Where are the beginner-level electronic kits to be found?
October 29, 2007 1:12 PM   Subscribe

I need recommendations for beginner-level electronic kits and projects; audio-related kits and projects preferred.

I know which end of the soldering iron is the hot end, but not much beyond that. I've done a little exploratory surgery on electronics in the past, but mostly circuit-bending or basic repairs to wiring. Those colorful blobs of ceramic attached to the circuit board? I have only the roughest idea what those are and what they do, but I want to learn.

Even better, I'd like to learn by building audio stuff.

I've wandered about in Frys and RadioShack looking at the kits, but I figure there have to be great repositories of kits, schematics, books, projects, lore, philosophy, and other good stuff relating to electronics.

So where should I start looking?
posted by lekvar to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
You could try circuit bending. . You would get much more interesting results much quicker. And then when you want to tackle your own project you will have honed your soldering skills on virtually free projects.
posted by ian1977 at 1:17 PM on October 29, 2007

Ramsey has a bunch of great audio kits but they're definitely on the expensive side.

Jameco will have better prices but less audio kits to choose from.

All Electronics will have a few kits, but at amazing prices.

Finally, for what you say in the post, if you haven't already, you may want to read the book Handmade Electronic Music.
posted by drezdn at 1:19 PM on October 29, 2007

I've heard good things about Arduino from several different folks. Here's a starter kit with tutorials.
posted by togdon at 1:19 PM on October 29, 2007

In addition, once you have soldering down and can read a schematic, try for pedal plans or amp plans.

I've built a variety of small amps, pedals, and other music things from scratch and from kits, so if you're looking for kits in a specific area (say pedals) let me know and I can post some additional suggestions.
posted by drezdn at 1:22 PM on October 29, 2007

Oh...and you could try Paia kits too.
posted by ian1977 at 1:24 PM on October 29, 2007

One last place to look is jaycar. It might cost a little more for the shipping, but they also offer the cheapest decent theremin kit I've ever seen. They have at least four pages of audio kits.
posted by drezdn at 1:25 PM on October 29, 2007

It might be better as a second project (after you're a bit more comfortable), but you sound like a good candidate for the Sound Lab Mini-Synth.

There are also the Synthesizer DIY pages of René Schmitz.

Also DIY Audio Projects (though more oriented to listening than creating).

A good first project is the cmoy headphone amplifier.
posted by exogenous at 1:28 PM on October 29, 2007

Parts Express has a bunch of little electronics kits you can put together. Little amps, crossovers, AM/FM radios and even a Pong game. Pretty cheap too.
posted by sanka at 1:38 PM on October 29, 2007

Response by poster: drezdn, I'd like to eventually get to a point where I can build pedals, so if you'd got any suggestions I'd love to hear 'em.
posted by lekvar at 1:39 PM on October 29, 2007

Try some of the projects over at MAKEzine.com There are plenty of beginning suggestions.

The arduino is pretty cool, but more for microcontroller and programing action. You can get the adafruit boarduino, build it yourself and *then* working on making it do things.

I heartily second anything related to Lady Ada and adafruit industries. She is first person to make a living doing open source hardware, and a pretty cool person overall.
posted by sethwoodworth at 1:53 PM on October 29, 2007

Response by poster: Yeah, Lady Ada's x0xb0x Kit is another project I'm working towards. I didn't realize there were other projects available though.
posted by lekvar at 1:58 PM on October 29, 2007

Ditto on MAKE--check out the blog, the mag, and the store.

You might also want to get acquainted with Forrest Mimm's tutorials on basic electronics. They often come bundled with an electronic kit to teach you about circuits, etc and some of the projects are audio-oriented, though more on the "make a buzzer work" end of things than "make a guitar pedal" but a good place to start.
posted by donovan at 1:59 PM on October 29, 2007

Practical Electronics for Inventors by Paul Scherz is very good. You may enjoy some of the
introductory books by Forrest Mims as well. Check your library.

Don't forget to tin your soldering iron before you put it away. Here's a good write-up.

Also, where are you living? You may have some circuit-benders or electronics hobbyists nearby.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:59 PM on October 29, 2007

On the audio project front, I found Electronic Projects for Musicians by Craig Anderton to be really fun. Build your own guitar effects and such.

And I'm a big fan of Arduino (self-link) if you want to start experimenting with programming tiny computers the size of your finger.
posted by todbot at 2:04 PM on October 29, 2007

General Guitar Gadgets offers some really good kits (I've built their Big Muff) and the prices are mostly reasonable. They also offer the schematics for tons of pedals.

Build Your Own Clone has some really cool kits, but I haven't built any of them, mostly because they're a bit more expensive.

Small Bear sells some cool kits and are the go to place for some harder to find electronic pieces (like the foot switch for a pedal). I've never built their kits, but I've ordered parts from them before and they shipped it pretty quickly.

Finally, try finding copies of Craig Anderton's two books about electronics for musicians (one is stuff pulled from a guitar magazine and is geared towards guitarists, the other is a bit more general). The only downside is one is really old (from the 80s?) and the other is a bit old, so parts may be a little harder to track down. On the plus side, he explains theory in the older one (at least a bit).

In the internet age though, updated information on the Anderton projects is available online.

If you haven't soldered much before, I would suggest doing a few cheap random kits first.
posted by drezdn at 2:07 PM on October 29, 2007

For me personally, if you haven't already, I would start with Handmade Electronic Music. I've read nearly every electronics book mention in this thread so far (Anderton, Mims, The Inventors one, etc.) and Handmade Electronic Music is, IMHO the easiest to follow and the quickest to get you to cool results if you're interested in making sound.

From there, Mims "Getting Started in Electronics" does include some audio projects (they just mostly aren't that interested, and require the ability to read a schematic).

Practical Electronics for Inventors will give you all of the theory you need, but it doesn't offer much in real world examples and it doesn't focus all that much on audio (iirc).
posted by drezdn at 2:11 PM on October 29, 2007

Response by poster: One further clarification:

You're all awesome. Thanks for all the info and links.
posted by lekvar at 4:52 PM on October 29, 2007

I definitely second the recommendation for Paia; I built their Theremax theremin kit a few years back... lots of parts, but fairly easy. Moog also has a theremin kit, but theirs is more expensive.

Velleman (kind of a modern-day Heathkit) also has a few great audio projects available as kits:
Police Siren, Pink Noise / White Noise Generator, Sound Generator, Multitone Chime, and Pocket Audio Generator. It shouldn't be too hard to find a dealer in your area.
posted by fvox13 at 7:34 PM on October 29, 2007

A great place to start is with OLD electronic guidebooks; you can see how people build function on top of function. My guide was the John Marcus "Guidebook of Electronic Circuits" (1974, McGraw Hill, 998 pp). I see it's out on Amazon for well under $10 - - pick it up, start flipping through it, and learn by osmosis.
posted by rpaxton at 7:57 PM on October 29, 2007

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