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Continued: How NOT to Build a Guitar Pedal

For this installment, I wanted to talk about enclosures. The struggles we had with our Cranberry enclosures were a different kind of frustrating, because by the time we really started to have issues, we had circuit boards and parts in hand ready to build. Our enclosure woes stalled the process completely. Additionally, enclosures are the most expensive single component in most pedal builds, particularly when finish, drilling, and art are included in the price. How can one little part cause so much heartache? Buckle up for the story!

Prototypes

The first group of enclosures to talk about are the two Cranberry prototypes – these both used the circuit board in the Final Prototype (September 2018) section of the first post about How NOT to Build a Guitar Pedal. The bare metal (P1) was built with the inherent errors of the board, and the printed enclosure (P2) reflects those corrections. P2 was the result of a test print that was done locally on a UV printer. This enclosure is a Tayda sourced, white powder coated 125B. If you look closely, the art is doubled – much like a 3D image. This had to do with some settings on the UV printer that we were experimenting with.

Both prototypes also reflect the early knob spacing (1.6″ center-to-center) on the top row that was reduced (to 1.3″) for production for aesthetic purposes. This becomes important as we move through production issues.

Color and Print Tests

The same print test session that yielded the P2 enclosure also gave us the two red enclosures pictured. The red enclosure on the right was another Tayda sourced, powder coated 125B. On the left was sourced from a US vendor, and was powder coated to order. In both cases, we did not care for how dark the overall pedal became with a red enclosure – the original design called for red knobs as well. given the comparison between the white and red, everyone involved prefered the white.

A major note about the US sourced enclosure: if you look closely, you will see that the UV art is already pulling off the enclosure. Tactilely, there is a definite difference between the finish on these two enclosures – the US sourced is glossier and behaves like it is sealed, while the Tayda behaves more like paint. Maybe it was this gloss, but the UV art on the US sourced enclosure comes off with slight effort, while the Tayda art seems to bond into the finish much better.

Misprints - Anyone Need a Cheap 125B?

Based on the print tests described above, we made the decision to use the Tayda sourced, white powder coated enclosures with white Davies 1510-style knobs. Additionally, we made the design decision to move the knobs in the top row closer together, and adjusted the art accordingly. The enclosures for the first fifty Cranberries were ordered, and unfortunately printed with the prototype art (on the left).

We ordered the second round of fifty enclosures (side note, round one was ordered pre-tariff, round two was ordered post-tariff – nearly a $50 difference in import fees). This round was printed off center – the print tech was new and was not as careful as he should have been when positioning them in the printer. We made the mutual decision to try a different print vendor. Kudos to Tayda, by the way. Once printed, these enclosures must be stripped to bare metal to remove the art.

Measure Twice... Hell, Measure Once

At this point, we made the decision to use a one-stop shop to have our enclosures prepared. As a small manufacturer with limited time and space, things like printing and drilling being outsourced equates to more pedals designed and built. If we reach a point where it makes sense to bring this in house, we may explore bringing these operations home – in the meantime, we leave it to the professionals. We communicated with several of the major names in this area over a few weeks, found one we felt comfortable working with, and placed our first order.

This vendor was fairly adamant that we not order more than five until we knew for sure that the holes and art matched up. I protested, but eventually deferred to their judgement – boy, am I glad I did. The first round of enclosures arrived – powder coat was spot on, the UV print was perfect, and the drilling was exactly what we had ordered, based on various data sheets and guides.

The Most Important (Enclosure) Tool You Own

When assembly began on the first enclosure, I figured out something was very wrong. I immediately checked my drill instructions and sure enough, the holes were exactly what was ordered. Unfortunately, every hole save the three for the potentiometers was too large for the component being installed. The LED and DC power jack holes were so large the components pulled through them. I checked back through data sheets and clearance guides, checked my math, and checked the enclosure again. The holes should have worked – but they didn’t.

I went out that night and bought a digital caliper at Harbor Freight – possibly the best $5 spent so far at Rare Buzz Effects. I measured every component individually, and tightened the diameters on the drill guide. A special thank you again to our vendor – we only own five enclosures with these holes, not fifty.

Introducing the Cranberry

We ordered five more enclosures with the updated drill information, and if you’ve been waiting for the happy ending… As I write this post the first five retail Cranberry Fuzz pedals are trickling out into the world – 001 is being used as a demo, 002 and 003 are in private hands, 004 is on tour with Bobaflex, and 005 is being recorded for The Everyday Guitarist’s YouTube channel.

Twenty more enclosures are on order with an expected arrival date of mid-February, and the final twenty-five of the first Cranberry run will be ordered to arrive in mid-March. Unfortunately, the steps of this installment of the series were much more expensive than the previous. Please, learn from our mistakes and check out the pointers below.

TL;DR Summary

Here are some enclosure tips that I learned through the course of this process:

  • Order in small batches. Treat everything as a prototype until you have a production-ready product in your hand. Resist the temptation to order the entire production run until you know that fit and finish is what you expect.
  • Measure each component yourself – do not trust datasheets or clearance guides. A digital caliper is cheap insurance against errors.
  • If you are having work done by multiple vendors (including yourself), keep in mind that there are different inks, finishes, and processes, and not all of them work together.
  • Consider a one-stop-shop enclosure vendor. Can you do it yourself more economically? Possibly. But the time you save not having to finish, drill, and apply art is time you can spend on final assembly, research, and design.

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