ZO-3T Conversion

You may have read or seen something about the Nomad Crush Reverb Store I started this year. Selling these secondhand guitars was an opportunity offered to me that I thought I should take. I was no longer working in my part-time job due to COVID and hadn’t had much luck finding a new job. Lockdown in Melbourne wasn’t a bad experience for me as I made the most of the time to work on music, but I found it to be a little depressing when it came time to start applying for jobs again. Selling these guitars was the first real job I was offered so I took it.

A box of Fernandes Nomads from Japan came to me via Mojo Stompboxes in Sydney. All of the guitars needed to be cleaned, serviced and set up ready for sale. There was a ZO-3T model with a Stratocaster-style floating tremolo bridge amongst the collection of guitars that had a broken headstock and was looking a bit rough. I decided that I’d rather not be selling an instrument with faults, so I would keep this guitar myself and turn it into a regular electric guitar as a fun side project.

The Nomad (ZO-3) typically has active circuitry that is powered by a 9V battery. As well as having a regular output jack, these guitars also have an onboard, five inch speaker. There are various models and they have been made in various countries: Japan, Taiwan and China. Most of the guitars that I have are Japanese and there’s currently two Taiwanese ones. ‘Zō’ means elephant in Japanese and there’s a cute Elephant character that Fernandes use for this model. I chose the name ‘Nomad Crush’ because the word ‘crush’ can be both a noun and a verb. To love or lust after something, or to smash or conquer. Sometimes it’s good not to labour over such things. The name felt good so I committed to it.

The first step in the conversion process to pull it apart which allowed me to learn more about the anatomy of these weird looking instruments. I unbolted the neck so I could condition the fretboard, polish the frets and repair the headstock. Then it was time to work out how I was going to fill the empty speaker cavity.

The ZO-3T straight out of the box, being dissected.

I took some measurements of the empty space and decided that I would make some kind of wooden block to fill it. As I saw the project as somewhat of a prototype, I wasn’t too concerned about going all out and spending a lot of money on it. I already had a few pieces of MDF lying around that made me decide that I’d use that material to fill the hole I’d left in the guitar.

A 16mm piece of MDF was cut, sandwiched and glued together to make the rounded square section, and a 9mm piece would form the circular section. The pieces weren’t the correct depth and wasn’t going to be a perfect fit, but it would suffice. My parents were in town for a few weeks so my Dad was enlisted to help me. He had an electric jigsaw and a few other tools in the storage compartments of his 4WD that were needed to do the job.

I did consider going to a local ‘men’s shed’ to ask for help, but as Dad was in town, I thought it would be nice for us to have something to work on together. My Dad and I haven’t spent a lot of time together since I stopped going fishing with him, which must have been when I was around 12 years old. We tend to drift away from our parents in our teens and since I moved away from home in my early 20’s, I really didn’t see either of my parents often. Now that I am getting older, I’m an wanting to spend more time with them. We’re all getting older. Let’s get back to the guitar project, shall we…

Taking measurements of the cavity. The funny shape in the square is for the back of the headstock.

I asked my Dad how he thought I should best repair the broken headstock. Clamps and wood glue (Aquadhere) was suggested. As the headstock is a weird shape, it was only really possible to clamp it from the top, so it was glued and clamped overnight. The join wasn’t perfect but I had plans to reinforce it with a plate and screws. I didn’t really care how it looked, the main thing was that it didn’t snap under the tension of the high E-string which is where the break had been along the grain initially.

I’d found a metal wood joining plate thing at Bunnings, but Dad suggested that we use polycarbonate instead as he had some for making fishing lures with. I drew up a shape and Dad cut it out with some tin snips for me. I sanded the edges and later drilled some holes in it. It was then fixed to the back of the headstock with small tuning machine screws. It looks a bit strange but doesn’t effect the functionality of the guitar so that’s how it will stay.

