All posts in Gear

How to double your 3D printing speed.


I have been prototyping a new product over the last few weeks. A good 3D printer is essential to the process so shopping I went. A local dealer kindly provided a couple of demo units (a LulzBot and a Makerbot) for me to test out for a week. I found no joy with either of these $3,000 units. After days of extended effort and software tweaking I failed to get quality prints or even reliable performance from either unit.

Then I ran across an ad for the Hatchbox Alpha which promised faster print speeds, a larger build volume, a heated build plate and a far lower price than the before mentioned products; $900 from Amazon Prime. Could such a low-cost unit deliver on these high promises? Thanks to free shipping and two-day delivery, I would soon find out.

The Alpha arrived fully assembled and ready to run. We were set up and printing within a half-hour of opening the box. The results were astounding. Beautiful detailed prints emerged from the spider-like device with a modicum of effort.

We had the Alpha running day and night for several days without a hitch, clog or spoiled print. Around day six I was bragging to someone about its reliability and, of course, that’s when it clogged up for the first time. No big deal. It had to happen eventually. It took about 15 minutes of unscrewing this and paper-clipping that to clear the head and we were back up and running for several more days.

An associate of mine owns a $40,000+ refrigerator-sized 3D printer for his business. It makes gorgeous prints, is super easy to use and almost never fails. How does the Hatchbox Alpha compare? The Alpha is a bit trickier to use until you get the hang of a few things. It clogs on occasion like most lower-cost units and requires a bit more upkeep. But it runs just as fast and the print quality is quite comparable to the $40,000 unit.

So how did I double my print speed? Easy. The Hatchbox Alpha is so affordable I bought a second one. Both are running now as shown in the Nest-cam image below.


Humbucker to Single Coil in 2 Minutes

I had no idea what I was doing when I bought my first guitar. I didn’t know a Humbucker from a hole in the ground. My main goal was to buy the coolest looking guitar on the H&H Music Store wall.

Decades have since passed and, while I may know a bit more than that first day, I am still attracted to unique guitar shapes and styles more than I am to sound. If a striking design sounds good too, well that’s just a bonus. (My favorite Parker Fly happens to deliver the best of both worlds.)

CLGs (coolest looking guitars) always seem to have Humbucker pickups. I have envied the crisp sound of Strats and the twang of Teles for a while now. Recently, I typed “make a humbucker sound like a single coil” into a Google search, more as a joke to myself, never expecting any real solution. I was surprised to find lots of info on the subject. Several mods involved Coil Splitting, an aftermarket fix that requires major surgery to the internal wiring.

But there was one link to a provocatively titled forum post – Make ANY humbucker sound like a single coil in 2 minutes. A laughingly bold claim? Click-bait if there ever was any, right?

I took the bait. It lead to a video by Scott Grove with the afore-mentioned title. Scott is one of my online guitar heroes and has hours and hours of YouTube videos full of great playing, advice and instruction. To make a long story short, the Humbucker to Single Coil conversion involves grabbing a screwdriver and removing the post screws from the back side of each Humbucker. Scott’s video explains the technique in detail, and this forum thread debates the pros, cons and alternatives.

IMG_2972A few minutes (with an allen wrench in my case) was all it took to transform the magnetic output of my Parker to a brighter, downright twangy sound.

Every guitar is different and your mileage my vary, but try out this quick mod and see what you think. It can easily, and quickly, be reversed by simply replacing the screws.

Fix a Guitar with a Toothpick


There is a lot riding on that little strap post at the end of your guitar. In my case it serves double-duty by holding the strap and a TriplePlay MIDI pickup bracket. Over-tightening this screw can lead to trouble. Once the wood inside the guitar is stripped, the screw will just spin in place and never truly tighten – unless you know the toothpick trick.

Jamie, a repair tech at Guitar Center, showed me this quick fix for strap post security. He removed the screw and dropped a short piece of toothpick into the hole. This gives the screw new wood into which it can bite. The previously free-rotating screw now stays in place firmly with a rock solid hold on the TriplePlay bracket.

AdrenaLinn Sync to sync no more.


After five years on the market, Roger Linn has discontinued sales and development of his awesome modulation effects plugin AdrenaLinn Sync. It’s unique filter effects will mostly live on in the hardware version but, sadly, the convenience and flexibility of the software version will cease to be installable “on new computers after May 10, 2016”.

