Posted by: Rich Sherkin | August 27, 2015

Two Day Grinder

Last weekend was very exciting for Coming of Age the Classic Rock band I’m in.  We played three shows in two days, Friday night, Saturday Morning then Saturday night.  While exhausting it was a lot of fun.

Saturday’s show was at the Copper Kettle Festival put on by Creemore Springs Brewery in Creemore, Ontario.  Several live bands played including Coming of Age and the Progressive Rock band our Rhythm Guitarist / Vocalist Johnny G. fronts with Lead Vocals, Altered Fate.  While I’ve heard some of Altered Fate tunes on John’s iPhone it was my first opportunity to hear them play live.  Wow are they awesome!

I managed to get some video of Altered Fate and was happy to learn that Rick Z. the guitarist from a band I previously played in called Highway 26 had filmed some of our show.

Here for your viewing pleasure are a couple of those clips…

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | August 21, 2015

August 21st – Weekend of Classic Rock

Coming of Age will be performing this weekend from Thornbury down to Aurora giving everyone a chance to enjoy some awesome Classic Rock music!  Check out one of our shows!

CoA – Pipers Sports Bar & Grill – Thornbury

CoA at The Copper Kettle Festival - Creemore

CoA at The Copper Kettle Festival – Creemore

CoA at Aw Shucks in Aurora

CoA at Aw Shucks – Aurora

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | August 19, 2015

Hohner B2A – Active Electronics Repair

A couple of years ago I purchased a used Hohner B2A Headless Bass.  I love playing it!  It’s light.  It’s unique looking.  It wasn’t too expensive.  And it has Steinberger hardware.  It also has active electronics.

At some point during my playing it the active electronics failed.  That is to say that when the bass was plugged into a guitar cable and the switch was turned on the LED did not light nor did the extra volume kick in.  I replaced the battery and made sure the contacts were clean but still no dice.  The bass still operated fine with the active electronics switch turned off, however, the fact that it wasn’t fully functional bothered me.

I decided I would try to diagnose and repair the problem.  I didn’t think the problem would go too deep unless there was some type of component failure in the active electronics themselves.  Fortunately I was correct.  The first thing I did was to ensure I had details on the wiring of the bass.  Through some searching on the Internet I was able to come up with the following diagrams.  Each was discovered through forums and I never found the original poster but whoever you are; thank you!

B2A Schematic

B2A Schematic

Switch Wiring

Switch Wiring

Circuit Board Connections

Circuit Board Connections

Starting at the beginning of the electronics chain I checked the power connection to the battery compartment.  There are two metal contacts inside the battery compartment and I suspected they may not be making contact with the battery properly.  As it turned out I was correct in this assumption.  To test my theory I connected a pair of alligator connectors (the greatest electronics debugging tool) to the leads connected to the battery compartment and tested them with a multimeter.  Bingo!  No juice was getting through to the electronics.  This, of course, would definitely have an effect on the rest of the circuitry.


Once I determined that the power wasn’t getting out to the electronics from the battery compartment I tested the theory by wiring a battery directly to the power leads using alligator clips.


This setup made the active electronics work.  Remember that if you want to test the electronics you must have a 1/4″ guitar plug inserted into the bass otherwise the electronics will never turn on.

At this point I used some contact cleaner to clean off the battery connection points inside the compartment and I gently bent the metal contacts outward so they would be sure to make contact with the battery terminals.  This worked out perfectly and the bass’ electronics were active once more.

Having the bass on the bench already I decided to have a look inside the main compartment to ensure everything was ok.  Older gear is susceptible to solder joints coming loose over time and I was experiencing a glitch with the electronics volume control.

The B2A Electronics Well

Close inspection revealed that the solder joint on one wire leading to the potentiometer and come loose.  That would explain the intermittent problem.

Note the green wire has no solder holding it in place

A quick soldering touch up and the wire held firmly in place.  Remember when soldering to clear away any wires (gently) to ensure the shielding does not get melted by the shaft of the soldering iron.

