music thing

Music-making advice from musicians that non-musicians might find useful

This blog started 10 years ago in August 2004, and died just five years later.
Back in 2008, I asked you all for your tips about making music. Over a thousand readers replied, and I've finally collected the (fantastic) best responses into one place: Hope you enjoy them, share them and submit more. BONUS: Get extra Music Thing updates at: or in the sidebar at

Music Thing Modular

I'm now documenting a few DIY modular synth projects over at including this random sequencer, inspired by vintage and modern random sequencers like the Triadex Muse, Don Buchla's 266 Source of Uncertainty module and Grant Richter's Wiard Noise Ring.
I'm not manufacturing or selling modules, kits, or PCBs, but the design files are all Creative Commons licensed, so you can get PCBs by emailing one file to China, components from a company like Mouser, and laser cut acrylic front panels from anywhere that such things are made. Full how-to details are here: Finding parts to build the random sequencer.

BONUS: Get extra Music Thing updates at: or in the sidebar at

Music Kits #1: DIY guitar effect pedal kits

Over the last couple of years, I’ve spent a few evenings building DIY guitar effects. It's fun build things that you can use. If you want to get started, one of the hardest things is buying components. Try to buy a 10Ω resistor from Farnell, and you’re faced with a choice of 345 items. So, starting out buying a kit is a good idea. At least you’ll know the parts are right, even if when your soldering isn’t.
However, not many people sell kits. Despite the potential markup on a handful of bulk components, the customer service is - presumably - a nightmare. Here are 23 companies who will sell you complete component kits for guitar effects - many more people produce PCBs, or sell finished pedals. Stay tuned for similar lists on synths/noise boxes and tube amplifiers.

1. Build Your Own Clone Probably the best known company in the business, BYOC have a huge range of kits
From the Confidence Booster, a $15 booster kit with no box or switch to the $150 analog delay that they describe as extremely difficult’. They have a very good reputation on the forums for selling reliable, easy to build kits. Their UK Distributor is Vibe-O-Tronic and Moody Sounds (below) sell them in Sweden.
Price: $15-$150
2. General Guitar Gadgets
The other big player in US kits, GGG seem slightly less ambitious than BYOC, but still offer a good range of familiar sound-alike pedals in complete kits, including switches and pre-drilled boxes.
Prices $38 - $80

3. OL Circuits

Officially Licensed Circuits have an interesting collection of kits developed on various online communities. They sell the collection of famous guitar amps converted into pedals, plus various interesting valve circuits including the Beavis Tube Cricket amplifier.
Prices: $65-$135

4. 4ms pedals
Big range of exotic and interesting pedals, stand alone noise boxes and modular synth gear, including the knob-tacular Tremulus Lune. Kits and finished products available.
Prices: $90-$140

5. Small Bear
Small range of kits (boost, fuzz, tremolo) from the company who specialise in components for DIY pedal builders.
Prices: $36-$85

Grandaddies of DIY audio kits. They don’t sell any real stompboxes, but have a few interesting guitar projects like the QuadraFuzz, and an entire modular synth range.
Prices: $25 - $200+

7. Mod Kits
Small range of boost and distortion pedals, plus a reverb built around the Belton Brick.
Prices: $25-$100

8. Fuzz Box World
Sells one simple fuzz kit for $39

9. Get LoFi

An interesting range of simple circuits including a fuzz, an amp and (coming soon) a lo-fi delay. They don’t sell enclosures or switches, just the boards and components.
Prices: $18-$25

10. Synthrotek
A few interesting noisy kits, including a Lo-Fi delay unit and various fuzzes.
Prices: $35 for the delay kit.

11. Devi Ever
Devi Ever is a Portland-based boutique builder who makes endless varieties of Fuzz. She sometimes sells kits through her Etsy shop, but is currently out of action.

