Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bugging Out

Vibroplex Bug QSO

Sometimes I'm in a mood to use my bug.  I'm still a relatively new CW operator and using my Vibroplex Original Bug is both novel to me and a challenge compared to my Kent Straight Key or using paddles.

The key lineup with the Bug in the center
I purchased my bug used on a well known auction site for about $65.  It dates to sometime in the mid 1970s but it doesn't differ much from bugs made in the past 75 years.  I have added some weight to slow it down to around 19 wpm DITs by taping a heavy spacer onto the factory pendulum weight as well as adding a heavy metal spacer to the end of the pendulum.  The weight on the end of the pendulum is held on by a simple plastic drywall screw anchor.  I can pull the weight off the back quickly if I want to let it go up to about 25wpm DITs.  Without the extra weights this bug sends at around 27wpm at it's slowest speed and up to... well I don't know how fast because I can't control it at the fastest speed yet and I certainly can't copy others at that speed so I usually keep it below 20wpm for now.

If you haven't used a bug I encourage you to give it a try.  It's a challenging key to get the hang of but the effort to learn it is fun and rewarding. I especially enjoy the tactile feedback from that swinging pendulum and the the click-clacking of the pendulum against the hanging damper.

I was using my Ten-Tec Eagle (model 599) purchased used from a local ham.  The Eagle is a super little QRO radio although in this QSO my output is 5w.  If you have sharp eyes you may see that the power level is set to 7w but that is actually 5w output according to my external meter.  The 100 number under the CW symbol is the bandwidth that I was using.  I generally keep the bandwidth at 500 Hz but there was a station operating above us that I wanted to mask.

Ten-Tec Eagle 599
The Eagle is a great CW rig.  This model has 3 front end crystal filters 2400Hz, 600Hz and 300Hz giving it nice selectivity for any mode. 

I was working Ed, KG4W in VA who is an SKCC member.   If you want to work other manual key stations 3550 kHz is a calling frequency for the SKCC.  Ed told me during the QSO he was using a VIZ vertical bug which is a unique and interesting bug design.  

He reported my signal as 599 and he was 599 as well.  I was running 5w output power to my 80m OCF Dipole. He was using an Yaesu at 100w to a fan dipole.  5w was sufficient for this QSO but if he had reported me as 559 or weaker I would have raised my power to 20w to make copy for him easier.  I enjoy using QRP but when I rag chew I don't want to make it difficult for QRO stations to copy me if I can help it so having the Eagle allows me to raise my power if necessary for the communication.


So here's the qso between two bug operators.  I hope you enjoy it...

That's all for now

So lower your power and raise your expectations


Richard, AA4OO


  1. Good morning Richard, I have had no exposure to this type of key I have read blogs posts about them and they are very much enjoyed. You mentioned about adding weight to adjust the speed....does the key not come with some weight adjustment so you don't have to affix your own? The Eagle seems like a great rig and I have read all that you have posted about it. I have read how Ten Tec is under new owners and some are not so happy about the new policy regarding repairs. I have not heard much about the new company lately but I hope with their aggressive policy they can keep this excellent company afloat.
    Have a great weekend
    73, Mike

    1. Hello Mike,
      The Vibroplex Bug comes with a pendulum weight but the standard weight only slows the DIT speed down to about 27wpm. A stock Original Bug cannot send DITs slower than 27wpm so many people add extra weight.

      Concerning TenTec I'm thrilled that they are now under ownership that is owned by a real amateur radio operator. While it's true that they have raised their price for service and stopped performing free service I believe this is simply in-line with what other companies are doing and should have been done a long time ago. They are a business, not a hobby so they need to be able to pay the employees and have enough profit to design and bring new products to market.

      I wish them success and have even reached out to see if they would like assistance with their website.

    2. I have not had to much exposure to the Vibroplex keyers but I have read a lot about them of ham's using them. I too was happy to hear that Ten Tec has taken a better biz approach to things under the new owners. I guess there was a bit of an up roar from the previous owners who were used to things another way. In the long run if these makes the company a strong one then Ten Tec will be around for a long time and making improvements on the rigs they have and new ones to come.
      73, Mike