From Our Shop
The following references are here to help in projects were you feel the need to pull out your soldering gun or multimeter. If you're just getting started with electronics - they are to convince you that the idea you had of making your own amplifier or doing tone-stack and pick-up mods to turn your garage sale find into a screaming phoenix are not out of reach.
General Tips for Beginners
Audio-Electronics are both a science and an art, approaches which should never be separated. This view reminds you that a growing core-understanding unlocks more tools for expression, that care and craftsmanship produce a more valuable end-product. It also reminds us that like any other medium, cause and effect are made to be explored subjectively. Don't be afraid to try a different capacitor value than prescribed - and better yet, learn what the capacitor in your filter is doing so you can select a new type/value based on what you want to do to the sound. Or if that is a little too much - consider just trying them out with a test rig such as the one described here. Or simply try things out on a breadboard - this is a highly recommended step when trying out new things.
The first and primary "art technique" to learn is soldering - this is really only possible through a little practice. Know how to get a good tinning, avoiding solder beading, about flux, and good desoldering practice. Start with a basic project kit or just make some connections between wires and spare components. Practice with different types of materials and especially with large heat-syncs such as grounding to a potentiometer case or bridge. All of this is easier with good tools, but even the basic solder kit can achieve meaningful results. A good start might be a read through a soldering basics guide and then to simply get dirty with a test project.
Once your ready to try out your soldering skills - build a kit first! Nothing helps build the needed confidence like a completed project which does something you wanted. Kits (multiple examples are referenced below) are usually easy to build without an in-depth understanding of electronics or individual components, have user-friendly documentation and/or active forum groups to help you along...
Collected Parts/Component Suppliers
In a pinch, electronics components and basic supplies can be found at local chain-stores such as RadioShack, Fry's, etc. though you may find selection lacking and usually less cost-effective. As always, we recommend supporting local guitar shops and the like, many keep a supply of pickups and other audio specific parts right next to the strings.
After that, small volume customers will be looking to online orders. Many of the large luthier suppliers also supply the needed components to handle all your electronic needs including our go-to favorites:
Allparts - Allparts an aftermarket hardware supplier focused on guitar, bass and amp parts for luthiers doing repairs or modifications - meaning it is a perfect resource for those reading this page. They stock both components and full wiring kits for doing upgrades or rewires.
GuitarElectronics - Like Allparts, this is an amazingly complete guitar electronics shop. One of their most interesting features is their library of easy to read wiring diagrams - they even have an option to generate custom wiring diagrams based on the parts and pickups you order.
Stewart MacDonald -As noted elsewhere StewMac really is a one-stop-shop for everything you need with "reasonable" prices, honest reviews, quick shipping and easy navigation. They have individual components, tools and wiring kits for many popular guitars and basses as well as occasional vintage stock parts.
Luthier's Mercantile International - LMI is also a good one-stop-shop. Look for the basics plus a good pickup selection under "Mostly Not Wood".
Other Venders we like: Amazon, Ant Hill Music, Digikey, Graphtech, GuitarPartsResource, Sweetwater etc. And of course - local music shops and hardware stores.
(As a luthier, we can't recommend a friendly relationship with your local music shop enough! Buy some things, talk to the staff and play the instruments - it is a great way to see what you like, don't, or just get inspired)
Tone Helpers and Solder Practice - There are many good practice solder kits out there, really anything less than $20-$50 and 20-50 solder points is a good tutorial, but you might as well make something fun for your kit it while you learn.
Maybe one of these pedal kits from Mod Kits DIY? - the Piledriver for example seems simple enough and could provide a bit of fun while your at it. Preview the instructions and circuit diagram for each though - some are more complicated than others.
Amplifier Kits - Amplifiers are generally more complicated circuits and are a little pricey (not recommend as that first-timer kit), but can make for a fun project all the same. A few companies provide kits or guides for making your own tube amplifier.
BottleHead - is known for its hi-fi quality speaker and headphone amplifier kits - but they recently added the 5-watt Tode Guitar Amp with some unique controls and sound though a built in 8" or external cabinet.
Mojotone - has a better selection and options for repairing vintage equipment or starting from scratch on your own 100Watt British head amp.
Guitar Wiring Kits - A great starting place could be to take that parts guitar you picked up from the flea market and replace the electronics with something a little less, can we say "noisy sounding". As mentioned above Allparts and StewMac both offer great wiring kits that come with easy wiring diagrams that look more like instructions (don't require an engineering degree to follow).
Mojotone - has great wiring kits as well, though it seems like less documentation for beginners. What they do have is nice assembly boards (to hold components while soldering). You can make these yourself or use a spare pick-guard, but you may find these useful - they may even double as a guide for later woodworking.
Guitar Wiring Resources - As mentioned above, GuitarElectronics has a great library of diagrams and can be used to build custom wiring kits or mods to existing circuits. We highly recommend it or the online diagrams found at StewMac.. But sometimes experimental can be fun as well. We will periodically post references to less-common circuits we have proven to ourselves.
For example, here is a slightly modified Jimmy Page Les Paul circuit we experimented with while building the Redwood Audio 000. It was posted by a user of the GuitarNutz forums which is a good forum to keep in mind when working with this kind of thing.
Other Electronics Resources - The following are some other online resources we have enjoyed over the years, maybe you can find good information for your project as well.
ePanorama.net has some good general information as well as circuit diagrams for audio and video related projects. Of particular interest might be their simplified overview of powering microphone capsules.
Circuit Lab is a free to use schematics editor with basic simulator features. It is good for making circuit sketches for your notes or sharing with other DIYers.
Okawa Filter Design and Analysis - Features multiple calculators for various filter types you will see repeated in many circuit designs. It can be a quick way to analyze all or part of a circuit and preview the effect of changing component values. (short of full simulation).
Rane Corporation - Has many useful technical notes on various audio topics. Two we will callout here are on audio interconnection and grounding/shielding of audio equipment - these two topics come up a lot and will be highlighted future tutorials by Redwood Audio.
CRC Industries Electrical Component Cleaner - A first stop for fixing strange potentiometer behavior, especially on old electronic circuit restoration jobs. We can't say enough about how well this stuff worked while fixing up an old Fender that spent a few too many days exposed to moisture. If your tone / volume are crunchy, seemingly missing range - follow a guide (sprays work the same way)- or just try squirting some into the potentiometer housing and working the knob, you just might like what you hear! Redwood Audio tested and approved! (available at local hardware stores or online)
More tips coming soon.