A few short videos I put together to show how to use the Blue Nebula and it’s Librarian software.
Naturally a number of you have been asking where/when you can hear some demos of the Blue Nebula. Thanks to Steve Reynolds and Alan Simm for permission to post these links to their excellent recordings made using their Blue Nebula pedals.
Update: Two more Blue Nebula tunes. These are from Tonnie Tijssen – scroll down to the bottom of this post.
Yesterday Once More (Alan)
California Blue (Steve)
In a Persian Market (Steve)
What a Wonderful World (Steve)
Iggle Piggle (Steve)
The Blue Nebula comes pre-loaded with 8 extra effects in its second effects memory, in addition to the classic Meazzi, Vox and Roland emulations in the first memory. Among these extra effects are three effects, coded by Steve Mitchell, that emulate the Binson Echorec 2 magnetic drum echo machine.
The Binson Echorec 2 had four equally-spaced playback heads around a motor-driven drum which had magnetic wire wrapped around its circumference. The signal was recorded onto the drum using a record head and the delayed signals were picked up by the four heads before the signal was erased by a magnet. The speed of the drum was fixed and this, and the spacing of the play-back heads, resulted in up to four separate equally-spaced delayed signals with a maximum delay (from Head 4) of about 300ms.
A 12-way switching matrix was used to select one of 12 combinations of the four heads. You can see the 12-way switch at the right hand end of the Binson in the photo Figure 1.
In the Blue Nebula Binson emulations we have replicated these 12 original combinations and added another three that were not available on the real Binson.
There are three Binson emulations (#8, #9 and #10) that cover the 15 head combinations in groups of five. The heads selection within each emulation is made using the P2 knob which is shown as ‘Heads’ on the Blue Nebula LCD. The P2 heads selections are shown on the LCD as A, B, C, E and F, the same method we use for the Meazzi and Vox echo models.
The table below shows the Blue Nebula’s Binson switching matrix; the first 12 entries correspond to the 1-12 positions of the Binson switch; the last three entries are the extra head combinations not available on a normal 12-position Binson switch.
|Effect #||Effect Name||‘Heads’ Selection||Head1||Head2||Head3||Head4|
- A ‘1’ in one of the Head columns indicates that head is on, a zero indicates it is off.
- Feedback is taken from all selected heads in a patch, e.g. replay heads 1+2+3+4 uses feedback taken from all 4 heads.
- The last three selections are not available on a normal 12-position Binson switch.
- When selecting the multi-heads there is an equal attenuation applied to ensure that head summation cannot exceed +3dB to keep headroom intact in the DSP chip. Hence more attenuation is used as more heads are included in a patch setting.
- There is a similar attenuation for feedback to ensure that oscillation cannot go out of control.
 The Blue Nebula comes pre-loaded with three Binson Echorec emulations (numbers 8, 9 and 10) in the second effect bank
 The ‘Heads’ selection (shown as A, B, C, E or F on the LCD) is made using the P2 knob on the Blue Nebula
Click the following link for a nicely formatted version of this table🙂
In order to make it easier for Blue Nebula users to share their User Patches with others, I’ve set up a database on my Google Drive with a simple form that you complete and submit so the patch information is added to the database. The database itself is in the form of a spreadsheet that you can open to view the patches that users have submitted.
Important: By completing the form and submitting your patch data to the database you are consenting to have this information placed in the public domain.
To see the patches in the database click here
The fields you will find on the form (below) are:
- Patch Name – usually the name of the tune which this patch is intended for (16 characters maximum)
- The Effect Number – this is a drop-down list that you can use to choose from the BN’s 16 built-in effects
- The parameter knob settings – P1, P2 and P3 (please use the 0-10 range for these)
- Author’s Name – so you get the credit for your creation. Use a nickname/forum name if you prefer
- An optional Comment field – leave it blank or add any additional information you wish.
The sign-up form for the Blue Nebula mailing list is now on the Stanley-FX website.
If you’re interested in receiving the latest information on the Blue Nebula, including availability and prices, just click on the ‘Mailing list’ link, fill in the form and click ‘Subscribe’.
