A View on DIY Stompboxes

by gaussmarkov

Try to give due credit to others wherever and whenever you can. If you offer something to the public domain, then do so without expecting any compensation or credit. Everything that you receive in return is a gift.

Stompbox circuits are not protected by copyright and they are rarely, if ever, protected by patents. Images and trade names are protected by copyright. As noted in the Wikipedia article Copyright,

Copyright does not cover ideas and information themselves, only the form or manner in which they are expressed.

Copying other manufacturer’s stompbox circuits has been standard practice in the industry since the beginning. A leading example is the many copies of the Tubescreamer by Ibanez. The copies are not labelled with either “Tubescreamer” or “Ibanez” but in other respects the copies are very similar, if not exact.

Jack Orman gives an explanation in his article Is It Okay to Clone?

Patents protect the circuit designs – copyrights on schematics do not. If there is no patent it is okay to clone, but do not use the name or trademarks of the original on your pedal. If you mention the original pedal name or company as a means of explaining that your pedal is a clone or based on its design, it would be good to include a disclaimer stating that you did not manufacture the original so that it cannot be claimed that you are trying to confuse the consumer or steal their business.

So a circuit design without a patent is in the public domain. Authors’ attempts to impose conditions for use are not binding. Demanding to be paid for application of such circuit ideas is naive. As described in the Wikipedia article Public Domain,

Public domain comprises the body of knowledge and innovation (especially creative works such as writing, art, music, and inventions) in relation to which no person or other legal entity can establish or maintain proprietary interests within a particular legal jurisdiction. …

If an item (“work”) is not in the public domain, it may be the result of a proprietary interest such as a copyright, patent, or other sui generis right. The extent to which members of the public may use or exploit the work is limited to the extent of the proprietary interests in the relevant legal jurisdiction.

Reverse engineering circuits is a form of reading about a circuit idea. In effect, producing and marketing stompbox circuits puts the associated circuit ideas in the public domain.

Manufacturers can certainly discourage attempts to reverse engineer their stompboxes. Various approaches are described by R. G. Keen in his article Dirty Tricks. R. G. concludes

In the end, [dirty tricks do] not protect a manufacturer from someone who will take the time to measure and think, and who also has the background to decide the circuit does or does not make sense from the parts that aren’t faked. … My own personal conclusion is that obscuring the contents of an effect is a costly exercise in doubtful security. I suspect that is why most makers do not use these.

Inventors do not always benefit from their ideas. Some ideas are difficult to exploit for profit even though the ideas are valuable. Claims of being exploited after placing a circuit in the public domain are mistaken. Clearly some people have been hurt and, just as clearly, they are also responsible.

If you design a circuit that might be a successful product then consider selling it to an established manufacturer. Most of the business seems to be marketing, not circuit design.

If you want your circuit ideas to be for your exclusive use then you must find a way to keep them secret. One way is to tell no one. If you want to control how your circuit ideas are used by others, then do not put them in the public domain.

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11 Responses to “A View on DIY Stompboxes”

  1. Manny M said:

    THink this article on infringement has taken a big weight off me. I am old and was looking for a small way to make ends meet with my hobbies and decided since I love music and instruments I would try my hand at this. I mostly like to make things so thus far have not even tried to sell any cloned or otherwise stomp boxes I have made…pure pleasure. And thanks to you Gaussmarkov for all the info, articles, shems, images and so on for sharing with us all and to the others mentioned as links etc.

    Posted 19.05.2008 at 4:48 pm

  2. gaussmarkov said:

    hi Manny,

    thanks for dropping a note of appreciation! it’s fun to get feedback. 😎

    i hope you have fun and success.

    all the best, gaussmarkov/paul

    Posted 19.05.2008 at 7:37 pm

  3. culturejam said:

    This essay (for lack of a better term) is, I believe, totally spot-on. The idea that information can be controlled after it is released to the public is as ludicrous as it is naive.

    Thanks for publishing such great information and fantastic circuit layouts!

    Posted 13.06.2008 at 3:38 pm

  4. joe stariani said:

    hi i know you guys out there are pretty much guitar audio freaks..
    but hey can we have some designs that aren’t weak ass overdrive’s for single coil fender eric crapton types..come on its not going to kill you to get a bit more dirty and deep with humbuckers..i can only seem to find these wimpy projects when it comes to distortion..argghhh . there ive said it..someone had to…lets get heavy….sorry…!!!! joe.xxx

    Posted 22.03.2009 at 5:39 pm

  5. rob said:

    don’t suppose any of you guys are thinking of doing the vox satchurator…

    or a dimebag II . lots of people are asking for shematics etc….

    just a thought..excellent’e site dude.

    Posted 24.06.2009 at 9:34 am

  6. direx said:

    im trying the dynacomp (ca3080 metal can ic) and i want to share this.how it works??

    Posted 13.03.2010 at 10:02 am

  7. RNFR said:

    couldn’t have said it better!

    Posted 23.07.2010 at 3:40 am

  8. Matt said:

    Funny there’s a question about the Satcherator right under the entry by a guy whose name would be Joe Satriani it the a and t weren’t reversed!!!

    Seriously though, I think I heard something about the specific art work on the individual’s layout of a familiar circuit being patentable – meaning you can’t go out and buy 10 BYOC boards of the same effect and change the name and sell them as your own design. I haven’t heard what would happen if you were to put BYOC on the box though…

    Posted 08.08.2010 at 3:47 pm

  9. gaussmarkov said:

    You are absolutely right, Matt. The artwork of the PCB is protected. To use a circuit, one must redesign the PCB. Thanks for making this clearer! gm

    Posted 08.08.2010 at 3:54 pm

  10. Tom “BigT” Brown said:

    Gus, Will you please help me? I can no longer access Aron’s DIYstompbox website. I’m afraid I got blocked someway. Do you have an email address of the webmaster over there that you could send me? I can access the site from my work but neither my pc or laptop from home.

    Posted 27.04.2011 at 7:45 am

  11. Melvin said:

    Hi gaussmarkov. First, 100 stars for you for putting up a website like this. Very informative! Thanks! I have a question. You said “”The artwork of the PCB is protected. To use a circuit, one must redesign the PCB. ” I made a clone of vintage 1976 Maxon OD880 and I made the PCB (copper traces) like the original. But I changed some of the components (Op Amp and film cap for ceramics cap. Did I commit copyright infringement?

    Posted 20.02.2014 at 2:28 am