Passive Overdrive Pedal - That's Right, NO Batteries!




About: I never learned how to solder properly, everything I make turns out to look shabby, but it works. Usually.

This is my first instructable, so please be kind. I found an instructable a while ago that spoke of a passive overdrive - black ice. This can be bought for extortionate prices, but somebody found out that it was only really worth about £1.20 (that's about $2!) The company were making a 1400% profit!

It has got better, however, with a slightly more complex circuit and various ways to wire it. I don't know how they do it (I don't know a great deal about electronics), but I have found a way to make it into a pedal with true bypass. Yes, TRUE BYPASS! (the ones on the black ice website don't have true bypass)

I wired the original black ice, but you can use JoeBeau's rectifier with a different way of wiring it. I have got a theory on how to wire it like this, but I haven't tried it, so please correct me in the comments if I'm wrong.

I got help from:

this guy
this website
Let's get started!

Step 1: Tools and Materials


- soldering iron and solder
- drill
- wire cutters, pliers etc - whatever you can use to help (e.g, I used a screwdriver to bend the leads and from the diodes around lugs)
- marker pen (for decoration!)


- project box
- DPDT switch
- 250k pot (I'm not sure whether I used linear or audio taper and I can't be bothered to check - it doesn't really matter)
- 2 x 1/4 inch output jacks
- 2 or 4 x 1N5818 Schottky diodes (I forgot to thank this guy for which diode to use - I wasn't going to keep buying diodes until I found a good one!)
- some wire

Step 2: The "Schematic"

There is a proper schematic diagram and a simpler one that I can get my head around. Use whichever suits you.
For the wire, I used white for hot wires and black for ground. I think this is the convention.

Diagram shows pot from the side opposite the turning part.

Normally circuit diagrams only use one colour for the wire, but I thought it would be helpful to put one colour for hot and one for ground.

The last one is only a theory on how to wire the full wave rectifier onto it - it may not work. If someone finds it doesn't, please put it in the comments. Check them before you try it.

Step 3: Prepare Project Box

Drill the holes you need

Step 4: Prepare Diodes

You can use JoeBeau's help for this, but here are my pictures and diagrams.

Step 5: Prepare Potentiometer

If you want the gain to increase as you turn it clockwise (like a  normal person), attach the diodes to lug 3.

Step 6: Prepare DPDT Switch

I found this incredibly difficult because the lugs were very small on mine. But I digress. The middle lugs are for the hot wires to the jacks. The bottom are connected to each other. The top two are also connected to each other, but the left one is also to be connected to lug 2 on the pot.

You can flip the top and bottom (i.e. the pot can go on the bottom two and the wire on the top), but the middle ones must be the same.

Step 7: Attach Jacks

Attach the jacks to the switch. I use the left one for input and the right for output to be safe, but I don't think it matters.
Solder a ground lead to connect the jacks to each other.
This picture above will help you determine which lead goes where if you are a complete novice to this, like I was a while ago. The tip connection is hot, the sleeve is ground. The tip lug is usually the furthest from the tip, confusingly.

Step 8: Add Potentiometer

Put the potentiometer to one of the top lugs. This is what I got at the end. It looks messy now, but it cleans up a little when in the box.

Step 9: Put in Box


Step 10: Decorate!

This is what the marker is for.

Step 11: Done

Feel free to experiment with different diodes etc and if you find a wiring that's better or a diode with a particular sound , please describe it or explain it in the comments for future viewers of this to benefit.

I heard that you can get a distortion by only using only one diode and that you can smooth out the tone with a capacitor. You can also use germanium diodes like the ones used in pedals like Electro-Harmonix Big Muff. You might find that mixing different types of diodes produces a different sound. I found that my overdrive was more like a fuzz, but this could be different with different diodes and wiring methods. Feel free to experiment and add results in the comments.

I tried it with LEDs, but it didn't work for me - it might be because my pickups are too weak.

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37 Discussions


2 months ago on Step 11

Good Morning from Italy!
I'm ready to do your project,but I'm doing this onboard my guitar.
There'a passage that let me doubts...if i do this work ,where I have to put the "jack in"?
Or I have just to bridge all in the guitar jack-in?
Thanks in advance,Davide!


1 year ago

Hi! i tried with 2 red leds, and 2 1N270 Germanium Diode DO-7
it didn't worked, i know that leds are diode too, but it simply don't sound at all, and with the germanium diode there's not change, maybe less volume but not overdrive sound, what's wrong ?

1 reply

Reply 5 months ago

LED's require a certain amount of voltage to light up. It's possible for audio to light them, but in my experience (which is limited) you usually have to amplify the signal first.


12 months ago

I built this in the form of a stomp box pedal.and have a few observations and suggestions following a consultation with an electronics bench technician. The DPDT switch is not necessary, as a true bypass can be accomplished with a SPDT (see image below with original circuit and my revised circuit). A had him ad a separate circuit to the other side of the DPDT so that I could have an indicator LED when the effect is engaged. I am not using a battery as shown in the schematic - the battery has been replaced with a jack so that it can be powered from my pedal board power. The final circuit actually sounds a little better to me (more effect available-the one that treats the switch as a DPST). Also, the use of an Audio Taper pot is not recommended in this circuit. A Linear Taper will give a more even balance of the effect. To add this directly to your guitar (or bass in my case) a push/pull pot can be used to engage the effect and adjust the amount of effect with one control.

Distortion switch LED 001.jpgDistortion-Power LED as built2.PNG

5 years ago on Step 11

can you add another schematic image, some people dont understand electronics very well... like me.. jojo.. please :( ??

1 reply

Reply 1 year ago

it is quiet easy and it doesn't has the potentionemeter that makes it more easier

passive overdrive.png

3 years ago

would like to build WITHOUT the potentiometer.....can someone provide me with a simple diagram/schematic for the circuit with just input & output jacks, diodes and on-off switch? Thanks!

1 reply

2 years ago

If anyone is intrested in a cheaper alternative which sounds exactly the same whithout POT and a cheaper switch, here it is:


2 years ago

You got one thing wrong: you have to use all the 3 lugs on the pot. The free one must be connected do the ground. Without this yous pot will act like an ON/OFF switch and just a gentle turn will cut the circuit, if your pot has high values.


2 years ago

"I'm not sure whether I used linear or audio taper and I can't be bothered to check - it doesn't really matter" it does make a difference


3 years ago

I don't see the diodes turning to on state below their voltage levels.

1 reply

Reply 3 years ago

In other words if the voltage drop is below the diodes "on" voltage it would not conduct.

Use of very sensitive diodes with extreme low end voltage ratings like the ones used as detectors in crystal radio.

This won't work with every day common rectifier diodes.


3 years ago

When you use 4 diodes, does it make a more aggressive sound than when you only use 2? Just wondering. I like a harder wound when it comes to rock & metal.