In order to repair distortions pedals, a few tools will be necessary. The following are essential tools used to fix distortion pedals:
- Small jeweler’s Phillips screwdriver
- Regular #3 Phillips screwdriver
- A flathead screwdriver
- A small test light, or more optimally, a multimeter
- Small adjustable wrench
- Soldering iron
- Wire stripper/cutters
Most components used in distortion pedals can be found online or at electronics stores like Circuit City or Radio Shack. However, rarer pedals may use rarer components that are either no longer produced or are very hard to find. Having said that, a non-working pedal I think would be better off as a working pedal with substitute parts than not being able to be used at all.
Main Causes of Distortion Pedal Problems
First off, you have to determine what’s going on with the pedal. Is there a power problem or is it a problem with the sound quality or the way the pedal works?
If the pedal doesn’t turn on at all and there is no sound coming from the pedal, the first thing you should check is the battery or power supply depending on your power source. Use a new battery, or test it with a multimeter. Also check the battery clip itself, they are notorious for getting broken when unplugging batteries from the unit. You can also a multimeter to check that the correct voltage is coming out of your AC adapter as well if you are using an external power supply. If your power source is good, there is an obvious problem with power getting to the components of the unit internally. You definitely want to check your input device and output devices as well. Make sure your guitar produces sound, your cords work, and your amp produces sound without the distortion pedal hooked up.
Open up the pedal and inspect all the wires. Make sure they are all soldered and are not loose, strayed or broken. Look at the solder joints and make sure there is no breakage. If you have access to a multimeter, you should be able to trace the power and figure out where the power stops. If you are using a battery, make sure the battery leads (usually red and black wires) are not pulled out and are soldered into their locations correctly. If they aren’t, resolder them. If you are using a power supply, make sure the power jack on the pedal is wired without obvious damage like broken wires or solder points. Make sure the jack hasn’t broken free due to frequent use.
Make sure the circuit board is not shorting to the case somehow because a screw is missing or the board is cracked. If it is, you might be able to simply use black electrical tape to shield the board from the case. Also, make sure the circuit board isn’t shorting to a component.
Worst case if that there is a problem with the circuit board itself. You may be able to look up a schematic on your model of distortion pedal and trace the fault using a multimeter. If you can find the fault, depending on the difficulty, you may be able to make the repair on the board itself or even custom build an identical circuit board and use the old board’s components. I’m assuming you have some electronics diagnostics skills which are beyond the scope of this article.
If there is a problem with the switching between clean and dirty, you can try swapping out the switch itself. If the distortion pedal turns on but does not produce any distorted tone whatsoever, there is probably a problem with the distortion circuit.
If the pedal’s producing a tone that doesn’t sound right, you probably have a circuit board problem. You’re going to have to use the schematic of the pedal along with the specifications of the components to make sure that every connection on the circuit board is working properly by using your multimeter as a test tool. Once you figure out where the problem lies, you may be able to swap out components using store bought parts or from another old pedal.
If any of these steps are beyond your knowledge, you may have to ask someone with more electronics skill to help you.
Check out our post on Distortion Pedal Maintenance which gives a lot of great tips on fixing and keeping your distortion pedal in great shape. Also check out our Distortion Pedal Schematics of most of the popular classic distortion pedals.