How a walkie-talkie, a tiny city of circuits, and Shrinky Dinks became a mind-blowing dub box.
My phone has become a repository of gut shots and glamour shots of my pedal builds. Once a year or so, when it gets full, I dump the photos onto a hard drive for safe keeping. Every time I do, it turns into an all-day trip down memory lane. I go back—all the way back—to when I first started building pedals, and I look at my progression from then until now. I find it so rewarding to have a visual journal of all the work, love, and intention that I put into them. It's a representation of my learning journey and a reminder of how many friends I have made along the way.
Recently, as I was scrolling through, I found photos of what remains my favorite build to this day. I want to share my experience building it. As some of you know, I love to make guitar pedals out of broken, old electronic equipment. It's honestly my passion. In particular, I enjoy gutting busted walkie-talkies and building fun things inside. The old steel cases just look so cool! This particular Realistic Rover-1500 walkie-talkie became a dub-siren-turned-guitar-pedal. I named it the Loe-Fi Dub Siren. You can hear it on Instagram.
A dub siren is a type of synthesizer used predominantly in dub reggae. It is usually a relatively simple oscillator, housed in a box, often allowing for a variety of waveforms to be altered by turning potentiometers controlling pitch, rate, and other parameters. Dub sirens are frequently activated by a button and sometimes have the functionality to toggle between continuous synthesis with one button press or sound-emission-only when the button is held.
I just love it when there is an uninterrupted, smooth flow to a rather complicated build.
I built this oscillator circuit and added a small delay circuit to it as well. It sounded really cool and was fun to jam on during testing. I decided to take it one step further and add a sweep filter so that it could sound just like the King Tubby records I took my inspiration from. After I had it all finished, I had a thought: What if I add an input jack? Then, I could play guitar, or whatever, through it and play along with the oscillator. It took some figuring out, but eventually I got it all working. It was a pretty complicated build in the end.
I took my string-of-many-circuits that was ready to go and began the process of figuring out where everything was going to fit inside the walkie-talkie enclosure. This is probably the biggest challenge of all when building inside salvaged enclosures. They are often molded and, therefore, have a lot of odd protrusions to work around when considering where all of the circuit boards can be mounted. I also needed to figure out where the controls would go.
Next, came the drilling. Let me tell you, drilling steel is no fun! Not for me, anyway. Why did I have to put so many controls on this thing? After about an hour of careful drilling, the walkie-talkie was ready for population. I carefully followed my notes and built a little city inside. Then, I moved onto wiring. Many folks who build electronics loathe the wiring process, but I love it and enjoy the challenge of doing it neatly. Nothing gets me as excited as a gut shot with really tidy wiring.
This cool, jungle-themed badge on the side of Aisha Loe's Loe-Fi Dub Siren was painstakingly made from Shrinky Dinks. It took about 20 tries to get right.
After all the hardware and circuit boards were mounted, I tested the finished work. I made a few little last minute tweaks and deemed it ready for knobs. I ridiculously obsess over knob selection. I think it's a pretty common thing among pedal builders, actually. The knobs tie the whole thing together visually. A lot of thought goes into not only aesthetics, but also how they feel. They're going to get touched a lot, so they should feel nice!
As a finishing touch, I made a name badge for the finished pedal … out of Shrinky Dinks! (If you don't know that these are, google them. They're cool!) Yes, you read that correctly. I don't know why that idea popped into my head, but it did. So, I went with it. I learned that it takes about 20 tries to get it right! I vowed to never do that again. It does look pretty sweet, though.
I learned so much in the process of putting this pedal together. Sometimes my experiments lead me down paths that dead end. I learn a lot, whether it becomes a pedal at the end of my journey or not. This one gave me a win at every turn. Every idea and modification I had for it worked out so well. I just love it when there is an uninterrupted, smooth flow to a rather complicated build. The experience of building this dub siren is a cherished memory, and the pedal now belongs to one of my favorite musicians of all time. Dreams do come true! This build will always remind me of that.