Going Pro

Handmade Tunes

Making DIY Kits for Musicians

DIYODE Magazine

Issue 77, December 2023

Hobbyist turns his electronics and musical knowledge into an online business with DIY electronics kits.

We just love it when makers turn their hobby into a business. Even more when it means employing staff.

Recently, we received a press release about a curious looking retro DIY theremin kit. Instead of just looking into the project, we wanted to hear more about the business behind it.

We caught up with owner, Brach Siemens, to find out more.

Before we talk about the business, Brach, please tell our readers about yourself and what got you involved in electronics and music.

I’ve been working in this industry for about 20 years now, and I’ve been a product designer for the past 15 years.

I’m very passionate about giving people the opportunity to get a better understanding of how their music gear works. I like to encourage all our customers to modify and customize their gear, hopefully giving them the confidence and experience to eventually design their own gear. I also love exploring the idea of how our relationship with technology affects how we create art.

I've been a musician all my life. My parents put me in violin lessons as a small child and I come from a very musical family, so music has always been in my DNA. But I've always resonated with art of any type, not just music. I also was very drawn to technology and trying to figure out how and why things work. My favorite hobby as a child was building little mechanical gadgets that do various things. By the time I got to high school I was building motorized go-carts and putting small engines on my bicycles. But in all my projects as a kid, I was very interested in how they looked, as much as how they functioned. The concept of form and function working together in a design was always fairly intuitive to me.

In college I started off studying mechanical engineering along with a second major of graphic design. One semester I took an audio recording class and I fell in love with the recording studio. For me, it was the perfect intersection of art and technology. I could be as creative as I wanted to be within the limitations of the technology. I decided at that time that I wanted a career as a music producer. So I switched my major from mechanical to electrical engineering because I thought that understanding electronics would serve me better in the recording studio.

For the next few years, as I learned more and more about electronics, I started noticing how creative circuit design can be. There are so many choices involved in any circuit design which translate to a near infinite number of creative possibilities. I discovered that in the case of audio circuit design, all those choices can affect the tonal variations in the audio signal.

My passion for working with audio electronics ended up surpassing my dream of being a studio producer. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to work in this field for many years now, and I can say that I’m very glad that I ended up in this career instead of in the music industry.

Tell us about your business. Where did it all start and why?

I started Zeppelin Design Labs in 2014 as an outlet to offer DIY kits to our customers as an introduction into the world of audio electronics. We started as part of a business co-op which shared a warehouse in the middle of Chicago. The only place in the warehouse available for me to set up my lab was a room not much bigger than a broom closet! My desk could barely fit, but that's where I started designing our products.

I had a sign on the door that said “Welcome to the home of Zeppelin Design Labs…We can only expand from here!”. Eventually, I was able to get a couple more people to work with me and we were able to move into a larger room, which happened to be a reclaimed bathroom! Since then, we’ve moved out of that warehouse and into a much nicer space.

Our Wilson Abbey location where the magic happens

I’m fascinated by the idea that we can take a handful of parts and put them together in a particular way to create something new and useful. It’s such a cool experience to build something yourself, but it’s even cooler when you can use the things you build to create music. I get so much joy from sharing this experience with others!

Are your products all related to the music industry?

Yes, most of our products are music-related, such as guitar effects pedals and amplifiers, MIDI controllers, and synths. We also do a good amount of free-lance design work for other companies.

We are still a really small business. We currently only have 5 employees. It’s very busy around here, but we love what we do!

Glen, our previous manager, retired from the business about a year ago. Thomas is a brilliant programmer who helps with product design and writes all our software for our digital products. Colleen is a really great technician, who is incredibly detailed oriented. She also is an excellent proof reader and all our documentation has to be approved by her. We now have John who helps manage the business as well as handle all the shipping. We also have Mellie who manages our social media accounts and helps with advertising.

What was the motivation behind making the Noisette?

The Noisette is actually a product I designed for another company a while back. They were looking for some sort of fun, gimmicky toy DIY kit that they could give to some of their tech-minded customers. This was during the pandemic when component shortages were rampant. So, I had to come up with a product that only used components that were available at the time, which were generic passives (resistors and caps) and the most basic amplifier ICs. The Noisette is what I was able to come up with. It was a really fun challenge!

One design requirement was that the kit needed to be basic enough that practically anyone could assemble it, no matter their level of electronics experience. Another requirement was that it needed to be able to be assembled in a relatively short amount of time…an hour or so. By those requirements, the kit ended up being a really good introduction to audio electronics and as a project for STEM students.

We’re familiar with Theremin designs that use antennas and metal plates. Can you go into more detail about how your design differs?

