PCB Sourcing

If you’re going to build pedals in any sort of quantity, you’re going to want to use manufactured PCBs. Don’t try to etch your own if you’re building more than a couple—PCB manufacturing prices are so low that it’s seriously not worth your time. Plus, manufactured PCBs are more reliable (especially if you PCB-mount your pots and switches intelligently) and much more professional.

Designing your own pedal and PCB layout is way beyond the scope of this section of the site, but I wanted to recommend a few sources for ready-made PCB projects that allow their projects to be sold commercially.

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Aion Electronics

Website: You’re here now.

My goal is to provide the absolute best and most flexible PCBs for popular pedal circuits such as the Tube Screamer, Big Muff and Bluesbreaker. I’ve tried to build in all of the well-known mods to each circuit so that you can build just about any variant with a single PCB, including boutique clones.

What do I do best?
For the limited number of projects I have available, I think mine are the best versions you can buy. They’re designed for a professional-looking pedal in a 1590B enclosure with board-mounted pots and switches and a sensible control layout. And again, they are extremely flexible, so you could get five Tube Screamer boards and build five different pedals—or invent your own! I also have a few projects that no one else offers.

What are the downsides?
All of my projects are exact clones of existing circuits, so I’m not really contributing anything new to the DIY scene—just improving on and perfecting existing stuff.

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Madbean Pedals

Website: http://www.madbeanpedals.com

Brian was one of the innovators in the ready-to-solder PCB market and remains the best there is. He changed his license terms in early 2013 to allow his projects to be used commercially in any quantity.

What does he do best?
Wide selection of really cool projects. Lately he’s been doing a number of complex vintage circuits like some obscure Electro-Harmonix stuff and the Uni-Vibe. He also has some original circuits as well. Newer projects use board-mounted pots and switches with good control layouts. Great documentation and great discussion forums.

What are the downsides?
He started a commercial pedal company called Function F(x) in mid-2013, so he hasn’t had as much time lately to develop new projects while he gets that up and running. More than once he’s announced new projects and then missed the intended release date by over a year, so follow-through is sometimes not so great… which wouldn’t be as big of a deal if the projects weren’t so cool!

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Website: http://www.guitarpcb.com

Barry Steindel started off a few years ago etching all the boards himself, but lately he’s moved into manufactured double-sided layouts for his PCBs.

What does he do best?
Many of his PCBs are available as full kits from Mammoth Electronics, and are distributed in Europe via Musikding. He’s got a lot of boutique circuits such as the Zen Drive and Klon Centaur, some of which are heavily modified, and he also has some original circuits as well. The prices are great.

What are the downsides?
Barry is legit, but the website is busy and difficult to read and lots of people are a little put off by his infomercial writing style. PCBs do not use board-mounted pots and switches (though this is just a matter of taste—some people prefer offboard for everything). The layouts and documentation aren’t tremendously professional, and a lot of times they’re just “inspired by” a well-known circuit so it can be difficult to build an exact replica of the circuit if that’s what you’re after.

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General Guitar Gadgets

Website: http://www.generalguitargadgets.com

JD Sleep has been a part of the DIY scene for a very long time. GGG was one of the first sites to offer ready-to-solder PCBs.

What does he do best?
He has a very wide selection of vintage circuits, with lots of fuzzes especially. Some of his layouts, like the Neovibe, were designed by RG Keen. Most of the circuits have modifications in the documentation if you want to tweak things. He has sales every month. He sells the full kits or just the PCBs by themselves. Documentation includes the proper voltages for ICs and transistors which helps in troubleshooting.

What are the downsides?
He hasn’t done much in the way of new projects for the past few years. PCB layouts are sometimes a lot larger than they need to be, and the pots and switches are not PCB-mounted.

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Website: http://www.tonepad.com

Tonepad is the website of Francisco Peña, a DIY enthusiast from El Salvador. It’s one of the longest-running PCB project sites out there, having started in 2002.

What does he do best?
All of his projects have toner transfers in case you want to etch them yourself for personal use. If you want to use it commercially, though, you have to buy the PCBs directly from him. The layouts are very compact and well thought-out.

What are the downsides?
No new projects since 2009, though he has switched over to using manufactured PCBs recently which is an upgrade. Documentation is minimal with most of the modifications contributed by users in the build reports. PCBs and schematics do not have part numbers (though the values are clearly printed on the silkscreen).

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Build Your Own Clone

Website: http://www.buildyourownclone.com

BYOC is a little different than the others since they sell full kits. However, they have lately started selling the PCBs by themselves as well as some components.

What do they do best?
Kits. If you’re a beginner, you can save yourself the hassle of sourcing parts yourself and buy everything in one place at very reasonable prices. The documentation is great with step-by-step instructions for those who have never done it before. There’s a wide selection of projects, including some that no one else offers such as the Boss Slow Gear. The BYOC forums are fantastic—they are by far the friendliest and most inviting community out there.

What are the downsides?
Nearly every project is in a 125B enclosure, which is too big and clunky for my personal tastes. I like things to be as compact and neat as possible, although the extra space is better for beginners. The control layouts are sometimes a bit strange. It’s tough to make the final product look professional if you’re building them for others.

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There are a few other smaller PCB sellers who have started up in the past year or two, mostly DIYers who made some cool stuff they wanted to share. I have not ordered from any of them so I can’t offer a review, and they may not all allow commercial licensing, but I wanted to mention them here because they have some interesting projects and are worth a look.

1776 Effects: http://1776effects.com/
JMK PCBs: http://www.jmkpcbs.com
THcustom: http://diy.thcustom.com/