I started this post quite a while ago, but am glad I left it to mature for a while as so much has happened / changed in the interim. Obviously we are right in the middle of a Pandemic and some people have a lot more time on their hands these days, while ironically I have rarely been busier.
The above pictured selection has changed markedly in just a few months as there are more and more mainstream brands seemingly getting involved with pedal kits of their own. It makes a lot of sense any way you wish to view it - as this offloads some of the build-work onto the customer, and like I say in the title gives the people another hobby to fill time while they’re off work. You also get to acquire said pedal at a significantly lower cost.
Readers may know that I actually own two of these pictured examples (BYOC Crown Jewel and PedalPCB Mini Heterodyne Receiver), but I certainly did not assemble those myself. In fact I’m still kind of waiting for DIY Pedals to get up to IKEA-levels of socketed snap-on design. As it is currently you need to use a soldering iron which can frequently be messy - and you will make mistakes, so it’s not as easy as re-adjusting Lego or furniture which I’m quite a dab hand at, but you have to unsolder, suck up the waste and redo again in a rather fiddly tweezers and pincers and confined spaces type of manner.
I’ve often entertained the thought of doing DIY pedals, but I personally don’t have a lot of spare time, and I find manipulating / threading tiny capacitors and resistors through circuitboards somewhat awkward and inconvenient, while it can be soothing therapy for others. As a gear-head / fan/atic - I would need to fully tool-up for the occasion with every assembly accessory known to mankind - and I would be consuming valuable resources which I would undoubtedly prefer to spend on another pedal or three!
I have included the following picture to illustrate in part my sort of perceived ideal working environment - which for me would include a high-quality temperature-controlled soldering iron, parts-tray, compartmented work mat, circuitboard holder, brass enclosure / brass wire tip cleaner, various alternative tips, pliers, tools, accessories - and of course a classy multimeter - oh and some of those jewellers magnifying goggles! Stew Mac does a pretty cool ’Guitar Electronics Deluxe Tool Set’ (c$250) - I feel the various Amazon electronics kits aren’t fully up to scratch. So in any case - if I ever went down this road - I would likely buy up all those components individually - to ensure I get the very best quality for everything and at the right price! I may do a follow-up post with the equipment I would myself seek out for such an exercise.
For now, I'm happier to have someone more finessed and adept at this than I - to do higher quality assembly for me. There are various outfits out there who do fantastic assembly-work - including Alchemy Audio, Geargas/Geargasstore and Flint Amplification who can all be found on Reverb.com and whom I've all done business with - in fact the Crown Jewel came from Geargas, and the PedalPCB Mini Heterodyne Receiver PLL came from Flint Amplification!
In the top visual we feature examples from Aion Electronics, All-Pedal, Anasounds / FX Teacher, BYOC, Distortion Limited, Lawrence Petross Design, Mythos Pedals, PedalPCB, and JHS for StewMac. BYOC / Build Your Own Custom is probably the MacDaddy of all those DIY brands - and I have a few assembled editions from BYOC of course in my own collection.
There have been interesting videos from Rhett Shull and Jackson Brooksby and others on this subject - which I include below. Not all of these kits are created equal - some come fully parts-sourced, while for others you need to acquire the various smaller components yourself from the provided parts list. Some of these pedals come very raw and unfinished - in fact I've added some graphics to 4 of the above pedals for brand-referencing / identification purposes. A lot of the time with DIY pedals you need to apply the finish and graphics yourself. Also - some kits are better thought-out and supported than others and include a couple of extras in the bag to cover obvious likely mistakes. Many a time have I read that someone had to buy additional parts during the build - because of some form of misadventure. Companies like IKEA and Lego obviously have all that figured out and make accommodations for such, but it is not necessarily the same for pedal assembly kits - which often just come with literally the bare essentials.
Many will really love and relish this kind of experience and feel they have struck a bargain via the lower cost. While others will calculate their own hourly wages in terms of build time, and rationalise against build quality etc. - and then choose to order in pre-assembled! Currently I am in the latter category - I by and large tend to favour slightly more complicated / feature-rich pedals in any case which are not always well suited to this particular medium.
