Do It Yourself

Build Your Own: Dan Armstrong Blue Clipper

  • By Nicholas Kula @tonereport
  • October 02, 2016
  • 4 Comments

The one-pedal player is a rare sight these days, but back in the fledgling (read: unstandardized) era of pedal manufacturing, several companies were banking on those types of players. Almost every manufacturer had a gimmick, and this gimmick existed for one reason: to make you, the player, pick their pedal among all the rest. Some companies took this to the extreme, companies such as Electro-Harmonix, Jordan and Sunn released “pedals” that plugged directly into the guitar. These boxes were designed with this goal in mind—having more than one of these plugged into a guitar at any given time simply wasn’t feasible, lest your guitar appear is if it was on life support.

One such company making these pedals was headed up by former Ampeg engineer Dan Armstrong, whose eponymous company is now synonymous with clear guitars and basses. His product line also included effects, and each of these plug-in boxes was christened as the symbiote of a loose descriptor and a color. The most famous, by far, is the Orange Squeezer, a compressor unit built within a time period where folks were still figuring out what that meant. Several other boxes were built during this time—some iconic, some not—with the Green Ringer certainly falling into the former category; a knobless octave-up effect based on a modified Ampeg Scrambler and built into the cavity of every guitar Frank Zappa ever played.

Most of the Dan Armstrong effects, however, fall into the latter category, such as the Yellow Humper, Purple Peaker, Red Ranger and the Blue Clipper. Most of these are specialized frequency boosters, so it’s understandable that they fell by the proverbial wayside. The Blue Clipper remains a mystery—where did it go and why does nobody care? To my knowledge, nobody makes a clone, and it sounds amazing. Having played a vintage one myself, I’m shocked. Of course, you could chase down a vintage one, but we’ve moved beyond the idea of hard-wired plug-in effects. And building one is so much more fun!

My version of the circuit adds three knobs to the formerly knobless plug-in box. First and foremost, the volume trimpot has been removed and replaced with an actual volume control. Secondly, I replaced a few of the parts in the circuit design through a little trial and error. With that said, when viewing the pictures of my own build, some of the labeled part values will be different from the ones I will be instructing you to use (there are two resistors and one capacitor). Thirdly, I noticed that the Clipper uses one half of a JRC4558D op-amp. It’s interesting that Mr. Armstrong opted to use just half of a dual op-amp, so I used the other half to add a two-band Baxandall EQ with controls for bass and treble, as well as a toggle switch that bypasses the EQ circuit. Cool, huh? Let’s build one!

But first, the disclaimer: Neither I, nor Tone Report Weekly bears any responsibility for any kind of personal or property damage that may occur as a result of the instructions provided herein. Legal mumbo-jumbo aside, we ask that readers be familiar with a soldering iron and its accompanying safety procedures before trying anything listed here. Furthermore, if you fire the pedal up and it does not work, it will need troubleshooting. Assuming the components are not damaged, the pedal will work. I built this very unit according to these instructions and it fired up, first shot, so I know the instructions are correct.

Let’s jump right into it!

Here are the parts you’ll need to build the board:

Resistors (1/4w metal film):

1x 150 ohm

1x 4.7k

1x 8.2k

3x 10k

1x 12k

1x 100k

1x 150k

1x 200k

1x 240k

Capacitors:

1x 2.2nF film (0.0022uF)

1x 4.7nF film (0.0047uF)

2x 22nF film (0.022uF)

1x 47nF film (0.047uF)

1x 220nF film (0.22uF)

1x 4.7uF electrolytic

2x 10uF electrolytic

2x 47uF electrolytic

Semiconductors:

1x JRC4558D op-amp

2x 1N914 diodes

Potentiometers (16mm Alpha):

1x 50kA (logarithmic)

2x 100kB (linear)

Miscellaneous

1x stripboard (Veroboard), cut to the specs of the diagram

1x 8-pin DIP socket

1x mini two-position DPDT toggle switch

3x dust caps for pots (optional)

Wire

 

Here’s how you do it:

Step 1: Usually, I like to group parts by height from the board. We’ll start with the resistors and diodes. Place them on the board, bend the leads outward, solder them and clip them. We’ll be using these clipped leads three times throughout the build, so save them. NOTE: I am using a 20k instead of 200k and a 150 ohm instead of 2.4k in this diagram. DO NOT do this, use the 200k and 150 ohm resistors from the diagram/parts list instead.

Step 2: Use these clipped leads to form the jumper wires, bend them outward and clip them. Save two more clipped leads, discard the rest.

Step 3: Insert the socket for the op-amp. Using a flat surface such as a coaster or a CD case, place it on the top of the IC socket, then flip the whole thing over, holding the socket in place. Then solder the socket in.

Step 4: Insert capacitors. In this step, I had extremely short electrolytic capacitors so I inserted them first. Feel free to swap steps 4 and 5 to suit your needs. Place them in the board, bend the leads out, solder them, clip them and discard them.