12. Triode Electronics
Among their huge range of tube amp gear is one Germanium boost kit for $75.


13. MEK Electronic (Germany)
A big and varied range of kits including a Klon clone, a delay, a reverb and four (!) varieties of Muff Pi. They’re fairly cheap. The Fuzz Factory clone they sold me worked first time, and had a very neat layout.
Prices: €22 - €56

14. Musikding (Germany)
Fairly wide range of surprisingly cheap kits from a German supplier with a vast range of DIY effect parts.
Prices: €21-€35

15. Moody Sounds (Sweden)

Good range of pedals including the the interesting Moody Echo, which comes with a light sensitive option for extreme crazy. They also resell BYOC pedals in Sweden.
Prices: €45-€75

16. Pigeon FX (UK)

Small range of nice mojo-ish kits: Fuzz Faces and Rangemasters with carbon comp resistors, dark brown PCBs and big ol’ capacitors.
Prices: £15 for the boards and components.

17. DIY Stompboxes (Germany)
Big range of curiously translated but familiar-looking circuits, including clones of almost the full Zvex range.
Prices: €25-€85

18. DIY Pedal Kits (UK)

Small range of loopers and fuzzes. Despite pictures of Boss-style pedals all over the site, these all come in the more normal Hammond-style enclosures (Like MXR effect pedals)
Prices: £35-£60

19. Boutique Techniguitarre (France)
A small range of distortions and boosters, available in pre-drilled boxes with appropriate stickers.
Prices €38-€59

20. Ess_7Stores (China)

An Ebay Store from Hong Kong selling an interesting-looking point-to-point wired (that’s putting it very politely) FET Fender Blackface preamp kit.
Price: $32 inc shipping

21. Quasar Electronics (UK)
A handful of guitar circuit kits from this old-school Velleman-ish educational company. I tried to build their trem and managed to mess it up, which is no reflection on them.
Prices: £12-25


22. Beavis Board
$250 gets you a breadboard, specially made audio/power connectors and a complete kit of parts to build numerous projects. I thought about buying this when I first got started. I wish I had.

23. Tone Crafter
A breadboard in a stompbox for $150 with parts for 7 effects

Please recommend others in the comments. If you are one of these companies and I’ve got something wrong, do get in touch. Main image: BYOC kit by Terekhova.BONUS: Get extra Music Thing updates at: or in the sidebar at

Slight return

A few posts on Music Thing should appear over the next week or two, dumps of research and notes that I thought it would be fun to share. Normal service will not, I'm afraid, be resumed...BONUS: Get extra Music Thing updates at: or in the sidebar at

The end of Music Thing, for now.

Four years ago, I had a job editing laddish lifestyle magazines funded by the National Health Service. It was a great job, great people, and not very time-consuming. So, at work and at home I started writing Music Thing. To my surprise and delight, people started reading it. It was fun and all-consuming. Every day you - the readers - sent me great stories which I had time to research and post.

The things I learned doing Music Thing (the internet stuff more than the guitars shaped like guns) have now helped me get a job where I'm in charge of the online output of The Times newspaper, managing 40+ people and a history going back to 1785.
I spend all day on the web, talking and thinking about traffic, developers, links and readers. It's no longer what I want to do at home, so this will be the last Music Thing post.
That's right, I've used this blog to get what I want, now I'm spitting it out like stale gum. Sorry about that.

Thank you to everyone who has ever sent me an idea, particularly if I never got round to using it. Thanks to my fellow gear geek bloggers who have given so much help, friendship and inspiration. Special shouts out to Peters Kirn, Rojas and Taylor, Joel Johnson, Chris Randall, Matrix, Neil S and Michael M. (Image via Keith)

Ten awesome homemade guitars

J chot writes: HEY GUESS WHAT!!! I spent the entire day at work searching the words "made guitar" and "built guitar"!

Here are the most interesting ones I found:

  1. Dude built a guitar from legshield of a vespa scooter
  2. Nicest cigarbox guitar I've ever
  3. Hardcore homemade (Africa)
  4. Another African homemade guitar
  5. Croissant-a-caster?
  6. Skate-a-caster?
  7. Dear Jesus, my eyes.
  9. Of lesser note, but still interesting:

  10. Umm....ok.....what?
  11. DOES Anyone know what that

Thanks, J chot!

Turning Music Thing over to you for a week

So I have a new job. And I've been worse than ever for updates in the last month. There's a two month old post on the homepage. It's embarrassing. Sorry.

Here's a plan. You send me a post (include a pic, put HTML tags around the links). I'll put it up. Let's see how it goes for a week.

