Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

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thelowerrhythm
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Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by thelowerrhythm » Thu May 07, 2020 6:26 pm

As someone who hunts down and reads and watches every single review possible for something before investing (ten times over), I thought I'd try giving back. I know there's already a thread or two on this case, but most of the info seems well established at this point and I wanted to give a more personal account. For some background, I've used everything from a couple of pieces of poplar held together with velcro to a Rackbrute. The nicest case I've had until now has been a second hand Nice Racks 9U with Z ears / rails. So this purchase was kind of crazy for me, but a lot of the cost will be mitigated by selling off a couple of different smaller cases that will be vacated as a result (eventually...). Still, ~$800 for a box and power to replace some boxes and power I already had... sort of bonkers. But I wanted to get out of this situation where my expensive collection of electronics were sort of crammed into a bunch of different unergonomic housings and stacked in ugly ways. I know some of you will say "what's wrong with that?" and you're right, there's nothing wrong with that. It's mad science and cardboard would work. However, environment is really important when creating, and there's also the fact that I have OCD. It's something that spills over extra heavily with modular for reasons I imagine are obvious. Anyhow, when it came down to it, I had tried about three dozen different ways of arranging my gear and workspace, and nothing ever worked for very long. An extremely boring and long story short, I realized that I needed to get properly horizontal after a long while of going vertical, and I also needed to defeat the standard 84hp width. I couldn't get comfortable or organize my modules the way I wanted. Boo hoo. But this case could do it, so I said :!: :?: it and bought one. Ta da.

A few days into having it set up...

First Thing first: this Thing is built really well. Not machine-well, but beautifully handcrafted, complete with all of the little (and I do mean little) imperfections you'd want in a piece of quality, handmade studio furniture. A couple of edges not totally shaved off here, some spots inside (where you can't see) where the stain couldn't... stain the wood glue. Authenticity in materials and process mean a lot to me, and so the fact that every inch of this has evidence of someone's actual human hand = good. For me, it's an act of respect to house the tools I love in something that had this much care put into it. I don't think anyone whispered sweet nothings in the case's ear, or offered it a fancy wine to pair with a complimentary platter of fine meats and cheeses. It doesn't have an armrest or a cupholder, but nothing is perfect. The stain job looks fantastic and the rails were installed with precision. Everything fits and looks good doing it.

Functionally, the power supply is really nice and juicy, offering plenty of headers -- unless you're going to cram a whole bunch of 2hp modules in there. If you are indeed wanting to do that, you'll also run into an additional problem in the thirty some odd sliding nuts in each rail. I feel like I have a pretty normal compliment of module sizes and had plenty of nuts and some headers left over per row. But while we're on the topic, and I don't want to start another one of these discussions, but to HELL with those sliding nuts. I get that you achieve a theoretically better fit in the long term, which I agree is important in keeping dust out and so forth, but good lord. They take forever to position, they bind up when moving, and if you want to relocate modules and didn't leave unused nuts all over the place, you're stuck pulling up whole rows to shift them over left or right. I'm not sure I'd exactly want a stick o' nuts instead now that everything is installed, but this rant seems justified on some level. I suppose a silver lining might be that I won't waste anymore time rearranging my modules every other week.

One minor gripe is that it seems like I'm far from the only one to position this horizontally, so it would be nice if they designed it to have rubber or felt pads on the back as well. Or some way to move them. Easily added, so no big deal. Slap them on, lay it down, spin the Structure sign around to face you and you're off to the races. Truth be told though, I'm not going to put pads on it, because I'm a butthole.

The case's slope is very ergonomic and makes working with it feel really nice, but the price you pay is a 9" rise in the back. The ledge on that end isn't wide enough to set another case on it, which is a shame (a little bit more space and they couldn't made an extension that sits on it, which I would've also bought). I have a 12U box I need to sit behind this case, so I built a riser for it out of some fir I had laying around from a building project. Things being the way they are with lumber, a 10" board was exactly the 9" I needed. :cat1:

What else... it came with some extra long ribbon cables in case you had modules that couldn't reach the headers, and a ton of (black) screws. Wish the power cord plugged in on the back instead of the side, but again, this wasn't designed to be oriented like this. I guess I should be glad it doesn't come out of its back, which would be the bottom for me.

So... was it worth the money? Yes. In the end there was probably $800 worth of parts, labor, and shipping involved, and this is kind of a niche market. Even that aside, its contribution to my workflow is definitely comparable to what I'd get out of that much money in modules. As it is with anything else, this all comes down to the individual. I'm sure my neuroticism had something to do with it, but I'm really happy with the purchase. Due to the cost, it's hard not to make corner-cutting part of one's modular synth practice, but this is a corner I'd have known not to cut.

