Getting Started: 21 newbie-friendly DIY projects July 12, 2011 18:04 3 Comments

When you're first getting turned on to the world of DIY, it's easy to be tempted by projects that are beyond your abilities. Be Realistic. High voltages and hot solder are no joke and the last thing you want to do with your first project is end up with an expensive heap of broken equipment. To choose a first project that will build your skills and confidence, look for something that meets these guidelines:
  1. Low voltages (no tubes, sorry)
  2. Prefabricated case and front panel
  3. Power supply included (pre-assembled is a plus)
  4. Through-hole components only (no SMD)
  5. Complete kit (no components to source)
The following are a collection of projects that I think can be realistically tackled by a first-time DIYer. However, since these projects do vary considerably in difficulty and quality of documentation, I've rated them on a 1-10 difficulty scale. scale
1-3: True Noob
4-6: Some electronics experience
7-10: Not really for beginners...


Starting Small

I created the LINE2AMP reamping box and Endless Summer analog summing box kits with absolute beginners in mind. Both are completely passive and have been successfully built by numerous first-timers. guitar pedalMy first DIY project was the 250+ distortion pedal from Build Your Own Clone. The fruits of that project were an awesome sounding pedal and the confidence to take on a mic preamp for my next project. There are literally hundreds of pedal projects out there which I'm still working on cataloging, but I know first-hand that BYOC's inlcude excellent, step-by-step instructions. Difficulty: 1-4

Fill Out Your 500-Series Rack

One easy way to get around the dirty business of choosing a power supply, wiring connections, and cutting holes in a case is to build modules for the API 500-series "Lunchbox" format. The 500-series modules that I recommend for beginners are:
  • ClassicAPI VP25/26 or 312 Preamps

    ClassicAPI's kits clone the simple API circuit with a roomy layout. This, along with good documentation and the option for pre-assembled opamps, make these the surest bet for your first 500-series project.
    Difficulty: 4

  • Sound Skulptor MP573 Preamp

    If you want to tackle a Neve preamp off the bat, be prepared to face a more complex circuit with little room for sloppy soldering. However, if you've got experience with a soldering iron, this full kit provides perhaps the easiest way to build a Neve-style preamp.
    Difficulty: 6

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Full Kits

These kits contain everything you need to complete the project, except, of course, the proper tools. microphone Microphones chassis SCA Preamps jlm rack case JLM Audio Preamps sound skulptor Sound Skulptor Preamps fivefish rack case FiveFish Preamps fivefish rack case Hamptone Preamps

Thanks for reading--I wish you the best of luck with your DIY undertakings. If you have any questions before starting your first project, feel free to ask them on the Q&A board.