Build Your Own Pedals: Getting Started
If you’re someone who is interested in building your own effects pedals but are overwhelmed with where to start, I am going to let you in on a little secret. You totally can do it, and this article will show you how to get started!
To begin, you really need to have some basic knowledge of electrical components and their functions to safely build electronics. Next, you will need a soldering iron and some other basic tools. If you don’t have these items on hand, there’s no need to fret! The Internet provides, and at totally reasonable prices. On the Build Your Own Clone website, you can find a beginner’s tool kit that will equip you with everything you need to get started. The company also offers an easy project called the Confidence Booster so you can start to get your hands dirty. You can also find any of these tools at your local hardware store.
As for me, I learned how to solder using YouTube and buying electronic projects off of Amazon by companies like Arduino and Elenco. These are very cheap options, so it won’t be too much of a bummer when you (inevitably) mess up. Once you complete a successful build, that is when you can move onto more challenging DIY kits such as the Lil’ Reverb kit that She Shreds received from Build Your Own Clone!
Companies like BYOC are giving musicians the chance to own and operate comparably inexpensive clones of their favorite, classic pedals. No matter how you go about it, building and working on your own pedals is challenging, fun, and extremely satisfying! It also allows you to conquer that tone that you have been chasing down.
Tools You’ll Need:
I recommend starting with a 25-30W basic soldering iron with a point tip. There are ones that come with a whole station set up that has a holder and a tip cleaner. These are nice, but they aren’t necessary. You will need a stand, however, to place the iron when not in use. A brass scouring pad or a wet sponge work very well for cleaning the tip.
The most recommended solder is a 60/40 rosin core solder. This means that it is 60% tin and 40% lead.
I like to have a variety of pliers on hand for builds. Needle nose pliers and those on the smaller side work very well.
Wire cutters are a very important tool to become comfortable with. I like the cutters that have an adjustable screw for wire stripping as well as cutting.
If you’re going to be soldering, you’re going to need to desolder eventually. The desoldering braid will help you reverse all the crappy soldering you might be doing at first. Don’t worry; mistakes are part of the learning process!
Soldering safety and tips
Make sure you have a sufficient amount of work space. You will need adequate lighting and ventilation; wearing eye protection is a good idea. You do not want to breathe in solder fumes! They can cause irritation to your eyes, nose, and lungs. It is even known to cause headaches after prolonged exposure. Make sure you never touch the tip of your soldering iron. It is helpful at the beginning to hold wires with pliers as not to burn yourself. Wearing gloves is a good idea if you are going to be touching the solder wire directly. I like to slowly pull the solder out of the tube with pliers and hold the tube to apply the solder.
Make sure you pay attention to the directions/schematics. Some components have very specific placement!
Here are some helpful links to get you started:
Just search “helpful tips for soldering” on YouTube or Google. Read and view as much instruction as you need to feel comfortable.
Helping Hands $9.99
The only tool not included in the beginner’s kit that I use fairly regularly during builds.
This kit does not come with an enclosure or foot switch. It will still give you a good idea of what it takes to populate a PCB.
I put together an Elenco Bird Sounds kit because nothing says electronic mastery quite like cheap, crappy tweeting. Super fun!
I own this book, and it has a comprehensive review of all the foundational knowledge you need to get started.