Step 5: Insert the other type of capacitors, bend leads, solder, clip, discard.

Step 6: Insert the JRC4558D chip carefully. This will almost always involve touching the pins and chips are extremely sensitive to ESD, so clutch the enclosure lid in your non-dominant hand as you handle the chip to avoid electro-static damage.

Step 7: Wire up the board, and attach the pots and toggle switch to their respective areas. NOTE: make SURE you use one of your two remaining clipped leads to wire lugs 3 and 6 (the bottom two) together. Failing to do this won’t ruin the pedal, but it will let the pedal work in EQ mode, and kill the sound entirely in tone bypass mode. Attach the dust caps if using them.

That’s that! Now let’s build the enclosure!

You’ll need the following:

1x enclosure (I used 1590B size) drilled for three knobs, one toggle switch, two ¼-inch jacks, one DC power jack, one footswitch and one LED

2x ¼-inch mono jacks

1x 3PDT latching (not momentary) footswitch

1x DC power jack (I use the kind with three lugs)

1x LED

1x LED bezel (same size as LED)

1x 1.5–10k resistor (the higher the value, the darker the LED)

Let’s go!

Step 1: Mount the jacks, DC jack, switch and LED.

Step 2: Bend the LED’s negative (shorter) leg into the designated spot on the switch. If it won’t reach, use a wire. Use the last clipped lead to thread between lugs 4 and 9. Solder lug 4, but DO NOT solder lug 9 just yet. Wrap the resistor around the LED’s positive leg and run the other end through both (identical) lugs on the DC jack. Solder only ONE of the positive lugs, leaving the other one unsoldered for now.

Step 3: This is where we will ground the unit. Run a wire from lugs 2 and 6 to the negative lug on the DC jack, and solder the footswitch lugs. Then wire the negative DC lug to the nearest jack sleeve lug, and solder the DC lug. Run a wire from the sleeve lug to the other sleeve lug and solder the first one. Leave the second jack sleeve lug unsoldered for now.

Step 4: The pots on the board have small metal tabs on them that prevent you from mounting them fully. Snap those off with pliers, and mount the board. Place the toggle switch such that the joined lugs are facing up, which makes “toggle up” activate the EQ, and “toggle down” bypass it. At this time, insert a wire into lug 1 of the Volume pot and thread it too into the unsoldered jack sleeve lug. Don’t solder it just yet.

Step 5: At this point, you can feed the wires to their appropriate places: Start with the 9v wire that feeds into the unsoldered DC jack lug, then solder it. Feed the ground wire into the unsoldered jack sleeve lug (that makes three wires) and solder it. Finally, wire the circuit in and out wires to the switch.

Step 6: Wire the tip lugs of the jacks to their appropriate spots on the switch. One of these spots is the unsoldered lug 9, which has a wire in it already. Finally, solder them up.

Step 7: It’s done! Roll that beautiful Baxandall footage!

So, what does it sound like?

 

 

Well, great—the modded version, that is. One thing to note: You’d be extremely hard-pressed to call this a fuzz. To me, it sounds like an overdrive-fuzz hybrid with an emphasis on the overdrive. Originally when I completed this, it sounded utterly awful—mushy, sputtery, and 100 percent unusable. This version knocks out the flub and tightens up the whole show, while the addition of the EQ brings out the best of the Clipper. Switching the EQ in drops the volume a bit (just like the Big Muff’s Tone Bypass switch) so you’ll have to compensate, but ultimately, it’s a great sounding unit. Don’t believe me? Here’s our own Andy shredding on it. Until next time, up the irons!

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4 Comments

  1. Brian Cullen

    Hi, I absolutely love the magazine and the DIY projects really are the best. I think there is an error in the schematic for this project. I think that the connection that links the Baxandall EQ to the output of the 2nd Opamp (pin 7) should be connected between the 12K resistor and the 22nf cap. It seems to be correct on the vero layout just different on the schematic.

  2. Kyle Benson

    Just completed this build. It’s my very first outside of simple mods. The pedal powers on but I’m not getting any signal. Would it be ok for me to send a couple of pics to help troubelshoot?

  3. Kyle Benson

    Also, you mention swapping out “two resistors and one capacitor”. You spell out the resistors but which cap was it? I notice the 33nf on the layout but that’s not in the parts list.

  4. Padraic Lindsey

    “To my knowledge, nobody makes a clone…” Mr. Kula needs to do a bit more research, though, after hearing about the debacle with the Suzie-Q Harmonic Clipper, I’m not shocked.
    RonSound, who has been around making pedals since 1995, has a Blue Clipper pedal, named the Distort-O-Matic, http://ronsound.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1_7&products_id=6
    I even found it with a cursory Google search. My trust for Tone Report is seriously waning.