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.
King Tubby - Real Gone Crazy Dub (Crazy Baldhead Dub)
EQD dishes deep, dimensional reverbs in an elegant package that won’t mire you in menus.
Intuitive, streamlined control layout. Cool pitch-bending capabilities. Unique modulation tones.
Some digital artifacts at long reverb settings. Could use one more-conventional reverb voice.
EarthQuaker Astral Destiny Reverb
Ease of Use:
EarthQuaker Devices has built many brilliant stompboxes in its short history. And they’ve been resolutely unafraid about getting weird. But EQD has also mastered the art of building specialized and esoteric effects into pedals that are elegantly designed, intuitive to use, and don’t bog down the creative process.
The new EQD Astral Destiny fits that category. It specializes in super-spacious, modulated octave reverbs, including the octave-up reverb effect known as “shimmer.” But shimmer is just one dish from the Astral Destiny’s reverb menu. There are deep, resonant octave-down verbs, pitch-bending reverb effects, and expansive reverbs with no octave or pitch shift at all. Each can be mutated with flutter and wobble using the pedal’s dedicated modulation section. You can also save eight presets. But what makes the Astral Destiny’s big sounds extra appealing is the ease with which you can shape them, store them, and recall them.
Destined to Be Distant
Expansive digital reverbs are common in modern music. They add dimension and size to movie soundtracks and pop vocals—often to a comical degree. But they also lend atmosphere and mystery to the work of minimalist ambient artists and transform simple guitar and synth lines into cosmic-scale melodic statements. Because these music styles—and big reverb itself—can magnify tiny harmonic nuances, many pedals are cluttered with menus and multi-function knobs for surgically shaping the hugeness. These control layouts are great for sculpting specific sounds, but they can disrupt creative flow.
The Astral Destiny bucks that trend by utilizing a what-you-see-is-what-you-get control set. Hidden functions are confined to the two footswitches. The rest of the pedal’s power is accessed via the seven knobs and the single expression pedal jack.
Analog-oriented users will love the straight-ahead functionality of these controls. Presets are accessed via an 8-position rotary switch (though they are saved with a simple footswitch sequence). The eight modes, too, are selected via rotary switch. The critical reverb length control is situated at the top center, while the equally vital mix and tone controls are relegated to mini-knob status in the lower row. Bigger knobs for these oft-used functions would make a more satisfactory tactile experience, but I can’t say that the small size adversely affected performance.
The Astral Destiny’s modulation section is controlled via small depth and rate knobs. Unlike the chorus-like modulation found in most big-sounding reverbs, the Astral Destiny’s modulations sound more like a cross between tremolo and pitch modulation. They can be unique and sweetly undulating at modest settings, but also positively demented at higher rate and depth levels.
The stretch footswitch, which shifts the pitch an octave and doubles the size of the reverb, is another source of bizarre and theatrical sound tweaks. Tapping the switch gives you an instantaneous pitch shift. But holding the switch produces a sweeping rise or fall to the octave—the duration of which can be adjusted by holding the stretch switch and adjusting the length. It’s a killer tool for moving between chorus, verse, or bridge sections, or for punctuating a song with a flourish.
Near-Earth Orbits, Outer Reaches
Most of the Astral Destiny’s voices are bold and expansive, even at low settings. And if you’re looking for a pedal to add a touch of vintage-style spring reverb, there are simpler means to that end.
That said, there are many effective, subtle reverb textures to be discovered. The key to using the Astral Destiny in a more conventional, subdued fashion is keeping the length control at its shortest settings. At these levels, and with a just-right dose of treble from the tone control, you can conjure interesting, if idiosyncratic, tank-style reverb sounds. In the sub setting, which adds a low octave to the reverb, shorter reverberations, trebly tones, and aggressive mix settings can even add cool electric sitar overtones.
Taking the time to master and save a few of these more modest settings drastically expands the versatility of the Astral Destiny. But the main attraction for most players will be the pedal’s biggest sounds. The abyss reverb is the most versatile of the bunch by virtue of having no added octave. Consequently, it sounds great in short length/low mix settings, where it generates cool plate- and chamber-style tones, and at long settings where it adds ghostly and pleasingly metallic overtones to the reflections. The sub setting is fantastic for dropped tunings and baritone—giving detuned 6th strings immense resonance that you can offset or compliment with generous doses of treble from the pedal’s tone knob. To my ear, the octave-up reverbs, which include the shimmer, astral, and cosmos settings (the latter adds a regenerating fifth to the reverb tail), sound best at low tone settings, which give long reflections a more organ- or synth-like quality. But even at lower mix, tone, and length settings, they can add a pretty layer of magic dust to crunchy chords without sounding overly choral. Meanwhile, players that pepper their compositions with a sense of musical suspense—or who just love horror soundtracks—will relish the pitch bending capabilities of the ascend and descend modes, which set sustained notes and chords on swooping glide paths to the clouds—or spiral dives to a deep-water trench. Both sound extra amazing with a heap of slow modulation.
If big, octave-colored reverb sounds are bedrock to your tone palette, the simple, smart, and well-conceived Astral Destiny is a superb tool for performance and composition. Its relative simplicity will also find fans in players that like to move fast and intuitively without getting mired in menus. Some sound creators might long for a more chorus-like modulation section. And the presence of a slightly more traditional and subdued reverb voice would go far toward making the Astral Destiny the only reverb pedal you need. But if deep space is the place you prefer to dwell, EQD’s Astral Destiny will get you there in playful, pretty, and practical style.
Watch our First Look demo of the EarthQuaker Devices Astral Destiny:
Streamline your stage or studio rig and increase your tone options at the same time with one of these speaker-simulation pedals.
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