Housekeeping

Refreshing a Leslie 222’s Tube Amp

Though a friend, I was notified of a Hammond organ and Leslie that were free for the taking about a year ago.  It turns out that the instrument was a Hammond H-100.  This was a “home” version of the B-3.  Like the B-3, it has a full set of tonewheels.  Unlike the B-3, it adds several “orchestral voices” that are really not very emulative.  The organ from a monetary standpoint is worthless.  While it does the tonewheel thing just like the B-3, it is not really a B-3.

The Leslie is an interesting beast.  It’s a Leslie 222.  This is the “home” version of the 122, and is laid out horizontally instead of vertically.  The treble rotor is beside the bass rotor, so the whole thing is about the size of a standard high-boy Leslie turned on its side.  This one is finished in “Provincial Walnut” It has a tube amplifier that looked as new as the day it was built when I opened it up – not a speck of dust inside.

The Leslie was very noisy with static, pops, and a hum too!  After 40 years, all the capacitors were quite shot, so it was time for a rebuild.  I ordered a rebuild kit and instructions from here.  They have rebuild kits for organs and Leslie speakers of all types.  Their 122 kit had everything needed to fully refresh the amp.

So, after storing it in my studio for a year, I got tired of looking at it and decided it was time to move it along.  I followed the directions and replaced all the capacitors with fresh modern ones (that’s all the Orange Drops in the picture).  One of the power supply diodes was also fried, so I replaced all four of those as well.

Re-Capped Leslie

I had a frustrating go at first until I put a bigger tip on my soldering iron.  The old leads were kind of chunky and just needed more surface area to transfer the heat.  Once I was going, it went pretty quickly. The nice thing is that the schematic is printed on the side of the amp, and it is also available on-line.  This made verifying all the parts and their location very simple.

The amp worked correctly as soon as I turned it on.  All the magic smoke staying inside, and it is ready for another 10-15 years of service.

There is something to be said for the serviceability of a fine tube amplifier.  All the parts are readily available, often with better parts than were available at the time of construction.  The work is simple, and anyone who can solder can easily complete basic maintenance.

The organ and Leslie are on their way to my neighbor, who used to play, but hasn’t had a instrument in years.  It will be good to move this out of my space and onto its next owner.  I will certainly be glad to have the floorspace back.

For my own use, I think I’ll just stick to emulators.  There is magic in a perfectly maintained and updated tube Leslie matched with a fine and fully restored B-3.  There are also not that many of them, and they require maintenance.  B-3 maintenance is a whole different level or maintenance than a tube amp.  Not really being a Hammond player at heart, the emulations are frankly good enough for my purposes.  I’d rather spend my instrument maintenance budget on my piano.  Putting a screaming organ behind some distorted guitars seems to work fine with VB-3 or the B-3 emulation built into Apple’s Mainstage.  Both are quite serviceable.  There is a bit of magic that happens with the sound bouncing around inside the room, but not having ever played the real thing, I don’t miss what I don’t have muscle memory for.

Silver Polish and Elbow Grease

My trombone is an Edwards Allessi T-396.  It is a very fine instrument, and less than a year old.  I have handled it very carefully and cleaned it regularly as would befit a concert-level instrument.  In return, it always yields a beautiful tone and consistent response.  It is a joy to play.  You can imagine my concern when I noticed what seemed to be damage to the lead pipe from my holding the instrument.

The lead pipe is where the slide connects to the bell of the trombone.  It is also the primary point of contact with the left hand.  The left hand wraps around half of the lead pipe and carries most of the weight of the instrument.  Normally brass instruments are lacquered so that body oils and sweat do not tarnish the brass.  I was thinking that it was quite early in the life of the instrument to be wearing through the lacquer.

It took a couple of days, and then the penny dropped – I remembered that on this trombone, the lead pipe is silver!  It wasn’t a lacquer issue – it was just tarnish – tarnish that would come off with silver polish.  So, I set in with the polishing paste and was soon making a dent in it.  Apparently I should have caught this sooner as it was a fair bit of elbow grease, but I got it almost totally off.  You can see in the picture that there is still some that didn’t polish out, but it is MUCH better than where I started.  The small remainder will come off in a week when I clean the instrument again.  I am happy that I know what is going on, and that I can maintain the instrument properly from here out.  This wear will easily polish out with some more work.