Dad cut out the MDF pieces and I sanded them a little to make them smooth. It was time to fasten the block to the cavity. There was a thin piece of MDF at my sister’s place so my Dad first made a thin wooden plate that we’d fix the other wooden parts to. The plate was screwed in place where the speaker normally joins the body, then the other parts were screwed on either side of that. It’s not an elegant piece of work, but it serves it’s purpose. The idea is that it all gets covered by a pickguard and backplate anyway.

The no-fuss method of doing this project would have been to leave a hole in the guitar but it would possibly make it neck heavy like a Gibson SG, which has the very annoying ‘neck dive’. Adding the block would make the guitar solid and replace the weight. So far so good. The main construction was done. The next step would be putting it back together and installing some strings on it. Then I’d have to rewire it with a regular volume pot and connect it up to the output jack.

Since there was already a hole in the guitar for the ‘speaker on’ switch, I decided I’d drill it larger and include a tone pot in the circuit. I made up a jig to work on the electronics outside of the guitar which was a piece of MDF with two holes in it spaced the same distance as it is on the guitar. This was my first ever attempt at wiring up a guitar so it was a good learning experience for me. I will go back and improve on this sometime, but for now the guitar works.

Block installed. Wiring done. Look at how long the wires are! I need to fix that.
On the bench at my workshop with white knobs.
Polycarbonate plate reinforcement on the back of the headstock. The tuner at the end is on a different angle than before.

It was a great feeling to plug the guitar in for the first time and be playing it through an amp. I bought some black Strat knobs and chucked them on the pots after deciding the white ones I had on hand didn’t look quite right. I still need to make a pickguard to cover the hole on the front but the blank was ordered recently and has arrived in the mail. I’ll have to ask someone to help with that because I don’t have the tools or experience to do it. I’ve already knocked out the LED on the front with a rubber mallet and that hole will also be covered with the plastic sheet.

The other thing I’d like to do to improve the guitar is to switch the stock humbucker for a better quality one with four connector wires and add a push-pull coil split on the tone pot. This way I can have both humbucking and single coil options in the guitar. It would also be nice to add a neck pickup but I reckon I’ll save that for another ZO-3 conversion.

Overall, as a prototype, the result is pretty good. I would use MDF again as it’s easy to work with. Perhaps three pieces of 12mm MDF could be sandwiched to form the rounded square section and another 12mm thick disc may just fit in the rounded space. It would be worth trying. When fixing the block to the guitar, Dad and I used whatever fasteners (timber screws) we had on hand. It might be worthwhile to have a few more options on hand next time.

I’ll update this post with some photos of the finished guitar once I’ve made the pickguard and swapped the pickup. If you’re interested in a ZO-3 conversion for yourself, I am open to doing them. Hit me up via email if you are keen. I already have an idea of what I want to do with another Nomad that’s sitting in my workshop and I’ll post some flicks on my Instagram when I’m working on it. But for now the concept is TOP SECRET! 🙂

My Favourite Films Of 2020

This isn’t going to be a post about the best films released last year, but simply a list of films that I enjoyed. I’ve watched a lot of movies over the years so 2020 had me looking further back in time and exploring new regions. It was an entertaining and educational experience, whether I was time traveling or getting to know a another culture and way of life.

I went through a few genre-based themes and explored cinema from various countries, including: Korea, Iran, and New Zealand. In 2019 I was watching a lot of European cinema from Italy, Germany, France, etc. I could actually write a post on each of these forays. Maybe that’s something I can do in the future.

During the course of the year I made myself familiar with the work of Asghar Farhadi, Taika Waititi and started to dive into films by Ingmar Bergman. All very different in style and genre. Performances from the actors of yesteryear such as Ingrid Bergman, Edward G. Robinson, Humphery Bogart, Lawrence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and Joan Crawford linked me to other films which were added to my IMDB watchlist.

The following list is in chronological order. I gave all of these films a score of 8/10 on IMDB. I hope that you find something here you also enjoy or are reminded of a movie you love. Some can be found free to stream on YouTube, Kanopy or SBS On Demand. I also rent films on YouTube and iTunes.

