I picked this selection of gadgets and vendors because of the extremely LOW cost
I use everything shown here almost every day and highly recommend each one
My favorite gadget now for removing through‑hole components is the brand new Engineer SS‑02. It's a high quality item made in Japan. It's made from machine tooled aluminum so it's somewhat pricey in the $18 to $30 price range. I wasn't interested in buying one at that high price until I saw all of the positive comments and reviews from other owners so... I took a chance. Amazing Results That Blew My Mind! Almost zero solder residue is left behind. It has a heat resistant flexible tube on the end which enables you to get right next to the soldering iron tip. It works 100% better than a standard solder sucker because there is no gap. It completely covers the trace hole and component lead. The base of the tube is a very compact size at only 12cm so maneuvering is much easier than an old style solder sucker. I highly recommend this gadget. You won't be disappointed. The least expensive price I've found online for this one is at Adafruit
I discovered a fantastic method using stainless steel hollow desoldering needles and I now use this method a lot for use with the old‑style PCB's used on Roland, Yamaha, and Korg synths from the 1980's/1990's. I'm now able to desolder through‑hole components in about 1/2 the time plus... the removed components are extra clean from any excess solder. These cool things are only $2 for an 8‑piece set! Highly recommended!! These are easy to find on eBay. Just search for "Desoldering Needles"
The secret about using them is the "Spin & Press" technique. Place a hollow needle over the component lead, heat the trace, spin & press down in the PCB hole until the solder cools. The "Spin & Press" leaves an empty channel absent of solder. Super fast. After a couple of tries, you'll get the pattern down pat. This process leaves a nice empty hole in the PCB and a nearly solder‑free component. Here's an image of components I desoldered after a Noritake GU280 Display upgrade on a Roland Super JX‑10 synth. Nice and clean! For only $2... take a chance
Note: I don't recommend using these needles for removing components from some of the newer style double‑sided PCB's because solder will stick to components on the opposite side. A solder sucker or solder wick are still the best methods for some of the newer style double‑sided PCB's
For smaller SMD/SMT components, desoldering needles and solder suckers obviously will not work. Someone recently recommended that I try using the Chemtronics 10‑5L for smaller components and I was very impressed. It does a fantastic job when removing SMD/SMT components and also works great for larger through‑hole components as well. I tried using a desoldering wick years ago but I couldn't make it work. I didn't realize the secret was buying one with rosin flux in the braid core which greatly increases the wicking process
Weller™ WLC100 40-Watt Soldering Station
The price of the Weller WLC100 is so low that I bought an extra one as a backup in the unlikely event this one craps out. The tip housing unscrews so you can use several types of soldering tips depending on the job at hand. The adjustable thermostat ranges in temperatures up to 900° degrees (F°). This bears the Weller™ brand name so it's a dependable, well‑built device. I've been using this model almost every day since 2013 and it still works great like the first day I used it. After 10 years of contant use, I have replaced the soldering tip several times but the soldering iron is still rock solid
The WLC100 comes standard with a large wedge‑style soldering tip (4.75mm x 19.0mm). That tip works well for common tasks but I prefer a conical shaped tip for detailed work on PCB's. The tip I use most often for synthesizer repairs and through‑hole Eurorack module builds is one made by Apex Tool Group. The size is (0.8mm x 19.0mm), the part number is ST‑7 and it's available for $5 (USD)here at Mouser
Sometimes you will read datasheets which specify the maximum soldering temperature to use for components. This soldering station does not have an LED temperature readout so I made a double‑sided reference card in PDF format. It lists the temperature ranges on the dial from 1 to 5 in Fahrenheit (F°) and Celcius (C°). Download it, print it, laminate it and keep it near the soldering station for future use
