Showing posts with label Tips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tips. Show all posts

Enclosure art: how to make good looking DIY pedals

One of the nicest parts of making guitar pedals is having a personalized design. However, it is quite hard to make good looking guitar pedals.

Here are a few techniques to make guitar enclosures pretty! You can of course combine these techniques to get the best looking pedal possible!

I will present you a lot of techniques, from the most basic ones to the most professional looking ones.

1. Bare aluminum enclosure

It is the simplest way to do: just let the enclosure in bare aluminum.

Please don't do that.
DIY guitar pedal bare aluminum
Bare aluminum enclosure guitar pedals simply do not look good. They really look like something cheap and dirty that you have done quickly in your garage, whereas you have probably spent a lot of hours on it!

It can be nice for prototyping though, you can improve the design later on if you are satisfied with the result. (practically speaking, it is very rare to improve the design... and I like good looking prototypes so not for me!)
  • A circuit in a box is better than a circuit without a box... 
  • Cheap
  • Quickest possible method

  • Not really good looking
  • Do not really reflect your hard work and dedication

2. Polished / Brushed aluminum enclosure

This already look waaaaay better than the bare aluminum enclosure, and good news: it only take a few minutes to do!

Here is an example of a Big Muff I have made this way:

Polished guitar pedal

Just grab some sandpaper (I recommend to use different grit, 150 for the beginning and 400 for final polishing), and start polishing your enclosure under running water. Finally, apply a varnish layer to protect it!

Beware: I noticed that the maximum quality of the polishing that you can get highly depends on the quality of the aluminum used. For instance, a "mirror" finish can be really difficult to achieve with low grade aluminum. 
If you want to go for the "mirror finish", be prepared to spend some time on it. Use really fine grit sandpaper and a polishing spray for the last Polish.  Here is a good tutorial
  • Good looking!
  • Easy to do
  • Cheap

  • Can be time consuming
  • Depends on the quality of the aluminum of the enclosure

3. Spray painting

I would not recommend spray painting guitar pedals enclosures. Read my post about it for more detail.

If you still want to go this way, apply really thin layers, at least three times. Wait between each spray for the paint to be dry enough. Finally apply a layer a varnish. For your health, please do it outside and wearing a mask!
  • Easy to do
  • Cheap

  • Time consuming: 3 layers is a long way to go
  • Toxic: wear a mask and do it outside!
  • Wears off easily

4. Hammertone finish

This is a special kind of spray painting that will give an amazing vintage feel to your pedals. You can create really beautiful textures with this kind of paint and it also does not wear off as easily as spray paint.

Here is an amazing example done by Basic Audio:

hamertone guitar pedal

Here is a very good step by step tutorial about how to use it.
  • Easy to do
  • Cheap
  • Looks great!

  • Time consuming
  • Toxic: wear a mask and do it outside!

5. Powder coating 

Powder coat is the kind of paint used on cars, and the one used on most guitar pedals as well. It looks very professional and there is a wide variety of colors available.

Here is an example of a commercially powder-coated enclosure:
prepainting guitar pedals

You can either buy pre-painted enclosures, or make it yourself. Making it yourself would require some space and equipment, but it is not that hard.
  • Really good looking
  • Nothing to do
  • Professional standard

  • Expensive
  • No writings

6. Aluminum etching

Aluminum etching is an easy way to have a custom design without spending too much time and money. It requires a bit of practice though.

Here is a beautiful example:

Aluminium etching guitar pedal
You can find a nice tutorial here. It is not an easy technique to master (requires a bit of practice before managing to have a precise etch), but it can give really good results. Moreover, you get a fully custom design with anything you want on it.
  • Can be good looking...
  • Cheap
  • Fun! You get a fully custom design

  • Hard to make it as sharp and neat as above
  • Beware of acid!
  • Time consuming

7. Reverse etching

It is very similar to the technique above, except that the etching is reversed, so the non-engraved parts sticks out of the paint that you can apply afterwards.

I tried this technique once on one of my first pedals (+spray painting):

Reverse etching guitar pedal

Cody of "They Remained Silent" is an absolute expert with this technique and has written up a really good tutorial about it. LIke etching, it can be a bit long before your perfectly master this technique, but it really worth it.
  • Good looking
  • Cheap
  • Fun! You get a fully custom design

  • Hard to make it as sharp and neat
  • Beware of acid!
  • Time consuming
  •  Requires spray painting...

