Blog

Huge announcement, plus 20% off all PCBs + 10% off kits through Sunday

TL;DR I quit my job and am now doing Aion full-time. Sale on all PCBs & kits through Sunday.

It feels strange to say it, but after 13 years working for web agencies and software companies as a developer, I’m cutting the cord and switching careers. Starting now, Aion FX is my full-time gig.

It’s been in progress for awhile. I dropped to half-time at my day job almost exactly two years ago, and have had one foot in each world since then.

But, the drop from 50% to zero is a much bigger deal than the drop from full-time to half-time! The safety net of a regular paycheck is gone. And it brings with it a very real trepidation about the economy and the state of the world, because now my job is propped up by a hobby that is very much a non-essential part of people’s lives. (well, to most of us, anyway)

We’ve planned it out extensively though and decided that I can at least commit to a full year of this. After that, we’ll re-evaluate where things stand and whether it makes sense for me to keep at it.

So what does this mean for Aion? Here are a few things you can expect, and the order in which you can expect them.

Today: a sale

I don’t do too many sales in a year, but this occasion definitely calls for one. From now through Sunday at midnight, all PCBs are 20% off, and all kits are 10% off. No new releases today, but I hear the Convex is pretty cool, so check that one out if you haven’t yet.

October: a new website

I’ve been building websites for most of my life, but you may have heard the proverb about the shoemaker’s children going without shoes, and it definitely applies here. This website needs an update. I built this version right after our first kid was born… he’s now five years old and has two younger siblings.

So the first order of business is to finally launch an overhauled version next month that better fits where I’m at right now and where I want to go in the next few years.

Fall 2019: more projects (and more, and more)

I’ve released a respectable number of new projects this past summer, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Here’s the breakdown of my project planning list:

  • 10 projects on the bench waiting to be built, tested and/or documented
  • 10 projects in the PCB layout phase
  • 30 projects in the research/planning phase
  • 120 (!) on the ideas list

Of the first two categories, most of them (12-15) are brand-new traces of pedals that haven’t been dissected before. Some are vintage, some are newer, all are very cool, and I am excited to share them. I’ve been very busy tracing, now I just need to get them finished! You can expect a minimum of 20 new projects between now and the end of the year, but I’m hoping for even more than that.

2019-20: Long-term vision

All this year, I’ve gradually been developing a clarity in my vision about what Aion is, and where it fits in the DIY community.

This whole adventure started out on August 19, 2013 when I sold a RAT PCB to someone on one of the DIY forums. Back then, it was just an outlet for my own experimentation and curiosity. If there was a pedal I’d never played before and wanted to try out, I’d design a board for myself, and then release it to others as sort of an afterthought.

But the direction Aion FX has been headed is bigger than offloading byproducts of a hobby. I see it becoming an archive of analog guitar effects, not just documenting marketing and production history, but also technical data. And then, of course, DIY projects & kits to help you build your own and bring them back to life.

Verified schematics

I love doing research, both historical and technical. Guitar effects have a very rich history going back nearly sixty years since the Maestro FZ-1A hit stores (and speakers) in 1962. They’re woven into the fabric of the history of music itself. The stories are interesting and the designs are fascinating.

But sometimes information is lacking. There have been a few occasions when I based a project on a verified schematic from someone else, only to find out that there was an error in the source schematic. And it may be that every DIY clone of that pedal uses that same schematic, so we’ve all been building it wrong.

As a stickler for accuracy, this gets under my skin. So this past year, I’ve started trying to borrow or buy original effects whenever possible so I can have them as a point of reference as part of the research & development process. In some cases, this practice has uncovered inaccuracies in other people’s traces, and in other cases I’ve found what appear to be previously-unknown variations in the manufacturing process throughout the production run.

Sometimes it’s useful just to be able to measure the specs of the transistors or JFETs, or to take voltage readings from the active components. For old circuits, especially pre-1975, before engineers learned how to nullify the effects of variations in components, something like the hFE value of a transistor really does make a significant difference in the tone.

And even if we find that a known schematic is in fact 100% accurate, it’s still good to have it confirmed. One way or another, we’re getting closer to the truth when we have access to an original unit. It’s brought great things so far and so I’m going to keep at it.

Reviving vintage analog circuits

There are some other PCB suppliers who have very different niches than I do, such as designing original circuits or making clones of big-name boutique effects. For me, though, it’s all about vintage circuits. I’ll have a few original designs here and there, and I’ll put out the occasional clone of a popular boutique effect, but it’s not really my main focus for where I’m heading.

Over the past year, I’ve developed a drive to keep vintage analog circuits alive. I want to help people understand them and appreciate them. I want to modernize them, making them more straightforward to build with as few arcane components as possible, perhaps adding new features where there’s a place for them. But above all, I want the original tone to be preserved, and I want to make it as easy as possible for you to get there.

I also want to bring new (old) circuits to the DIY community. We’ve got a canon of 50 to 100 popular effects that most people build or use as a starting point. But there are a ton of old phasers, fuzz pedals, rack units, preamps, and so much more more from the 1960s through the 1990s that were incredible feats of engineering, yet remain mostly unknown among DIYers, partly for lack of awareness and partly because many of them are big and intimidating.

But I’m not scared off by complexity! The L5 Preamp and Blueshift (Dimension C) are two of the most complex (yet rewarding) builds in the DIY pedal scene, and now that I have more time to focus, I’ll be doing even more like that.

So buckle up! I’ve got a year to bring my vision to life by cranking out as much as I can, and you all get to be the beneficiaries of that. The success during this year will decide whether I’m able to do it for another year, and another after that.

Thanks so much for the wild ride that Aion has been for the past six years. I very literally could not do it without you, and I really appreciate the support that has gotten me to this milestone moment.

Now… time to get to work!

Kevin VandeKrol / Aion Electronics

Filed under Announcements

Four new circuits available today, including a brand-new trace!

It’s been a few months since the last new project release, but worth the wait. Today, four new circuits are available, including a trace of the Dinosaural OTC-201 Opticompressor. I documented the tracing process if you’re into that sort of thing. Otherwise, onto the new projects!


Convex - Dinosaural OTC-201 Opticompressor PCBConvex / Dinosaural OTC-201 Opticompressor

An exceptionally rare and unique optical compressor designed by Dan Coggins of Lovetone fame. This is a brand new trace, and the circuit doesn’t bear much resemblance to anything else out there.