‘The 39 Steps’ (1935)
‘Rebecca’ (1940)
‘Casablanca’ (1942)
‘Shadow Of A Doubt’ (1943)
‘Gaslight’ (1944)
‘Mildred Pierce’ (1945)
‘Key Largo’ (1948)
‘The Night Of The Hunter’ (1955)
‘Viridiana’ (1961)
‘The Great Escape’ (1963)
‘Autumn Sonata’ (1978)
‘The English Patient’ (1996)
‘All About My Mother’ (1999)
‘Whale Rider’ (2002)
‘Boy’ (2010)
‘A Separation’ (2011)
‘Django Unchained’ (2012)
‘Life Of Pi’ (2012)
‘The Past’ (2013)
‘Breadcrumb Trail’ (2014)
‘Hunt For The Wilderpeople’ (2016)
‘1917’ (2019)
‘Jojo Rabbit’ (2019)
‘Joker’ (2019)
‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’ (2019)
‘Pain & Glory’ (2019)



VS-008: B.L. – ‘Waratah’

This project appears to have been first created on my birthday in 2017 whilst I was living in Copenhagen. I remember getting together with my Danish friends from the studio we shared out the back of Bolsjefabrikken in Østerbro for an afternoon session. Hence the working title, ‘The Gathering’. We took a bike ride to the supermarket for supplies and spent some hours chilling together until the early evening.

I’d met these guys through Malthe, AKA ‘Roger Jr.’ who was introduced to me after attending RDG’s ‘Low Pass’ night which was a weekly Wednesday bass music party at the music venue, Stengade, which is not too far from where I was living with Nadja in Nørrebro.

Someone (I can’t remember who it was) had suggested that Malthe might be a good person for me to meet, and they were right. This young Danish guy would bring me into his world which in turn expanded mine greatly.

Malthe was part of a crew called ‘Dubkultur’ (‘Dub Culture’). These guys were throwing some club events at Bolsjefabrikken which focused mostly on Dubstep with Reggae, Dub, UK steppers, Grime and Jungle seeping it’s way into the mix. The group also had a studio out back of the venue near the green room – which was very minimal when I first started going there but it grew considerably up until it was time for me to return to Australia.

After many hours spent there I would get to know Martin, Thomas, Jonas, David, Rasmus and others who would frequently hit the studio to hang out, listen to music, make beats and enjoy the freedom of that Ragnhildgade offered. Once an industrial complex, the area was now home to two underground venues, music studios, a recycled bike workshop, a cafe, a Muay Thai school and more. It was an exciting place.

This ‘Do It Together’ environment was very attractive to me. I became a member of the ‘Radiator Studio’ with Dubkultur, a member of the ‘Booking Group ‘at Bolsjefabrikken (which managed the events there), and I helped run various events there alongside Malthe, Martin and another good friend, Kasper under the ‘Bolsjebas’ and ‘Crossroads’ banners. Needless to say, I was difficult and deeply disappointing to leave, yet I am very grateful for my friendships and experiences that sound my time at Bolsjefabrikken with these guys; thanks to meeting Malthe.

Some members of Dubkultur Crew: Malthe, David, Thomas & Martin.

Originally, ‘The Gathering’ had melodica lines played by Martin which were a signature of the tune. However, because of the instrument being inherently imperfectly tuned, I decided to try other lead sounds for the track. The jazzy electric piano seemed to call for something to more smooth to sit nicely alongside Rhodes and additional guitar chords I’d added for extra colour and harmony.

An earlier bass patch was also eventually swapped for electric bass which I played then chopped to play on a sampler instrument. The initial modulated sine-wave synth bass was replaced with a traditional bass sound which takes a more ‘mature’ approach that gelled better with the aesthetic I was aiming for. I really was thinking what would benefit he track as a unique piece of music rather than trying to fit into a specific genre.

