Yes, you can build your own gear.
Here's what you need:
- A realistic first project
- Good tools (about $50 worth)
- A desire to learn
And here's what you don't need to get started:
- Any electronics knowledge
- A full electronics lab
- Soldering experience
Choose a Realistic and Rewarding First Project
For most people, the worst thing you can do to get started is try to do everything at once. Trying to learn electronics, buy parts for multiple projects, and assemble a full electronics lab from the get-go is bound to leave you with a bunch of broken parts and expensive tools you don't use.
Instead, chose one simple project to begin your DIY journey with. This will give you a clear, achievable goal. Focus on only buying the tools and learning the things you need to know to complete that project. Once you've successfully built it, you'll be excited and ready to repeat the process with a more complex project.
We have a number of kits designed specifically to be great first projects. Check out our Beginner Friendly Kits for some great first DIY projects.
Get the right tools
If you're just getting started with DIY, investing in a good set of tools is the best thing you can do to set your self up for success. You are more likely to stick with the hobby if your tools are pleasure to use rather than a hindrance. And well built gear sounds better, lasts longer, and affords you peace of mind when you're recording.
The tools below are the ones we use every day at the DIYRE shop. They're not the most expensive tools on the market, but we've been happy with them for years and we wholeheartedly recommend them to you.
When it comes to your soldering tools, I highly advise against buying a cheap pencil iron at the hardware store and "making it work." I ruined my first guitar pedal with a pencil iron from Hope Depot. I figured I was just hopeless at soldering until I borrowed my friend's Weller soldering station. Voila! The difference was night and day and the next pedal came out just fine.
Good, old-fashioned leaded solder is perfectly safe and superior to the newer lead-free solder. It flows better, it makes better joints, it's easier to re-work, and the fumes do not actually contain lead. But the most important specification for solder is it's diameter. Make sure to get 0.031" or smaller—it will make being precise much easier.
Wire Tip Cleaner
Dirt and oxidation are the enemies of good solder joints. Dipping your tip in a wire "sponge" like this one between every solder joint is the best way to make sure your joints are impeccably clean. I find this far easier and more effective than the standard wet sponge that comes with the soldering station.
When you mess up (and you will mess up), this "solder sucker" is your undo button. You can reheat the problem joint, suck out the molten solder, and start over.
It cuts wire. You'll need clippers to trim wires and clip off extra leads after soldering.
Learn to Solder
Choose a comfy, well lit, and well ventilated place to be your DIY nook. If possible, solder by an open window with a fan running. Soldering is actually quite easy, it just takes a bit of practice. Check out the video below from Sparkfun for an excellent intro to soldering.
Once you've gained a bit of confidence in your ability to make a clean solder joint, begin on your first project! Buidling your own gear may seem intimidating at first, but with realistic goals, the right tools, and a bit of practice, anyone can do it.