Analog Electronics Music

Wurlitzer 200: Fixed

I am very excited to announce that the Wurlitzer 200 is fixed and operational. I say Wurlitzer 200 instead of 200A because a nice chap emailed me and let me know that I actually had an earlier model. Either way, it works and it sounds delicious.

Wurlitzer 200

Really this post is to gloat a little and to post the sound samples I recorded with my friend Joe. He is a great piano player and shows off the awesomeness of the Wurly better than I ever could. I also wanted to lay out some future posts about the Wurlitzer that I plan to write:

  1. Things learned about fixing the Wurlitzer. Schematics and my own drawings included.
  2. The importance of grounding for a clean signal and how it can affect other types of electronics.
  3. How transistors work and how the broken transistor on my Wurly was causing me grief.
  4. How fuses work and when to use them.
  5. Any others requested/suggested through the skribit box on the right.

Finally, here are the sound samples Joe and I put together today. It was fun recording again. For full disclosure, there was digital delay on the Wurly and there was some processing on the drums too. Also, I apologize that the drum tracks are a little loud; it’s because I’m an electrical engineer, not a sound engineer (and definitely not a professional musician). Enjoy!

Analog Electronics Learning Music

Update: Wurlitzer 200A–Still in pieces

I thought I would update on my hobby subject for tonight since I mostly worked on my Wurlitzer 200A electric piano instead of writing the post I meant to. I’m just now getting back into working on my electric piano after previously having zapped something on the board and not being able to get it working since. When I messed up last time I was actually trying to replace the capacitors and transistors that had dried up; I had thought these were causing considerable hum in the circuit. However, since deconstructing the piano I found a modification to the wiring scheme between the two speakers and the output headphone jack located at the bottom of the board. I found that on the headphone jack someone had wired in a simple RC circuit, presumably for filtering the headphone output. However, the small wiring scheme they used and meant to ground to the chassis had been disconnected, possibly by me. This floating output circuit could have been the problem all along! Only time will tell but I will feel silly if that was indeed the culprit.

Still, I always prefer a silly mistake that is found and easily corrected (with damage only to my ego) , as opposed to a difficult error that cannot be fixed or worse, found. See the pictures below of the destruction that has befallen my piano and hope that I can get humpty-dumpty back together again.

The main board, removed from the chassis. With new electrolytic caps.

The piano with the chassis and the board removed. The speaker assembly and the transformer are all bolted to the main chassis, which is convenient when you want to work on the action of the keys (how the hammer hits the tone bars).

The slew of new components I got in from my online order…and now may not need?

It’s not the wand, it’s the magician. In this case, the wand is a piece of junk soldering iron from Radio Shack. Maybe Santa will bring me an industrial voltage controlled soldering iron.

Analog Electronics Learning

Best Free SPICE Program

One of the biggest conflicts of interest in the life of an analog engineer is that the best tool available to them is on a computer. SPICE is a program that was originally developed at Berkley to model silicon level physics to help prototyping (similar to “bread-boarding”) before the final product was produced. While it still remains a valuable tool for chip designers, it has also been broadened in scope and size to include larger designs and higher level models since it was first created. The idea is the same, that electrons basically move in the same way and that potentials in a circuit (voltages) can induce a certain behavior. So as long as the models for high level components (say an op amp or a buck converter) are well thought out, they often can represent the real world equivalent quite well.

I have some experience with SPICE and it is very helpful for both creation of new circuits and analyzing existing circuits for weaknesses.  And since I have started using it, I have tried many different versions and deviations on the original SPICE program, but I have found I like LTSpice the best. Best of all, it’s free. Like, really free. Even if you don’t know anything about circuits (analog or otherwise) and only plan to use the program once, it doesn’t matter!

LTSPICE IV — Free download! (not sponsored, I just really like the free-ness of the program)

I’m going to try my best to resist making this post sound like a puff piece, but I’ve only recently discovered LTSpice and I really enjoy how it works (even compared to similar programs that have licensing feels). The interface is the exact same as LTSpice III, so if you know that program, you won’t have much trouble with switching over to the new version.