The Xicon knurled nut driver is a must if you work on any Eurorack DIY projects. At only $8 (USD) it's a great tool to keep handy. For Erthenvar, Thonkiconn and some other 3.5mm jacks, you will need to very slightly file down the edges of the points to make it a good fit. You can find the Xicon P/N: 382‑0006 at mouser.com here
Resistor Lead Forming Tool Model 801 - P/N: 5166-801
This was the best $5 I've ever spent. This resistor lead bending tool speeds up productivity like you would not believe. Resistor placement is more accurate. It also works well for electrolytic capacitors, inductors and other components which need to be placed in oddball positions on a PCB. The Model 801 is for 1/4W resistors, the most common size for Eurorack projects. You can find this useful gadget at mouser.com here
Aven™ Adjustable Circuit Board Holder P/N: 17010
Another gadget I can't do without. This one has rubber feet and is constructed using some very thick steel so it's weighted down. The heavy steel makes it nice and durable for extended use. At only $11 (USD), this is a great one to keep on your workbench. It allows 360° rotation and sideways adjustments for PCB's up to 7.8". It also has locking thumbwheels to keep the PCB from turning during work. Excellent for easy soldering/desoldering/inspection. The lowest price I've seen is at amazon.com here
This high quality, automatic wire stripper is precision made in Germany. It sells for the amazingly low price of only $20 (USD). It's the best wire stripper I've ever used. It automatically strips the outer jacket from the inner wire and is very comfrotable to use with low strain on your hand. Excellent customizability for clean wire stripping from 24 AWG through 10 AWG. Also has a built‑in wire cutter and crimper. The lowest price I've seen online is at amazon.com here and they show up from time to time at some walk‑in Home Depot stores for only $15 (USD). I highly recommend this one. You won't regret adding it to your toolkit
Mega328 Component Tester (a.k.a LCR-T4 Tester)
I like to test all new components before soldering them onto a PCB. When I found this cool gadget it was a dream come true. This very low‑cost and extremely useful device is able to test Diodes, Resistors, Transistors, LED's, Capacitors, Inductors and more. Simply plug a component into the ZIF socket and press a button to test the value(s)
I really like using this tool because I'm able to very quickly match paired transistors. When testing transistors, it displays the hFE, Emitter Forward Bias Voltage and will also display which pins are the Collector, Emitter and Base. This is very useful because it shows the correct orientation so you can ensure it's plugged into your PCB the right way before soldering in place! The ZIF socket will let you insert transistors in any orientation and will determine the correct pinouts automatically. It's powered by a 9V battery and has an auto shut‑off feature to prolong battery life
Make sure the one you buy has an acrylic case included so it's protected from ESD!!! Many of the lower priced models do not include an acrylic case. I bought mine on eBay from a USA based vendor and the cost was under $14 (USD) with free shipping
Value min / max for component testing are:
Resistors: 0.1 Ω to 50M Ω Inductors: 0.01 µH to 20 H Capacitors: 25 pF to 100K µF LED's: Displays Forward Bias Voltage, Capacitance & Anode/Cathode Pinout
Transistors: Automatic Detection Of NPN, PNP & N‑Channel/P‑Channel MOSFET's
Fiberglass Scratch Pen
This economy $3 tool works great for cleaning up previously soldered PCB boards and preparing them for soldering new components in place. Any solder remnants are easily removed by using the abrasive fiberglass tip which makes the old copper traces appear like magic. The tip is quite long. As it wears down, you can twist the top cap and add more length. It lasts a long, long time. Another excellent tip supplied by Guy Wilkinson ;^)
I was always annoyed when trying to keep IC sockets in place while soldering. This is a simple and low cost tool you can make easily
Deep Well Sockets For Hand Tightening Hex Nuts
There is always the right tool for the right job. I could never find any nut drivers deep enough to work with the tall potentiometer shafts and mini toggle switches. Pliers would sometimes leave nicks and scratches on the panel if I was slightly off the mark. I finally found the solution and now use deep well sockets to hand tighten hex nuts for Alpha pots, Toggle Switches, Momentary Switches, LED Bezels and 3.5mm Hex Jacks. However, when working on my car or other projects outdoors, I found that some of my deep sockets were always missing and sitting on my audio bench inside the house. For convenience, I purchased a couple extra deep sockets for exclusive use at my audio workbench. I cover the top section with tubeshrink which gives me a better grip when turning. Deep well sockets can be found on eBay for less than $2 each. 8mm and 10mm are the best ones to keep around
