What tools do you need to make DIY guitar pedals?

When I decided to make my own DIY guitar effects, I was totally lost about the tools that I needed: what do I need to build guitar effects? How much does a good soldering iron cost? And what is a good soldering iron? Where can I buy all that? In this post, I will try to answer all these questions that we ask ourselves when starting. Lets focus on tools. I will do another article about components later.
Electronic workbench



ESSENTIAL tools to make DIY guitar pedals


1. Soldering Iron
Lets start with the most obvious tool that you will need: the soldering iron! It is really important to have a GOOD soldering iron when you start. It will really make huge differences when it comes to soldering. Soldering can be a pain if your soldering iron is not powerful enough: pins of 3PDT, lugs of jack inputs...etc necessitate quite a high amount of heat to solder properly on it. That is why I recommend an at least 30W soldering iron. A high quality iron will also have a more resistant tip, and soldering with it will be easier! Beware, use a pointy tip soldering iron, and not an electrician soldering iron.
 fer à souder électronique effets guitare
I have put some links to amazon, because it is there that I found the cheapest prices. Beware: I put links to amazon US, so the electrical tools will have a 110-120V plug! If you find better deals, tell me! However, remember to help your local businesses and also buy in stores ;) Look also for second hand tools, there are sometimes very good deal, especially for soldering stations.
  • Basic soldering iron: a classic soldering iron with a pointy end, with a 30W power minimum. It should work quite well! If you just want to make a few pedals, or if you do not want to spend a lot of money, it is an ideal first companion! Here is an example (6.5$): Delcast 30 Watt Soldering Iron. Of course, you can also buy this kind of soldering iron pretty much everywhere. Just make sure that it has a pointy end, and a 30W power minimum.
  • "Deluxe" soldering iron: you want to make quite a few pedals, or you directly want to invest into quality tools? Weller is a reference in the professional soldering world, and their "professional series" is really, really good. By chance, Weller is really cheap in the US (compared to France), so get one! Here is one good soldering iron (43$): Weller WP35 Soldering Iron.
  • Soldering station: you want to assemble hundreds of pedals? In that case, investing in a soldering station can be a good idea. Here is the top notch from Weller, which costs about 88$ (so cheap! In France it is around 240 euros!): Weller WES51 Soldering Station. This is the best thing you can have! If you want, you can also look for an used one on ebay, you can find pretty good deals!

2. Solder
Before, solder was containing lead. It was used because the solder melted easily at low temperature, and was really practical for electronics as you do not want to heat components too much. However, as you can guess, it has been banned for ecological reason and is now forbidden (at least in France...). So you will have to pick something else.
  • Silver or tin? Some people will tell you that silver solders are better. Practically speaking, I did not noticed that much differences when soldering, or for durability. Even in theory, the difference of resistivity is really, really low! Personally, I think it is a waste of money. Moreover, silver can oxidize...
  • Diameter? I recommend a diameter inferior to 1 mm. If it is bigger than that, it will be difficult to be precise enough with PCBs for instance.
  • So, what to choose? Usually, I buy mine in a local shop (for mojo points maybe?), but you can find it pretty everywhere. I just saw that lead is still legal in the US, so go for it! Here is one nice solder: 0.6mm Solder

3. Pliers, wire strippers and snips
Having snips is absolutely necessary to cut wires, component legs. A wire stripper is also really useful to snip wires. No need for amazing technological stuff, you can find these really basic tools everywhere. I bought mine in a local DIY shop, but you can find everything online if you want to.
pince à dénuder
Here are two examples of wire strippers:
  • Here is a simple manual wire stripper, cheap but useful: basic manual wire stripper
  • Here is an automatic one, you can set the wire diameter, and it is sometimes easier to manipulate, especially if you have a lot of wires to strip: automatic wire stripper As you want!
Here is a simple pair of pliers to cut wires and leads: cutting plier
A "needle nose" pair of pliers can be really useful to tighten bolts of the different parts we use: potentiometers, jacks, 3PDT switches...etc. Here are some really cheap ones: needle nose pliers


