bookmark_borderPedal Mod – Ibanez LA Metal

Because after all, what IS the finest of the metals?

I’ve always believed two rules about bands and pedals:

  • Any group of three or more musicians with a decent amount of talent and commitment can write at least ONE good song
  • Any pedal has ONE usable sound in it.  It might only be usable in the most limited context, but you can always find ONE thing a pedal is good at

Just as the Doors were the exception that proved the first rule, the Ibanez LA Metal pedal was the exception that proved the second.  In its stock form, this pedal absolutely defies all attempts to make it sound better when on than when off.  It is fantastically, mind-blowingly useless.

I have some pedals that are INCREDIBLY BAD–the DOD FX-17 Wah-volume, a Yamaha CP-100 compressor, an Arion Stage Tuner–and I have used several others, but nothing compares to the almost exquisite frustration of trying to get ANYTHING good to happen with a stock LA Metal pedal.  It’s not even usefully horrible.


The Pedal – Ibanez LM7 LA Metal

This pedal has three knobs:

  • Distortion – How much crappy fizz-bark you want to hear instead of notes
  • Tone – Whether the crappy fizz-bark should be dull or piercing
  • Level – How loud you want your crappy fizz-bark

The stock LA Metal pedal has three things going for it:

  • It is in a bad-ass looking matte silver case
  • It says “LA METAL” on it in big thick letters
  • It’s actually a dumbed-down version of a much better pedal

The first two things make you want to have this thing in your board just so people will understand how damn cool you are (answer: As cool as LA METAL, fool!). The third one makes the pedal extremely useful.

The LM7 was built by Maxon, who built a lot of stuff for Ibanez at the time.  Maxon also made a pedal for Ibanez called the “Fat Cat.”  The Fat Cat was kind of a cover version of the ProCo Rat pedal.  All they did to make the LA Metal pedal was remove the clipping diodes from the Fat Cat and move a few capacitors around.  They even used the Fat Cat PC board to make the LA Metal. If you open up an LA Metal, you’ll see that the board is marked “FC-10.”

Yes!  I am telling you that someone built a distortion pedal with NO CLIPPING DIODES.  Or MOSFETS. Or anything like that. It’s just the sound of an op-amp being overdriven!  YUMMY!  

Why would someone do that? My only guess is that they were sitting in a room full of open containers of solvents, doing some deep breathing and listening to RATT on a Walkman that was turned up way too loud, and they fell in love with the sound.  Then they married a canned ham.  So curvy…

Anyway, with a few fairly easy mods, you can add some clipping diodes to the LA METAL (screw it–I’m writing it in all-caps from here on), swap around some caps, and end up with what is now my favorite crunchy overdrive pedal.


The Mod

The main info on this mod is from this very useful thread, which has a nice summary of other threads/mods in it.  Look for the post from Analogguru time-stamped “18 Dec 2007, 19:42”  He runs down all the mods you need to do in order to convert the LA METAL to a Fat Cat.

I didn’t go all the way on this. I left the tone capacitor (C20) alone, to see if it would be useful as it is.

The end result is just a remarkably useful overdrive, with a wide range of tones available.

  • The Distortion knob now covers everything from nearly-clean gain through light overdrive through heavier and heavier to almost out-of-control fuzz at the far end.
  • The tone control is of MOST use between 10 and 2 o’clock. I could see changing the cap to use more of the knob’s range and get more fine control.
  • The pedal gets louder as you turn up the Distortion, so the Level control is mostly used to set the pedal’s output to where you want it relative to when the pedal is off.

This is now my go-to overdrive, which is shocking when you consider how crap the stock version is. It’s particularly good if you like snarly crunch tones, which I much prefer to smooth, compressed kinds of tones. If you watch late-night talk shows filmed in LA, and you like how the guitar in the band sounds, or if your guitar only has one cutaway, this might not be the pedal for you.

I like the snarl, and I like the ampy-ness of the pedal. It’s quite responsive to picking dynamics and pickup/tone/volume changes. Also, having an LA METAL pedal on my board makes it easy for people to recognize just how cool I am, which has sometimes been a challenge since I thinned out my poodle cut and started wearing looser pants.

The boxes in the Ibanez 7 (10?) series are an odd compromise. The cases themselves are super-solid metal, with which you could easily knock a larger man unconscious. The battery access is excellent, through the nice big, square, spring-loaded footswitch. And the switch itself is just kind of OK.  The switching feels solid under your foot, but the stompin’ area feels breakable.

