Cleaning the Soundboard, Part One

The soundboard at church – an old Mackie VLZ 24/4 mixer – needs a cleaning. The last time it was taken apart and cleaned was 5 years ago, and we haven’t been very good at keeping it covered when it’s not in use, and now, well, it’s nice and dusty on the inside, and it sounds like it.

Because I am the way I am, I decided I didn’t want to go to the trouble (and expense) of tracking down the person who cleaned it back in 2004 (when someone else was in charge of this stuff), and hauling it down to said person’s house in the Metroplex, and either renting a board or cobbling something together with our two smaller boards for a week or two until the board was clean, and going to pick it up, and then putting everything back together. No, I decided I’d rather go to the trouble of taking it apart and cleaning it myself.

In my defense, I did some poking around online, and I’m not the first person to attempt this. And really, all we’re talking about is cleaning off some dust. How hard can that be?

So at 9 o’clock this evening, having already acquired cotton swabs and isopropyl alcohol, I went up to the church and set about disassembling the board. I first wrote down, for each of the 22 channels, the positions of all the various knobs (trim volume, aux sends, 4-band EQ, submix assignment), as well as the positions of a few other important knobs and sliders. Then, I took all the knobs (280) and sliders (a mere 27) off. Then, after making sure they were all labeled, I unplugged all the cords from the back of the board, and set about actually taking the thing apart.

The parts I wanted to clean are underneath a metal panel held on by a few dozen hex-head bolts. Tiny little things; they take a 1/16ths-inch allen wrench, and that was the first snag. Not a big one, mind you; the 1/16ths-inch allen wrench was absent from the set I’d brought with me, which required a quick ride home to retrieve it. Problem solved.

Well, sort of. The 1/16ths (or 4/64ths)-inch allen wrench wasn’t quite big enough (and, of course, the 5/64ths-inch was altogether too big, which was why I’d had to go home in the first place). Not wanting to admit the obvious – that the bolts had been removed and replaced one too many times, and their hexagonal indentations were now a tad too circular – I did a little standard-to-metric conversion and figured a 1.6 mm allen wrench would do the trick. As it was now nearly 11 (I’d wasted a half-hour removing and replacing a bunch of screws that I should have just left alone), I set out for the only plae in town where I could hope to acquire a 1.6 mm allen wrench, if such a thing even existed: Wal-Mart.

(I hate going to Wal-Mart. I only do it when I have to. And, yes, I realize I could’ve called it a night and gone to Lowe’s in the morning, but I wasn’t ready to admit defeat.)

If a 1.6 mm allen wrench exists, Wal-Mart does not stock them. They do stock 1.5 mm allen wrenches, which, at least according to Stanley, is equivalent to a 1/16ths-inch allen wrench, and therefore useless to me. As a last resort, then, I bought a pair of two-dollar needle-nose pliers, planning to unscrew the damn stripped bolts that way, and rode back to the church.

And, amazingly, my plan worked. In fact, it worked better than I expected: the first bolt I tried started moving right away, and once I’d loosened it with the pliers, I was able to unscrew it the rest of the way with my trusty 1/16ths-inch allen wrench. (Good thing I went home for it, after all.) Bolt number two came out easier than bolt number one. “Shit, yes!” I thought, “I might actually get this done tonight!”

But no. With bolt number three, my luck ran out. I couldn’t get the pliers to grip it long enough to loosen it. I left number three to reconsider and tried number four. Nothing. Number five? A recalcitrant little punk. I tried a few more, at random. Bitches, all of them.

I was defeated. I came home, had a glass of wine, washed a few dishes, and now I’m going to bed. I’m going back tomorrow, and trying something new. What, I don’t know yet. At the very least, I have to put the damn thing back together for the service tomorrow night, whether I get it clean or not.

You won this round, mack, but this shit ain’t over yet.

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