How To Identify Components on Printed Circuit Boards

Close up view of a printed circuit board
It can be hard to identify all the components on printed circuit boards (PCBs).

If you’ve ever tried to work on your own PCBs, or printed circuit boards, you may have experienced the frustration of looking at a part and not knowing exactly what it is. After working with thousands of PCBs, we understand.

Luckily, there are resources that can help. In fact, lots of them. But they’re scattered all over. And many of the best aren’t even available online anymore unless you know how to use some special tools (Wayback Machine to the rescue!)

But rather than complain about this state of affairs, we decided to create our own tutorial to fix it. Bonus: you benefit, too.

Here’s our printed circuit board component tutorial, with lots of information and pictures to help you identify those individual parts.

Printed Circuit Boards: the Basics

Printed circuit boards are typically made from laminated composite material. This non-conductive substrate sandwiches copper circuitry that actually makes up the circuits the boards are named after.

substrate: /ˈsəbˌstrāt/; an underlying substance or layer.

These copper circuits, also known as signal traces, electrically connect and mechanically support other mounted components on the board.

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How Your Guitar is Like a Nuclear Power Plant

The two things have more in common than meltdowns.

Guitar fretboard. Closeup view.  Guitars and nuclear power plants have something in common.  Sort of.
Yes, guitars and nuclear power plants have something in common. In a way. Kind of.

If you’ve ever Googled the phrase “nuclear power plant” and “guitar” together — and really, who hasn’t — you’ve probably watched several epic videos of guitarists playing in abandoned cooling towers. You may have even bought some picks off Amazon featuring mushroom clouds or radioactive radiation symbols(for the guitarist who needs nuclear-powered picking.)

But what you probably didn’t know, even after perusing all of the Google results, is sometimes nuclear power plants and guitars share components. It’s true. Yes, thermal power stations that work by splitting atoms may actually have a small commonality with your guitar.

(thanks to Dan Phelps for use of his video.)

It’s your capacitor — or it might be. Many guitarists prize vintage paper and oil capacitors because they say they give off a brighter, more complex tone that can’t be duplicated with newer capacitor stock.

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Understanding Speedtronic Mark VI and Mark VIe Part Numbers

When working with any legacy system it’s important to understand naming conventions of the part numbers and how those part numbers may have changed through various part runs. AX Control sells many legacy systems, including several of the Speedtronic series like the Mark I-II, Mark IV, the Mark V, as well as the Speedtronic Mark VI and Mark VIe series boards.

When we look at GE’s Speedtronic Mark VI and Mark VIe as an example, we can see how this works. They have designed their part number so it gives the user a significant amount of information–if you know how to break down that information properly. Let’s look at one example.

An IS200AEAAH1CPR1 board from GE's MKVI Speedtronic line for gas and steam turbine control.
The IS200AEAAH1CPR1 Mark VI Turbine Control Card, available on

If we take the above IS200AEAAH1CPR1 board, we can break the number down into several different parts that will each tell us something about the board: IS/2/00/AEAA/H/1/C/PR1

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