Easy DIY electronics project for a teenager?
July 3, 2010 2:24 AM   Subscribe

Easy DIY electronics project for a teenager?

I'm helping a kid get his feet wet in electronics, but I don't know much myself. We made a distortion pedal, and had some problems so it's still in process & may never end up working, but I need a new project.

Ideally, it will be doable in a matter of 5-20 hours and won't require expertise. Also, ideally it should be "cool," that is, something a teenager would think is interesting and maybe even useful.

It doesn't have to be circuit or Arduino-based. In fact, I was looking at a hack for a t-shirt printer...it looks like it may be just a little too tough...

Any advice?
posted by Joseph Gurl to Technology (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I need a macro for posting this suggestion I do it so often , but google Drawdio. Might be on the too simple side, but could be developed further, an amp perhaps or computer output etc.
posted by Iteki at 2:37 AM on July 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Drawdio does look cool! Also check out the amplifier kits at 41Hz, some of them are very quick and simple to build and will sound better than most ready-made products for many times the price. Amp6-basic is the easiest one to start with, then amp32 is a great introduction to smd or amp9 can form the core of an amazing diy boombox.
posted by Morbuto at 3:25 AM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

This kid is obviously way beyond this when it comes to skill/difficulty/materials, but I have always thought LED Throwies looked SO COOL. The (non-permanent/damaging) graffiti after production looks like something that a bunch of kids would have a great time doing.
posted by phunniemee at 3:50 AM on July 3, 2010

BEAM robotics. A lot of kids start here. There are robots as simple as a cellphone vibrator motor on a battery sitting on the head of a toothbrush, all the way through to giant solar-powered spiders walking over obstacles with independently operating multi-jointed legs. No matter what level of experience he's at, there will be a project that matches, and it will most likely be something really fascinating. There is a mailing list on yahoo groups where everyone helps out everyone else and brainstorms ideas. There are webstores (primarily Solarbotics) that caters to the crowd, annual competitions, etc etc.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:59 AM on July 3, 2010

The Larson Scanner from Evil Mad Science is a decent enough project that it's easy to build. It took me 20 minutes and I'm VERY experienced putting things like this together.

Also the all in one kits from General Guitar Gadgets are pretty straight forward.
posted by plinth at 4:18 AM on July 3, 2010

I got started on the Heathkit electronics projects as a teen. I still remember the thrill when my AM radio actually worked! Sadly, they don't appear to be in business these days. Perhaps somebody else is doing something similar? My kids enjoyed Snap Circuits, but that might be a little too simplistic for a teenager.
posted by COD at 6:33 AM on July 3, 2010

A buddy and I run a business designing and selling open source electronics kits. Our first kit is definitely applicable--link in profile (at the bottom of the free form section). We've sold a bunch to kids and teens, and folks looking to connect over a Sunday afternoon around a soldering iron.

Otherwise, Ladyada's stuff is great. She's got a USB device charger that pretty much everyone I know thinks is awesome.
posted by adamwolf at 7:10 AM on July 3, 2010

Instructables is a great source of projects, many of them involving electronics and/or audio. You might have fun with magnetic refrigerator lights or a spherical speaker array.
posted by drdanger at 8:45 AM on July 3, 2010

2 things tangentially related...

1) What distortion pedal did you try building? The Build Your Own Clone forum is really helpful for trying to troubleshoot pedal building problems and if you follow their instructions (post pics of the pedal, etc.) they can probably help get yours working.

2) If you decide to build a second guitar pedal, I would actually suggest going with Build Your Own Clone over General Guitar Gadgets. While the GGG kits cost less and are fine kits, the BYOC kits have in depth step-by-step instructions. I've built a lot of pedals (from kits and otherwise) and I have only had one BYOC kit that didn't work. With GGG, I've built some really cool kits, but I've more frequently had problems.

Finally, what sorts of things are they into?
posted by drezdn at 8:53 AM on July 3, 2010

If the teen is into guitar stuff memail an address to me and I'll put together a kit to build GuitarPCB's Stage Three Boost (version 1) with all the parts you need to build it including the case for free.
posted by drezdn at 9:04 AM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Drawdio and the Larson scanner are great starter kits, but make sure it's something you want when you're finished, or it won't be as much fun. Here are some other good starter kits from Adafruit:
- Mini POV
- Minti-boost
- TV-B-Gone

Adafruit has great instructions and helpful forums if you need them.

But you don't really learn much from kits like these, except how to solder. If you really want to learn something about electronics I recommend Make: Electronics. In fact I can't recommend it enough. It has a great style that not only teaches about electricity, components, circuit diagrams, etc, but also gets you comfortable with them. (More than one time they have you intentionally destroy a component so you know what it's like and how to (not) do it.) Each chapter has around a dozen projects, and you make some pretty fun stuff. You won't make it through the whole thing in 20 hours, but you can progress pretty far, especially if there are two of you.

(They also sell a kit with all of the components from the book so save you the frustration/humiliation of going to Radio Shack. link.)
posted by Ookseer at 11:04 AM on July 3, 2010

posted by ob1quixote at 11:19 AM on July 3, 2010

Man, you guys are great. Tons of good suggestions and I'd love to hear more.

Just to be clear, learning about electronics isn't the main purpose here. He really just wants to keep busy and mess around, and maybe make something he will use when it's done.

He's into music, guitars, and design, fwiw.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:32 PM on July 3, 2010

One of my first electronics projects was to build a power supply for future projects and playing around with breadboards. I followed instructions online to convert an old computer power supply to a bench-top DC power supply. The project is not difficult and the parts needed are quite cheap. Here is an example of the steps required. Let me know if you want any tips or lessons learned if you give this one a try.
posted by token-ring at 8:02 PM on July 3, 2010

Bleep Labs has some pretty fun kits.
posted by jdfan at 7:54 AM on July 4, 2010

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