There do exist very simple one-knob kits out there which I really don't see any point in doing necessarily - possibly just to get some practice or get your eye in. I'm also one of those with an almost forever-memory - so I remember my mistakes and it can ongoingly mar and taint my experience of the finished article if I know it conceals some flaws! Which is the same reason that has put me off Crimson Guitars thus far - although I would really quite like to try my hand at some luthiery one day.
In any case I'm sharing this featured selection as I'm sure at least some of you will enjoy doing this sort of things! Here follow a few more details on each brand and kit pedal featured :
RJ Ronquillo actually introduced me to this brand as he has demo'd quite a few of their pedals - including the Helios - as above! This is a really high quality kit which comes with all components included, and exceptional instructions as far I can see - including guidance on Tools Needed and Component Identification. The instructions appear exceedingly clear and thorough to me - and you get a fully finished enclosure here too - so this is really as good as it gets! Aion also mention Alchemy Audio in their descriptions - if you would rather someone else assemble your pedal for you - which I'm obviously onboard for. This is a great example of extended range Rat style circuit - albeit not using the classic LM308 OpAmp. Aion have a selection of 10 kits - featuring mostly well-known drive/distoriton/fuzz clones and a Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay alternative. They also have a more expansive collection of nearly 80 PCB's - where you need to source all your own components otherwise.
This is another high quality kit with a highly detailed painted enclosure and all parts included. I can't see the manual for one of these without purchase - so I can't say whether it reaches the lofty heights of the Aion / StewMac etc. instructions. This nevertheless looks to be a very decent kit - and you don't typically see that many overdrives with 3-Band EQ. Note that the pricing here though is significantly higher than the Aion - sure the enclosure has quite a bit more detail on it, but I'm not sure that overall the content and substance of this kit is justified at a price point near twice that of the Aion Helios above. All-Pedal is mostly a turn-key manufacturing facility / resource for pedal brands, and to date has only a couple of Kit pedals - the Slamurai Overdrive and Galactavise Compressor.
Alex Ernandez and his Nice-based businesses - Anasounds and FX Teacher look set to make him the Effects Pedal equivalent of Ben Crowe of Crimson Guitars fame. Initially known for their wood-facia boutique Anasounds pedals, the operation launched their first FX Teacher Pedal Kit - the Ego Driver Overdrive (a highly customisable TS808 style circuit) late last year. And in the wake of that introduce a series of pedal-building masterclasses backed by an extensive tool store (on Anadsounds.com) - which enables you to buy everything you need to assemble one of these pedal kits. First came the Ego Driver Overdrive Kit - €79 (assembled = €129), and now we have the even more impressive digitally-controlled Sliver Optical Tap-Tempo Tremolo. It's quite evident that Anasounds / FX Teacher are serious about this medium, and these are really beautiful kits with fairly unusual enclosure details for this market. They held a masterclass at the fairly recent Birmingham Guitar Show, and have done a couple of online masterclasses too (in French and per the above). Actually Pladask Elektronisk do something similar in Norway - where that is the only way of getting your hands on their Form 2 pedal - I dare say Anasounds / FX Teacher may do something similar in the not too distant future - with one or two exclusives of their own. As it is now - you can assemble your kit pedal in the comfort of your own home, but there will be more Masterclasses - obviously mostly based in France, but likely around some of the key forthcoming guitar events too - so if you need help with your assembly - keep checking the Anasounds site for further announcements.
Keith Vonderhulls' outfit 'Build Your Own Clone' has to be the best known of all the DIY Kit Pedal makers and has a long and storied history - where a number of the current crop of pedal builders started out by building and modifying one of these kits. Not all of these kits are equal and most of them come with raw enclosures - there are around 80 of them starting from circa $50 and ranging up to $150 for the Super8 Programmable Looper. The one I've chosen here is my very own Crown Jewel with Dry Blend Knob - expertly assembled by Anastasios of Geargas for $220 - including two Boost modules. This is one of my favourite ever drive pedals and it teaches you everything you need to know about overdrive tone shaping - with Parametric Mids and Q-bandwidth control and 4 variable Soft and Hard Clipping options, and with variable 9V or 18V headroom. This pedal is currently out of stock - I see the occasional one pop up on Reverb.com every now and again. This is your classic every-drive Multi-Drive pedal - it can pretty much deliver near enough any kind of drive or distortion tone, and plenty of Fuzz varieties too - if you deploy a Fuzz Boost Module. BYOC are a stellar outfit - some of the never competition are a little bit more flashy with their enclosures, but you really can't go wrong with a BYOC - I have several circuits - funnily enough all assembled for me, and some look pretty rough and raw, but sound fantastic - which is the main thing. The Crown Jewel is one of a handful of BYOC kits that comes with a fully finished / branded enclosure.
