Introduction: Make an Easy Guitar Distortion Pedal (STEP BY STEP!)

Picture of Make an Easy Guitar Distortion Pedal (STEP BY STEP!)

So, I decided to make an instructable! this is my 1st one, please feel free to comment on anything and everything.   .... pleeaase comment!

Here's the video of how to do it!

Note: Please Read all steps and read them carefully (if youre just starting at this stuff that is!) if you want to make this right! It should be easy if you follow the steps well.  This is more of a beginners project, you could still make it otherwise!

If you have tried and tried to make guitar effects pedals and have not succeeded, this instructable is for you! Or if this is your very first one then this is definitely the place for you to be. I have not found one instructable or website that gives clear step by step instructions on how to make guitar effects pedals. I found one quite clear with the instructions, and all the comments helped out too. It just lacked the Step by Step part. This is it:
I am using the design (schematic) from this one as it is a very simple distortion pedal.

lets get started!


Okay so Amerinidiot1231 was kind enough to create the perf board layout schematic, so that is attached on this page if you would like to refer to it.

Step 1: Important Step: Resistors

Picture of Important Step: Resistors

Resistors do basically what it sounds like they do! Resistors Resist the amount of current flowing through a circuit. (a circuit is a path of electricity. Basically if you connected a battery to a light you would have one of the simplest circuits possible)
So for example if you made the above circuit by connecting a battery to a light and then added a resistor anywhere in the circuit the light would be less bright than it was before. The amount of resistance in a circuit depends on how much resistance the resistor(s) have. Think of it as a river! the water flowing through the river is the current flowing through the circuit, the larger rocks in the river slow down the water (as the resistors lessen the current).  Resistors will look like the resistor in the picture below, they usually will not be any other shape, they slightly vary in size and they will sometimes vary in color other than the creamy color like the one below, I have also posted a picture of a blue one so that you can see what I mean when I say they might vary in color other than the creamy color one below. So now that you know what they look like, you will hopefully not mistake them for anything else!

Reading Resistors
For windows (not sure if it will work for macintosh or other operating systems)

it is So much easier just use this program to read your resistors:
note: this program will not give you any viruses. All you need to do to use it is click on the link above and then click SAVE and save it to your desktop or somewhere else that you will remember it. Once it is saved, click open. Once you have opened it Double-click on resistor reader and then click extract all, then click next, next again, make sure you have selected the checkbox that says "Show extracted files" Click Finish and then a window will pop up with some files double-click on resistor reader! now I will tell you how to use it: (do this when you need to have your resistors read)place the resistor down on your computer desk facing your computer. Place it so the gold band is facing the right side of your screen. Count the number of bands on the resistor. If it is four bands then under resistor type, select four band, if it is five bands select five band. now, start from left to right select the color on the left matching the color on the left of the resistor and so on the band on the right will usually be silver of gold. It is pretty straight foreward I guess.

Now for macs and other systems!
There is this website It only does four bands though I think that is probably all you will be dealing with though. But you need to read the above step for windows users because the one you will be using will be much the same. *READ ABOVE STEP!

So thats step 1!

Oh and one last note: you can combine resistors to make one resistor like lets say you need 22 ohm resistor, you can combine two 11 ohm resistors. and resistors are not directional, so you can put them either way around in the circuit!

Step 2: Important Step: Capacitors

Picture of Important Step: Capacitors

Read this and read the WHOLE THING!
I suggest you use electrolytic capacitors for the circuit. It probably would sound better with ceramic capacitors or some other types but electrolytic capacitors have it written right on the capacitor. Some ceramic capacitors have it written on the capacitor as well but not all of them. there are some pictures below of different types of capacitors.
And also... a very handy website:

When you take a flash picture, the flash of the camera needs a quick burst of electricity. The capacitor in the camera stores up power from the battery and sort of compresses it and then quickly releases it to the bulb. Unlike batterys capacitors release thier power in bursts of energy once they are charged up (that is why it takes a few seconds for the flash to come on, because the capacitor is filling up with power) batterys release thier power slowly over a long period of time, but capacitors let out quick spurts of energy!

Step 3: Now... the Diodes!

Picture of Now... the Diodes!

