Cursed Build Warning - AionFX Aurora Deluxe (Keeley Compressor Plus)


Well-known member
First of all, let me make clear that nothing I say about how this build went is a slam on AionFX. I actually owe them a lot and respect them a lot; the very first project I ever built was an AionFX kit and the documentation educated me on what the various components were, how to solder them properly, etc. Once I completed that kit, I was able to move onto working from PCB and sourcing my own parts. I always recommend their kits as a first step for anyone getting into the hobby.

Background: When I was considering compressors to build last year, I tried a Thorpy Fat General and a Keeley Compressor Plus. The Thorpy instantly convinced me to build a General Tso- but I also loved the squash and musicality of the Keeley. However, no one was making a PCB of that specific pedal so I instead ended up building a two-in-one combining the Tso with the MadBean Kompromat, which is a hybrid between the Keeley 4-knob and a Barber Tone Press. While I liked the Kompromat, I didn’t love it the way I did the Keeley Conpressor Plus. So I was quite excited when AionFX released their PCB of the Compressor Plus in November 2023.

The Pedal: This build sounds great and very faithful to the Keeley Compressor Plus. Lots of squash on tap and it replicates the musicality that I had noted in the original pedal – by "musicality", I mean that the sustained note just seem to hang together and complement each other much better than in a lot of compressors I have heard. When I do country style licks involving a bent and released G string, it just sings to my ears. A hole in my pedalboard has now been filled.

But, geez, this build just seemed cursed. On the upside, it taught me that I had skills that I did not even know that I had. For example, I learned I have the ability to cry directly over a board without shorting it out.

The cursed build:

While I, as I said, owe a lot to AionFX as far as getting me started in the hobby, they do seem to buck a lot of conventions that other PCB makers have embraced – such as grounding pads on the board to avoid the need to star-ground everything, not overcomplicating the interplay between the main board and the breakout board, etc. While I have no problem with offboard wiring, some of the wiring on this project just seemed unnecessarily fiddly and complicated in the pursuit of “elegance“. Because of some of the tight connections, I eventually had to finish building it in the box, and that one singed electrolyte capacitor is a testament to my inability to work in really tight spaces, as well as my annoyance that working in tight spaces was even necessary here. (Edit - and now I see I also apparently singed the casing to the input jack. Dammit.)

But where everything really went south - over and over again – was the enclosure, complicated by some off design/layout choices on the part of AionFX.

I measured out a drill template in Adobe illustrator and my daughter created the art for me as a Christmas gift. So it was especially important to me that I get this pedal right and looking good to do her work justice.

  • For whatever reason, AionFX decided to shuffle the order of the controls around so they don’t match up at all with the order of the actual Keeley. OK, fine. We just rearranged the labels on the art. But dummy me assumed that the switch at least would be oriented in the same direction as the original pedal (up-down) and I didn’t notice until the art had been finished that it is not (on this board it is side-to-side). So we had to redo it with the switch labels in the proper orientation. My fault for not paying attention.
  • I applied the film free decal, sprayed it with clearcoat and drilled the enclosure. Of course, just as I finish drilling, I put a scratch in the decal. I could’ve lived with that but then, for some reason, the clearcoat failed. So I had to sand the whole thing back to bare aluminum and start again. Anyone who has ever applied decals knows that it is much harder to apply them properly if the holes have already been drilled – the depressions in the holes tend to pull the decal out of shape. For a film free decal, this issue doesn’t really become apparent until after you have baked it and you see that the printed design did not adhere everywhere. I went through about four cycles of applying the decal and baking it before I finally got something acceptable.
  • But still not done. On the original pedal, the attack switch is two positions – one for single coil and one for humbucker. AionFX added a third position for an attack setting in the middle between those two extremes - but the documentation doesn’t say which position is which. So I wrote Aion, who told me that, for whatever reason, they put the middle setting on the far LEFT throw of the switch (rather than, you know, in the middle). As I had already applied the art to the enclosure with what turned out to be an incorrect order, I had to sand it off yet again, tweak the deisgn, and apply it again.
At this point, after sanding and baking this enclosure to within an inch of its life, I wasn’t going to risk having another clearcoat incident or another nervous breakdown (whichever came first) so instead of applying clearcoat I just tried the technique of applying about 12 coats of MinWax Finishing Paste and polishing it to a shine. Will it be as durable or protective as clearcoat? No. Do I care at this point in time? Also, unreservedly, no. I just wanted to call this project done.

tl; dr: Great pedal, lousy building experience, mostly my fault.


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That’s another A+ from your graphics department! Nice job sticking it out through all that.

That sounds like a pedal I’d like to build, but so far I’ve been turned off of aion by that daughterboard situation. Also sideways is definitely the wrong way for toggles.