A video showing the DEUCE sign can be seen by clicking Deuce Promo

The DEUCE sign was custom designed for the KISS Tribute band . It consists of five letters each approx. 30 inches high by 2 feet wide. When assembled on stage it ends up being approx. 30 inches high by 10 feet long. The sign uses 378 fifteen watt globe style light bulbs which require almost 6000 watts of power to light. It is powered by multiple 120 vac circuits or one heavy duty 220 vac outlet and is sequenced using an IBM style computer.


Ever since the first DEUCE show on February 23rd, 1996 I have had people come up to me and inquire about the DEUCE sign. Things like how many light bulbs are in it, how it was built and how it operates. I will try to provide some information on the DEUCE sign without getting too technical.

Shortly after Christmas 1995 I was approached by three members of the original DEUCE who had this crazy idea of trying to duplicate the excitement of a KISS performance including the sign but instead of KISS it was to spell DEUCE. Over the next month or so I thought about the project and came up with several different ideas. After rejecting several we (Deuce and myself) settled on a basic design that would consist of 5 separate letters (making transportation easier!) which would then be assembled on stage to make up the complete sign.


I then went to work on determining what was the most feasible light bulb to use. Things like brightness, wattage and of course cost were the major concerns. Almost immediately I ruled out anything that used a standard size light bulb socket simply because the sockets cost too much. It was starting to look like the sign was going to have almost 400 light bulbs in it so the cost of sockets was starting to become a MAJOR concern even though I had found a surplus dealer that had them available for $1.00 each. I just couldn't see spending almost $400 just for sockets!!!

Light Bulbs ?

It was at a local hardware store where I discoverd a globe shaped bulb just slightly over 2 inches in diameter that had the same base as a 4 or 7 watt Christmas tree bulb and all of a sudden it hit me. We could buy strings of standard Christmas tree lights, mount the sockets in the sign and simply replace the small Christmas tree lights with the larger globe bulbs. Now we were getting somewhere! Only problem it was now mid January and no one had strings of Christmas tree lights, especially one that used the old time full size lights. Word was out. Deuce needed strings of Christmas tree lights. It was out of these old donated strings of lights that the first Deuce sign was born.

The bulbs I found came in 15, 40 and 60 watt sizes all with the same small Christmas tree lamp base and all were exactly the same diameter. I later discovered that the same type bulb also came in a 25 watt size but these were not available at the time of construction. Since the diameter of the lightbulbs was now known I had Bill draw up a full size cardboard template for the sign. It looked like we would need 378 lightbulbs / sockets to build the sign.

Power ?

Wanting the sign to be as bright as possible I did a quick calculation using the largest wattage bulbs. 378 lightbulbs at 60 watts each would only require 22,680 watts !!! (378 x 60 = 22,680) This thing would end up pullling almost 200 amps on a standard 120 VAC circuit. I DON'T THINK SO!!! There was NO WAY we would be able to power something like that. Even the 40 watt bulbs would require over 15,000 watts. (125 amps at 120 VAC !!!) Soooo, the only option left was the 15 watt bulb. 15 watts didn't sound like very much but even with a small bulb like this the sign would still require almost 6000 watts! And 6000 watts of light is still bright no matter what size the bulbs are so brightness was never really a problem. Although I had some doubts as to whether we would be able to power something like that in many clubs it was the only option that seemed even remotely feasible so that's what we ended up using.

So now we had a sign with 378 lightbulbs in it each requiring 15 watts of power. The only option without some type of special controller was to either turn it on (almost 6000 watts) or turn it off. Although VERY impressive when it first comes on in a dark room it's certainly NOT very exciting after the first couple of times if that's all it does is go off and on.

The Controller ?

Two ideas that came to mind were a dedicated controller built specifically for the sign or some type of readily available computer that could be programmed to do the same thing. My concern with building a dedicated controller was what would happen when that controller failed or the programming needed updated. It was for that reason I decided to go with an XT style IBM computer.

An XT you say? Wasn't that kind of obsolete even in 1996? Sure was. It had 64K of RAM and it ran at the blinding (:-^) speed of 4.77 Mhz meaning the control program had to be written in an efficient manner or it would never work at all. But it was cheap and had the further advantage that the XT did not retain it's setup in CMOS RAM, meaning we could be reasonably sure this thing was going to power up and run even if it sat around for long periods of time with no use. In fact it sat for two years when the original Deuce broke up but powered up with no problem when it was connected to the new sign so the orignal concept turned out to be a good one!

