The arguments have gone on between Manufacturers, Musicians, and Electronic Engineers on the touchy subject of effect pedal production. I call a guitar pedal an effect pedal as it creates an effect on the original signal sent from your guitar to your amplifier. Pedal manufacturers have gone one of three ways: The Integrated Circuit, the Transistor/Capacitor Route, and the very puzzling 9-Volt Tube path.
The Integrated Circuit gained it's popularity in the computer world in the 1970's. One chip could do the job of many transistors for less. Also the integrated chip took up less space, less energy, and created less heat than it's predecessors: the Transistor and the Tube. The integrated chip was and still is a usefull invention for computers and computerized items that rely on digital technolgy. As for its use in musical amplications(except the very well made, durable, and sweet sounding ln741 op-amp), YIKES! And here are the reasons why:
1) Integerated chips don't sound great. They sound alright, but as a musician can you be satisfied with just alright? Any signal going through a chip is slightly changed and not for the better. Integrated chips just don't have the frequency response or the sound characteristics that anyone would want in a musical application. The ln741 op-amp is an exception to this rule.
2) Integrated Chips to require less energy to operate. But what happens is there is an energy surge, however how slight? Buzzt! The chip is burned out and must be replaced. How easy is that?
3) To replace an Integrated Chip is not as easy as going down to your local electronics shop and picking up the part. Chips are designed with a specific use in mind and in a limited amount. So if the chip is no longer made, then your pedal, microwave, car operational system, etc. cannot be fixed. Even if the chip is available(the chip is under two years old), you will be waiting at least a month for a new chip to be delivered to you. Also replacement chips are not inexpensive an sometimes can cost more than the replacement cost of the electronics device.
The Transistor/Capacitor Route is the method that Kuciel Electronics uses for all of our floor based pedals. Yes, we have made tube products in the past(This will be covered in a future article). Why? Well, Kuciel Electronics does not care for the sound quality of Integrated Circuits. The frequency response is just not there yet. The other reasons are listed above, so lets talk about the reason why we do use Transistors:
1) Transistor technology has been perfected enough as to allow for a full requency reponse and a high quality of sound very usefull for effects pedals. We like the sound and the low noise(that annoying hiss found in poor quality pedals and effects units) that transistors both modern and vintage offer.
2) Transistors can be purchased very easily and at a low cost to Kuciel Electronics. Yes, we pass the savings onto you. Transistors are available from any electronics distributor or outlet and thus we can try out various transistors in up and coming pedals to get the sound that we are going after and the sound that you want. This means that Kuciel pedals can give you the sound you want and need in the studio and on the live gigs.
3) Transistors are very hardy items. That translates into gig reliability to you. A transistor can take most energy surges without burning out. It just doesn't make sense for Kuciel Electronics to build pedals with inferior parts with reliability issues like the Integrated Circuit.
4) Twenty years down the line when you may need to get your Kuciel pedal fixed, you will still be able to get the parts you need because transistors will always be around. Also your repair cost will be very low. Unfortunately, a twenty year-old integrated chip will no longer be available or be able to be found anywhere, that means you might as well chuck that IC pedal in the garbage. The lack of a specific needed chip could happen as soon as two years after an inegrated chip(IC) pedal has been released.
The puzzling 9-volt Tube path is something that a few boutique manufacturers use in their very expensive pedals. The fact is, this just doesn't make any sense. Sure you can go out and spend big bucks for a tube pedal, but that's sort of like spending $100,000 on a gold golf club you can never really use. Why doesn't Kuciel Electronics go the tube route for an effect pedal:
1) The electronic components needed to build a pedal that even uses one tube would be quite expensive for the musician. If the sonic benefits were there then it would be something we would consider, but the tube doesn't make a difference in the sound in a pedal. The voltage that the tube pedal is getting is too low to yeild any positive effects on the sound.
2) Tube pedals are run between 9 volts and I believe 45 volts. If the voltage were any higher the tube would melt the surrounding components in such an enclosed and small space. A tube needs an minimum voltage of 220 to drive the tube enough to yeild the tube tone we all know and love. Anything below 220 Volts(250V-300V is the ideal) is a waste of the tube, waste of energy, and a waste of money. Tube pedals are just not useful. Just think of the tube as an overpriced light bulb.
