Making your own DIY car amp rack may seem like something that’s really out of reach. Or maybe you don’t know where to begin and you’re worried you’ll have to pay someone else a lot of money to make one. I was once in your shoes, and I know how that feels! Here’s an affordable way to build a do it yourself (DIY) car amp rack in one day.
Many vehicles don’t have a good place to mount an amplifier so it’s essential to be creative in order to keep your amps protected from damage and to keep your installation neat and clean looking. That’s where I come in – I want to share with you the solution I’ve come up with over the years.
I still use these same car amp rack plans in both customer vehicles and my own as well. I love how simple – yet professional looking – they are. People who see my handiwork tell me how great it looks, too. You can build your own car amp rack that looks great and is affordable, too!
- 1 Basic amp rack how-to steps: infographic guide
- 2 Make a tools list (and other things to know before you begin)
- 3 Measure installation space
- 4 Plan your amp rack setup
- 5 Your shopping list and tips
- 6 Making your amp rack – covering the board
- 7 Putting it all together – assembling your amp rack
- 8 Installation
- 9 A simple way to take your amp rack to the next level
- 10 DIY car amp rack plans estimated cost
- 11 Final thoughts
Basic amp rack how-to steps: infographic guide
Make a tools list (and other things to know before you begin)
Tools you’ll need
As a heads-up you’ll need a number of tools like the following to do the job well:
- Phillips screwdriver
- Cordless drill + Phillips bit (not essential but highly recommended) or standard electric drill
- Pliers – I recommend square-jaw, locking, or other types but needle nose can work, too
- Scissors for cutting material + utility razor (optional)
- Staple gun (optional)
- 1/8″ drill bit suitable for metal
- Basic tape measure or measuring tape
- Something to take notes with
- Permanent marker
As you can see you won’t need many tools. That’s part of the reason this approach works well. I’m hoping to help you accomplish this with as little money and hassle as possible. If you can, borrow any tools you don’t have from others. For items like high-strength scissors you may find great deals at retailers like Harbor Freight Tools, Wal-Mart, or even $1 stores. If you shop carefully things like pliers can be found for around $2 a pair.
A staple gun can be bought when you go shopping for the materials you need, but it’s completely optional. They can drive strong staples into wood unlike standard office staplers and are great for stapling fabric so it can’t come loose. A staple gun with staples included can be bought for close to $15 or so.
Will I need a power saw?
Fortunately, most likely you won’t need a saw. In the sections that follow you’ll need to shop for wood, but if your city has a Home Depot or Lowe’s hardware store, the great news is that they offer free wood cuts when you purchase wood! And that’s also that much less work you have to do, too.
Items you may need to order in advance for installation
Metal mounting brackets (straps)
One item I highly recommend is metal car stereo mounting straps like these Metra BS9BK. They’re FANTASTIC for many types of car audio installations and are used very often by professional installers. They’re strong enough for mounting an amp rack securely but are flexible enough to be bent for odd shapes in more challenging installations.
I’ve used these for years to install almost anything in places you would think were impossible to put a sound system in!
It may or may not be possible to find some at your local stereo shop or electronics store that carries car stereo accessories, so you really need to be sure beforehand. Paying close to $10 or less (including shipping) is a good price to expect to pay.
Car stereo metal mounting straps are fantastic for installation and will make building & installing an amp rack much easier. You can buy them finished in black, which I highly recommend, or with the standard metal finish. 9″ straps should be fine in most cases, and you can buy a 5 pack or similar to save money. You’ll need at least 4 straps if using these.
The alternative is to use standard metal brackets like “mending plates” that are stocked at local hardware stores. I’ll explain more about the pros and cons of those later.
Speaker carpet vs. fabric
To build your amp rack, you’ll also need a relatively good material to cover it with. In fabric can be bought often for a discount price locally from arts & crafts stores like Joann, Michael’s, and sometimes Wal-Mart. However, backless automotive carpet (often call speaker box carpet) tends to be even more durable and offers a different look as charcoal, dark gray, or mixed black colors are available.
