for others.
The bike didn't start, but I was still very happy.
Thanks for reading so many words :).  Hope you enjoy it.
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