The diodes in a distortion pedal are what make a distortion pedal a distortion pedal! They make the distortion. It is reffered to as diode-clipping distortion. So first you need to pick the type of distortion you want and then pick the diodes that match that sort of sound! here is a chart of what diodes make what sounds:
1N34A-decent, but output is too quiet
1N914-great fuzz
1N34A, 1N914-a bit more defined, a bit louder, and, higher output
(2) 1N34A, 1N914-almost a hybrid fuzz/distortion
orange LED-a hybrid distortion/overdrive

For a Metal type distortion I am using two blue LED'S for the diodes! (LED's are light emmiting diodes) but you could also use rectifier diodes for a more harsh sound!

You can probably buy these diodes at your local electronics store, but Before you go buying all this read the whole instructable, I bought mine from the source. If you have a radio shack around, PERFECT get them from there or some other place. Or you can salvage parts by taking old things apart. Old car radios are  PERFECT for resistors and capacitors! and they will have a few diodes here and there. The next step is everything you need to know about the diodes! how to connect them etc.

Step 4: Important Step: Diodes!

Picture of Important Step: Diodes! will not go into detail with the diodes as you do not really need to know much about them other than what they do, how to connect them and some other stuff.

Diodes are used in circuits to stop electricity from flowing back into the circuit. They only let current through in one direction. The diodes in the distortion pedal are what make the distortion. Diode-clipping distortion is what this called!

There is a certain way to connect diodes. It is pretty straight foreward.
There is always some sort of line on a diode (except for LED's) but on regular diodes there is always a line. Like in the picture below on the left side of the diode is a line.

The schematic symbol for a diode is shown below:

You connect the diode with the line facing the direction the arow is pointing.

Reccomend u read this
More on diodes:


Step 5: Important Step: Transistors

Picture of Important Step: Transistors

Transistors Look like this:

Read This:

How do you connect a transistor?
this is what a transistor will look like in a schematic:

You probably noticed there are three lines sticking out of the circle.
The one at the top is the collector of the transistor, the one on the bottom is the emitter, and the one on the side is the base.

You can buy transistors from your local electronics store!

Oh and if you have any questions so far just leave a comment on the instructable with ur question!

Step 6: Now... What You Will Need!

Picture of Now... What You Will Need!

You will need:
-any capacitor from the value of 0.1 uf to 100 uf (the lower the value then more bass is cut, so high = lots of bass and low value = less bass)
-a capacitor around 10uf
-a nine volt battery and a nine volt battery clip/holder
-Two resistors around 100 K ohms (NOT 100 OHMS, BUT 100 K ohms!) One of these resistors can be a higher resistance for more gain or a lower resistance for less gain but one of them has to stay around 100 K ohm. And incase I didn't explain this Ohms and K ohms are different. K ohms are kilo ohms and ohms are just ohms, just like metres and kilometres!
-One resistor around 10 K OHM
-One NPN Transistor (any NPN transistor should work)
-Two 1/4'' jacks (mono) just the one with the two little connecting things. like the one in the picture below:

They are just he standard ones you find on guitars etc.

-Two diodes, I reccomend that you don't use LED's because they dont have the line on them so if this is your first pedal or you epicly failed at some before, dont use LED's. So if you dont want to use LED's but you want Metal type Distortion then use rectifier diodes.

Perfboard or if you want to not buy perfboard, then cardboard- for this just get some perfboard, all it is is a plastic type stuff with a whole bunch of holes, it keeps your work tidy. but if you dont wanna buy it, just use regular old cardboard and putt all the components onto that!

A project enclosure.

A soldering Iron!
Solder (thin solder is easier to solder with than thick solder)
How to solder?:
Wire for connecting!

-Food. (for when you get bored and want to give up of course!)

Step 7: Where to Find This Stuff?

Picture of Where to Find This Stuff?

If you go down to your local electronics store, they should carry some of this stuff but if not here is how to find some of this!

Where to get an NPN transistor from a household item?
-CFL light bulbs have two NPN transistors in them! You open it by taking a saw and just making a little openingon the joint on the plastic part. take a chisel or something and pry it open. When you have it open the transistors should have each pin labelled one labelled C for collector B for base and E for emitter. Just remember which one is which and what order they are in because they are not always in order how it says it in the schematic. So just remember which is which so you can match it up to the schematic.  You should know what the transistors look like so try find them! They are the things with the 3 prongs. If you take apart some electronic things you could probably find one in them. (just dont take apart your mom's iron like I did on my first pedal!)