View Project →


Hadron - Lovepedal Eternity PCBHadron – Lovepedal Eternity

An early entry in the minimalist Tube Screamer category, this was one of the circuits that kicked off the hand-built boutique pedal industry.

View Project →


Charon - Ibanez CR5 Crunchy Rhythm PCBCharon – Ibanez CR5 Crunchy Rhythm

An under-appreciated Ibanez drive pedal originally marketed toward rhythm guitarists, but versatile enough for a wide range of applications.

View Project →


Torus - Demo Tape Fuzz PCBTorus – Demo Tape Fuzz

A thick fuzz/distortion circuit designed to replicate the low-budget garage tones of an overloaded cassette recorder.

View Project →

Filed under Announcements

Tracing Journal: Dinosaural OTC-201 Opticompressor

Back in January, I had the opportunity to collaborate on a trace of the Bouteek Distorter Preamp, a super-rare drive pedal that was on the verge of extinction. The result was the Vortex, released in March.

It was a lot of fun to work on, and rewarding to bring a new circuit to the DIY community that no one had ever seen before. I’ve gotten great feedback from several people who have built it.

So… why not keep it going?

I decided to buy a few interesting pedals as an experiment to see if this idea could pay for itself. Well, it turned out to be more than a few—I’ve got about 15 brand new traces underway right now, with schematics already completed on all but a few of them. They’ll all be released as PCBs over the coming months, before the end of the year.

Some of them are very high-profile. Some are outrageously expensive. Some are, like the Bouteek, so rare as to be nearly extinct. Some of them are traces that had been done before, but not accurately, or with a lot of misinformation.

This one falls under both “expensive” and “rare”. Tracing log entry #001: the Dinosaural OTC-201 Opticompressor.

otc201-box-wide

You may not have heard of it, but you likely know the designer: Dan Coggins from Lovetone, the UK company known for its super-complex analog modulation designs in the mid-90s and early 2000s. Dinosaural was Dan’s solo venture after Lovetone folded, and he released three pedals under this name: the Tube Bender (similar to a silicon Tone Bender, based on a design he did for Guitar and Bass Magazine), the Overdriven Pre-Amp OPA-101 (an updated version of the Tube Bender with a buffer), and the OTC-201 Opticompressor.

The Opticompressor is the one new design of the three, and in an engineering sense, it’s a thing of beauty. Probably only a few hundred were made in total, in limited batches between 2013 and 2016. This particular unit was from 2014 based on the serial number.

Tracing Photos

 

The trace was complicated owing to the on-board hardware and hybrid SMD design. Unfortunately, the pedal did not survive the trace, but it gave its life for a good cause. Here’s the schematic.

Dinosaural OTC-201 Schematic

And here’s a PDF version if that’s more to your liking.

Introducing the Convex Parallel Compressor

The Convex Parallel Compressor is a new Aion project based on the OTC-201 and is releasing today. It’s an exact clone except for one added feature: there’s an internal slide switch to go between buffered mode and true bypass, as with the Refractor. Additionally, the Direct/Blend switch has been moved to the face of the enclosure.

This build is shown using the Input/Output Module Kit which I use for all of my prototypes.

I hope you enjoy it! It was a fun project to design from start to finish, and I’m excited to be able to add a new circuit to the DIY pantheon.

Filed under Tracing Journal

SALE: 20% off all PCBs and 10% off all kits, plus four new kits

Independence Day Sale

PCBs are 20% off and kits are 10% off from now through the end of the day Sunday, July 7. No coupon is necessary – the discount will be taken automatically at checkout.

Four new kits

Four new kits are launching today!

Aion FX - New Kits 7/4/2019

Each of these kits has a demo video to go along with it, courtesy of RJ Ronquillo.


Andromeda Natural Overdrive

View Kit →

Based on the Nobels ODR-1. A unique overdrive pedal with a very rich drive tone that earns it a spot on the pedalboards of many Nashville studio musicians. Features an added bass knob to allow the low-end to be dialed back from the original circuit.


Helios Vintage Distortion

View Kit →

Based on the Pro Co RAT Distortion. A distortion pedal with a very distinctive and tight mid-to-high-gain character that made it a staple in the rigs of 1980s hard rock bands. Features clipping diode selection and an added Sweep knob to control the low end and thicken the tone.


Luna Optical Tremolo

View Kit →

Based on the Tremulus Lune. An all-analog optical tremolo featuring six knobs for fine control over every aspect of the waveform.


Vector Ambient Delay

View Kit →

Based on the Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay. With similar frequency bandwidth to a tape unit, this analog-voiced digital delay is a favorite even among analog purists. Features control of delay time, feedback (repeats) and mix (blend).

Filed under Announcements

Limited run of pre-built Refractor pedals available now!

The Refractor kit has been a huge success since it launched a year ago. I recently finished building a limited run of 20 pre-assembled Refractor pedals which are now available on Reverb. If you’ve wanted one but don’t yet feel that your DIY skills are up to the task, check it out!

Refractor - Klon Centaur Professional Overdrive

In related news, right now I’m working on getting demo videos made for each of the kits. Here’s the Refractor in action, courtesy of RJ Ronquillo:

Check out more of RJ’s demo videos on his YouTube channel and follow him on Instagram at @rj_ronquillo.

Filed under Announcements

3/14 Pi Day Sale: 20% off all PCBs, 10% off kits through Sunday plus 6 new releases

Pi Day 2019 - Five New Releases

It’s Pi Day, so what better way to celebrate than to launch five new Big Muff Pi-based circuits and have a sale on top of that?

From today (3/14, 1:59 AM GMT) through Sunday at midnight, take 20% off all PCBs and the Halo kit, and 10% off all other kits.


Cygnus Distortion/Sustainer - Cornish G-2Cygnus / Cornish G-2

An extremely expensive Big Muff clone with a meticulously-tuned buffered bypass along with an additional transistor-based buffer stage on the effect input.

Cygnus project page


Polaris Distortion/Sustainer - Human Gear Animato PCBPolaris – Human Gear Animato

Another pricey Big Muff clone, this pedal adds a Rangemaster-based treble booster to the frontend as well as some other tweaks. Most famously used by Chris Wolstenholme of Muse.