Greatly reduced after quite a bit of scrubbing

Greatly reduced after quite a bit of scrubbing

To help reduce the maintenance I purchased a set of leather covers from Christian Greigo from his site.  I purchased the Symphonic Slide Kit.   This will keep direct hand contact off the silver lead pipe and reduce the time that I spend polishing.  Christian is the designer of the Alessi model, and one of the leading brass instrument designers in the country.  I happen to have one of his mouthpieces on my instrument as well, so it was an easy choice for $25.  I’m sure I’ll still have some occasional work to do, but now I know how to keep my horn in like new condition.  It is too large an investment not to care for it in an optimal way.

Satisfaction

Here in the States, Monday has been a holiday to celebrate the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  I was able to get a whole piece written and sketched out for a project I am working on with a vocalist.  It isn’t ready for release yet, but so satisfying to get down piano, strings, drums, etc in a way that has the complete musical idea.  Those of you that produce commercial tracks know how much work goes into the actual production, but I have that happy feeling of having been creative and finishing a project.

Seaboard + Solaris = Success

The Seaboard is an interesting instrument because it sends each “finger” on a unique MIDI channel in its most expressive “multi-channel” mode.  If you have a multi-timbral synth or plug-in, you can set the synth to play the same sound on multiple channels and then it works the way one would expect.

 

The John Bowen Solaris is a fantastic synth – easily the most flexible architecture of anything I own.  It is NOT multi-timbral, though.  By default, it sends and receives on channel 1, like most synths.  In the Global setup, there is an “Omni” mode that causes it to listen on all channels.  This works perfectly with the Seaboard.  It sends on multiple channels and the Solaris applies all that data to the currently selected patch.

 

The Mighty Solaris

The Mighty Solaris

The Seaboard only has USB MID – no 5-pin DIN connectors, so I ran it into Mainstage, through an “External Instrument” channel, and then out to a physical MIDI port and into the Solaris.  Everything worked right away.

 

I mapped Poly-AT in the Solaris modulation settings to the VCA level, set the pitch-bend to +/- 12, and I had full control over the Solaris, just the same as the factory soundset.

Choosing a Surge Suppressor

In the first part of this post, I detailed how a failed UPS/surge suppressor unit cost me $900:   $700 in repair bills for a printer and $200 for a replacement surge suppressor.  This is one of the most expensive technology lessons I’ve learned in 25+ years of computer ownership.  In the process, I’ve learned that surge suppression falls very neatly into two categories:  stuff that works worse over time, and stuff that works every time.  It turns out that the kind of products for sale in Fry’s, Best Buy, and other consumer outlets are uniformly of the first kind, and often provide little protection when they are needed most.

My evolution in power conditioning started with cheap $9 power strips to give me more outlets,  and the $20 “upgraded” ones that claimed some surge suppression.  Later this grew to spending $50-70 for a “name brand” surge suppressor with fancy packaging and lots of impressive sounding language on the package.  Having never spend that much on a power strip (which did no computing, and offered no functions), I thought I was set.  Later I realized that I needed power protection to shut down in an orderly fashion, and so, upgraded to UPS’s in the $120-$140 range.  Now I had battery backup so that even a power outage was no concern.

The problem is two-fold.  The low end of surge suppression relies on two technologies:  metal-oxide varistors (MOV’s) and shunting voltage spikes to the ground wire.  The MOV’s work by absorbing voltage surges.  Left over voltage is taken from the “hot” wire, and put on the ground wire so it can go to the earth ground in our houses.  When MOV’s absorb too much voltage, they degrade internally, and never recover their initial capacity.   Over time, they provide less and less protection.  Normally, voltage flows from the hot wire, through our equipment, and then is returned on the neutral wire.  The ground wire is used as a reference by all the electronics connected to the circuit.  When high-voltages are placed on the ground wire, all the electronics see that voltage.  Modern electronics all have some over-voltage protection on the ground wire, but this is never meant for the extremely high over-voltage that occurs in a power surge.  This combination of factors means that power strips relying on MOV’s and shunting over-voltages to the ground wire offer little meaningful protection. You can read about this here, here, here, and here.

