Build Your Own Pedal

Build Your Own Pedal

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Photo 2 – I built my PG distortion in a pre-painting and pre-drilled enclosure and decorated it with stickers. Because stickers!

Build Your Own Pedal

Building a stompbox from scratch is easier than you might expect So customizing the circuit according to your style and taste This project will walk you through step by step When you’re done, you’ll have enough knowledge of using and selecting stompbox components to build a killer distortion pedal—and countless other pedals.

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A person of average intelligence with functional hands and eyes can complete this project But there are many steps involved – more than we can cover in a traditional journal article So we’ve created an illustrated build guide in PDF form, which you’ll need to download to complete the project.

Photo 1: The Electra MPC, a late-70s/early-80s guitar with built-in effects, is mostly forgotten. But many boutique builders have borrowed its simple yet great-sounding distortion circuit

What You’ll Build This project is a modernized and tweaked version of a distortion circuit that originally appeared in Elektra’s MPC (Modular Powered Circuit) guitar, a Japanese guitar with built-in effects that was imported to the U.S. by St. Louis Music in the 70s. | ’80s (Photo 1). The guitar never became popular, but at some point savvy boutique stompbox builders realized that despite (or perhaps because of) the circuit’s simplicity, it delivered a terrific overdrive tone. It was a great alternative to the tube screamer-influenced designs found in 90 percent of today’s overdrive pedals.

We call our Electra variation the PG distortion (Figure 2). Compared to a screamer, the PG distortion is less compressed, less mid-heavy, and more responsive to changes in your playing dynamics. It preserves note attack and has an edgy grind that cuts through the stage and a mix. It’s used in many highly regarded boutique pedals (just google the phrase “based on Elektra distortion”).

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The simplicity of the circuit you’ll learn makes it a perfect starter project But the goal isn’t just to build a cool pedal out of cheap parts From the first step, you will choose the design according to your style and taste You’ll learn how common stompbox components work, and how to choose the right one for your needs Making stuff

Now, if your goal is simply to build a cool pedal as quickly and cheaply as possible, you might consider a prefab DIY kit rather than this project. (I especially like the kits from Build Your Own Clone because of their clever design and excellent documentation.) But generally, kits like that only tell you the next step—not.

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Steps you are taking, or how you can apply the method in future builds Also, kits usually come with a printed circuit board (PCB) for mounting components, whereas we’d connect manually using a blank piece of perforated circuit board – a more laborious process, but more informative. Think of it as a stompbox-building class, with PG distortion as our case study.

2. Breadboarding the circuit You’ll assemble a circuit on an electronics “rootboard”—an inexpensive prototyping tool that lets you create circuits without soldering. This method makes it easy to understand which method does what (Photo 5).

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3. Customizing the circuit Breadboarding is also a great way to explore design options, which you will do from scratch

Photo 6 – After refining your circuit on the breadboard, you’ll mount the components on a piece of perforated circuit board, soldering everything to the reverse side of the board.

4. Assembling the circuit on the perf board Once you’ve finalized your design, you’ll solder it onto a “perf board,” a type of circuit board (photo 6). This is a more complicated process than plugging parts into holes in a prefab PCB, but it allows for customization.

Once you learn this technique, you will be able to transfer most stompbox circuits directly from schematic to perf board, and almost every stompbox schematic is available online. (Yes, reading schematics is one of our subjects. After assembling the circuit board, you’ll test it using a breadboard (Photo 7).

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Photo 8 (left): Your stompbox will contain pro-hardware, including a true-bypass switch, a DC adapter, and a power-indicating LED. Photo 9 (right): In final assembly, your circuit board rests on the gain and volume pots.

5. Circuit boxing Finally, you will box everything You will install the jack, footswitch, LED, and DC adapter in the enclosure (Photo 8) and then add the circuitry (Photo 9).

1. To sell iron (Preferably 30 watts or more, but not a big gun type iron. A “soldering station” with temperature control is a big plus. Use a fine, narrow soldering iron tip – best choice for small format electronics work.)

4. A small electronics breadboard (They make larger formats, but most stompbox circuits are simple enough for a small board.)

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5. A type of jumper cables (You can make your own, but the prefabs have metal tips that won’t survive repeated use.)

7. Wire cutters (most strippers have cutters, but you’ll probably want a separate flush-edged tool for tight, close cuts)

It’s never too early to modify projects to better meet your musical needs and personal style Even in this simple circuit, small changes can dramatically change the sound and response of the effect

10. An adjustable wrench or wrench set (Long-handled luthier wrenches are good if you can afford them—plus, you can use them for guitar repairs.)

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11. A digital multimeter “Auto-ranging” meters are easier to work with These have many functions, and the high-end ones can be very complex But even budget models should have the necessary functions for this project: a voltmeter, an ohmmeter, and a continuity function (a beeper that sounds when you touch any two points that are electronically connected to the test terminals).

You can get parts from any electronics supplier Others you must order from a stompbox parts specialist

Here is your “Bill of Materials” (BOM) – the engineer’s term for a parts list Part of the project involves auditioning multiple elements to pick your favorites, so not everything on the list will appear on the final pedal. Spare parts are very cheap, so I recommend getting them – you will learn a lot (In the United States, a complete set of parts should cost about $50.)

These can be polyester film, “box style” or ceramic – all sound the same in this circuit. Get small format caps between 50 and 100 volts, not the large format caps used in amps and other AC powered devices. (You’ll only use two in the final pedal.)

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6. Two 16mm potentiometers (“pots”): A100K and C10K. (Substitute B10K if you cannot find C10K.)

Schematics can be intimidating, but basic symbols don’t take long to learn A piece of perforated board (perforated circuit board) has at least 15 holes and seven holes. You will likely see a standard size 45 mm x 45 mm piece (shown).

9. Three 1/4″ mono jacks. (One for pedals and two for your breadboard test rig.)

11. One DC jack (I used the standard type with an internal nut for the photos in this guide, although you may find it easier to work with the external nut model.)

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18. Hookup wire, preferably 24-gauge, stranded and pre-bonded. (For visual clarity, it may help to use several contrasting colors, such as black, red, and white.)

19. One 1590B size enclosure is drilled for two knobs, footswitches, inputs, outputs, LEDs, and DC jacks. You can order a pre-drilled box, or use a drill press to make your own holes. Use a larger enclosure if you want, though everything should fit in a compact 1590B. (If you have a drill press, you can save a couple bucks by drilling your own holes. Google “1590B drilling template” for a suitable drill template.)

Stompbox parts tend to fall into two categories: those you can find at large electronics supply houses, and those sold primarily by stompbox specialists. Large suppliers such as Mouser, Digi-Key, and Allied often have the lowest prices, but they don’t stock some essentials. Meanwhile, specialist stompbox dealers often carry both specialized and non-specialized parts, and the convenience of one-stop shopping can compensate for the slightly higher cost of generic parts.

This is not an exhaustive list of stompbox parts specialists – just three reliable US-based vendors, with excellent reputations, listed in alphabetical order. I have had great service from all three businesses

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There is no financial component to the product – it is offered only as a convenience.) Parts are good and prices are competitive, but that’s just one way. The kit includes all the necessary parts, but you must provide the tools More details here

Despite (or perhaps because of) the circuit’s simplicity, it delivers a terrific overdrive tone. It’s a great alternative to the tube screamer-influenced designs found in 90 percent of today’s overdrive pedals.

Make your workspace work somewhere with good lighting and ventilation Expect it to take longer than planned, so don’t start working at your kitchen table if you’re planning to eat there this week. Remember, a clean, well-organized workspace is a sign of a clear, well-organized mind. My bench is a dirty junk

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