Open Hardware Veroboard-inspired PCB design - Would love the community's feedback
I've been a lurker here for a while and I love how vibrant and helpful the community is and I've learnt a lot from it over the past number of years. I want to share with you an idea for a veroboard-inspired PCB system that I've been developing for quite a while. I'd also like to give out free PCBs and kits over the next while, to those who have contributed to the community. I've included background on myself and the company I started to give you a bit of context to where this project grew from.
Myself and the company’s background My name is Thom and I run a small company in Ireland called http://www.maker.ie. For the past 4 years I've been introducing people to pedal building and all areas of audio electronics through hands-on workshops.
My background is originally in science which really couldn't inspire me so I followed up with a masters in Music Technologies. It was during my masters that I really got into audio electronics, starting off with circuitbending and moving quickly on to pedal building. I started running workshops with my classmates and I found I really enjoyed teaching them and they really seemed to like making stuff. Anyway, before I'd finished my masters I was running workshops in Dublin mostly to friends and friends of friends, and the response was really positive (I'd a little previous experience teaching in music and science). After I finished the course, myself and another classmate had the thought that if this many musicians in Dublin were as interested and excited about DIY audio electronics as we were, there might be a sustainable market for a business. So guided by impulsive and youthful naivety we enrolled in an entrepreneurship development programme at our college and began sculpting a business plan and conducting market research.
At the end of the programme we were lucky enough to win their business development award and secure a free office on campus for a year. Our market research came back very positive, and our workshops were still popular, so we decided to give starting a business a go, initially on a part-time basis, to see if there was any traction.
About a year later, after a dozen or so workshops, I was lucky enough to get onto an accelerator programme that provided enough finances to allow me to work on the project full time. It has been about 18 months since. We now have three staff and have just relaunched our site (and have developed a few new products and kits) but what I want to present to you guys is the manifestation of 4 years of working with musicians and trying to solve what I see are some of the frustrations of DIY guitar pedal building, while maintaining the better aspects of the use of veroboard. It also ties in with my very firmly held belief that anyone and everyone is capable of DIY electronics, provided the platform for learning is right.
I'm keen to try and make it easier for musicians to get into DIY. I believe by de-jargoning literature, increasing the approachability of the technical process and bringing down the overall cost of DIY there is nothing stopping anyone getting involved and reaping the creative rewards it has to offer. Logically, this means empowering every musician to create their own, unique "boutique" equipment.
The B.I.Y. PCB (and kits) are my attempt to meet these objectives for guitar/bass players and pedal builders. When I started the design process for this project I had the following objectives:
Let's look at how I tackled each of these objectives...
INCREASING LONG-TERM BUILD RELIABILITY This is possibly the most important objective. We all want our projects to be as close to "gig-safe" as possible. As exciting as it is to build something and hear it working; if it stops working after a week/month/year (especially on stage!), you are just going to get pissed off and perhaps abandon DIY electronics altogether.
To try and solve this issue I went with a single PCB that fits neatly into a 1590B (Hammond - in the USA)/27134PSLA (Eddystone - EU/UK) that requires no off-board wiring. All components (shrouded inputs, stomp, pots, etc...) are soldered directly to the board. There is virtually nothing to come loose from tossing it in your gig bag and it removes any pressure on the wiring from the pots, inputs or stompswitch from over use. The only wiring required is board-to-board (for jumper wires and connecting to potentiometer inputs).
MINIMISE OPPORTUNITIES FOR BUILD ERROR The design has been heavily inspired by the vibrant vero/stipboard community and the flexibility the medium offers. However there is one huge headache with stripboard; having to cut on the reverse of the board and place components on the front. I can't tell you the amount of times I've made a trace cut in the wrong place only to realise later in the build, or worse, frying an IC because of some messy off board wiring mistake or jangly piece of stripboard shorting against the enclosure. Trying to read from a printout or screen can also easily lead to a mistake that can in turn lead to hours of head scratching followed by frustrating desoldering. This is where I think this project makes a huge leap over stripboard while maintaining all its benefits:
- On B.I.Y. PCBs, all trace-cuts are made on the front of the board; the same side you are placing the components!
- All wiring to pots, switches and jacks is taken care of by the board; no more jungle of wires crammed into a tiny stomp pedal!