I cleaned up the main compartment (it had dust in it) ,sealed up the electronics compartments, gave the bass a polish and presto – new life for an old bass.  I really love this instrument – it’s so much fun to play!

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | August 6, 2015

ESI-2000 Upgrade – Part 2: The Hard Drive

It’s been a while since I performed the floppy disk upgrade to my ESI-2000 sampler.  As I mentioned in the earlier article the USB floppy drive still partitioned itself out as 1.44MB disks.  This caused really inconvenient load times as the unit had to be babysat.  Enter the hard drive.

Finding a hard drive on the EMU’s compatibility list proved a bit of a challenge.  SCSI drives from the mid to late ’90s are hard to come by these days.  Even the cables are long out of fashion.  Still, that’s where Kijiji comes in handy.  I posted the EMU’s drive compatibility list on Kijiji requesting anyone having a drive that matched get in touch with me.  As it happens I met up with this excellent fellow named Frank.  Not only did Frank have a drive I needed, the Quantum VP32210, he drove it up to my remote location to deliver it.  Not only that he also brought a second drive to use as a spare.  This worked out especially well as the Quantum drive didn’t quite pass the EMU’s format procedure – but more on that later.

As a Computer Guy from the early ’80s I have acquired a pile of old cables.  Unfortunately several months ago I threw out a box full of them as I thought I’d never need them again.  Once again Frank came to the rescue sending me a 50 pin SCSI cable and a 3 way power connector.  More on this cable later too.  I have to say that if it weren’t for Frank this project wouldn’t have succeeded.  Thanks so much Frank!

The first problem I ran into was the power connector.  While the EMU had a mini-connector suitable for a floppy drive the hard drive required a standard old-style PC power connector.  Searching for the conversion cable was fruitless so I ended up making my own.  This involved snipping the end of the EMU’s connector as well as the standard connector.  Making sure I had all the wires in the right place (+5, GND, +12)  I soldered the two parts together and voila – a suitable power connector.  When doing this process I highly suggest documenting everything so you don’t run into problems later on.

IMG_5297 IMG_5298

I used shrink tubing to prevent short circuits or other nasty things from happening to the power connectors.  Don’t use electrical tape as it will ultimately come off and leave a gummy mess.

One IMPORTANT NOTE:  The power supply in the EMU is not covered.  Touch one of the capacitors and it might be the last thing you touch!

I configured the SCSI drive as device 2 and left the termination in.  I figured at this point the job would be a cakewalk.  As it turned out that wasn’t the case.  When connected to the internal SCSI connector the EMU would not even power up.  It would just make a clicking sound.  Switching device IDs, termination, etc… had no effect.  I then removed the motherboard cable to the external SCSI connector connected the internal drive to it and everything powered up fine.  I was able to perform the ESI format under the Disk menu.  The Quantum drive failed this process but the Seagate had no trouble.  The only problem was how to get the samples off the CD-ROM and onto the hard drive with only one connector and no daisy-chain SCSI setup.

As it turned out that wasn’t too much of a problem.  The ESI-2000 allowed me to hot-swap the cables.  In between swaps I would use the Disk menu’s Mount Drive option to rescan the SCSI bus.  First I’d connect the CD-ROM and load a sample bank.  Then I’d switch to the cable for the internal drive, rescan the bus and save the sample bank.  Again, writing things down as I went saved a pile of headaches.  While not a perfect solution it allowed me to transfer all my samples to the hard drive, disconnect the external SCSI cable and leave the internal drive hooked up.

One important note when switching the cables;  do not crank the cable up from the right or left side.  This might cause the pins to bend and weaken them.  You should also not brace your hands on the motherboard.  You could inadvertently break off a component.  Grasping the connector rather than the cable will also help you from loosening the thin SCSI connector wires from the connector itself.  These were lessons well learned from my early days in the PC business that saved me from potential problems during this upgrade.

Setup during sample transfer

Setup during sample transfer

Nicely cabled and ready to close

Nicely cabled and ready to close

So there you have it… another piece of vintage synthesizer gear updated to play another day!

