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
Richard Carpenter, AA4OO, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from North Carolina, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

4 Responses to “Bugging Out”

  • Steve VE7SL:

    Richard – you have a great fist on the bug … a quickly vanishing talent. Over the years I’ve heard some amazingly great bug operators and some amazingly terrible ones but it sounds like you have everything tuned-in perfectly there! There are a lot of youtube bug demonstrations that seem to show exactly what not to do although I’m sure the intentions were all honourable. Nice job!

    73 Steve

  • Richard AA4OO:


    Thank you for the kind words. If you heard me work my bug around 27wpm you might not have as favorable a response 🙂

    I am endeavoring to try to learn and use different styles of both manual keys and paddles. For devices that have such a similar function I find each one requires a different approach. I seem to have the most trouble with my Nye Viking Master key which is a mid-height straight key that I’ve read lots of people love. I just can’t send code on it well enough to use it on-air. I pull it out every now and then and practice some more but I just send clumsily on it.

    You may notice that I have an old HAM KEYER electronic keyer sitting on top of the Eagle… I prefer using it when I’m using paddles to using the internal keyer in either my Eagle or Elecraft. So I find that even electronic keyers have variability.

    I guess that when I am many years down the road in my CW journey all these keys styles and keyers will just be like riding a bicycle and I won’t have to consciously think about what I’m doing. But for now the challenge of using different styles of keys is fun.

    Richard, AA4OO

  • K8LEN/PAT:

    I use a bug and have the weights on it to slow it down, bought the weights off the well known auction sight.
    My bug has done a lot of traveling also, even shore duty and sea duty and a shore facility on ADAK ISLAND for a year, but the RUSSIAN operators could pound that cw out from the fishing vessels, unique stations to work.

    My Vibroplex was made in the late 50’s, I received it as a gift when I got my ham ticket in 1958.

  • David WB4ONA:

    I grew up using a vintage Bug. Used properly, a Bug is a beautiful thing – for both the sender and the listener. Used improperly… well, never-mind. We need a list of videos showing how “Bug-Done-Right” happens. If no videos exist; then those of us who are left should post them, before we’re all gone.

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