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It is NOT usually cheaper to build something that is not a "vintage" item.
If you want to tinker and play around with building effects because you like it, go ahead. However, if you're after a vintage effect, the prices may be so outrageous for re-creations or originals that you can duplicate it for a song. (sorry, I had to...)
If you want a few effects and think it is cheaper to build your own, think long and hard about it. The economies of scale being what they are, the commercial companies can produce a finished effect and sell it at retail for less than your cost of parts. Common semiconductors are from three to ten times cheaper in thousand unit lots than in ones and twos. Finished, painted, lettered boxes to put this stuff in are ten to fifty times cheaper for a manufacturer to make than for you to do. See Appendix A - Effects Economics 101 below.
Most people who start down this path never build an effect. Effects are hard to build -* mechanically *- not electronically, so the interest in electronics is immediately subverted when you try to package one. Making one reliable under typical music conditions is even harder. If you are not already involved to a signifcant degree in electronic tinkering, it will be expensive to acquire the tools and parts to build effects. Faced with these problems, most folks give up.
If, on the other hand, you just love tinkering with guitar effects, have some electronics know how, and have some money to put into the hobby, forge ahead. It is my personal choice of a good time. Has been for a couple of decades.
You have to be really good with digital logic and programming as well as prototyping to make a sophisticated Digital Signal Processing kind of integrated effects box like the rack units. With some experience, you can make effects which are not commercially available, or have your own personal likes written into the wires and parts.
It is also in general NOT possible to build a good wah pedal or other rocker kind of pedal, as the mechanical construction of a reliable rocker-pedal mechanism is impractically difficult for the average Joe. However, you can often find a dead-or-dying Cry baby or other wah pedal to cannibalize for the case and pedal; I've seen dead ones for as little as $15.
box $10 jacks 2 stomp switch 15 paint 4 controls 2 knobs 1 wire 2 PC board 3 electronics 5 - 12for a total of $32 to $51 if you have to buy all this stuff new. This does not count any tools or other supplies like solder, pliers, etchant, and so forth, nor does it count your time and effort. Musician's Friend sells stomp boxes for $30 to $100, the top end being some things that are not really reproducable at home. Notice that the electronics that do the work are only 1/3 to 1/10 of the cost of the finished article.
Some economies are available if you already have tools, or a dead pedal to cannibalize for the box, controls and switches.
You can package several effects together in a rack enclosure or in some of the schemes espoused by Anderton. I don't personally like this, but it is a reasonable way to package your effects. Penfold doesn't say much about boxes, for some reason.
A good box for an effect should be about 3 inches wide, 5 inches long, and 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep. A sloping front for the bypass switch is nice, but not essential. A very good starting point is the line of Hammond die cast aluminum boses - tough, durable , easy to work, almost ideal. Try the 1590B or the 1590BB, about $10 from DigiKey or Mouser.
The 1590BB is a cast aluminum box with a fitted base/cover. It is very durable, and inexpensive in quantities of one. It is reasonably easy to find, and about the right size for an effects box. The early MXR effects like the Phase 90 and Distortion plus were packaged in a box the size of the 1590B, just slightly smaller than the 1590BB, and were very tightly packed indeed. The 1590BB is big enough for a non-manufacturer to get a whole effect shoehorned in.
Other boxes that are about right are:
Hammond 1590B -similar to the 1590BB, but smaller, the size of old MXR's Hammond 1590C -similar to the 1590BB, but bigger, about 2 1/4" high. LMB #138 -folded sheet metal, not too sturdy, but cheap LMB #139 -folded sheet metal, not too sturdy, but cheap LMB MDC 642 -folded sheet metal, sturdier, moderate price LMB MDC 532 -folded sheet metal, sturdier, moderate price LMB UCS 1 3/4-5-5 -folded sheet metal, much sturdier, also pricier
A big part of making it come out right is the right selection of controls and their placement on the box. Think about commercial effects you may have used, and how the controls are placed, how close together they are, etc. Make several drawings, or better yet, mount your controls in a cardboard or foam-board mockup of your effects box before you drill and possibly ruin your box. It is easy to drill holes and hard to grow them closed again.
