Premier Guitar

4 Pedal Mods for the Masses

October 18, 2011
For a certain breed, the very notion of pedal modifications—the process of changing or altering some aspect of an existing effects pedal—conjures dreams of creating the ultimate pedal. Something uniquely capable of providing a portal into uncharted regions of creativity. Something that inspires gig tales in the vein of, “Yeah, man, I was about to launch into my solo, so I stepped on my custom-modded [INSERT PEDAL NAME HERE] and … Oh. My. GOD. The heavens opened … angels wept … and some guy with excellent hair and a beard gave me the Arthur Fonzarelli double thumbs up. My solo changed lives that night. Some say world peace became a tangible possibility. However, it would have been nothing without my custom modded [INSERT PEDAL NAME HERE].” Or something like that.

At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got players who ask, “Why on earth would I want to mess with a perfectly good piece of kit?” Which is a fair point, to be sure. And then there are those in the middle who are curious and who, maybe—just maybe— might like to try a few easy or medium-difficulty mods just for kicks. This article is for those guys.

Though all mods are intended to result in elevated creative output, they fall into three categories: aesthetic, tonal, and structural. Aesthetic mods alter or improve the stompbox’s appearance, tonal mods change the actual sound of the device, and structural mods improve the pedal’s build quality or reliability. If you’re ready to take on one or more of the following mods, please read all the instructions before deciding if you want to try it, and only do so if you’re confident you can complete the procedure. All the mods work perfectly when executed correctly, but neither Premier Guitar nor I can provide support if things don’t work out right. (Sorry!) Another point to keep in mind before proceeding is that your pedal’s warranty will be rendered null and void as soon as any aspect of its circuit is modified. If you’re cool with that, let’s dive in.

Soldering Brush up
Okay, first things first. These mods require you to open up your pedal and desolder and solder things. If you’ve never soldered before, you’ll definitely want to practice a bunch before dripping molten metal alloys into your beloved pedal. You can find a very helpful and thorough soldering tutorial on YouTube. We've embedded below “How and Why to Solder Correctly" and “How to Solder: Removing Solder.”





All right, now that that’s all sorted, on to the fun stuff!



MOD 1: LED REPLACEMENT
Mod Type: Aesthetic
Difficulty Level: Easy
What You Need:
• Soldering iron
• Solder
• LEDs (same size
as existing LEDs)
• Replacement clear
bezels (optional)
• Side cutters
• Solder sucker
• Phillips screwdriver

Our first mod is replacing a stompbox’s LEDs. It’s purely for visual vibe, but it’s a fun way to make your pedal a little more unique—and to get your feet wet with some pedal-modding basics.

A light-emitting diode (LED) is a small diode that emits light when a direct current is passed through it. Like all diodes, LEDs have polarity, like batteries, and therefore need to be hooked up properly on their positive and negative sides in order to work.

When I was looking for a pedal that could use some tarting up, I came across a Danelectro Reel Echo. Perfectly cool pedal, but its red LEDs don’t fill me with the requisite visual joy one would like when engaging the sonic glory of a delay. The Reel Echo is particularly good for a first-time LED-mod experience, because it’s large and the LED board is easy to get to. To remove the old LEDs and install the new ones:

1. Open up the beast. This particular device requires removing four screws and sliding the bottom chassis out.



2. Remove the four screws that secure the switch/LED board, then turn it around to reveal the two red LEDs.



3. Use a ruler or calipers to measure them so you can purchase replacements of the proper size.

4. Once you’ve purchased replacement LEDs and are ready to proceed with installation, take a close look at them. See how the two legs go up into the plastic, and one connects to a larger tag of metal while the other connects to a small tag? The larger tag is always the cathode—or negative—side, while the little tag is the anode—or positive—side.



This unit couldn’t be more perfect for this mod, because the board features the diode schematic symbol, which shows you which way the LEDs should be inserted. The cathode side goes in the hole near the base of the diode schematic symbol’s triangle. The anode goes in the hole near the line at the tip of the triangle.



5. Desolder and remove the two old LEDs.

6. Insert and solder your new LEDs—being super careful to get the polarity correct.


7. Splendid—you’re done! (Note that, because the Reel Echo comes with red bezels—colored lens-type covers over the LEDs—I replaced them with transparent bezels that reveal the yellow and green LEDs. Your pedal may or may not require new bezels in order to show your new LEDs.)