This is so problematic that the US government decided to provide guidance for internal government agencies so that they would purchase surge suppression that works.  You can read all about that here.  After you read through all the specs, the protection that we want is UL 1449, class 1, grade A, mode 1 protection with UL 1283 power filtering.  This provides the proper level of protection for computers, printers, audio/visual equipment (TV’s, disc players, amps, etc).  Surge protectors that meet these specifications will stop 6000V, 3000A surges at least 1000x in a row., letting only 300V through to our electronics.  They do not degrade over time.  These specification have been in place since 1997, so this is not new technology or information.

If you spend time researching power products on-line, you will find that most companies use marketing language to obscure what is really inside the power strip.  A handful of quality companies like Furman, Surge-X, and others produce power products that are fully certified, and will work reliably over the long haul.  Even many very large, very successful A/V power companies that have filled local electronics store shelves do not meet these certification, or make products where only some of them meet the necessary standard.  If the product doesn’t clearly say that it supports UL 1449, class 1, grade A, mode 1, then you can be assured it doesn’t.  The few products that do are quite proud of their accomplishment.   Note that merely supporting UL 1449 is NOT enough – this means that something less than Class 1, Grade A, Mode 1 was achievable in the lab.  These are the products we don’t want protecting our sensitive gear. You want to see that it will protect against one thousand 6000V/3000W surges, allowing only 300V or less through the protected equipment – that is what UL 1449 Class 1, Grade A, Mode 1 protection offers.

The bottom line is that if you can’t find the test results and formal certification documents for the surge suppressor you are looking for, you are NOT getting effective protection for the switching mode power supplies that are inside all our computer and A/V gear.  I ultimately ended up selecting a Furman PL-Plus C so that it would fit in a rack with my music and computer gear.  Other solutions exist in power strip form.  For Furman gear, you want power solutions that contain their “SMP” technology – this is the marketing name they give to the circuitry that passes the stringent tests our gear requires for effective protection.

If you haven’t had a $900 lesson yet, do spend the $135-$200 required to get reliable, repeatable, non-degrading protection for your expensive electronics.  I know the purchase is not exciting, and seems expensive for something that looks like a power strip, but negligence on this point can be quite costly.

The $900 Surge Suppressor

As someone who leads a “digital lifestyle”, I use computers and electronic equipment for 10-16 hours a day.  Even while exercising, my phone is busy turning my workout into data. I use my computers more than I use my bed, my car, my bike, or any other possession.  I depend on them to make a living, and it is not an exaggeration to state that any money I spend on computers that makes me more productive is the the best money I can spend.  It pays dividends 10+ hours every day!

This being the case, I have been fairly responsible regarding protection for my computing setups.  I have a reasonably complete backup regime in place for my two primary computers, and could recover from a hard drive crash with very minimal loss – at most a few hours of work.  Key work is stored on drive arrays that are themselves internally redundant and protected.  The hard drives are regularly defragmented and tested.  For data recovery, I keep bootable backups of my hard drive and use Apple’s Time Machine to cover work in-progress.  All my computers, and even my cable modem and wireless router are on Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) with built in surge suppression.  This way a power problem turns into a non-event and I have time to save my work, shut down and unplug until the power comes back on.  These UPS’s are brand-name items of the type you’d find at Fry’s or Best Buy in the $70-120 range, so typical small-office equipment, not enterprise-grade data-center gear.

One of the “nice” things I own is an Epson 4900 photo printer.  This is a big printer, from their professional line and will print exhibition quality 16×20’s,  17×50 panoramas, etc.  It lived on the surge suppressor/UPS that protects the wireless router and cable modem.  All was well and good until one day, Samuel Farinato, an artist friend, came over to print some work for an upcoming show, and the printer would not print black ink.  No amount of cleaning cycles, printer resets, etc would fix the problem, and we both assumed there was some kind of ink clog, perhaps due to a faulty design.

After calling Epson, and finding out that the printer is no longer under warranty, I was directed to a repair shop outside Sacramento.  It took a week, but after ruling out a clogged print-head, a bad ink pump, etc, it was determined that the logic board was bad.  $700 parts and labor would restore my printer.  Ouch.  The printhead and ink supply system was fine.  The brains were scrambled.

