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November 10, 2017

Matsumin Valvecaster Guitar Effects Pedal - Tube Overdrive

I've seen a few designs out there that starve a tube filament to maintain a low voltage and still provide nice results. The Matsumin Valvecaster is one of them. For those afraid to work with tubes due to high voltage (cue Electric Six, "Danger! High Voltage!"), this keeps the power at safer levels. It also allows a 9v battery to be used (or 12V) but will consume them fairly quickly... so an AC adapter is recommended.   

The design is nice and simple, and for beginning builders it's not too hard to follow the circuit visually. There are a couple of variations floating around, so if you're looking at multiple schematics or diagrams, be aware that they aren't all the same. Other builders have created their own unique pedals based on this design, but the values of the parts are different, so again, be aware ;) 

Matsumin Valvecaster schematic from hgamps

My favorite diagram/illustration was from David Smith. The input and output jacks are included as well as the 3PDT switch to bypass the circuit. David's illustration is intended for a turret board, but if you prefer point to point it's still easy to follow. Be sure to note the orientation of the 3PDT switch, it won't work if it's oriented differently (i.e. twisted 90 degrees). 

David Smith's diagram offers an easy-to-follow layout

Here's another diagram from Stompboxed, it's a little harder to follow but still helpful. 

Another diagram for reference. 

You'll probably want to use one of the larger Hammond 1590BB (or Hammond-style) chassis as I don't think trying to shoehorn this into a 1590B would be terribly easy. The 1590BB is available from the usual suspects, Mouser, Digikey, etc. in a variety of powdercoated colors. You can also go to Mammoth Electronics and get some much cooler paintjobs for a few more bucks, or go crazy with some waterslide decals... the sky is the limit. For this project I went with a purple Hammond 1590BB ... you can almost taste the grape looking at it.  

These are cast aluminum, so you need to treat them a little more gently than something that's extruded (e.g. try to do more drilling on the drill press rather than punching holes). Punching out the holes with a tool can sometimes take away more metal than you anticipated. 

I used larger Alpha pots in this build as I had them in the work-bin. CTS, Bourns and PEC also make good pots, and if you want to check out surplus, Clarostat and Allen Bradley are also great choices. The ceramic 9 pin tube socket is set against the chassis with a rubber "o" ring which can help quash microphonics. It's overkill for this build, but I had it in the bin. Beltons are cheaper and work great as well. 

There is a corresponding PCB to be used with CNC tube socket as the solder tabs are quite small to solder accurately. These can be found on Ebay by searching for "9 pin PCB", and Partsconnexion also carries them. 

The Russian PIO caps are a little on the large side and have metal shells, so they need to be carefully placed so they don't short any leads. They can also be covered with heatshrink. PTFE (teflon) tubing is placed on bare leads to ensure they don't short either. Also space needs to be given to the open-frame Switchcraft 11 1/4" jacks so they don't bump into any parts or wires when being inserted.  

Using different colored wire during the wiring process can help you visually follow the circuit if it doesn't work upon plugging in for the first time. Having a rat's nest of the same colored wire makes things much more difficult.   

Valvecaster wired up point to point

On top of the chassis a tube shield will be installed to protect the tube from an errant foot. You can find these in a number of anodized colors from Angela.com. I thought the gold looked nice contrasting against the purple. 

Top of the Valvecaster with Tube Shield off...

...and tube shield on

Hope you enjoyed the build process of the Matsumin Valvecaster Effects Pedal. You can see it's pretty easy to build a great effects pedal without a PCB and just a few parts. Remember to use good quality parts like Switchcraft 1/4" jacks, Alpha or CTS potentiometers, etc. to ensure your new pedal lasts a good long while. 

Please remember that building/modifying circuits can be dangerous to you and/or your surroundings and should only be performed by a certified technician. The owner of this blog and all associated parties can not / will not be held responsible if you attempt a build or modification posted above and cause physical harm to yourself or your surroundings. Many electronics contain high voltages that can kill, and mods, if performed improperly, can be a fire hazard. 


  1. I built a pedal very similar to this, but using a 6111 "pencil" tube rather than the 12AU7 - almost identical specs except for the filament voltage, and essentially no microphonics (they were designed for Sidewinder missiles!). It worked well after I tinkered with the grid bias some; I found that I needed a slight (couple of volts) positive bias on the grid to get the tubes into the operating area. Once I did that though, it sounded really sweet!

    A couple of people commented on having the DC voltage across the gain pot, potentially making it noisy in the long run. I never ran into this problem, but it could be solved using a fixed resistor and bypassing that with the variable in series with a large (100 uF or so) electrolytic.

  2. Hi Mark, thanks for the very helpful comment!