Category Archives: Electronics

NAMM 2015

      Cycfi XR, Electronics, Neo Series, Pickups, Side Winder

 

Handout_Front_web

Hello Y’all. So, Cycfi Research will have a presence in NAMM 2015. William Banks will be our NAMMbassador :-). He will be bringing with him a prototype of the Cycfi XR HD Pickup set (pictures below). For more information, go visit the Cycfi XR page. I will be incrementally updating it with more information (technical info, sound clips, etc.). Bill will be posting updates on twitter @cycfiresearch (#CycfiResearch and #NAMM2015). Feel free to follow us for updates.

Cheers!

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Pre-wired Cycfi XR Assembly

Aura Strat Set with Resonant Filter.

Cycfi XR Strat Set with Resonant Filter.

Cycfi XR

      Cycfi XR, Electronics, Neo Series, Pickups
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Cycfi XR Production Prototype

Update: here’s a link to the main Cycfi XR page: Cycfi XR

Meet the Cycfi XR Extended Response Pickup. This is not your grandfather’s pickup! These are new generation, 21st century pickups, designed for the modern guitar player.

Extended Response means full frequency response from 20Hz to 20kHz and beyond. From whales to bats! These are active pickups utilising very low impedance (Lo-Z) coils with an ultra low-noise preamplifier to boost the lower level Lo-Z signal. A full bandwidth pickup gives you complete freedom to shape the frequency response —it’s the perfect blank canvas. Sculpt the tone using EQ matching to capture the frequency response of another pickup, an acoustic guitar or something else entirely new you haven’t heard before.

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Cycfi XR Bottom View

The coils are connected series phase-opposing, like a typical humbucker. The Neodymium magnets’ north all point toward the center. This setup doubles the signal strength (about twice that of the vertically oriented single coil) while eliminating the hum. The coils are dead quiet! And I mean dead quiet! Using an oscilloscope, I had to place a hefty power transformer a few millimetres above the coil to actually see the hum being cancelled while switching one coil on and off.

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3D Design

 

Innovation is Hard

      Design, Electronics, Neo Series, Pickups, Side Winder

Edison

Innovation is so hard! People often ask me why I don’t just do it like everybody else; —you know, the “tried-and-true” path. The easy path. Well, I enjoy innovating and I’m not complaining. Such is the nature of Research and Development. Anything worth doing is not easy. We have this box full of failed projects as proof!

Examples From Our Box of Shame

Failed examples from our Box of Shame

Now it turns out that the multichannel sidewinder project is another dead end. All tests (power tests, noise tests, spectrum analysis) ran perfectly, except one. It failed the crosstalk test. The original Neo multichannel pickup still proves to be the king of the hill with measured -38dB crosstalk. Contrary to what I initially expected, crosstalk is worse with the side-wound pickups measuring an abysmal -24dB :-(

The side-wound double coils are both a blessing and a curse. Its sensitivity is very good! But that also proves to be its undoing, at least for multichannel pickups. It can easily detect signals from adjacent strings. On the other hand, it is a blessing for the monophonic sidewinder where the extra sensitivity gives it better balance and uniform response.

In short: the monophonic sidewinder is still a go. We are gearing up for production now. All tests are as perfect as ever! As for the multichannel sidewinder, we’re back to the drawing board with the goal of surpassing the original Neo multichannel pickup‘s performance. Now that’s a tough goal!

 

Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy

      Electronics, Filters, Neo Series, Pickups, Side Winder

neo-hd-set

 

“Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Ah my favourite Einstein quote. Apart from the Infinity project, here’s what we’ve been working on for the past couple of months: Coming very soon, an easy to use Neo setup. This solderless system includes everything you will need to get an extended response pickup system up and running as quickly as possible. This setup shown is for a Fender Stratocaster S-S-S configuration, but various customisations are possible. For example, the bridge pickup can be paired with a Neo6 multichannel pickup (my favourite setup!). Dual humbuckers? Sure, that’s two pairs (four pickups). The tonal combinations would be awesome if you combine four pickups in various ways. Or how about 6 pickups!

