Rondo music Agile AL-2000 Goldtop P90 review

By jason, April 9, 2014 on 4:02 pm | In alissa | No Comments

My fetish for cheap guitars continues. This time, I justified it by replacing the one that I gave to my dad. It’s my first guitar with P90 pickups and my third from rondomusic.com. Without further ado…

First the good:
Action pretty spot on right out of the box
Intonation is great as well all the way up the fret board
Fret work is nice and smooth
The bridge looks to be installed backwards from traditional but Kurt from Rondo says this makes it easier to adjust for P90 models
The finish is pretty decent. There are a few really minor flaws around the rear cavities but nothing major
The Grover tuners are great

Now the not so good:
The neck is three piece as I expected. But the two piece heel has a “bonus” third piece that likely won’t make any real difference but does further emphasize the fact that this was a $250 guitar.
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The strings don’t seem to align perfectly with the pickup poles. I’ve noticed this with many guitars and although it doesn’t seem to impact performance, it just bugs me.

All in all, about what I expected. It’s my first guitar with P90s so I don’t have a point of comparison, but so far I like it a lot! Need to play with it some more, but it definitely helps round out my tonal palette.

First DIY guitar kit – BYOguitar custom shop ’72 Fender Telecaster Thinline

By jason, October 10, 2013 on 10:56 am | In music, projects | No Comments

To go along with my DIY guitar amp, I ‘needed’ a DIY guitar. There are a lot of kits out there of varying quality and price. I wanted something I would be able to put together without too much rework but I also didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg.

On the cheap side, there are ebay kits and a number of other vendors where the raw material and craftsmanship isn’t that great. As a result, you get a lot of aggravation and need to fix basic things like hole location and neck fit. On the other end is someone like Precision Guitar that has great reviews. Apparently, they do real high quality work. Of course, good work doesn’t come cheap.

My kit:
I ended up in the middle with a Custom Shop BYOguitar kit. Their custom shop products are made in the USA in their own CNC machines and so they can control quality more closely than the overseas kits they also sell. I knew I wanted a slightly unique ’72 Telecaster Thinline and they had an upgrade to black walnut for a reasonable $30. The rest of the options I kept standard knowing I could upgrade later. Also, I already had a set of grover mini-rotomatic tuners I got for cheap from Rondo that I planned to use. (I can’t stand it when my instruments go out of tune when you look at them funny.)

The ordering process was easy enough and within a few days I had a picture of the actual body they had machined for me. Unfortunately, the bridge for the hole pattern they drilled for became obsolete so they had to make me a new body for a more standard telecaster hard tail bridge. Not a big deal.

New toy arrives:
Fast forward a week and Mr. UPS delivers my new toy!
It was packed well enough and upon initial inspection most everything was perfect.
– The neck fit really well in the pocket. It was tight enough that I had to squeeze it in but not force it. I was most concerned about this but it’s pretty spot on.
– The CNC work for the pickups and most everything was great.
– The quality of the Mighty Mite neck is quite high. The wood, frets, finish, etc. is perfect.
– The black walnut itself is nice. The top is book matched and there are some unique features in the grain. No bad knots or anything.
– The hardware is fine. About what you would expect at the price point.

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Almost perfect:
I had a few complaints though.
Small nick on the back near the neck bolt holes:
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Medium nick on top of the guitar near the bass side of the neck:
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Sloppy finishing work inside the f-hole and control cavity:
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Also, when I was positioning the pick guard and components, I noticed that the pick guard was slightly proud of the body at the top. This was with the pick guard in position in order to center up the pickups and make sure the bridge didn’t interfere. I just took a circular file to it followed by sand paper and massaged the shape a bit so it worked out.

I emailed byoguitar about the above and they quickly offered to make me a new body as the defects above are not up to their standards. They explained that perhaps in their rush to get me a second body after the first one didn’t work out, they didn’t do as thorough a final sanding and inspection. I won’t go into the details, but they made it right with me. +1 for good customer service.