Polaris project page


Zelus Distortion/Sustainer - Musket FuzzZelus – Blackout Musket Fuzz

This hot-rodded Big Muff adds a boost to drive the input, a bass blend capacitor, and a midrange control inside the tone stack.

Zelus project page


Osiris Distortion/Sustainer - Pharaoh FuzzOsiris – Black Arts Pharaoh Fuzz

Another hot-rodded Big Muff, this time with a high/low impedance switch, a diode selector switch to go between silicon and germanium, and a high-frequency control inside the tone stack.

Osiris project page


Nexus Distortion/Sustainer - Manx Loaghtan Fuzz PCBNexus – Catalinbread Manx Loaghtan

Based on the Ram’s Head, this pedal swaps out the original tone control with a 2-band Baxandall EQ, allowing control of both bass and treble frequencies independently instead of just one or the other.

Nexus project page


Luna Optical Tremolo PCB - Tremulus LuneLuna – 4ms Tremulus Lune

This isn’t a Big Muff, but it didn’t make the last batch of releases due to a layout error. Updated for the new 125B format, this all-analog tremolo features six knobs for fine control over every aspect of the waveform.

Luna project page

 

Filed under Announcements

A brand new never-before-seen distortion pedal, plus 3 more new releases available today

The stars of the show today are two amp-like distortion/overdrive pedals, one of which has never been traced before and the other of which hasn’t yet been explored by the DIY community yet. Along with these new ones, there are also two re-releases of old projects in the new 125B format.


Vortex - Bouteek Distorter Preamp DIY PCBVortex / Bouteek Distorter Preamp

A reproduction of an obscure and extremely rare drive pedal designed to reproduce Marshall-style high-gain amp tones. This is the first time the pedal has been traced and the schematic made available to the public.

View Project →


Tachyon - Boss SD-2 Lead Channel DIY PCBTachyon – Boss SD-2 Lead Channel

This heavy overdrive is a hidden gem in the pantheon of BOSS pedals, offering creamy lead tones and biting rhythm in an easy-to-use package that is surprisingly complex under the hood, actually resembling the Friedman BE-OD / Dirty Shirley or Amptweaker Tight Metal more than the SD-1 or Tube Screamer.

View Project →


Vector - Deep Blue Delay DIY PCBVector – Deep Blue Delay

With similar frequency bandwidth to a tape unit, this analog-voiced digital delay is a favorite even among analog purists. And it’s much easier to build than a real BBD-based analog delay!

View Project →


Lumin - BBE Sonic Maximizer DIY PCBLumin – BBE Sonic Stomp / Sonic Maximizer

An updated re-release in the new 125B format, this is another classic octave fuzz from the same era as the Tone Machine, but with a much different flavor. Famously used by Pete Townshend.

View Project →


That’s it for today, but keep an eye out next week for a (semi) big announcement related to the assembly/wiring system used in the kits.

Filed under Announcements

Input/output module kits & enclosures now available

If you’ve been building pedals for awhile, you’ve probably found that there are parts of pedalbuilding that you enjoy and other parts that are not so fun. For me, wiring—by which I mean measuring, cutting, stripping, tinning and soldering—always fell solidly into that second category.

Since day one, Aion FX projects have always used PCB-mounted potentiometers and switches to avoid the most tedious type of wiring. A 3PDT breakout board has been available for almost as long, and the new 125B-format projects come with one of these bypass boards as standard. But although wiring was greatly reduced, it was still a part of the process and still not very fun.

A new way to build

With the new kits, one of the major goals was the elimination of wiring. To that end, the 125B platform was designed around wire headers & assemblies and PCB-mounted hardware so that wiring is just as easy and straightforward as any other part of the build. The wire assemblies and headers are now just components like anything else. There’s one way to install them and zero decisions that have to be made.

But there was one problem: the new assembly process was not very DIY-friendly, particularly due to the use of the PCB-mounted DC jack that require a square cutout for the enclosure. Cutting a square hole is extremely time-consuming and not really worth the effort, so until now the assembly system has been exclusive to the kits.

I/O Module Assembled

Introducing the I/O module kit

In order to make this system into something that could be used for other 125B projects, the biggest piece of the puzzle was getting enclosures with the I/O holes pre-drilled. That piece has fallen into place and I now stock these enclosures, so you can now order the I/O module kits and enclosure (available in either black or bare aluminum). Note that you’ll still have to drill the front panel according to the drill template for the project. Pre-drilled enclosures will be coming at some point, but not yet.

Input/Output Module Kit

Does it save time building? Probably a little, especially after you’ve done it more than once, but to be honest, it’s not night-and-day. There’s still work involved in getting everything assembled, it’s just a different type of work. However, it does have one major advantage: standardization—or to put it differently, the elimination of decisions.

One other huge advantage is simple disassembly. If you need to troubleshoot or modify the pedal, no desoldering is required. Just disconnect the wire headers, unscrew the potentiometers from the front panel, and pull out the main PCB. This makes “rock it before you box it” unnecessary. Go ahead and install it to the enclosure before testing it. If it doesn’t work, it’s extremely easy to get it back out of the box.

So that’s it. Many people who have built the new kits have told me it’s hard to go back to the old way of wiring when building other types of pedals. So I’m really excited to finally be able to share this new system with the broader DIY community!

I/O Module

Filed under Announcements

Three new projects for February

A killer amp distortion and a pair of 1970s octave fuzz pedals to kick off your February.


Tempest - Friedman BE-OD/Dirty Shirley CloneTempest – Friedman BE-OD / Dirty Shirley

A killer amp-like distortion that replicates the tone and feel of the Friedman amplifiers it’s based on. This project combines the features of both pedals for a total of 7 knobs.

View Project →


Vulcan - fOXX Tone Machine DIY PCBVulcan – fOXX Tone Machine

An octave fuzz from the 1970s, originally based on the Fender Blender but with a few tweaks. The Vulcan adds a switch to “fix” the tone control so it works better than the original.

View Project →


Rift - Univox Superfuzz PCBRift – Univox Superfuzz

An updated re-release in the new 125B format, this is another classic octave fuzz from the same era as the Tone Machine, but with a much different flavor. Famously used by Pete Townshend.

View Project →


That’s it for today, but keep an eye out next week for a (semi) big announcement related to the assembly/wiring system used in the kits.

