I frequently see comments posted to eHam and other discussion areas about the decline of the homebrewing of gear by hams today as compared to years ago. One of the main reasons given by many for this apparent decline is the difficulty of soldering today's components to circuit boards. Let's face it soldering a multi-hundred pin IC to a circuit board is not for the faint of heart and to really do right does require some rather sophisticated equipment that a typical hobbyist simply won't want to spend the money for. So because of that much of the homebrewing being done today is confined to relatively simple circuit designs using leaded components. Kit building also seems to be in a similar state of affairs with some notable exceptions.
A way to get past the notion that homebrewing is no longer feasible is to consider that homebrewing today is increasingly becoming a "board level" endeavor and that there is an ever decreasing need for discrete component level fabrication. Is this really that much of a leap from the way that homebrewing was being done in years past? Especially when you consider that from the 1930's or so through today very few people actually fabricated their own vacuum tubes, capacitors, resistors, diodes, or any of the various other components? But yet at some point in radio history people did have to build ALL of these discrete components for themselves. This was especially true during the very early days of radio when you had no choice but to make your own components like resistors and capacitors, or even in some cases vacuum tubes. But yet when these components became commercially available I don't think all that many homebrewers back then threw up their hands in frustration and proclaimed that they couldn't build anything anymore because the technology had past them by. Instead they just adapted to this newer but higher level of homebrewing; in fact I'm sure that they were quite happy with the idea that they no longer had to waste their time and energy designing and making all those basic components for every project that they tackled. They could just get on with the task of building their receivers, transmitters, and other assorted station equipment with these new, very convenient, and economical components that they could just buy and use with little hassle.
Well the way I see it we still have that same situation today. You can still do a lot of homebrewing, but now it is by using more prefabricated boards along with software and fewer discrete components than in the past. In fact to build a receiver today using the board level approach there is now even less need for soldering than in the past. For example if you want to build a receiver just buy a local oscillator source (a regular signal generator will do), then a mixer board (especially one that provides I/Q outputs). Add some RF band pass filtering (which can be bought or kit built). Connect these pieces together and then feed that audio frequency range baseband I/Q signal from that mixer to a computer with a decent sound card (since the PC and sound card are also essentially just "board level" components themselves). Next download some free software that can do all of the demodulation for CW, SSB, and AM with essentially infinitely variable IF filtering bandwidths including passband tuning, notch filtering, and noise reduction. When it is all put together you will have just built a software-defined radio that performs quite good.
In addition to the pre-assembled boards that are available there are also some kits that can be built to provide these board level modules. By combining the prefabricated boards with the other kits that are available for VFOs/Synthesizers, mixers, audio amplifiers, bandpass filters etc. from different sources you too can build just about anything. If your strong suit is software development then you can focus more of your ongoing energies there. Or if you are better at optimizing the boards and modules themselves then focus on that and just use the software that the software gurus crank out. If both groups freely exchange their experiences with each other then everybody wins.
If you are not inclined to build an entire RX then perhaps you should consider doing a no holes and easily reversible mod to an existing radio. For example a modification where you convert an older analog only design into a DSP IF radio. You can use the same I/Q mixer with the same PC/soundcard and software as in the previous example to build a DSP IF stage running at the IF frequency of the original design. Your mod will only be providing the final IF filtering and demodulation etc. in this case. The key difference being that the older radio will be providing the tuning, RF band pass filtering, and the first stage or two of mixing instead of you having to source those circuits or boards yourself. This too can provide some very interesting results that in some cases can rival the higher end radios of today. This assumes of course that the radio you start with has good front-end RF performance to begin with. After all a DSP IF radio can only be as good as the analog design that precedes the DSP IF itself. This is the kind of receiver modification experiment that you too can do to prove it for yourself. And I also think that you will find that many of the older analog radio's performance limitations in terms of recovered audio fidelity is actually in the stages after the first mixer and IF filter.
So no, I don't buy the argument that the ability to homebrew today is dead. It is however different in certain ways than in years past, but it is still alive and well if you approach it with a somewhat different mindset about what it is that you are actually trying to do. Some searching on the web will reveal all kinds of activities in homebrewing being done at or near the board level. If more hams were to pursue board level home brewing then I'm sure that we would see even more prefabricated boards being made available than there are now.