Let’s go over some of my previous complaints about the program and how they have been been put to rest:

  1. No central area to enter model information — One of the things I had enjoyed most about the SPICE programs I had used previously was that there was a central location to put all of your model files for any models of components you might have had. Then when you were ready to use DXYZ123 in your schematic, you just match the component type (Diode, Transistor, etc) and then name it the same as your text file. In LTSpice, you have to enter the model information on the front page as a SPICE directive. While this is similar to putting the models in a separate file, if you plan on using a lot of non-LT parts in your design, your schematic can get quite cluttered.
  2. Harder to create high level schematics — OK, this was really me. I was used to different hot keys in order to modify the schematic. Really this was my impatience at learning a new system, but once I did, it’s not too bad entering new information.
  3. Only Linear Tech component models — While this is a bit annoying, it is also quite understandable since they are giving you a complex SPICE modeling program for free. There are some common passive components throughout, and you can add to libraries to add even more passives, but once you get into active parts, they are exclusively LT. See point number 1 above in order to add models for Analog Devices, National Instruments, Maxim, etc parts.

OK, enough of the downsides, let’s go over what I think sets LTSpice apart from its more expensive competition:

  1. Power consumption calculation — Hold down the alt key and on any component in your schematic and you can map the power consumption on the simulation graph (see below). This equation can be quite complicated, especially for the models that are included for all of the LT parts. As power saving techniques become more and more important to electronics manufacturers, this feature becomes indispensable. If you’re not too big on efficiency but happen to care about temperature, this same feature can estimate how much energy (still in Watts) the individual components will emit based on the power dissipated. At the very least, even if the simulation is not exact in how much power is burned during processing of a circuit, you can graph the rates of all power consumption and see which is the biggest consumer and try to optimize that part.
  2. Efficiency calculation — Again, this will become more and more important to engineers as the focus on simple fixes in products for energy efficiency becomes more prevalent. Here you have to name the input and output signals specific nodal names, but once you do, the program will automatically calculate how much energy is being converted into useable energy and how much is being wasted. An example would be in a circuit made to regulate 10V down to 5V. This can be done with efficiencies up to 90%, but some amount of energy will be dissipated by resistors or active components like op-amps. Ya gotta spend energy to make energy.
  3. Dual Core integration — This is one of the biggest improvements from LTSpice III (really it was called SwitcherCAD III) to LTSpice IV. Now they have support for dual core processors which are quickly becoming the standard in computers from desktop to laptop to netbooks (OK, not yet on netbooks). Either way, if you are only using one available core for your simulations, you’re running at roughly half of what they COULD be running at. I have a dual core on my current machine and LTSpice quickly used up the available resources and the quickness of results showed the difference. LT is still working on the bugs on some types of computers processors, so they only run on one core, but hopefully it will be functional on all types of machines soon.
  4. Graphing function — This isn’t any different from LTSpice III, I just thought I should mention how much I like the graphing abilities of this program as compared to others I’ve used. LTSpice really grabs hold of the graphic model in SPICE and runs with it; their software allows you to click on a node to find out the voltage (even after the simulation is completed) or to click on a particular component to find out how much current has gone through that part throughout the simulation. The point and click method allows for quick diagnosis of problem components and circuit layouts.

  5. Dynamic Simulation — Linear Tech is a big player in the switcher market (a switcher basically takes input power and pulses an output–usually through a capacitor or inductor–to produce a stable output). However, the side result is that their program is well suited to handle rapidly changing inputs. I plan to re-construct my Wurlitzer 200A schematic in LTSpice in order to better understand some of the parameters affecting the sound and maybe even inputting and outputting sound files (you can do that with raw formats). More on that in later posts.

All and all, I know I sound like I’m gushing, but I always enjoy free software that is made well. It’s like some of the open source programs I love, but with a company behind the product supporting it (and yes, trying to sell you chips).  There are many other great SPICE programs out there and some of very worth the fees they charge. However, if you are looking for a quality program at no cost, I would suggest LTSpice.