The Noisette is a pretty simple device. It has an opamp based VCO (voltage controlled oscillator) circuit to control the pitch of the audio signal and a VCA (voltage controlled amplifier) circuit to control its volume. The VCA circuit uses an optocoupler to control the volume the builder makes as part of the kit.

There are two LDRs (light dependent resistors) set up in a voltage divider configuration to provide the variable control voltage for the VCO and VCA circuits. It uses an LM386 amplifier IC to drive the on-board speaker and the headphone output.

In general, I try to use “jellybean” electrical components as much as possible when designing any product. I try my best to use parts that are being produced by more than one manufacturer in case any supply issues arise. In designing the Noisette, I had no choice but to use “jellybean” parts because of all the supply shortages during the pandemic.

Designing a product's enclosure is always an important process for me. I want to make sure the product communicates what I want it to when people first see it. I usually design custom sheet metal enclosures for our products but sheet metal prices rose drastically during the pandemic. So to keep the cost of the Noisette reasonable, I found an off-the-shelf plastic project box that worked well. I had some holes milled in the box and we ended up 3D printing the speaker grille and the optical sensor shields. It was the first time we used 3D printed parts in one of our products. It ended up being very cost effective compared to the alternative of making custom injection molded parts.

Did you consider selling the Noisette and your other products as fully-built products?

We try to keep all of our products available as kits. We want to encourage everyone to build the gear they use to create music! It also allows us to get these products into people’s hands who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford one because of assembly production costs.

I should mention that we put a lot of effort into making our assembly instructions for our kits as informative and as easy-to-follow as possible. We try to make our documentation very easy for beginners to understand, but interesting enough to keep the experienced builder engaged. And even though we make kits, we strive to make high quality, unique products that are practical to use at any level.

In regard to the Noisette, was there much prototyping and what did you need to overcome?

The Noisette circuit took me about 3 or 4 days to design. The circuit isn’t too complicated and it doesn’t use any unusual circuit topologies. The full schematic is in the Noisette assembly manual (available on our website).

Usually, in products like this, I spend more time tweaking the circuit board layout than adjusting the circuit design…and that was true in this case. I think I had to make three PCB versions before I got it right!

Where can our readers get hold of a Noisette and your other products?

Products are available from our website:

Right now we have a tremolo pedal, and a volume pedal upgrade mod for Ernie Ball volume pedals. We also have a single-tube, 2 watt guitar amplifier that I designed around an old Compactron television tube. We have a Theremin MIDI controller that uses an ultrasonic distance sensor instead of capacitive antennas, and an 8-bit mini digital synthesizer.

We also have a line of contact microphones that have been really popular. A lot of the free-lance work we get involves utilizing contact microphones in different applications.

Cortado Contact Microphone

As you can see, our product line is kind of all over the map, but it keeps it fun for me as a designer. I am always working on new designs.

Do you have any other exciting things in the pipeline?

We have a few things in the works currently but I’ll refrain from giving too much away, other than to say that we are really excited about getting them released!

Do you have any advice for our readers who are exploring turning their hobby into a business just like you have done?

If anyone is considering starting a business from their hobby, I would encourage them to really examine their passion for this type of work. It’s very difficult to run your own business and it probably takes a particular personality type to do it successfully. It involves a lot of stress and not much time off.

One thing I found out was that I only end up getting to do what I really love, which is designing new products, about 20% of my time. The rest of my time is spent managing others, or writing documentation, or corresponding with customers, or any of the other hundreds of things that need to be done in a small business.

It’s definitely not the easiest job I could have, but it is very fulfilling, and that’s why I do it. After all these years, I still call it “my dream job.”…I’m very fortunate to be able to do this work!

Terrific! Finally, where can our readers get in touch or follow you?

We love to connect with other audio electronics enthusiasts! If you’re interested in these sorts of things, please visit our website and drop us a line, or sign up for a newsletter. We also have the typical social media outlets…Instagram, Facebook, etc…

The Noisette webpage can be found here: https://zeppelindesignlabs.com/product/noisette-optical-theremin/

Thank you for your time, Brach. We wish you every success for the future.


Quaverato Harmonic Tremolo Pedal.


VPM-1 Volume Pedal Mod for Ernie Ball Volume Pedals.


Macchiato Mini Synth.


Percolator 2W Tube Guitar
Amplifier and Speaker Cabinet.

Meet the Team

Zeppelin Design Labs, Chicago, IL USA
Instagram: @zeppelindesignlabs

From Left: Colleen (Fabrication), Glen (Now retired),
Brach (Founder & Product Designer), Thomas (Software).
Not pictured: John (Manager), Mellie (Social Media).
Colleen busy updating firmware.
Cortado Contact Microphones in production.