Behind The Iron With C. Isaac Nelson (Pt. 3 – Wiring)

Untitled-1For our 3rd installment, I will cover wiring! Let me preface this by saying I hate wiring. Hate! But it is a necessary evil unless you are clever enough to have created a PCB on which all of your hardware can be directly mounted with no wiring needed. If this is the case, you are not new to the pedal building process and are probably smarter than me so stop reading now! For the rest of us though, wiring is a necessary evil. The type of wire usually used is 24AWG stranded hook up wire. It’s small and flexible and takes solder easily. You can use bigger wire but it is harder to fit through many wire connection holes in PCBs and it takes more heat to get the solder to flow on it well. The basics of wiring are simple. The first step, while not essential, can help out with headaches and trouble shooting in the future.

#1 WIRE COLORS: Having many different colors of wires is highly recommended. There is nothing worse than opening up a pedal and seeing 15 black wires. Trouble shooting nightmare! Different colors help you keep track of what is wired to where and makes following wiring diagrams much easier.

#2 Tinning wires: A tinned wire is much easier to solder than a non-tinned wire. Tinned means that you have added solder to the wire before you place it wherever it needs to go. It also helps keep wire strands from fraying out and causing all sorts of problems. Tinning takes some practice because you just want to get enough on there to hold everything together, but not so much to where you have a big blob of solder on the end of the wire. See picture:

A Properly Tinned Wire

A Properly Tinned Wire

Now a good thing to check is the size of the wire hole in your PCB. Some are bigger than others. In some cases, even if you tin it correctly, you may not be able to fit it through the wire connector holes of the PCB, so test it first before you go tinning all of your wires.

#3 Attaching the wire: The correct way (or the way I was taught is correct) is to wrap the wire around the lug, clamp it down, and then solder it, thus creating a mechanical and soldered connection. The faster way is to just lay the wire in the lug hole and solder it in. It’s up to you. On some soldering irons you will need to turn the heat up a bit when connecting to a lug on a input or output jack as the piece of metal is bigger than a PCB wire connection or DC jack/pot connection.

#4 Running wires to the board: Some people attach wires to the hardware first, some to the PCB first. It’s personal preference on what works best for you. I usually find it easier to attach to the hardware first, but that’s just me. The main thing is to get your wires as short as you can. While wire noise isn’t usually a big deal, it is generally agreed that shorter wires cut down on the potential for wire induced noise. Now if you are new to building, you might want to leave them a little longer on your first few builds because you more than likely will need to trouble shoot something and having longer wires so you can look under or flip over the board helps there.

#5 Make it pretty!: This step is EXTREMELY optional. If you are selling this pedal/project to someone, you might want to have nice looking wiring. Some people like a nice sweeping flow to the wiring, some like right angles. I am more of a “Does it work and sound good?” kind of wirer. That is to say, I don’t care what the wiring looks like, as long as it works and doesn’t cause noise. I have worked with people who can make masterpiece pedals by doing very intricate wiring using only their thumbs. I don’t like those people, mainly because even when I try, my wiring looks like day old spaghetti. But have fun with it, be creative.

Next I will cover wiring a true bypass switch. Save your money and do it yourself! 

One thought on “Behind The Iron With C. Isaac Nelson (Pt. 3 – Wiring)

  1. mark says:

    Great article! I have two comments: Regarding #1: I agree about multiple wire colors; the more the better. I don’t have the budget for many spools of wire so I keep some basics around (red, black, green) and I make up the rest with white wire and a set of Sharpies, only coloring the last inch and a half or so of each end. And regarding #4: I would say that when building in a small enclosure, like a pedal, getting the enclosure to close easily (and open, and close again, etc.) is more important than getting the wires as short as possible. If I can make the wiring flex accommodatingly I don’t have to use force and risk weakening or breaking any joints or components.

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