I first found Adafruit Industries after I met Limor Fried at Analog Heaven New England a few years back (really she showed off a homemade production synth to a bunch of synth nerds in a high school music room). I think she had just finished the first run of her XoX BoX kits, a Roland TB-303 clone (which doesn’t do it justice, because it’s so much more than the 303). So, thinking that a DIY synth box was awesome, I checked out her website, which has grown considerably in the past few years. The first thing I got was a simple mini Persistence of Vision (POV) LED kit. Here’s the newer version of what I got years ago, the MiniPOV 3 kit.
The documentation is the best I’ve seen. Back then, for a noob like me, the instructions covered everything from part placement, to how to cut leads off resistors, to how to place ICs, to what soldering iron to get. The website had fantastic close-up pictures and the text explained exactly what to do. Since that first kit, I’ve made a bunch of Adafruit’s stuff and they continue to help explain all aspects of their products, which are educational and awesome in their own right. They have a great selection of really hip and culture-subverting kits designed in house. There’s a great selection of arduino shields and fun things like the TV-B-Gone.
If you’re just beginning to get into electronics, go to Adafruit first. I outfitted my intro electronics class with Ladyada’s Electronics Toolkits.