The problem with any computer that uses CMOS RAM is that if that memory gets scrambled (weak CMOS battery ?) the computer will NOT boot. It was decided from day one that the computer controlling the sign would NOT have a display connected to it. We had enough stuff already to load in and out at shows and I didn't want to have to deal with another large box especially one that had a large glass vacuum tube in it that could easily end up broken. Based on the number of bulbs we broke getting the sign to and from shows I have no doubt that we would have also broken several monitors! Since there was NO easy way I could reset CMOS RAM without a monitor it was decided to go with the XT design even though this style computer was considered an obsolete design long before the sign was built. It was also decided at this time that the program would be stored on floppy disk (5 1/4 inch 360k !) to rule out the possibility of a hard disk crash. The XT didn't have a hard disk anyway, only one 360k floppy drive!

Now that I knew what was to be used for the controller it was now possible to figure out what was needed to interface to the sign. The first port on the computer that came to mind was the printer port. Only problem was the sign had 15 channels that needed control signals and the standard printer port only has 8 outputs and I didn't want to get into any special decoding hardware to expand these. (There are some auxiliarly control signals available but even using them still did not provide enough control signals.) The solution of course was to install another printer port. This is where the standard IBM style computer really shines. When something new is needed it's a simple matter to plug in another card to provide the needed function. So I now had two printer ports each capable of controlling 8 channels for a total of 16.


So now I had a 6000 watt sign and a computer which did absolutely NOTHING !!! I needed to design something to go between the printer ports and the light bulbs in the sign then write some type of computer program to make the whole thing work. Since the printer port only puts out a VERY feeble signal of very low current at 5 volts maximum and it took almost 6000 watts to light the sign it was obvious some electronic magic needed to be performed to glue all this together!

The original DEUCE sign used homemade opto couplers driving silicon controlled rectifiers. Each channel was a maze of transistors, IR LEDS, photodiodes, and SCR's all of which was crammed into a tiny box behind the huge letter D. Also inside the D was a high power rectifier system to convert the incoming AC to DC as the silicon controlled rectifiers could only switch a DC circuit. If they were used to switch an AC circuit the result would be the sign would run at 1/2 power all the time.

Since it didn't seem likely that we would ever find a 120 vac outlet in any club capable of supplying 60 amps it was decided to break the sign into three circuits. Two of which required almost 25 amps each with the third requiring approx. 10 amps. This not only simplifed powering the sign but also allowed the use of three AC to DC converters to split up the load.


The final key to making the DEUCE sign do what it needed to do was of course the computer program. Since I wanted the system to come up as fast as possible and the computer had to run without a monitor it was decided to run the control program from DOS. The fact that the computer was an XT also precluded the use of Windows or any other memory hungry CPU intensive operating system. What I came up with was written in Turbo Pascal and the original program ended up needing only 17k bytes of RAM to operate. This gives you some idea as to just how efficient Turbo Pasal programs can be. Even after 5 years of modifications and adding new sequences the program is still less than 20k! Through special programming techniques it's also possible to control brightness of various sections of the sign.

The First Show !

All of us were under a great deal of pressure to get everything ready as we already had our first show booked for February 23rd. It wasn't till a couple days before the show that I found out that the club we were playing at did NOT have sufficient capacity to power the sign using the existing 120 VAC circuits. However, there was a 220 VAC outlet on stage which hadn't been used for quite some time and needed checked out. The only problem was the sign was never designed with 220 VAC in mind. The first attempt at trying to power the sign on a 220 circuit resulted in blown fuses and internal damage to the sign.The problem being a common ground connecton between the outputs of the three AC to DC converters. Getting rid of this common ground required a MAJOR rewiring of the sign (all five letters AND the control interface board!) with all this taking place less than 24 hours before the show!

I ended up working 36 hours straight through without sleep in order to get the original sign functioning on 220 VAC. This ended up being a bigger task than expected as the first attempt at powering the sign on 220 did more damage than I expected. I also underestimated in how many places I used the same common ground on the output of the AC to DC converters. I was a fanactic about grounding things as my fear was that the 120 or 220 VAC circuit would somehow find it's way back to the computer not only blowing out the computer but possibly resulting in a shock hazard as well. Kind of adds a new dimension to "Shock Me" !!! This is why ALL circuits to the sign are connected via opto isolators which use a beam of light for the connection making any shock hazard just about impossible as well as protecting the computer. As a further precaution the latest version of the sign is now controlled via a wireless keyboard so there is NO connection to anything!

