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The Boss HM-2 pedal creates the defining sound of 1980s heavy metal guitar. It also works excellently with bass guitar, unlike many other guitar-targeted distortion pedals. It's like playing through an overdrive pedal and a fuzzbox through a distortion pedal into a Marshall stack all dialled to 11...

BOSS HM 2 Pedal 4

I was distressed to find that mine did not work properly with a new external 9V supply - the status LED barely lit and the sound was feeble and barely audible. After much prodding around with a voltmeter it was clear the pedal was OK, but looking at a schematic I could see there is a resistor and a diode in the external power supply line. Around four volts were being 'lost' across the resistor. A qick google confirmed my thoughts. The diode is a protection against attaching a reversed power supply, and the 330 ohm resistor is to drop the 12V from a Boss ACA supply to around 8-9V (at the power consumption of the HM2-pedal).

BOSS HM 2 Pedal text under pedal

This may seem odd - why feed pedals on 12v then drop it to 9V to match the battery?

Back in the eighties regulated power supplies were pretty rare, the typical nine to twelve volt 'wall wart' was a hefty lump with a transformer in it that often gave as much as 16 volts or even more off load. This simple arrangement provided a degree of protection by limiting the maximum current and voltage fed to the pedal circuitry in the event of using such a cheap power supply.

Indeed back in the day I used a basic transformer with a switch for several different (unregulated) output voltages to power this and other pedals - I used to start at 6V and click the volts up in 3V steps until everything worked, I think the 9V setting was best but it probably gave rather more than 9 volts.

In the happy, modern world regulated supplies are the norm so no-one is going to put the wrong voltage into their pedals... are they? See how the old pedals have 'ACA stickers but my shine new TU-3 does not... by the way web suggestions that 'daisy chaining' power to the HM-2 is a cure are wrong, but interestingly the BEQ-7 is happy to operate on 9V.

BOSS Pedal Power Sockets

The nice well regulated no-noise PSU I had made just wasn't delivering enough juice for the HM2, but the cure was simple, once I knew the problem. I just soldered a short jumper across the dropper resistor. I did not (as some suggest) short out the diode as well - this only takes 0.6 volts but provides essential protection against connecting a reversed power supply. The great thing about this mod is that it is totally reversible, just unsolder the jumper and the pedal is back to original condition.

BOSS HM 2 Pedal Jumper Soldered across resistor

And does this work? Of course it does, let me polish my djent while the world gets ready for my metal onslaught...

BOSS HM 2 Pedal 5

The Squier Vintage Modern Jaguar Short Scale Bass

The Jaguar SS has become something of a legend among bass players, as a stand-out budget instrument even at a time when affordable instruments are of increasingly good quality.

Fender Squier Jaguar Vintage Modern Short Scale Bass
Despite being produced under Fender's budget brand of Squier in South Korea, these basses are well known for their extraordinary playability combined with great looks. Part of this is, no doubt, down to the fact they are made by for Fender by Cort whose workmanship and quality standards are very high. For an RRP around £200 (as of 2019) you get a ridiculously good instrument for your money. The Jaguar is also stunningly beautiful (in my humble opinion) being based on the Jaguar guitar, which is rather chunkier than the Precision and Jazz bass shapes.

The bass is a short scale instrument - don't believe the guff that this means it is for students, guitarists and people of small stature! Some thirty years ago I played a short-scale Fender Mustang bass and it was one of the most fun instruments I ever handled, and that's why I tried out the Jag SS - I instantly discovered how comfortable it is to play and how it flatters your abilities! I'm 6' 2" with long fingers and have several 24-fret full scale length basses, so I don't struggle with a long scale, but I find the short scale bass is much harder to put down. Partly this is due to lower string tension, which makes playing less tiring and gives a deep, warm tone.

Obviously some corners have to be cut to keep to down the price, beyond simply outsourcing manufacture. In the case of the Jaguar SS, this is partly achieved by leaving out the additional control plates and active circuitry of the higher end Jaguar basses. But you still get things like a lovely fast neck and rolled fingerboard edges which give the bass its playability.

There is one widely recognised weakness, though. The split P-bass pickup has a great driving tone that can give you a good taste of real Precision bass rumble. In contrast the bridge J-bass pickup has a low output and a distinct lack of 'bite' or 'honk'. Many owners replace this pickup with an aftermarket one, say by Jim Dunlop or Di Marzio, but this could add 40-50% to the price of the bass. There is a cheap alternative that works very well.