Note: Most standard height sockets will not work because the extra height of the potentiometer shaft and buttons prevents the socket from fitting all the way down to the panel Crimpers
I've saved an incredible amount of money over the years by making my own Eurorack cables. Investing in an inexpensive crimp tool will quickly pay for itself after making only a few cables
Model: G-214 is an inexpensive crimp tool for IDC Ribbon Connectors (Eurorack). This model comes standard with a yellow plastic insert adapter (P/N: HT‑214) for use with most of the common sized IDC Ribbon Connectors up to 40 pins (55mm). Search eBay or Amazon for "IDC Crimp Tool"
Model: SN-28B Is a low‑cost crimper used for extremely small wire crimps on JST‑SM and Dupont connectors. These style crimp connectors are used on the JX‑10, MKS‑70, JV‑880, Alpha Juno, S‑Series, W‑Series and many other Roland synthesizers/samplers from the 1980's and 1990's era. It's able to crimp wire sizes from 28AWG through 18AWG. I found the Model: SN‑28B at Tayda for under $10 (USD). Some of the older style Roland connectors and crimp inserts can be found at mouser.com. Newer style connectors and crimp inserts can be found at taydaelectronics.com at this link
DIY Oscilloscope - Only $17 !!!
Includes Everything Except A Power Supply (Range: 9V to 12V and 200mA / Center Tap Positive)
I decided to take a gamble and bought a DIY DSO138 Oscilloscope. For only $17 I figured it wouldn't be a huge loss if it was junk. After using it for a while I'm quite pleased with the build and how useful it is for use with my synthesizers and Eurorack setup. It was an easy build and it even has a built‑in square wave signal generator to make calibration super simple. It's been working great and I've been using it to calibrate all of my DIY Eurorack modules. No more guessing by using my ears to set them up ;^) Soldering the miniature SMD components was a breeze... but I'm glad there weren't very many of them. Such an amazing price for what this thing can do!!! It's a great bench tool for audio applications. Obviously, it can't compare with a $300 oscilloscope so it doesn't have Dual Trace but it is able to measure up to 200kHz... plenty for audio applications. It also has an adjustable trigger level position, previous trigger waveform display and freeze waveform display (HOLD Screen Function). Unlike the one shown in the video, a very nice acrylic case was also included with the +/- 90 through‑hole and SMD parts. A coaxial 2‑lead probe with alligator clips is also included. This build took about two hours to complete
Hairline Solder Fractures
I buy a lot of broken gear on eBay and I'm able to fix about 90% of everything I find. It's usually a simple fix. If you have a synth with no power, intermittent problems after it warms up or external equipment like a PG‑800 or MIDI gear not working, it's probably due to the fact that back in the 1980's and 1990's, Roland and other synth makers used sub‑par solder and/or not enough solder to hold components in place
After 30+ years, the solder begins to break down and hairline fractures appear. This occurs at a higher rate for components which generate a lot of heat like Bridge Rectifiers, Power Transistors, large Electrolytic Capacitors, power input jacks, MIDI connectors and audio sockets which get a lot of use. The best approach is to use a magnifying glass and carefully inspect the backside of the circuit board. If you spot any suspect areas, re‑flow a hefty amount of NEW solder
Favorite DIY Vendors
SUPER SYNTHESIZER PROJECTS has a wide range of helpful tips and tricks for maintaining several types of Roland, Yamaha, Korg, Akai and other synthesizer brands. I've picked up an amazing amount of useful electronics knowledge here
Super Synthesizer Projects
BARTON MUSICAL CIRCUITShas a very large selection of DIY Eurorack PCB's and Panels. This is my favorite Eurorack DIY designer... an endless amount of creative and unique modules. With more than 90 custom Eurorack projects to choose from, you will always find something cool to build from the projects here. All projects are designed to use low cost and readily available common components. Michael Barton is available for tech support via eMail and answers questions promptly. Highly recommended!!!