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mdoudoroff
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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by mdoudoroff » Thu May 07, 2020 7:43 pm

I have two EP-420s; one is inverted over the other. There really are only two things to complain about: the first, as you noted, is the sliding nuts. The second, which you generously overlooked—but I shall not—is that the nuts are neither M3 nor M2.5, which means you cannot use Befaco Knurlies. And that is a damn tragedy.

But otherwise, yeah, well built, good power, attractive, about as good a value as you can get.

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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by Tonefloat01 » Thu May 07, 2020 8:49 pm

I totally 100% agree with what the original poster said, the Pittsburgh 420 cases are great and I never had a problem with them.
I actually had a 360 as well but sold that and one of my 420’s to consolidate into a Doepfer Monster case to have a more permanent solution in my studio.
I still have my other 420 which I intend to keep and hopefully not load up with the latest modules du jour but that’s another story.
They are built like tanks, have plenty of power, and a bargain IMHO.
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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by thelowerrhythm » Thu May 07, 2020 11:42 pm

mdoudoroff wrote:
Thu May 07, 2020 7:43 pm
I have two EP-420s; one is inverted over the other. There really are only two things to complain about: the first, as you noted, is the sliding nuts. The second, which you generously overlooked—but I shall not—is that the nuts are neither M3 nor M2.5, which means you cannot use Befaco Knurlies. And that is a damn tragedy.

But otherwise, yeah, well built, good power, attractive, about as good a value as you can get.
Thank you for pointing that out! Used a couple on my Z-rails and they went in smoothly and seemed hold the module so I didn't even think about it. Do you know what their spec is exactly? Slightly smaller than M3 it seems, but not as small as 2.5. I personally can't do knurlies due to the whole sticking out thing, but that's pretty annoying. Knurlies feel good and I like standards. I'm not sure how much of a negative it is in actuality (low medium?), but it's definitely worthy of a sigh and a shrug.

Also, thank you for recognition of my generosity. :waah:
Last edited by thelowerrhythm on Fri May 08, 2020 12:41 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by mdoudoroff » Fri May 08, 2020 6:25 am

Pittsburgh screws are size 4-40.

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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by thelowerrhythm » Fri May 08, 2020 12:53 pm

mdoudoroff wrote:
Fri May 08, 2020 6:25 am
Pittsburgh screws are size 4-40.
Thanks, appreciated.
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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by davidjames » Fri May 08, 2020 4:08 pm

I really dig my EP-420. I'm powering a bunch of Verbos modules without any issues, for those with concerns. Still thinking about flipping it into battle mode.

But I hated the sliding nuts so much that I sourced some M3 threaded strips and went for it. The frame is easy enough to get out, not as easy to get back in, and in doing so I somehow warped the rails. It's fine when it's full of modules but when empty, the middle rails kind of bow away from each other. Also, the threaded strips didn't fit well so I had to perform some major surgery to open the rails up a bit. Lastly, the strips were 104 hp so I had to cut them and put in two pieces per rail. Having said all that, this is WAY better and well worth the effort. Sliding nuts are the anti-<insert religious good-guy of choice>.
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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by Foghorn » Fri May 08, 2020 4:19 pm

I replaced the sliding nuts in my EP-420 with nut strips that I bought from Digi-key.
They slid right in and no more little English thread screws. Now M-2.5s
I'm not sure what's going on, but, well ah crap..what now?
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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by mdoudoroff » Fri May 08, 2020 4:50 pm

TELL ME MORE!!! I would love to swap in some threaded strips! Is there a way to get at the rails without completely disassembling the box?

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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by Shakespeare » Sat May 09, 2020 8:36 am

^^ Same question!

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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by Foghorn » Sat May 09, 2020 9:00 am

With no modules installed you will see a few screws holding an Aluminum frame that mount the rails into the wooden case.
Just remove the screws and pull the frame out and disassemble it by removing the screws at each end of the rails.
I can not find the receipt from where I bought rails from an electronics company in the US called Digi-key.
They have a decent on line catalog, just look in the catalog for "rails".
I believe they sell mostly vector brand equipment, but it has been 3 years so I am not totally sure.
I may have had to sand the nut strips a little bit on a belt sander.
I couldn't live without the machine shop and laboratory where I work. It comes in so handy.
I build a lot of laboratory instrumentation at work so I did not even have to think about doing this.
But it is not hard, just take your time, look at the hardware and do whatever is obvious.
.
I bought some more Vector brand rails and cut a space for a 1U row in the bottom front of the case.
It is handy to have a bunch of attenuators/attenuverters and some multiples available.
I also bought some 1U VCAs from Pulplogic which are great to have there.
The case is I believe 140 hp wide and I bought rails and end plates from Erthernvar (maybe does not exist anymore). Not sure.

damn, computer opened a bunch of windows and crashed
I'm not sure what's going on, but, well ah crap..what now?
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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by mdoudoroff » Sat May 09, 2020 9:14 am

Thank you for the walkthrough, Foghorn. I’d prefer to get strips for M3s for consistency with my Intellijel, but that’s nowhere important enough to go through the “major surgery” davidjames describes. Your M2.5 Vector rails just slid right in?

