06 Nov Why DIY?
Like many home studio engineers, I have pined after the “classic” gear ever since I started getting serious about my studio setup. You know the gear: 1176 blue stripes, LA-2A’s, Vari-Mu’s, 1073’s, Pultec EQ’s, etc. Seeing pictures and videos of the pros in the studio with those iconic faceplates has linked that gear in our minds with the sound of our favorite records. Like many, I have made gear wish-lists from interviews with engineers talking about the sonic goodness of a particular piece of gear. Not surprisingly, these “classics” are never cheap and are usually out of the budget of a small home studio. Most of them aren’t even made anymore or the modern versions aren’t touted as highly.
There are a few solutions to this problem. Saving money to buy your dream gear is always an option, but it takes time and patience. In addition, some gear is just too expensive for a hobbyist to justify. Local studios or music stores may offer equipment rentals, which works great in the short-term but isn’t sustainable in the long run. A lot of affordable gear is based on these classic designs, but usually the companies making this gear have to compromise somewhere in order to bring the price down. If you aren’t worried about a perfect recreation, these clones are a viable option.
My favorite choice though is DIY! It’s not for everybody, but it is the most affordable way to get your hands on classic circuits with no compromise. Some kits come bundled with everything you’ll need, but some only come with a schematic and a bill of materials and leave the rest up to you. There are pros and cons to DIY; here are a few of them.
- Price. An assembled unit will always be more expensive. DIY projects only require the raw materials, saving the cost of assembly labor. It’s amazing how much money can be saved on a DIY unit, even using the same or greater quality components as the original.
- Learning. In addition to a great piece of hand-made gear, the skills needed to build DIY gear will be useful forever. Being handy with a soldering iron has saved me several times in a pinch. And not to mention saved me a ton of money on cables (easy to build with basic soldering skills).
- Understanding your gear. The knowledge of how a unit is put together, what components are used, and how the circuit affects the signal is useful for knowing when and where to apply certain types and styles of gear to recordings.
- Customization. The door is wide open to make as many modifications as deemed necessary. These modifications can be to the components, the circuit itself or just to the aesthetics of the unit. Imagination is the only limitation on what modifications can be applied to DIY gear.
- Discontinued gear. There are many popular pieces of hardware that are no longer manufactured, causing the price tag to increase even further. Many of these units can be found as DIY projects for a fraction of the price.
- Advanced skills. DIY is a fantastic way to begin to learn about how to create processing circuits and how they work. It’s an essential first step for any aspiring gear designers and builders.
- Time. It takes time and patience to learn a new skill and these projects require both, plus great attention to detail. The process of stuffing a circuit board with tiny components can be painstaking and feel tedious, so take frequent breaks to keep yourself from becoming frustrated.
- Requires special gear. A soldering iron and the ability to use it will be required. A pair of wire strippers, a multi-meter, and other specialty electronic tinkering gear may be required as well.
- No name-brand recognition. Many clients have knowledge of studios and have dream gear of their own and may require or prefer a specific piece of gear. Even if a replica is spot on in every way, there is a certain weight carried by the name and the legacy of a piece of iconic gear that a replica does not carry. This may be a dealbreaker for some hard to please clients.
- If you pick a cheap/easy design and cheap components, you will likely get what you pay for. A DIY project can be a good way to start small and build confidence, but don’t expect the world from the cheapest kit you can find. Incredible kits can be found for only a few hundred dollars.
All in all, the pros greatly outweigh the cons for me. I get to learn something new, further my studio knowledge, and work with my hands. In addition, I’m saving money, I get to own my dream gear, and to top it all off, I get a top-quality, hand-made, custom built, one-of-a-kind piece of classic gear, and I even built it myself! Talk about rewarding!
Written by Cody Lindblom
Cody owns Dioskouri Studios in Belgrade, MT. Click here to learn more about Dioskouri and to book a session with him!