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Monday, October 27, 2008

7 things I learned building my first DIY stompbox

I just finished this very crude and not entirely DIY analog delay pedal. I didn't do any of the difficult circuit-building bits, I just re-housed a MODboard analog delay circuit in a big 1790NS box with some modifications. Here's what I learned along the way:

1. If you don't have the knack, soldering is a nightmare. Once you have the knack, it's really easy. 'The knack' for me was nothing to do with technique - it was just making sure they tip of the soldering iron was clean. I used Multicore Tip Tinner, a little tub of evil-looking grey stuff from Maplin. Grind the hot iron tip into it, and it comes out all shiny and silver and healthy looking. Then keep cleaning the tip with a damp sponge.

2. Drilling big holes in aluminium boxes is easy and fun if you have a step drill. I bought this scary looking Irwin Unibit 4mm-12mm, which made neat, quick, easy holes for everything I wanted - an LED, switch, footswitches, pots, 1/4" sockets. I just used a normal cordless drill.

3. Even with negligible understanding of electronics, it's easy to modify circuits to be more fun. I added the two momentary switches and the on/off LED just by poking wires into the circuit to see what happened.

4. The only difficult bit is planning. I didn't think to leave space for the pots and the jack sockets around the back. There's plenty of room, but I was fired up to drill some holes so I didn't work out where everything would go. It's fine now with a bit of fiddling and clipping spare plastic off the sockets, but probably doubled the time the project took (to about 3 hours, excluding shopping).

5. There's a lot to buy: now I have a soldering iron, a step drill, a glue gun, a multimeter... my next project will be much cheaper.

6. It's not cheap if you buy everything individually from Maplin: There are £12 worth of foot switches in this box.

7. It's very gratifying to slay a few demons (like soldering and drilling big holes in metal) and then end up with a solid, cool-looking thing that works, doesn't rattle, is unique and makes stupid noises. I'd recommend it to anyone.

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