Initial Assembly:
The included instructions are pretty clear and comprehensive. I followed them mostly. As a matter of fact, I got all of the following done in a couple hours that night:
– Drilled all the holes for tuners, pick guard, strap locks, bridge, neck
– Waterslide logo on headstock

I got the logo from old-fret. It was actually pretty easy to put on. I was worried I was going to tear it or get bubbles but it was quite manageable.
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I think it looks quite good, especially when compared with the naked look:
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In any case, I just have to do some finish sanding and hand rub on the satin polyurethane before final assembly. Should be rocking out by the weekend!

10/11 Update
Got it pretty much done the next day!

I finish sanded with a sanding block with 320 grit and the 600 grit.
Then I applied two coats of satin hand rubbed polyurethane.
Then it was just a matter of final assembly and stringing her up!

And this is where I ended up:
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The only remaining issue is with the input jack. The traditional cup and retainer clip are not easy to use. I did manage to cludge my own tool with a long bolt, some nuts, and washers to get the clip in. But the cup doesn’t sit flush and the plug only works if it’s 90% inserted for some reason.

All in all, it went together pretty easily and only required very minor tweaks. The neck fit was my biggest worry but worked out great. The pick guard positioning was a little hairy to make sure the pickups were in the right place (i.e., centered under the strings), and as mentioned above, the pickguard itself needed a little massaging. But all in all, I can’t complain.

Also, now that I got it strung up and mostly setup, it plays nicely and the pickups sounds pretty darn good too! I’ll post some more impressions once I get some more time with it and dial in the setup.

First DIY tube amp project

By jason, August 29, 2013 on 2:10 pm | In projects | No Comments

Although I’ve built a couple tube hybrid headphone amplifiers and a nixie clock, I’ve never built a real tube amp. Something about the point to point wiring and dealing with heaters turned me off of them. Then I started getting into the guitar speaker/amp thing and you almost HAVE to get a tube amp if you’re in this space. So I started looking for kits and didn’t really find a lot that had a good kit or good documentation. However, a coworker mentioned this boutique Dumble amp as a super high end option that might be DIY-able so I started doing some research. As often happens after I do research, I spend money. In this case, I went with a kit from ceriatone.com which is a Malaysian based company that sells clones of all sorts of classic amps. The kit I got was complete and just needed assembly. I also planned on building the cabinet myself. Documentation was semi-complete, but the proprietor of the store, Nik, was super responsive and bridged the gap where I had questions. I actually did end up finding a mistake in the layout so I feel inordinately proud of my contribution towards the documentation for folks who will build the kit after me.

In any case, here are a few pics of the amp in progress. I’ll capture further notes once it’s done. At the moment, I still have to fix something in the overdrive circuit that isn’t working quite right.

Well packaged (but not well labeled) parts:
Dumble guitar amp

Pots, switches, jacks installed:
Dumble

Rear view:
Dumble

PCB populated:
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My poor P2P wiring skills on display:
Dumble ceriatone lunchbox

With tubes installed:
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EDIT: Build tips (disclaimer: proceed at your own risk. no accuracy or warranty or other claims are made here implicitly or otherwise. blah blah blah, don’t be stupid with high voltages!)
Since the documentation on this is less than ideal for a novice as myself, I thought I could post some tips here for those who might benefit from my mistakes/lessons learned.

Process steps:
1. Arrange all the parts per the numbered baggies and check to see you have everything you need as specified in the BOM. Some of the resistors and other parts aren’t labeled, but through process of elimination you can at least figure out if you have a gross number of missing items. For example, I was short one knob (which Nik sent to me). Once you’re in front of a multi-meter, I would label all the resistors to make sure you have everything and to make subsequent installation easier. Also, in my kit, the fuses were inside the fuse holders themselves so make sure you have the right one with the right fuse.

2. Install all the pots/jacks/switches. The is pretty straight forward. Just make sure you have the right pots in the right positions since they are different. Keep in mind the bias pot goes through the top of the chassis, not the front/rear.

3. Install the tube sockets. This is pretty self explanatory. While you install them, take note of the subtle numbering to make sure you have them oriented correctly.

4. Populate the PCB. This is also fairly straight forward. One thing to note is that there are some resistor values that are the same with the exception of their wattage. Make sure to use the right ones in the right places. Process of elimination here helps. Also, study the photos on the website. That helps too for the capacitors and other wiring routing as well. Pay attention to capacitor polarity as well as the relay orientation.

5. Install all the other point to point items like the terminal strips and the items that are connected to the tube sockets.