Black automotive grade carpet (left) is great looking and durable. There’s no backing on it so it can be stretched and cut easily. However, you may have to order it, and it usually costs more than regular fabrics like black felt (right) that you can find locally.
If you’d rather have the look that a speaker box carpet has like in this image, here’s a great example of what you’ll want to order or look for.
Otherwise I recommend saving some cash and buying a good black fabric like felt locally in a store. You can expect to spend $10 or so in that case, as it’s usually sold in 1 or 1/2 yards (1 yard = 36″). You may also find a different soft black cloth on discount while you’re there.
Measure installation space
Begin by using your tape measure find out approximately how much space you have in your trunk (or cargo area, depending on your vehicle) where you can install a rectangular board. The measurements don’t need to be exact, but a good estimate of how much space you have available horizontally and from top to bottom is critical.
For example, measure from several inches below the rear deck of your trunk to about 1″ to the base of the trunk near the interior carpet or trim. That should give you a good estimate of what to work with. Be sure to save in your notes with the measurements you took.
Get basic measurements for the best place you find for installing an amp rack in your vehicle. Think in terms of fitting a large rectangle there, even if it you don’t think a flat amp rack can be mounted on some areas that are curved or stick out. Don’t stress if there’s not a perfectly flat area available – that’s actually very common! We’ll cover dealing with curved or unusual surfaces later.
As an assembled amp rack will be heavy, you need to be sure to measure the available space as if the assembled rack is resting on its bottom side in the vehicle. Think in terms of having a heavy board resting on its bottom edge and then measure the height available from the bottom of your cargo area or trunk to the top.
Check for good places to mount the amp rack brackets
While you’re measuring, look for good places where you can fasten your mounting brackets when the amp rack is installed in the car. You really only need a small space where 1) it’s safe to drill a hole without damaging anything underneath (always check!) and 2) the metal is sufficiently thick & strong enough.
In most vehicles the sheet metal in the rear is more or less the same throughout when it was built, so that’s usually not a problem.
Plan your amp rack setup
Put your amplifiers on the floor and line them up as you’d like them to be placed on your amp rack. Place them next to each other with enough space so that there’s sufficient clearance to connect power wire, speaker wire, and RCA cables as needed. If you’re going to be tight on space, you may need to consider using 90 degree bends for the wiring and right-angle adapters for the RCA connections.
Planning your amp rack setup: place your amps on your floor and use your tape measure to estimate how much room your amps will need for clearance with wiring & cables installed. Also allow some spacing beside the amplifiers (the top and bottom of the amp rack).
When you’ve got the amplifiers lined up with enough space, measure a rectangle with sufficient clearance before and after the ends of the amps and also a little extra clearance from the top to bottom. Don’t make the amp rack spacing right up against the sides of the amplifiers. You’ll want allow 2″ space or more at the sides of the amps if your installation measurements earlier will allow for it.
Write down the measurements in your notes as you did earlier.
Your shopping list and tips
You’ll be able to buy nearly everything you’ll need in only a few trips. However definitely give yourself enough time during the day for running around town and dealing with traffic to get what you need. Start shopping early in the day or the before if you’d like to build & install your amp rack the same day.
It’s definitely possible! I hate being stressed out and running into problems right in the middle of a project or installation, so take my advice and try to get what you need the day before if you can. Be organized and write down or print out what you need before you go. Don’t be sloppy and cost yourself additional time, gas, and stress.
With your notes, head out to your local hardware store for the following:
- Spray adhesive
- Metal brackets (if not using metal car stereo straps)
- #8 Phillips head machine screws, 4-pack or similar
- #8 washers, small package
- #8 machine screw nuts
- 3/8″ pan head Phillips screws
- 3/8″ length self-tapping screws
- Wooden board
3M Super 77 is a great spray adhesive. There may be lower-cost adhesives available, but in my experience I’ve had problems with the adhesive being weak and the fabric can come off by itself. Super 77 usually costs close to $10.