Now back to the first DEUCE show!

When we got to the club it turned out the 220 outlet was dead. Fortunately after several trips to the basement a long forgotten circuit breaker was located which fed power to the 220 outlet on stage. The sign was plugged in powered up and ---- IT WORKED! Hours later the place was packed and the excitement was building. I'm set up in front of the stage using a remote keyboard on the end of 75 foot cable. Deuce hits the stage. They come out behind a sheet which is suspended in front of the stage. I'm waiting for the sheet to drop which is my cue to fire up the sign. Then it happens. Someone on stage trips over a cable which momentarily interrupts power to the computer. However, the computer doesn't reboot. Since the power interruption was very brief the system ends up hanging. Unfortunately it ends up being locked up with full power applied to all 15 channels. So there I am with 6000 watts going to the sign as I fight my way through the crowd trying to make it to the stage. I manage to make it there, hit the reset button which causes the sign to go completely dark, then fight my way back to my post to try to regain control of the system. The sheet drops, I hit the first key on the keyboard, the sign comes up and everyone thinks everything worked as planned. Everyone is amazed but not half as much as I am considering what I went through the past two days or so rewiring everything! I have to admit the shadows of Deuce through the sheet with the 6000 watt sign blazing behind them did look kind of neat. BUT, it sure wasn't planned that way!

The sign continued to work throughout the rest of the show with no probems. The only problem I had was trying to see what I was doing as my view to the stage was blocked most of the time due to the huge crowd that was packed into the place we were playing that night. The bouncer came by several times and told me to get down off the chair I was standing on trying to see the stage. I don't think he had a clue I was the one controlling the sign. It wasn't till the end of the show that I discovered the power cable feeding the computer came loose and was what caused the power glitch when the band members walked out on stage and someone bumped the cable. The plug was most likely knocked loose when someone got tangled up in the cord when doing the rest of the setup after the sign was in place.

Throughout the entire history of Deuce there wasn't a single show that the DEUCE sign did not work. Although there were some major malfunctions from time to time it was always possible to patch things together and get it going in time for the show. I have to admit though that Kurt and I spent a couple of tense hours at more than one show with him holding a work light behind the sign, the back of which was peeled off to exposed the inner workings, while I performed what amounted to black magic to make things operational again. And all this going on while the opening band was playing on stage. Communicating with each other was only possible by screaming as the sound level behind the sign was unbearable. This is why the new sign has NO electronics inside the sign!

The DEUCE Sign Returns !

Beginning with shows in 2001 DEUCE is now using a new sign that has been completely redesigned. This was out of neccessity as parts of the original sign were lost when the original Deuce broke up. I took advantage of the situation and designed the new sign to be as simple as possible to set up since I no longer have Kurt to help with the setup since he passed away shortly after the first Deuce broke up.

The new sign is broken down into four circuits requiring 15 amps each. It now uses triacs instead of SCR's which eliminates the need for the AC to DC converters. The sign can now be controlled on stage using a local keyboard, a remote keyboard on the end of my own 100 foot cable or routed over the snake from the stage to the audio board, OR with a new wireless keyboard setup which can use either IR for short distances or an RF (radio) link for longer distances. And most importantly, there is absolutely NO electronics mounted inside the sign. This means if a failure should occur during a show I can unplug the controller and work on it somewhere other than on stage!

As part of the new sign setup a power system was designed which allows us to instantly hook up to three different types of 220 outlets or 1, 2, 3 or 4 120 vac circuits. The computer can be programmed to reduce power to the sign making it possible to do a show and run the sign on ONE 15 amp circuit if that's all that is available. This is done by rapidly sequencing segments of the sign so it appears that all segments are lit when in reality only small parts of it are actually turned on at any given time. The only consequence of this is reduced brightness but it provides a way to operate the sign when power is limited. All switching is now done on the zero crossing of the AC waveform where possible to reduce the possibility of noise getting into the audio system.

The first show for the new sign will be Starlake Fakefest on 05-23-01.

So there you have it. The DEUCE sign from start to finish. Now all you have to do is get yourself over to Starlake for the "RETURN of the SIGN" !!!

This is my own personal technical review of the 05-11-01 show at Starlake and does not reflect the views of Deuce or any other member of Deuce.

We ended up on the Levi Stage at Starlake. This review is for any band that has unusual power requirements or has the misfortune of playing on that stage when there is the possibility of rain. (Bring plastic covers for any equipment you don't want water damaged. The roof LEAKS !) Hopefully the situation will change before you get there! This review also demonstrates what Deuce sometimes has to go through to bring you these shows.

