BOSS OS-2 Overdrive/ Distortion MOD

I have been playing for two weeks with a BOSS OS-2 overdrive/distortion pedal I found in ebay for repair. Repairing was easy, just needed some pots cleaning.

OS-2 with modified knobs and circuit
OS-2 with modified knobs and circuit

The concept is nice: there are two blended circuits:

  • Overdrive, by asymmetrical soft clipping in the feedback loop of an operational amplifier, like most overdrives out there.
  • Distortion by symmetrical hard clipping in the output of the other operational amplifier of the same chip.

You can blend the two by rotating a “color” control, from overdrive on the left to distortion on the right. After the blend section, there is a tone one. The “Drive” pot is a dual 270k potentiometer, each unit connected to the feedback loop of each of the amplifier units.

Out of the brown box (it didn’t come with the original BOSS box) I found some things I didn’t like:

  • Little bass response in the overdrive mode, too much treble for my liking. Usable for me, but could be improved (from my point of view, for my own needs).
  • I usually don’t like pure distortions and hard clipping, so I didn’t expect to like this side too much. I found it too flat and hissing, with little mids, but having a nice boost in the 100Hz (aprox) freq.
Original OS-2 circuit
Original OS-2 circuit

I think there are almost no “bad designs” or “bad pedals” out there, it is just a matter of taste. Many like pedals that I hate (don’t want to give names). Maybe the best overdrive or distortion pedal is no pedal at all, but for people like me that usually don’t play on stadiums, distortion pedals are a good tool to get close to the tone of your favorite player.

Moreover, when you modify a pedal, you are not improving the design, but improving your particular unit for your particular taste. Most components vary a lot in value from unit to unit, and manufacturers have to take many constraints into consideration in their designs. Therefore I think we have to be humble when “improving” a device.

That said, in this case, I considered these objectives:

  • Distortion side:
    • Raising mids and cutting that hiss
    • Trying asymmetrical clipping in this kind of circuits, just for fun
  • Overdrive:
    • Raising mids too, and add some more bass response
    • Trying leds clipping for a supposedly more natural overdrive, and also for fun

After some tweaking and some regrets, I performed to the following changes:

component old value new value why
U2 (opamp) JCR1458D JCR4558D JCR4558D has better characteristics:
1458D
Input Resistance = 1M
Slew Rate = 0,5V/uS4558:
Input Resistance = 5M
Slew Rate = 1V/uSSlew rate affects the circuit bandwidth higher limit, in this case from 8KHZ to 16KHz. Maybe it is overkill, but I think this gives more freedom at adjusting the frequency response of the circuit.
C6 1nF remove More bass in the output of the tone stack
C27 47nF 220nF Lowers freq. in high pass filter at the input of the overdrive section -> more bass
R39 100 150 Lowers gain in overdrive. See C23
C23 4.7uF 2.2uF In combination with R39, it forms a high pass filter, attenuating frequencies below the cut-off frequency. The modification changes the pass freq from 338Hz to 482Hz. In combination with the C27 change, it results in more mids
D7,D8,D9 Junction diodes D7,D8=Red LED – D9=BAT46 (Schottky) It changes the form of the clipped signal. Red LEDs have Vf=1.8V (instead of 0,7) and different I/V curve. I put a schottky just to experiment, another kind of diode can be used, or just a cable for symmetrical clipping. Another LED would be too much Vf and can result in no clipping
R2 20K 68K This resistor is part of the circuit that balances overdrive and distortion. Since LEDs are used for clipping, the output voltage of the operational is too much when compared to distortion output. Raising the value of this resistor lowers the output of the overdrive section. R13 at the end of the distortion circuit can be lowered too, but that raises the cut-off frequency of the low pass filter formed by R13 and C8, not contributing to eliminate the hiss
C16 18nF 22nF Lowers the cut-off frequency of the high pass filter after the hard clipping section, raising mids in the overall circuit
D3,D4 Junction diodes D3=1N4148 – D4=BAT85 (Schottky) + 10 Ohms resistor It changes the hard clipping section from symmetrical to asymmetrical. The schottky + resistor gives a smoother I/V curve than the diode alone. Just an experiment (successful for my ears), as in the soft clipping section
C8 820pF 4.7nF Lowers the cut-off frequency of the high pass filter after the hard clipping circuit. This is key to cut the hiss
BOSS OS-2 modified circuit
BOSS OS-2 modified circuit

Lessons learned

At first I tried LEDs also in the hard clipping section, getting a not so nice result. Probing the circuit with the oscilloscope, I discovered that it was not clipping at all, you could remove the diodes and get the same output. Forward voltage is so high, even for red LEDs (different color LEDs have different Vf), that it didn’t clip at all. The distortion came from the saturated transistor and was not very pleasant.

Then I tried different combinations of Schottky and junction diodes (I like Schottky diodes lately…) until I got to the above blend.

I tried green and blue LEDs and combined LEDs with junction and Schottky in the soft clipping section, but I didn’t like the results. If you have read my other post about SD-1, green and schottky was my final combination in the BOSS SD-1, but it does not seem to work in the OS-2. The final combination was the nicer for my ears, just that.