Where to get Capacitors and resistors:
Old car radios seem to be packed with these! also if you have any old computer speakers (the ones that you have to plug in to power) they probably have what you need. Just scavenge around for things!

You can also take apart an old computer power supply and will garunteed have everything you need. Those will have a lot of rectifier diodes and some other types. But great for parts!, they have a few big capacitors too! you could do something cool with those.

You will probably need to buy the 1/4" jacks, the project enclosure, and everything else you cant find.

Step 8: Lets Get Soldering!!

Picture of Lets Get Soldering!!

 Ok so now you should have the parts!

trace each connecting pole on the jack to where it connects. For now you want to use the one that connects to the J looking part that is at the bottom of the jack. Take that connecting pole and solder a piece of wire to it. Now, take your capacitor that could be anywhere from 0.1 uf to 100uf and connect it to the wire (if it is an electorlytic capacitor hook it up with the negative side facing away from the jack plug. do it like in the picture below.  

Step 9:

Picture of

Now take some wire and connect the other pole of the capacitor to the resistor around 100 k ohm resistor ( the one for the gain, the higher the resistance the more gain the lower the resistance the less gain)  Connect it like in the picture below.

Step 10:

Picture of

Now, take a wire and connect it from the side of the 0.1uf to 100uf capacitor that you hooked the resistor up to and connect it to the base pin of the transistor. Like in the picture!

Step 11:

Picture of

Now take a wire and solder it to the 100 k ohm resistor, now connect that wire to the resistor that is around 10 K ohms.

Step 12:

Picture of

Connect the 10K ohm resistor to the collector of the transistor!

Step 13:

Picture of

Now, connect the collector of the transistor to the positive side of the capacitor with wire (if it is not an electrolytic capacitor it does not matter which way you connect it).

Step 14:

Picture of

Now connect the diodes like in the picture! 

Step 15:

Picture of

Now connect a wire to the other pole on the jack and connect that to the diodes like shown in the picture!

Step 16:

Picture of

now connect the other 100K ohm resistor as shown in the picture.

Step 17:

Picture of

Connect the other jack how it says in the picture!

Step 18:

Picture of

now connect the battery clip with the red wire connecting to the resistor that is around 10 K ohms. Connect the black wire from the clip to the pole on the input that does'nt hook up to "J" part. Connect the emitter of the transistor to the wire like in the pic!

Step 19:

Picture of

You are almost finished! plug it in and try it out before you put it in the case/enclosure! just to be sure it works. If it doesn't work, well, do some troubleshooting, that should be fun! If it works then put it in the enclosure and if you want to, put some designs on it! If you want a bypass switch, the next step shows you how to put one in!

Step 20: Adding a Bypass Switch

Picture of Adding a Bypass Switch

You will need to buy a DPDT toggle switch or footswitch from your local electronics store. So go get one of those! It does not matter which way around you connect the switch. follow the pictures below.

Step 21: Alternate Powering Options

Picture of Alternate Powering Options

you can basically use any source of power from 2 volts to 12 volts.
If you want to add a power jack thingy, like on other foot pedals you buy, you will need to buy a power jack thing: 
or you can see if you could find one at your local electronics store, or scavenge one from old items! but just hook it up like the battery + and - to where they should go! although i am not sure which is + and which is - on power jack things. google it or something!

Step 22: Adding Volume and Distortion Level Controls

Picture of Adding Volume and Distortion Level Controls

You'll need to buy/find these things:
a 100 K ohm logarithmic potentiometer (volume)
a 1 K ohm linear potentiometer (distortion)

Then just hook em up like in the pictures!

Step 23: Fin!

Picture of Fin!

thats it, hope you made it work!


