Musical Electronics Library

Auckland, New Zealand

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Why VHS tape boxes make good electronics enclosures

A library of electronics could potentially take up a lot of space. If the circuits were built like guitar pedals, ie. hardware on top and sides, they wouldn’t store very compactly. Again inspired by the Nic Collins book “Handmade Electronic Music”, I decided to use VHS tape boxes to house most of the library circuits. There are a lot of good reasons to use these boxes. They are cheap, widely available, lightweight, fairly robust, and easy to drill. They have a clear-plastic outer pocket to hold artwork and labels, and they’re easy to open for battery change. The spines are wide enough that controls can be mounted there, so the majority of boxes can be stored spine-out on a shelf — like books — saving space. They have heavy kitsch/nostalgia value:


The main problem with VHS cases is that they aren’t super strong. You can’t really use them as guitar stomp-boxes, which require expensive, heavy-duty aluminium boxes with rugged footswitches. If you stomp on a video case it will squash. So, most of the MEL collection will be suitable for table-top use, rather than on the floor for guitarists. A library with lots of money and storage space could build things in metal enclosures, but this is not an option for us at the moment.

Other drawbacks of using these boxes:

1) Lack of screening from radio interference. Possible solutions: Line inside of box with tin-foil/metal tape/conductive paint.

2) Nothing to hold battery in place. Possible solutions: Metal clip, velcro.

One caveat about using VHS cases is that they aren’t all the same. Boxes from the early 1980s were made of thick black plastic and are really tough. From the late 80s onward they were made of thinner plastic. This is not a huge problem, but I’ve tried to get as many of the stronger ones as possible. As a bonus the actual magnetic tape in early 80s videos has a measurable resistance, so you can use it to make a long, flat variable resistor — good for controlling an oscillator. More about that in a future post.