Supercharging the Jaguar SS Bridge Pickup

First, go on eBay and obtain some 5mm diameter by 3mm thick  neodymium magnets, you will need eight of these.

Unplug the bass and loosen off the strings - you don't need to remove them - and unscrew the four pickup screws. With a little effort you shoudl be able to pull out the pickup. Leaving it wired to the instrument, peel off the backing foam that holds the two springs in place and put to one side. You should see two ceramic magnets either side of the pole pieces.

For the 'level one' supercharge you need to use a scalpel to clean away the wax from the ends of the pole pieces. Your new magnets will probably all be stuck together as a lone stack. Carefully wave the end of the magnet stack over the bottom of the pole pieces. One way round you will feel repulsion, the other attraction. Once you can feel the magnets being attracted into the pole pieces you know which way around they need to be fitted. Simply slide them one at a time from the end of the stack and sit one on the bottom of each pole piece. Secure in place with a drop of superglue. Reattach the foam and springs, refit the pickup and tune up. You should notice the pickup now has much more 'middle' and punches through rather better.

Gluing magnets in place on the pickup

You are likely to find it is still quite a bit less powerful than the P-bass pickup, even when set nearer to the strings. If you want super output from the pickup you can do the 'stage 2' mod instead. For this you need a block of wood to support the pickup from below while you use a small hammer and a blunt screwdriver or punch to gently tap the pole pieces down below the front surface of the pickup by about 4mm. Use the same technique to get the magnets the right way around, but this time the surface of the magnets repelled by the bottom of the pole pieces is the right one to have down as you fit them in the holes in the pickup cover. Once you have all eight in place, turn the pickup over face down on your wooden block. Gently tap the bottoms of the pole pieces until the magnets are flush with the front of the pickup cover. Because the cover helps locate the magnets you should not need any glue, unless any of the pole pieces have become loose.

Pickup with Depressed Pole Pieces

After refitting the stage 2 modded pickup you should find you can get a nice funky tone which is much closer in output to the neck pickup, also turning both pickups full up should give a rich, rounded tone. Finally you can use the bridge pickup with the tone backed off for more nasal 'honk' and less harsh sound.

If you find that with the two pickups turned full up the sound become very weak and trebley, then you have fitted the magnets upside down - the solution is obvious!

You can spot a stage two modified pickup because its pole pieces are smooth rather than having a spiral pattern on the end.

Rock on!

Stage 2 pickup installed, note the smooth pole pieces

 

 

 

The Maiden and the Bear.

 

You’d think it would be rare,

For a bear to shave his hair.

But he was lurking in his lair,

When he thought his fur was square.

 

He decided then and there,

Not a moment would he spare.

He loudly did declare,

That his fur he could not wear.

 

On his way he did then fare,

Till he reached the barbers chair.

Handling razor with great flair,

The barber shaved the big brown bear.

 

The bear tipped him rather spare,

Which wasn’t very fair,

As to shave Bear is rare –

I bet you wouldn’t dare!

 

Bear walked out down the stair,

Into the crowded square

And all the folk did stare,

Or mumble out a prayer.

 

The crowd called out the Mayor

Like a trooper he did swear,

The mayor was going no-where,

He wouldn’t face the bear!

 

Now the trumpets they did blare,

But the Bear he didn’t care,

For he was unaware,

That they called a legionnaire.

 

A soldier on a mare,

Decided he would dare,

But the bear without the hair,

Slapped the soldier, stole his mare.

 

Then the bear without the hair,

Rode the horse right out of there,

And the people everywhere,

The gossip they did share.

 

But when the bear got to his lair,

He found a maiden there.

And the Bear gave her a scare,

Because the bear was bare.

 

Now the Maid was rather fair,

And she gave the Bear a glare.

Said the Bear I do not care,

Is to shave my hair to err?

 

But she stood up to the bear,

Said your clothes may be threadbare,

Now put on your underwear.

For some clothes you need to wear.

 

Now the maiden and the bear,

They do make a handsome pair,

Riding out upon their mare,

It was a true love affair.

 

But the bear without the hair,

Got entrapped within a snare,

Which the mayor who didn’t dare,

Had baited with a pear.

 

Was it the end of the affair?

