DIY Boost / Overdrive / Distortion / Fuzz – Part 1

Ever consider building your own guitar pedal? It’s actually pretty simple, and with a few simple tools and a lot of patience, you can build a pedal of your very own.

Why Boost, Overdrive, Distortion or Fuzz?

Boost, overdrive, distortion and fuzz circuits are relatively simple and a great way to get introduced to the basic components used in guitar pedals. Some fuzz pedals and simple boosts can have as few as half a dozen components as compared to more complicated circuits like delay, chorus or tremolo. While this post won’t go step by step through a pedal build, it will point you in the right direction and offer some resources to help get you started.

To the uninitiated, here are the differences:

  • Boost – increases the volume to boost your signal with little clipping (distortion) or compression
  • Overdrive – softly clips your signal providing slight distortion and compression
  • Distortion – hard clips your signal giving a distorted sound with lots of compression
  • Fuzz – square wave clipping of your signal so the sound is fuzzy, buzzy and super compressed

See this YouTube Video for more.

Veroboard Pedal – Crowther Hotcake Clone

Boost and Overdrive Circuits are Versatile

These types of pedals aren’t just limited to guitar or bass. They can be used with keyboards of all kinds from the likes of Fender Rhodes or Wurlitzer to organs or to analog or virtual analog synths. They can add a great crunch and punch to a drum machine or even vocal tracks. Think of it as a tool to add some subtle grit or color, or heavier grit or grunge all the way to completely mangling whatever you plug into it.

Utility/Swiss Army Knife Pedals

Boost pedals, especially those with tone controls, can be very effective utility tools. For example, let’s you have the bridge pickup on your guitar dialed in perfectly with your amp settings, but when you switch to the neck pickup, the tone is too wooly, dark or muddy. A boost with a simple EQ can help to remove those undesired qualities and help balance things out. Simple boosts can also be helpful in situations where you’re using different two different guitars with pickups that have different outputs – like going from a strat’s low output pickups to a Gibson SG or Les Paul’s humbucker, you can use a boost on the strat to keep the output consistent from instrument to instrument.

Why would you want to build your own pedal?

Custom Etching and Paint on Pedal – Nobels ODR-1 Clone – Artwork by Cristina Trecha

You can build a pedal of your own for far less than the cost of what you would pay for the retail version. For example, an original Gold or Silver Klon Centaur currently lists for as much as $2500. You can build your own for about $40, plus you can customize it any way you want. Want to use different clipping diodes? Go ahead. Want to increase the bass content? Swap different capacitors in and out to your hearts content. Plus you are free to decorate your enclosure to make it a personal, one of a kind, creative masterpiece.

Some guitar pedals, like the Analogman King of Tone overdrive, have had a consistent waiting list as the company tries to keep up with demand. Getting on the list to get one built for you has sometimes meant waiting several months to a year. You can build an exact copy of your own, or customize it however you like, and not pay anywhere near the original’s asking price, or have to wait to get it.

Transferrable Skills and Knowledge

Getting your feet wet with pedal builds and acquiring the skills and equipment necessary to successfully build a pedal also means you will likely be able to:

  • Swap guitar pickups in and out of you or your bandmates guitars, or fix faulty switches or wiring
  • Do repairs to broken pedals or do minor repairs to guitar amps (Disclaimer: watch out for those tube amp voltages. They can kill you!)
  • Gain a basic understanding of the components used in a pedal and how they work

Part 2 Coming Soon!