Do you know of other SPICE programs? Do you like them better for one reason or another? Please let me know in the comments section.


Analog Electronics Life Music

Breaking my Wurlitzer 200A

“Hmm, I should really get a sound sample for the before and after on my piano. I’m so confident I can get this thing to work that I want some evidence how broken it was prior to my genius fixing of this machine.”


“EEP,” thinks Chris.


So it seems that I may have broken the amplifier on my Wurlitzer 200A. This after I took my sweet ol’ time getting all the replacement parts in from Mouser. After they finally arrived, I scheduled a time to work on the piano on the weekend to try and fit into my relatively busy schedule.

First inspection of the board shows that this piano has definitely had work done on it before. There are multiple places where the solder joints have been over done with solder (too much globbed up in one place). The resistors and capacitors also do not appear to be the originals, though they still appear to be pretty old and could be the originals.

So what do I think happened? In my onomatopoeic description at the beginning of this article, you may have guessed that there was a short to ground (the “ZAP”). This happened because I was dumb enough to try turning on the piano when it was not bolted to the chassis. The circuit board likely shorted from one of the high potential points to the chassis, which is grounded. In the process, high amounts of current either caused a part to fail catastrophically through material failure (a PN junction having too many carriers “break through”) or thermally (an electrolytic capacitor exploding due to high temperature).

I have a very primitive multimeter intended for use on power lines and such, so it could only tell me the there is 2 volts DC at the speaker output. This is definitely not healthy for the speaker nor the system and leads me to believe the output coupling capacitor may have broken. I will update more once I borrow my friend’s advanced multimeter.

Analog Electronics Learning Music

Replacing capacitors on my Wurlitzer 200A electric piano

Things get old. Things eventually do not work anymore. Even the best engineers cannot design a system for part failures (unless they have triple redundant systems, like NASA). It is for this reason, I have decided to document on my blog the tune up of my Wurlitzer 200A electric piano (seen below) as opposed to the usual analog issues in the workplace today.

I mentioned this piano in my post about keeping it simple, namely not replacing EVERY component, only the ones that require an upgrade/replacement. It is a famous piano that can be heard in many types of music, spanning rock, soul, jazz and more.  Similar to the Fender Rhodes, the Wurly can be characterized by a darker, more over-driven sound and a built in vibrato (constructed from a simple oscillating circuit).

There are two components on these boards that need to be replaced the most often. The first is transistors, due to thermal stresses when they are over worked. In the case of my Wurly, the power transistors (seen below bolted to the large metal heat sink on the left) have started corroding, but have also had reduced output due to thermal stresses over the years. The board has upwards of 250 V and these transistors are ready to be replaced.

The other element that commonly needs to be replaced are the capacitors (the purple barrels seen above), specifically the electrolytic capacitors. An electrolytic capacitor is constructed by soaking paper in an electrolyte and sandwiching it between two aluminum plates (then attached to the leads of the capacitor). After about 10 years or so, the electrolyte begins to dry out and the capacitor degrades. Sometimes this can lead to a catastrophic breakdown (think “POP” or “BOOM”) or it can just mean that no signals will get through. Whereas I think of capacitors being frequency-dependent resistors (where the lower the frequency, the higher the resistance), these capacitors instead have resistance at ALL frequencies, due to the fact that the dielectric constant has gone from that of electrolyte to that of air. The final effect of all of this is a poorer sound, especially at the higher frequencies that are supposed to “pass through” a capacitor.

I am also hoping this will take care of some of the “hum” sound (most likely from 60 Hz); I’m hoping this will be resolved once the power filtering capacitors are replaced. I think that the ripple current may be higher since the capacitors have slowly degraded. This will impose the 60 Hz from the wall power onto the signal coming from the vibrating reeds (through the capacitive pickup). I also am wondering if the transformer (below) requires replacement, but I think I will replace the capacitors and transistors first.

That’s all for now, I will update more as I actually replace these capacitors. For now, enjoy the pictures and the sound samples (above links to