Category Archives: How To

Dead Bug! Prototyping SMDs

      Construction, Electronics, Hardware, How To, Infinity, Prototype

Gone are the days of DIP (Dual in-line) ICs. Most modern ICs are no longer offered in easy to use 2.54 mm (0.1 inch) pitch packages. The descendants of DIPs, the SOIC (Small Outline IC) and its friends (e.g. the TSOP (Thin Small Outline Package)) are shrunk down to 1.27 mm (0.05″) and even as low as 0.5mm (0.019″).

So how do we prototype using such tiny critters? We do it using the Dead Bug approach: A free-form construction, point-to-point soldering, often with the ICs flipped upside-down with their pins sticking up into the air like dead insects. The components are constructed, ad-hoc, using a bare copper-clad board serving as common ground. This construction technique drastically reduces electrostatic noise compared to other prototyping techniques using perf-boards or bread-boards.

Soldering a tiny TDFN-14 0.5mm package!

Dead-bug constructions are typically ugly beasts! We use a variation of the technique called the Manhattan Dead-bug Style, using small pads punched out of copper-clad board and glued into the main copper base. The pads serve as islands for soldering circuit nodes.

High efficiency Class-D amplifier

I like modular, reusable building blocks. And so we build small modules and connect them together, all on top of another bigger copper clad board. This construction is very favorable to noise sensitive electronics. The module you see here is a high efficiency Class-D amplifier.



Nexus Update: Programming MCU Module

      How To, Nexus, Support Electronics

The MIDI module includes a small, general purpose 16-bit MCU (Texas Instruments’ MSP430) that converts control voltages (CV) to MIDI. It is designed to be hackable. If you are adventurous enough, you can reprogram the code for your own purposes. The software is Open Source and can be cloned via Github (see Nexus repository). The code is based on the ubiquitous Arduino platform to make it easy to hack into.

You need a programming device to update the MCU Module firmware. There’s a lot of MSP430 programmers available out there, but the question is. “What is the cheapest we can get?”. Answer: the MSP430 launchpad dev board from Texas Instruments. Dev boards from chip manufacturers are often heavily subsidized, making them very inexpensive. The table below shows the price comparison for a few MSP430 programming devices including the MSP430G2 Launchpad Development Board.

Device Price
TI-MSP-EXP430G2 $9.99
Olimex MSP430 – BSL $11.24
Olimex MSP430 JTAG-Tiny-V2 $58.96
FlashPro-430-LB $159.00

What we need:

  1. Nexus MCU Module

  2. MSP430G2 Launchpad dev board
  3. Female-to-female jumper wires
  4. USB Type-B mini cable

Step 1. Remove all header shunts

Carefully remove the shunts highlighted on the dev board. RX/TX pins should also be removed to avoid data collision when programming an external MCU.



Step 2. Connect the jumper wires to the Launchpad

Follow proper jumper wire color coding indicated in the pictures below.

Step 3. Connect the jumper wires to the MCU Module

Step 4. Connect the USB Cable

Step 5. Install Energia IDE

Follow this link for Mac, Windows and Linux installation guides.

Step 6. Download and clone the firmware

Follow this link. You can download or clone the repository to your local drive.

Step 7. Flash the Firmware

  1. Open the source file using the Energia IDE.
  2. Click upload.
  3. Wait until the app indicate finish upload without errors.

XR [Flex] Installation Guide

      How To, Pickups, XR Series, XR Update

Config110-FullViewAnticipating the upcoming release of the XR Flex system, I proudly present the XR [Flex] Installation Guide. We care passionately about flexibility and ease of use, and that should reflect in our manuals as well!

XR [Flex] Installation Guide →

The new system includes new 5-way “Flex” switch and a new Active Volume Control (with integrated preamplifier) as well as the the all-passive XR pickups introduced at NAMM 2016. The Flex system gives you the most versatile switching option available for the XR series.

Project: Legator

      How To, Pickups, XR Series

It is always a treat to work on guitars that have been on the road and seen the world. In this case the guitar in question is a Legator N7-300 belonging to Legator artist Matt Szlachta. Matt is an impressive player to say the least and some forthcoming demo’s will make that abundantly clear. Matt is currently a member of extreme-metal band Broken Hope as their lead guitarist (with previous stints in Chimaira and Dirge Within). We began talking about an install project prior to the holidays and it quickly evolved into what you see here. 


Matt Szlachta with his Legator N7-300 prior to the Cycfi-XR installation. Photo Credit – Tammy Vega


Matt’s guitar with the Cycfi XR system installation completed.

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Unlatching the Connector

      Electronics, How To, Pickups, XR Series

We use solder-free connectors to make it very easy for you to install the pickups and support electronics. There’s one snag though. The connector itself might not fit through the channels in the body, typically just enough for small cables to pass through. Quite often, the connector’s size prevents it to fit into tight spaces. Fortunately, there is a simple work-around: Unlatching the connectors.


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Road to Anaheim Pt. 2 – Strandberg Boden OS7 Install

      How To, NAMM, Pickups, XR Series

In less than a month NAMM 2016 will be bustling with the usual fervor. Every year brings something new, and for us here at Cycfi that means new opportunities to showcase our pickups. Among the new developments this year is an exciting cooperative effort between ourselves and Ola Strandberg, the mastermind behind Strandberg Guitarworks. The Strandberg team has been kind enough to send us a Boden OS7 for the purpose of installing an XR pickup system and to subsequently showcase the instrument at the Strandberg booth at NAMM (#3383, Hall D) – exciting times indeed! 


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      How To, Nu Series, Pickups

Audio_mixer_fadersHow do you wire the Neos?

The initial release of the Neo series polyphonic pickups was for DIYers, serious hackers and guitar builders. The Neo is not your typical pickup. You can’t install it just like any other pickup. It is polyphonic and requires more work to set-up properly. In Cycfi’s FB page, Steve Hodge comments: “A full system would be excellent. I love the concept but have no idea how to hook it all up”. Soon, we will provide support infrastructure such as breakout boxes, controls, and multi-pin cables and connectors to make it easier for anyone to use the pickups.

In the meantime, for those who are adventurous enough, it’s really not that difficult. You don’t really need an elaborate setup to get into polyphonic string processing.

Allow me to reply to an email from Sam Park:

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