Filed under Announcements

Aion FX Update: What’s ahead in 2019

As 2019 begins, I wanted to look back on last year and then talk about what’s coming.

First, a caveat: I wrote a similar post last year, and about one week afterward I had the initial idea for the kits. Because of this, my projection looking ahead to 2018 was missing some very key information to say the least. But that’s how it goes: all the best things to happen, whether in life or business, are things that you aren’t able to predict!

So with that said, here are the highlights of 2018.

New PCB format

As part of the transition to the kits, I needed to unify my platform. The kits had to be designed in a very specific way to make them as user-friendly as possible, and I didn’t want to have separate layouts for kits and PCB-only projects, so I had to develop a new format for PCBs that would work either as full kits or standalone projects.

This involved moving to the 125B enclosure format and using top-mounted I/O and power connectors. Now, not only are the pedals easier to build with more space inside, they actually take up less space on a pedalboard than a 1590B with side-mounted jacks.

The major advantage to this is that any PCB from now on can easily be converted into a kit without additional design work. I don’t intend to do kits for all of my projects, but it’s good to have the ability to keep an eye out for the most popular ones (which I often am not able to predict) and to be able to put my kit-development effort into the ones that will have the most impact.

Project releases

My big goal this past year was to release 25 projects in 2018. If you count the re-releases and the kits, I ended up at exactly 25. It didn’t look like I envisioned when I wrote that—there were only seven brand-new circuits in the lot—but I’m still beyond thrilled with where things ended up.

In 2018 I re-released a total of 12 old projects in this new 125B format. It was a lot of fun revisiting the classics. Many of them were among the first projects I ever designed back in 2013, and coming back to them with five more years of design experience, I was able to make them better than ever. I approached them as though they were all-new projects, doing new research and re-writing the documentation from scratch to bring them up to the standards of the other new ones.

Many of them have new features, like the Halo (Big Muff) with its mid scoop/flat/hump switch, or the Refractor with the buffer/true bypass switch. And many of them have had features removed in favor of making a more streamlined build without having to go through a complex decision tree to decide which options you want.

I also began doing Mouser parts lists for all of the new 125B circuits, linked from within the documentation. Ordering parts is a breeze, and again, it reduces the number of decisions someone will have to make when starting on a project.

Kits

So, this is the big one of the year. I had the spark of an idea at the beginning of January, and then spent the rest of the month writing notes, brainstorming, and creating a plan that would take the remainder of 2018 to execute.

I didn’t want to do kits if it was only going to be a convenience service where I buy all your parts for you. This is, in my view, what most DIY kits are these days. But even if people wanted to pay me good money for it, that’s not how I want to spend my time.

Instead, my goal was to use it as an opportunity to innovate and do something exciting. For the average DIYer, it isn’t feasible to order parts direct from manufacturers in quantities of 1000+, so they’re stuck using only the parts that are currently available from suppliers like Small Bear. And this becomes a chicken-and-egg scenario here where the suppliers only order parts that the average DIYer would want because it’s less risky. As a result, there’s not much large-scale innovation. With a few exceptions, DIY guitar pedals today are still being built the same way they were 20 years ago.

Aion FX wire assembliesSo with the kits, I wanted to re-imagine how pedals should be built if we weren’t constrained to a narrow list of parts & supplies. For instance, most people share my view that wiring is the most tedious and frustrating part of pedalbuilding. But if I can source a custom-made, pre-tinned wire assembly for around the same cost as a capacitor, it becomes just another component and I can eliminate the wiring step altogether. No more stripping wires and cutting them to length—it’s over. Now you solder the wire assembly to one board like any other component and just snap it into the header on the other board when you’re ready.

Aion FX metal film resistorsOr how about expecting people to learn to read resistor color codes? Again, it’s frustrating, time-consuming and error-prone. But if I’m sourcing all my own resistors, I can find a manufacturer who can print the alphanumeric value on each resistor rather than the color code. And while they’re at it, they can make them 0.5% tolerance and audiophile grade, so they’re not just unique in appearance, they’re actually better quality than any resistors you can buy in DIY quantities from component suppliers.

Those are just two examples out of half a dozen to illustrate how I wanted my kits to be different. The broad vision for Aion FX kits is that they should be fun to build, reliable, and professional-looking. The feedback for the kits has been overwhelmingly positive, and has mainly revolved around those three aspects—which means people have caught my vision. It’s been a huge success, and I’m excited to continue innovating in this field.

What’s coming in 2019

Maybe there will be something I didn’t see coming, like this past year. We’ll see. But right now, here are my three major initiatives:

More projects

PCBs are the lifeblood of Aion FX, and as of right now this is my top priority for the year. I currently have around ten new brand projects that are fully designed, with boards in-hand just awaiting their turn in the prototyping queue, so keep an eye out for lots of activity on this front in the next two months. Later this year I’m going to shift my focus away from drive circuits and dive deeper into modulation and other interesting effects.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, I re-released a dozen older projects in 2018. Expect to see more of that too. Eventually my top 70-80% of projects will be updated for the new format. There are a few projects toward the bottom of the list that only sell maybe ten or twenty PCBs a year, and those likely will not see a redesign, but the majority of them will. (Don’t worry—as projects are redesigned, the legacy 1590B versions will continue to be available for as long as people are interested.)

More kits

So far, I’ve released six kits. I expect to release a minimum of ten more this coming year. (Hopefully even more than that, but better to under-promise and over-deliver.)

New website

I intended to do a website redesign last year, but that project got bumped by the kits. This year it’ll happen though. I’ve already mapped out most of it and have a ton of exciting ideas, but it’s just been a matter of priorities.

And a word of thanks

In late 2017, I was able to cut my hours at my day job to focus on Aion as more than just a hobby or side project. 2018 was my first full year devoting 20 hrs per week to Aion, and it was both enjoyable and tremendously successful. Your support has been greatly appreciated and I hope to spend 2019 contributing to the DIY community more than ever before!

Filed under News

Four new projects available today: one brand new, plus three updated versions

Aion FX is finishing off 2018 with four new projects available now.


monad-univox-unidrive-boost-pcbMonad – Univox Uni-Drive

An early booster pedal, famously used by Jimmy Page, that strays a bit into silicon fuzz territory. This is a very easy build with a low parts count.

