How to turn a thrift store cassette player into a gnarly guitar distortion box

Originally published at: How to turn a thrift store cassette player into a gnarly guitar distortion box | Boing Boing


Circuit bending is a wonderful thing!


I once built a pre-amp from an old record player.
I took the ¼" jack off a guitar cable and pushed both bare wires into the DIN tape input with paperclips. Then another cable from the headphone jack into my amp.
I chopped out all the turntable and stylus parts, just threw them out.

It regularly got hot and smouldered a little, but the distortion was fucking excellent.


Seems like an added bonus to me!


It was some random guy in the pub who suggested it when I was an underage teen. Thanks, dude, you were right!


Not to brag (I thought every guitar player knew this hack), but we did this when we were teenagers out of necessity, plus it sounded way cooler than any store-bought stompbox.

Bonus: how to turn an old cassette player into a sound-on-sound multi-track.

Back in the early 00’s I got at Goodwill: a Wurlitzer electric piano for $20, an Arp Odyssey for I think $60, and around the same time a Moog Rogue in Florida for $20, and a Optigan with almost all the discs at the flea market for $50. (OK, now I’m bragging.) I think those days are gone though, thanks to the internet (“Is grandpa’s old banjo worth anything? Let’s look it up and see!”)


Hate you. I used to be part of a music listserv for many years and was always jealous of the great records the Americans thrifted.
But Arps and Moogs…. (There were serious Optigan people on that list, so them too)


That’s fine, I deserve it. I find myself feeling the same way when someone else finds an obscure LP I’ve been looking for.

Worst of all, I eventually had to sell the Moog and the Optigan (needed money, plus the Optigan was constantly breaking down and took up too much room.)

I do still find cool stuff on my travels (this morning I pulled an Ovation 12-string and someone’s attempt at a Brian May “red special” out of a dumpster.) But the bottom line: finding stuff like this ends up being work. I am constantly checking thrift stores and flea markets (and now craigslist), and coming up with nothing 90% of the time.


unbreakable kimmy schmidt ugh GIF

Not jealous. Nope.


My first electric guitar was a borrowed soft-string acoustic guitar. The pickup was a pair of crappy headphones clamped on the bell of the guitar. They worked as a microphone. My amplifier was an old tube-type reel-to-reel tape recorder. Tube distortion.

Much later it occurred to me to try cutting the cable away from the play head of a broken cassette player and soldering on a 1/4-inch phone jack. This worked perfectly-- a self-contained amplifier with the speaker inside it, and it ran on batteries and fit in your hand. I made a few of these for others, for practice amplifiers. Turn the guitar knob down and it sounds sweet; turn it up and it’s all squeezy, ripping distortion. I put one, whole, inside a leftover bookshelf speaker, with a power adapter and a power cord, and I’m still using it forty years later. It’s incredibly loud. I’ve had a few real electric guitars, and this thing was fun with all of them and honestly sounds as good to me as any guitar pedal box.


When I was a kid, I got my first electric guitar but had no amplifier. But when my parents were out, I found that I could plug my guitar into one of the mic patches on my Dad’s tape deck in his stereo component system. Crank up the record level enough to max out the levels, and voila, huge distortion. Crank up the volume on his huge speakers, and I was able to get some truly apocalyptic-sounding feedback.

By coincidence, my Dad later found that one of his speakers had blown. I was worried that I might have also roasted his tape deck, but it did just fine. But after the speaker was repaired, I decided I’d best not press my luck any further, and I bought a legit amplifier. (an old Peavey Classic, which I still have to this day).


I did something similar - I had an amp that I got with my first guitar (both from Sears; I upgraded the guitar before the amp). What I found was I could disconnect the wires from the loudspeaker and disconnect the 2nd input jack, then connect the speaker wires to that jack - so that instead of the speaker, the amp went to a (now) “output” jack. Then I ran that “output” into the “AUX” RCA inputs on my parents’ Kenwood receiver. So, using the Sears amp as a pre-amp. I went all “Sister Ray” and pretty quickly blew one of the stereo speakers…


Funny, Keith Richards pioneered distorted guitar by using a small cassette recorder and an acoustic guitar.


Yeah, not really my favorite either. If it’s playable I may gift to a friend who’s a touring musician and needs a more reliable 12-string.

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I wouldn’t say “No,”… I had a Hohner for a while, but then when I was away for a bit, somebody left it on a seaside houseboat for a couple of months, and it just never recovered.

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