Spare Parts That Save More Than Money

| November 12, 2010 | 0 Comments

If you are getting into building your own effects pedals, amplifiers or other gear you have undoubtedly wondered how to obtain spare parts and save money at the same time. Here is a way to get some spare parts, often for free, that is beneficial in a number of ways.

Most people have one or two items of old, defunct electronics taking up shelf space somewhere in their home. These can range from an old boom box, clock radio, stereo equipment, computer, or computer monitors and printers. What did you do with that VCR when you switched to DVDs? All of these can be rich sources of spare parts. If your home seems devoid of those things, talk to your neighbors. It’s a fair bet that someone will have something lying around that no longer works, or they no longer use and they may be very happy for you to take it off of their hands. If you keep your eyes peeled, you might also find an old TV or computer monitor that someone has left by the curb with their garbage. Even the occasional dumpster diving can net you something that will yield useful parts.

What kind of parts can you find this way? All of these devices use a variety of capacitors, resistors, diodes, LEDs, transistors, and sometimes integrated circuits. If you find something that is old enough, you might get lucky and find some coveted germanium transistors suitable for building a fuzz pedal. Not only can you get quite a few parts for little or no money, but an added benefit of obtaining parts from unused electronics is that you are essentially recycling those parts instead of leaving them to end up in a landfill. By being green you can save some green.

Take a look at the two photos of circuit boards, shown below. There is a board from a clock radio, a boom box, an answering machine, and a computer power supply.

While all of the boards have been picked over, there are still a number of components that can be removed and reused. A word of caution, however, if you are going to take apart anything that involved high voltages, such as a power supply or a television – they contain capacitors that can hold a charge even after being unplugged. The voltages can be high enough to kill you. Make sure those capacitors have been discharged before beginning any work.

In order to actually use any of your new found parts, they will have to be removed from their circuit boards. While some people might consider this a downside to getting parts this way, it actually benefits anyone who is new to soldering. This is an opportunity to get some practice de-soldering and soldering parts without worrying about ruining any parts or the circuit board in a stompbox kit. You can remove and replace the components as much as you like until you are comfortable enough to build that kit you paid fifty or more dollars for. A video tutorial of de-soldering techniques can be found here: http://tangentsoft.net/elec/movies/tt04.html along with some other helpful soldering tutorials. Items like the de-soldering braid in the video can be found at many electronic parts sellers online or at Radio Shack.

Now take a look at the photos of the capacitors and diodes, shown below. All of these have been removed from electronics that no longer worked. Some came from those same circuit boards mentioned earlier. Any of those diodes can be used as clipping diodes in a distortion pedal.


While I have been building for a while and am comfortable with soldering, I found this could benefit me as well. One day my printer died and went to meet its manufacturer. As I was taking a look at the circuit boards I noticed one board had a lot of surface mount components. You can see the arrows pointing to them in the photo below. At first I thought I would have no use for them, since I don’t work with surface mount components and don’t like trying to solder them. Then I realized that this board provided me the perfect opportunity to practice soldering surface mount parts. If I ruin one or two parts or copper traces, no problem, the board was junk anyway.

Start searching the basement, the garage, and the closets. There is bound to be some old electronics just sitting there, waiting to give you some spare parts, some extra shelf space, and the opportunity to help save both some money and the environment.

Category: Kit Building 101

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