Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Are You A Hacker?

The term hacker was first used to denote nefarious software engineers, bent on breaking into sensitive computer systems and stealing. As time has passed though the DIY movement has picked up the term and used it in a positive light to apply to anyone who likes to get at the innards of things and "hack" them into something better. The term is used along side of friendlier terms like "maker" and "DIY-er".

I was recently given an old iPhone that had a few issues. I started searching the net for solutions and realized after a few wrong turns how disgusted I was by all the posts that just said, "You should take it in to the Apple store and let a Genius fix it for you." A few minutes later I was happily peeling away stickers that said "Do Not Remove" and getting my problem fixed. I then went on to jailbreak it, hack it to work with my pre-paid service, and start adding functionality to taste.

It got me to thinking about what a bunch of hackers people in our line of work are. How often have you had a problem with a piece of gear and not had a second thought as you whip out your Leatherman to take the cover off and see if you can pot the trouble? No? You're missing out then. The more you work on your own stuff, the more you learn about how it works and the better you're able to use it. I've been playing around with electronics my whole life, and the things I've learned have come in handy time and time again.

Bad jack? Replace it. Bad power cable? Replace it. Even better? Replace it with a locking IEC connector. Bad DI? Fix it, add a pad and a summing switch. The possibilities are endless. Guitar players have a whole world to explore, modding amplifiers and pedals, or building them from scratch. And when things get a little too scary? You could wimp out and call tech support... or you could get a hold of someone who knows more than you and learn what you need to know.  

You might be a little nervous tearing in to some highly complex piece of gear. But with a little know-how, even if they problem is beyond you, you can still identify a board that needs to be replaced or at least take some notes to pass on to the repair shop. Guest poster Evan Stoddard has learned his lessons the hard way as you can see from This Post has no fear of getting his hands dirty and whether a project or a fix works out or not, he's always learning and always hungry to tear into the next one.

The point is Brethren of the Knob and Fader, don't be afraid of what's inside your gear. Audio equipment is all the same, it's just gain stages, filters, and signal routing. These concepts started out simple a hundred years ago, though they have gotten more complex, they're still just that simple at the heart. Learn your tech.


  1. Most of my hacking is on antique technology (AKA vacuum tube circuits) but I have begun to spread my wings a bit to more modern designs as well. I got my start on a 1970 Fender Twin Reverb that was left for dead after a lifetime of abuse on the bar band circuit. It literally came to me with beer and vomit stains on it. Ha! Those are gone now, and she sings like few others I have heard. I have learned a lot, saved a lot, and enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing that I conquered the challenges along the way. To me, finding these solutions is is all part of the Audio Engineer title.

  2. There is NOTHING like the satisfaction you get when you "void the warranty" and get in to a piece of gear, mess around a bit, and close the lid back up to find that it worked!

  3. "The term hacker was first used to denote nefarious software engineers, bent on breaking into sensitive computer systems and stealing."

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. The definition of hacker as "one who breaks security and steals things" is a misappropriation of the term by the mass media. The definition of a hacker as someone who understands complex systems and is able to use or modify them to fit his purposes is the original and correct definition as it emerged from MIT in the 60s.


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