More Guitar Pedal Builds: Tremolo, Boost and a Rat

Oct 28, 2019 · 1630 words · 8 minute read

A few years ago I built a couple of guitar pedals , and decorated them. Since then I’ve built a couple of amplifiers, but felt the itch again to make something, and pedals are smaller and take less time; so it’s a quicker and easier way to get the feeling of success in having created something.

Not wanting to make life unnecessarily complicated for myself, I bought two kits, one tremolo called Der Puls and one of a germanium treble booster called Der Range , after the classic Dallas Rangemaster .

Both are simple designs, but things I wanted to try out. You can buy very complex pedal kits, but I think if I want a complex pedal with lots of features to regularly use, I’d end up buying it.


Apart from the actual tone circuit, both kits came with a small daughter board that allows you to easily solder the input, output, power and LED together with the 3PDT switch; this is a great time saver, makes it much neater and also prevents that very irritating need to solder a very short wire between two pins on the 3PDT switch. You can buy this separately, and if I was making any more none-kit pedals, I’d probably use one.

Given that and how simple they are, soldering them together wasn’t enjoyably simple and, as previous experience has shown, it’s making the enclosures look nice, that takes more time. And we all know that the nicer the pedal looks, the nicer it sounds.

For the tremolo I ended up re-using the enclosure from the Soda Meiser that I’d built years before, as I haven’t used it since. I’ve never used fuzz much as a pedal type anyway, and it’s a very fuzzy fuzz pedal. There are probably smarter ways to remove the old paint and varnish, but I used a sanding pad on an oscillating electronic multi-tool to sand everything away and make it shiny again. Then I drilled in the two additional holes I needed, plus widened a third.

The treble booster started as a blank enclosure, and with only two controls, I would have had an unsightly extra if I’d reused the Soda Meiser enclosure. This one I sanded as well to get a clean finish to make taking the paint easier.


To keep the decorating simple I went for a basic black and white design on both pedals. Using only white paint means I don’t have to buy lots of different colours, that I then only use it once. From the last round of decorating (seven years ago1) I’d learnt the rather obvious lesson that dark decals work best on a light background, and the dark racing green I’d used on the tube screamer wasn’t really a good choice for contrast, so white would make that easier too.

What I also managed to remember is that the water-slide decal is best printed as one piece, and then applied to the whole face of the pedal. This prevents a few problems; such as making sure everything is aligned, e.g. the different text labels and the image, and you don’t get unsightly lines at the edge of each small piece of decal paper, only one around the edge that can hopefully be lined up neatly with the edge of the pedal.

Doing it this way does mean you have to scale everything correctly, and make sure the decal doesn’t start going over the edges of the enclosure, otherwise it’ll start to crinkle at the corners. I printed them a few times on normal A4 paper and cut them out to make adjustments to the printed size before printing the final versions. It’s worth adding the holes to the outline of your design. This allows you to figure out exactly where it should be, and when sliding it into place and trying to align everything, it gives you a guide.

Once the decals have been slid into place, all the excess water squeeze out and left to dry, you can use a very sharp scalpel to carefully cut the holes out of the clear backing. Make sure you cut downwards from the top, otherwise you risk catching the edge and peeling it up from the pedal. Once it’s all dried, I let mine dry over a day, I sprayed it with multiple thin layers of a clear varnish.

tremelo pedal

While the pedals are simply black and white, I decided to add some colour via the LEDs. From a previous project I have a large pile of RGB LEDs lying around. So instead of just sticking in the normal red/green colour, I used one of these instead. These have four legs instead of two, with the three colour LEDs within sharing one common cathode (common anode versions are also available). Then as many of the other legs as you want can be connected, with or without additional resistors, to get a colour that you like the look of. In my case I went for purple/pink for the tremolo and a turquoise green colour for the booster, which are colours I don’t otherwise see in my pedals.


I quite like the designs of both pedals, but fear that the logo for the treble booster is perhaps too much in one design: It’s a valve, with a booster rocket and then also treble clef, all in one image. Perhaps trying too hard?

The Rat

Between these pedals, and the ones I built in 2012, I did also end up buying a Rat clone from Build Your Own Clone called the “Mouse” in 2015 and building it, but then never found the time to decorate it. This was a complete kit, with all the parts needed, and a pre-drilled enclosure, which saved some work.

Since I was decorating the other pedals I wanted to finish this one as well, but didn’t want another white pedal, so instead I just sanded and polished the aluminium enclosure to have a bare metal effect, then applied the decal, let it dry and sprayed on the clear varnish. I suspect if I don’t seal it with the varnish the aluminium will oxidize again in time, and it becomes a matt grey, which is less nice.

The logo with the six tails makes sense for the version of the BYOC Mouse that I have, which appears to be version 2 with design dates in the instructions from 2008. This has the usual Rat controls, plus an additional rotary switch that allows you to pick one of six versions of the Rat by choosing a different clipping circuit.

Looking at the BOYC website today, the version of the mouse being sold is different, instead of the six clipping options it has three clipping options and an additional presence control. I can’t find a version number, but the dates in the instructions imply it was designed in 2018.

I also added some slim fluted aluminium knobs to replace the basic plastic ones. I normally prefer the rounded MXR style knobs, but here the 4 are very close together, and if you use larger ones I can’t get my fingers in.

Rat o’six tails


They might now be nice, but how do they play? After my last builds I have to admit that neither the Soda Meiser, or the Tube Screamer, lived on my pedal board for very long.

I’ll start with the clear success, and that’s the Rat. Since building it in 2015 it’s remained on my pedal board the entire time, and it works well with both of my guitars - an Epiphone Les Paul with active pickups and a Fender Standard Telecaster. It’s very versatile, even if most of the time I use the 6th position for a MOSFET overdrive. That way it can be dialled in to be very responsive to playing, with only slight overdrive with light strumming, but a much harder sound if you really dig into the strings.

The treble booster isn’t as versatile, and I suspect I don’t really have the correct guitar for it. With the Telecaster I can’t seem to get anything that’s not really harsh, and the active pickups of the Les Paul also don’t sound great. The other issue is that by having only one boost control, it’s hard to get a nice sound at a volume suitable for playing at home. I think it would be better paired with a guitar that has passive humbuckers, and probably more Marshall style amplifier, which make a darker sound that the treble booster can work against.

The most novelty pedal is the tremolo; I hardly ever use modulation effects, and along with a simple delay, this is only my second modulation pedal. I like it most to create a stutter effect with heavy distortion, and am not so sure about using it in subtler ways. It does have two annoyances though; first is that the more the sound is ‘cut’ the quieter it’s perceived as. This means when you turn it on, because there’s less sound coming through, the guitar seems quieter, and in some cases the volume drop is very noticeable. So you either have to adjust the guitar volume, or add a boost, at the same time, to keep the apparent volume the same. I don’t know how other models deal with this, but I suspect there are many that have a built in compensation so you don’t suffer from this problem. The other thing that I feel I’m missing, and is not on most tremolos, is a tap tempo. In lots of cases it’s fine, but if I am trying to get a rhythmic stutter, having it slightly out from the beat is a bit irritating.

  1. A genuinily terrifyingly long time for a topic I felt I’ve just ‘got back’ to. ↩︎