Tips for Beginners
Making guitar effects is difficult at the start. A lot of trial and a whole lot of error goes into becoming a decent builder. Here I'm sharing some tips that I had to learn the hard way.
Start out with something easy
Your first project should be a kit or designs with detailed instructions, tailored to beginners. It should also have a low component count, especially if you don't have soldering experience. Good kits can be found at GGG, BYOC or Small Bear. As for designs with detailed instructions, the Beginner Project at the DIYStompboxes forum is great.
Know what you're building
You don't need to know how to calculate power efficiency and load lines and all that, but have a decent knowledge of how your parts work, both mechanical parts such as switches and jacks, and electrical components. It also helps to be familiar with Ohm's law and RC filters:
Your first couple projects might fail. But even if you can't get them working, you've gained experience and you can always go back and fix them later. For debugging, check out
Join the DIYStompboxes Forum
This is the best and most helpful effect forum on the internet. Whether or not you post, you'll learn lots.
Keep your builds clean
This is mostly about good planning. Make sure your wires aren't too long, make sure everything fits well in your enclosure, and make sure all of your solder joints are clean. For examples, check out this thread and, in particular, take a look at the work of posters such as John Lyons, frequencycentral, and Magnus.
Don't skimp on parts
Don't try building a circuit into an altoids tin using resistors you cut from an old TV and a transistor that you found left on a sidewalk with all of the markings scratched off. You'd just be making things harder for yourself. Get parts from a guitar effects supplier such as Small Bear or PPP.
Use lead solder
No-one likes to use toxic metals, but lead-free solder is way harder to work with. It doesn't flow well, it's harder to heat, you're more liable to break parts, and it's very frustrating. If you're not comfortable with using lead, try using a higher-powered soldering iron.
Transistors and ICs are easy to burn out if you aren't a quick enough solderer, so solder sockets on your board and put the sensitive parts on later. Machined sockets hold pins the best. For transistors, a strip of sockets that you can break parts off of is the best solution.
Use a big enclosure
When you're starting out, use bigger enclosures than you think you need. Until you get the hang of building cleanly, you'll need the extra space.
You don't have to finish and drill enclosures
PPP and Small Bear sell painted enclosures. PPP also sells drilled enclosures, either from their template or for a custom one. John Lyons of
Get a breadboard
Having a breadboard is extremely useful for testing, modding, and designing effects. I always breadboard circuits before building them, to see if they work and to see if there's anything I want to change.
This isn't as important as the other tips, but LTSpice is a great tool for designing, modding, or understanding effects.