8. Decal

Decals are a good way to have a fully personalized design. 
Here is a good tutorial about it. Another nice one here on the Big Muff page.

If you are good with Photoshop or Illustrator, you can make your own design on your computer and use it for your guitar pedals. Print it on a decal paper, then apply it on your guitar pedals. You can use prepainting guitar pedals as well.

However, this technique is quite hard to master and to have good results. Most of the times, you will need to apply varnish layers. You can use Envirotex for a professional look,
  • Easy to do
  • Cheap
  • Personalized design

  • Time consuming
  • Not always so good looking

9. Laser engraving

Some folks use a laser etching maching to remove the paint and engraved their design.

The graphics are thus very sharp and neat looking: a laser cutting machine can be as precise as 0.1mm! Here is an amazing example by function f(x) Third Rail:

Laser engraving guitar pedal

However, it does not work very well with dark colors scheme because of the color of the aluminum (dark grey). One other problem is that you will have to have access to a laser cutting machine, or find a supplier that would accept low volumes, and this can be difficult or expensive...
  • Looks amazing
  • Custom design
  • Very precise

  • Requires design of the pedal
  • Can be expensive
  • Requires access to a laser cutting machine

10. Laser etched plate

More and more common on commercial effects these days. All the Greer amps pedals are made this way for instance. 

In France, Anasounds makes its pedals with a similar process, on wooden plates, they look great!

Anasounds Guitar pedals
This is a nice way to avoid painting the enclosure, or having to use expensive techniques like UV printing, and still have very professional looking guitar pedals.

You can combine it with powder coating to get even more pro looking DIY pedals. Like with laser engraved pedals, finding the right supplier can be difficult or expensive. However, it is generally easier than laser cutting the whole enclosure.
  • Good looking
  • Easy to do
  • Custom design

  • Expensive
  • Difficult to find the righ supplier for low volumes

11. Silkscreening

This technique is used by many professional pedal builders. It looks great and you can make hundred of enclosures in a few hours. Walrus used it for their pedals for instance:

Silkscreening guitar pedals

It consists of a fine mesh that will let a special acrylic paint goes through only in specific parts of it (like a pochoir). With a râteau, you can pass the paint over this mesh on a powder coated enclosure, and directly print your graphics on the enclosure. Here is a video of how it is done:

It is a great technique if you have many many similar pedals to make in a row

Making this mesh is quite a complicated process involving projecting UV light on a light sensitive plate, but fortunately, you can order these meshes to specific suppliers. Applying the paint is quite a messy process, which requires both space and practice. 

Once the technique mastered, you can make lots of pedals very quickly. The graphics will be very precisely printed on the pedal, and will last for a very long time. It looks really professional. However, the only problem with silkscreening is that you can only print one color at a time. You have to make one mesh per color and it can become quite time consuming if you want to use more than 3 colors... So adapt your graphics!
Good news is: you can apply this technique to many other usages like making t-shirts or posters for your next gig.
  • Professional looking
  • Custom design
  • Do not wear off

  • Difficult to make it yourself
  • Requires high volumes
  • Difficult to find a supplier
  • Requires some practice

12. UV printing

The nice part about UV printing is that you can print litteraly anything you like on your enclosures :)
This is the technique I use for my commercial projects like the Dolmen Fuzz or Montagne Tremolo:

Coda Effects Montagne Tremolo

UV printing machine are highly expensive, however it is possible possible to lease it. That is what is done by many professional like Kelley Electronics. A solution easily accessible to hobbyist is to use Pedal Parts Plus services.
They can UV printing pedals for a reasonable price. However they are based in the US so you  can unfortunately expect some shipping delays and customs issues... Anyway the people there are great and really helpful so I highly recommend it.
  • Really good looking
  • Custom design
  • Durable and professional

  • Expensive
  • Minimal volumes necessary

There you go! I hope that you liked this post! Show me your best guitar pedal and let's share our ideas on the Coda Effects Facebook page. You can also follow Coda Effects on Instagram.

Relay Bypass: final code

After the crowdfunding campaign, I decided to update the relay bypass code.

Indeed, this first version was nice, but one main drawback that was feedbacked to me is that the switch was activated on release, which was not always very intuitive or easy to handle. Moreover, I wanted to add a "temporary" bypass option in the Montagne Tremolo.

Montange Tremolo Relay Bypass

In this post, I am going to explain a bit the new code and to show you how I did it.