MOD 2: 1/4" INPUT AND OUTPUT JACK REPLACEMENT
Mod Type: Structural
Difficulty Level: Easy
What You Need:
• Soldering iron
• Solder
• 1/4" mono Switchcraft jack
• 1/4" stereo Switchcraft jack
• Wire strippers
• Side cutters
• Nut socket for jack
socket nut

Our guinea pig for mods 2, 3, and 4 is a charming little Vox V847 wah. This will do rather nicely, because its construction allows us to modify various bits without having to mess around much with circuit boards. For our second mod, we’re going to replace the stock 1/4" jacks with top-shelf Switchcraft sockets that will improve reliability. This isn’t to say that the original jacks aren’t any good, it’s just that the Switchcraft sockets are a little more rugged and durable.

Let’s have a look inside. See those two rectangular black boxes just above the main circuit board? Those are the jacks— the input is on the left, and the output is on the right.



Now let’s take a closer look at the wiring of the output socket (which, again, is on the right side when the pedal is turned over).



Notice that the white wire attaches to the “tip” tag of the jack, and the black wires connect to the “sleeve” tag.

To remove the old output jack:
1. Heat up your soldering iron.
2. Desolder all three wires.
3. Unscrew the nut that holds the socket in place.
4. Remove the old jack.

To install the new output jack:
1. Take one mono Switchcraft socket and insert into the empty hole. You may need to use an awl or drill to slightly widen the hole so that the new jack fits.
2. Screw the nut in place. Be sure to include the locking washer between the socket and the side of the wah (as shown below).



3. Mad wicked—well done. Now take the black wires that were attached to the ring tag of the old socket and strip a little more than half an inch of plastic off the ends.
4. Twist the exposed parts of both black wires together (as shown below).



5. Now “tin” the twisted wires (as shown below). For help on this, refer to the previously mentioned YouTube solder primers. (Note: You’ll need to tin every wire you solder in these projects.)



6. Bend the tinned wires into a hooked shape like the one shown below.



7. Thread the hooked black wires through the sleeve tag of the new jack (see below).



8. Solder the two black wires to the sleeve tag.
9. Thread the white wire through the new jack’s tip tag (the only socket tag remaining).
10. Ace. Your new jack should look a lot like this.



Now let’s move on to the input socket, which has an additional wire—the battery-switch wire. If you’ve ever wondered how your pedal’s battery is turned on when you plug in, this little wire is the key. When the 1/4" cable is inserted, it shorts a connection between the sleeve tag and the ring tag of the socket. The sleeve tag is connected to the circuit’s ground terminal. The green wire connects to the negative terminal of your battery. A circuit is made once the negative terminal of the battery is connected with the ground (or negative) terminal of the circuit. Voilà—it’s alive! Very clever, eh?

Have a look at the next photo—it’s the original input jack.



The black wire is the ground wire, which goes to the sleeve tag of the new Switchcraft socket. The green and brown wires carry the audio signal and are connected to the tip tag of the new jack. The purple wire is the battery switch that connects to the ring tag of the socket.

To remove the old input jack and install the new input jack:
1. Remove the wires in the same manner you did with the output jack.
2. Strip and tin each wire.
3. Unscrew and remove the old input socket.
4. Solder the brown and green wires to the tip tag.
5. Locate the sleeve tag—which attaches to the center portion of the socket— and solder the black wire to it.
6. Solder the purple wire to the remaining tag.
7. Brilliant! Your second mod is complete—take a bow! The wiring should look something like the photos below.





MOD 3: ADDING A FASAL INDUCTOR TO A WAH
Mod Type: Tonal
Difficulty Level: Easy
What You Need:
• Soldering iron
• Solder
• Solder sucker
• Fasel inductor

Mod 3 is a wah-specific affair. We’re going to swap out the existing inductor and replace it with a Fasel inductor. Technically, a wah is a bandpass filter—a boosted bump of frequencies, all of which are slid up and down by depressing the expression pedal. The heart of this effect in many wah pedals is the inductor, so replacing it can result in a different sound. “Different” does not necessarily mean “better,” though. If you Google this issue, you’ll see a lot of talk about how great a Fasel inductor sounds, but there are various flavors of Fasels available—including a classic ’60s-style inductor (à la Hendrix) or a ’70s disco-/porn-style affair. Choose wisely, young Jedi.