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | May 29, 2015

PAiA Meet Moog – Moog, PAiA

Well it didn’t take long for me to get the PAiA 9700 I just finished building connected to my lovely Moog Sub 37.  The Sub 37 has 4 Control Voltage (CV) Inputs; Filter, Gate, Pitch and Volume.

I’ve never used CV inputs on a synthesizer and the 9700 is my first venture into modular synthesis.  In most ways I’m a rookie with both these machines.  That won’t stop me from having fun though!

The important thing about the PAiA 9700 is to complete calibration of the individual modules.  This holds particularly true for the 9700 MIDI2CV module itself.  When I first got the unit fired up, moving from C2 to C3 didn’t quite sound right.  Neither did C2 to D2.  Some calibration fixed this and once all the modules were set up correctly the unit performed beautifully.

When I built the 9700 I created the suggested set of patch cables.  Since then though I’ve added a few 1 to 2 and 1 to 3 additions to provide more flexibility.

I found a patch online that I set my 9700 up for.  It wasn’t too complex and produced a really nice tone.  I then modulated the tone which sounded pretty cool.  At that point I thought of sending the modulated signal out to the Sub 37.  I have created a sound file containing the various sounds created with the Sub 37 and the 9700 itself.

The test was run by pressing A2 on the Sub 37 and moving from A1 to A3 on the PAiA.  I’ve got a Roland A-300 Pro keyboard connected to the PAiA so my range is a bit limited.  Between each pause I’m switching CV inputs on the Moog.

The patch settings for the PAiA 9700 are in the photo below;


I will credit the author of the original patch once I find the page where I got it…

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | May 23, 2015

PAiA 9700 – Mission Accomplished

When we last left our hero the build of the PAiA 9700 modular synthesizer was marginal at best.  The 9700 MIDI2CV module worked fine, however, the 9720 VCO had only one of two oscillators working.  Carelessness resulted in one of two matched transistors being damaged in the 9730 VCF build and the 9710 was still just parts in bags. Did I mention the OUTSTANDING service PAiA offers?  So I sent my 9720 in for service rather than try and troubleshoot it myself.  At this stage in the game I don’t have the skills to do deep electrical analysis and I didn’t want to damage the component further.

As it turns out, a solder drip that bridged two components was the culprit.  Not the actual drip itself but rather the trace I cut when clearing the drip. The board was repaired by PAiA and returned in perfect working order. Along with the board I received my transistors plus a resistor which was left out of the 9710 VCA kit.

With these parts I completed the build of the remaining components. Ok…. WOW!

Inside the PAiA 9700 FracRak

Inside the PAiA 9700 FracRak

9700 Connected to Roland A-300

9700 Connected to Roland A-300

The 9700 produces deep, thick, rich sounds right from the start.  I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what this modular wonder can do.  The first thing I have to do is tune it.  ‘D’ is ‘A’ and everything is out of whack.  I feel like I’m back in the ’70s.  There are patch cables everywhere and still there aren’t enough.

I should mention one change I made to my 9700 MIDI to CV Converter module.  While the documentation instructs you to cut the connector off the power supply and solder the leads directly to the board, I opted to install a connector port so the wall-wart can be removed easily when the unit has to be moved.

Plug Jack Added For Easy Removal

Plug Jack Added For Easy Removal

Now it’s time to learn to use this beast.  So far I’ve been able to generate fat, deep tones and modulate them.  Now it’s time to read more documentation and figure out how to make some sculpted sounds. Stay tuned…..

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | May 5, 2015

CoA to Rock The Casbah –

The 16th Annual Collingwood Music Showcase is on its way and Coming of Age will be featured at The Casbah on Saturday May 9th at 9:30 PM. Come and enjoy CoA plus many other talented bands.

The Showcase runs from May 6th through May 10th so there’s plenty of time to enjoy lots of great music.  See you there!


Posted by: Rich Sherkin | April 8, 2015

PAiA Arrives At Lower West Side Studio

When we think of vintage synthesizers names like Moog, Korg, Arp, Roland and Oberheim come to mind.  One name that seems to slip by is PAiA (pronounced Pie-ah).  I discovered PAiA in the mid 1970s while gathering information on various musical instruments.  With no Internet back then we had to write letters to manufacturers for information on their products.  Most manufacturers were happy to send out glossy catalogs of their products full of information.