If you want to do good labeling artwork on a box but can't get it screen printed, the "Toner Transfer System" sheets sold by DynArt for making printed circuit boards can help. This is a laser printer/copier sheet that has a water soluble release layer. You print on it, then iron it onto copper clad. You can also print on it, spray the sheet with clear lacquer, and then water release the lacquer film, which holds the black toner. This can be slid onto a box (or glass, or anything else) that you want to letter. If you print on the sheets in a color laser copier, you get - yep- color laser decals. The black printing is good for light colored boxes, though. I recently ran onto a material called "IBFOIL". This is a sheet of plastic with a very shiny colored metalic foil appearance available in silver, gold, blue, red, and green. This material is intended to add color to ordinary copies by being heat-fused to the toner on the sheet. You can print to the Dynart sheets, iron the Ibfoil onto the dynart and peel it away, leaving bright metal lettering, then spray lacquer and make decals. The artwork you can do is limited only by what you can print on a laser printer or copier...
A very durable, cool looking paint is now available in spray cans at most hardware stores. It is called "Hammerite" and comes in many colors. It is advertized as "no primer needed". It is a bumpy finish like the old Fuzz Faces, the red is a great match for the ORIGINAL red fuzz faces.
I got a tip on how to make even really ugly boxes look good - All about Bondo auto body filler.
Both Anderton and Penfold have good discussions of which parts are good, and which are not. I will add to that only where I think I'm really adding.
I list some recommended suppliers in the next section.
The classic stomp box has this big metal switch you stomp on to switch it in and out. This switch is the Carling 317PP. It costs $15 (yes, apiece!) in unit quantities, and only drops lower in hundreds. I have not found a good replacement that is the same function. Just the economics of this switch has driven me to adapt some form of electronic switching in my effects, as I can make an Anderton-style CMOS equivalent for less than $3 in parts and two square inches of circuit board. It is really important to know this before you hack up your box.(I understand that Maplin Electronics in the UK has Arrow DPDT stomp switches for the equivalent of $6 US, so this might help if you can buy from them)
The control pots are another problem. Effects units in small stomp boxes need small controls to fit in the box. It is usually hard to locate a set of small, physically similar pots in different values for an effect. Manufacturers can do this because they can buy large numbers and get essentially anything they want. A bright spot is Mouser's selection of miniature pots, for about $1 apiece, in many values.
Mouser Electronics Mouser Electronics Mouser Electronics 11433 Woodside Ave. 2401 Highway 287 North 12 Emery Ave. Santee CA 92071 Mansfield TX 76063 Randolf NJ 07869 Mouser Electronics 370 Tomkins Court Gilroy CA 95020Catalog Subscriptions: (800) 992-9943 (Continental US only)
Digi-Key 701 Brooks Ave. South P.O.Box 677 Thief River Falls, MN 56701-0677 +1-800-DIGI-KEY (344-4539) +1-218-681-3380 (FAX)No minimum, $5 handling under $25, free and very complete catalog, very nice indeed. Prices aren't always the best, but rarely excessive.
Maplin Electronics is a BIG supplier to the home hobbyist of electronic parts and kits in both the UK and Europe. They can be contacted at:
Maplin Electronics PO Box 777 Rayleigh Essex SS6 8LU UK Fax: +702-553935 Modem: +702-552941 (sorry, don't know paramaters, try 2400,8bit,1 start,1 stop)Maplin is reported to sell an Arrow DPDT equivalent for 3.76 pounds (~$6 USA) each in one off quantity. (I'll have to try that one!!)
Antique Electronic Supply lists the following germanium transistors:
Part No Description Price ($US) U-TRB-1 PNP similar to 2N107, 2N218, CK722 etc $1.49 U-TRB-4 NPN similar to 2N170 $1.69 U-TRB-5 NPN similar to 2N193, 2N388, 2N1302 $1.29 U-TRB-6 NPN similar to 2N170, 2N292 $.95 U-TRB-7 PNP similar to 2N111,2N139, 2N218 $.95 U-TRB-8 PNP similar to 2N107, 2N218, CK722 $.95The address is:
Antique Electronic Supply P.O Box 27468 Tempe, AZ 85285-7468 USA Ph (602) 820-5411 Fax (602) 820-4643Hosfelt Electronics has the CLM6000 opto-isolator that is ubiquitous in the projects in Craig Anderton's book. They are about $3.50 US apiece.
Hosfelt Electronics 2700 Sunset Blvd. Steubenville OH 43952 +1-800-524-6464 +1-614-264-5414 (FAX) No minimum, $3.75 S&H. Surplus electronics.The Electronic Goldmine has a good listing of surplus electronics, useful for run-of-the-mill construction.
Electronic Goldmine P.O. Box 5408 Scottsdale AZ 85261 USA 1-602-451-7454 voice 1-602-451-9495 fax
R.G. Keen firstname.lastname@example.org Back to the Effects Page Back to the top of the Effects FAQ