This month, Assistant Editor Chris Kies shows us where we can find
the help necessary to build our own effects and amps.
We’ll admit it; there’s a little solder fever running through the PG
offices. After handling all these pedals for our pedal roundup, talking
to the pros at BYOC and reading R.G. Keen’s monthly column, it hit us
that maybe we could build some sweet effects, too. While browsing the
web for some ideas and schematics, we stumbled upon a simple, yet
very informative site with all the tools to help anyone singlehandedly
tweak their sound—TonePad. It’s run by two gearheads, Francisco Peña
and Matt Burnside.
While the site doesn’t sell any DIY kits directly, it but it does provide
a step-by-step process for eager tweakers, and sells PCBs—Printed
Circuit Boards—which act as the “brains” for various amp and effect
projects. The PCBs are reasonably priced from $8 to $17, and put Tube
Screamers, Wah Wahs and other popular effects at your fingertips. In
addition, the site offers plenty of helpful links to guide you to the rest of
those hard-to-locate parts, plus beneficial books and manuals to keep
you on the right track during your build.
The site is broken down into an easy-to-navigate design. There are separate page listings for effects and amps, and surprisingly helpful photo
essays of completed pedalboards, tube amp modifications and various
other projects. Each project has its own name, category of effect or
accessory, a brief description, and, thankfully, a suggested degree of
difficulty. They even show how to make a 12”x 5”x 2” amplifier chassis
out of an old PC case, using common tools.
Even though the site doesn’t offer too many sound clips of their projects, there were two features that helped TonePad hit our bookmarked
list. First was their mailing list, which updates users with newly added
or updated projects—a nice way to keep track of things when we’re
already juggling daily tasks. But the real draw was Francisco and Matt’s
willingness to help out fellow tone-freaks by taking custom requests for
PCBs for amps or effects not already on their list.
Get your hands dirty at tonepad.com
Run Off Groove
Before you turn past this column because it seems to be a dead
ringer for TonePad, the two sites have definite differences, particularly where it counts—in their schematic lists. You have to dig
awhile to find duplicates between the two sites, and ROG often
offers up a few different mods for each project. Each schematic is
accompanied by an mp3 clip, which is certainly a nice addition for
the less adventurous DIY-ers (or for anyone who doesn’t want to
spend hours of their free time on something they’ll end up hating).
The crew at Run Off Groove offers a comprehensive, entry-level
guide to DIY effects for those just getting into the game. They
have an extensive FAQ section with several basic questions and
product-specific tips that even the most technology-inclined guitarist will find useful.
Like TonePad, all of the info is free, but on ROG, you have to go
off-site to get the actual PCBs. They do point you in the right
direction, however, linking to Old Licensed Circuts ( olcircuits.com).
OLC offers complete kits for projects found at Run Off Groove,
which is great for busy (read: lazy) people like us, but perhaps not
so great for those who enjoy searching out their parts individually.
Kits include a 3PDT stomp switch, MXR-style aluminum enclosure
( 4. 7”x3.7”x1.18”), jacks, battery snap, DC jack, potentiometers,
knobs, all ICs (including sockets), trimpots, resistors, capacitors,
24-gauge stranded wire and diodes. The ROG kits run from $65
for the Whisker Biscuit—a Big Muff Pi variant—to $90 for the
Matchless, which is a Matchless DC/30 circuit adapted into a distortion pedal.
While all of the information is free for personal use, ROG does
offer licensing for commercial builders who wish to sell pedals
based in whole or in part on ROG’s projects.
Find even more tone-tweaking tips at runoffgroove.com