My ‘Music Buss’ was bounced and chopped to create some stabs which were then used to create pads with reverb and delays. A trick I learned from Amit via Audio Science Online tutorials. These were tucked into some spaces which help create interest along the way.

As I was working on the tune I imagined a scenario where a couple were coming together after a hard day at work, especially during this COVID climate when things are extra tough on everybody. I thought about them sitting and talking over a glass of wine and being grateful for each other’s company. This scene informed the arrangement and helped me to create a vision and direction for the tune.

I’d seen Noisia using Oeksound’s ‘Soothe2’ plugin so I downloaded a trial version – which expires tomorrow, just in the nick of time. Soothe2 was used to smooth the sound of the electric piano and guitars. It’s an expensive tool, yet I may buy the plugin in the future as it does seem to be useful for taming resonances in a quick and easy manner. I’ve also seen it used on vocals which could be useful down the track.

After listening to a lot of Dubstep this past momth, I’ve found myself wanting to squeeze a more volume from my masters, so I did some research. A few videos on YouTube suggested that using parallel compression, limiting and clipping would help me to gain the extra volume and density I wanted from my tracks. I bought SIR’s ‘StandardClip’ plugin which I put at the end of my ‘Drum Buss’ to clip the peaks of some of the percussion such as claps and bongo hits. This would allow me to push my limiter a little harder on the Master Buss.

I’ve also been using saturation plugins for some time (Decapitator, Saturn2, Trash2, etc) and I this time I also enlisted the ‘Exciter’ from Izotope Ozone to give my kick drum some character. The layered samples saw a lot of EQ, transient shaping, etc and has become a little dull. There’s something to be said about choosing a good sample from the beginning rather than building your own kick drums but it is rewarding to learn to make your own.

Overall, much was learned through the process of making and completing this project. Techniques I can carry with me to the next track which I think will be another older tune called ‘Angela Lansbury’. But more on that later.

Working on the concept for track had reminded me of the Australian film, ‘Lantana’ and perhaps Anthony LaPaglia and Kerry Armstrong might have been the type of couple I’d imagined in my scenario. I’d also remembered seeing the solo saxophonist playing on the steps at Northcote Town Hall on a balmy Summer’s night.

The ‘Waratah‘ is an iconic Australian flower and it’s deep red colour and unique form have a sensuality that compliments my inspiration for the piece. It also quite apt that we get our first real taste of warm weather today here in Melbourne. The perfect day to release this one.

I’d like to dedicate this track to my Dubkultur breddahs. It was super nice to celebrate my birthday with them at the studio that day. To feel a sense of belonging in a new country which at first was often a lonely place for me.

I hope you enjoy ‘Waratah’ and whatever imagery it conjures for you. It’s not so much a ‘single’ as another feather in cap and a means of learning how to be a better music producer, audio and mastering engineer. It was exciting to record guitar, bass and some shakers for this one and to create a strong vision for what it should be.

‘Waratah’ is available now via the Ved Sengen Bandcamp.

VS-001: B.L. – ‘Brazilian’

My younger sister, Amanda has seen a lot more of the world that I have. Unlike me, she has traveled throughout South America and has fond memories of her time there. Brazil is a place I can only imagine from what I’ve seen on TV. Rainforests, monkeys, iguanas, leopards, macaws, toucans… that type of stuff. A potentially unsettling environment that is both beautiful and intimidating, all at once.

It was the use of the ‘Small Percussion’ kit from Native Instruments Battery 3 that inspired the title of my tune, ‘Brazilian’ which I am proud to finally release today on Bandcamp. Mambo bells, woodblock, cuicas, agogo and some bird-like whistle samples found in folders on my hard-drive.

This track marks some ‘firsts’ for me. The first release on my Ved Sengen label, my first ever dubstep release and the first track I’ve put out since I was involved in the Grim Trinity/Intergalactic Spokesmen 12”EP way back in 2008. I started this project in 2012 so it’s release is a long time coming.