I learned of PAiA through Larry Fast.  Larry was Peter Gabriel’s keyboardist for quite some time but also had his own band project called Synergy.  In this latter Larry fashioned sounds that were absolutely marvellous and new for the time.  My particular favourite album of his is called Cords.  Check it out if you have a chance.

Among Larry’s listed instruments on the album were those by a manufacturer called PAiA.  The information I found about them at the time indicated they made Do-It-Yourself kits for keyboards.  Their Strings and Things was of particular interest to me at the time as it seemed within my reach but that never ended up happening.

You’ve probably heard PAiA instruments before.  Do you know Peter Gabriel’s Games Without Frontiers?  The drum machine track is a PAiA drum machine.  The PAiA was actually the first programmable drum machine available.

So flash forward 40 years and modular synthesis is all en vogue again.  I thought the idea of building some modules would be cool and PAiA would be a great place to start.  Their 9700 modular features a MIDI to CV converter, a dual VCO, a VCF and a VCA.  Just what you need to get started.  In this thread I’m going to tell you about my build experience…

First, a little background

In the early ’80s I got my start building electronics working at a shop making clone 80 column cards and internal modems for Apple ][ computers.  We also made RS232 and Centronics parallel cables.  Back then you couldn’t just walk into Best Buy and purchase them off the shelf.  My teacher was a guy named DL.  He was tough and would throw away any half-assed work I’d do.  Our boss, Rod The Man, got pissed off if stuff got thrown out so I learned to solder well, quickly.

I ordered the 9700 kit from PAiA February.  It arrived within a few weeks, the delay mostly due to Customs.  The packaging of the kit was outstanding with each module packaged separately.  It is easy to keep the components organized and separate from one another.

I’m not going to review the modules themselves (yet) but rather the build process.  I’m a lightly experienced assembly guy and this is a very ambitious project.  I can solder pretty well but my skills beyond that are long from developed.  I used a multimeter before but that was 30 years ago.

I’m here to tell you how this build went for me.

The 9700

The 9700 MIDI2CV module is the starting point of the project.  Not only does this module convert signals from MIDI input devices to Control Voltages it supplies power to the entire rack of modules.  This build went very smoothly and the unit functioned perfectly when I was done.

Things I learned;

  • Do NOT let solder bleed over onto holes next-door.  It’s a nightmare!

IMG_3124 IMG_3126

One modification I made to the module involved the power adapter.  The unit comes with a 12 VDC wall adapter.  The documentation recommends cutting off the connector and then soldering the wires directly to the 9700 module.  This would mean dragging the wall-wart around everywhere, having to coil it up and make sure it wasn’t in the way.  All the while there would be tension on the connection points.

Instead I purchased a fifty cent female adapter and connected it to the board with two short lengths of wire (the red and black in the photo above).  When the board is in the FracRak I connect the adapter to one of the pre-drilled holes and the unit now has a removable power supply.

The 9720 

The 9720 is the Dual Voltage Control Oscillator and Modulator.  In effect it is the noise maker of the synthesis unit.  My build ran into a few road bumps.

First, while soldering in an Integrated Circuit (chip) a drizzle of solder ran out the top of the board and bridged to and adjacent resistor.  I applied heat while desoldering and was able to suck up most of the excess metal.  Using a razor blade I was able to scratch the remaining bridge free.  Testing with a multimeter indicated no bridge.

When I fired up the unit (connected to the 9700 for power) everything seemed ok.  The modulation test worked and Oscillator 1 was working fine.  Oscillator 2, however, made no sound.  I grabbed my multimeter, which I am very inexperienced with, and started doing some testing.  When I was done Oscillator 1 no longer made any sound.


Ok…Like the late Douglas Adams says… DON’T PANIC!

I contacted PAiA and, long story short, their support is OUTSTANDING and the VCO is going back on an RMA.  I’d like them to fix it and tell me what I broke so I can avoid something like that in the future.  I’m also wary of my desoldering skills at the moment.  If an IC needs replacing I’d rather the pros do it.

