Homebrew Curve Tracer Competes With The Big Guns, curve tracer, custom tool, test equipment

When we first saw the VBA curve tracer, we thought it might have something to do with Visual Basic for Applications. But it turns out it is a mash up of the names of the creators: [Paul Versteeg], [Bud Bennett], and [Mark Allie]. [Paul] designed an original prototype back in 2017. Since then, the project has grown and lessons were learned. The final curve tracer is pretty impressive in more ways than one.

If you’ve never used a curve tracer, they allow you to characterize components using their characteristic curve of voltage versus current. You use an oscilloscope as an output device. This instrument is often used by engineers trying to understand or match devices like diodes, transistors, or — in some cases — even tubes. So if you want to measure the collector-emitter breakdown voltage, for example, or the collector cutoff current, this is your go-to device. You can also match gains in circuits where that matters (for example, a push-pull circuit where two transistors amplify different parts of the same signal).

If you want to understand more about how it works, there are a series of blog posts covering the evolution of the device. You can also find the design files on GitHub. There is also a handy post showing many types of measurements you might want to make.

This is a good-looking project. We’ve seen it done on the cheap, but slowly. Or spend $15 and do better. We doubt any of these have high enough voltages to do most tubes, but they made the same basic instrument for tubes back in the 1950s.

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