BenH226 (author)2017-08-17

You could use an MPSA13 for your transistor (Its a NPN Darlington pair Transistor, essentially it is 2 of the same type of transistors, the 2nd is amplifying the 1st) which will give more amplification.

or modify the circuit to accomadate this Sziklai pair (the Sziklai pair has one NPN and one PNP transistor)

LaMortHeureuse made it! (author)2016-05-10

Hi, great tutorial:)

But I had an issue. I tried a lot of combination of components but it really didnt work. Eventually I found out that the signal from guitar is too small and only if I played really strong, the sound came out. Soo I made simple pre-amp.

I hope that it will helpl somebody like me.

BenH226 (author)LaMortHeureuse2017-08-17

I think you will find that first 10k resistor that goes from 9v+ to your inpunt (Before the 1uf cap) is useless as the cap will stop the dc voltage from passing through to the transistor.

I'm not 100% certain of this though

LeoH24 (author)2016-04-03

I think I accidentaly built a radio.. Someone knows what happened there.

Also I am only able to hear sound if I play really hard..

BenH226 (author)LeoH242017-08-17

Most likely the reason you are receiving radio signal is because you haven't shielded the project.

All commercial guitar effects pedals are enclosed in a metal box shielding it on all sides and connected to ground (negative part of the circuit).

without this the wiring will receive radio signal and the um of Flourescent lights and other power supplies that are nearby.

If you dont have a metal box/enclosure then you can shield the inside of your box with aluminium/kitchen foil.

Make sure you keep your circuit isolated from touching/shorting out positive parts of your circuit to the shielding. (Smoke comes out in some cases due to shorting your positive voltage directly to the shielding, blown caps and resistors and transistors)

This will, as the word states, Shield your circuit and wiring from external interference.

PedroL56 (author)LeoH242016-10-20

it is because the input dont have a low an high pass filter, this circuit is too simply

LaMortHeureuse (author)LeoH242016-05-10

Me to! When i set volume on guitar down I hear some radio station (probably AM because its not in my country language).

Ryan AlA (author)LeoH242016-04-04

Try to put the potentiometer for volume

theR11 (author)Ryan AlA2016-04-04

I currently have a 1.5 Mohm Resistor as r1 I guess I'm gonna try to put my 100kohm potetiometer there thx for the reply^^

JesperK5 (author)theR112016-04-25

If you use 1.5Mohm as r1 it is restricting the current to flow. 1.5Mohm is 1,500,000 ohm vs 100kohm is 100,000 ohm. the best is to stick to something around the 100kohm.

CuriousMotor (author)2017-04-09

When I connect the battery it gives a clean sound, when I remove the battery, it gives a distorted sound for about 20 secs, any help appreciated :)

hhimschoot made it! (author)2015-05-15

Hey Guys! So I decided to make this my first project and it came out sounding amazing! Here's my layout if you want to use it! Thanks for this awesome Tutorial!

tantankarim (author)hhimschoot2016-12-06

What diode you use

hhimschoot (author)hhimschoot2015-05-15

Would be really helpful if someone could show me how to connect the Indication LED please :) Thanks

Aars_Man_Tiny (author)hhimschoot2015-06-10

To add a power indication LED just put an LED in series with a resistor across the battery. You can determine the resistor value you need by using:
If you find the LED is too bright, just use 0.010 instead of 0.020; LEDs are bright these days! Oh yes, just some very approximate common forward voltages of LEDs (Vled):
Red - 1.5V
Blue - 3V
Green - 1.5V
Yellow - 1.5V

Please not these values are just vanilla values that will work and might be out by hundreds of millivolts, but they will get you on the way without needing you to know much (LEDs don't actually have a "forward voltage", this is just a value we use to characterize the LED in it's linear-ish region where it's usually used).

Theophallus (author)2016-11-21

- Yellow 3 mm LED's for the diodes
- Added a pot between emitter and ground for gain control
- High-pass filter on the output stage for tone control. Can be modified to a low-pass by switching the positions of the resistor and pot with the capacitor. I don't know why you'd want an LPF on a fuzz though - you'd just undo all the fuzziness!

I will probably crack it open and switch R1 out for a higher value (500K to 1M) to get more gain. It's crisp as it is, but I want this beast to bite!