IMG_3140 IMG_3145

The 9730

I went on to build the 9730 Voltage Controlled Filter.  Once again the kit was excellent and the documentation easy to follow.

While building this kit I got careless on a transistor from a matched pair set and soldered it in backwards.  I got to practice my desoldering skills on it.  While the board was fine the middle connector of the transistor became detached from its body.  I’ve written to PAiA requesting replacements.

At this point the entire board and front panel are ready to connect but I have to wait on the transistors before I go on.  Stay tuned…


Holding Pattern While I Wait For Some Matched Transistors Lesson – Check Twice Before Soldering


The 9710

The last module in the build is the 9710 Voltage Controlled Amplifier / Mixer.  I will be starting its build later this week and will keep you posted.

Once all the modules are built and working I’ll cover connecting them up, interfacing them with the outside world and adding more modules to the mix.

So Far…

Working with these kits has been exceptionally easy.  They are well packaged, well designed and the documentation is laid out in a step by step build methodology.  Any problems I’ve had so far have been my own and the folks at PAiA (Scott in particular) have been great in resolving my problems.  As my build continues and when my 9720 returns I’ll write of the updates to my build.

Some Tips

  • I cannot state how important a good soldering station is to your project.  Forget soldering guns or even soldering irons.  A temperature controlled soldering station can be had for well under $100.  You want  35 watts max or at least adjustable around there.  I use a Weller WLC100 Station.  Don’t scrimp.  Make sure to get the correct soldering tip as well.  You’ll want a fine pin-head tip for precision soldering.
  • Remember The Green Mile?  If the sponge isn’t wet the job won’t get done.  Not dripping, soaking wet.  Just wet it.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about… read the first point.
  • Don’t let position position you – If your soldering target is in an awkward position… move it.  Don’t bend all bendy to get to it.  Take that extra time to make the target easy to hit.  Stop and move things around to suit you.  Not vice versa.
  • Ventilate your work area – Otherwise you’re breathing in lead.
  • Having said that – Breathe.  Don’t inhale while you’re soldering the part but time your breathing so you’re not holding your breath.
  • Go slow and relaxed.  Don’t work when agitated, rushed, pissed off, nagged at by your significant other, tired, drunk, or otherwise in a condition where you think you might do good work but will actually do a pile of damage.  This project will not happen in a few days so stretch it out and enjoy it.
  • Have your documentation handy and make sure you PRE-READ IT!  You will run into far less surprises if you just skim the documentation to see what’s in store.  Make sure to have all the tools and materials described so you don’t have to stop mid-way.
  • DO NOT second guess the documentation – Nuff said
  • Be organized.  There are hundreds of components in the 9700 rack project.  Isolate the projects from each other, especially if you’re working on multiple projects at once.  For me, one at a time is the way to go and while I have a couple of setbacks I can proceed forward with the last project while I wait for parts and my repaired VCO.
  • Watch the Collin’s Lab Soldering video (and others – his stuff is excellent)

Live and learn….

But I can’t wait to play with these toys once they’re working!!!

Stay tuned…..

PAiA - DIY Sound

PAiA – DIY Sound

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | March 10, 2015

Bye Bye Spock Bye Bye

Leonard Nimoy’s recent passing was very sad.  I learned of if through a text by my son.  Our family are a group of Star Trek nerdlingers.  My wife and I dragged our son to all the conventions and shows.  We even got a chance to meet Leonard Nimoy and get his autograph after hearing him speak at one of the Toronto shows.  Lots of fun.

Last week my Fizzbin bandmate John brought over his new toy; a Korg MS2000.  This vintage beauty has thick, rich sounds that can be easily shaped through its ample control panel.  I really love analog synthesis!  John is using the MS2000 with his Ploytec PL2 synthesizer.

Our last rehearsal ran a bit late so John decided to leave his gear here.  For me that was a major bonus as I could experiment with MIDI setups as well as get to know a vintage synth a bit better.