Some of you may recall the DST LTD E-magazines that were delivered to your inbox for a number of years. That same outfit's principal business was/is the creation of Pedal Kits - while it still does the occasional pedal review / feature every now and again. There are 5 pedals in the range - from $50 to $70 including our featured Harmonic Percolator style circuit in plain yellow enclosure. I added the logo to the visual just for brand reference purposes. This is another complete kit where everything you need comes in the bag. There is no public access to guides / instructions - so I can't weigh them up against the Aion ones which are my current favourite looking ones - albeit I can't vouch for full context and syntax as I've not built any of these pedals. These pedals appear to be mostly sold out currently, but this is a notable brand which I thought important to include in this overview. I'm hoping that the magazine will come back in some format eventually - along with one or two new kits!
Of all these featured here this is probably one of the best to start with - a relatively simple but neat Overdrive/Boost at the same time. Again a complete kit with everything included and looks like the instructions are every bit as good as the Aion / StewMac ones too. Excellent video above also which shows you the build process. I believe this is a fairly new venture for Lawrence, but if it goes well I dare say there will be more options in the future - for now this is the only Kit on offer on the LPD store. I of course still have a few LPD pedals still to acquire including the Seventy 4 and hopefully a future 3-Band EQ edition of the Sixty 8! Note that I added the logo to my visual - simply for brand identification, You can see above and per the video that there is a labelled facia plate, but no official branding.
This is something that passed me by until recently, but Zach Broyles has dabbled in Pedal Kits too - with a $50 Boost Kit, and this $75 Silicon Fuzz Face Kit references above - using a pair of unspecified BC variant Silicon Transistors - would be good to know whether 107, 108, 109 or 183 variety. This is a complete kit with everything in the bag, while the enclosure is somewhat raw, with no facia plate - I added the logo for brand identity purposes in the visual. Also the instructions are not quite on part with Aion, StewMac and Lawrence Petross, but this is a very simple circuit - so you are highly unlikely to get lost. Obviously as the climate is at the moment these seem to be largely out of stock currently - so if you're looking for something to occupy you more imminently then you had best look somewhere else. I'm guessing these may well be back in stock at some stage in the future or possibly some other variety. For my own purposes I don't necessarily need a fully branded / with graphics enclosure like some of the more polished examples featured here, and you could argue that with two knobs you really don't need any labels - but it would be still a nice touch to have some sort of finish / lacquer on the enclosure. That said I have a number of these raw style enclosures for some of my BYOC pedals! There is no video reference for the Fuzzy Face Kit - so I've used the one for the seemingly earlier Boost Kit - as above.
This is a somewhat different proposition of far higher complexity than most of these others as PedalPCB just provides you with the Circuitboards and some facia plates. In fact for its circa 300 circuits, there are only official facia plates for 7 - including the one featured here. The instructions are also not as straightforward and detailed as say most of these others, and you will need to buy and drill your own 125B enclosure - as in fact Flint Amplification did for my build of Heterodyne Receiver. This is really for more expert builders as there is so much that can go wrong here - and you need to buy in all the components separately - and yes it occasionally happens you get sent out the wrong components - so this is typically far better suited to existing builders who already have a few parts bins on the premises with suitable components. I still think the scope and variety of really quite feature-rich circuits is highly impressive - and the Mini Heterodyne is quite likely the most full-featured of any PLL pedals for its compact dimensions. This is more for you advanced pedal-builder hobbyists! I was unable to find a demo / reference for the Mini / Compact version and so I've referenced the larger Superheterodyne instead - as per the above.