PaulN134 (author)Theophallus2016-12-03

Hey Theophallus I'm trying to build the fuzz you're showing here and I would be glad if you could post some pictures of the inside so I can have a better understanding on how everything comes together (it's the first time I build a pedal)

Thanks !

fadingroar (author)2016-09-17

Hey, I am building it this way, as you can see i settled two sets of diodes and a switch between them in order to select which path to follow, the volume and the distor knobs are in place but i have not soldered anything... do you consider this will work?, on the other hand. what would be the recomended voltage for it to run? 9v dc tops?

thank you so much :D your work on this one is amazing, we'd love hearing a bit of it working

sbandyopadhyay (author)2016-08-29

Hi, I built this as per the schematic but I'm having the same problem as JoshT15. Without the battery, there is just a plain signal but with the battery there is a lowered signal with no fuzz?

JoshT15 (author)2015-11-26

I've breadboarded this circuit 3 separate times, same thing each time: it lowers the strength of the signal, no distortion. When I disconnect the power source, it allows the louder, clean original signal through?

This is driving me crazy! I've also tried lowering R1 impedance, and different diodes...any idea what's going on?

sbandyopadhyay (author)JoshT152016-08-28

This is happening to me too! Did you find an answer to this?

LZardinj (author)2016-07-20

Hey, I successfully made the pedal. (Thank you so much for the tutorial.) Does anyone know how to eliminate the buzz/static from the pedal? There's quite a lot, but the guitar is still going through. If someone could help, that would be awesome.

Thrillho69 (author)LZardinj2016-07-31

I have the same problem! Any advice would be great. Is it a grounding problem?

MartinC86 (author)2016-01-10

I did it, and sounds great BUT:
-first cap, used a 102 (0.001uF), distortion will be clear and bright
-gain pot didn't work there, instead I putted between emitter and ground, works great
-volume was low so I changed R1 for a 1.5 Mohm that had around
-NPN was a 8050 or S8050, diodes a pair of 1n4148

this was my first pedal and it's great for experimenting, I'll keep doing it until I have no more ideas!
volume pot worked until I did my gain version, if I put C2 before the output will work?

sounds nice alone in clean amp, for boosting the amps distortion is great!

P.D: if it doesn't work, try other NPN, I did it three times because the first 2 shorted or something.
also check if yours is ECB or EBC

indianachones (author)MartinC862016-06-13

i recommend using the gain pot where R3 is. R1 and R2 must be set so colector voltage stays around half baterry supply at 4.5v to avoid to avoid saturation.

MartinC86 (author)MartinC862016-02-18

Actually I did it like this

Jimmy-MicahD (author)MartinC862016-05-26

how would i wire a power supply to that?

you can use a battery clip connected where it says +9 and -9

SergioD34 (author)2016-04-12

Eu fiz esse pedal e ficou muito bom. Só faltou incluir o potenciometro de ajuste de distorção e o botão de ligar e desligar o circuito. Estou adaptando.

Ryan AlA (author)2016-04-04

Well i can say this guide was very helpful. Except the dpdt switch toggle part maybe? I tried it but the switch only works with the clean sound part. Buuut maybe i've just done it wrong so i'm gonna try again. Thanka for this, you rock!

BenjaminD50 (author)2016-03-17

Thanks !

Someone knows how to put a True ByPass on it ?

I'm thinking to put a NC switch between both Jacks (it jumps the whole circuit) and a NO switch between +9V and the circuit. What do you think about it ?

Francois1313 (author)2016-03-14

About germanium transistors,could i use just any germanium transistors? Or is there some better than other?
-and is there a specific voltage for the capacitors?

Rock in Roll Rebell (author)2016-03-07

Thanks for all the info. Will be making one of these as soon as I gather the parts. Also which diod would be good for a metal distortion? Thanks again..

gravityisweak (author)2015-12-21

The link to the video is broken :(

DhanrajA (author)2015-12-06

where do put the tone pot? can anyone suggest me please!?

DhanrajA (author)2015-12-06

where do put the tone pot? can anyone suggest me please!?

JoshT15 (author)2015-11-26

Here's a pic if anyone wants to take a gander, C1 is 100uf, C2 is 10uf, I have checked and rechecked polarities, etc.

Power supply is 6V right now, but I've tried everything from 3V to 12V. And again, a good few different diodes.

JoshT15 (author)JoshT152015-11-26

oh and I did have the emitter grounded, just had it removed while messing around for the picture lol

GlennE3 (author)2015-11-11

The Youtube video is not working.

