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
Favorite DIY Tools
Stainless Steel Hollow Desoldering Needles
In the past, I used a solder sucker to remove components from a PCB... a cheap hand-held tube with a spring inside
Recently, I discovered a fantastic method using stainless steel hollow desoldering needles and I now use this method exclusively. These are perfect for use with the old‑style PCB's used on Roland, Yamaha, and Korg synths in 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!
The price of the Weller WLC100 is so low at ±$39 (USD) 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. This bears the Weller™ brand name so it's a dependable, well-built device. I've been using this model almost every day for the past 4 years and it still works great like the first day I used it
Side Note: Although I don't own a soldering station designed for use with SMT/SMD components, I saw a Facebook post from another DIY enthusiast who recommends this inexpensive gadget, the SI8586 SMD Soldering Rework Station Hot Air Gun. It serves double duty as a normal soldering iron and also as a hot air gun
Xicon™ Knurled Nut Driver - P/N: 382-0006
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. In the past, I had some unused epoxy glue cones which work extremely well for hand‑tight fitting. In fact, the plastic grips the knurled nut so well that you need to be careful that you don't over‑tighten them. Just pop the knurled nut in the large end and screw it on. Each one had an advantage. The epoxy cones were free and the Xicon is easier to use because of the center guide post. You can find the Xicon P/N: 382-0006 at mouser.com here
Model 801 Resistor Lead Forming Tool - 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, LED's 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 and Small Bear Electronics here
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
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. These can be found on eBay for less than $2 each. 8mm and 10mm are the best ones to keep around. I found mine from an eBay vendor who had them priced wrong at only 99¢/ea. + free shipping. The next day, an extra $3 shipping charge appeared on all of his items for sale ;^)
Note: Standard height sockets will also work but I think you will find that deep sockets have the advantage of providing a larger surface area to enable a better finger grip
DIY Oscilloscope - Only $17 !!! (Includes Everything Except A 9V (200mA) Power Supply)
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
Favorite DIY Vendors
Tayda 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 plus... they offer a 15% discount on your entire order when you use a coupon posted monthly at their Facebook Page. 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. Although Tayda has started carrying quality brand name capacitors such as Panasonic and WIMA, their selection of capacitance values is quite limited compared to Mouser Tayda Electronics
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. The discount cheapo brands from eBay will probably give you more problems down the road in less than 10 years time. Most of the synth repairs I fix are a result of off‑brand capacitor failures. Mouser offers discount economy shipping for less than $5 (USD) on any sized order. My only gripe about Mouser is when ordering batteries, economy shipping is not an option because they can't be sent on a plane. The shipping ends up being costly. 99 Times out of 100 it's always best to buy a quantity of 100 pieces. 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!!! Mouser Electronics
Erthenvar is primarily a DIY Eurorack parts distributor. They carry some hard to find jacks and hardware at low, low prices Erthenvar
Modular Addict is another 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 on over $100 (USD). Their selection of new and value priced braided patch cables are worth drooling over. Very nice!!! ModularAddict
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 - Several brand new, low priced, quality blank EPROMs for all your 1980's and 1990' 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
In the past, I used to buy a lot of IC's from eBay vendors based in Asia. Over time, I've found that the amount of counterfeit and defective IC's I've received have not been worth the money I've saved. After all the hassles and time spent troubleshooting a defective build because it used a bogus IC, I end up wishing I had paid the extra dollar for an IC from Mouser. I no longer buy any IC's from eBay. There are a few exceptions such as new blank EPROMs and the CoolAudio V2164 Quad VCA (both from known good vendors). Although I'm sure a lot of IC's from Tayda Electronics are sourced from Asia, they do an excellent job of preventing counterfeits and defective batches by screening the products they sell. I've never received a defective IC from Tayda or any other vendor listed above
Below is a fascinating document from the Components Technology Institute which details how counterfeiters make IC's and how you can spot fakes. Some of the counterfeiting process involves reusing IC's pulled from old PCB's, recoating the surface and relabeling them using lasers or silkscreen printing. Using new IC's which failed quality control and relabeling them is also a common practice. It's hard to imagine spending the time and effort to counterfeit a 75¢ chip! I guess it's worth it if you can sell enough of them http://www.cti-us.com/pdf/CCAP-101InspectExamplesA6.pdf
Scanning electron microscope detail showing laser etching used for relabeling an IC