In an email sent to Sync owners in April, Linn laid out two reasons for the software’s demise. Firstly the five-year old 32-bit code can no longer be installed in Mac OS X Yosemite. From Roger’s email:

I don’t know how to write plug-ins, so AdrenaLinn Sync was developed in conjunction with a small software developer called Way Out Ware (Jim Heintz). I did the design, graphics, presets and testing and Jim did all the underlying code. While it was a great plug-in at its release in 2010, its 32-bit format has gotten someone old and our installer can’t be installed into Mac OS X Yosemite. I’ve been waiting for three years for Jim to deliver a 64-bit Yosemite-compatible update–much less a 64-bit VST or AAX version–but he seems unable to finish it. And he prefers not give me access to the source code, so trying to find someone else willing to finish it isn’t an option.

In addition to the decaying code base, the online service Sync uses for copy protection has raised their annual licensing fee to about double of Linn’s “current annual income from AdrenaLinn Sync.”

tantra-bigI’ve been a fan of Linn’s “beat-synced effects” since its first incarnation in the M-Audio Black Box from 2006. I will miss the freaky noises and elegant interface of AdrenaLinn Sync. It is sad to see this creative tool vanish due to the political and financial realities of the software business.

My collection of metal-clad guitar pedals will unchangingly flange and distort well into a postapocalyptic future. Software-based guitar system, by their very nature, are built atop the shifting sands of chipset revisions, OS upgrades and VSTs of the month. Some might recommend “freezing the system” and never upgrading the OS as a solution. It’s an utterly practical solution, but completely defeats the advantage of software-based instruments. How many keyboard players do you know who are still running Ataris or C64s?

Looking forward, LTantra, a VST plugin by Dmitry Sches may be a worthy replacement. I will be testing it out over the next few weeks.

Farewell AdrenaLinn Sync. May you forever beat-sync effects in software heaven.

Felix – Yet Another Mobile Guitar Rig


After more than a year of watching dust gather on a pile of depreciating music gear, I now return to my mobile guitar rig project. Having vacillated between a computer DAW approach and a tablet approach for a few weeks, it is time to move forward with a hybrid laptop/iPad system.

302900_231781686889200_1784968778_nThe iPad-only based system would have been a cool rig, but it presented challenges and roadblocks at almost every turn. Abandoning that limitation opened more options than one can count. While this quickly led to choice paralysis, luckily a combination of preorder impulse purchases and prematurely announced gear finally shipping coalesced into a perfect storm of incentive to move forward.  The latest version of the THR Guitar Rig is now, the newly code-named, Felix.

IMG_2760Felix is a magic bag of techno-toys that “must never be used for anything bad.” This is debatable by those who hear me play. Nevertheless, this latest guitar-rig-in-a-bag extends the original vision and may end up doing dual duty. Thanks to the innovative features of the iConnect AUDIO 4+ interface, this design will be a full featured noise maker with and/or without a DAW. More to come on the system as it develops.

The Houston Astrodome at 50


To mark the Houston Astrodome’s 50th birthday, the City of Houston opened the building to those interested in making the trek to South Houston to visit the relic. Over 20,000 people took them up on the offer. For myself, it was a semi-surreal experience standing in the expansive space of the worlds first indoor stadium in the 21st century.

Like most locals, I haven’t been in the building for a decade or more. I can fondly recall the echoes (literally) of concerts past including Pink Floyd and Micheal Jackson and family. My earliest memories of the 8th wonder are a rodeo (a big deal in Houston) my dad too me to in the mid 70’s with a feature appearance by Sonny and Cher. I remember Cher changed costumes a dozen or more times in a small tent right on the stage.

These memories are long before the building closed and became a storage facility for the flanking convention center and stadium.

I will be heading back to the formerly-named “Astordomain” compound next week to install interactive exhibits at the annual Offshore Technology Conference (OTC 2015) at Reliant Center. Multimedia is my day job. Check back next week for more info on those.

Pencil Drawing Digital Workflow


My Papermate Sharpwriter and Moleskine Notebook are irreplaceable, go-to tools. I’ve tried alternatives in tablets, apps, and various Wacom products many times, but I keep coming back to this graphite-on-paper solution. Here is my typical sketching workflow. It uses a couple of quick PhotoShop tricks that make simple sketches look like they require actual skill to create.

Sketch-Book-at-Jupiter-big1. Draw something.
A line sketch with no shading works well with this technique. I like to keep this kind of explanatory drawing simple and quick. I usually do a rough line sketch, erase most of it, then use what’s left to trace over the final darker lines. We will create the cool shading in step 6, but feel free to experiment with your own levels of detail and amount of shading.