I usually use this pedal in a true-bypass loop, so I don’t notice if there is any leakage when the pedal is off, and I don’t use the switch much.  I think the average user would be happier doing things this way.

I just acquired a second LA METAL pedal a couple of days ago, and I’m going to fiddle with diode combinations on the new one. I might also put in a socket and mess with op-amp options.

If I can just give the world the perfect LA METAL pedal, I will know I have not lived in vain.

bookmark_borderPedal Mod – BBE AM64

Circuit board
This is what science looks like when it is about to rock out

This one is really simple.

The BBE AM64 is a distortion pedal for guitar.  Yep.

I love overdrive pedals, particularly medium-gain ones, that let you control the amount of crunch with your picking or the volume knob/pdeal.

I love fuzz pedals, particularly the insanely gain-y ones where you hit the button and hold on for dear life.

I’ve never been a fan of distortion-distortion pedals, because they’ve always seemed like a kind of boring middle ground. Like the porridge that Goldilocks chose, and we all know that she just played the same damn pentatonic licks over and over until the bears ate her or whatever.  Not sure on that–I didn’t read the book, because I knew it would just spoil the movie.

Anyway, what?  Oh, yes–distortion pedals.  Right. They have no real sensitivity to them, but they are also not crazy.  That seemed pretty boring.

I just didn’t get it at all until I had to switch quickly between singing and playing guitar parts and soloing in the same song. Then I understood the value of just pushing a button and automatically getting That One Sound for Just This Bit of the Song.

Which brings us to…


The Pedal – BBE AM64

I happened upon this wonderfully cheap example of just how well production pedals CAN be made, did a bit of reading up, and it seemed really dumb not to get it.  I think these things sold for well under $100 in their heyday, and then ended up getting cleared out at something like $30 a year or two ago.

For that, you got:

  • A metal box (with a heavy plastic bottom, which is quite solid).
  •  Mechanical true-bypass switching, using one of them blue 3pdt switches just like the big kids use.
  • Box film capacitors.  Really.
  • Full-sized Alpha pots.  Really.
  • Cleanly made board with all human-fixable (no SMC) parts.

This is a long way from sucking.  It’s really how everyone should be doing it, PARTICULARLY folks who charge more than $30 for pedals.

The pedal has three knobs:

  • Level is the output level
  • Tone is the tone control
  • Gain is how much crunch you get

There is no useful clean setting on the stock pedal. If you turn the gain all the way down, and the level all the way up, you’ll end up quieter with the pedal on than with it off. With the gain up at all, you start to clip.  Yep, it’s a distortion pedal, and that’s what you’d expect it to do.

The circuit is based around a TL072 op-amp, and uses a pair of LEDs for clipping.  Sometimes I like LEDs for clipping–I’ve used them in a couple of other mods I have done–but in this case, the result was pretty fizzly.  I tried the pedal with a few guitars, and found:

  • It’s kind of OK with humbuckers, but I don’t use them much
  • On a Strat with regular passive pickups, it’s meh.  Works fine on the bridge pickup, if you really jack up the gain on the pedal, but almost everything can do that trick.  Boring in other positions, and notes fizz as they decay.
  • Surprisingly good on my Tele-ish guitar.  It’s got a P90 in the neck, and got along pretty well with this pedal
  • Quite unpleasant with my Strat with Lace Sensors.  No sir, I did not like it.  The fizziness was really pronounced, and there was nowhere to set the tone on the pedal that wasn’t either a cloud of low mid or a piece of piano wire in your eye.

The Mod

I did about the simplest thing I could do:  I swapped one of the clipping LEDs for a 1n4148.

That seems to have sorted things out nicely.  The disto is now thicker and finer-grained, which lets the notes have more body and the sustain makes more sense.

i figured that this would be a good first step.  This pedal is a good candidate for putting in a socket and some switches and trying out a bunch of op-amp and diode combos.  It might also benefit from some messing with the tone stack, as the stock set up has too much range.  There are simply too many places you can turn the tone knob that sound awful.

But for now,  this one change has made it a fine punch-it-and-go pedal for all those times you just can’t say with flowers.

Overall, this might be the best platform for distortion modding , because the base pedal is very well-made, most of the parts you’d want are already in the pedal, and the stock configuration sounds far worse than it should.  I’d certainly pick up another one or two if I got them at the same price.