Picture of Distortion For Cheap!
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Ever wanted to give your guitar or bass that overdriven tube amp sound? This is how to make a DIY overdrive/distortion sound for under $10 that sounds as good as the $50 ones. If that money difference is not good enough for you, you can change this effect to exactly how you want it, whether you want thrash-metal distortion or just a light overdrive. It is very easy to make, so if you have never soldered in your life, this is still for you.

This was inspired by http://www.instructables.com/id/Simple-overdrive-effect-pedal/, however I could not get it to work right so I did some research and made my own. The similarities are there because I made this (mostly) from parts I had purchased for his project.

Feel free to make your own improved version and post the instructable, but it would be great if you could put a link back here somewhere in the 'ible. Thanks!

Stay tuned for a video of my playing it.

Step 1: When to Use Distortion

Picture of When to Use Distortion
If you already know what distortion is and have used it before, skip this step.

There is nothing I hate more when a beginner, or even advanced guitarist steps out with the distortion cranked all the way up and starts playing chords. But you may like that. If you do, ignore my opinions.

If you have no idea what distortion is, start out by listing to a few songs.

Compare the song Jimmy Olsen's Blues by the Spin Doctors to Master of Puppets by Metallica. As you can probably hear, Jimmy Olsen's Blues has a very clean, well, bluesy sound, while Master of puppets has a rough, cutting sound. If you are still have trouble, listen to the song Around the World by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That intro is a highly distorted bass, played by the master Flea. If you want, compare that to Blues For Mingus by Stanley Clarke. That is clean bass.

Now that you know what distortion sounds like, you should learn when to use it and how much to use.

In my own opinion, even if you are playing metal, never turn the distortion up so high that you can barely hear the chords you are playing. There is another no-no. High distortion with chords-too loud. In my opinion it sounds great with individual notes, but not with chords. But feel free to do whatever you like.

If you play jazz, your band-mates might not like the idea of you playing screaming distorted riffs, so go light on the distortion for jazz. Blues is the same way, but if you put a little bit of "tube scream" it sounds great. But as I said before, do whatever you like.

For all you bass players like me, distortion is even more fun! I personally like a medium amount of distortion, which this design makes. If you like more or less, by the end of the instructable, you will know how to alter it to your liking.

And lastly, other than the "rough" scream of distortion, what else will you notice?

First of all, distortion has some MEAN sustain... the notes keep ringing and ringing until you mute them. The other large thing is, HARMONICS. You can play harmonics with distortion incredibly easily, and they are as loud as the note. They have many different harmonics in them too. Great sound if you like harmonics like I do.
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stuntdude474 years ago
Where did you get your case? And please could you tell me what a One DPDT switch (two way 6 pin) means. I'm new to this
heyzuphowsitgoin (author)  stuntdude474 years ago
I got my case at radioshack.

And, http://www.boiseastro.org/images/switch-contacts.jpg

The internet is a powerful tool.
RADIO SHACK rips you off, goto mouser or tayda electronics or ebay.....
Thank you. This is very helpful.
coolguy20154 years ago
Do we have to use 2 9v batteries??
No, but you need to add some resistors and a capacitor to get it to work off 1 9v battery, Ask me if you want to know how.
No. He used 2 batteries because he needs to generate a negative voltage. A resistor divider works but the voltage is lower.
For a much quieter (less hiss) pedal, use an ne5534 instead of a 741, it's a bit more expensive but a much better op-amp for audio circuits and has exactly the same connections (pin-out)
dover13 years ago
uhhmmm...he designed it for an acoustic guitar, ... didn't mention about how was the distortion????????
BlackClaw4 years ago
Hey, I know that this is a relatively old instructable, but I'll still comment this.
I still dont make it yet, but i've been messing with the simulator for a while.
I've attached a potenciometer and removed a couple of resistances, but i think this should go well.
The import code is here: http://www.pasteall.org/23731/ (dont mind the numbers on the left side).

But my question is, will it really work?
soyoso5 years ago
hey I'm not really sure how does the DPDT switch works, in one position you're sending the guitar input to the opamp, but in the other position are you sending the guitar's input to the opamp's output? I know it's a stupid question but I've never used that type of switch and was just wondering =P
Its a switch that when it is pushed in once, it will send the signal through one wire, pushed a second time it will send through another wire. on this, on the first push it will just go directly to the output. pushed again, it will have to go through the circuit first before going to the output.
its a bypass switch
Syncopator4 years ago
You say that "Distortion is the clipping of sound waves."