Is there a video or an audio clip somewhere where we can hear what this pedal sounds like...?

Does the type of resistor matter...? I went on eBay to order some resistors and all of a sudden I see there are a few different types of resistorrs (Carbon Film, Metal Film, Carbon Comp, Metal Oxide Film). I know from dealing with high end audio that some components (like capacitors) sound better, are more silent, and are more musical than others. Does it make any difference what kind of resistor you use in this circuit...?

How about capacitors. Are there certain capacitor types you recommend...?

I'm very interested to hear what this sounds like....

MiguelT8 (author)GlennE32015-11-11

I have had alredy built one of these. I can tell you it will sound like a sharp low-gain distortion, down to mild overdrive.

Go for carbon/metal film resistors. Metal film are better, but they are more expensive, but as we are not working with high voltages you won't see the difference. For capacitors, im not sure, but for these circuits i think polyester are the best.

If this is your first pedal build, go for it. But if you some more specific tones, i can recomend you better ones.

GlennE3 (author)MiguelT82015-11-11

Thanks Miguel,
That's good info about the resistors and caps....
I'd certainly be interested in other distortion pedals...
I've been playing for over 40 years now, and am familiar with a lot of the brand name pro units, which is what I would be comparing the sound to, I just can't afford the price of the pedals these days, so I'd be willing to put the time and effort into building my own. So, yeah, if you know of some better sounding, more feature laden DIY boxes, I'd really appreciate if you could turn me on to them... ;-)

MiguelT8 (author)GlennE32015-11-12

So, i would recommend you to check these three websites:

Both have great schematics and layouts to build pro pedals. There is also the: which is specialized only in the electro harmonix big muff Pi. It would be helpful to know your tastes so i could recommend you more specific pedals. As i am more into metal, i have more layouts of marshall, mesa boogie and other amps' preamp to use as a distortion pedal.

GlennE3 (author)MiguelT82015-11-12

Thanks, Miguel, I'll certainly be checking those sites out. You know, I like a guitar tone that can "sing", which basically means it has good sustain, so I do tend to like a compressed sound. As far as distortion goes, I like a number of types of distortion. The first being the kind of distortion that is touch sensitive, for playing blues, so when you strike the string hard, it breaks up, but when you pick softer its not hardly there. So, there's blues distortion. Then, there's the distortion that sounds like an overdriven Marshall, again, with sustain, but not harsh at all. I like a warm, tube kind of distortion. A distortion with a tone control to dial in the amount of mids and treble works best for me, as I don't like a muffled sound at all. Leslie West had a great distortion on Mississippi Queen. Randy Bachman had a great distortion, Mark Farner, Hendrix, and so on, for Classic Rock distortion. Though I tend to listen a lot more to virtuoso players now, like John Petrucci, Steve Morse, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Etc. and again, what all these players have in common with their tone is clarity, warmth, and sustain. So, I cover a range from Blues based, Classic Rock, into more modern progressive music. I don't do metal at all, although I'll listen to metal and especially check out the soloing. Metal technique is awesome, but it's just not what I play, ya know? I grew up in 60's, in the era of classic rock, and my ear has always been drawn to players with great technique, and while I do play blues occassionally, I'm not a 3 chord blues kind of guy, I'm more like a 12 Chord blues kind of player, as I like harmonic complexity and music that interesting, and not repetitive.

NicolaS14 made it! (author)2015-10-19

To my amazement, it worked despite the fact that I used no structure and only a few wires, soldering most components directly to each other.

the_real_name (author)2015-10-02

What am I doing wrong?

the_real_name (author)2015-10-01

Could someone show me this project on a breadboard?

BodeDusCapiroto made it! (author)2015-09-15

I made it haha This project is really simple and perfect to learn offboard wiring (for beginners) ;)

sipimanify. (author)2015-08-31

just find out how rectifier diodes look like, i was so wrong xD.

drakkn (author)2014-08-12

Works for me - made on a business card because no perf board available - will add a gain pot , volume pot and tone pot (I must have some knocking about .

The capacitors should be nf values not uf in my opinion.

ugur23 (author)drakkn2015-07-28

actually it looks good with business card :)

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