The Basics: Components

Basics: Soldering

$0 Distortion Pedal

Passive Filters

Feedback & Oscillators

$5 Synthesizer

$0 Distortion Pedal

Is your bank account sitting at $0.47 like usual? Need a distortion pedal or want to start a boutique pedal shop to scam yuppies? you're in luck! you can make one for exactly $0 USD! Just try this one easy trick!

Things You'll Need:

That is literally it! You can build this seven-component circuit in about 5 minutes. If you haven't, check out the soldering tutorial.

Sourcing Components

NPN transistors (is opposed to PNP) are pretty common in any electronics. Tear apart an alarm clock or broken boombox or something. Find some transistors and search online for the model number written on them to see if they are NPN. Then just desolder them and grab some random resistors and capacitors while youre at it. the most important part is a 1M resistor.

color code 1M resistor : gold brown black green

color code 100K resistor:gold brown black orange

Capacitors:blue cylinders that have their uF rating printed on them

The Schematic

This is a circuit I found that is really simple and works great! The resistors are labeled with R, capacitors with C, diodes with D, and transistor is Q.

First thing: a transistor has 3 legs:

  • The arrow going out is the emitter pin (for NPN)
  • In most situations, the middle pin is the base
  • The pin that is just normal is the collector.

    Most NPN transistors if you look at them face-on (flat side facing you), the pins go left-to-right: collector, base, emitter. Always double check the transistor though with a search online though for the pinout. It can get a bit confusing flipping the direction but transistors are pretty cheap so if you mess up it isn't a big deal.

    modified circuit

    The circuit above says to use 12volts for power but i modified it to use 9volts. This was done by replacing the 100k resistor with a 12k and replacing the 1M resistor with a 50k, or by using a 100k knob (potentiometer). Depending on what transistor you are using, your results may vary. i recommend sticking with 10k, 12k, 20k for the power resistor and under 500k for the 'feedback' resistor.

    experimenting tip

    replace the feedback resistor (1M) with a potentiometer of around 100k or 500k and see what turning the knob does. this will give you an idea of how transistors work, how electronic amplifiers work. They do not actually work the way you would likely expect - for instance increasing the knob will continue to make things louder but only up until a certain point at which it stops making sound altogether. This is due to various technical stuff that i can't really explain right now but yeah.

    Building it!

    NOTE: dont power on this circuit until it is assembled! (or do! and if you are (un?)lucky you will be blessed by magical transistor smoke!)

    I recommend building the circuit without the diodes just to test! This circuit is a modified amplifier, so without the diodes it will just amplify the input. Even the capactiors arent even super necessary, they just ensure that you dont get DC voltage leaking through and instead get only audio signal.

    The result of this will be is that ur input comes out, but way louder. This is due to transistors being magical. The diodes at the right side of the diagram "clip" the signal which is what makes it be a distortion instead of just a gain pedal!

    Its Alive!

    There you go! You are done! You can mess around by adding some passive filters, or stringing together several of this same circuit to get really extreme distortion, feeding the circuit back into itself in different ways, all kinds of stuff.

    From here on out, you know how to make an amplifier and a clipper, so the world is yours, because those are two of the most fundamental parts of ALL electronics! Pretty much everything electronic relies on different types of amplifiers, even things that don't have anything to do with audio.