That's only one type.

Any departure from the original signal is distortion.
kgyll5 years ago
 mine didn't worked at all... but the LED is working...
mine works but the LED won't ha
schetleft kgyll5 years ago
I don't know why but if i turn the sound off on my guitar the pedal picks up radio, specifically around 98 fm.
sshhaauunn5 years ago
what are the sizes of the resistors is it 1/4?
caseyC0885 years ago
what voltage for the   .1 uF capacitor
is 63v okay?
ephenclark6 years ago
What are the wattage on the resistors?
Pretty much any wattage should work. We're not talking that big powers there that you should worry about the wattage..
Im guessing just standard 1/4 watt metal film resistors
mathieus5 years ago
 hey. i was wondering if its a hard thing to replace the batteries with a  9v adaptor?

heyzuphowsitgoin (author)  mathieus5 years ago
 never tried it, but I don't see why it wouldn't work...
Sick_Nixon5 years ago
 sorry to bother again, but i have a ton of questions about this project(i really like it) so i was wondering, could you make this into a true bypass? meaning there would be no need for the bypass/distortion switch? and also, where would i wire pots if i wanted let's say a tone control? and also i'd like to hear what it sounds like. and also, what should i substitute(with what) if i wanted a beefier sound?. and last but not least, do you think it would be possible to make this solderless with a perfboard??

                                                                        i'm sorry for having so much question, but i'm really interested in this. hope to hear from you soon, sick_nixon
Sick_Nixon5 years ago
 it'd look way nicer if you would place the jacks on the side instead of on top. is there a technical reason why you didn't??
heyzuphowsitgoin (author)  Sick_Nixon5 years ago
 yeah it probably would have, I just had it that way because I thought it would look different. I can't think of any other reason why I might have done it... it's been a while now.
JAZ975 years ago
whattype of music can it play or does it play all
if so how can u make something more of a lower sound and more for punk and hard metal
koopatroopa6 years ago
instead of messing with the bits could you just attach a knob i between the batteries and the rest to control distortion levels?
heyzuphowsitgoin (author)  koopatroopa6 years ago
i guess so, but i don't know if i would do that... instead of controlling the actual gain you're limiting power... in which case you lose battery life (i would think). I figure since the chip is built to have gain control, there are probably other reasons too. but hey... try it out and tell me how it works... i'm gonna get a breadbox pcb... the ones where you don't have to solder and then i'll try stuff like that. even though the simulator works, you can't beat the real thing.
I'm a n00b at reading schematics, is the switch on there? Else whys, where would it go? Thanks! Hope this isn't too juvenile a question. Haha.
arhodes186 years ago
what could you add or take out to make this have a "thrash metal sound" (I play alot of Metallica) and where would you place a potentiometer so that it just affects the overall volume? Thank you in advance! Great i'ble, Fave'd +5 By the way.
If you add a pot right after the input, it would control the volume, right?
heyzuphowsitgoin (author)  praveer6 years ago
No, that would control distortion (limits sound coming from guitar, then in turn limits amount of signal that can be boosted, in turn limits clipping) try right after the diodes. I might be wrong though... run everything through the simulator for a better answer
heyzuphowsitgoin (author)  arhodes186 years ago
Wow! I guess I forgot to check my comments. If you still want to build it, or take it apart, just take the resistors away from around the diodes (that little box of resistors on the schematic). That will give it a much harsher sound. Good luck! And remember, throw a resistor on the end so you don't blow your speakers!
What 'little box of resistors'? I'm dumb. Also, how many ohms should I use between output and ground to drop the volume a bit (you said it gets very loud?)
heyzuphowsitgoin (author)  snowpenguin6 years ago
it starts the square of diodes... right above the diodes... and as far as ohms, I have no idea. I never put the resistors in, but try it out in the simulator until you get an output of about what your input is. That way, when switching, the volume stays the same.
haha thank you, buy its built now, and i hot glued everything in place because i got the wrong kind of perfboard... but i did get it working by adding some pots in the right place...
and also, is there any way to wire in a switch so it boosts the volume without having to turn up the potentiometer, I know that it would somehow have to go to a smaller resistor somewhere, but Im not sure exactly how.
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