Where to Buy What
After giving a general overview of what stores are out there, it’s helpful to give an overview of parts sourcing from the component perspective—the best place to buy resistors, the best place to buy knobs, etc. Of all the knowledge I’m collecting in this document, this is probably the most practical.
I use only ¼W metal film resistors in all my builds. They’re only marginally more expensive than carbon film these days. If you’re building pedals in any sort of quantity, I recommend buying Xicon brand in bags of 200 from either Mouser or Small Bear Electronics ($4.00 and $3.95 respectively). If you’re just buying individual resistors, you’ll pay between 13 and 20 cents each, which means that you can buy 200 at once for the same price as 20 or 30 individual ones.
What to avoid
Avoid buying metal film resistors from eBay or Tayda Electronics. I’ve never gotten any that were bad, but the leads are extremely thin and they feel flimsy. They also fit poorly in sockets and breadboards because of this. High-quality ones are not expensive at all, so don’t settle.
For values less than 1nF (1000pF), I use multilayer ceramic capacitors (MLCC) or Xicon’s polystyrene (23P series). The Xicon caps are huge but they sound fantastic. Mouser has been a little spotty lately on the polystyrenes—they have them a bit cheaper than Small Bear, but Small Bear has a better selection.
Ceramics and MLCCs
A word about MLCCs (multilayer ceramic capacitors). These are very space-efficient, they look great, and they tend to have far better tolerances than the ceramic disc types (which are sometimes -20% / +80%). I have started using MLCCs exclusively instead of disc capacitors, but you have to be careful about which dielectric you use—some MLCCs are very good and some are very bad, with nothing really in between. Be very careful to pick MLCCs with a C0G or NP0 dielectric (those are zeroes, not O’s). These are considered Class 1 and have much better temperature coefficients and less distorton.
The cheaper and more common Z5U, X5R and X7R (Class 2) are very nonlinear (the capacitance drifts with voltage and temperature) and higher in distortion. C0G/NP0 capacitors are only available in small sizes—so no matter how tempting it is to use a 1uF MLCC, the only 1uF MLCCs are the Class 2 dielectrics, so stay away! (On a practical note, I believe Tayda only sells Class 2—I’ve only found the Class 1 MLCCs at Mouser.)
1uF and above
For 1uF values, I use the Panasonic ECQ-V1H105JL, also available from Mouser. These are in the process of being discontinued, so get them while you can! The single prices are pretty high but the quantity discounts are huge. Buy 10 or 100 at a time. I’ve also used the 2.2uF film capacitors from this series as well on a couple of occasions—they’re a lot taller and wider but still manageable.
For values 1uF through 22uF, I prefer to use tantalums over electrolytics in most cases. Tantalums can be very expensive from places like Mouser, but Tayda Electronics has them for pennies and they are top quality.
For values higher than 22uF you have to go electrolytic. I prefer low-profile Nichicon or Panasonic caps from Mouser, such as the 647-UMA1E101MDD (100uF, 25v) which is 8mm diameter and 5mm tall. (I like the low profile ones because I build almost exclusively in 1590B and 1590A enclosures and sometimes height can be an issue. They also look really professional.)
What to avoid
Avoid buying electrolytics from Tayda… it’s important that electrolytic capacitors be high quality and their Jakec brand doesn’t seem like it to me. Don’t stray too far from Lelon, Nichicon or Panasonic.
Small Bear has the best selection anywhere. I use mostly Alpha 16mm right-angle PCB mount pots, especially in all of my DIY projects, but I also love their clear shaft illuminated 15mms (Small Bear also sells clear knobs to match) and their 9mm pots, both the black knurled shaft and the panel mount solid-shaft ones. All pots have the full range of linear and audio taper values, with most also having a 20k “W” taper available (used in the Tube Screamer tone control) and the 16mms having reverse audio. Unfortunately the 9mms and illuminated pots are not currently available in reverse audio taper values.
Tayda Electronics has been upping the ante lately on the Alpha pots, though. They have insane prices on Alpha 16mms and recently started carrying right-angle PCB mount. They also have a very good selection of both types of 9mms, including a few different reverse audio (C) values which Small Bear doesn’t have. And as a bonus, their 16mm pots all come with dust covers on the back. I use these dust covers on every build as insulation for the right-angle mounted pots which would otherwise short against the solder pads on the bottom side. Small Bear does sell these dust covers but you have to buy them separately.
What to avoid
The only thing issue I’ve found with Tayda’s right-angle 16mm pots is that even though they’re Alpha, they seem just a tad bit off. Sometimes the shafts are ever so slightly narrower than normal, other times the bushing is longer. Use them at your own risk. Small Bear will treat you right every time. (This only applies to the 16mms—their 9mm pots are identical to what you’d get from SBE and Mouser.)