If you have not read my post about Relay Bypass, I highly recommend you to read it before reading this post. All the basics of microcontrollers are presented there.

  Tip! The full code is available on Github. With the relayonpress.c and header.h files, you will have everything needed to code or burn chips.

If you already have a GitHub account, you can Star the project for updates, or Fork it to modify it and make your own Relay Bypass code.

Lets go!

Hakko FX888D: a $100 high quality soldering station

Let's face it: your good old soldering iron is not always the best pal to work with.

I had some troubles with mine: no support to put it when I busy doing something else than soldering, which can be quite dangerous if it falls or burn something. Moreover, the power cord was quite short and not very flexible, so it was not always easy to find a good "spot" for it in order to be perfectly comfortable. Finally, it takes a long time before getting hot enough to solder, and 30W is sometimes a bit low to solder big potentiometer or jack legs.

So I decided to invest a bit in a soldering station.

After reading a lot on the web, I have found this little gem: the Hakko FX888D, a Japanese soldering station that you can find for $96 on Amazon

Here is mine:
Hakko FX888D

14 electronics suppliers for guitar effects (with pros and cons)

Finding good electronics suppliers is a key issue when building guitar effects professionally. Indeed, they play a huge role in traceability and quality of the components (where the components come from and what they are exactly), and also the price of these components. Sometimes, they can also add delays if they are bad with handling orders and shipping it quickly.

Goods electronics suppliers are the root cause of a good build quality for a pedal builder.

With my crowdfunding project, I have an intermediary position. I cannot order directly from manufacturers (because I would have to order thousands of units at least), but I can order from electronics wholesalers!

Already 95% of the components have been ordered, and I already received quite a lot of parts! Here is a picture of the switches I got this morning (more pictures will follow in a next post):

Create your own pedal company: good or bad idea?

If you already have made a few pedals yourself, you surely have thought about selling them or at least build some of them for other people. Create your own guitar pedal brand seems like a good idea on paper, however there are many pitfalls.... Lets talk about it!

Disclaimer: I make effects myself, and this post is not intended to "kill competitors" (with my 30 pedals a year...)! On the contrary, I think it is way better to be transparent and to talk about it: this is only my opinion, and feel free to express yours in the comments section :)

It is a complex matter that is not always easy to discuss peacefully because of money, and there are many different opinions on the subject. It is also the source of really long yet exciting threads on DIY forums (check this one!). The simplest option for me is to discuss it from my point of view as a builder. Thus, I will talk about Coda Effects, and well, just once will not hurt, about me, and give you some tips if you want to jump in it!

Early 2013, I started to show interest in guitar pedal building: after opening a Fuzz Face, I was quite astonished by the simplicity of the circuit (there is almost nothing in there!), and I realized that building guitar effects might be simpler that I thought.

Fuzz Face inside

Eagle for making guitar pedals PCB: getting started (part 1/3)

Sometimes, especially with complicated builds with a lot of components, or when you have to build several times the same pedal, it is easier to use a printed circuit board (PCB) than veroboard or turrets board. A PCB is easier to assemble, and it prevents from doing many mistakes that can occur when using veroboard: false contacts, misplaced component, complicated wiring involving a lot of wires...etc.

"Eagle" is the name of a beautiful animal, but it also stands for "Easily Applicable Graphical Layout Editor", the name of a famous software that helps you to conceive and make printed circuit boards (PCB). I already used it a lot to make PCBs. For instance, I made a few Klon buffer boards with it. I decided to write a serie of articles explaining how to use it to make PCB for your guitar pedals.

Article parts:
  • Getting started (you are reading this one now)
  • Tracing the circuit (to be published)
  •  Creating the PCB layout (to be published)

Become free to make PCB like you want with Eagle

Why using Eagle?

There are many different different software to create PCBs that are available nowadays: DipTrace, KiCad (open source), Express PCB, Fritzing... Why using Eagle instead of these ones?
Well, there are several reasons.

Eagle is free. If you are using Eagle for your personnal use, it is a freeware. Of course, there are limitations that come with the freeware version, but they are not really a problem when it comes to guitar pedal PCB development: maximum size of 100 x 80 mm (4 x 3.2 inches), which is really big for a guitar pedal PCB, only 2 layers maximum (well, we are not going to use more anyway), and one schematic maximum per project. If you want to sell your projects, you will have to buy it, but for simple projects like guitar pedals, the Lite edition is enough and costs only 69$! If you need to buy it, respect the developpers, do not be ill-eagle (badum tsss) and buy it.

