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Guitar effects pedals are a great way to expand your sonic horizons, but they can cost a lot, especially when you consider they’re mostly made with just a few dollars of electronic parts.
That leads some to wonder: Is building your own guitar pedal worth it?
In many cases, you can replicate an existing pedal for less money, but building a guitar effects pedal can be time consuming and requires very precise work. Whether building your own is a good value depends on a variety of things, including how skilled you are and how you value your time.
Let’s examine why people build their own effects pedals, how much building one might cost, as well as some other factors to think of when determining whether it’s worthwhile.
How Much Does Building Your Own Guitar Pedal Cost?
If your hope is to get guitar effects pedals as inexpensively as possible, building your own might sound like the way to go. After all, analog effects pedals use components that often cost a few dollars or even less.
But that, of course, doesn’t consider the rest of the work that goes into the build. Let’s try to break the costs down.
How Much Do The Parts For A Guitar Pedal Cost?
Go to YouTube and find a video showing off a nice boutique overdrive pedal, one that costs between $200 and $300, and you can safely bet that in the comments, someone will be writing “They only use $20 in parts!”
That’s a pretty silly comment, for reasons we’ll go over in just a bit, but I’ll start by conceding that what they’re writing is often pretty close to factually correct, even if it misses the point entirely.
Take the Klon Centaur, famously one of the most expensive guitar pedals in the world. The pedal, first developed in 1994 by Bill Finnegan, regularly sells for more than $5,000. You can pretty easily find a clone circuit board for between $15 and $20.
You’ll need to supply the rest of the components, which will probably add another $15 to $20, plus some kind of enclosure. Unless that enclosure was solid gold, your pedal will come out way cheaper than the original.
The same goes for another famous, if less expensive pedals like the King of Tone from Analog Man. That pedal is designed to sound like the Marshall Bluesbreaker amp’s overdrive and costs more than $250 new, but with a multi-year waiting list, used pedals regularly sell for much more than that.
A replica circuit board costs between $15 and $20, and the components, again, would probably about double that cost.
This video looks at how much it costs to build replicas of both of those pedals.
Both of the pedals I mentioned above are quite complex, with a ton of parts to consider. In the case of super simple pedals, there might be far fewer.
Some fuzz pedal kits, for example, are built using a circuit board that’s a couple of inches square and use fewer than 10 total components. In those cases, the materials for the entire pedal, excluding an enclosure, might cost less than $20.
Other pedals, including modulation pedals like reverb and flangers, will have different component setups.
As I mentioned before, that’s really not the only cost, though.
What Tools Do You Need To Build Your Own Guitar Pedal?
If you already have a well stocked electronics workshop, this won’t be a problem, but you’ll need more than just the circuit board and various electronic components.
First, you’ll need a decent soldering iron, which should cost between $50 and $100. You’ll be tempted to skimp here, but resist that temptation and buy a good soldering iron that can produce a lot of heat relatively quickly.
You’ll also need wire, solder, vises to hold components and a set of precision screwdrivers. If you’re installing the pedal in a custom enclosure, you’ll need the tools to install the components in the enclosure.
That usually means a drill and multiple drill bits, as well as a way to hold the enclosure while you make holes.
How Long Does It Take To Build Your Own Guitar Pedal?
The real consideration when it comes to the cost of a boutique guitar pedal isn’t what goes into it. Instead, the workmanship is what raises the price.
Take, for example, the King of Tone pedal mentioned above. There is a waiting list stretching several years to buy a new pedal because each pedal is made entirely by hand by skilled, experienced craftspeople.
In the case of the Klon Centaur, there are more than 80 individual electronics components to be soldered to the board in a precise pattern. When that kind of painstaking work is done by hand it’s going to take a long time, and that raises the price.
If you’re thinking, “Great, that’s how I can save money!” you’re absolutely right, but be careful not to jump the gun. After all, the people putting those pedals together have years of experience.
Unless you do, too, the entire process to take a lot longer than you might expect, and might involve undoing and then re-doing your work multiple times.
The benefit, of course, is that the more you work on electronics projects, the quicker and more precise you’ll get. It also helps that even with the rise of digital pedals, the classic pedal design and function isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So once you’ve built your own pedal you can expect it to last you several years.
Are DIY Guitar Pedals Worth It?
After looking at how long the process will take, there is a final consideration for you: How much is your free time worth?
That’s a different question than what your time is worth, which is what you’d need to answer if you were thinking about starting to build pedals to then sell to other people.
Here, though, you need to decide how much time you have available to put into this part of your hobby, and that is what will help guide whether it’s worth it to build your own pedal.
When it comes to buying a pedal, there are a lot of factors that contribute to its cost. Parts are a tiny fraction, but labor costs are likely the majority, with the cost going up as the pedal is made by more skilled workers.
There is also the time that the design of the pedal took, the costs to tool up production, marketing costs, and, of course, profit for the maker.
When you’re building your own pedal, things like the marketing costs and the design time don’t enter into your cots, but the cost of tools can be high, especially at first.
When deciding whether a DIY guitar pedal is worth the time it will take you, there is a consideration a pedal manufacturer doesn’t make: The skills you’re learning.
As with playing the guitar itself, as well as so many other things, the more time you spend doing something, the better you’ll get at it. If you’ve never soldered before, for example, by the time you’re done adding nearly 100 electronics components to a circuit board, you’ll probably be a lot more comfortable with the process.
That means the time can be considered an investment in some ways, because the more you work on those skills, the easier future projects will become.
There isn’t one answer when it comes to whether building a guitar pedal is worth it for you, but there is an overarching idea here that’s worth considering.
When it comes to making your own guitar pedal, as with building other things, the cost of parts is only ever part of the equation.
The total time investment, from planning to finished product, needs to be considered, as do any extra costs needed to acquire tools or equipment.
How much time the actual build will take depends not only on the complexity of the pedal you’re building, but also how familiar and comfortable you are working with electronics and what tools you have at your disposal.
If this is your very first electronics project, then it might take quite a few hours to get things working just right.
Whether that is worthwhile for you depends on your perspective. In terms of absolute cost, it would likely be cheaper to buy a pedal, but that wouldn’t teach you how to build a pedal.
In short, there is more to the story than exchanging money — and time — for a pedal. You also need to consider the skills you already have and what you want to learn.
That will give you a better idea whether a pedal build is worth it for you.
I’ve been a musician, particularly a guitarist, for more than 25 years. I love writing about guitars, gear, recording, music in general and more.