3) Reliabilty issues come up with the tube pedal. Tubes are more resistant than transistors are to voltage spikes(energy surges), but this is not the reliabilty issue with the tube pedal. Effects pedals are stomped on many many times during that gig or studio session that is so important to you. What happens with a tube amp if you kick it off the stage to a four foot drop? Minimally, a tube gets rattled and burns out. Or even worse, the tube takes out a bunch of other electronics and you get a hefty repair bill. When you stomp on an effects pedal, you are putting the pedal through the same stresses night after night. A well made transistor pedal can handle the constant jarring and stomping. No big deal. But unfortunately, the tube pedal can't.
We at Kuciel Electronics use the great sounding and very reliable transistor in our effects pedals. This is how we are able to build a great sounding, studio quality, gig tough, pedal at a reasonable price. Jeff Ziebart wouldn't have it any other way, nor would I.
Metal vs. Plastic
by Charles Gray
With modern technology comes some great innovations and some equally terrible trash. The trash I'm talking about is the cheaply made effects pedal in the plastic casing. You know the ones that every new guitarist seems to be drawn to, because they are so inexpensive and they do so much. The real crappy ones seem to always be on sale for $39.95 or $49.95 or even $79.95, which seems like an awesome deal, right? Wrong!
The old saying, "You get what you pay for" is just as true nowadays as it was in years past. If it costs peanuts then it's going to act like a monkey and screw with your sound. I won't get into the pathetic internal electronics of these cheap pedals or how ridden they are with those Internal Chips featured in the previous article on this page. What I will talk about is the housing of each one of these nasty pedals.
The truth is plastic cracks when there are stresses put upon it. There are only so many stomps a plastic effects pedal can take before doing the splits. It is just common sense, but some people are seduced by the low price tag. Then when the pedal breaks, they try and return it and guess what the store says, "Sorry we can't take it back, because the pedal is unsellable and it's not covered under warrantee because it broke by you abusing it." Heck, you didn't abuse the pedal, you just used it as you have used your better pedals with the metal body. Oops! I guess you shouldn't have purchased a garbage pedal.
Here is a great test and a way for you to save some cash. Remember those four liter plastic Ice-Cream pails that you can buy at the local grocery store. Well, pay the four or five dollars it costs to buy one and invite your musician friends over for some ice-cream and whatever else you have around the house. When you and your friends have emptied the pail, wash it out, turn it upside down and cut a small hole in the bottom of the pail. The take it outside and stomp on it ten times. I won't ruin the outcome, but this is how durable and long lasting a plastic effects pedal will be for about two gigs or four studio sessions. I saved you some money, right? Right.
Metal is just much more durable and long lasting than plastic. Besides it protects the internal components within the pedal. All Kuciel Electronics pedals use a very thick and dense metal body. The metal casing is then sprayed with a very durable and chip-resistant(it doen't like integrated chips either) paint. For our pedals that have the brushed aluminum look, these are sprayed with a clear coat to protect the body against scratches.
All Kuciel Electronics pedals have metal bodies. We will never use plastic cases, so you can feel confident about your Kuciel pedal.
The Exceptions to the Golden Rules
by Charles Gray
The are some universal notions about analog gear that in most cases are true. Jeff Ziebart and myself: Charles Gray are both avid believers in true analog technology and discreet internal components. I wanted nothing less than this, but recently Jeff showed me that somtimes there is a better way. While we were developing the Brigitte STD: Super Transmodulated Distortion, I asked Jeff to keep along our philosophy of discrete components, meaning no integrated circuits. Here the letter Jeff sent to me and it should clear a few things up:
IC stands for integrated circuit. The one in the new
pedal is a common ln741 op-amp. It's about the size of
a Chicklet. They used one in the original MXR
distortion plus, the Pro Co Rat and tons of other
classic pedals. It is a combination of about a dozen
individual transistors and a half dozen or so other
components all in one tiny 8 pin case. To build this
with discrete (separate) components would take a case
the size of a shoe box, a printed circuit board, and
more patience than I have. Distortion is a much more
complex and refined circuit than fuzz which is mostly
just one transistor bludgeoning the input of another
until the signal clips. Talk to you later. Jeff"
With a pedal, there is definitely a space constraint that we have to work within. It just wouldn't make sense to make an effects pedal the size of a shoebox, as it would be unusuable, so we opted for the very common and very sweet sounding ln741 op-amp. I've heard the finished product and it is a very nice sounding pedal. This ln741 absolutely adds to the sound and doesn't detract from it. We think you will be very pleased with the Brigitte STD. She was a bit of a bitch to make, but her song is sweet.
