I have been playing around with my Korg Volcas for a while now and I think they are really great. I thoroughly enjoy the immediate, “hands-on” music making experience I get from a small table-top setup.
I still use Ableton Live for mixing and effects though, which is less than ideal. What I really want is to bypass the computer all together – no DAW, only “real”, tactile gear. I see a lot of people on YouTube using small 4 way mono mixers, perhaps with a stomp box or two, but I find that approach a bit too simplistic for my needs. With only a few sound sources to work with I think it is really important to have something interesting going on in the stereo field, at least for the type of “down tempo” music that I like to make. I also need a good selection of delay, reverb and chorus type effects to create ambience and interesting textures.
I have been looking at the Eventide and Strymon guitar pedals which sound fantastic and would probably work great for me. Unfortunately they are also pretty expensive, and I have not been able to find a small form factor stereo mixer that suits my needs.
So, I started looking around for schematics online, thinking that I might build this stuff myself. The mixer is pretty straight forward, since what I want is really just 5-6 stereo channels with volume controls, a master volume control and nothing else. There are also a ton of DIY guitar pedal designs out there which could be adapted for my needs – this will require a bit of work though. Guitar pedals tend to work best on stuff that occupy the mid-range frequencies (such as… guitars) and almost all the DIY designs out there are mono only. Being powered by 9V DC most guitar pedals handle -10 dBv signals just fine (such as those from the Volcas) but impedance can be an issue, especially on the outputs.
Some of the more interesting and best sounding guitar pedal designs I have found are based on old school analog “brigade bucket delays” commonly referred to as BBDs. Most of these chips are out of production and horribly expensive but I found one company that still manufacture BBD chips and sell them at reasonable prices. I have done the math and figure I should be able to make at least 3-4 true analog stereo reverb/delay/chorus type effects for the price of a single Eventide/Strymon box. Plus I get to build them myself, which is fun, interesting and infinitely more satisfying than just forking over your hard earned cash to buy the same stuff as everyone else.
I have already done some work on the mixer and a couple of effects and will be posting about this soon, so stay tuned!