The main motivator of completing this project so many years later is a few good responses from others over the years. My friend and avid dubstep fan, Jordan once expressed an interest in cutting a ‘dub-plate’ of the track and it was also the first of my productions I played on a sound system to an audience. One of the audience members was Danish producer, 2000F who came up to me while it was playing at a Strøm Festival event in August 2015.

Nadja, my girlfriend at the time, strongly encouraged me to take a track along to a dub workshop and listening session with Sherwood & Pinch who were playing a live show at the festival later in the week. I also attended that event which included Andy Stott on the line-up; plus a talk with Hyperdub boss, Kode9, also from the UK.

KPH Volume

I arrived early at a venue called ‘KPH Volume‘ in Vesterbro on the Wednesday night with a couple of Tuborg Grøn cans in my bag and my tune on a USB to play on the sound system after the workshop.

I remember smoking a small joint on my own out the back of the venue alongside the Strøm Lydcykel to calm my nerves. Waiting around for the event to start, I reintroduced myself to Pinch after meeting him in Melbourne at a Heavy Innit!! event which I hosted with my friend Graeme some years ago. This was a good move as it gave me an opportunity to join in a conversation with Rob and his cohort, Adrian Sherwood before they did their workshop.

Adrian was quite friendly and the conversation was light and relaxed. It helped me to chill out about being there ‘alone’ and playing my track.

Eventually the workshop kicked off and we were shown how the guys ran their live dub-mixing set-up for their show. A Midas desk, some samplers, a laptop and a few effects boxes. It was great to see how they put their live show together.

After this was the listening session and I patiently waited my turn to hear my tune on the sound system. Being a newcomer who didn’t know any of the locals, nor speak or understand any Danish at the time, I was fairly timid.

It was getting close to the end when I noticed that my name had already been crossed out but my track hadn’t been played. I thought that maybe I would miss out, but let the DJ know what had happened. Finally, the last tune came up and it was ‘Brazilian’.

Some people had left the event by this time but that didn’t bother me. I was just excited to hear the track playing over the speakers.

Some people danced and seemed to get into the vibe which was a good feeling. Then when it was about two-thirds of the way through, Frederik came up to me and asked me if I’d produced the track. Naturally I said, ‘Yes’. He congratulated me and handed me his business card: ‘Frederik Birket-Smith, CEO of Strøm Festival’.

Sherwood & Pinch Workshop at Dubspot in the USA
2000F’s business card

Of course I was chuffed with the experience and biked home to Nørrebro with a smile on my face, arriving at the door to thank Nadja for encouraging me to take a track along to the session.

Later I would play this track alongside two other productions as part of a series of events called ‘Crossroads’ at Bolsjefabrikken that was curated by myself and my friend, Malthe (AKA Roger Jr.). Malthe would later invite me to join him on the Bas Under Buen Tour of Denmark in 2016. These are some of my fondest memories of Denmark and experiences that I am most grateful for.

How could I not want to finally release these tracks to celebrate my achievements?

This one may not be the greatest production I will ever make but we all start somewhere. The process of finishing a track is so different from starting one. You learn skills you don’t need at the beginning of a project. This is why I plan to complete a bunch of older works to gain the experience, build my confidence and speed the process in the future.

‘Brazilian’ is available now via the Ved Sengen Bandcamp and as a bonus, I’ve included a sample pack in WAV format from the project. You may like to use these in your own productions. The track will appear on streaming sites in the coming weeks.

Below is a playlist that guides you to the place that this track comes from and I’ve also included a video for 2000F’s ‘Blæst Igen’ (‘Blazed Again’) and his classic collaboration with J.Kamata, ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’.

BRAZILIAN’ ON SOUNDCLOUD
BRAZILIAN’ ON SPOTIFY
BRAZILIAN’ ON BANDCAMP

2000F ft. Højer Oye & Ranske Penge – ‘Blæst Igen’
2000F & J.Kamata – ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’