- Maker.ie will provide component ''maps'' for each project, made to scale that can be printed and stuck/taped to the front of the board
- Maker.ie are developing an augmented reality app that will show you exactly how each project should look in 3D when completed and at each stage of the build (resistors, capacitors, ICs, wiring, etc...)
MINIMISE BUILD TIME The biggest savings in build time will most likely come from:
- Reduced troubleshooting
- No off-board wiring
- Component maps remove the need for referencing screen or printout.
STIMULATE COMMUNITY-LED DESIGN INNOVATION I want this build platform to help stimulate innovation and experimentation within the guitar pedal design/modification community. This proejct is released under an open hardware licence (our learning material is also all Creative Commons) and we will be making the photoshop files for creating your own scaled component maps freely available. I'm also keen want to reward the huge amount of often urecognised innovation within the guitar pedal community and am proposing the introduction of quarterly design competitions. As well as winning prizes in these competitions, other ideas include offering winning original designs a 15% Licence Fee for the sale of kits of their design. 15% of sales of kits from other established designs would go to a worthy charity. I'm are still toying with this idea and would love the community's feedback on it.
MAXIMISE FLEXIBILITY/MOD-ABILITY The free build area of the board is designed like strip/veroboard with tracks of connected holes through which to insert components for soldering. This provides the same level of flexibility and customisation that strip/veroboard offers and leaves the user free to draw from the huge wealth of designs and modifications created by the amazing stripboard community.
I've introduced a number of innovations onto the B.I.Y. PCB that offer the builder a high level of flexibility and convenience:
- A dedicated area on the board for creating 1/2Vcc (or another reference voltage) for biasing opamps and transistors.
- Dedicated ground and power rails. These are split in the middle and fed from two different points. Trace cuts can be made to free up the rest of the track. On the ground plane this minimises the return path of the signal and on the power rail it, well, you'll see in a second....
- Space for a Voltage Regulator which is selectable by making specific tracecuts. This provides for 3 options:
1. Do nothing - DC power comes in and goes to the power rail.
2. Make a trace cut and now regulated (cleaner) positive voltage goes to your power trace
3. Make a 2nd trace cut and now you have regulated power to half your power rail, and DC input to the other half. This is great if you are using a digital chip (3.3V or 5V) alongside opamps for example.
MINIMISE COST By using the same board our company can purchase the PCBs in bulk dramatically reducing costs. This same principle also applies to the components (electrical and mechanical) which we will have available through kits should you wish to shop with us.
DESIGN CHALLENGES One design challenge I have struggled to solve is soldering the pots directly to the board. I feel this is important in order to keep build reliability high to match the height of shrouded jacks, and the stomp switch. Soldering to the board directly means the spindle of most common 9mm potentiometers does not reach high enough above the surface of the enclosure to attach a control knob. There are apparently long spindle 9mm pots out there, but we have had trouble sourcing them and they are inevitably going to be reasonably expensive (and remember we are trying to minimise cost), and we want these boards to be as accessible as possible.
One solution I've have come-up with is to use male/female pcb connectors to raise the physical level of the pot above the board, while still keeping all soldering to the PCB. This means a little extra soldering which maybe isn't ideal, although there is no off board wiring. If anyone out there thinks they have a solution to this that doesn't significantly increase cost or build time we would love to hear from you!
NEXT STEPS I will continue to strive to improve our design as we get feedback from the community and we are already working on a larger version for a larger enclosure design. We will also be designing a 2 stomp version for effect switching.
We are also keen to finish our augmented reality app. If there is anyone out there with experience in Unity we would be interested in hearing from you.
This project has been born out of a love for pedal building and the amazing community around it, and a desire to see more people get involved in this very rewarding and creatively freeing pursuit. If you have any suggestions of ideas or feel you can contribute to the project, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks (and very sorry for the megapost)!
TL:DR - Guitar Pedal building PCB that: Increases reliability/reduces build time/reduces opportunity for errors/stimulates community-led innovation/maximises design flexibility/minimises cost - would love feedback - some free stuff
Re: Open Hardware Veroboard-inspired PCB design - Would love the community's feedback
Hi Thom and a big welcome to the forum.