Power and Water do NOT mix !

The power situation on the Levi stage at Starlake is right up there with some of the absolute worst power situations I've run into in my many years of doing this sort of thing. NO 220 vac outlet and very limited 120 vac service from a rusted power panel that was soaking wet as it was raining off and on and the roof was leaking! Water was dripping directly into some of the outlets and on some of the equipment. Although an attempt was made to cover everything with plastic it was NOT successful as everything still got soaked. This caused a great deal of concern to me as the plastic thrown over some equipment caused a heat buildup which could have lead to damaged equipment or even a fire hazard if something really got hot due to inadequate ventilation.

I consider this a severe situation as water and power do not mix especially in an outdoor situation. Not only was I concerned about powering the sign but with all the water dripping into everything the safety of everyone on stage also started to become a MAJOR concern. Even walking across the stage became a hazard at some point as the floor started to become very slick with all the water laying around. Some of our very expensive and irreplaceable custom designed musical instruments and amplication systems had water dripping on them from the leaking roof. We did the best we could with plastic covers but if one isn't very careful one can end up with the heat build up problem mentioned above.

Some 120 vac power outlets only had 96 vac on them. Those that did have something close to 120 vac were wired across various phases of the 208 vac three phase power feeding the stage making it impossible to use for some types of modern computer controlled lighting systems (like the sign) that do all switching on the zero crossing of the AC mains. This is done to prevent switching noise from getting into the sound system. I'm sure many of you reading this have heard the buzz from stage lighting coming through the PA system at some shows as the lights are faded up and down. Newer systems avoid this by doing all switching on the zero crossing when NO currrent is flowing which is a great idea but unfortunately most if not all of these systems require that all channels be fed from the same phase which is never a problem on a 220 vac circuit but is almost always a problem at facilities running on 208 vac three phase power as there is no way of knowing which phase any given 120 vac outlet is on until each one is tested.

I was asked three times to kill the sign during the show because ' - I - ' was tripping circuit breakers. Really? The sign never went out, the stage lights never flickered, and the sound never quit so what breakers were tripping? I was running the sign in the power conservation mode (no more than ONE channel is active at a time) which reduces the power consumption to around 4 amps. Although this produces a less spectacular display it was my only option. I had no choice but to run in this mode as all 15 channels were being fed from two 120 vac circuits. The only two that I could find that were on the same phase that barely came close to providing 110 vac and NOT 96 vac like some of the other outlets! The sign was noticeably dimmer than usual due to the low line voltage.

Right after I got power to the sign I discovered that the battery pack in my wireless setup shorted out with the result that the four AA cells were now encased in melted plastic making it impossible to replace the cells or use the keyboard. Although I found the source of the problem the next day all the water on stage didn't do anything to help this situation. NEVER pack wireless equipment for travel with the batteries installed. I should know better and I'm in the habit of doing this but forgot this one time and of course this one time is all it took to create extra problems. This is the kind of unexpected problem that always seems to crop up when setup time is limited. Fortunately I always carry a backup system! And a backup for the backup system!!!

Sound and Light

The stage lighting system also left a LOT to be desired which consisted of a couple of flood lights which were locked on continuously. It's my understanding this is what was left over from the main stage. Although adequate you would think that a place as large as Starlake would take more pride in presenting the best visual display of any facility around on BOTH of their stages. It's almost like the Levi stage was built out of all the junk that was left over from the main stage and it shows it both from a technical standpoint and the visual presentation. The sound system although small was adequate.

I did my best with what Starlake provided and the show went on as scheduled but WITHOUT the pyro and WITHOUT the fire act neither of which we were allowed to do even though we had fire extinquishers and met all fire codes for doing so as this is part of the show that Deuce fans expect to see.

Looking back from the stage Starlake seemed to dissappear into a mass of girating bodies and faces shortly after we hit the stage. All one could see in all directions were people looking back! Judging by the crowd noise which was VERY apparent on stage even with the PA system and stage monitors blaring away the fans enjoyed the show as well. Thanks for coming to Starlake and supporting our efforts!

Although I consider it an honor to have done this show at Starlake I was extremely dissappointed in the facilities available. I had expected better from a facility as large as Starlake.

The above is my own personal opinion and does not reflect the views of Deuce or any other member of Deuce.

John - KatHouse Productions
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