I've included StewMac here as they do a number of collaborative pedal kits with brands such as Earthquaker Devices, Dunlop/MXR and JHS Pedals per the example here. They also have a cheaper range of their own branded pedal kits - not sure if they are discontinuing the brand collaborations as most of those seem so be on sale or sold out currently. In any case when I was first looking into this topic I came across the JHS All-American - which was actually sold by JHS itself for a number of years under its own brand. In fact you can occasionally get the originals in their sparkly red enclosures with Captain America shield-style outline graphic. For the StewMac Kit version you simply get supplied with the raw enclosure, and the clipping switch is in a different place to the former official version - or above rather than below the far right Distortion knob. For visual and brand referencing purpose I overlaid the appropriate graphic onto the raw enclosure - but note than on the Kit version you just get the raw enclosure. The StewMac kits are noted for having some of the best, if not the best instructions / references out there, and supposedly in every way bar the outer branding and finished enclosure these are the same actual parts that JHS uses / used in its own builds. I'm not sure how many of these kits are still floating around out there. There's also an interesting comparison here between this and the first mentioned Aion Helios which are based on the exact same ProCo Rat circuit. I would probably go for the more completely finished enclosure of the Helios if building myself. While as a Rat fan, I will likely just rather scoop up an official JHS variety whenever I come across one at the right price and right time.
I almost forgot to include this first Korg kit which has been doing the rounds recently. It is a slightly unusual medium-enclosure 4-knob overdrive pedal featuring one of Korg's hybrid NuTube valves at its core - and having both Circuit Gain and Tube Gain Control knobs alongside Volume and Tone. This is a slightly more highly finished kit - where the circuitboard components are already assembled - so you skip a lot of the trickier parts here, and don't need a soldering iron as far as I am aware. This goes some way to justifying the significantly higher price of the kit - as most of the heavy lifting has been done for you already. Instead of having 100 or more parts - this only has around 35. In fact if this was a more compact enclosure I might very well have had a go at this myself.
There are undoubtedly several more Pedal Kit makers out there - in fact probably a few in each country. I had Parasit Studios and PuzzleSound in the mix at one stage - but decided to go for better known brand examples in the end. And then I almost forgot to include Korg!
I still feel that this is somewhat in its infancy - and there will come a time when someone does more of a snap-on variety - which would make for an even easier and less messy process - and therefore something more for me possibly. I suppose the Korg formula is not too far distant - but that is a limited format - i.e. one where you can't adjust and amend components easily.
I like the Lego angle on things - and that certain component slots should be socketed - so that you can chop and change and modify along the way without causing structural damage. The FX Teacher Ego Driver does that to a degree - but really every single one of these pedal kits requires a fairly significant amount of soldering and fiddly work bar the Korg OD-S. Often exemplified by the need to bend the 'legs' of components, solder them in and clip them off.
There is also something within the Lego and IKEA methodology where you get additional parts - in case one goes missing or gets mangled. And I'm not sure many of these brands are at that level of sophistication yet. Including alerts and warnings for particularly tricky parts of the build and offering some degrees of failsafe and redundancy for those moments.
Some of us are already tight for space. We don't necessarily have a little workshop corner where we can have a semi-permanent setup. So there is an issue with space, and lighting, access to further power ports etc. All this needs to be factored into the process. There are also people at quite different stages - beginners, hobbyists, semi-pro and genius level - all with different need and different levels comfort.
And as I have said - tooling up properly for such an exercise can be another substantial expense. And of course if you don't have a permanent area to make use of - you will need a series of toolboxes and further cupboard and storage space to tuck away those build elements when not in use. Also - if you're a family man - you will need to shield it from the prying eyes and hands of your infants!
Where my own situation is right now, I'm nor sure I have time or space for this largely intricate style of hobby. I feel that kit pedals will evolve in any case - and we will get some more socketed / plug-and-play style designs eventually. There may also be another more modular sub-assembly style approach like Korg's where you are slotting together more heavily finished component boards or similar.
In any case there is plenty here to consider - and if you are so inclined - plenty to get stuck into really. I feel there are several pedals here worth acquiring in their own right - regardless of their Kit origins. I've obviously put my money down for the Crown Jewel and Heterodyne Receiver - the latter of which is one of 3 PLL style pedals I have alongside the Beetronics Swarm and Mantic Flex Pro - each of those is brilliant and delivers something slightly different from the other.
Of which pedal persuasion are you - and at what level? Do you feel there are other notable kit brandsI have omitted here? And which Pedal Kit/s are you yourself considering building?