View Project →


solstice-marshall-shredmaster-pcbSolstice – Marshall Shredmaster

A great mid-gain amp-like distortion with a 3-band EQ, including a Contour control that scoops the mids. The updated version now uses 16mm pots and has a clipping diode selector switch.

View Project →


quantum-ibanez-mostortion-pcbQuantum – Ibanez MT-10 Mostortion

A reproduction of a rare and very expensive overdrive with 3-band EQ that is popular in the Nashville scene. The updated version now uses 16mm pots and has a clipping diode selector switch.

View Project →


equinox-marshall-guvnor-pcbEquinox – Marshall Guv’nor / Drivemaster

A low-to-mid-gain amp-like overdrive with a 3-band EQ. Once again—can you see a pattern?—the updated version now uses 16mm pots and has a clipping diode selector switch.

View Project →


Back in December of last year, I set an ambitious goal to put out 25 new projects in 2018. I’ll have more to say later in an upcoming post about 2018 in review, but I just wanted to mention that with these four new projects releasing today, if you include the six kits, this puts the count to exactly 25!

Filed under Announcements

Win one of the new kits by following @aionfx on social media!

The drawing is now closed. Winners will be chosen and announced soon!

Back in August I launched the Refractor kit. In a few days, I’ll be launching five more, based on the Stratus (Tube Screamer), Cerulean (Bluesbreaker), Graviton (HM-2), Halo (Big Muff), and Azimuth (Zendrive).

In celebration of this, I’m going to be giving away free kits to three different people who follow @aionfx on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

All Aion Kits - Preview

How to enter

  1. If you haven’t already, follow @aionfx on Twitter (https://twitter.com/aionfx), Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/aionfx), and/or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/aionfx).
  2. Fill out the form and indicate your username or display name for each of the platforms that you have followed on. You can have up to three entries by following @aionfx on all three platforms. The deadline for this is Monday, November 19 at midnight CST (6:00 AM UTC November 20).
  3. One winner will be randomly drawn from each social platform (one Facebook follower, one Twitter follower and one Instagram follower) on Tuesday, November 20.
  4. If chosen, we will first verify that you are a follower, and if so, you’ll be contacted to choose any kit of your choice from six that are going to be available.

Details

Winners will be chosen from the form submissions, not from the list of followers, so entry in the drawing is not automatic. This is because there are many followers on each of the platforms that are not real people, and also because I don’t want to try chasing down someone who followed me several years ago and may no longer be active.

You can have up to three entries for the drawing, but you can only win once, so if by chance your name is chosen a second time, another drawing will take place.

No purchase necessary. Drawing is valid worldwide except where prohibited by law.

Winners will be contacted on Tuesday, November 20 and the kits will ship out the following week.

Filed under Announcements

Seven new projects available: three brand new, plus four updated 125B versions

Note: Technically three of these launched a few weeks ago, but other than sending out an email I didn’t really publicize it. So if you’re on the email list, only four of these are new.

I’m excited to announce the release of seven new projects. Three of them are new, and four of them are updated re-releases on the new 125B platform.

Brand new projects

Horizon Amp Overdrive PCBHorizon – Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret Mk. I

A recreation of the first version of the Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret (DLS), widely considered to be the best version. This is a killer Marshall-like circuit with true amp-like response. There are no clipping diodes or op-amps in this one, instead using cascaded mu-amps and JFET-based clipping, which more closely resembles the way a tube amplifier generates overdrive and sets it apart from other types of drive circuits.

Horizon Amp Overdrive →

Malacandra Overdrive PCBMalacandra – Xotic AC/RC Booster

This project allows you to build a clone of either the Xotic AC or RC Booster. (These are basically the same circuit but with some minor parts substitutions.) The circuit topology looks kind of like a Bluesbreaker combined with a Tube Screamer, so it’s no surprise that this is a great way to describe the sound. The addition of a 2-band Baxandall control makes it a really flexible tone machine.

Malacandra Boost / Overdrive →

Perelandra Boost / Overdrive PCBPerelandra – Xotic BB Preamp

The BB Preamp is a different animal from the AC/RC Booster. It more closely resembles the Tube Screamer, but with a flatter response. It also has a great deal more gain than the AC/RC Booster circuits while still being sparkly clean at the lowest gain setting.

Perelandra Boost / Overdrive →

125B rereleases

Stratus - Tube Screamer Overdrive PCBStratus – Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer

One of the most famous overdrive pedals of all time, the Tube Screamer needs no introduction. The Stratus includes switch modifications for the clipping diodes and bass frequency.

Stratus Classic Overdrive →

Procyon Natural Overdrive PCBProcyon – BJFe Honey Bee Overdrive

A workalike of one of the original hand-made boutique pedals, originally modeled after vintage Supro amps and noted for its dynamic low-gain tone.

Procyon Amp Overdrive →

Andromeda Natural Overdrive PCBAndromeda – Nobels ODR-1

A unique overdrive pedal with a very rich drive tone that earns it a spot on the pedalboards of many Nashville studio musicians. This one flies under the radar, but many people say it’s their favorite overdrive out of all the Aion projects.

Andromeda Natural Overdrive →

Helios Classic Distortion PCBHelios – Pro Co RAT Distortion

A distortion pedal with a very distinctive and tight mid-to-high-gain character that made it a staple in the rigs of 1980s hard rock bands.

Helios Classic Distortion →

Kit update

Things are still progressing really well for the kits. Typically October through January is my high season for sales, so I’m making a big push to get everything in place before then. It’s a lot to coordinate and I’ve only got one shot at it, so I’m a bit delayed in getting the next set of Refractor kits up for sale, but they’re coming.

I will launch limited runs (10-20) of six different kits in October, based on the Refractor, Graviton, Stratus, Azimuth, Halo, and Cerulean. Then in November I’ll do a bigger release of each of them with far more availability. So either way, if you’re wanting one of them, you won’t have to wait long or worry about them selling out before you have a chance to grab one.

Filed under Announcements

Three new 125B projects available now

A few new (well, relaunched) circuits are available today.


Procyon Natural Overdrive PCBProcyon – BJFe Honey Bee Overdrive

A workalike of one of the original hand-made boutique pedals, originally modeled after vintage Supro amps and noted for its dynamic low-gain tone.

View Project →


Andromeda Natural Overdrive PCBAndromeda – Nobels ODR-1 Overdrive

A unique overdrive pedal with a very rich drive tone that earns it a spot on the pedalboards of many Nashville studio musicians. This one flies under the radar, but many people say it’s their favorite overdrive out of all the Aion projects.