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The iPad-charging Powered USB Hub Alesis IO Hack


After reviewing dozens of available USB devices, guitar inputs, and obscure gadgets, I have given up the quest for a ready-made device that will satisfy my desire for a USB hub that charges the iPad, from batteries, while it hosts other USB devices. Currently, there is no such product. But one crafty, Dremmel-wielding hacker has created that very thing.

Untergeek tore apart an Alesis IO Dock and inserted a USB hub internally between the iPad and the IO Dock. It is almost as simple as it sounds if you know your way around soldering, hot glueing and warranty voiding. Here is a video on how to DIY it.

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The Hubbub Guitar System – Part 1 – The Plan


hubbub – noun – A loud confused noise from many sources.

The Hubub is a fitting moniker for our current iPad-based guitar system project; a melange of synth sounds, MIDI signals, analogue guitar, and the digital mayhem that ensues.

It’s doubly appropriate since a customized USB hub will be required to make it all possible, or at least practical. A primary goals of this setup is that it should run entirely from rechargeable batteries, sans power leads. It’s a lofty, but worthwhile goal. Over the next few weeks we shall see if that goal is achievable in a cost-effective way.

hubub-diagramTo the right is a diagram of the planned system. The main challenge of this computer-less approach is maintaining power for the iPad. Powering the USB hub, and the devices attached to it, from a battery is easy enough. But music software tends to drain an iPad battery quickly, so we want to be able to charge the iPad while in use. There doesn’t appear to be a product available that accomplishes this goal without a computer somewhere in the mix.

But we are working towards a solution. Soon many, if not all, of the devices below will be happily hooked up to an iPad air, buzzing along from rechargeable batteries.


The BE Guitar – Clearly Different


It’s hard to argue with Rob O’Rilley when he says that the visual design of guitars has been stagnant for 50 years; “Everyone is playing the same model. The visuality of it is a huge part, but also the functionality is a huge part.” Being a fashion-conscious musician, he decided to take on both of these challenges himself. He also chose to take on investors to help him push his dream axe forward.

Dragon’s Den is a reality television show where budding entrepreneurs pitch ideas to a panel of venture capitalists. Rob successfully secured angel funding for the business there, and followed it up with a successful Kickstarter campaign.

image-beguitar-fullToday his Killarney, Ireland shop is in full production, and his BE Guitar is garnering good press. Rob’s business goal is as clear as his guitar; to sell 2000 instruments in the first year. Sure it looks cool, has innovative functionality, and is reasonably priced for a hand crafted instrument, but how does it play? I should know in a week or so when mine arrives.

From the BE Guitar Website:

Features such as Personalisation, its genius balance bar and optional iphone interface brings guitar design to a new level. Matt black charcoal finish, gloss white fretboard and transparent acrylic centre gives BE-Guitar its stunning look.

This plexiglass picker will become the centerpiece of an entirely new iPad-based guitar rig I am designing. Inspired by JamUp, the best guitar multi-effects software on the planet according to none-too-modest developer Positive Grid, I have decided to shelve the THR Rig, my first laptop-based digital system, and go all out i.

Vidpro Video Stabilizer Giveaway


Last month I mentioned my buddy Jesse over at Jesse’s Gear posted this video demo of the cool VidPro SB-10 Camera Stabilizer for iPhone, Android and Digital Cameras. This week, he is giving one away to a lucky follower. The drawing is this Friday (Sept 30, 2013) so you have just enough time to hit up his site and check out the entry instructions, summarized below:

Step 1. Follow @jessepepin
Step 2. Tweet his review post
Step 3. Click REFRESH on your email client all day on Friday, just like the last scene of The Social Network, to see if you win.

VidPro’s $50 Steady Cam

Jesse’s Gear posted this video demo of the VidPro SB-10 Camera Stabilizer for iPhone, Android and Digital Cameras. The product name is heavier than the camera your likely to put on it. The aluminum alloy and steel construction look solid, and the price seems reasonable for all its bubble-leveled gimbal goodness.

The cost for this Merlin-esque apparatus is about the lowest I’ve seen for a stabilizer. I may have to grab one just to keep in my car for those unplanned shoots when a shakily-held iPhone is my only available ax.

Be sure to check out the rest of Jesse’s blog and you’ll wish that you had Jesse’s Gear.