How to read & understand guitar effects pedal schematics

Written by brant mclaughlin
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How to read & understand guitar effects pedal schematics
Learning how to read electronics schematics will enable you to build any guitar effects pedal. (electronics. image by Eldin Muratovic from

If you are going to build guitar effects pedals, you will have to know how to read guitar effects schematics. Electronics schematics are actually maps of the paths that currents take through different components. Since these schematics are symbolic maps, they are actually fairly distorted versions of the final construct. Even the lengths of the wires represented in electronics schematics are not shown to scale or drawn with any attempt to present a "realistic picture." Wiring symbols are only drawn to show you which component within the guitar effects pedal connects to which others, and how. Learn how to read these schematics, and you can build any effects pedal.

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Things you need

  • Guitar effects pedal schematic
  • Table of common electronics wiring symbols

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  1. 1

    Become familiar with the most prominent electronics schematics symbols used in guitar effects pedal schematics. There is a resource provided at the end of this article that shows and lists all of these for you. With practice you will gradually memorise them.

  2. 2

    A schematic's layout is drawn to symbolically show the real effects pedal's signal processing going from left to right. Remember that the final layout of the pedal's "innards" is not going to closely resemble the schematic as it is drawn.

  3. 3

    All of the points shown on a line in the schematic are identical electrically. When you're reading the schematic, you are supposed to take it as a given that all of the wires are "perfect conductors," meaning that they have no propagation delays and no resistance in any way, shape or form. You are looking at "ideal wire," not "real wire."

  4. 4

    All "ground" or "earth" points shown in the guitar effects pedal schematic are interconnected. The circuits are at 0 volts at these points. Remember this when you make measurement references. "Ground" or "earth" points typically include the effects pedal's metal chassis, but this does not necessarily apply to all pedal schematics.

  5. 5

    Each component has a label, and for each pedal schematic there will be a standard label set. Look for a table that comes with the effects pedal schematic that lists these symbolic labels for you. Components that are the same will be labelled the same for each schematic.

  6. 6

    Zigzags in the schematic symbolise resistors. These are used to control the flow of signals or circuits.

  7. 7

    Two lines drawn to interrupt a circuit line symbolise capacitors. These are "storehouses" for electrons. Guitar effects pedals most often use capacitors for blocking low-frequency signals. Capacitors' values are written in terms of microfarads. Microfarads are symbolised either with "mu" (a Greek letter) and an "f" (which is proper) or simply with "mf" (not proper but often used).

  8. 8

    A large triangle symbolises an operational amplifier. Their signals connect at one of two inputs (one is a + and the other is a - ) and appear at their outputs. Op amps are used to control a pedal circuit's gain or "feedback."

  9. 9

    A zigzag with an arrow in the middle symbolises a potentiometer, or "pot," also called a variable resistor. Most guitar effects pedals' control knobs will be connected to pots.

  10. 10

    Resistors are often added to an op amp's feedback circuit. This is done to give gains that are other than what is called "unity" in electronics wiring. In short, this set-up protects the op amp from being fried.

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