That’s when the penny dropped and I realized what had happened.  We had a large power event several months ago – it fried the UPS/surge suppressor that protects the cable modem, wireless router, kids computer, AND that printer.  Everything else seems Ok, but the printer’s logic board is not.  Somehow something died on it that tells it to output black ink, rendering the whole printer useless.  The UPS protected everything else, but I did not have effective protection for the most expensive item.  Not good.  It mostly did the job, but failed in a minor way that produced a major expense.

Clearly an exact replacement is not going to happen.  I need something that fully works on my critical equipment all the time, every time, so I kicked off the research engine and learned about surge suppressors.  In part II, you can learn why I settled on a $220 surge suppressor for my core music and computing rig, bringing the total for this lesson in power protection to over $900!

The bottom line is that surge suppressors that cost much less than $135 just don’t provide the protection we think we are buying.  Something like the Furman PST-8 is the lowest cost protection that will actually work repeatedly and reliably.  If you depend on your computers or have priceless data on them (like family photos), you may want to re-evaluate how you protect your critical data and systems.  I certainly have.

 

 

How to best see Copenhagen

A brief diversion from the normal weighty topics…  I realized yesterday when leaving the hotel that there was a rack full of identical bicycles stamped with the hotel logo and arrived at the brilliant conclusion that they must be for rent.  The hotel I am at this weekend is at least a mile removed from the main downtown area with restaurants, shopping, and general city-life.  When I was here last year, I did a TON of walking, and made some use of the Metro (subway) system while watching the world speed past on bicycle.

Here in Copenhagen, bicycles are a massive part of everyday life.  Automobiles are VERY expensive here by American standards, with taxes that fall between 100 and 200% of the purchase price!  Gasoline is close to twice as expensive as what we pay in the United States.  So, many folk rely on bicycles to get around town.  They are everywhere, and so is a network of bicycle lanes that makes any US efforts to provide space to cyclists seem very insufficient.

A quick check at the front desk this morning confirmed that the bicycles were indeed for rent, and so I soon had a key to the lock in my pocket, and I was off!  Bicycling was a wonderful improvement!  The city is very “bicycle-sized” and you can ride from one end to the other in under an hour.  The city is essentially flat, and so the riding is not taxing.  Compared to my fancy racing bicycle at home, I was riding a heavy three-speed clunker, but it allowed me to see whole swaths of the city that would have been inconvenient to get to by mass transit or cab.  It also reminded me that I didn’t own a car before getting married.  I was an avid cycle commuter, even during Chicago winters! The weather here is brisk fall weather, but just as I had learned many years ago, a bit of cycling and you are toasty warm and unzipping jackets in weather that would have you bundled up without the exercise.

If you are ever in Copenhagen, skip rental cars, taxis and rent a bike!  It is a great way to get around.

A Prayer for Japan

When horrific events such as recent ones in Japan occur, beauty is one of the only remedies for the human soul.  In this respect, quality matters greatly, and only nature or the finest human art can carry the burden.  When we are weighed down with loss, pain, and sorrow, our souls only respond to material that carries the same gravitas and meaning.  This is not the realm of the 3 minute pop song, but demands the heights of musical expression.  To that end, I submit Bach’s Bmin Mass, considered by some as the finest musical work in all of Western civilization.  Below is the Kyrie Eleison – or translated from the Latin: “Lord Have Mercy” – which is the only prayer that seems to make any sense at all for Japan at this time.  Listening to this moves me deeply at this time.  May God have mercy on Japan and its people.

 

Kevin Spacey on being successful

Absolutely fantastic and to the point:

Welcome to the new site

I had an old site that I threw together with Joomla, but the administration was enough of a pain that I never really did anything with it.  At the end of the day, I don’t think I wanted a CMS (content management system) that could blog, but a blog that had a CMS.  I tried WordPress and found it much more intuitive for my use.  I am sure Joomla has more than enough for what I need, but since this is my website, the decision criteria are simply what I find easiest to use.  Now that I have a platform I find fairly intuitive and that integrates well with social media, I can get on with building the site!

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