In podcast 217 we featured an email from community member Bertrand Grichting responding to an article Russ wrote a while back 5 Things To Do Over The Holiday Break That Could Save You Time Later in which Russ talked about learning a new skill. Over to you Bertrand....
Based on an article from Russ about learning a new skill every now and then, I decided to take on soldering. I was always fascinated by electronics. When I was a kid I took apart everything that I could get my hands on: TV’s, Radios, Turntables etc. Of course putting them back together was a different story. Oddly enough I never learned how to solder electronics. So a few months back after reading Russs article I also read another article in Sound on Sound about building your own microphone, so I decided to take it on.
First Things First - The Tools
As with all matters involving gear I have learned over the years that if you buy cheap, you may have to pay twice. It happened again to me when I was buying a cheap soldering station, which led to much frustration in my first steps and so was soon to be replaced by a more professional one. I will not go too much in detail but here are the 3 things that made my soldering-life much easier:
1. Soldering Station
A digitally controlled station with a good soldering iron, preferably with exchangeable tips. It keeps temperature exactly as it should be.
2. Third Hand
A helper tool that holds the parts in place when you are soldering because most of us only have two hands (one holding the iron, the other holding the lead), hence the name.
3. Magnifying Glass
This is an indispensable tool, don’t even get started without it. It might be my age, but I could not work without it. I bought one of those magnifying glasses on a telescope stand that mounts to the desk and has a circle of LED’s around the lens so everything is clearly visible.
Tip: I still use leaded solder, not lead-free. It’s just much so easier to work with when you are not that experienced.
Let’s Get Started
First I did some extensive research on YouTube about learning to solder, which helped a lot. There are some good resources out there like this one.
Next I purchased a training kit with all sorts of stuff (capacitors, resistors, IC’s, LED’s etc.) that had to be soldered on a board in random order, just to get practice. When you were confident you could build three circuits that actually did something, like a dimmer. Once I mastered these hurdles mastered, I decided to move on and build my first piece of audio gear.
The D.I. Box
I ordered a passive D.I. Kit from DIY Recording Equipment and started soldering. The kit was very well put together and the manual was fool-proof. After some hours of messing around with the different parts it was time to plug it in and hold my breath. It it worked like a charm.
The Microphone Kit
Full of confidence after the last successful build, I ordered the T-12 microphone kit from Microphone Parts. Again, the kit was very well put together and the packaging was great and after a small hiccup in delivery (delivered from the US to Switzerland), their customer support was just brilliant (Thanks, Matt).
This was really a step up in terms of number of parts and complexity. It was still manageable, but more demanding. It took me maybe around 8-10 hours in total (spread over two days) and finally it was time to have a first listen. Moments of sheer terror followed, as I did not hear any sound despite the meters moving on the UA-console. It turned out that I had forgotten to switch on my monitor controller (the nerves)! You can imagine the big sigh of relief as I heard the first word coming from the speakers through my first self-build microphone (no, was not “Rosebud”). I’ve tried it also on acoustic guitar and it sounds fabulous.
A Word About Instructions
The level of frustration is diametrically opposed (hope got that one right) to the quality of the instructions. What I mean by that is if the instructions are very clear, with step-by-step guides and good pictures, the frustration is at a minimum and vice versa. Luckily the kits that I have built so far have had really great instructions, so it's worth keeping an eye on that part as well even if it is a bit more expensive.
The moment when you first hear a sound from a piece of gear that you’ve built yourself is priceless. It is very gratifying and you learn a lot on the way. I actually think I enjoy the building part sometimes a little bit more than actually using it ;-)
Next up, I am thinking of tackling a Tube-Mic like the U-47 kit from Mic And Mod. Lots of parts, lots of fun (I hope).
Thank you Bertrand for sharing your experiences with us and we hope that Bertrand's experiences will encourage you all to have a go at something new. It doesn't have to be soldering and building kits, it could be learning to sample instruments using Marcus Huyskens' excellent The Sampling Handbook package which is on our deals page this month, or recording an instrument that you have never recorded before. Anything that takes your fancy. Do let us know how you get on, either in the comments below, or through the Contact Us page, and we love to share your experiences with the rest of the community because only together do we become Pro Tools Experts.