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Thread: guitar pedals

  1. #1
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    guitar pedals

    Hi guys...Hope you had a good Christmas.....Maybe this is not the right place for this but I want to bring this to everybody's attention.....I have another guitar pedal that has the numbers sanded off IC's, transistors and caps so that it has to be sent back for repair.....just wondering if other techs here have run into this problem.....if so, what brand(s)..am I allowed to post the brand name here??? I think that any musicians out there should be aware of these sneaky tactics....
    Cheers
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  2. #2
    Lifetime Member Enzo's Avatar
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    You can post any information you want.

    I couldn't tell you what brands, but I have encountered any number of products over the years with sanded off numbers.
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  3. #3
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    As Enzo notes, various manufacturers have sanded off chip and transistor information over the years, in an effort to protect against rampant copying of their circuit. Some have used "gooping" of circuits (covering critical portions in epoxy) in an effort to provide protection. As more and more manufacturer migrate towards fully digital, or digitally-assisted (analog path-plus-microcontroller) circuits, such strategies to protect their I.P. become less necessary, since one cannot "see" the coding inside the digital circuitry.

    Over the last 20 years, it has become increasingly easier for any doofus to start a "pedal business". Indeed, between the cheap PCB-production services, powder-coated enclosures, cheap stompswitches, easy-to-construct websites, and printable decals, a "pedal business" can be run off a desk in one's dorm room. And many have done so, by copying existing pedals; often illegally. So, small wonder that some makers get very protective of their analog circuits.
    Last edited by Mark Hammer; 01-03-2018 at 03:28 PM.
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    I love this silkscreen parts ID:




    Some (Diaz) heat shrink wrap the PCB.
    You CAN cut it open undamaged but (presumably) lose all warranty rights.
    And wouldnīt be surprised at finding a gooped mess inside anyway:


    You can degoop, but itīs a mess and you can damage something beyond (Factory) repair ($$$$$)
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  5. #5
    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Hammer View Post
    As more and more manufacturer migrate towards fully digital, or digitally-assisted (analog path-plus-microcontroller) circuits, such strategies to protect their I.P. become less necessary, since one cannot "see" the coding inside the digital circuitry.
    Is that really the case Mark? that you can't see what coding is inside of a programmable controller?

    My understanding is that it's a simple procedure to dump the binary code out of a PIC, but that you get binary code and not source code, and that when you disassemble it you're left with the chip's assembly language instructions. That's an impediment to some people, but not to others. That's how IBM originally protected their BIOS, but other companies were able to successfully reverse engineer equivalent source code by dumping it.

    If someone wants to create a derivative work from compiled code, that would be difficult. But if someone wants to steal someone else's code and overtly pirate it, there isn't much that's going to stop them. In cases like that they just dump the code, wipe out copyright notices with a binary or hex editor, and then load the code onto other PIC.

    For these reasons there are a number of companies that will scrape off the identifying marks on chips -- especially from PIC -- just to make the act of piracy that much more difficult, because doing that forces the pirate to go on a chip identification hunt. Beyond placing a hurdle in the way of a motivated opponent, there's no real point in sanding off numbers on PIC -- but manufacturers still do it.

    I have a friend who used to work in R&D at Motorola back in the day. He said that it was routine for them to obtain competitors gooped circuits and de-goop them with solvent and a brush to reveal what was underneath the goop. It was a long and tedious process that sometimes took a week of brushing, but to a big business the big money makes it worth the effort.
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  6. #6
    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bsco View Post
    Hi guys...Hope you had a good Christmas.....Maybe this is not the right place for this but I want to bring this to everybody's attention.....I have another guitar pedal that has the numbers sanded off IC's, transistors and caps so that it has to be sent back for repair.....just wondering if other techs here have run into this problem.....if so, what brand(s)..am I allowed to post the brand name here??? I think that any musicians out there should be aware of these sneaky tactics....
    Cheers
    I'm not sure that manufacturers want you to send it back to them for repair. Once a circuit has been gooped you're looking at a board level replacement, not a repair. And if the numbers have been sanded off, the manufacturer is probably more interested in preventing someone from manufacturing a copy of their circuit than they are in preventing field service. In all likelihood their boards come from a contract PCB manufacturer and all that the stompbox builder does is to send specifications and money to the manufacturer who send them boards in return... if they even send boards. They might just be sending completed stompboxes.

    I've dealt with warranty repairs on items like these before. Now that everything is considered non-serviceable and disposable, warranty repair amounts to replacement with a new product. The original products are rarely serviced, they are typically discarded, or populated with new boards at best.
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  7. #7
    "Thermionic Apocalypse" -JT nickb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bob p View Post
    Is that really the case Mark? that you can't see what coding is inside of a programmable controller?

    My understanding is that it's a simple procedure to dump the binary code out of a PIC, but that you get binary code and not source code, and that when you disassemble it you're left with the chip's assembly language instructions. That's an impediment to some people, but not to others. That's how IBM originally protected their BIOS, but other companies were able to successfully reverse engineer equivalent source code by dumping it.

    If someone wants to create a derivative work from compiled code, that would be difficult. But if someone wants to steal someone else's code and overtly pirate it, there isn't much that's going to stop them. In cases like that they just dump the code, wipe out copyright notices with a binary or hex editor, and then load the code onto other PIC.

    For these reasons there are a number of companies that will scrape off the identifying marks on chips -- especially from PIC -- just to make the act of piracy that much more difficult, because doing that forces the pirate to go on a chip identification hunt. Beyond placing a hurdle in the way of a motivated opponent, there's no real point in sanding off numbers on PIC -- but manufacturers still do it.