6. Start planning on where all the transformer wiring needs to go. This part was confusing to me at first but if you study the layout diagram enough, it will become clear. Here are a few aha moments for me, personally.
– The output transformer primaries (blue and brown) go to what’s labeled OT AN on the V4/V5 tube sockets (the two larger ones on the left of the layout drawing.) Also, I ended up swapping them compared to what’s labeled in the layout. For some reason, I was getting bad hum with them the other way around so on Nik’s suggestion, I swapped them. Apparently, reversing the phase makes a difference? Also, the center tap wire of the primary (red) goes to the HT fuse holder.
– The output transformer secondary black wire goes to the ground of the output jacks. This was not labeled in the layout but I think Nik has since fixed it (see above on my inordinate pride in finding this omission.)
– The output impedance selector switch connections are not obvious. Use a multimeter to figure out what connections are made with the switch in the various positions and wire the correct colored wire to the corresponding tab. Of course, the inboard tab goes to the output jacks.
– The other transformer wiring is more obvious once you eliminate all the wires/connections that belong to the OT… you just might need to stare at the layout for a while. Keep in mind you won’t need all the primaries that go to the power switch. Here in the US, I used the 120V blue wire and just wrapped and insulated the ends of the other (red and orange) wires.
– The brown heater wires just go to F1 and F2. Doesn’t matter which brown wire you use… just keep the F1 and F2 consistent down the chain of tube sockets.

7. The footswitch layout drawing is looking from the inside of the amp. This seems obvious to me now but it wasn’t when I was first studying the layout. Note the ground connection for the middle pin. Also, be careful with how much heat you apply here when you solder. I feel like I almost melted the plastic the pins are seated in.

8. Solder in all the pieces that go on the volume pot and rock/jazz and mid boost switches. Be careful here with leads and make sure you don’t have any shorts. It’s quite cramped in there but I was able to do all the soldering with those items installed in place.

9. For me, I soldered all the wires starting from the pots/switches/etc and made them long enough to get to the board plus some in order to have slack since I wanted the wires to connect from the bottom. In retrospect, I would have started the wires from the board and then installed the board before cutting the wires to length and soldering to the pots/switches/etc. I think this would have made for shorter wire lengths. TIP: I didn’t have any problems with my solder connections, but Nik does recommend that you wrap the leads/wires around what you’re soldering them too in order to establish a mechanical connection prior to soldering. I would likely follow that reco if I were to do this again. TIP: Nik includes shielded wire which is indicated in the layout by a circle around a wire intersection. What that means is that you’re supposed to strip the wire first to the shielding layer and make a connection for that to go to ground. Then you strip the remaining signal wire insulation and connect that to where the wire goes. I was very confused by this at first and couldn’t understand why you would want all those wires connected to ground. The photos on the site show the ends shrink wrapped so you can’t see how it’s supposed to be. But if you use some wire cutters and just strip away the first layer to get to the shielding, you’ll see the signal wire insulation directly under. I just have never seen such thin shielded wire before so I think that’s what was throwing me off.

10. Some of the PCB standoffs and I think one terminal strip screw are trapped under the transformers. Just loosen the transformers and get the screws in the holes before retightening the transformer down. It won’t sit quite flush, but it’s fine.

11. There is one PCB pad that is not used. On the layout, it’s the fourth from the bottom right corner.

12. I tried to generally match the wiring colors that are in the layout just to help keep track of what goes where. Not necessary per se, but at least try not to use ALL the same color all the time.

13. Once everything is soldered together and you’ve double checked the layout to make sure nothing is missing and everything is where it’s supposed to be, go ahead and install the tubes. They fit quite tightly and I was a little afraid of how much force I needed to use to get them to seat, but I didn’t break any. Just be sure to use a paper towel when handling so you don’t transfer oils to the glass. I believe that makes the tubes last longer as the oil tends to create temperature gradients that could weaken the glass over time.

14. Now you’re done and just need to set bias! You measure this at the 1R resistor that goes to ground from the V4 or V5 tube sockets. Remember, there’s a lot of voltage there so be careful what you touch! It didn’t drift at all for me and it biased up right away.