To install the new inductor:
1. Remove the wah’s main circuit board by unplugging the white plug with five wires attached to it, and then gently pulling the board out of the pedal’s housing. See the black thing with the Vox logo and “L1A” written on it? That’s the inductor.


2. Turn the circuit board over, identify the solder pads that connect to the inductor, and desolder them.



3. Gently bend out your new Fasel inductor’s legs (right photo) so they’ll fit through the inductor socket’s holes.


4. Pop the new inductor into the circuit board and resolder the connections.


5. Place the circuit board back in the pedal housing.
6. Plug the five-wired white plug back into the circuit board. You’re done!



MOD 4: TRUE BYPASS SWITCHING
Mod Type: Tonal
Difficulty Level: Medium
What You Need:
• Soldering iron
• Solder
• Spare wire
• Insulation tape OR
heatshrink tubing
• A 2-pole/double-throw
or 3-pole/double-throw
stomp switch
• Wire strippers
• Side cutters
• Short piece of tinned wire
• Wrench for footswitch nut

Our final mod is adding true-bypass switching to the same Vox wah from mods 2 and 3. Although we’re demonstrating this procedure on a wah, it can be applied to any pedal—as long as you can isolate the input- and output-socket wires, and the circuit input and output wires, and follow the instructions below.

I started writing the pros and cons of this mod but swiftly realized such an essay could fill a page or so. There’s plenty of info on it out there, so if you’re inclined to dive into the minutia, go forth and do your research. My take on it is that true-bypass switching is great—but you always need to make sure you have one pedal in your signal chain with a good, quality buffered bypass if you’re running long lengths of cable between your guitar, pedals, and amp. It all has to do with impedance. The low-impedance output of a good, buffered bypass pedal means you won’t get any high frequency loss using long cables.

So, let’s turn our Vox into a true-bypass device. First, let’s have a look at the existing footswitch—the black rectangular box connected to the brown, white, and blue wires (shown below).


The brown wire comes from the input socket, while the white wire goes to the output socket, and the blue wire comes from the circuit’s output. For those of you who have a Jim Dunlop Cry Baby wah, here’s a pic of its switch.


The color code for a Cry Baby is as follows: The green wire comes from the input socket, while the purple wire goes to the output socket, and the two blue wires connect to the circuit’s output.

Okay, back to our Vox wah.

To remove the old footswitch and install the true-bypass one:
1. Desolder all three wires.


2. Now look at the input socket.



See the two wires attached to the tip tag—the brown and green ones? The green wire is the audio-input lead for the wah circuit. Clip it so that it’s no longer connected to the tip tag.



3. Take a 3"-4" spare piece of wire, strip each end, twist the smaller wire strands at each end together to create a single, tightly formed lead, and tin both ends with solder.


4. Strip the end of the green wire that you clipped in step 2. Then twist the green wire together with the new piece of wire prepared in step 3. To solidify their connection, solder them together.



5. Insulate this cleverly extended bit of wiring by either trimming and applying an appropriate length of heatshrink tubing OR wrapping the exposed portion in insulation tape, as shown below.



6. Now let’s take a look at our new switch. Either a 2-pole/double-throw or 3-pole/double-throw will work. This one is a 3-pole/double-throw, but we’ll only use two of the three poles.

Note the nine tags on the bottom. (The piece of tinned bridging wire is on the table below the switch.)



7. Position your switch so it’s in the same orientation as the photo above right—that is, with three rows of three tags, with the holes facing you.
8. Solder a piece of the tinned wire to the bottom left and bottom middle tags.



9. Fantastic. Now remove the old footswitch and place the new footswitch in the vacated space.
10. Solder the brown wire (which is from the input socket) to the left-hand middle tag.
11. Solder the white wire (from the output socket) to the center tag.
12. Solder the blue wire (from the circuit output) to the middle top tag.
13. Solder the extended wire created in steps 3-5 above (which comes from the green circuit-input wire) to the left-hand top tag.
14. Marvelous—you now have true-bypass switching! Your tags should look like the pic below.





Go Forth and Modify
Although the four projects we’ve covered here are intended to be a simple introduction to the world of pedal modding, we’re confident that after you complete one or more and hear, see, or feel the difference it makes, you’ll be eager to do more. I recommend plugging into the giant super brain of the internet, which has a bounty of great mods available for the brave (of course, as with anything online, some are absolute tosh). As an initial port of call, I’d recommend geofex.com, fuzzcentral.ssguitar.com, and diystompboxes.com. Best of luck!