New to CW - Go for Vibroplex/Vizkey?

Discussion in 'Working Different Modes' started by K5AKG, Jan 6, 2011.

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  1. K5AKG

    K5AKG Ham Member QRZ Page

    At 59, I'm just now taking up CW. Gotta keep pushing the brain, you know. As I have a fondness for things historical and things mechanical, I am leaning toward buying a semi-automatic key rather than a keyer and paddles. Am I nuts? [For those who know me, please keep the comments relative to the question at hand.] The net costs seem to be about the same either way for decent hardware.

    Opinions are appreciated; objective evidence is preferred, if any exists.


  2. K9STH

    K9STH Ham Member QRZ Page

    If you do go for a semi-automatic key ("bug"), PLEASE practice with it using a code practice oscillator before trying it on the air. Using a "bug" can be difficult for some people while easy for others. However, it definitely takes some practice before you are going to be able to send well.

    An electronic keyer is considerably easier to learn how to use properly since both the "dits" and "dahs" are made by the keyer and the 3:1 ratio (dah to dit) is also made automatically. With a "bug" you have to manually make every "dah" and also have to carefully adjust the tension and spacing of the vibrating contact that makes the "dits".

    Many moons ago, back in the "goode olde dayes", I could send pretty well using a "bug" (if I say so myself! :rolleyes: ). However, since I have used an electronic keyer for so long, I definitely would have to do a "bit" of practicing before I even would think of using a "bug" on the air. I still have my Vibroplex original that my parents gave me for Christmas in 1960. It does work well. However, my ability to use it has definitely regressed and therefore I most certainly would need to practice before subjecting others to listen to me sending.

    Glen, K9STH
  3. NI7I

    NI7I Ham Member QRZ Page

    What Glen said......!!!!!!

    There are a lot of things radio wise that get a rise out of me.. One of the worse is somebody making awful sounds with a bug. Morse is music.. Morse made with a bug can be music but it can be truly dreadful to the ears as well.. If you must.. Practice before putting it opn the air.

  4. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    An electronic keyer with paddles is a lot easier to use and sends better code for about 99% of all operators.

    It still requires dexterity and will challenge your brain; but might as well send good code, as opposed to bad code, which is the case with the vast majority of "bug" users.

    Yes, "bugs" (electromechanical keys) allow you to develop a "personality," but if you have a personality using a bug, that means you're really not sending good code.:)

    In the 20s-30s-40s-50s and part of the 60s, there weren't other choices: It was a hand key, or a bug. After the electronic keyer was invented, there became a better choice and I switched to one as soon as I discovered it, by building a vacuum tube W9TO keyer. Holy mackeral, what an improvement.
  5. WA7PRC

    WA7PRC Ham Member QRZ Page

    Ditto to what everyone has said. I'll add that, to know the difference between good & bad Morse, you'll want to actually hear what good Morse sounds like. ARRL is a good place to start.
  6. KE0ZU

    KE0ZU Ham Member QRZ Page

    If you want to learn a skill and have good rythum and dexterity, a bug is a good challange.

    I have a Blue Racer I bought new in the 60s and used for several years. If I were to become interested in CW again I'd have to spend a number of hours as Glenn suggests.

    Starting out some time listening to the ARRL code practice sessions would be a big plus, as Brian mentioned.
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2011
  7. AB9YP

    AB9YP Ham Member QRZ Page

    And you can setup your computer to run a CW listening program. If it can decode your generated CW, it should be pretty decodable on the air.
  8. AG3Y

    AG3Y Ham Member QRZ Page

    I've always thought I was pretty good with a bug, but I did just what Joe suggests. The results were NOT pretty !

    Of course, that might also apply to those of us who send with a straight key, too ! It is much more difficult to form perfect letters, words and sentences than you might first think .

    Like the young violin student asked the cab driver, "How do you get to Carnegie hall ?" His answer, "Practice, practice, PRACTICE ! ! ! "
  9. KB2FCV

    KB2FCV Ham Member QRZ Page

    The bug takes a while to master. I use mine from time to time just to keep the rust off my bug fist. If you're afraid a solid state electronic keyer is too 'modern', consider using a hollow state hallicrafters TO Keyer. I use mine with my SX-101 and HT-32. The vacuum keyer is a pretty nifty way to go (although I don't think it would work with most modern gear due to the voltages..). I use a Vibroplex vibrokeyer with that (or my benchers). For some reason it doesn't like my begali paddles so I leave those with the modern gear. Definitely consider the TO Keyer and a set of paddles if you have the radio for it!
  10. AF9J

    AF9J Ham Member QRZ Page

    I've had bugs ever since I was a Novice. But, I got sick of always fiddling with the counterweight during contests, to change the speed, due to the circumstances of the QSO. So, nowadays, I typically use an electronic keyer. BUT, I will admit, that the paddle I use a single lever Bencher, that you use like a bug. I've never really gotten comfortable with doing the squeeze thing that double paddles allow you to do fir dit dah combinations.
  11. KB2FCV

    KB2FCV Ham Member QRZ Page

    I've tried and never could get used to that technique either. My first set of paddles (homebrew!) were essentially iambic (built out of circuit board, rubber cemented onto sheetrock) type. Most of my paddles are iambic but I don't send iambically. I use them essentially as a single lever.
  12. K7NRT

    K7NRT Guest

    check out website LCWO.COM as a CW fan, you might find it interesting...
  13. KT4AE

    KT4AE Guest

    I bought a Vibroplex bug as a motivator

    I've never really forgot the CW I had to learn to get my extra and about once a year I'll get the "bug" to polish up the CW and get on the air with it.