View Project →


Helios Classic Distortion PCBHelios- Pro Co RAT Distortion

A distortion pedal with a very distinctive and tight mid-to-high-gain character that made it a staple in the rigs of 1980s hard rock bands.

View Project →


New projects coming soon

Today is all about rereleases of existing projects, but keep an eye out for brand new projects coming in the next couple of weeks.

Update on kits

A couple weeks ago I announced that Aion would start offering kits. The initial run of 25 Refractor kits sold out in six hours. I thought they might go fast, but not like that!

Needless to say, I’m hard at work preparing to meet demand for this fall. I’ll have another small run of Refractors ready by the middle of September, and then more small runs of other new kits following soon after.

Then, my goal is that by the beginning of November I’m up and running on all of them and able to maintain stock going forward. So if you missed out on the first batch of Refractor kits, you won’t have to wait long.

As always, thank you so much for your support! 2018 has been the most exciting year yet for Aion Electronics. I hope to finish it strong!

Filed under Announcements

Major announcement: Aion FX is now offering kits

Today’s the day. I’ve been teasing it for the last few months, but it’s time for the big announcement:

We’re doing kits.

The first one, the Refractor—based on the Klon Centaur and KTR—is available today.

Refractor - Klon Centaur Professional Overdrive

Why now?

There are a few other companies offering pedal kits, and while I’ve gotten many requests throughout the years, I’ve dismissed it for a long time, not wanting to embark on something this big unless I felt like I could improve on how it was already being done.

But at the beginning of this year, I started to have some ideas on how guitar pedal kits could be rocketed forward into 2018, taking some inspiration from modern manufacturing methods as well as from other similar DIY communities like the maker movement and Arduino—all while staying fully devoted to the accurate reproduction of vintage analog technology.

I also got a pretty big nudge from the L5 Preamp project that came out a couple years ago. Alongside the PCB, I released an enclosure and nameplate to give people the means to make a really professional-looking pedal. These have been in consistently high demand since I started, with each small run of enclosures selling out usually within an hour or two. So this told me that many DIYers cared about aesthetics, not just the inner workings of the pedal.

So for the past six months, the main thing I have been working on is a master plan for these kits. It required an overhaul of the way I work and the way projects are developed. I said last month that the new 125B platform was the first step toward something big. This is that something. The 125B platform will be shared between the new PCBs and the kits going forward.

I will always offer standalone PCBs of all of my projects. And I’ll continue developing new projects at the same pace—or hopefully even faster. All projects will start out as PCB-only, and only my most popular PCBs will be made available as kits. So the PCB-only projects will remain a big part of what Aion FX is about.

What’s different about them?

Here are my big ambitions for the kits:

  1. Give anyone the tools to build a professional-quality pedal, something that looks like it came off the shelf at a music store.
  2. Make it easy and straightforward, simplifying some of the most time-consuming or complicated parts of pedal building. It’s an exceptionally fun hobby, but it is known for its steep learning curve. It’s about time that curve was straightened out a bit.
  3. Use top-quality components throughout—equal to or better than anything you would find in a commercial pedal.

Those are the broad goals. Here are the specifics on how it’s done.

Professional enclosures

The enclosures are drilled, powdercoated and printed by Disaster Area Designs in North Carolina.

Aion FX Kits - Enclosures

Top-mounted jacks

All kits use top-mounted input, output and DC jacks so they take up the least amount of pedalboard space (even less than a smaller 1590B enclosure with side jacks). They are all PCB-mounted on their own board, separate from the main PCB, for ease of assembly.

Aion FX Kits - Top Jacks

Wire assemblies

You can leave your wire stripper in the toolbox. All kits come with wire assemblies that are already cut to length, so they just need to be soldered to the board and plugged in. This makes wiring simple and foolproof, as well as making it very easy to disassemble the circuit for troubleshooting.

Aion FX Kits - Inside

Premium footswitches

I’ve never seen Taiway 3PDTs used in the DIY pedal scene. They have the longest rated life (50,000 cycles) of any 3PDT footswitch, and they also have much lower actuation force and switch travel than the others. You’ll have a hard time going back to the Chinese-made blue boys after using Taiway. They also have gold-plated contacts and solder lugs for maximum conductivity and corrosion resistance. They’re the most expensive single part in the kit, but it’s worth it.

Aion FX Kits - Footswitches

Exclusive footswitch dress nut

I designed these myself and had them custom-manufactured. They’re made of nickel-plated brass, so they match most of the rest of the hardware. They serve no functional purpose other than to make your pedal look awesome.

Aion FX Kits - Dress Nuts

Detailed documentation

With almost 150 illustrations and diagrams, the documentation for the kits is written clearly and thoroughly, with the goal of lowering the barrier to entry for people who are new to the hobby.

I’ve pored over every last detail, so you don’t have to fill in any gaps on your own.

Availability

The initial release is limited to 25. More will follow as soon as I can. There are a lot of new logistical puzzles to solve with these, coordinating orders from several different suppliers and learning where the bottlenecks are, and I also need to be conservative with cash flow as this gets off the ground. But I hope to have things going pretty steadily by the fall to the point where I can maintain availability to meet demand.

Most of my current audience are intermediate-to-experienced builders—people who know what to do with a bare PCB and who are more than capable of sourcing their own parts. Many of you will no doubt pick one up just because it’s so unique. But, I anticipate that my main audience is going to be people who don’t know about Aion FX yet.

So if you’re interested, hurry and grab one—this initial run will go quickly and it’ll be a few weeks before I’ll have more. But even if this isn’t your thing, please help me out by telling others! These kits are perfect for a beginning builder, so if you know someone who has been wanting to get into the hobby but has been intimidated by the prospect of taking the first step, this is a great way to get started. It was designed with them in mind.

I also plan on having several more kits available by that time as well. Here’s a preview of what’s coming next:

All Aion Kits - Preview

These will be the first five, which you can expect this fall. More will follow in early 2019.


Questions

I already have tons of spare parts. Can I buy a kit with only the unique or specialized parts?

Yes! The kits are available in both “Full” and “Lite” versions. If you check out the documentation, it explains the Full and Lite kits and what is included in each. There is a Mouser parts list specifically for the Lite kits to allow easy importing and purchasing of all the missing parts. The Lite kits are a fair amount cheaper, but will still allow you to get the same end result.

