Making a guitar effects pedal can be a fun and rewarding project for guitarists and electronics enthusiasts.
If you are new to electronics then making an effects pedal can be a good place to start, depending upon what type of effect you choose to build.
If you are a beginner, then shy away from the more complex chorus and reverb effects and we would suggest that you start with some type of overdrive or fuzz pedal. The reason we suggesting this is that they have relatively few components and as such are easier to build and easier to fault find.
Hopefully this article will give you a taster of what building a pedal is all about, but we would also recommend reading the book Electronic Projects For Musicians by Craig Anderton which is excellent, and very much pitched at the hobby end of the market but with a focus on getting some good results.
So, once you have decided on what pedal to build, what next?
You will need some basic tools and materials such as a circuit board, electronic components such as resistors, capacitors, and transistors, a soldering iron, solder, wire cutters, a drill, and a drill bit.
It is most likely that you will need to order components online. There are relatively few physical retail outlets for electronic components these days. Even the larger outlets such as RadioShack (Maplin in the UK) are now online only.
The circuit board can be procured in different formats.
You may be able to buy it as part of a kit, which can be a good place to start. Or other options by using Veroboard, which is a circuit board with copper strips and the matrix of holes or you can use custom circuit board but this would mean designing the “wiring” for a copper clad board and then etching away the bits of copper you don’t want to give a custom printed circuit board for your pedal.
You will then mount the components into the circuit board and solder them to the boards copper backing according to the schematic or circuit diagram of the pedal.
Soldering isn’t that difficult but does need a bit of practise first in order to avoid dry joints. Dry joints are where the solder hasn’t been heated up properly and produces an inferior electrical connection which often produces problems. Typically, this would result in intermittent connections within the pedal, or can sometimes produce more complex problems by introducing unwanted resistance or capacitance into the circuit.
We should also note that it is possible to overheat components during soldiering which is obviously to be avoided. Also, severe overheating can cause the copper circuit board surface to delaminate which again causes problems.
If you are designing pedals, or just tweaking component values to see what’s best, then you can use “breadboard” which is a way of temporarily connecting components together for test purposes. This is nice and quick but cannot be used as a permanent arrangement.
Before plugging your new creation into your guitar and amplifier it is important that the pedal is thoroughly tested. If you have bought a pedal kit then there will be instructions on how to do this, if not then make some basic checks such as ensuring power to the right components and that the voltage across those components is as you would expect.
If you are happy then connect the pedal to your guitar and amplifier. Please make sure that the amplifier is turned right down when you start this. If there is a problem, you may get wild oscillation or buzzes which can easily blow speakers. At this point this becomes a very expensive guitar pedal!
Now you are able to take the circuit board off the test bench and finish the construction in what is a is usually a solid diecast metal box drilled out to accept input and output jack plugs, a foot switch and possibly provision for power input if the pedal is not powered by battery.
For first pedal battery is probably easiest, especially if it is a fuzz or overdrive pedal which do not take anywhere near as much current as a digital pedal so battery life should be fine.
Is it worth it?
If you enjoy electronics work, then yes, it is certainly worth experimenting with designing and building pedals. There are many professional boutique guitar pedal builders such as Death By Audio, who specialise in overdrive and fuzz pedals started off this way.
As with all DIY projects however, they can be frustrating when results aren’t as expected, and things don’t go well.
However, with perseverance you can get some great results and what’s more rewarding than getting a great guitar sound through a pedal that you built.
Features and account management. 3 years media experience. Previously covered features for online and print editions.
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