    The problem is that my first love is audio and I can't quite get up enough interest to stay with CW. I bought the Vibroplex as a motivator because as the OP said, I like things historical and things mechanical. As a motivational tool, it didn't work. I can't face selling it, though.

    I'll say this though, when I hooked up a Bencher iambic paddle to an MFJ keyer I said, "Ahhhh" like what my wife would say when we went car shopping and ended up at the Olds dealer (R.I.P.). I knew instantly that if I ever got serious about CW it would be with a paddle. I can see the attraction of the "squeeze".

    Later, I got a couple of Halli TO keyers (twofer price). I feel like a single paddle would work better with a TO. It wasn't designed for the iambic and seems like I had problems with overlap and such but it's been a while.

    I still can't get up enough interest in CW to do the work. I'd rather play with microphones and associated gadgets.

    Harry, KT4AE
    Maryville, Tennessee
  14. W2BLC

    W2BLC Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'll try to answer the original question as simply as possible. A Vibroplex bug is a part of history. You can buy a new one, a collector one, or a used one with real history behind it. In a way, a Vibroplex bug is a working piece of history. It will also sound like a thrashing machine while being used and, if you are heavy handed, you will chase it all over the desk.

    A VizBug has a lightly smaller footprint than the Vibroplex and stays glued in place due to its wide footprint. It is, to me, easier to adjust and keep sounding good (no scratchie scratchie dits). Due to its right angle design, it uses less desk real estate. It is a light key to use, not requiring a heavy hand. The slight noise it does make when in use is like comparing a thrashing machine to a sewing machine. All you hear is a slight tickity tickity tick.

    There is nothing bad I can say about the ViBug and the builder support you will get cannot be beaten. You can also buy paddles in the same format as the VizBug.

    Want to learn more about radiotelegraphy? Go to
  15. N5PTV

    N5PTV Ham Member QRZ Page

    The good thing about a bug vs a keyer is that you can make it hard for a computer to copy, while a seasoned cw op has no issue with the bug generated cw. Keeps the cheater with decoders out of the mix. Go with the bug! They look great, are a pleasure to use, and you will have a conversation piece at your operating position.
  16. W5BIB

    W5BIB Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    For some real fun/challenge, get hold of a "Bunnell Sideswiper":eek: Not the quickest thing in the world, but certainly different !! To become more proficient with a straight key, copy your own sending on a reader/decoder!..At WLO I would sometimes use my left hand on a "keyboard" and my right hand on a "straight key". Finally got to where ya couldn't tell the difference. (Had to break the monotony of an 8 hour watch!);)
  17. WA4OTD

    WA4OTD XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Opinion: Sending good CW with an electronic keyer is hard enough.
  18. DL7GEM

    DL7GEM Ham Member QRZ Page

    Considering that you are just learning CW using a bug as your first key might not be a good idea.
    Although they can be "tamed" to 15wpm (use a Varispeed or Extend-A-Dot) bugs are built for speeds of >20wpm.
    Using a bug is great fun if you have mastered the speed but you might be in for some frustration if the bug keeps running away from you.

    Although not semi-automatic, a cootie key (a.k.a. sideswiper) might be an option for you. You can start out real slow and gradually build up your speed to >20wpm with a cootie.

    I am using both mechanical and electronic keys. The paddle is for contest use only when speed exceeds 28wpm. My favourite keys are the cootie and the bug. I am using the bug when I am looking for QRQ contacts, the cootie works best for me at speeds from zero up to around 24wpm, and the straight key feels most comfortable between 16 and 20wpm.

    73 de Marcus / DL7GEM
  19. W5BIB

    W5BIB Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Yea the "cootie" "sideswiper"is a challenge up to about 20-22 wpm. "Course ya can always slow the "bug" down with a couple of "clothes pins" hi hi lol
  20. WA8JXM

    WA8JXM Ham Member QRZ Page

    Although I have many years with a historical Vibroplex, I know that I am kinder to my contacts if I use the electronic keyer....or even a keyboard ;-) My Vibroplex has a March 1942 U.S. Army plate on it. I wish I was good enough to turn out great cw with it but I'm not :(

    I agree, see if a computer can read your fist. You will find others much more willing to chat with you if you send top quality code.

    Practice only sometimes makes perfect. Practicing slop just makes well practiced slop.

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