Regular general maintenance of distortion pedals will lengthen the life of the unit and ensure you’re getting the optimal tone out of the device. Distortion pedals go through a lot of abuse (I mean, you basically jump on the thing to turn it on or off) so a routine cleaning and inspection will make sure the pedal works the next time you use it, which may be during an important gig or recording session. You maintain your guitar and amp, right? So why not your distortion pedals, too?
Some maintenance guidelines:
Take apart the casing and use a small vacuum attachment or compressed air to get rid of all the dirt and dust that may be built up inside. Use a electronics cleaning spray to clean the contacts of the switches and jacks. Wipe down all the metal, plastic and rubber parts. Dirt and dust buildup of any electronics device can degrade the sound of the unit and make it malfunction.
Replace the Battery
A battery left too long in an electronics device can begin to corrode causing a lot of problems in the device. Replace regularly and have a spare battery on hand in case the one in your device suddenly dies.
Visually inspect the pedal’s internal components and make sure all the wires and solder points look intact with no damage. Strayed wires or broken solder points can make for a degraded tone. Look at the circuits and make sure there is no obvious damage like scorched marks or broken parts (a circuit board that’s broken in half usually won’t work.). Don’t despair if there is obvious damage to standard distortion pedals. Most distortion pedals have relatively simple designs and can be repaired with moderate electronics skills. The level of skill required for the repair is directly correlated to the complexity of the design.
Test the components to make sure each switch, knob and jack is working properly. If it isn’t, remove the component and replace it with a spare part that can be found online or most electronic stores like Radio Shack. Broken contacts on input jacks are pretty much the number one cause of crackling and dropouts in sound so check them thoroughly. Dirty knobs can be fixed by working in electronics cleaner or by replacing the potentiometer entirely with similar pots. You can test the components visually, audibly and with a multimeter.
If you are able to solder components, you may want to re-solder every solder joint in the pedal because the manufacturer’s solder points may have been weak and, besides, any solder point will weaken over time. Weak solder joints will make for a crappy tone and may also cause drop outs in sound or cause the unit to not turn on at all. You can also replace every capacitor in the unit if it is getting older.
Tighten each component. Make sure every nut and screw is tight on the pedal. This will make sure that components don’t get loose and cause more damage like a broken wire or worse.
I hope this article gave you great ideas on how to maintain a distortion pedal. If your distortion pedal is broken, take a look at our article on how to fix a distortion pedal.