Note: The ln741 op-amp is a common, well made, easily attainable, durable, and respected integrated circuit found in many great sounding classic pedals.
This is an update to the article "The Exceptions to the Golden Rules." While I was away on business, Jeff Ziebart emailed me with a revelation. He found a way to get the best of both worlds: Brigitte's versatile sounds with great tone and without the use of an integrated chip. To say Jeff never rests is an understatement. Jeff has been working non-stop trying to find a way to better the Brigitte STD and he has done it. Here is his email to me below:
The new circuit for the Brigitte STD is different
than we discussed and you should change the site to
reflect the new specs. It doesn't use an OP-Amp now.
It uses all discrete components and germanium
transistors like the Nola. Anyway I'd better skidaddle, so take care, Jeff."
We at Kuciel Electronics strive to bring you the best products without breaking the bank. We believe we have accomplished what we planned to do. We think you'll agree.
You Get What You Pay For
by Charles Gray
You've gotta love saying those first few words, "Man, I got such an awesome deal. This pedal was only $79.99 and it even came with a free cable!" Then your friend smiles and says, "Uh dude. I don't mean to burst your bubble, but that pedal is a POS."
We've all done it at one time or another, cheapen out to buy something of dubious quality because it was such a great deal. The great deal turns out to be a waste of money and a big let down. Remember the Pinto? Why go through all of that?
Where do you think these el cheapo pedals are made? America, Canada. Europe, or Japan? Nope. Usually in some sweatshop somewhere in a third world country . Check the bottom of your cheap pedal. Does in say, Made in China? Made in Indonesia? Now, we at Kuciel Electronics don't have anything against products made outside of North America, but the problem is, the poor quality parts that these foriegn pedals use and the high output manufacturing method used. These pedals are literally pumped out without a thought in the world about quality control.
These pedals are also made with a specific very very low price point in mind. The pedal that you see for $79.99 isn't going to have the best parts. More than likely, it will have the poorest quality parts to keep the cost of production low and the profits high. Are they checked by someone at the factory? Doubt it. Most of the employees at these "Pump It Out" factories don't even know what they are making. The factory is contracted out to make these pedals for the various manufacturers whose offices are located on an entirely different continent.
As a test and a joke, we at Kuciel Electronics tried to make a fuzz pedal with the cheapest parts possible, but still to have the pedal work. With parts and the plastic casing and not including labor, it cost about $15. Needless to say, the pedal worked (just barely) and it didn't last to long. It sounded mediocre. When it died out, we just threw it in the garbage.
With these pedals comes in the extra price of advertising. Advertising in any major guitar or bass magazine costs big bucks. Especially for those slick full page ads. Where do you think these companies get the dough to make and place these ads in various magazines? You. Your pocket. These slick ads boost up the price of any pedal, good or bad. Kuciel Electronics does not go this route.
We at Kuciel Electronics make our own pedals. We also make best pedals that can be made, both soundwise, qualitywise, and gigwise, without costing into the thousands of dollars. Why do our pedals cost more than $79.99? We use studio quality parts that are also very very durable. The pedals are also individually hand built, one at a time, and tested thoroughly before Jeff puts his signature of approval on the inside of each pedal. We tap on a very small amount for profit and sell the pedal to you. Kuciel Electronics is much more a labour of love rather than a business. We make pedals because we are musicians and like creating something truly great for other musicians.