Trouble shooting:
1. I had a problem with the overdrive channel (red light footswitch button) where it would mute once pushed. I swapped the relays to see if that was the problem. No change. Then, on Nik’s suggestion, I checked for one of the shielded wires in the OD circuit potentially being shorted to ground. Turned out one of the ones going to the OD trim pot was indeed shorted to ground. It looked fine, but my guess is that I may have cut too deep when stripping the insulation away from the shielding. In any case, a quick fix. If you’re checking continuity on the pots from the lugs to ground, just make sure that the pots are close to the middle position.

2. As mentioned above, I had a hum problem that was fixed by swapping the primaries on the OT.

Operational tips:
1. I’ve read that you’re not supposed to power up without a load attached. Not knowing this at first, I did my bias setting and some trouble shooting without a load. Didn’t seem to have any issues, but better safe than sorry.

2. You’re supposed to power on the main switch for at least a minute or so before flipping the standby switch. Apparently, heating up the tubes for a little while first helps them last longer.

I think that covers it for the moment. If anyone has additional tips they’d like to share, let me know in the comments.

EDIT: cabinet work
I took a good part of the labor day weekend to build an amp and matching speaker cabinet.

First stop: Home depot for some African Mahogany and some maple for a bit of a mini stack.

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About 12 feet lengths of each:

Biscuited together:

Still getting better at dovetail joints. These are slightly proud of the surface.

But coming together with the kids’ help cleaning up sawdust:

Parts installed and one coat of hand rubbed poly:

In the room next to the 2×12 cabinet on end:
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Staycation

By jason, August 19, 2013 on 12:51 am | In family, friends, san francisco, travel | No Comments

We had a staycation with some family friends in and around the bay area last week. Here are some highlights.

7 kids between the ages of 1 and 7 take up a lot of room.
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What’s a SF staycation without icecream at Ghiradelli Square?
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And sourdough breadbowls.
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And a walk to the pier:
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We took Muni as well:
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Had a little time riding bikes:
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Before heading to the Exploratorium:
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A trip to Fort Baker and Fort Point was great fun especially for the boys:
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We also went to Muir Woods for the first time in quite a while.
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Good times had by all.
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Xavier XV-900 from guitarfetish.com initial review

By jason, June 14, 2013 on 11:24 pm | In alissa | 3 Comments

I’ve built my guitar collection up a bit recently. The latest is a semi-hollow body guitar similar to a Gibson ES-335. This one is from guitarfetish.com model XV-900 in the natural finish. I picked it up with a tweed case and got some of the nickel strings knowing that the strings that come with it will likely be pretty bad.

Looked pretty good upon arrival. The case had a couple dirty marks and the guitar was rather dusty. But I got new strings installed and did some setup in short order. It didn’t need too much although it was buzzing quite a bit out of the box. Turns out the truss rod was way too tight. I loosened it up so the neck was basically flat. Also, I lowered the action and raised the pickups. Intonation was pretty much spot on so no adjustment there needed. I think the nut could be cut a little lower so the action can be even lower still but I don’t have any experience doing that and it’s not that bad anyway so I think I’ll leave it as is. One thing that I did find was that the hole in the tailpiece for the G-string was just a little too small for the new string’s eyelet to fit through. A little annoying but I got it in there with some persuasion. Otherwise, the frets seem to be leveled and dressed pretty well. No obvious issues there at first glance.

As for tone, this thing really has a huge range. Switching from bridge to neck pickup and adjusting the volume and tone knobs really offers a ton of variation. More so than my les paul and my strat I think. Part of the reason may be the pickups themselves. These are guitar fetish’s fat pack alnico humbuckers which are often used as upgrades from stock pups. I find them to really swing from one spectrum to the other (clean to crunchy) really dramatically with tone and volume adjustments. They go from really muddy to really bright and anywhere in between. I do find that the brighter side is quite good and allows the primary frequencies to shine through distortion and fuzz better than my other guitars.

Anyway, here are a few pictures for you:




Otherwise, I’ve noticed a few other minor issues. The pickguard has a really minor scratch down the middle. The tailpiece has a few scratches on it. The wiring inside held by double stick is loose. The knobs kind squeak (I think there might be styrofoam stuck in between the knob and the body), and the fretboard is a bit dry. All barely noticeable and otherwise fixable for the most part. One thing that I was a bit disappointed by was the three piece neck. Not sure it really makes any practical difference. But nevertheless, would have been nice to have a one piece. The finish otherwise is quite nice. I really dig the natural finish.

