Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Magic Touch of Roka Dyer Maker

Once upon a time in the 20th century, an Indonesian luthier decided to craft a custom thinline classical guitar. Over the years, successive owners added various mods to the instrument, including a preamp and Fender-style output jack. It's said that the guitar spent some years at sea before finding its way into the possession of an elderly gentleman from Kuala Lumpur. Which is where local musician/sound engineer "Prof." Din discovered the poor thing, beaten and bruised beyond repair; or so we thought.

For starters, the bridge and under-saddle (presumably) pickup were missing; as were the tuners and preamp innards. The frets and fretboard were bowed inwards, so much so that the entire length of the fretboard was lower in the middle than the edges. Imagine that if you can! To make matters worse, the back of the guitar was missing a chunk of wood near the output jack, and someone had filled the gap with plywood. The top was no better, being severely discolored and  uneven with large dents and divots marring its surface.

Both Prof. and yours truly were in agreement that only a bona fide luthier could do justice to this guitar. And so it was handed over to Kuantan-based luthier extraordinaire Roka Dyer Maker for a total makeover. Roka, as some of you might already know; once studied under internationally-acclaimed luthier Jeffrey Yong.

The post-restoration transformation was mind-blowing, to say the least. The frets and fretboard were as level as it gets. A new preamp, pickguard and bridge were in place. The guitar looked and sounded fantastic, something local bluesman Shafie can attest to. Prof. was so pleased with the end result that the guitar's now sitting in a glass display case; only to be taken out when absolutely necessary. Roka Dyer Maker, you da man!

Image Credits: CA and Roka Dyer Maker

Monday, May 22, 2017

August 27 2016 - Jeffrey Yong Guitar Workshop

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, and Kuantan guitar aficionados were excited as can be. And why not, for renowned Malaysian luthier Jeffrey Yong was about to treat them to a two-hour-plus workshop at the delightfully elegant Rocana Hotel. This workshop was organized by JZ Lim and Kay Shoun of Jammer Music -- kudos to them for succeeding in bringing Jeffrey to Kuantan, no easy feat indeed!

The workshop started off with a slide show narrated by the master himself. Jeffrey showed us loads and loads of beautiful images of under-appreciated local and Asian tonewoods that were usually discarded or used as firewood. Amongst these were mango, monkey pod (raintree), blackwood, rambutan, and even lychee. Jeffrey stressed that local tonewoods were on par, if not better; than "traditional" tonewoods favored by luthiers from the USA and Europe. However, before you take an axe to the mango tree in your back yard, take note that the mango trees Jeffrey is talking about are hundreds of years old and really huge.

During the slide show, Jeffrey also talked about some of the steel string and classical guitars that he had brought down to Kuantan in terms of design rationale, construction techniques and materials used. Following this was a demo session featuring Jeffrey's proteges and friends on his stunning handcrafted guitars, including the "Special Limited Edition" series. The man himself is no slouch on the classical guitar, as he ably demonstrated to an awestruck audience. And no wonder, for Jeffrey used to teach classical guitar full-time before adding luthiery to his resume in the mid '80s.

Then came the time everyone had been eagerly anticipating, a hands-on session with Jeffrey's guitars. Even in these inexperienced hands, they played smoothly and sounded heavenly; for want of a better word. The master took this opportunity to chat with some of his old friends and proteges, including Tele Wong and Kuantan-based luthier Roka Dyer Maker.

All too soon it was time to bid farewell to the master. Come back real soon, sifu.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Homebrew Electronics UFO Ultimate Fuzz Octave

This post features a nifty little hand-built stomp box from the US of A, namely the Homebrew Electronics (H.B.E) UFO Ultimate Fuzz Octave. I put the UFO through its paces using a PRS 25th Anniversary Santana guitar through the clean channel of a humble Laney LX35, and boy; was I in for a pleasant surprise! This is one snarky little fuzz box, no doubt about it. The metal enclosure is fire engine red interspersed with tiny specks of gold, very attractive indeed. On the right side of the UFO is a single stereo input jack (In) and center-negative battery eliminator (9V AC Adapter) jack socket; while on the left side is the lone mono output jack (Out). The black plastic control knobs have a cool retro look and are secured to the pot shafts by small set screws that you can adjust with a flathead screwdriver.

Let's look at the controls and switches now. The Level control adjusts the overall output of the unit, while the Fuzz control varies the depth/amount of fuzz in the effected signal. In between the Level and Fuzz controls is a mini toggle switch labeled "Vin/Mod," where "Vin" refers to "Vintage" and "Mod," Modern. Flicking this switch to the left (Vintage) results in a warm old-school fuzz flavor, as one might expect. However, when flicked to the right (Modern), watch out! There's a dramatic boost in output, fuzz and mids; resulting in an "in-your-face" aggressive tone. For some reason, I prefer the sweeter-sounding Vintage setting to the harsher Modern, but that's just one man's opinion; right?

Below the Level control is an ON/OFF footswitch which turns the effect on or off; and a corresponding yellow LED that lights when the UFO is engaged. I tested the UFO without a power source (no 9V battery or adapter), and with the effect off, the clean guitar signal rang loud and clear through the amp. Yes, folks; we have true bypass. In between the Level and Fuzz controls, and directly below the Vin/Mod switch, is the Tone control; which varies the sharpness (treble content) of the effected signal. I found that the warmest fuzz tones were to be had with the Tone control at 12 o'clock or less. Below the Fuzz control is a footswitch labeled "8VA." Stomping on this lights up the corresponding yellow LED and transposes the effected signal an octave, hence the "8VA" label. With the mini toggle switch at its Modern setting and the Tone control dialed past noon; engaging the 8VA footswitch results in a searing lead tone that has to be heard to be believed.

To access the innards of the UFO, one has to unscrew four Phillips-head screws; which in turn releases the metal bottom cover. The bottom cover of this particular unit was covered in velcro and glue residue, so I cannot confirm nor deny the presence of any label or markings beneath the gunk. Anyhow, on the inside of the bottom cover is a metal Keystone Electronics 9V battery holder that's riveted in place. The battery clip is the sturdiest I've ever encountered so far, and it sure took a lot of effort to get a 9V Energizer in there. The (+) and (-) battery contacts are wired directly to the stereo input jack through rather short red and black cables, so you have to be extra careful not to stretch them when working on the UFO.

If you'd like to take a closer look at the pots and Vin/Mod toggle switch, you have to unscrew the two small hex screws above the Level and Fuzz controls. These two screws and corresponding hex nuts fasten the circuit board to the chassis. Removing them frees the circuit board somewhat, revealing Alpha mini pots for the Level, Fuzz and Tone controls. The Vin/Mod toggle switch appears to be a generic SPDT switch, no surprises here. Meanwhile, the ON/OFF and 8VA latching footswitches are Cliff 9 pole 3PDTs -- quality all the way.

Looking at the innards of the UFO,it is obvious that this pedal was lovingly put together by hand. Soldering is top notch and cable lengths kept to the minimum. All said and done, this is one well-built awesome-sounding stomp box that is worth every buck you're going to fork out -- if you can find one; that is. After the pics section are four links to YouTube videos featuring the UFO. Enjoy!

Further Reading
Homebrew Electronics UFO Review
Home Brew Electronics UFO Ultimate Fuzz Octave
Homebrew Electronics UFO Ultimate Fuzz Octave

YouTube Videos




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