Fix It Yourself, Do It Yourself: How to Make Old Gear New Again

Gear isn’t just something we use, it’s an investment. When good gear goes bad and breaks down, not only does it disrupt our workflow and/or business, but we have to decide whether to repair or replace.

The issue with replacing is expense, but so is the issue of repair. I recently had an Avid control surface break down; due to the rapid depreciation of older digital gear, sending it to a repair facility that could fix it would cost more than getting a used model in near-mint condition.

However, if you’re capable of doing any needed repairs yourself, you can get your gear back in action quickly, and at minimal cost. You can also keep spare parts around for mission-critical equipment so you can fix it at a moment’s notice. Full Compass stocks a lot of replacement parts, and if not in stock, can usually obtain them from the manufacturer.

Are You Up to the Task?

Some repairs are easy: if a wall wart breaks, just plug in a new one. Some repairs require taking a unit apart, and if you’re relatively handy, you can do these fixes yourself—especially if you locate a copy of the service manual (which sometimes is as easy to find as doing an online search). Or you may need more specialized skills and even specialized tools.

I’ve found that as long as you’re not dealing with super-miniaturized gear, it’s been getting easier to do your own repairs. This is because few companies repair on the component level, but drop in a new module—power supply, amp, connector assembly, etc. With repair centers needing to make money, being able to do repairs quickly keeps labor costs down. Often, all that needs to be done is to take off the cover from a piece of gear, unplug some cables, unscrew some screws, put in the new module, then put the cover back on again.

However, don’t forget the medical term “iatrogenic,” which means an illness caused by medical examination or treatment. You don’t want to make matters worse by trying to fix a piece of gear! A slipped screwdriver head that tears across a circuit board can mean a really expensive repair instead of a simple, inexpensive one. Ribbon cable connections to circuit boards can be delicate and held in place by pressure from a thin (and easily broken) piece of plastic.

Finding replacement parts isn’t always easy. I check Full Compass first because the company has an enormous selection. If I can find the part, the next step is searching on specific repair procedures. You’d be surprised how many YouTube video and blog posts tell you what you need to know to do a repair, including potential “traps” like hidden screws that have to be removed before you can access the insides of a piece of gear.

Typical Repairs You Can Do

Power supplies. As the heart of most gear, power supplies have a fairly stressful life because they need to deliver the power that makes everything run. I’d estimate that the majority of repairs I’ve done over the years relate to the power supply in some way. Fortunately, manufacturers recognize this and often, power supplies are separate modules that connect to the rest of the gear via cables. Often, replacing a power supply simply involves unplugging the cables, and unscrewing (or otherwise unmounting) the supply from the chassis. It probably goes without saying that the unit should not be plugged in, but also, wear a grounding strap—you don’t want to damage any parts that are sensitive to static electricity.

As one example, suppose you’ve been running a Behringer EXP4000 for the past seven years, and the power supply dies. It’s not in production anymore so you can buy its successor for $330—or you can buy the drop-in replacement power supply for $169.99, and keep the amp chugging along (Fig. 1).

Behringer power supply
Figure 1: If your Behringer EXP4000 goes south, all it might need is a new power supply.

To find the part on the Full Compass site, search for Power Supply, then filter by the category Replacement Parts. You can also filter further by brand. You’ll find replacement power supplies for products from Allen & Heath, American DJ, Audio-Technica, Avid, and many more (those are just the listings under “A”). You can even find a replacement power supply for the Nord EX 76, Electro 3, NC1, and NC2.

Wall warts. Not all power supplies are internal to gear. Although some wall warts are relatively standard so you can use a “universal” AC adapter as a replacement, some manufacturer-specific wall warts are non-standard—and if you can’t replace them, your gear becomes a doorstop.

In addition to replacing broken or lost AC adapters, it’s often worth the $25 or so to have a spare as a backup—especially if the gear is reaching end of life, and AC adapters may not be that easy to find in the future.

LCDs. LCDs don’t last forever, especially under heavy use. Fortunately, like power supplies, these are often drop-in modules that you can fix yourself by unplugging cables and unscrewing the module from its mounting. For example, if the LCD goes out on your Korg Pa4X Arranger Keyboard, you can get a replacement for $290—or replace the touchscreen in the Pa600 or Pa900 keyboards for $195 (Fig. 2).

Korg LCD
Figure 2: This LCD replaces the touchscreen in the Pa600 or Pa900 keyboards.

In fact, I counted 93 replacement parts for Korg keyboards on the Full Compass website including encoders, keyboard keys, joysticks, faders, connector boards, and more—you can even replace entire keyboard keybeds. And for $140, you can replace the LCD in ten different Yamaha keyboards.

Connector boards. To cut costs, a lot of manufacturers solder connectors like audio input and output jacks directly to circuit boards that mount to the chassis; holes cut in the chassis provide access to the jacks. However, if someone yanks on a cord or pushes down on it, the pressure can crack the circuit board. Also, with repeated plugging and unplugging, sometimes jacks just plain wear out.

The easiest way to find replacement parts is to choose Replacement Parts, search on the type of gear, and filter by manufacturer. For example, if someone got heavy-handed with your Behringer X32, you can replace the output circuit board assembly with eight XLR jacks for $50.99, and get back into action (Fig. 3).

Connector PCB
Figure 3: Many pieces of gear solder connectors to circuit boards, like this board for Behringer’s X32 mixer.

You can often obtain individual parts as well, like a power jack or UBS connector. When pins get bent or connections wear out, an individual part may be all you need.

PA systems. Did someone blow out the high-frequency driver for your Alto TS210, TS212, or TS215? No problem…you can replace it for $33.99. Woofers are easy to find, as well. Many PA systems have drop-in replacement modules for their amps (Fig. 4), like the Electro-Voice amp assembly for the ELX115P, JBL’s amp for the VRX932LAP, or Mackie’s amp for the SRM450-V2.

Figure 4: With drop-in amp modules, it’s possible to troubleshoot and fix a PA system in minutes, not hours.

The Fix Is In

Repairing your own gear can save money, but it’s also satisfying. There’s something cool about reviving a piece of gear you may have given up for dead. And not all repairs have to be complicated—what about the knob that came off your mixer, and was never replaced? Replacing it can eliminate a “dripping faucet” that’s bothered you for weeks, months, or even years.

Again, let me emphasize do-it-yourself repairs are not for everyone. It’s all too easy to make things worse instead of better if you’re impatient, not careful, or don’t have the needed tools. But if you’re reasonably handy, there’s a lot to be said for making your old gear new again.

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