So, you’re looking to get started with modifying your electronics or maybe even doing a few simple build projects. But you’re not about to assemble your own particle accelerator without tackling some simpler projects first.
We’ve selected a few easier tasks for you to get a grasp on the basic tools and techniques, before moving on to more advanced stuff.
To open most electronics, all you need is a decent set of screwdrivers. You probably already have one, but if you’re in the market, we’d recommend iFixIt’s excellent $35 kit, which comes with a high-quality interchangeable driver and 64 magnetized bits.
You’ll also want a soldering iron and various related accessories. Any low-priced kit will do (assuming you’re not ready to invest in more complex tools just yet), but we’ll personally recommend the Tilswall 65-watt station, which has much more precise temperature control and a high-quality metal iron holder for just a few dollars more than the usual kit. Add on some solder, and you’re ready to go.
But keep in mind that you’re going to make some mistakes. For getting rid of the solder you placed on the wrong spot, a solder sucker is a cheap option included in most kits. And, to be frank, the plastic ones that come with the kit suck (and not in the intended way). This metal and silicone upgrade has saved my bacon on more than one project.
Lastly, for the following projects, you’ll want a wire stripper, which allows you to strip off the plastic casing and expose the tips of wires for new or repaired connections. This tool will help you get that precise slice on any internal wires you’ll be using.
We’ve selected fairly simple projects for you, but to be honest, even these will require a some practice if you don’t already have at least a little experience.
This inexpensive kit can give you that experience. It includes a few basic exercises in soldering and wiring, teaching you the bare minimum you’ll need to get started. The tools included aren’t worth much, but they’re decent backups on top of the items listed in the section above.
Add on a little research, maybe a couple of tutorials on YouTube, and you should be ready to begin.
We’ve selected the following projects for beginners from the following three categories: low difficulty, low price, and low stakes. That is to say, they’re all fairly easy as these things go, they’re inexpensive to accomplish in terms of the tools and extras you need to do them, and if you completely flub them you won’t ruin any expensive hardware (or at least any that can’t be repaired by someone a little more experienced). They’re all pretty fun and low on frustration, but you should do some preparatory research (again, YouTube is great for this) if you’re in any doubt about your abilities.
Mechanical Keypad Soldering
I got my start in electronics mods assembling mechanical keyboards. Though there are ways to build one without any soldering or extra tools, you need to brush up on the basics if you want to do the really fun stuff. This keypad kit (an extra gadget that replicates the 10-key area of a large keyboard) is a great way to start. It’s cheap, and it comes with the circuit board, USB connection, and case. Buy 22 switches (any MX-compatible switches will do fine) and a set of keycaps if you want to finish it off once you’re done soldering.
Speaker Driver Upgrade
The biggest audiophiles assemble their own speakers from scratch. But if you’re not quite ready to go that far, you can swap out the drivers on an older or cheaper set fairly easily. All you need is a new driver that fits in the housing of the old one—getting the same diameter is generally all you need. More expensive sets have cable connections that can be unplugged, but cheaper sets will need you to clip the cables from the old driver, strip them, and solder them to the positive and negative connections of the new one.
Lithium-Ion Battery Replacement
If your toy or wireless gadget isn’t getting the battery life it used to, and the battery isn’t removable like a standard AA, you can open up the case and swap out the battery in a slightly more intense way. Note that this basic operation is only for gadgets that use a standardized 3.7 volt battery, like this one—trying to do this for your phone is not recommended. Once you remove the old battery, you can reuse its power connection with a little desoldering, or solder in a new one (make sure to get the right connection type). If you want to upgrade with a much bigger capacity battery, you might need to make extra space in the case with a Dremel tool and secure it with some tape or glue. Close up your gadget, and it’s ready to go.
Replace Your Guitar Pickups
The pickups are an integral part of any electric guitar, and swapping out the part can radically change the way it sounds. You can get the pickups replaced at a music shop, but with a little wiring and soldering, you can replace any pickup yourself. It takes about an hour (and a little courage, if it’s your first time), but it’s a great way to modify the way that your instrument sounds.
Do a little research to figure out the kind of pickup you want before you start. If you’re having a hard time deciding what’s best for you, companies like Seymour Duncan and Dimarzio have “pickup finder” tools that can help. Just input a bit of info, like what kind of music you play and the type of guitar you own, and they’ll point you to the companies’ respective picks for the best fit. Alternatively, most companies are more than willing to discuss options with you—just shoot them a quick email and let ’em know what you’re after.
Once you’ve found your perfect pickup, watching a guide like this one should be more than enough to get you started.
Upgrade or Customize a Game Controller
There are a lot of ways to modify a standard game controller—intense gamers have been swapping out switches and analog sticks for years. A lot of different options exist, like replacing the controller case for a cool new look, but one of our favorites is 8BitDo’s “Mod Kit” options for classic controllers. With these replacement circuit boards, batteries, and wireless radios, you can turn an old controller into an awesome Bluetooth one for your PC or phone games, reusing the original casing and buttons. The kits are available for original NES, Super NES, SEGA Genesis, SEGA Saturn, and original PlayStation (non-Dual Shock) controllers.