Do you ship the kits internationally?

Yes, but international shipping for kits is much more expensive than it is for PCBs. I’m working with Musikding in Germany to get European distribution from the kits which should cut down significantly on international shipping costs, but that’s not all in place yet.

Will you offer bare, pre-drilled enclosures with the kits if I want to make my own artwork?

Yes. This will be an option early next year.

Filed under Announcements

Six new projects releasing today, all 125B with top jacks

The new 125B design platform

I spent a long time during the first half of this year designing a new foundation that will serve as the basis for new Aion projects going forward. I completely revamped my design process, going through every aspect of project creation, and the first product of that revamping is a new set of design standards for projects going forward. Here’s what it will look like.

  • Unified drill template system for consistency between projects
  • Top jacks (in, out, DC) for all projects
  • Space for a 9V battery where possible
  • Integrated bypass switch boards for all projects
  • Redesigned documentation template

New projects

These new projects are available today. More will be coming very soon.

Graviton Metal Distortion - Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal DIY Project PCBGraviton – BOSS HM-2 Heavy Metal

A brand new Aion project that recreates a favorite among extreme metal guitarists. (Not to be confused with the MT-2 Metal Zone!) The Graviton is a great high-gain pedal that works in many different styles of music besides metal, with a well-rounded tone that is still capable of some very unique sounds.

The most famous use is the Swedish death metal trick where you put all the knobs on 10 and run it into a low-end solid state amp. This was used by a number of extreme metal bands in the 1990s all the way to the present day.

Graviton Metal Distortion →

Refractor Professional Overdrive - Klon Centaur / KTR DIY Project PCBRefractor – Klon Centaur / KTR

An updated version of the Refractor, which now has the distinction of being the first true clone of the Klon KTR. The Buffer / True Bypass switch is now integrated into the circuit. This was one of the most requested features for the Refractor!

While some other Centaur clones have switchable true bypass, they all used a simplified version that left the buffer mode slightly changed from the Centaur. I didn’t want to settle for that, so after a great deal of research, I’m happy to say that I was able to replicate the real thing. To my knowledge this is the first time the KTR’s switching schematic has been published or implemented in any design outside of the KTR itself.

Refractor Professional Overdrive →

Halo Distortion/Sustainer - EHX Big Muff Pi DIY Project PCBHalo – Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi

The Halo has been updated with a new version of the mids control. One complaint I had about the AMZ “Presence” control (which was an optional 4th knob on the original Halo) is that its EQ curve isn’t exactly the same as a normal Muff at any setting. So I turned this into a DPDT switch with 3 modes: mid scoop (the stock Muff setting), flat mids, and mid hump. This way you can get the tonal flexibility without losing the character of the stock circuit.

In addition, it’s been made easier to build a 3-transistor variant such as the Jumbo Tone Bender. To cut down on decisionmaking complexity, I removed the option for the JFET output stage from the Fire Red Fuzz.

Halo Distortion/Sustainer →

Aurora Compressor/Sustainer - Ross / Dyna Compressor DIY Project PCBAurora – Ross/Dyna Compressor

The Aurora gets a few upgrades: first, moving from the CA3080 to the LM13700, which is a dual version of the 3080 that is still in production and very easy to find. Second, adding a new output stage that cuts down significantly on distortion that is produced by the envelope detector. (This is optional, and the original output stage can also be used.) Third, making the Release switch into a knob, and including space for tapering resistors in parallel with the pot so that a more common 500kB pot can be converted into the required value of 150kC.

Aurora Compressor/Sustainer →

Cerulean Amp Overdrive - Marshall Bluesbreaker DIY Project PCBCerulean – Marshall Bluesbreaker / JHS Morning Glory

The Cerulean has undergone some revisions. It still supports any of the Bluesbreaker, King of Tone or Morning Glory versions, with the exception that the option for the MG’s Bright Cut switch has been removed because it’s really pretty useless. (There are already two more treble-focused controls with the on-board Tone knob and the internal Presence trimmer.) So what we’re left with is one switch for Soft Clipping (low, high or none), another for Hard Clipping (low, high or none), and the option to use the Morning Glory’s JFET gain stage at the output.

Cerulean Amp Overdrive →

Azimuth Dynamic Overdrive - Hermida Zendrive DIY Project PCBAzimuth – Hermida/Lovepedal Zendrive

A good first build for people just getting into the hobby. Nothing new in the re-release, but it’s a fantastic-sounding circuit that is at home in any rig.

Azimuth Dynamic Overdrive →

What will happen to the existing 1590B projects?

These 125B projects will not replace the 1590B versions. While I won’t be designing new projects for the 1590B going forward, I expect to keep the existing 1590B projects in stock for the foreseeable future, as long as they continue to sell. Many of the updated 125B versions are different in some way, and there are plenty of people who may prefer the 1590B versions.

Filed under Announcements

SALE: 20% off PCBs July 4-8… and some announcements

Today’s a big day!

I’ve been pretty quiet so far this year, especially after promising to release 25 projects during 2018. I am still planning on hitting that goal – it’s just going to be weighted toward the back half of the year. I’ve been heads-down working on some new stuff for Aion that I’m not quite ready to announce yet. But there’s plenty that I can talk about today.

20% off sale through July 8

Everything’s on sale right now! A 20% discount will be taken automatically at checkout. It starts today and will go through the weekend (5:00 AM on July 9).

Six new projects available today

See the full list of new projects in a separate post.

This is pretty exciting in itself, but even more exciting is that this represents a new generation of projects with a new design platform. All of my projects going forward will be designed for the 125B enclosure, with input, output and DC jacks mounted on the top side of the enclosure. They’ll be easier to build with more space inside the enclosure, while at the same time being more space-efficient on a pedalboard. (A 125B with top jacks is narrower than a 1590B with side jacks, even though the enclosure itself is larger.)

Now, the one caveat to “6 new projects” is that five of them are re-releases of my most popular current projects. But I approached them as brand new projects, so many of them have new or different features that weren’t found in the earlier 1590B versions.

More projects coming very soon

In addition to the six releasing today, several more projects are nearly ready to go. I just ran out of time to fully test them before the sale. Most or all of these should be released next month at the latest once I have time to build the prototypes and write the documentation. Right now it’s looking like three more brand-new ones and three more 125B re-releases of existing projects.