Beard-Na Wedding

By jason, May 27, 2013 on 12:21 pm | In family, travel | No Comments

We had planned a trip to cousin Leslie’s wedding to Tom. Originally, the whole family was supposed to go but Alissa got pneumonia the week before so we decided I should make the trip solo.

This was also a good excuse for a bit of a family reunion so we rented a log cabin in rural Indiana about 40 minutes from the Beard farm. The cabin itself was quite nice. Pool table, hot tub, fire pit, wrap around deck, etc. And a 1/2 mile private drive way from the highway next to a quaint trail along an old railway that was great for running.

Here are some shots of the outside:
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I meant to take some photos along the path I ran along but forgot. It ended in a tiny little town called Metamora that was full of photo ops.

Here are some highlights from the rehearsal and wedding along with the full set here.

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As I was there primarily for video, I didn’t take as much photos as I normally would. I still need to finish the full video edit, but here’s a trailer that gives you a little taste.

2013 05 25 Beard wedding trailer from Jason Wang on Vimeo.

New guitar stuff –> DIY 2×12 cabinet

By jason, May 13, 2013 on 1:02 am | In music, projects | No Comments

I was in a band in high school. Sort of. We played a set at prom… or was it homecoming? In any case, I was able to fake rhythm guitar by leveraging my violin skills. And I had this killer fluorescent yellow guitar. Looked exactly like this:

$T2eC16NHJGIE9nnWpUFtBRUNuNlYVw~~48_20

It was pretty bad actually. Didn’t hold tune well, had some buzzing, and the action was way too high. But there was no internet back then and I didn’t know what I was missing. Fast forward more years than I would care to admit and the guitar and my Peavey amp were just collecting dust so they were sold.

Fast forward to a month ago and I picked up this Epiphone Les Paul Traditional Pro guitar on CL along with a Mustang I practice amp:

LesPaulTradPro_WR_Splash

Been learning a ton on the interwebs although I have a looong way to go.

Fast forward a few weeks (last fast forward, I promise) and as I’m often inclined to do, I found a way to turn another hobby into a DIY endeavor. So I built my own amp cabinet.

Step 1 – Decide what the guts were going to be:

Got these 12″ drivers from parts-express on factory buyout for cheap:
Amp

Step 2 – Decide on cabinet design:
Got some solid red oak and red oak plywood from Home Depot:
2x12 guitar cabinet

Decided to try dovetail joints for the first time:
Dovetail

And grooves for the front and rear panels hidden by the dovetail fingers:
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Step 3: Assembly
The joints were super tight so glue up went well for this first one:
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The subsequent simultaneous glue up with the front/rear/top was not so easy. Tight joints are great, but so many pieces going together all at once made things a bit difficult. Success nevertheless:
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Here’s the front with the drivers installed:
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And the rear with just the first driver installed:
2x12

And the whole shebang finished with some hand rubbed polyurethane with the new Mustang V v.2 amp to drive it:
2x12

Sounds great! It has so much volume potential. I’ll have to improve my skills so I can get a gig just to have an excuse to bring the rig with me to really test it’s potential. In the meantime, the amp does a nice job of getting the sound I want even at modest volumes.

Last thing to do is to install the grill cloth frame.

EDIT: 5/14/13
Grill cloth done:
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Very happy with it. I ended up double layering and just gluing the cloth to inside edges of a wooden 1/2″x1″ frame. I used a line of binder clips to hold it in place while it dried (one side at a time). Worked brilliantly despite putting quite a bit of tension on the grill cloth. And I was able to size everything correctly to simply press fit into the cabinet frame. This may be the first time where measure twice cut once actually worked for me! There is some give in the cloth that gave me a little wiggle room though so that helped.

I’m still on the lookout for a logo of some kind. I may buy one of those woodburning brands to generically label all my projects since they tend to all have wood in them somewhere. But a chrome logo of some sort on the grill cloth seems to be a good fit for a project like this. Ebay has some letters that I sort of like but some don’t have the (+) sign for 1+2. And I don’t think I want oneplustwo since most of the letters are about an inch tall and wide. A bit overwhelming for the simplicity of the overall project. I’ll keep looking though.