In addition to 6 string pickups, available on request, we will also offer pickups for 7, 8 and 9 strings (we are committed to the ERG crowd!). We use premium components only (Bourns potentiometers, Switchcraft jacks, gold-plated headers and connectors etc).

If you wish for a highly customised setup, don’t hesitate to send us a message. Basic customisation options include:

  1. Volume control
  2. 5-way switch
  3. Passive low-pass filter
  4. Passive high-pass filter
  5. Active resonant filter with variable Q and sweepable frequency
  6. Lithium-Ion battery pack and charger (not shown)
  7. Single-coil or Sidewinder

Here’s the system on a Fender Stratocaster. I love it so much I decided to keep it permanent! I’ll post some sound clips soon.

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Cycfi Extended Response pickup set

 

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Extended Response pickups on a Strat!

Pickup Testing

      Electronics, Neo Series, Pickups, Side Winder, Workshop

Here at Cycfi Research, we test everything. It’s not just by pure luck that we have these great sounding pickups. We go through dozens of iterations until we find the best candidate. It takes time and a lot of patience. We do power tests, frequency response tests, noise tests, etc. Then of course we also do listening tests —that’s the fun part.

Here are some workshop views of our test jig, with the SideWinder undergoing power testing, using the original Neo1 as our baseline. Things are looking good!

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Our pickup testing jig

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The new Neo Side-Winder prototype undergoing tests

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Automatic string picker in action

More Sidewinders!

      Evolution, Neo Series, Pickups, Side Winder

neo6-sidewinderI am falling in love with sidewinders! Last time, I wrote about this nice double-coil monophonic side-wound pickup design. Now how about a multichannel (polyphonic) version? Each channel has two side-wound coils wired series phase-opposing (humbucking).

NeoHD

Monophonic Sidewinder Design

You get double the signal strength while still maintaining the full frequency range of the original Neos. Each coil pair has its own extremely low-noise, low-power preamplifier. This time I’m using a discrete design using ultra low-noise transistors. Tests show that the broadband noise performance is comparable to the OPA209 which has an impressive 2.2 nV/√Hz (1kHz) noise figure. In english: audiophile quality.

Neo Sidewinder Module

Neo Sidewinder Module

The poles are adjustable. That way, you can fine tune the string to string balance, without having to mess with the mixer every time. Also, it is now possible to move the poles closer to the strings because there’s less string pull. That should give you better signal strength and less cross-talk. Instead of having multiple versions (Neo1, Neo2 and Neo6), this time there will only be a single version (similar to Neo1). This modular design can be grouped into sets of 6, 7 and 8 or more strings, placed on a base board with different base-boards for different number of strings and configurations.

Sidewinder

      Evolution, Neo Series, Pickups, Workshop

NeoHD

What’s nice about active, low impedance pickup design is the compact size. The coils are a mere 5mm tall by 10mm wide. Stick two of ‘em coils sideways, put adjustable poles in the middle, aligned at right angles, and you can still fit the whole assembly inside a standard Strat single coil enclosure with enough space underneath for the preamp.

This configuration is turning out to be my favourite! The coils are connected series phase-opposing, like a typical humbucker. The Neodymium magnets’ north all point toward the center. This setup doubles the signal strength while eliminating the hum. The overall signal strength is about twice that of the standard vertically oriented single coil. But the hum (which is already insignificant to begin with because of the low impedance), cancels out. The coils are dead quiet! And I mean dead quiet! Using an oscilloscope, I had to place a hefty power transformer a few millimetres above the coil to actually see the hum being cancelled while switching one coil on and off.

The sidewinder concept is not new. The unusual pickup geometry is decades old, yet there only are only a few examples, including the EB humbucker from Gibson (50s early 60s), the Bicentenial Thunderbird pickup (also from Gibson), Bill Lawrence L-250, the P-90H Humbucker (again Gibson), the Lace “Holy Grail” and the futuristic looking Q-tuner.

Slap on a low noise preamplifier into a low impedance sidewinder, and you have an ultra-quiet pickup with very tight bass, pure natural mids, high-definition sparkling clean sound with lots of overtones way beyond the human hearing range. That’s the way I like it! Perfect. Just perfect!