Barton Musical Circuits
MODULAR ADDICTis an excellent DIY Eurorack parts distributor. The selection of DIY Kits, PCB's and Panels is vast. They also have a Components Page with obscure and custom synth parts. Free and very quick shipping for orders over $100 (USD) and also discounted International Shipping. Their selection of new and value priced braided patch cables and custom knobs are worth drooling over. Very nice!
PUSHERMANis a great place for Eurorack PCB/Panel sets at incredibly low prices. They have a huge inventory of hard to find DIY projects and provide excellent after‑sales support via their Facebook page
TAYDA ELECTRONICS is the premier place to find discounts on IC's, knobs, transistors, diodes, stripboards, switches, and a zillion other DIY parts. Shipping is quick and accurate. Nobody comes close to Tayda's selection, service and prices. Nobody!
Note: Although I can't say anything good or bad about the capacitors they sell, I highly recommend buying your capacitors elsewhere. Tayda has started carrying a few quality brand‑name capacitors such as Panasonic and WIMA. However, their selection of quality brand‑name capacitance values is quite limited compared to Mouser
MOUSER has the hard to find IC's and capacitors you need. I recommend buying ALL of your capacitors from Mouser and select only quality brand name manufacturers such as Nichicon, WIMA and Panasonic. Discount cheapo capacitor brands will probably give you more problems down the road in less than 10 years time. Almost 50% of all synth repairs I make are a result of off‑brand capacitor failures. Mouser offers discount economy shipping in the USA for less than $4 (USD) on orders. It's always best to buy a quantity of 100 pieces or more. The quantity discounts are enormous. Case and point... if you buy QUAN:1 of RC0805FR‑0710KL (a 10K Resistor) it's 10¢/each. If you buy QUAN:100 it's only 60¢ for all 100... compared to buying one at a time, that's a savings of $9.40!!! My only gripe about Mouser is when ordering batteries, economy shipping is not an option because they can't be sent on an airplane
KEYBOARD KOUNTRY has a large selection of hard to find synth repair parts. Some new, some used. Roland, Korg, Yamaha, Ensoniq and more. I've used them as a source for finding keys, bender bars, springs, encoders and other items to save my synths from extinction and brought them back to life
CABINTECH GLOBALis a USA vendor which manufactures and sells modern remakes of hard‑to‑find classic Roland synth IC's such as the MN3005, MN3007 and MN3009 plus the elusive CoolAudio V2164 Quad VCA IC
PITTSBURGH MODULAR is my absolute favorite Eurorack brand. They always have innovate and unique designs and are constantly developing new modules. They don't sell any DIY modules but it's always good to have some of their boutique gear in your collection. Their limited editions (usually set at only 200 modules) tend to sell out quickly. These turn into some real classic collector's items. Check back from time to time and you'll find some new stuff at their store page. Be sure to check out their YouTube channel as well which contains a lot of useful Eurorack tips and tricks along with some spacey modular jams
These are some of the known good vendors I use on a regular basis to buy uncommon IC's not found at Tayda, Mouser and elsewhere:
JK_Parts Store - Brand new, low priced, quality blank EPROMs for all your 80's and 90' synth firmware projects
UT Source - An enormous selection of hard to find IC's used on 1980's, 1990's and modern day synths
Semi Surplus - Another good source for hard to find IC's used on 1980's and 1990's synth gear
If you find some of this DIY info useful, please consider donating a small amount. All donations are used for future DIY synth development. Thanks!
Other Synthesizer And Sampler Homepages I Maintain