Eagle is well documented. There are a lot of books, websites, videos that are dedicated to Eagle software. If you ever encounter a problem, or if you do not know how to use a precise function, you will always find a solution somewhere. I will write a list of useful websites down this post.

Eagle has the most complete libraries. When creating a PCB, you need to specify what component you are going to use in your circuit. Is it a small 1/8W resistor, a big 1W one?  Is it an electrolytic capacitor or a tantalum one? You can imagine that it is very important to precise it in order to have the good component "shape" on your PCB. In order to do that, you have lists of components that are called "libraries", which contains hundreds of different components! Eagle has a lot of libraries for all kinds of components, and some libraries had been made especially for guitar pedals!

Eagle is easy to use. Most PCB softwares are easy to use, and Eagle is too! The "graphical" word in "EaGle" simply means that you have a wysiwyg interface. The interface is easy to use, and let you directly move the components on the board. Last thing, it works on windows and mac, which is nice if you are using different operating systems.

Convinced? Let's get started!

Installing Eagle

Download Eagle on CadSoft website, and install it as a freeware (except if you are going to sell the PCBs you make with it)

The libraries

When you create a PCB, you need to be very precise about which component you are going to use. Indeed, if you put a wrong reference somewhere, the spaces between the lugs can be too short / too long, the component could be too big to fit the PCB...etc. For instance on this PCB:
Superfuzz PCB circuit board
You can see that every component fits perfectly its location on the PCB. This is because when conceiving the PCB, I used the correct references for each components.

A library is simply a list of components referencing components sizes, values and shapes. Eagle comes with already a lot of libraries pre-installed. Some of them will be really useful (Resistors, Capacitors, Inducors (RLC), transistors, supply...etc), some of them not (Zilog microprocessor devices?).

Some libraries had been created specially for guitar pedal PCB making:
Gauss Markov library: very easy to use library with a lot of useful components.
Madbean pedals library: Brian (owner of madbean pedals) made available libraries for making guitar pedal PCB.
I strongly suggest that you download these libraries. They are easy to use, and contains all the basic tools that you need for making guitar pedal PCBs.

To install a library, unzip the files, and copy the .lbr files in the "Eagle v7.2/lbr" folder. It is in the applications folder on mac, or in the program files folder on windows.

Then, open Eagle. You should have a window like this, which is the control pannel:
eagle control pannel
You can see that there is a "Libraries" folder that can be expended. It contains all the libraries that you have in the "lbr" folder, including the ones you just downloaded and copied.
To tell Eagle which libraries you are going to use, you need to expand the "Libraries" folder, click right on the library you want to use and click on "Use".
Eagle how to use librairies
You can see that you have a quick description of the library on the right. It can help you sometimes to choose whether you want to use a library or not.

Ok so the big question is now... Which libraries should we use? Either you can use every library, but you can easily get lost with the number of different components available, and redundancy of some components. In my experience, I only use a few libraries compared to what Eagle is offering... Guitar pedal making is quite simple electronics, and does not require a lot of differente components.
Here are the libraries that I use when making a PCB:
  • Gauss Markov libraries (all libraries)
  • Madbean libraries (all libraries)
  • belton-engineering.lbr (if you are using tubes)
  • con-jack.lbr (if you want to implement DC jack on your PCB)
  • diode.lbr
  • ic-package.lbr
  • led.lbr (you will only use LED3MM or LED5MM (classic 3 or 5 mm LED) or DUOLED if you want dual colored LED)
  • linear.lbr (IC, OP amps)
  • pot.lbr (potentiometers, nothing else you stoner!)
  • rcl.lbr (dream library with all resistors, capacitors, inductors)
  • regulators.lbr (voltage regulators)
  • supply1.lbr and supply2.lbr (mainly for the ground symbol)
  • switch.lbr
  • transistor-fet.lbr, transistor-neu-to92.lbr, transistor-npn.lbr, transistor-pnp.lbr, transistor-power.lbr, transistor-small-signal.lbr, transistor.lbr (you should have almost every transistor now!)
  • v-reg.lbr (voltage regulators)
OK! That is already a lot of components, and should be largely enough for any guitar pedal circuit! And if a component you absolutely need is missing from these library, do not forget that you can use other libraries, or download libraries online!

Now we are ready to start!
First we have to trace the schematic... in the next blog post!

If you have any question, do not hesitate to post a comment!
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