4. A drill
To make your circuits fit into enclosures, you will have to drill holes! A drill is thus absolutely necessary. Fortunately for us, aluminum is rather a soft metal, really easy to drill, so you will not need a crazy expensive drill. However, as a drill can be really useful in your daily life, you can also choose to buy a good model that will last and will be used for other things than guitar pedal making ;)

  • The cheap one: I used (and still use...) a really cheap Chinese drill, which cost me around 12 euros (I do not know how is this even possible!), that I bought in a local store. You will surely find other options like this online or in your local DIY shop. Surprisingly, it works really well, and I have no problem with drilling aluminum.
  • The expensive / long lasting option: in this case, try to buy a good drill like Bosch or other brands (I am no expert, if you have any suggestions to fill this part?)
  • For the twist drills: I would suggest buying a small number of HSS twist drills for metal drilling, of a few different diameters. A HSS step drill is also really useful (but a bit expensive). It will allow you drill any diameter you need for the part you are using
There it is! You have got all you need for guitar pedal making! If you take really basic stuff each time, it can cost you around 50$ only! Lets now see "non necessary but helpful" tools that you might need from times to times.


Optional tools for guitar pedal making


Everything listed here is not essential. However, some of this tools are quite useful even if not absolutely necessary. In order to make clear what was really helpful and what was not, I rated each tool on the "nice but not essential" scale :) 5 is the max score (essential), 0 the worst (completely useless).

1. Tweezers - Blunt-nosed thumb forceps (usefulness: 4/5)
I hesitated to put these in the "essential" section. If you want to hold a component while soldering (and not burn yourself), to bend or maintain a wire precisely, having forceps like this is very useful:
pince électronique
You can find this kind of tweezers everywhere. Beware: take something big enough so it can absorb heat. Here is an example: tweezers. Another thing that you can do is to buy a dissecting kit. It contains quite a few tools that can be useful both in electronic and biology (and I know what I am talking about ^^), scalpel included!

2. A third hand (usefulness 2/5)
What is a third hand? It is a simple tool with two arms, which allows you to hold parts. Most of the time, there is also a magnifying glass. It can be useful to hold a part while soldering, like a potentiometer, so your left hand is free to hold solder for instance. It can be useful to tin wires also.
Troisième main électronique
To be honest, the magnifying glass is useless. But it makes the third hand look a bit like a helping little fellow, which is nice. I use it from times to times, but not a lot.

3. A desoldering tool (usefulness 4/5)
It is very likely that you are going to make mistakes from times to times, as every human being does. The problem with electronics is that soldering is really easy. However, desoldering can really be difficult, especially if you do not have the good tools... There are 2 cheap tools that will help you (a bit...) to desolder stuff:
  • Desoldering braid: this is what I use when it comes to desoldering. You heat it above the solder you want to remove, and once hot, it will absorb the solder. The downside of this system is that it heats up a lot, and you can burn a bit the PCB, or damage the component you are trying to remove... But it is very cheap, which is nice, and it works!
  • Desoldering pump: another useful tool to desolder. I never used it actually, but I plan on buying one because it seems easier to use than desoldering braid. It is a kind of syringe that will absorb melted solder. As I never used one, I do not know what to recommend... If you have any suggestion? Apparently, quality is important because the tip of the pump can easily be blocked by solder.

5. A "multi bits" screwdriver (usefulness 3/5)
If we were doing classic electronics, a screwdriver with multiple scaled tips would be absolutely necessary. However, with guitar effects pedals, the number of screws that we are going to stumble upon is really low: screws of the enclosure, and screws to fix knobs on potentiometers. That is all. Sooooo, as your drill normally also has a screwdriver option, you do not really need a screwdriver, except for potentiometer knobs. So you can just buy a small one for the potentiometers, but I am almost sure that you already have one at home! If you really do not want to buy one and you do not have one, a pointy knife can do the job.

There it is!
That is all I use to make my guitar effects, and it is really sufficient! See? You do not need a lot... If you clone one "boutique" pedal, you should have spare enough money to buy most of it!

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To go further:
Nice video from MAKE about electronics tools. Fun to watch!
Geofex guide about starting building effects.


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3 Comment
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Very useful! Thanks for your insight!

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I am currently writing a blog post about it :) But it is indeed really useful for debugging and selecting components

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