I've read your post and had a quick look at your website. It looks good - very informative and professional in it's layout. I always admire anyone with the love and commitment to put an idea into practice. I wish you the very best of Irish luck with your venture. I think you may be onto something here, as I've not seen anyone else come at it from your angle before.
To be honest, my gut feeling is that you will have more success with the synth side your business than the guitar pedals, but who knows, I'm no expert. I can see many people, myself included, wanting to build modular synths on the cheap. Also the Eurorack module idea is a great one - I can see a demand for these.
That said, I think some pedal builders that are compulsive tinkerers (again, like me), might jump at the chance of a well organised prototyping system like this, to fill the gap between breadboarding and committing to vero/PCB.
It is a good idea - you are basically just simplifying the offboard wiring portion of the build process.
The challenge is finding your audience - this is really just another version of what many people are already doing, a hybrid between this site and sites that sell PCBs.
Most people who buy either of the above already know how to do offboard wiring, so while I like your product as is as a time saver - I don't know if I would be interested in the "tape-on" schematics unless they sounded better than other circuits already available to me.
Anyway - best of luck on this - it is a different approach, evolutionary, but not revolutionary.
I hope I can use this method for building pedals to inspire more musicians to get on board with DIY. Over the past few years we've had hundreds of musicians come to our workshops in Ireland. Once people get over their initial fear of ''Soldering looks difficult'' or ''Electronics!? But I'm an artist", they realise the creative potential it has to offer, and that it doesn't require a degree in Electronics to get some powerful results.
The next issue they face once they leave the classroom, is where to go next that isn't too overwhelming. Although there are sites where you can buy kits with pcbs, that doesn't lend itself to the creative flexibility of veroboard (which is laborious in my opinion but wonderful for exploring ideas) or there is no educational support. We're working with macprovideo.com at the moment to create a video tutorial series on audio electronics and we will also be updating our website with videos starting with how to solder.
I believe if we can solve a number of basic issues with electronics for creative people (translation of jargon, clear demonstrations of the technical processes, time saving, reducing the potential for error and reducing the cost), I have hope that many more musicians can get involved. Trying to pull all that together I think that the BIY PCBs are an important piece of that jigsaw. But, indeed, it remains to be seen!
Thanks for the feedback. Yeah it's about simplifying the process, saving time and reducing the potential for cock-ups. I guess my focus is really on facilitiating more people getting started (see my other post to Mark) but I think these could be found useful by anyone. Having been working on prototypes with my business partner, we have genuinely noticed myself experiencing less frustration and hence more enjoyment. I hope for beginners this is even more pronounced.
But you are absolutely right, finding the audience is the big challenge. However, I really don't see us competing with anyone. Certainly not this site. I think there is a lot of crossover as the techniques are essentially the same, and layouts can be translated fairly quickly (especially when we bring out the new larger boards). I've always tried to stay away from just selling PCBs of other people's designs. I want to make DIY easier, more fun and hopefully more creatively forthcoming. Hopefully the BIY PCBs can contribute to that for the benefit of the community as a whole, rather than trying to find a niche to sit in.
So I have made 2 major upgrades to the design of the board since I made the original post.
1 - I've managed to squeeze in an extra row of pads onto the board! The main part of the board is now 11 traces deep rather than 10 (not counting the power rails or the extra pads around the stomp switch).
2 - I've added extra pads (including a ground pad) where the pots mount to the board (via pcb spacers), so that connecting pads to ground and each other is more convenient while reducing clutter on the board.
New Pads Pot Mounts
I'm also delighted to announce that I will be working with Jody from mylkstuff to design our component maps. Jody is not only an amazing designer (his design) he's also an audio circuit designer and DIYer himself (his amp).
I'd previously posted on my Open-Hardware BIY (Boutique it Yourself) Guitar pedal PCB project. I had asked for testers and based on their feedback we have updated our original board design and have created a larger one. The idea of this project is to make DIY'ing your own pedals easier, quicker and most importantly, more reliable by having no more off-board wiring.
Features of the new Larger Board:
- Huge Build Area
- 6 Pots
- 2x Stomp switches
- 2x DPDT switches
- Dedicated Power and Ground Rails
- 1/2Vcc Power Rail
- Space for Voltage Regulator
- Space for input & output anti-pop resistors
- No off-board wiring!
I would love your feedback. We are also looking for help creating layouts if that interests anyone.