(If you’ve already filled in the contact form on the ‘The Last Stage …’ page here on my blog there’s no need to subscribe again as I’ve already added you to the list).
I promise you won’t be bombarded by emails about anything else or from anyone else, just relevant information about the Blue Nebula pedal that you’ve already expressed an interest in.
Joining the list doesn’t commit you to purchasing anything and you can unsubscribe at any time.
In part prompted by the lack of a Mac OS version of an app to upload firmware revisions to the EchoTapper and Blue Nebula effects units, I decided to add this feature to the Blue Nebula Librarian and also to update the older EchoTapper (eTap2HW) Librarian.
This now means that users of both Windows and Apple Mac OSX computers can update their firmware in both effects units without needing to use a third-party app such as XLoader, which in any case was only available for Windows🙂.
Blue Nebula Librarian beginning with Version 4.00 and EchoTapper Librarian from Version 3.00 include this very useful feature and you can download them now from the ‘Latest Updates Here’ link in the menu bar above.
Note to Mac Users: you will need to download and install the Arduino IDE in Applications. Don’t worry, you don’t have to understand it our even need to run it but it contains an application that is required by the Librarian. Windows users do not require the Arduino IDE.
Both Windows and Mac require the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) Version 8 or above to be installed. If you don’t already have it – if Librarian is working you DO have the JRE🙂 – click here and choose the version of the JRE for your operating system.
When a firmware update is released the first step is to download and unzip it (if necessary) to your computer from this website and make a note of where you saved it (by default it is usually saved in the Downloads folder). Now connect your Blue Nebula or EchoTapper to the computer via the USB cable and choose the Serial Port that it is connected to in the usual way. Click the red Firmware Update button at the bottom of the Librarian window and a file browser will open to allow you to locate the file you downloaded previously.
Select the correct file (it will have a .hex extension) and click Open. Depending on the speed of your computer the update takes about 15-30 seconds after which the Blue Nebula/EchoTapper will restart. As your effects unit displays its Welcome screen, you can check that it now shows the version number of the updated firmware to confirm the update has been successful.
Please note that the firmware update ‘disconnects’ the effect unit from the computer’s serial port so if you wish to continue using the Librarian after an update you need to click the Re-scan button and reselect the Serial Port to re-establish contact with the Blue Nebula/EchoTapper.
“A box without hinges, key, or lid,
Yet golden treasure inside is hid.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien,
The Final Part?
At the end of the last Chapter I told you that I had decided to design an effects pedal-sized version of the vintage echo box that had started out as a rough prototype over three years ago.
Initially I made a few measurements to see if there was any chance that Piet’s original eTap2hw motherboard and my Arduino automation could be squeezed into a typical guitar effect enclosure, such as the Hammond 1590XX. It quickly became apparent that this wasn’t going to be possible so I started a re-design of the whole thing from scratch. At first I simply tried to stick with Piet’s motherboard design and designed a new PCB layout for it. One of the most popular PCB design applications is undoubtedly Eagle but I never really liked it or found it user-friendly and once team member Mick Taylor had pointed me in the direction of DipTrace, I immediately found it intuitive and easy to use.
Following various false starts I was beginning to settle on a two-board design with the audio circuitry on one PCB (basically this was Piet’s original motherboard design) and the ‘brain’ which consisted of the Arduino and the circuitry from Piet’s Universal I/O board on another PCB.
This early design retained Piet’s original preamp including the Fetzer valve input stage but Steve and Mick had been quietly working on a new improved design that used four FETs which would end up as the Stanley-FX Baby Blue pedal, a replacement for the already successful eTap2hw pedal from the same company. (The Baby Blue, effectively a Blue Nebula with the original eight eTap2HW echo effects and without the ‘bells and whistles’ of automation etc., is already available to buy from the Stanley-FX website at £129.99.)
I had also discovered the Arduino Nano which is a much more compact little Arduino which still retained all the memory and processing capability of the Arduino Uno I had used in the original designs.
