MAKE Presents: The Oscilloscope

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Oscilloscopes are surprisingly easy to use once you’re familiar with a few basic controls. They’re extremely useful for testing and can provide newcomers with a whole new way to view the world of electronics and electricity, plus they look impressively cool/awesome while in use!

I was lucky enough to score my own ‘scope during my early days of exploring electronics, and being a primarily ‘visual learner’, using the device was a bit like strapping on a jetpack of understanding/learning/discovery. So if you’ve ever been intimidated by the amount of knobs & switches on an oscilloscope … well don’t be. Find yourself a cheap used model to experiment with (they do show up @ tagsales and such), locate the basic controls I use in the above vid, and start investigating.

22 thoughts on “MAKE Presents: The Oscilloscope

  1. brady wang says:

    why have there been no new itunes downloads sine 1/28/11

    1. Collin Cunningham says:

      not sure – all looks good on this end

      1. brady wang says:

        When i click the link in the article i get sent to and searching in itunes sends me to same link

        1. Collin Cunningham says:

          ahh I see what you mean – thnx for pointing this out.

          I’ve updated the link and we’ll be investigating the outdated page

  2. Ross Hershberger says:

    Agreed. I’d be lost without a ‘scope. I have 5 or 6 and paid no more than $25 for any of them. Wanna know what’s going on in a circuit? Hook it up and have a look!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I recently got one at an estate sale for $25, knowing it would be useful someday when I ‘grew into it’.

    This video sure sped that along! Thanks Collin, and nice music.

  4. Collin Cunningham says:

    thanky, Volk – smart shopper!

  5. Stefan Lazarov says:

    Collin you make the best electronic music I ever heard you should make an album or something else and your electronic tutorials are awesome. Thanks alot.

  6. Guillaume Filion says:

    I used to know all this, then I started using a digital oscilloscope and unlearned everything because of that darn “auto-scale” button! ;)

  7. ToddW says:


  8. ToddW says:

    Collin, You just saved me a lot of wear and tear. I am beginning in electronics, particularly analog electronics. I have never before needed an oscilloscope, only a multimeter. An “old” EE gave me his old heathkit for the affordable price of free. I took it home and discovered it was missing one of its leads! The red one! I looked at FRYs (not local for me) to see if I could figure out what I needed. It turns out the black leads are 40 bucks or so. “No telling how much the red ones are!”, I say. “That is infinately more expensive than my free scope!” I looked at making a DIY sound card scope, figuring I would get around to it some day. Then, I turn on your latest podcast (by far my favorite) and lo and behold at the 1:10 timestamp: “both positive and negative leads are housed in the same cable.” Wow. There is only one lead. I feel pretty silly. I probably should have looked that up before now.

    1. Collin Cunningham says:

      not silly at all, definitely a logic-based assumption – in any case, glad I could help!

  9. Chip Zempel says:

    Awesome, Collin – thanks! (And while I’m at it, since this is my first comment on the MZ blog, thanks for all those other videos of yours I’ve learned so much from!) I picked up a pretty nice oscope years ago at an electronics store that was going out of business. Having toasted quite a few multimeters in my day, I’ve always been a little afraid of using such a complex device that I knew absolutely nothing about. Time to dig that thing out of the garage and starting voiding some warranties!

  10. Hanno Bisschoff says:

    Hi collin, I’m relatively new to electronics (a year), but the need to use an oscilloscope has allready presented itself to me, so I made a computer screen oscilloscope. But now I have the question, how can I controll the sweeping speed of the vertical axis to create a timescale, and is this sweeping a sawtooth wave that causes the beam to rise along the screen and then fall back again?

  11. Matthew H says:

    Hey Collin I’m a student of microelectronics at Portland community
    college. I am just letting you know about the opening of VintageTEK a museum of
    vintage Tektronix equipment.  The museum
    opens on September 16, 2011. You will be able to visit the museum on Fridays
    and Saturdays. Or if you are not able to make it to the museum you can visit their
    web site at
    They have some cool 50’s educational videos on the cathode ray tube and one by
    Mr. Wizard about the oscilloscope. By the way your videos have inspired me to pursue
    microelectronics as a career.


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    Peace !

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