I want to get back into electronics as a hobby.
September 15, 2011 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Calling all electronics hobbyist people: I want to get (back) into making electronic stuff -- noise-making stuff, specifically -- as a hobby, help me get started.

I messed around with simple circuits as a kid, went to an engineering high school where I spent learned the functions and theory of basic electronic components, logic diagrams, breadboard wiring, and so on. Then I went to an engineering university for CS, realized it wasn't for me, transferred out after three semesters (with only one two weeks spent on electronics in one Engineering class in those three years) and now I have a BA in English. So, admittedly, my knowledge pretty much craps out past flip-flop circuits, but I am more than willing to learn.

So I watched this the other day and a realized that (outside of Needs Improvement-grade soldering skills and lack of drill) I am completely capable of making something like that. And if I can make that, I can make bigger, more interesting noisy sound things. But I need to walk before I can crawl.

From what I remember from high school, I need a breadboard, one of those kits with a bunch of breadboard-friendly bent wires, and a source to get ICs, buttons, knobs, and so on. I used to get this stuff at Radio Shack, but I'm not even sure they sell it anymore. So, my questions follow:

My primary want is to make noise-making things (like the Atari Punk Console linked above.) Is there a particular place I should start with that goal in mind, or is that something I can concern myself with way down the line?

I get overwhelmed very easily, so what's a good not-completely-but-effectively-begginer's guide to this? The Internet is full of them but every time I try to research something there's just so fucking much out there I back off immediately. So I want to start slow. Website or print, either would be nice. If there's a good beginner guide to the basics of digital sound, that'd be great too.

Is there somewhere online (or in NYC) that I can get a good hobbyist starter kit? Actually, let me rephrase that: which of the ten thousand starter kits out there is a good one considering my (lack of) expertise and goals. Also, I own no power tools (I noticed the guy in the video used a drill of some sort?) In fact, outside of a ratchet screwdriver and a hammer, I don't own any tools at all.

In high school I used a PC program to plot out designs in an incredibly simple fashion: it had a collection of parts, and you dragged wires between them and hit "START" and it would simulate your circuit. I don't remember the name anymore, and considering this was 10 years ago, there's probably a better one now, so what's good on that front? Paid software is okay, but I'd prefer free.

Also, I've read a bunch about Arduino and figure getting my head around that would be great, too, so if you can figure it into any other advice, I'd love to hear it.

Thanks a lot and if I'm too vague about how much I actually know, feel free to ask!
posted by griphus to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
Also, if it helps, I can code. Not well, and I'm way the hell out of practice, but I studied it for a number of years in high school and college.
posted by griphus at 8:45 AM on September 15, 2011

Intro to Arduino; another one -- this one in comic book form!

Soldering is easy in comic book form (mightyohm site seems to be down, so try this copy here)

Lifehacker's electronics tag is a good way to find good DIY articles on electronics.
posted by thewildgreen at 9:12 AM on September 15, 2011

You should try and go to the NYC Maker Faire this weekend.
posted by exogenous at 9:19 AM on September 15, 2011

PAiA is still around and has analog synth and theremin kits you can build and modify.
posted by tommasz at 9:24 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get thee to a hackerspace. I think the big one in NYC is NYC Resistor. They just had an Arduino/Soldering 101 last Saturday, but there's another one coming up next month.

If you're set on the solo DIY artiste stuff, here are some links:

DIY electronics essentials
Lady Ada's Arduino tutorial
soldering advice

  Arduino stuff:
Modern Device
Wicked Device
AdaFruit Industries

posted by zamboni at 9:27 AM on September 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

Yenka is software pretty much like what you describe. You have to register it, and click a button every time you use it saying you are only using it from home for personal purposes, but that's all. It makes my macbook pro run super hot if I use it for more than about 20 minutes, but otherwise it's great.

I have managed a bunch of electronics projects (robots mainly) with only a cheap-ass manual drill ($15 from a hardware store). Plastic cases are your friends. I also found a bunch of places where you can buy electronics parts really cheaply, but they aren't always well documented. It's fine for LEDs and resistors and such, but for motors or anything complicated, you probably want to buy it from a source with good documentation. My cheaper suggestions, though, are:

Electronics goldmine

RS electronics (maybe this is radio shack?) This one is great for cheap shipping if you aren't in the USA.
posted by lollusc at 9:30 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding the idea that you should go to Maker Faire this weekend. If it's the same as last year, there's a big shop where you can buy an Arduino kit and other stuff. Maker Faire is also a good place to actually see all the neat projects that people make.

Also, check out the book Making Things Talk: Practical Methods for Connecting Physical Objects (or wait for the soon to be released Making Things Talk: Using Sensors, Networks, and Arduino...).
posted by hooray at 9:46 AM on September 15, 2011

This was the toast of musical geekdom for quite a while.
posted by timsteil at 10:02 AM on September 15, 2011

Arduino and a Music shield.
posted by plinth at 10:08 AM on September 15, 2011

I have none of the experience you have, but share some of your aspirations. One of these days, I plan on taking a course at 3rd Ward. Their electronics courses look cool and like they'd get you off to a good start.

There's also a place called LEMUR on the edge of Park Slope (assuming it's still there) that is all about noisy electronics. They don't appear to be offering any classes at the moment, but they have in the past, and I've peeked inside and seen some pretty cool stuff.

Let me know if you go this route!
posted by etc. at 10:35 AM on September 15, 2011

Radio Shack should still sell what you're looking for. (Mine does, but I'm in a rural area, so YMMV.)

Jameco has some good kits as well.
Seconding PAiA--they're good kits.
posted by luckynerd at 10:46 AM on September 15, 2011

Oh yeah. Meant to say, even Brooklyn Radio Shacks still sell the basics.
posted by etc. at 11:16 AM on September 15, 2011

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned Sparkfun yet. Great place to get tools and parts, at least until you figure out how to order from Digi-Key. They have some helpful tutorials as well.

Radio Shack does still sell some tools and parts, but they're all crammed into maybe six feet of wall space. They do still sell some nice cheap protoboards (at least last time I checked). Their components are way overpriced, so beware.
posted by neckro23 at 11:35 AM on September 15, 2011

Seconding the Maker Faire this weekend, it's at the New York Hall of Science in Queens. Tons of resources, lots of helpful folks, and wonderful exhibits.

Bonus: area Radio Shacks are selling tickets, so stop in and see what they have for experimenters and get a ticket.

While you are there check out any of the "Engineers Notebook" series by Forrest Mims. They may be exactly what you're looking for.
posted by Marky at 11:36 AM on September 15, 2011

Other people's stuff that might give you ideas…

Create Digital Music: DIY

The Rockit 8 Bit Synth Kit

Circuit Bending links
posted by Gentlemanhog at 12:42 PM on September 15, 2011

As always, might I advise youtubing drawdio, falling in love, and then ordering the fifteen dollar kit or five dollar pcb. It's fabulous.
posted by Iteki at 2:59 PM on September 15, 2011

I asked a question about robotics and microcontrollers a while back, which contained some really useful answers about electronics. I followed some of the advice there and I've now got what I need to make the device you linked to, with the exception of 555/556 timers. Plus, since you can code, you might want to start using microcontrollers, which would really add a lot of flexibility to your projects.
posted by Simon Barclay at 6:53 PM on September 15, 2011

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