For your standard clipping and reverse-polarity diodes (1N4148, 1N4001-7, LEDs, BAT41, BAT46), you can’t beat Tayda’s prices or selection. They even have a good selection of germaniums, though they are new production and not NOS and don’t tend to have the correct For really rare NOS stuff, check out Pedalhacker Electronics. He was a legend on eBay before he started up his own e-commerce store—he’s the real deal.
For general-purpose silicon transistors, check Tayda Electronics first. They have incredible prices on common transistors such as 2N5088 and 2N3904, but they also have a lot of FETs such as 2N5457 and MOSFETs such as 2N7000. However, some of their components have been verified as fakes (such as their J201) or tend to be really far outside spec—so if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Small Bear has a better variety of NOS stuff and you’re guaranteed to not get any fakes from them.
For germanium transistors, SBE is by far the best. They audit all of them ahead of time so you know you’re getting good ones. They do limit the quantity of audited transistors you can buy, so you won’t be able to make high volumes, but they’ve recently started selling unsorted ones with no quantity limit for builders.
For in-production ICs, check Tayda first. They have great prices on JRC4558, TL072/4, CA3130EZ, NE5532, OPA2134 and many more. For obsolete ICs, you can find almost anything at Small Bear Electronics. They have a huge selection of NOS op amps and bucket-brigade delay chips. Prices are a little steep sometimes, but they are guaranteed to be genuine. Some items such as the CA3080E can be found cheaply via Asian eBay sellers, but make sure to check the seller reviews as there are a lot of fakes coming out of Asia.
Hands down, Pedal Parts Plus. Enclosures are their specialty. They have a very wide selection of bare enclosures, both the high-quality Hammond and the cheaper New Sensor (EHX). But the great part is that they also offer full-service enclosure finishing: drilling, powdercoating in a ton of different colors, and full-color enclosure printing. For around $12 to $16 per enclosure, you can build pedals that look like they belong behind the counter the guitar store. (Single-enclosure printing prices are much higher, but it gets really cheap if you need 10 or more.)
See the Professional Enclosure Finishing page for more info about Pedal Parts Plus.
Small Bear has an unbeatable selection, including many that you can’t find anywhere else, from your basic Davies knobs all the way to “hi-fi stereo” aluminum knobs like the Keeley. This is the only place I get my knobs. Mammoth also has a wide selection, notably aluminum ones, but I haven’t had any first-hand experience with any of their knobs so I can’t comment on quality.
I only use Switchcraft #111 (mono) and #112 (stereo). The open-frame jacks hold the plug too tightly and can come unscrewed after a while as a result. I’ve found that onlinecomponents.com has the best prices by far, especially if you need more than 100, but if you only need a couple of them then just get them from Small Bear or Pedal Parts Plus.
What to avoid
Avoid buying black enclosed jacks from Tayda, Mammoth Electronics or BLMS. They each have their own “house brand” which are not high quality at all. I don’t trust them for production builds.
Unless I’m doing a 1590A build, I always use the switched Kobiconn-style jacks, SKU 0611 from Small Bear. Tayda does have one that is identical for less than half the price. I’ve never had any issue with them, but they do feel a little lower quality.
For 1590A builds, I like SKU 0611G from Small Bear. It’s much smaller and easier to fit into a miniature build. (It’s not switched like the other one, so it shouldn’t be used in builds with a battery.)
For quality, check out the red 3PDTs from Pedal Parts Plus. For price, you can’t beat BLMS (they drop to less than $2 each if you buy more than 25). Mammoth Electronics has four or five different varieties of 3PDT switches that are advertised as premium or professional quality, but I haven’t heard anything either way about whether they’re better than others.
Small Bear Electronics has every type you could want, including SPDT, DPDT and 3PDT with a few other interesting ones. I prefer the short-toggle variety as they make for a cleaner looking pedal. The selection at BLMS is also very good, and he has many that SBE doesn’t offer. For his selection, every type of switch is available in both short and long toggle, and both solder lugs and PCB-mount pins.
Get all your LEDs from Tayda Electronics. They have every color of the high-brightness water-clear LEDs as well as diffused red, green and yellow, and their prices are a great deal lower than anyone else.
I’ve tried many kinds of wire, but the best by far is SKU 0507 from Small Bear Electronics. It’s pre-bonded, so very easy to solder, but still much more flexible than other pre-bonded wire I’ve tried from other suppliers. Stock up and buy a couple of spools in different colors and it’ll be a long time before you need more.
- DIYStompboxes thread on MLCCs with explanations of the different dielectrics. Also see this thread from diyAudio and this article from EDN if you want to get technical. ↩