Beginner’s Guide To Building DIY Guitar Effects Pedals & Stomp Boxes
Getting started with building your own DIY effects pedals can be a daunting task, especially if you don’t really have any electronics experience.
However, I’m here to help you get started and build your own guitar pedals from scratch.
Whilst the entire site is here to help beginner’s build DIY guitar effects pedals, I’ve created this guide to break everything down into manageable chunks and reference deeper guides on my site.
Equipment & Tools Needed To Start Building Guitar Effects Pedals
Any complete beginners to this hobby won’t likely have any of the essential tools and equipment needed to completely build a guitar effects pedal from scratch. You may have a few standard screwdrivers and a drill in your tool bag, but there are some more specialised tools required.
The most important of which is a soldering iron. You can find these at all price points but I would strongly suggest buying one with an adjustable temperature setting. This will really help you dial in the correct temperature so you don’t burn out some of the more sensitive components. Here are a few that I would recommend:
Once you have your soldering iron, you need to pick up some solder as this is the glue that will hold your projects together. There are a lot of different types of solder available but anything between 0.6mm and 1mm in diameter using a tin alloy composite will be perfect for any DIY pedal project. This is the solder that I’m currently using and it’s great:
Whilst it’s not an essential part of building guitar pedals, learning to use a good digital multimeter can save you a tonne of time when troubleshooting why your pedal doesn’t work as it should. You don’t have to spend a fortune on one of these but it’s a fantastic tool to have on your workbench. Here’s a great starter multimeter:
The final items to consider all relate to your safety. Soldering irons run at around 200 degrees celsius (392 degrees Fahrenheit) and all effects pedals run on electricity, albeit low voltages. Therefore, I strongly recommend investing in safety glasses/goggles, tough & thin work gloves and a soldering mat. Whilst it may all seem overkill, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
For a more in-depth guide on the necessary tools and equipment needed to start building DIY guitar effects pedals, please check out my guide here.
Skills Needed To Build DIY Guitar Effects Pedals
Patience, perseverance and attention to detail are quite possibly the greatest skills needed for building your own guitar effects pedals. Not all builds will work the first time you plug them in and it’s patience & perseverance (along with a good effects pedal troubleshooting guide) that will help you get to the bottom of the issue. Some builds will contain lots of different components and the further through you get the harder it will be to check everything is in the right place. Check twice, solder once.
However, there are some actual electronics skills needed and the more you can practice these before getting onto actual builds, the better.
The first skill is soldering. Soldering is the process of melting a small amount of metallic alloy compound with a low melting point (solder) between two components to create a strong connection that will allow an electrical signal to flow through those components.
Soldering may seem a tough skill to practice before having a project but, with a piece of stripboard and a handful of resistors, you can really get some good practice in.
If you’re completely new to solder, why not read my beginner’s guide to soldering for guitar pedals.
If you’re like me and like to learn new skills through reading books, check out my list of the best books to learn how to build DIY effects pedals here. Alternatively, if you’re addicted to listening to podcasts or watching videos on YouTube, check out a few of my posts about my favourite podcasts for DIY guitar effects pedal builders and my favourite YouTube channels for DIY effects pedal builders.
Whilst not essential for complete beginners, the earlier you can get used to using a digital multimeter, the better. As you progress to creating your own projects, piecing together components and testing unsuccessful builds this will be a skill that becomes invaluable.
One additional skill that you can shortcut is wire stripping. Without a good pair of cutters, this can be quite a tricky task. However, I use a pair of wire cutters that have a tool built into the grip to take the ends of wires. This has proved to be an invaluable tool as doing this the conventional way is incredibly fiddly and more often than not, I ended up damaging the wire.
How To Choose Your First DIY Project
Once you have the tools and you’ve practised the necessary skills, it’s time to choose your first project.
Before diving straight into building your own Tubescreamer or a Klon clone, I’d strongly recommend building a few utility pedals to really get your head around the basics. These pedals, whilst they may not be exciting, will teach you more about what works and what doesn’t work than reading any guide can.