    I have a friend who used to work in R&D at Motorola back in the day. He said that it was routine for them to obtain competitors gooped circuits and de-goop them with solvent and a brush to reveal what was underneath the goop. It was a long and tedious process that sometimes took a week of brushing, but to a big business the big money makes it worth the effort.
    In point of fact, many devices incorporate a copy protection bit that when set prevents read back of the binary. For example a PIC18F13K22 uses these bits (shown not protected):

    Code:
    // CONFIG5L
    #pragma config CP0 = OFF    // Code Protection bit->Block 0 not code-protected
    #pragma config CP1 = OFF    // Code Protection bit->Block 1 not code-protected
    
    // CONFIG5H
    #pragma config CPB = OFF    // Boot Block Code Protection bit->Boot block not code-protected
    #pragma config CPD = OFF    // Data EEPROM Code Protection bit->Data EEPROM not code-protected
    On a different tack, I recently had to fix an Redwitch Empress Chorus. The interesting thing here, aside from the BBD chip marking being sanded off, is they offer a lifetime warranty on non-mechanical parts, I presume to lessen the incentive to reverse engineer.
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  8. #8
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    i've seen pedal makers that sanded off components going out of business so i had to figure out myself what went on,but most of the time they hide circuits that are complete ripoff of other well known ones,just some values changed.
    That Atomic pedal is a BSIAB front end with a 3 band eq,both passive and active.
    a good component checker can save time and headaches.
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by bsco View Post
    just wondering if other techs here have run into this problem.....if so, what brand(s)..am I allowed to post the brand name here???
    Yeah, TC Electronics, the Danes think they have something to hide! Besides them I've only seen sanded-off IC's in rare TychoBrahe pedals and the very rare Publison rack-mount chime/chorus device that was all the rage around 1981 - the effect was plastered all over "Tattoo You" plus a couple Pretenders albums.

  10. #10
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    I'd agree, Bob, that it is not impossible to reverse-engineer a digitally-based pedal. And I would imagine there are likely larger Chinese manufacturers that do so, and have the wherewithall to reproduce "brand name" pedals. But most pedal-makers will not have that capacity. If one looks at the weekly listing of new "companies" at the Effectsdatabase, the vast majority are small operations, with only a small handful of products; often a clone of an existing pedal with one or two tweaks. I can't say for absolute certain they are one college student in their dorm room, but many are likely 2 or 3-person operations, operating out of a basement or cheap apartment.

    If one has the capacity to read the code of a microcontroller and design/produce the required boards, one likely has the capacity to design one's own products. So, yeah, migration to digital is not any sort of ironclad protection against copying, but is enough of a deterrent that it keeps the nickel-and-dime folks away. THAT's who the goop was meant to protect against.
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by J M Fahey View Post
    [IMG]Some (Diaz) heat shrink wrap the PCB.
    You CAN cut it open undamaged but (presumably) lose all warranty rights.
    And wouldnīt be surprised at finding a gooped mess inside anyway:
    Actually, the Diaz approach makes sense for a "floating" board. Where a circuit board is simply resting on top of chassis-mounted components, there is always a risk that one could short out againt the back cover of the enclosure, or against the chassis-mounted components. MXR used to address this with a piece of foam inserted between the circuit board and chassis. But I think we've all seen photos of what happens to that foam over time, and it ain't pretty. The big piece of shrink-tubing takes care of everything and provides a modicum (if not very much) of IP protection.
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  12. #12
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    If I were building boutiki pedals and wanted people to think I had something interesting going on (or hide that I just ripped off some generic pedal), I'd use a lot of goop.
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  13. #13
    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    I took the cover off of a Peterson StroboStomp and found that the box was not very complicated -- it was essentially a PIC that had it's identification ground off by the Chinese contract manufacturer. A lot of people do it.

    I have to wonder how smart an idea it was for Peterson to go from hardware based tuners to software based apps for the PC and phone platforms. I'd imagine that the software based apps cannibalized their hardware sales, which would amount to shooting oneself in the foot as soon as people start to pirate them.
    "Stand back, I'm holding a calculator." - chinrest

  14. #14
    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by g1 View Post
    If I were building boutiki pedals and wanted people to think I had something interesting going on (or hide that I just ripped off some generic pedal), I'd use a lot of goop.
    Goop is surprisingly expensive. A least it was when I looked for it.
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  15. #15
    g1
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    Not the Paltrow stuff Bob.
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  16. #16
    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    what?
    "Stand back, I'm holding a calculator." - chinrest

  17. #17
    g1
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    It's her 'lifestyle' brand.
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  18. #18
    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    sorry I missed your joke -- i'm not in that loop.
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  19. #19
    g1
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    Me neither. But when you said goop was expensive, I had to google it. Guess what came up.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goop_(company)
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  20. #20
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    "Vaginal Steaming".

    WTH.

  21. #21
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    I've had a couple of Bel flangers from the late 70s that have sanded-off part numbers and have been re-stickered with an in- house number. I got one unit working, but the other unit has two defective ICs. I got in touch with the manufacturer and they sent me some 4000-series CMOS part numbers which I already knew were incorrect, but tried them anyway at their suggestion and they smoked.

    The problems came down to their lack of schematics - they said that in the early days there were many different variations and no record of the changes. I still have one defective unit and cannot determine what those ICs are. I've even considered buying one of those inexpensive chip identifiers to see if I can tell what the chips are. It's a stereo unit with two identical boards, one working, one not.

  22. #22
    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Service data can be a real problem. Some houses have such sloppy recordkeeping that they couldn't provide you with ECO if they wanted to. Others have good data, but refuse to let it out. It's frustrating.
    "Stand back, I'm holding a calculator." - chinrest

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jazz P Bass View Post
    "Vaginal Steaming".

    WTH.
    Steaming is for potatoes. Vaginals should always be poached.
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