And lastly, another teaser: this is only the beginning! This new generation of 125B projects is the first step in a new initiative that I’ll say more about next month when it’s ready to launch.

But for now… enjoy those top jacks!

Filed under Announcements

International orders are being delayed by 1-2 weeks; new shipping options available

On January 21, the USPS discontinued the shipping method I had been using to send PCBs internationally for the past five years. My shipping service made a special arrangement with USPS allowing people like me to continue using this method at a higher cost by first sending the piece to a centralized shipping facility, where they would then re-label it and send it internationally.

But even aside from the increased cost, the service has been less than impressive so far. On average the shipping facility has been taking a handling time of 1-2 weeks before it sends the package to its final destination. I can handle two days, but two weeks is just inexcusable.

The word from my shipping service is that these relay facilities were unprepared for the volume of mail that started arriving, and the handling time will improve as they adjust. They have made some good changes in the past 3 weeks in reaction to customer feedback (i.e. strong complaints from many others like me) so I am optimistic that this eventually will get better.

Unfortunately, though, for the time being, I have to set the expectation that international orders using the Flats method may take between 30 and 45 days to arrive, depending on the destination.

What to do about existing orders

This increased shipping time applies to any order shipped after January 21. So if you’ve placed an order under the new system, thank you for your patience and I wish I could do something to speed it up! Please let me know if you haven’t received the order within 45 days and I will send out a replacement.

New international shipping options

Starting today, I am going to begin offering a First Class International shipping option. It’s a fair amount more expensive than the flats method, but should arrive much quicker. Here are the rates:

  • Canada: $9.70
  • Mexico: $12.00
  • Everywhere else: $13.50

You can choose your shipping option at checkout. I’ve also dropped the cost of existing Flat option to $6.00 (from $6.50) – I’m going to eat a little bit of the added cost of shipping to make up for the increased delivery time.

I am still working on some other alternatives for international orders, so I hope to have some better options to offer in the next month or two. But in the mean time, thank you for your patience!

Filed under News

International postage increase effective January 21

Today the USPS is discontinuing the shipping method I’ve been using to send PCBs internationally for the past five years.

The good news is, my shipping service has made a special arrangement with USPS allowing people like me to continue using this method.

The bad news is that in order to do this, they are implementing a new process that requires me to mail the international package to a regional shipping center where they will then label it properly and send it to the final international destination.

This service costs me an additional $2.50 per order, so as a result, I will have to raise my international rate to $6.50 effective today (Sunday, January 21). It’s much better than the alternative shipping options which would have been a minimum of $10 per order, but still, it’s very disappointing.

The other downside is that it will take a few days longer to arrive since it has to go through a relay. Since this is a brand new service from the shipping company, I don’t yet know whether it will add 2 days to the average shipping time or 5 days. I will set expectations accordingly once I know more.

Filed under Announcements

2017 in review, and looking ahead to 2018

As 2017 comes to a close, I wanted to take some time to look back at how things have been going the past year at Aion Electronics, as well as give you a look behind the scenes at what you can expect in the coming year and beyond.

2017 Milestones

Blueshift - Boss DC-2 Dimension C cloneBlueshift release

Perhaps the most exciting thing that happened this year was the July release of the Blueshift, my clone of the Boss DC-2 Dimension C. This was by far the fastest-selling new project I’ve released, which is saying something considering that it is one of the most complex DIY builds available. But many of you rose to the challenge, and I’ve seen dozens of build reports from people who said it went together beautifully and sounds great.

And best of all, the success of the Blueshift (and the L5 Preamp before it) has made it much more encouraging for me to continue the Pro Collection and I plan to develop other advanced circuits to accompany those two.

Donating 10% of PCB sales to Beza Threads

Beza Threads logoStarting in July, I began donating 10% of my PCB sales to an organization called Beza Threads that helps rescue children from forced prostitution and textile slavery in Ethiopia. It’s based on the sale price, so if a PCB costs $10, Beza gets $1.

Change in employment

In September, I dropped to half-time at my day job so I could devote more time to Aion Electronics. I’m now able to spend 20-25 hours per week doing this, where for the past 5 years it’s just been something I fit into my spare time. This is all because of the continued support of the DIY pedal community! I’ve spent a lot of time the past few weeks planning out big ideas for 2018 and beyond with the knowledge that I will have the time to execute on them.

What’s ahead in 2018

Kits!

musikding_logoI’ll make more of a formal announcement early next year, but Musikding has already started carrying my kits in Europe. They currently have 9 of them available, but will be adding many more over the coming months.

In addition, Milk Lizard in Australia is carrying a few of my most popular PCBs, so if you’re a downunder DIYer, you can get much faster shipping by ordering from them— and grab a few parts while you’re at it.

I’m still evaluating my options for kits in the United States, but that is something I do hope to arrange at some point if I can find the right partner.

Project developments

At the end of last year, I sent out a poll asking people to vote on the circuits they wanted to see most. Here are the top results from that poll as well as my current status on each of them:

  • Boss HM-2: Layout completed; currently prototyping
  • Superfuzz: Completed & released
  • Noise Gate: Circuit design finished, currently designing PCB layout
  • Guyatone PS-021: Traced original pedal; currently designing PCB layout
  • Deluxe Big Muff: Layout completed; currently prototyping
  • Boss CE-2: Circuit design finished; currently designing PCB layout
  • EHX Small Stone: Researching. I’ve drawn out the basic schematic but haven’t decided on which mods/features to include.
  • Boss DM-2 Delay: Researching. Schematic is completed like the Small Stone but still some more decisions to be made.

I’ve also finished the design on about ten more projects that are currently on my desk waiting to be prototyped. As I mentioned in the Black Friday announcement, my goal is to release 25 new projects in 2018. I hope to do releases every month on average, so you’ll be hearing a lot more from me this year.

…and a new website

My big initiative for the first half of 2018 is to build a brand new website that fits better with the vision I have for the next few years. There are a couple of specific things that need improvement more than others, such as the projects page (which was originally designed for a max of around 15 projects)—but since I’m a web developer by trade, it’s a lot more fun to just start from scratch than just keep patching things up in perpetuity!

Thank you so much for your support over the last five years. I am very excited to see what 2018 has in store!

Filed under News