EDIT: 6/3/13
I had a logo 3D printed using my user name from some of the forums I frequent. I just used Word to generate the text, took a screen shot, and had Shapeways.com make a 3D model of it and print it. Was a reasonable $14 or so including shipping. It’s subtle and adds a bit of cred I think. In retrospect, I would have had it made a little thinner as it protrudes a bit. But it’s not bad.

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Soda Springs Ski Trip

By jason, April 6, 2013 on 12:29 am | In alissa, amanda, ashley, culture, family, friends, travel | No Comments

We’ve been meaning to introduce the kids to skiing and finally managed a trip over the break with some family friends. Before heading to the snow, we had to get some gloves for Alissa. So we made an afternoon of it walking around Crissy Field before getting said gloves at Sports Basement:

Alcatraz bokeh’d out in the background:
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From the wall overlooking the bluff:
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We made a “detour” on the way out by way of Reno to get some special monster donuts. Literally, the size of your head:
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Mmm… donuts:
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On day 1, the weather wasn’t cooperating so we ended up making the most of the snow in the front yard of the house:
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I relived some childhood memories making a tunnel:
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There was plenty of snowball and snowman building:
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And even some sledding:
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Thankfully, the second day had nice weather so we made our way to Soda Springs and took advantage of their Planet Kids section. Not a bad deal… $25 for rentals (ski and/or snowboard), “lift” ticket, tube merry-go-round rides, and a fun little “ski shuttle” to get to the area from the main lodge.

The sled:
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Ready to hit the slopes:
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Stylin':
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Nervous:IMG_7776

Where’s my thumb?:
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At the summit:
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“French Fries” (it was too slushy to really need “pizza”):
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Amanda has it figured out:
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Alissa headed up the conveyor belt for another run:
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Ashley did great keeping her hands on her knees:
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Mush!
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Twins in matching outfits and tubes:
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Ashley on the tube-go-round:
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All in all a very successful first foray into skiing! Next year we’ll have to do more. Hopefully they’ll be able to give me a run for my money in a few years.

The rest of the pics here.

Long Holiday Adventures

By jason, January 22, 2013 on 2:07 am | In culture, san francisco | No Comments

We had a few adventures this long MLK weekend.

The playground at GGP.

Ashley being Ashley:
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Amanda the gymnast:
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Some flower with my 100mm macro lens. Great lens that I can’t use well.
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Alissa Diva:
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With mommy:
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This is Alissa’s trying to keep my eyes big with a fake smile look.
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Sisters:
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Near the sutro baths:
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Enjoying the view:
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Ashley reading her book while daddy cleans up the downstairs room:
Natural:
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Posed:
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Why we don’t do closeups:
Notice the hole from the recently vacated second tooth:
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Boogers:
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Milk remnants:
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Logs behind California Academy of Sciences:
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In front:
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With daddy:
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With mommy:
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Inside:
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Nelson Pass Aleph X clone build log

By jason, January 21, 2013 on 11:12 pm | In projects | No Comments

This is the biggest amp build so far and I doubt I will ever build anything bigger. Again, I went with a clone from the father-figure of DIY amps, Nelson Pass. Again, I got lots of help from the diyaudio.com community. And also got a ton of help from this particular website.

I won’t bore you with the details. If you’re interested in the nitty gritty, read through the diyaudio thread. Instead, here are a few photos from the build.

That is a lot of heat sinks and a lot of power transformer. Being class A comes at a cost.
Antek

These are the power supply boards half populated with big capacitors. Almost 300,000uF of capacitance could hurt you. A lot.
Aleph X

These are the boards for one channel. The main board and the daughter boards that parallel the MOSFETs to handle the extra power.
Aleph x

Here’s the basic layout on the heat sinks:
Aleph
Bottom view showing the 1/4″ aluminum tie pieces:
Aleph

I mounted the PSU board on one of the heat sinks:
Aleph X

Here they are completed and in testing position:
Aleph x

Like I said, they’re big. I think 20″ deep, 14″ wide, and probably about 50 lbs each. I’ll put them on a scale to find out for sure, but they’re really heavy.

Still breaking in, but so far, they sound really good. And act as space heaters as well.

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