Also, if any CSS/HTML guru can help me get the headlines lined up with the date boxes, that would be awesome (I broke it when I put H1 tags round the headlines) Thanks, Anonymous.

25 Awesome things I've failed to post on Music Thing over the last couple of months

  1. My new favourite Wikipedia page is Unusual types of gramophone records. (Thanks, Steve)
  2. Bleep Labs BitBlob is the only thing to buy this Christmas. A patchable synth encased in a pyrex glass jar complete with glowing monsters. $216, limited edition of 30...
  3. Another xmas essential is Benge's Twenty Systems album - a lovely booklet/CD package with twenty tracks recorded on twenty different systems, from Moog Modular to NED Synclavier. (More pics here at Hardformat)
  4. New synth #1: Dave Smith Mopho, tiny yellow all-analog synth for $399 (from Analog Haven). Like the button marked 'push it', don't like the lack of knobs.
  5. The Trons are a robot band from New Zealand (MySpace) (Thanks, Louis)
  6. Totally Wired is an interesting-looking obsessive documentary about the Berlin synth store Schneiders Buero. Trailer. (Thanks, Luka)
  7. Wonderful podcast #1: Welcome to Mars, the series about sci-fi and the cold war is now a book and CD (and Simon James, who did the music, has an album on the way)
  8. MT Reader (and MPC1000 JJOS guru) Nym got ADSR tattooed on his stomach.
  9. Where's the party at is a great-looking sampler module kit on a single PCB, complete with dozens of breakout points for circuit bending.
  10. New synth #2: Moog are re-releasing their Taurus bass pedals, in a limited edition of 1,000. $1,695, all analog, based on the original circuitry but with midi and proper memory. People have been asking for this in forums for years, but I'm amazed they've actually done it.
  11. David Dewaele from Soulwax (another MT reader) explains their extremely fun-sounding live setup to Future Music mag - a mix of Ableton and analog gear. Unfortunately, it's an audio slideshow, so rather than scanning through the article you have to listen for 8 minutes...
  12. Most people in Scandinavia now hate Goodiepal, apparently.
  13. Goldbaby just released a nice set of drum samples sampled through an EMU SP1200
  14. Yamaha released a bunch of stupid music-themed concept phones (thanks, Matt)
  15. Wonderful podcast #2: Us and Them is a genuinely mind-blowing collection of Cold War propaganda music - you can download all seven episodes from the sidebar of the Clerkenwell Kid blog
  16. New synth #3: Korg Microkorg XL - very long awaited follow up to the absurdly successful Microkorg (if they'd only sold the actual synths that appear in music videos, they'd still be rich). Gone are the wooden end cheeks and light up buttons, replaced by an interesting-but-ugly look slightly reminiscent of the Micromoog.
  17. Steim is now safe. The Dutch Council for Culture has agreed to help fund the Amsterdam home of strange clicky music and gestural interfaces. The blog-inspired letter writing campaign apparently helped. (Previously...)
  18. The Indamixx Laptop is a $499 netbook loaded with Linux music apps
  19. Such a shame this live audio to sewing machine interface is nothing more than a concept and a mockup. (Thanks, Fab)
  20. In the not-awesome-but-understandable camp, the Chimera BC16 is currently off-sale as they catch up with back orders (finally). Shortly before that was announced, they put up the price of the wonderful BC16 to £280.00. Still a good price, but not the astonishing bargain it was at £116, when it was first announced. (Previously)
  21. Korg Nano controllers are now also available in black. Not sure if that's an improvement or not.
  22. During brain surgery, "Banjo player Eddie Adcock was kept awake to perform while surgeons poked and prodded different areas of his brain." (With picture) (thanks, Samuel)
  23. In October, someone claiming to represent the New Yorker got in touch, wanting to buy paid links...
  24. Great clip of the Monkees and a big Moog Modular
  25. Eric Archer's 'sound cameras', hacked from old 8mm movie cameras, seem certain to become 2009's essential hipster accessory.

Banned: The Dettol ad encouraging mums to spray disinfectant into pianos

If you're a MT reader who has watched UK television in the last week, you've probably already been traumatised by a certain disinfectant advertisement: "The advertisement depicted two children seated at a piano. When one of them sneezed, a concerned mother reached for her can of Dettol and sprayed the keys."

Treat Yourself :)