The team consisting of myself, Steve, Mick and Piet (by the way none of us has, as yet, ever met in the flesh) exchanged ideas and designs via email and Dropbox eventually ending up with a ‘final’ schematic that incorporated the 4-FET preamp, the Arduino Nano ‘brain’, the FV-1 DSP chip, two EEPROM memory chips for the DSP programs and another EEPROM that would store the User patches, allowing up to 128 patches to be stored.
Using Diptrace to capture the schematic from our various efforts I came up with an initial PCB design which Mick, who has vast experience in this area from his own Stanley-FX pedal designs, reworked to improve the layout, give better separation of the digital and analog circuitry and add ground planes that would ensure the Blue Nebula would enjoy excellent low-noise performance.
The design did end up on two PCBs: a Main Board (with most of the circuitry) and a Controls Board which had the pots and navigation switches. In this early design the LCD was a separate module that would be connected to the main board by a short cable. The two PCBs were interconnected with a short ribbon cable.
To ensure the design would all fit correctly in the proposed Hammond die-cast enclosure I used DipTrace to export 3D models of the boards and imported these into a 3D CAD package called DesignSpark.
At this stage, with everyone happy with the progress so far, I ordered a batch of PCBs and eagerly awaited their arrival so I could start putting together the prototype. The boards arrived and I was very pleased with the quality so I got busy assembling the first working prototype.
By this stage I had come up with the name Blue Nebula for the new effects pedal and the other guys liked that so that name has stuck but, in honour of the original eTap2HW creator Piet, who is Dutch, I decided to built the prototype in an orange Hammond enclosure🙂
This initial prototype was put through extensive testing and enabled us to decide on a number of changes and improvements that would make the pedal better from both the user’s point of view and also simplify the assembly if anyone wanted to build one for themselves. For example we decided to
- Replace the separate LCD module with one mounted directly on the controls board
- Replace the small navigation/editing buttons with a larger Navigation switch
- Have the Controls Board plug directly into the Main board so avoiding the need for special tools for making up a ribbon cable
- Relocate the MIDI circuitry onto the Controls Board (it was originally on the Main Board)
- Move the input and output jack sockets slightly further apart for a better fit in the enclosure
- Move the Up and Down footswitches further apart so wearers of Size 12 boots wouldn’t accidentally stomp on the bypass switch😉
- Fit a Lexan faceplate to protect the LCD from scratches and ingress of dirt and liquids (fancy a beer anyone?)
Mick quickly re-designed the PCBS and after more 3D modelling we ordered a batch which myself, Mick and Steve then used to build a number of final pre-production units to ensure all our modifications had worked out and we hadn’t introduced any other issues.
The hardest part of the assembly is the machining of the enclosure to ensure everything will fit together correctly and we realized that this would be quite tricky for the average builder who would possibly lack either the ability and/or the tools to produce a sufficiently accurate result.
Mick invested in a CNC machine and after some trial and error and making extensive improvements to the machine itself he was happy that he could produce accurately machined Blue Nebula enclosures. Mick (proprietor of Stanley-FX) can also undertake powder coating and silk screen printing and the CNC and finishing processes have resulted in a fabulous result:
Everything fits together perfectly and the end result is really quite stunning to behold. So, at last, that effects pedal I had imagined way back at the start, is now sitting on my pedal board, looking and sounding great and with features I hadn’t even dreamt of when I set out on this ‘journey’ way back in February over three years ago!
The Blue Nebula will soon be available from Stanley-FX as a fully built, tested and guaranteed unit at a very reasonable price (To be confirmed). If there is sufficient interest it may also be available in kit form with the finished enclosure as shown above. Further details will be published as soon as possible.
I want to finish this story by saying a big ‘Thank You’ to Piet, Steve, Mick, Ecca, Rolf, Johan and all the others who all played some part in this journey with their generous help, designs, ideas, suggestions and encouragement that kept me going. I hope you all agree that the end result has been well worth it🙂
If you’d like to be kept up to date on the Blue Nebula development including prices and availability, head over to the Stanley-FX website and subscribe.