It is so important that complete beginners start with a more achievable project that has a higher chance of working than something with lots of components that could create roadblocks to your success. The more projects you create that work, the more you will want to push yourself to build complex pedals and learn more about how everything works.
Projects For Complete Beginners
Absolute beginners with no prior electronics experience should start with a utility pedal like a tap tempo, channel switcher or A/B/Y pedal. I already have full build guides for each of these utility pedals and you can check these out here:
All of these projects can be built with a handful of components that are all relatively affordable. They’re a fantastic way to get started without spending a huge amount of money and once they’re finished and tested, you can either flip them on eBay to fund future projects or reuse the parts in future builds.
Projects For Builders With Some Electronics Experience
Once you’ve built a few of the beginner utility pedals, truly practised your soldering skills and you’re ready to move onto something a little more advanced, I have created a post of fantastic pedal options. You can see this here:
I’ve broken all of these pedal options down by category:
Overdrive & Distortion Pedals
All of these pedals are based on premade Printed Circuit Boards (PCB’s) and can either be bought as complete kits that contain all of the necessary components or just the PCB’s for you to source the components yourself.
Should You Buy A DIY Effects Pedal Kit Or Individual Components?
When you first start out, it can be tough to figure out where to begin with your first projects.
Should you buy a premade kit online, buy a single PCB and source the components yourself or something else entirely like build pedals using Veroboard?
My advice would be to start with premade kits for the first few projects. As these contain everything you will need to build a fully functioning pedal, they will help you build your confidence. DIY effects pedal kits will not only contain a PCB, all the components necessary and an enclosure, but they will also come with build instructions and diagrams. These are invaluable to getting started and will really help you build your pedals quickly and confidently.
If you have a specific pedal in mind that you’d love to build. check out my directory of DIY guitar pedal kits & PCBs. I’ve grouped all of the kits by both brand and what type of pedal it is to help you find exactly what you need. Plus, the search feature on this section of the site will help you navigate straight to the pedal you want.
Where To Buy DIY Effects Pedal Kits
Whilst you can pick up pedal kits on eBay at affordable prices, I would strongly recommend spending a little more and shopping with an actual retailer. These retailers will generally have much better documentation and use better quality components.
Here are some of my favourite DIY effects pedal kit suppliers:
UK Based DIY Effects Pedal Kit Suppliers
Europe Based DIY Effects Pedal Kit Suppliers
US Based DIY Effects Pedal Kit Suppliers
If you are familiar with any other great DIY effects pedal kit suppliers that I should check out, please let me know. If my personal experience with them is as good as with these guys, I’ll add them in.
If you’d like to read more about pedal kits, check out my guide here:
Where To Buy DIY Effects Pedal PCB’S
If you already have a collection of components to build your pedals, you can save quite a bit of money by just buying the PCBs.
Where a full pedal kit with all the necessary components can cost around £50 ($65), you can pick up just the PCB for around £6 ($10).
A few of my personal favourite PCB suppliers can be found here:
UK Based DIY Effects Pedal PCB Suppliers
Europe Based DIY Effects Pedal PCB Suppliers
US Based DIY Effects Pedal PCB Suppliers
Again, if you know of any other DIY effects pedal PCB suppliers that I should add to my list, please let me know.
I would only recommend going down the PCB only route once you’ve built a few kits, you’re happy with sourcing your own parts and know your way around a multimeter for testing,
Where To Buy DIY Effects Pedal Components & Parts
Sourcing components for your builds can sometimes be a real headache. If the pedal you’re building requires an obscure type of transistor or a tiny transformer, you could sometimes end up waiting weeks if not months to finish your project.
I personally prefer to purchase all of my components ahead of the build so that once my soldering iron is switched on, I can get in the zone and get as much done as possible.
If you’re looking for a bargain and you don’t mind waiting on the shipping, eBay is a fantastic source of components. There are hundreds of suppliers with excellent reviews that will be able to sort you out with whatever you need.
However, if like me, you like a one-stop-shop approach and get everything in a single run you need to find a supplier who stocks everything at affordable prices.
