Christmas Present ?

Manufacture

I’m pleased to announce that manufacture has begun. As we speak the mould for the housing is being CNC-ed. The metal stamping part tooling, I’m told, is already made. In the next few days molten zinc will be forced into the mould, and will cool. It will then be polished, chrome plated and polished again. This along with the coil assemblies, magnets, circuit boards, switches, custom cables and packaging should all arrive here in Stroud on or before 15th December 2018. Leaving a manic five days for assembly in order to make the last Christmas post. That’s right, those of you in the UK will hopefully receive your Sub Pro before Christmas! My apologies to those of you elsewhere in the world, you’ll have to wait a bit longer.

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I say hopefully. This is if everything goes to plan. As I’ve found with manufacturing; nothing ever does. I’m checking in with suppliers on an almost daily basis, giving them a nudge when necessary in order to make sure that we make that deadline.

If things weren’t hectic enough we’ll be moving to larger premises at some point before the manufacture. This broom cupboard has become too small!

So where are we at with the design and manufacture? Since I last wrote there have bee two total redesigns. One which shaved a very necessary 0.8mm of the height of the Sub Pro and another which was a rebuild using a different form of 3D modelling. This was a frantic 48 hours as our die casting manufacturing partner had the machinery booked but found that the file I had sent was too complicated. Not much sleep was had in those days last week.

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This is almost exactly what you will receive in a few weeks. The design is ever so slightly different to this prototype (this is a photo by the way, not a render). But essential all the salient features are there. As you can see the aim of getting the switches onto the pickup was successful. A vast improvement, I think you’ll agree, over having them on an endpin jack or on a circuit board elsewhere.

I’ll be checking addresses before posting begins along with other relevant details.

Wish us luck! Will keep you posted with any developments!

More prototypes

Hi everyone. Thanks again for your patience with this. We’ve been having issues with suppliers and also chasing gremlins around the pickup switching system. Here’s where we are up to now:

The connectors work! The insides of the pickup will now be split into two boards. This helps with assembly and also reduces wastage.

mezzanine connector submarine pro

It also opens up the possibility of offering other switching systems in the future. Two ideas that spring to mind are just have two 3-way switches at each end of the pickup. On the bass side the three positions would offer (E), (E+A) and (E+A+D). On the other side (E), (E+B) and (E+B+G). Would like to know your thoughts about this!

Also for players who want dynamic control of string switching - strings on and off in the middle of songs there is the exciting possibility of swapping out the switchboard for a hexaphonic breakout board. This may not be for some time but it is definitely something that I am keen to get made!

Let’s take a look at how the rest of it is going together:

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As before, the final housing will be a die cast chrome plated shell. The remaining metal work will be brushed stainless steel.

assembly prototype

Here is a rough idea of how the Submarine Pro will go together. Hiding beneath the main body of the pickup is the baseplate. As before the height of the pickup can be adjusted using the hex screws on the top. One of my favourite things about the aspect of the design is that the height adjustment mechanism also doubles as a clamp for installation on acoustic guitars.

Soon we will have arranged production of the housings and eliminated all of the gremlins in the switching system. I hope to give you a better idea of the finished product in a week or so when the CNC-ed aluminium housing arrives,

Watch this space…

Modular Boards / Delays

First of all my apologies for lack of updates. There have been a number of difficult problems to solve most of which have been extremely dull but necessary to overcome. I shan't bore you with too much technical detail. Suffice to say that working with technology not usually associated with guitar pickups has thrown up its own set of problems. These have largely revolved around quality, reliability, functionality, repairability and size. However I'm pleased to say that we have navigated a way though and the latest iterations are proving extremely positive.

Let's look at some of the prototype boards.

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The switches and coils are all on one board, known as a rigid-flex PCB. This sort of technology is more often found inside DSLR cameras and smart phones than guitar pickups. This arrangement came with some issues. One that was of particular concern, in simple terms, was the thickness of the signal carrying tracks within the circuit board. There is a complex weave of wires inside that green sandwich and it was a tricky balancing act to for the cabling to work as it should, whilst being contained within such a small space. 

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Now for the major design change update. We have decided to divide the board in two. One board for coils; one for switches. The modular approach has advantages in that during manufacture if there was a fault with one of the coils, the whole assembly would have to be thrown out. With this new approach, wastage is far lower. It also means that, should it be necessary, repairs are possible. With the original Submarine it was nigh on impossible to replace a faulty switch or faulty coil without destroying the rest of the innards. This aspect did not please me at all. This slightly more modular design solves that problem. 

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After many trials and tribulations in balancing tone, signal to noise ratio, reliability, size and cost we think we've come up with the best design solution. For those of you hoping for a full hexaphonic breakout system in the future, I'm happy to report that this idea is alive and well. More info soon.

So, "when do I get my hands on mine?" I hear you ask. As you have probably guessed we are behind schedule. Only once we have finalised the design of the PCBs can we push go for the manufacture all the other parts. We are now looking at a September shipping date.  I'm so sorry that it has taken so much more time than originally anticipated. I know many of you have gigs, tours and recording projects that you were hoping to use the Submarine with. I can only apologise - I hope that I haven't put you in too tricky a situation. If you really are up s*** creek without a paddle please let me know and we'll work out a solution together.

Thank you for your patience. I really appreciate your support!

All the best,

Pete

 

 

New Design

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I've just made some quick renders of the new design. These are to show you the location of the switches and how the shape differs from the original design. I've tried to keep as true to the original as possible whilst still incorporating the switches. Not an easy task.