I recommend this one for car audio projects. It provides a strong adhesive and it’s reliable. You do have to be careful to not get it on you or nearby objects when using it, however.
You’ll need a wooden board like this to build your amp rack. In the building materials section of your hardware store you’ll find wooden boards that are approximately 1/2″ or so thick and usually come in lengths of 4 ft. or longer. Pine is the cheapest but is more prone to warping and is weaker than others, but it’s suitable if you’re on a budget. It’s not suitable for installations exposed to a lot of humidity or moisture.
Using the measurements you wrote down from planning your amp rack, buy a wooden board that’s the same or close width to what you measured. To save costs buy one with length closes to your length measurements for what you need.
More about metal brackets
When shopping for your hardware items and if you’re not planning on using the metal straps I mentioned in the Preparation section, you’ll be looking for “mending plates” as they’re called so assembling and installing your amp rack. You’ll need to know what length you need to reach the body metal where you can fasten it will screws.
Unlike the metal car stereo straps, mending plates are very hard to bend, and don’t bend well if try. They’re very strong but the drawback is that they’re fixed in length and not suitable for curved or other more challenging installation points. They’re sold both individually (large brackets, usually) and in pairs or sets of 4 or 8.
Mending plates and other metal brackets are sold often in pairs or 4 packs for smaller ones and individually or in pairs for longer ones.
Self-tapping screws (left) make mounting brackets fast and easy if you have a cordless drill as they simultaneous drill a hole then screw into metal quickly. Regular pan-head screws (right) will work well for mounting your amps to the amp rack. Use #8 machine screws (below) and nuts with washers to fasten your mounting brackets to the rack securely. They’re much better suited for this than using only pan head screws.
If you’re going to get fabric locally rather than ordering it, Joann is a great place to shop or perhaps Michael’s as well. Both are good arts & crafts stores where I’ve found discounted black material I could use for building amp racks.
Ideally, try to get a material with a dark color that’s durable and stretchy. I recommend a strong felt material or similar basic fabric.
Be sure to ask the cashier or attendant for suggestions about what you’re planning to build. Honestly, sometimes they’re helpful and other times they’re fairly clueless when it comes to good suggestions, but at least if something is on sale they’ll normally let you know.
If you’re planning to buy fabric instead of backless speaker box carpet, try checking the clearance tables while you’re shopping. I’ve often gotten fabrics at a MUCH lower price by doing this. There’s a good chance you’ll find a deal! Black fabric is actually very common.
Remember that fabric is normally sold in units of 1 yard (36″ in length) or 1/2 yard (18″ length) in many craft stores. You’ll need to do just a little bit of math to figure out how much you need. Try not to get exactly the same length as your measurements. I strongly advise you have a bit extra just in case especially if it’s your first time working on a project involving fabric and a spray adhesive.
Typically I use about 2 yards of material and have a small amount left over when I’m done. The height is nearly always much more than I need.
Making your amp rack – covering the board
After having your board cut to the length you need and planned for its time to put the finishing touch on it and assemble the amp rack.
Now that the board is a length that will fit into the installation space you have and that will allow enough space for your amp wiring & cables its time to cover it and make it look nice. Find a good place to work where glue overspray won’t get on surrounding things indoors.
Place your board on the fabric and trim it to a good size, allowing several inches past the board of extra fabric on each side. I recommend allowing at least 6″ or so, which you’ll trim as needed.
Follow the rest of the steps in the diagram below.
Spray adhesive is very hard, if not impossible, to remove from your clothes and other materials so be very careful when using it. Use light, consistent spraying strokes. You don’t need to use a tremendous amount, but it does help to spray some on both the wood surface as well as the fabric you want to glue.
