How to Make a Distortion Pedal

Written by isaiah david
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A distortion pedal is one of the most popular and useful guitar effects. It simulates the sound of turning up a small amp so loud that the signal distorts, giving a dirty, gritty tone. The advantage of a guitar pedal is that you can use it at any volume on any amp, and you can customise the type of distortion you use. Be making your own pedals, you can save a lot of money and customise your sound in any way you like.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Capacitors
  • Resistors
  • Diodes
  • Power supply
  • Transistors
  • Pedal chassis
  • Perfboard
  • Soldering iron
  • Solder
  • Electrical tape
  • Wires
  • Other electronic components
  • Electronic schematics
  • Audio adaptors
  • Control pots
  • Multimeter
  • Screws
  • Screwdriver
  • Guitar cables
  • Guitar
  • Amplifier

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  1. 1

    Consider buying a kit. Websites like the first one listed in Resources have a variety of guitar-pedal kits that include everything you need to build one.

  2. 2

    Learn how to read schematics, how to solder and how to use a perfboard. Although you can use a breadboard or a printed circuit board, a perfboard is usually the easiest way to wire a simple circuit like a guitar pedal. Follow the links for more info.

  3. 3

    Download plans for a simple distortion pedal. Look for a pedal with few components and no integrated circuits.Integrated circuits are easy to damage or hook up improperly, so wait until you have a bit more experience before using. The pedal called "The Rocket" in the schematics link is a good example of a great pedal for beginners.

  4. 4

    Make a list of all of the components you need. Your schematics should come with a list of components. If it doesn't, copy the names of the components off the schematics. Also include other components like a pedal chassis case, an audio adaptor, wires and volume pots.

  5. 5

    Number the connections. Put a number next to every connection between two components on your schematics. This will help ensure that you make all the connections.

  6. 6

    Push all the components into the perfboard. Every electronic component will have two or three small metal pieces protruding from it that will fit easily into the holes in the perfboard.

  7. 7

    Wire the first two components together. Strip the enamel off both ends of a wire. Then twist the exposed end around the terminal of each component. Solder the connection.

  8. 8

    When you have made all of the connections, put the pedal together. Tape or screw the perfboard in place and screw the pedal together. Plug the input into your guitar and the output into your amplifier. Turn on the amp and the pedal. Rock out!

Tips and warnings

  • Your distortion pedal is a stompbox. That means you are going to be stepping on it a lot. Make sure it is put together well enough to handle getting knocked around a bit.
  • Distortion pedals sound great with harmonica, bass and other many other instruments, as well as guitar.
  • Loose wires can cause short-circuits. Wrap any exposed wire ends in electrical tape.
  • Don't let the underside of the perfboard touch the pedal chassis. This will cause it to short circuit. You can cover the bottom of the perfboard with electrical tape or attach it so it is above the bottom of the pedal.

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