I need to cut a new hole in one of my cases for my DB25 interface (no point in having that up front), so I might as well install threaded strips while I’m at it.

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threaded nut strips for Pittsburgh cases..EP-360, EP-420

Post by Foghorn » Sat May 09, 2020 9:23 am

Ok, Digi-key search terms

Product Index > Boxes, Enclosures, Racks > Card Rack Accessories
Manufacturer = Vector electronics
Accessory type = rail frame

Go here for rack equipment
just scroll down to whatever you need.

or right to the catalog page
vector nut strips
EDIT: Damn, in one hour since I posted this they went from 968 in stock to 933 in stock

You may have to open an account to order. They want you to spend money there, it is easy.

The nut strips are probably 84 hp long so you have to cut one to length and slide 2 nut strips into each rail.
Use a dremil with a cutoff wheel or a hacksaw. (I prefer explosives but a saw would be easier)

Almost all electronic rack enclosures are 84 hp wide (425 mm)
I have been building electronic instrumentation for 35 years, just browse the catalog and you will understand it.
It is pretty simple.
.
And they are cheap enough after you forked out how much for a rack?

-I will check back here Monday if there are any questions

I use these all the time to mount electronic instrumentation at work
84 hp X 3U wide rack mount module holder

My sound system (home stereo) is in a vector rack.
All the amps are rack mount-Crown XTI-1002, CV-900, CX-2310 X-O, DBX-120A subharmonic synth, DEQ 2496 etc...
Last edited by Foghorn on Sat May 09, 2020 11:04 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by mdoudoroff » Sat May 09, 2020 10:16 am

Invaluable info, Foghorn. Thank you so much!

I just did a little poke test, and I can see that the M3 knurlies only barely fits in the gap in these Pittsburgh rails, so M2.5 makes more sense.

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Screws for metric rails (Vector brand)

Post by Foghorn » Sat May 09, 2020 10:53 am

I use these socket head cap screws
M-2.5 bolts are about 0.098" in diameter, a little smaller than 3-48 screws at 0.099" in diameter.
Hint, number screw diameter in thousandths is number times 13 plus 60 ..... IE..number 3-48 screws would be ( 3 x 13 + 60 = 99 or 0.099")
3-48 screws would be 0.099" in diameter (99 thousandths of an inch), close to 2.5 mm or 98 thousandths (0.098")

Metric SHCS at McMaster Carr
Stk # 91292A014 - $5.42 per 100


I like to use long ball end allen drivers
The SHCS need a 2mm driver
Ball-End Hex Screwdriver, 2 mm Size, 5" Overall Length
Stk # 5497A67 - $2.73 Ea.

Or these SS button head screws may look better, but more $$
M 2.5 X 10 button head cap screws
Stk # 92095A460 - $8.51 for 25 Ea.


Lastly, I also use plastic washers.
Plastic washers at McMaster Carr
Stk # 90295A330 - $4.99 per 100

EDIT: fixed some info
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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by lisa » Sat May 09, 2020 11:18 am

Quite good looking, perfect size/space (imo) and wast amounts of power (enough to power the whole Metasonix RK-series and the rest of the case filled with ”normal” modules). Worth the price, no doubt.
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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by mdoudoroff » Sat May 09, 2020 12:54 pm

Just ordered all the parts with some help from Pulp Logic—he has 140HP strips for me. Will report back (in a few weeks) when I’ve triumphed or failed.

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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by davidjames » Mon May 11, 2020 1:52 pm

mdoudoroff wrote:
Sat May 09, 2020 9:14 am
I’d prefer to get strips for M3s for consistency with my Intellijel, but that’s nowhere important enough to go through the “major surgery” davidjames describes.
Yeah, good call. The major surgery included needle nose pliers and some patience. I had to spread the rails open a bit so I could get the M3 strips to fit. Made quite a mess of the rails, cosmetically. It works fine and the module panels cover the mess, thankfully. At some point I'd like to redo the whole thing if I can source 140 hp rails.
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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by mdoudoroff » Fri May 22, 2020 11:59 am

I’m back, filing my report on converting my two EP-420s to threaded strips. The project was successful, but comes with a warning.

Pulp Logic had 140hp strips in stock, ready to go, and they were delivered quicker than I expected. John at Pulp Logic was quite helpful to me through the whole process, including the troubleshooting.

Unscrewing and detaching the rail assembly was trivial. The six screws that hold each rail assembly in the case go straight into the plywood, so you want to do all this quite carefully (and as few times as possible) to avoid wrecking the screw holes. If you strip them out, you may have to drill clear through and install bolts.