Using adhesive on both surfaces gives and even stronger bound. After spraying, waiting about 15-30 seconds and lightly touch the glue to see if it is tacky. If so, tightly pull the fabric over and onto the wood area you sprayed. Then rub the fabric firmly with your palm for a few moments to ensure good adhesion.
The fabric, no matter how well you tried to trim it, will likely overlap each other a lot. If you have a utility razor with a sharp blade that makes trimming a bit easier than using scissors. Otherwise, slightly pull up edges where needed, cut with the scissors, and place it back into place.
You may need to reuse the adhesive spray on some parts. It’s a bit tough to do in small sections but by quickly and gently tapping the spray nozzle you should eventually get the hang of it.
Putting it all together – assembling your amp rack
Now that you have the actual board finished, it’s time to assemble it. Drill a 1/8″ (or close) hole in each corner and mount a bracket/strap to each hole using a #8 machine screw + washer on the top (amp) side and on the back side use a washer and nut. Tighten securely using pliers while keep the machine screw from turning by holding a screwdriver.
Once all the mounting brackets are in place and facing the direction you need them to be, place the amps on the board and mount them using the measurements for spacing you wrote down earlier.
Be sure to leave enough length for the mounting brackets in order to reach the mounting points in your vehicle that you found during the first steps. Excess bracket length can remain hidden behind the amp rack for less hassle when installing and for a neater appearance.
Ok, it’s time for the “fun” part! Carefully put your assembled amp rack in the vehicle and begin the “fitting” process. If you’re mounting it vertically, put as much of the weight at bottom of the vehicle and begin seeing how your brackets will fit in order to try to get the brackets parallel to sheet metal for mounting.
If you’re using bendable metal straps like I recommended, bend those in a way to all the bottom to rest on the straps. When that’s done, hold the amp rack in place and begin doing the same for the top. Keep using trial and error until you have a pretty good way for the amp rack to rest securely in the vehicle and to have enough attachment points for the mounting brackets.
Once that’s done, begin trying to use your cordless drill to drive the self-tapping screws through the brackets and into the body. I highly recommend using washers on the screws in order to fit well over the bracket’s hole to keep the fit very tight.
If you’re having difficulty doing this step while holding the amp rack in place, then use a permanent marker to mark the bracket holes where you’d like to use the screw, remove the amp rack, then drill the screw holes alone. Then you can return to place the amplifier rack and more easily fasten the screws either with the cordless drill & bit or with a screwdriver.
A simple way to take your amp rack to the next level
A great idea is to add accent lighting to your sweet-looking new car amp rack. Using an LED lighting kit like this one, mounted above and shining down onto your amps, you’ll get a very cool looking effect! I’ve done this several times (including putting an acrylic clear window in front) and people gave me lots of compliments.
It’s really something to be proud of.
Neon lighting is inexpensive and actually looks better than LED lights, but it’s a bit harder to find these days. If you’re using lighting you can control it by wiring a simple relay board to your amplifier’s +12V supply and the stereo’s remote-on wire. That way it will switch on or off with your head unit.
Neon and LED lighting systems are lightweight, so you should be able to install them using only zip ties. Overall, it’s usually very easy and it can be done on a budget if you shop carefully.
DIY car amp rack plans estimated cost
Here’s a good estimate of what you can expect to pay for all materials (not counting tools) depending where you shop. Don’t forget to check your amplifier packages for screws you can use, as some include a 4-piece set.
|Item||Est. Cost (incl. tax)|
Maybe you’ve been thinking about car amp rack plans for some time but were too afraid to try. Or perhaps you just assumed it would be too expensive and way too much hassle to do it.
Take my guide and give it a try! It feels awesome when you get it all together and see how great it looks. Your friends and other people you meet will give you compliments and that’s a fantastic feeling!
Don’t hesitate to build one yourself. Let me know if you have any questions or problems be sure to let me know.
If you’re still deciding what to do about buying amps and you’re on a budget, be sure to check out my great budget amplifier guide here.