A beginner’s guide by Guitarist, Jason Rooney.
There are many reasons one may choose to build their own pedal. Personally, I tend to be a very die hard DIY’er whenever I can get away with it, and I wanted to see if I could save a few bucks on some great sounding pedals by doing some of the dirty work myself. Whatever your reason, you will need a design or schematic to go by, a trusted source for your parts, time, and fair amount of patience. When I started my expedition, I had a fair amount of soldering experience and a basic understanding of circuitry and wiring. However, schematics looked to me like a message from an Alien race that I just couldn’t understand. I could find a lot of schematics of my favorite vintage pedals, but couldn’t do much with that information. Fortunately for me, I found a company that sold kits consisting of a printed circuit board, electrical components, an enclosure and all of the needed hardware. My first kit was a clone of a TS808 Tubescreamer. I must admit, it was a bit intimidating at first to open up the box and see a bunch of parts and pieces staring back at me and this would eventually become a pedal. The fear soon passed after I dug in and went to building. Having a circuit board with an outline of the parts on the board was very helpful when populating the board for the first time. I liken it a sort of painting by numbers. Find the spot and the corresponding part, solder, repeat. The wiring of the board to the hardware, jacks and pots, was very similar. Connect point A to point B, etc. I had particular fun when it came to painting the enclosure. This was a part of the pedal kit building that was mine all mine. After some paint and some drying time, it all went together for the moment of truth. Click… no sound. Click…. Nothing. I was so bummed. After chasing down all of my connections, in my haste I left one wire disconnected from the output jack – A simple fix. Now I was cooking with gas. The result was a great sounding clone of a pedal that would have cost me easily twice as much as this kit. Not to mention it gives me a great sense of satisfaction coupled with a splash of pride to know that I built that pedal I’m stomping on, this is a one of a kind, and I can do small mods to tweak and to my heart’s, or ear’s, content.
There are a minimal amount of tools needed to start this journey, but some you may already have around the house. If not, you do not need to break the bank. As is with most things in life, I would urge you to buy the best you can afford at the time.
It is absolutely necessary to have a decent soldering iron. I would recommend an affordable iron that is around 25 watts and has a fine conical tip because you’ll be getting into some tight spaces. A reliable rosin core solder of small diameter is key. You won’t need a large amount, as a little goes a long way, but a standard spool will last a long time. Wire strippers are essential to peeling off the covering of the wires and exposing the bare wires to solder. Something to clip the leads of the components from the board. I
use fingernail clippers, but flush cutters work well too. Anything that can clip and get as close and parallel is what you’re after. Mistakes are inevitable and you will need a way to remove solder from the board or components. I suggest a solder bulb or de-soldering braid to remove solder. This will allow a clean and fresh area to re-solder the right part, or help when you want to swap something out for a mod.
Building the pedal takes time. Always have a reference of somekind nearby. This can be your layout, schematic, or instructions that accompany most kits. Don’t rush when soldering or wiring your pedal. If done right, your builds will provide you years of service. You are the builder and you are the quality control, this thinking may urge you to put in the extra effort that will make all the difference in the long run. Things don’t always work out 100% all the time. There can be bad solder joints, unexpected connections or shorts being made due to cramped space, and the occasional bad component, as well as a host of other problems often overlooked by the builder. There are plenty of forums of people discussing their builds and problems available for free online, so use those to your advantage for troubleshooting. I’ve also had great results contacting the companies I’ve ordered from.
When it comes to the enclosure, let your imagination guide you. This is your canvas and the face of your pedal to show the world. Just be patient when allowing your paint dry! I got ahead of myself a few times and have some fingerprints in my creations to prove it. Pre painted and powder coated enclosures are also available in a variety of colors and sizes from many sources if you aren’t too confident in your artistic abilities.
Starting out, building kits greatly helped ease me into the pedal building and modding world. Starting with very basic layouts helped me hone my soldering skills while learning what the parts were and how they went together. I first learned how to mod my kits and this knowledge carries over to any pedal. I now understand and can read schematics, find sources for parts, and I’ve learned how to etch my own boards based on different layouts or designs. With anything gear related, you can go as deep as you want.