Here comes the warning: while on one of my two EP-420s, the strips just slid right in, on the other EP-420 four of the six didn’t fit. It took me about an hour and a half with a hand file to shave four strips down until they’d slide in. One rail was particularly reticent, but I did eventually prevail. The problem does not appear to be the strips, but slightly off-spec Vector rails. Any of the twelve strips I ordered would slide happily into eight of my twelve rails—it was the four specific rails that were the problem. So, this aspect of the conversion is a crap shoot: you won’t know if you have sub-spec Vector rails until you try . The strips are thinner than the sliding nuts—the problem can be the height. What I wound up doing is screwing the four strips together as one with knurlies and rasping away at both sides of the resulting bundle across a few sessions. Not the end of the world, but I’d have preferred to not have had to do the extra work.
Last edited by mdoudoroff on Fri Jun 05, 2020 4:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by Foghorn » Fri May 22, 2020 12:34 pm

@ mdoudoroff
I would bet that those 4 vector rails were actually different model rails either older or purposefully manufactured differently.
.
I found a picture of my EP-420 among a few other cases.
Interestingly, I had cut a section out of the bottom of mine and put a set of vector rails to make a 1U row.
.
EP-420 and a few other cases
.
I bought the rails for the 1U row and the pre-drilled end plates from Pulplogic. (and a bunch of 1U modules)
I also bought end plates for 3U plus 1U and used them to make this case.
I call it a "base" as my insperation was from the Doepfer base.
The pre-drilled end plates make it so easy.
.
My "base" with an EP-360 on top
.
base with a 360 on top :lol:
.
I posted that 360 pic in 2016

PS. I don't know about your computer, but I just have to hit the back (arrow) button to get back to this post after viewing a pic.
The pics are already on MW from years ago.
.
double PS. I think my 360 is a little crooked or something. (weird camera I guess)
I'm not sure what's going on, but, well ah crap..what now?
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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by mdoudoroff » Fri May 22, 2020 2:30 pm

Foghorn wrote:
Fri May 22, 2020 12:34 pm
@ mdoudoroff
I would bet that those 4 vector rails were actually different model rails either older or purposefully manufactured differently.
Maybe. There’s no obvious evidence of that. We’re talking about tolerance variations that are so small they are not even visible, but yeah, a tooling change might cause that.

It would be best if Pittsburgh offered strips in the first place. It would increase the cost of the cases, noticeably, though. Worth it, IMO.

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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by deft_bonz » Thu Jul 02, 2020 2:37 am

Thanks a lot for your review. The sliding nuts are almost a killer criteria for me. I would somehow live with the fact I'd need to buy new screws, because I cannot use my Befaco knurlies. What a bummer. At least they include 180 screws.

What alternatives are there, with the same/similar size?

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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by Paul_N » Thu Jul 02, 2020 2:50 pm

I scored a great deal on reverb for an ep-420 and just gone done populating it with all of my modules. I transitioned from a DIY haliburton case, which I loved, but struggled with power related issues (verbos modules). The sliding nuts were kind of annoying, but after awhile, I got into a rhythm and it wasn’t so bad. After counting out the number of nuts I needed, spread across the number of modules, I then distributed the extras across the various installed modules. Depending on the size of the module, they would get more or less “extra” sliding nuts. After loading up 1/2 of the bottom row, I realized that I should have started with the top row and worked down. Makes it easier if you drop something, as well as convenient to shine a light into the case in order to plug a power cable into the busboard.

It took about 4 hours to transfer everything, due to the occasional mishap of not paying close enough attention to the layout I made in modular grid. Everything powered up cleanly, and most importantly, sounded great. Zero issues with any of my verbos modules.

I really dig the case. I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to be a horizontal or vertical case, but at the end of the day I went with vertical in order to free up some space the desk.

The one minor annoyance I have is that when I take a patch cable out of a module, I can hear the loose nuts rattling around. That was never a issue with the pre-threaded strips I had in my case and other cases I’ve used. I think the rails flex a little, which probably has to do with the fact that it is 140hp. I came from a 3u x 115HP setup. Would i do it again? Yeah.

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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by mdoudoroff » Thu Jul 02, 2020 2:55 pm

Thing is, even with the extra hassle and expense of installing your own threaded strips, the EP-420 is probably still the best bargain around. Has anyone run the numbers?

EP-420 w/6A power: $849
6 x M2.5strips: $90
100 x M2.5 knurlies: $40
======================
~$979 + maybe some shipping & tax

Any better deals out there that aren’t build-your-own-case?

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Re: Pittsburgh Modular Structure EP-420 "Review"

Post by deft_bonz » Fri Jul 03, 2020 12:11 pm

Haven't seen a better bargain. And PM also looks darn good.

I'm looking into a rack from Synthracks now, 12U with 126HP. And it's going to be more expensive, around 1200 USD

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