Here are a few of the companies I’ve used over the past few years to build up my stocks:
UK Based DIY Effects Pedal Components Suppliers
Europe Based DIY Effects Pedal Components Suppliers
US Based DIY Effects Pedal Components Suppliers
Other DIY Effects Pedal Components Suppliers
There are bound to be lots of other fantastic companies out there selling components. However, I’ve found these to have a fantastic selection of components at affordable prices with reasonable shipping times/costs.
A full rundown of where to buy your components can be found in my in-depth guide here:
At the beginning of 2021, I conducted a study of every PCB available on the PedalPCB.com site (439 pedals at that time) and itemised every single component needed to build each pedal. This helped me find out which components are the most common for building DIY guitar pedals. With this knowledge, we’re able to make use of some economies of scale (the more you buy the cheaper things are) to get some bulk bargains on components that we’ll utilise time and time again. The details of this analysis can be found here:
Use this list to build up your stocks and grab a bargain!
Understanding The Components
Before embarking on any build, I think it’s important to take stock of the components you’re going to be using and try to understand why each part is being used. As a complete beginner, this isn’t essential. However, if this is something you’d like to get more involved with, being able to understand the circuit you’re building will go a long way to building your own pedals from scratch.
Understanding what resistors and capacitors do in the circuit as well as why certain values are used over others will improve your greater understanding of electronics. It’s also worth understanding what the difference is between surface mount and through-hole components and how they will impact your builds.
To help you get to grips with all of this, I’ve created guides for some of the most common parts you’ll use in your DIY guitar effects pedals. You can find these here:
The more you can build, experiment and learn, the better builder you will be.
That being said, if you’re happy to follow instructions from pedal kits, you really only ever need to know the absolute basics and be able to find the right piece for the job.
How To Turn A Populated PCB Into A Guitar Effects Pedal
Once you have your printed circuit board fully populated with all of the necessary components, you’ll want to know how to wire it up with inputs, power and a footswitch.
When it comes to wiring up your footswitch, we have three options. True bypass, buffered bypass and hardwire bypass. They all have their pro’s and cons, but you should definitely have a play around with each of them to see which you prefer. You can find my guide on these options here:
If you wanted to read more about buffers, how they work and what the different options are here, take a look at my guide below:
Whilst most pedal kits will tell you how to wire up the pedal in the instructions, not all of them do a great job of it. That is why I created this guide:
I would strongly recommend wiring everything up before putting it into your enclosure as it’s a fantastic way to test that everything works as it should.
At this point, if you hear any strange noises or find that the pedal simply doesn’t work, you can work through my troubleshooting guide here:
What Type Of Enclosure To Use For DIY Effects Pedals
The final steps of a build, once you’re happy with the sound of the pedal, are all about the final assembly.
This can be as time-consuming as you want it to be. I have done builds where I’ve just stuffed everything into a box and hoped for the best. I have also done builds where every single piece of wiring has been meticulously redone to ensure the insides look as neat as possible.
At the end of the day, which path you choose is completely up to you.
If you get a kick out of it all being super neat and tidy inside the enclosure, it’s worth rewiring everything once the hardware has been mounted. However, if you’re just happy it works in the first place, as long as everything fits and it doesn’t short anything out, just stuff it in.
When you first start out, I’d suggest buying enclosures that are slightly larger than you potentially need. If the build calls for a Hammond 1590B or 125B, use a Hammond 1590BB. This extra room will make the wiring so much easier and once you improve your skills, you can always rehouse your pedals in smaller enclosures.
The standard guitar pedal enclosure is the Hammond 1590B diecast aluminium enclosure. As soon as you see it, you’ll instantly recognise it.
Larger pedals will use the Hammond 1590BB and smaller pedals use the Hammond 1590A.
A guide on where to buy enclosures can be found here:
I really hope that this helps you get started with building your own effects pedals but if there is anything you would like help with or more information on, please reach out and let me know. I’m always working on new content for the site and if there is anything that I can do to help make things a little clearer, I’d love to do so.