After setting everything up in a playable manner I flipped on the TV.  I like some visual stimulation and often have a TV on with the volume muted.  This particular day they were running a Star Trek marathon in honour of Leonard Nimoy’s death.

I set my Yamaha Motif XF on a backbeat pattern but not a Performance setting.  I’m finding the Performances all sound mostly alike and the music that comes out of using them sounds canned.

Instead I went free-form with all the synthesizers, switching from one to the other and playing with the various sounds.  These included John’s PL2, MS2000 and my Sub 37.  To make matters more fun I ran the Sub 37 through John’s Roland Space Echo.  WOW!

The song is more or less a dirge which I think is fitting for the subject matter.  After recording in a single take I went on to pilfer some Spock sound clips but then ended up recording most of my own.

I’m very sad that Leonard Nimoy is gone.  He brought me a great deal of joy and inspired me to constantly seek knowledge.

Created on a Yamaha Motif XF6, Moog Sub 37, Ploytec PL2 and Korg MS2000

Created on a Yamaha Motif XF6, Moog Sub 37, Ploytec PL2 and Korg MS2000

Posted by: Rich Sherkin | February 13, 2015

Guitar Tech – Trial # 2 – The 5-way Switch

So here I am pretty much one year later and I’ve decided to rip apart my old Squire Strat and finally fix the cursed 5-way pickup selection switch. First let me say to those out there who think even for a second that a Squire or a MIM Strat are even close to the American Standards; Fugget about it.  There’s a reason these and other knock-off’s sell so cheaply.  They’ve got cheap components.  From machine heads that won’t stay in tune to pickups with barely enough copper to function to bodies made from wood-ite and other horror show materials.  They’re cheaper because they’re made cheaply and subsequently reflect that in their playing and sound. In my last round of playing guitar technician I shielded the pickup cavity of my Squire Strat.  this is where I noticed the sub-standard quality of the body.

Check Out The Crappy Laminate Body

Check Out The Crappy Laminate Body

Prior to this I replaced the machine heads with Fender Locking Machine Heads.  These are quite awesome and the guitar has stayed in tune for the first time since replacing the garbage that came with the guitar.  The shielding seemed to help as well, however, the big problem was still the 5-way switch. This switch has been a nightmare for as long as I can remember.  It would crackle and short out at random.  Cleaning it seemed to help for a very short time but the guitar was so unreliable nobody would have anything to do with it.  Poor sad Strat : ( I set up my guitar workstation and prepared to replace the nightmare switch with a Musical Accessories Profile SW40 5-way switch.  First and foremost make sure to take pictures of the existing configuration of the instrument.  Even better, draw out your own schematic.  I did.  It helps you to better understand what you are seeing whereas with a picture you only see what it shows you.

Draw it out - It'll make more sense

Draw it out – It’ll make more sense

Next came removal of the existing switch.  It was at this point I noticed that the switches were different in their configurations.

The Old Switch

The Old Switch

The New Switch - Connectors

The New Switch – Connectors On Both Sides

I searched the Internet for details on wiring the type of switch I was installing.  I found an article by Alan Ratcliffe called Hotrodding a Stratocaster which included an excellent wiring diagram. Prior to soldering my new switch into place I used alligator clip connectors to test the connections.  It’s way easier to switch around alligator clips that to re-solder.  They are a definite asset to your toolkit. So after testing then soldering then testing again I tightened everything up and replaced the pick-guard.  One more test to make sure nothing got strained and then in go the screws.  The good news is that there was no noise or popping when the switch moved from position to position. Now for a new set of strings.  Stringing up the guitar with the locking machine heads is a slightly different process than standard stringing.  To refresh my memory I used this handy video.

Once tuned I ran through each pickup position.  AMAZING!  For the first time in I can’t remember how long there was a smooth, silent transition between pickup configurations.  This guitar can actually be used in combat now! Now, the replacement switch I used was $19.95.  I’ll bet the one I replaced didn’t cost that (yeah, yeah, retail, I know but I think you get my point).  Don’t kid yourself; Made In America with quality parts will always cost more – and be worth it.

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