Vertex "Steel String" Clean Drive | New Build Day!
I was always curious about this pedal and the great reviews. If I could have SSS-esque tones from my Hot Rod Deluxe (for band practice), I'm in! I stumbled upon a layout on Guitar FX Layouts which was neat! I soon then stumbled upon PedalPCB's Six String Stinger and I was sold!
The PedalPCB layout is gorgeous. I'm preferring the top jacks on 125B enclosures lately so it was a great match for my smaller pedalboard. It makes me curious why the real Steel String is so large if the circuit board is tiny and the components are surface mount? Anyway... I initially had a hard time sourcing J201 JFETs but Mouser electronics stocked J201s for a split second and I was able to grab 10 real J201s. I read on the reviews of the Six String Stringer that the J201 quality makes all the difference in this build so I figured I would pick up a bunch of them and socket the connections for ease of tests. I bought a 50 pack of "genuine Fairchild" J201 from eBay which shipped from china for about $6 USD.
I'm reading more and more about pedal and amplifier design and best practices so I incorporated some of those design decisions in my build. Specifically the choice of non-polarized (NP) caps in DC blocking (coupling) positions. Keeley long stated that the NP caps are better sounding and theoretically, I would have to agree with that. Most electrolytic capacitors are polarized and will breakdown if there is reverse (negative) voltage. The result in tone is signal distortion. Using NP caps, you don't have this condition and your original signal is maintained, especially at lower frequencies.
I chose 1% tolerance metal film resistors as well for this build for theoretical lower thermal noise and tighter tolerance to the original design. This is another thing that I've been reading up on. The inherent inductance and capacitance of these resistors at 9v and at audible frequencies is negligible. It's debatable if this makes a difference at all with high voltage amplifiers but that's research for another day.
I designed my own decal by using InkScape freeware and making it available here for everyone on GitHub. Feel free to use it for your own build or modify the files for your taste. I chose "Steel String Smalls" because it's smaller than the real Steel String, it contains all "SSS" letters, and Way Huge started branding their smaller editions of pedals the "Smalls" so I thought I'd combine all those things hehe.
I picked up the knobs from Love My Switches and they feel great. Real heavy duty aluminum. The WIMA caps and resistors are from Tayda Electronics and the NP caps, electrolytics, jacks, and 3PDT switch came from Smallbear Electronics.
I documented my full build on YouTube for your educational and entertainment purposes. Be sure to subscribe since I typically push out a YouTube video before a blog post.
I'm intrigued by this pedal. I originally had the eBay J201 JFETs installed and the pedal didn't really have much gain throughout the sweeps. It made the pedal seem more like a clean boost more than anything, which I have read some people call this pedal a clean boost. I swapped out the J201 with the ones I sourced from Mouser Electronics and now the pedal had overdrive tones after 12 o'clock on the gain knob. There is a good amount of boost out of this pedal too. I have not compared my pedal next to a real Steel String in person, but what I can learn from other YouTube reviews, mine sounds extremely similar to the real one.
Does it sound like my Steel String Singer clone? Not really. I have yet to push my SSS in a way that distorts naturally without help from a pedal or FET input. I'm also using high power handling speakers so my setup is for real clean tones across the volume/gain sweep. It DOES help shape the tone a bit with my Hot Rod Deluxe for the better. I do like this pedal for accepting each of my 5 pickup positions. In my opinion, this pedal could be swapped back and forth with my Marshall Blues Breaker Mk1 position for a slightly gritty/compressed tone with single coil pickups.