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Each small black switch corresponds to one of the six strings. Each switch has three positions allow the user to route each string to one of two outputs with the middle position as off.

The adjustment screws allow for height adjustment on an electric guitar and act as a clamping mechanism on an acoustic guitar.

The profile of the Submarine Pro is thin enough to fit nearly all acoustic or electric guitars.

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Hexaphonic Wonder

I recently dropped my phone. The screen shattered. A familiar story to many people. So frustrating especially when in can cost a fair bit to have the screen replaced. I looked into the DIY approach and came across a great site called ifixit. A great site for people who aren't afraid of taking things apart. They've got really good step by step repair instructions (often with videos) for everything from phones to lawnmowers. 

The reason I mention it is that I was intrigued by some of the connectors used inside the phone. They are so amazingly small with many many pins. I wondered if it might be possible to use them inside the Submarine Pro.

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Let's just get some context for why this could be a good idea. Leaving the nano sized phone components aside for a minute let's look at small scale multicore parts. 

This is the kind of connector that we would use. It's £16. In bulk the price might come down to £10. But you'll need three or four other similar connectors to make up the assembly and break out box. Then someone has to solder all the pins - a very time consuming endeavor. You can see how expensive this could become very quickly.

One reason this connectors are so expensive is that they are very rarely used. The nano connectors used in mobile phones might be as less than a penny each. Ubiquitous and cheap as chips! They can also be robotically soldered. 

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One of the tests will be to see if a hexaphonic breakout cable is possible. This would give users who wanted control of each individual string the ability to route these however they would wish. This would be a strictly custom job but could be carried out by any mobile phone repair shop. Much easier to find than a guitar tech!

Let me be clear: this is little more than an idea at the moment. It will require rigorous testing. But I have a feeling there is a real chance to open up the Submarine Pro to people who want to have that extra functionality at no extra cost to the average user. Quite what the end result will look like at this stage is anyone's guess !

Three Outputs?

multiple outs

Why not six outputs I hear you ask? Whilst I don't want to close off this possibility for the moment (more on this in a future post) I wanted to focus on users who wanted to have two or three distinct sounds/tones from their guitar. I felt this would offer enough versatility without compromising utility. Additionally the connectors, cabling, breakout box and switching would have tripled the price of the Submarine Pro. 

 

I'm always considering ways to make Submarine products more useful and versatile. One lesson learnt from the original Submarine is that people love to tinker! Some guitarists just love customisation. I felt that the original Submarine was not as 'Open Source' as it perhaps could have been. This was just not something I had considered at the start.

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The three way switch mentioned in the previous post has three positions: Channel 1 - OFF - Channel 2.

I feel that better use could be made of the off position of this switch. In an ideal world it would be sent to a third output. The stereo jack uses a TRS jack. This stands for Tip Ring Sleeve and corresponds to Left, Right and Ground.

TRRS jacks

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TRRS jacks exist but only for mini-jack connectors. You will have seen them on headphones with a microphone for use with smart phones - really not durable enough for stage use. Unfortunately it seems there is no manufacturer of 6.35mm (1/4") TRRS connectors. I have requested quotes for custom connectors but I'm fairly sure the tooling will make it prohibitively expensive.

So in the meantime I've looking at other options for how it would be possible to offer users who require three outputs the ability to have this many. At the same time I do not want it to cost more for those who don't.

 

I think the solution will be to have a stereo output as standard - endpin style for acoustic players, regular TRS jack socket for electric

 
 Acoustic Output

Acoustic Output

 Electric Output

Electric Output

 

Break out pads

Currently I have a fairly low-tech solution for what to do with the third channel. The back of the Submarine Pro will be removable. Adventurous users will be able to make a cut in part of the PCB track that will sever the connection between the middle pin of each switch and ground. A break-out solder pad will be easily accessible allowing a custom third channel to be available to those who wish for great functionality. This will require further testing as there may be earthing issues that will need to be tested for first. If this is possible it will be a nice bonus! Watch this space.

Design Update : Switches

I have lots of news since the end of the Submarine Pro Crowdfunder. Some exciting developments with the design, a slight change to the schedule (don't worry shipping is still planned for June) and if you're wondering why it's been a little quiet in the last few weeks, well I've just become a dad.  Exciting times all round.

Firstly let's talk design. We had a number of queries about how the switching would be carried out. The original plan was to locate DIP switches on the endpin. This would allow any combination of strings to be routed to two separate outputs.

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DIP switches...

...routing to stereo output

However there are some drawbacks to this. Obviously changing the routing requires getting inside the guitar. Not ideal for a quick change or experiment! Why not just give a separate switchboard I hear you ask? The short answer is that the price would go up by a substantial amount. 

When I was originally designing the Submarine Pro I was keen to have the switch on the actual pickup. Unfortunately I was unable to find a switch small enough for the job. Each option made the footprint much much bigger. However...

Over Christmas I thought I'd have one last check to see if anything new had appeared and lo-and-behold I found this in my switch sleuthing sojourn;

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It's the smallest of its kind by some margin and has been released since the Submarine Pro was originally designed. Using this kind of switch has some benefits and some drawbacks. Firstly it is small enough that six of them can fit inside the pickup housing. This means that you will be able to change the routing much much more easily - good news. the bad news is I have decided not to allow one string to be sent to both outputs. I know some people were keen for this even if it mean having impedance issues.  I'm of the opinion that this three way switch will result in a more usuable product all round.

Thirdly it will allow you to turn a string off - ie. to not send to either output. 

There is the tantalising possibility of a third output. More info on this soon.

This does mean that the prototyping stage has been put back slightly but we have enough contingency not to move the shipping date.