Well, the Maid who loved the Bear,

Stopped the Mayor with just a stare,

Cut the wire from the Bear!

 

But she rode off like a hare,

Left the bear just standing there.

To his lair he did repair,

Once again a solitaire.

 

So the moral for the Bear,

Who was left in deep despair,

Is that if you want an heir,

Don’t find a Maid beyond compare,

 

You need to be aware,

That a bear without his hair,

May seem so debonair

But his love life’s going no where.

 

The secret I will share,

The bear must grow his hair.

Then a lady bear I swear,

Will come and share your lair!

Deep in the Hive are they really alive?

The elder statesmen of 'space rock', Hawkwind have had more incarnations than The Doctor. For those who grew up on lineups featuring Lemmy, Bob Calvert, Nick Turner, Huw Lloyd Langton not to mention talented musicians such as Ginger Baker and Simon House, it is tempting to dismiss the last twenty five years (!) of Hawkwind's output. Thoise more recent albums have generally been more mindful and melodic, lacking the energy, drive and raw edge that characterised earlier albums, although the live band never lost its sparkle.

So what of The Machine Stops, the 2016 offering from Dr Technical and his current crew? It can be summedup easily: The Machine Stops represents a remarkable return to form! The concept of The Machine Stops is a society where people live isolated in hexagonal cells, communicatiung only over the internet and reliant on 'The Machine' to serve their needs. Naturally the protagonaist escapes to discover the outside world is 'green' and not the scorched landscape of Damnation Alley. Inevitablly the machine starts to fail. Based on (inspired by?) a century-old novella of the same name by E.M. Forster, an astonishingly accurate vision of some aspects of modern society that reflects a real current anxiety that we could all end up in our private bubbles serviced only by Amazon Drones.

Perhaps the greatest loss to Hawkwind was the departure of Bob Calvert, poet-musician he was responsible for the best of Hawkwind's short, focused rock songs, the classic example being the Hawklords album. Somehow The Machine Stops manages to capture, above all, the spirit of that classic album in rolling basslines, catchy riffs and tight lyrics. Most of all it has a continual feeling of excitement as well as some touches of humour. If this album had come out in the early 80s, very little of it would have been a great surprise. But this is not a dated album, it makes excellent use of modern production techniques and sounds. By refernecing eBay and the modern world, rather than following Forster's proto-steampunk vision Hawkwind's Machine is an extrapolation of today's world where social networks replace social interaction.

Interestingly, one lesson Brock has learned is to 'leave them wanting more' - several of the tracks woudl have been excellent starting points for the extended improvisation and exploration that characterised early Hawkwind albums, to the point where the end of some tracks actually feels too abrubt. That said, live performances of the material have been the opportunities to explore these avenues, notably and excetional extended jam book-ended by Synchronised Blue - for me the stand-out track on the album - see the footage below for proof.

 So let's run through the album and look at each track in turn.

 

 

Ever go to a gig, and then discover it has become a live album?

It's happened to me several times and there's something magical about having a live album that, just maybe, has you shoudting in the crowd! Here's a list, bouyed up by the decision of the BBC to record and broadcast several performances at Readinmg 1983. It may not be complete:

Black Sabbath: Live at Hammersmith Odeon - recorded live at Hammersmith Odeon 31 December 1981, 1 & 2 January 1982

Hawkwind: Coded Languages -  recorded live at Hammersmith Odeon 12/13 November 1982

Stevie Ray Vaughan: Reading 1983 - recorded live at Reading Festival, 1983

Thin Lizzy: BBC Radio One Live in Concert - recorded live at Reading Festival, 1983 (I also saw the last gig of their preceding (and last) UK tour with Phil Lynott in Hereford Leisure centre, the lacklustre live album Life was recorded on this tour over several nights at Hammy Odeon).

Hawkwind: Live Chronicles - recorded live at Hammersmith Odeon  3/4 December 1985

Man: Live At Reading Festival 1983 – Nights At The Roundtable: Concert Edition 1983.

Big Country: At the BBC - this compilation of BBC sessions and live recordings includes several songs from Reading 1983.

Marillion: Early Stages - CD 4 of this box set is their Reading 1983 performance.

Fairport Convention:The Other Boot - recorded live at Cropredy Festival 1986

Fairport Convention: The Third Leg - recorded live at Cropredy Festival 1987