 

Infinity Control Panel

      Infinity, Neo Series, Open Source, Pickups, Software

Infinity_GUI

After a few iterations using my favourite graphics tools (Photoshop, Illustrator, iDraw, and Solidworks (for anything 3D)), I think this is the minimal interface I really like. I prefer using 3D CAD software for designing GUI controls even if in the end, you won’t really see the finer details once the images are rendered to a 72dpi screen (see slider at the right). slider-whiteI love solid modeling and Solidworks is simply irresistible, once you get to know the software. There’s also this nice Java app for designing knobs called KnobMan. It’s so nifty! And it’s free. it’s so useful I didn’t hesitate to donate, never mind if it’s written in Java (argh!). I used KnobMan to design and render the sprites needed to animate the knobs.

Controls

  1. Mixer: The usual suspects: level, pan and enable switch for each channel, mix to stereo.
  2. Envelope: The sliders control attack/decay ratio (horizontal axis) and the sustain level (vertical axis). The first two knobs control the attack, decay and sustain rates. The third knob controls frequency scaling. Typically, plucked string instruments have less sustain, the higher the frequency (e.g. for guitars, the low E string sustains longer than the high E string). Frequency scaling controls sustain reduction as you go up in pitch.
  3. Virtual Pickups: Here’s where you control timbre using virtual pickup simulation (see Virtual Pickups Series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). The upper sliders control pickup placement and skew. You can have up to three virtual pickups with controls for level, cutoff: low-pass cutoff frequency and resonance (Q). You can choose single or double coil, in-phase or out of phase and pitch tracking. What is pitch tracking? Imagine the pickup moving closer to the bridge as you fret upwards. With pitch tracking on, the same harmonic shape tracks the pitch —the nodes and antinodes follow the pitch. With pitch tracking off, the harmonic shape is fixed.

Future Features

We’ll improve this interface incrementally over time. Additional features I am excited about are:

  • Waveshaping: Distortion/overdrive in steroids. I want this to be envelope controlled. And, since we have independent control of sustain, we do not need to push this too hard to get that silky sustain heavy metal folks love. It’s purpose will be solely for timbre control. It’s all about tone!
  • Waveguide and Karplus-Strong synthesis. I’m a fan of sympathetic resonance. I love innovative (and sometimes weird!) instruments that make use of sympathetically resonating strings such as the Hardanger fiddleHarp guitars, and instruments with a third-bridge. Now, imagine the actual guitar signal driving some synthesised virtual strings. Waveguide and Karplus-Strong synthesis should not be limited to sympathetic resonance. The piano, for example, has two or three strings per note, which gives it its distinct harmonic quality from the complex interaction of the strings.
  • Pitch shifting: Global and independent pitch control for alternate tunings, pitch changes, and even whammy bar effects (e.g. using a ribbon controller). Vance Galloway elaborates: I actually rather like what the VG-99 does whereby the user has control of the “tuning” of the guitar, then can decide to double any string (like a 12 string guitar) with the doubling string at any pitch and volume relative to the original, then also have control of “bend” for each string (enabling a pedal steel type effect by using a controller to ‘bend’ any set of strings by any amount, and then also have a “whammy bar” type bend for all strings. The VG-99 does a good job at this. That said – your system could go far beyond this by allowing much more real time control of tunings, more than one doubled string (4 chorused strings anyone?!).
    And again from Vance: what about a “self tuning” mechanism. That is: a pitch shifter which is intended to correct tuning of the instrument. The old Roland VG-8 had this feature. You out the system into “listen” mode, then play all of the open strings, the system detects how much each string is out of tune and applies a pitch shifter to that string to compensate. I’m not thinking of anything as elaborate as Antares’ board which does real-time intonation correction, but rather just a quick way to correct for a guitar that has gone out of tune.
    Here’s one from David Myka: A virtual TransTrem concept where each string can be pitch bent individually to harmonize through a scale, or descend atonally, or anything. A modified rotary controller with a tensioned bar could be installed in the guitar to control it. Xaled Xaled adds: virtual capo would be a nice feature as well. Obviously per string in advanced mode. Controlling advanced settings can be done using fret control:http://www.autotuneforguitar.com/technology/fret-control.php.
  • Convolution and Impulse Response. You want accurate modeling? Nothing else compares. I’m thinking about the ability to morph between two impulse responses. Imagine smoothly morphing from a classical guitar timbre to a solid body electric.
  • Chris Varnon suggested individual envelope, pickup location or other controls for each pickup. It would add a lot of clutter to the current interface so maybe that would be better for an “advanced mode” tab. Vance Galloway adds: One interesting feature of the Roland VG-88 was its ability to place the virtual pickup on a per-string basis. I found that this really produced some interesting effects – I could “tune” the pickup placement for each song I played, so that each pickup for each string produced just the right timber. Being able to switch or even morph between pickup locations on a per string basis is going to be quite powerful.
  • Mark Galang reminded me of control over partials/harmonics especially when using the sustainer driver. Úlfur Hansson did quite some amazing things with partials/harmonics control using our much loved comb-filters in his electro-magnetic harp. I know how it’s done. It’s just a matter of presenting an intuitive user interface.
  • Yet another idea for “someday” from Vance Galloway: Even though we have a sustainer in this system, I would love to see a polyphonic “hold” effect implemented. Perhaps this is one best suited for the laptop to do, bit it would be neat to have it inside the guitar. Electroharmonix has a monophonic pedal version of this effect and the VG-99 has a polyphonic version, and it’s really quite powerful and useful. Basically it’s a small looping delay with a very smooth crossfade designed to “hold” whatever note is currently playing. It’s an intimate sustain.
    The Roland VG-99 version is near because it’s polyphonic (separate delay/sustain/loop) for each string.What they fall short on is that the user has no control of which strings are intimately sustained and which are not – all strings sustain, or none sustain.Imagine a multichannel/polyphonic version of this where the user could turn on/off the sustain on a per string basis.One could imagine being able to hold some strings and not others. Or, what if Sustain was turned on by the attack of a new note – you could create sustained chords which would be possible to play in real time by doing something like playing an open E on the low E string, then a E at the 7th fret of the A string, then a B at the 9th fret of the D string, then a G# on the 13th fret of the G string, another E at the 17th fret of the B string and a super high E on the 24th fret of the high E string.Each string would automatically enter its “hold” mode when a new note was played on it.
  • David Myka on sustain control: The sustain per sting is an awesome idea and one of the most exciting things about this design. Perhaps the level of sustain could be controlled with small ribbon controllers (one for each string) and they could be induced into sustain when strumming a chord and then sliding up the gain. I wonder if a reset button could also be employed. Something that either tops the sustain immediately or gradually. Just thinking out loud.
  • From Xaled Xaled: Polyphonic MIDI-out would be a great side project.

What else? If you have something in mind, tell me what you think!

 

Neo Base Boards

      Electronics, Neo Series, Open Source, Pickups

To make it easier for 7 and 8 string extended range guitar users to get started with the Neo Series Active Multichannel Pickups, you can find in this page some design files for Neo7 and Neo8 base boards. The boards include all the necessary components: the D.C. blocking capacitors and the output headers. The boards can accommodate a combination of Neo1 and Neo2 pickups including the VRef module. See Neo Series Datasheet and Wiring Options for more information.

We do not intend to sell these boards. I provide them here only as service to those who already purchased (or intend to purchase) Neo1 and Neo2 pickups.

You can use these files as-is, or modify the layout to suit your particular needs. We use CadSoft EAGLE PCB Design Software for schematics and layout. For PCB prototyping and manufacturing, I highly recommend both Elecrow, and Seeed studio for rapid prototyping and PCB services. Both are based in Shenzen China. The prices are very reasonable. For example, a 2 Layer 5 * 5cm Max is just $9.90 for 5 to 10 boards (they always give us 10). The quality is superb. Shenzen is a significant hub for the Open Source Hardware revolution currently taking shape! The turnaround time is just a few days, excluding shipping.

Assembled Boards

7-8-base-boards-back 7-8-base-boards-front

 

Design Files

 Neo7 Base Board (CAD File, BOM, Eagle Schematics, Board, Layout, 3D files)
 Neo8 Base Board (CAD File, BOM, Eagle Schematics, Board, Layout, 3D files)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.