I put a trimpot instead of R13, in order to adjust the output of the distortion circuit, but the result was catastrophic: more hiss and even oscillation when the trimpot got near zero ohms. So I changed R2, getting much better results.

As you can imagine, the values of the capacitors and resistance are not casual, I have tried many combinations and calculated some filter frequencies to get to those values. Some starting points came from forum posts and some other pages, and I changed some components and at the end returned to the original values (C26 for instance) . The lesson here is: calculate values for the filters involved and act with a purpose. I took some ideas from this post: https://www.roboticbeast.com/modification-de-la-boss-os-2/ but some didn’t wotk for me or with my unit. Another lesson (I already knew, of course) is that every modification affects the whole circuit in some measure, so you shouldn’t change a single component and see if you like it.

Also found a very useful tools for analyzing frequency responses by generating signals and capturing the output of the pedal with a computer and its sound card, more on this in some future post.

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Asymmetrical Octaver Effect

In a previous post, I told how I made an EQD Tentacle Clon in a 1590 Enclosure. I took the layout from http://tagboardeffects.blogspot.com.es/2016/11/earthquaker-devices-tentacle.html and made some minor changes:

  • I used NPN transistors with a high beta (>400), I think they will give higher input gain and more output gain in the final stage.
  • I had a very anoying noise in this circuit from a cheap power supply. Added a 56 Ohms resistor between supply 9V and circuit and the noise disappeared completely. It seems that the 100uF capacitor was not enough and needed a little resistor to absorb the noise.
  • Ommited the two bottom rows with no function.

Yesterday a made a new, more drastical change: I swapped one of the two rectifier diodes (1N4148, Vf = 0.7V) with a BAT46 Schottky diode, with Vf = 0.3V, just to experiment with this component.

The electrical result is an asymmetrical rectification of the input signal, as can be seen in the oscilloscope:

IMG_20181004_134811
input signal below, output signal above

The audible result is a more natural sounding octave effect. Usually octavers have to be combined with overdrives or fuzzes in order to be bearable. Otherwise they sound too robotic and are unusable, at least for me. With this change, even if visually does not seem to be very different from its symmetrical counterpart, at least for my ears it sounds like a very dynamic distortion, and of course gets improved with some kind of light distortion after it.

The ugly, the good and the minor third

Why does a melody sound good to us, to some of us but not to others? Why does a song sound sad while another one sounds glad or awfully dissonant? I don’t know, of course, but it seems to have to do with evocation of known melodies, cultural conventions and something in our brain that is still to be discovered.

Some time ago I was curious about what kind of sound resulted from the addition of two notes in a chord or a melody.

Let’s consider a root note, let’s say A440, known to have a frequency of 440Hz. The sound will be a sinusoidal wave,  something that would seem like a flute.

root

Now let’s add a perfect fifth. We’ll consider a perfect fifth to have a frequency = 3/2 of its tonic.

5th

In black we have the tonic, in red perfect fifth and in blue the sum of both signals. What happened? The resulting sound is a signal with a frequency of 1/2 * 440Hz = 220 Hz.

Now let’s consider our A flute and an added major third. There are several standards for major and minor third frequencies related to tonic (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_third) but for this exercise I will take the just intonation, in which the major third has a frequency of 5/4 multiplied by its tonic frequency.

M3rd

In black the tonic, in red the major third and in green the sum. Now we have a resulting signal of  1/4 * 440Hz = 110 Hz.

Now let’s add a minor third to the tonic. In just intonation, minor third has a relationship of 6/5 with its tonic frequency.

m3rd

In black the tonic, in red the minor third and in green the addition of both. Now the resulting frequency is 1/5 * 440Hz = 88Hz

The last plot will consider a very dissonant note, a minor second, with a relationship with the tonic of 16:15.

m2nd

The frequency of the resulting signal is 1/14 * 440Hz = 31.42Hz

Obviously, as the second note’s frequency approaches the tonic’s frequency, the resulting signal has a lower frequency.

Now let’s take a chord. A major chord will be something like this:

majorchord

In black the tonic and in red the addition of tonic, major third and perfect fifth. The resulting signal has a frequency of 1/4 * 440Hz=110Hz.

Now with A minor:

minorchord

Now the resulting signal has a frequency of 1/10 * 440Hz.

Let’s summarize the results:

interval/chord frequency note
tonic 440Hz A4
perfect 5th 220Hz A3
major 3rd 110Hz A2
minor 3rd 88Hz ~F2-F#2
minor 2nd 31.42Hz ~B0-C1
A major 110Hz A2
A minor 44Hz ~F1-F#1

Perfect fifth and major 3rd have a curious property: when you add them to the tonic note, you produce a signal whose frequency has the same frequency of the same note in a different octave. However, when you add a minor 3rd or a minor second to the tonic, the resulting signal frequency has no relationship with any note.

I hope you have enjoyed this mathematical experiment and that it will make you think about intervals in a different way. But above all, please enjoy your favorite music, either thinking about intervals or not thinking at all.