You know that feeling you get when things have gotten way out of order and something must be done about it? Well, I recently got reacquainted with this feeling when I looked at the mess my guitar pedal set up had become. I decided SOMETHING must be done to clean it up and make it easier to gig with! It was time for me to buy my first pedal board.
Pedal boards basically hold all of your pedals, run your cables and power under it to keep them out of the way and allow you to pick up all of your guitar gear easily to take it to a gig or a session with minimal set up and tear down time.
Since there are far too many pedal boards and set-ups for me to cover, so I will stick with the basics. For more in depth details see the links I post at the end of this post.
CHOOSING A PEDAL BOARD
My gear consisted of a Line 6 M13, Fulltone OCD, Maxon OD808, Line 6 expression pedal, Banshee Talkbox, and Egnater Rebel 30 combo amp with an extension cab and a channel switcher. Finding pedal boards that fit this gear and were well reviewed took a few hours.
The most helpful website was Pedalboardplanner.com. Here you can choose any pedal train pedal board and add your pedals to see how things fit! They are missing lots of effects pedals, but it’s easy to find pedals the same size to map it all out.
Simple google searches provided over 20 pictures of other people’s pedal boards with a Line 6 M13 on them. The GearPage.net was also FULL of great information on pedal board sizes.
Keep in mind that not ALL of your effects need to be on your pedal board. Many people keep the volume, wah, or expression pedals off of the board to save space and allow more movement on stage.
After doing this research I decided to find either PedalTrain 2 HC (hard case) or PedalTrain PRO pedal board on Craigslist. After only one week of searching I found a PedalTrain HC 2 for half price with Velcro included!
Most people have heard the adage “Measure twice, cut once”. This mentality will save you money and time with your pedal board.
I had to go to Guitar Center three times to exchange cables because I thought I could guess the right length needed…
I recommend you first put your pedals on to the pedal board and arrange them so they look and feel the best to you. Be sure to leave enough space to allow you to press the pedals accurately as well as for tight 90 degree cables to fit around the inputs and outputs of the pedals (about 1” minimum).
Once it looks and feels best it’s time to get out the measuring tape. Write down all the connections you need to make on your pedal board and how long the cable needs to be. If you don’t write it down you will make unnecessary mistakes! Trust me on this!!
Alternatively, you can buy a Planet Waves or Lava Cable Pedal Board Patch cable kit. These seem pretty cool. They are solderless so you can simply screw on the adapters to each end of a cable after you cut it with a provided tool. These allow a perfect cable length and fit at a bit of an extra cost. I would guess these would be worth it if you have LOTS of pedals to run cabling to.
I had to buy 1 15’ guitar cable (Guitar to input),1 X 3’ cable (M13 to OCD), 1 X 1’ cable (OCD to Maxon), 1 15’ cable (Maxon to Rebel 30 input), 1 X 15’ 2 channel cable (for my effects loop send and return). A bit of extra length is needed on most cables since they are run underneath the pedal board to conserve space and make it look clean.
I ended up choosing 15’ cables to run from my pedals to my amp. This seemed like a good balance between signal loss and being tied too close to my amp on stage. The color coded 2 channel cable made it easier to plug in my send and returns since they both go to the same place.
I’m not even going to bother talking about cable quality in this post because it’s a huge topic that will need it’s own post. Stay tuned for a new post soon about cables and how they affect your signal path!
EFFECTS LOOP AND LAYOUT
If you don’t know what an effect loop is on an amp then I recommend you read this online article.
I decided to use the four cable method with my M13. This is a fancy way of saying I’m using the effects loop on my guitar amp. For more details on this see this online article.
I have two signal paths: The first is to the amp input and the second is for the amps effects loop. The first signal path is Guitar to M13 -> output to Distortion pedals -> output to amp input. The second path is from M13 output -> Amp Effects return and Amp Effects Send -> M13 Effects return.
This allowed me to put my effects in the proper order. WHAT IS the proper order to put your effects??? Well, that is up for debate. I recommend starting with this online article to get the basics down. How you arrange your pedals can define your sound. Whether this sound is total shit or sonic excellence is all up to you. I recommend you start from the basics of the online article above and then tweak away 🙂
*** UPDATE ***
SINCE this post I have discovered that the 1 spot adapter adds a decent amount of noise to the signal path. It isn’t horrendous and wouldn’t matter as much for genres like metal, but it was very audible even with my iPhone microphone. I’ve made a new video of this and put it on youtube. I have since started looking for a Voodoo Labs PP2 on craigslist and taken the 1 spot back. I’m changing this section to reflect what I now know.
*** END OF UPDATE ***
There are many options to power pedal boards. Pedals can have a HUGE variety of power requirements. Most are 9v pedals, but my OCD accepts 9V-18V, my Line 6 M13 requires AC 1400mA of power, and many others have their own power supplies that are required at this time in order to run properly! Also, many power supplies give off heavy noise that gets into your signal path. The M13 is EXTREMELY noisy and must be kept around 1 foot away from your signal path.
Sound complex? It sure can be. What you choose as a power supply must be based on your own personal rig and power requirements.
I looked into the One Spot, Voodoo Labs and T-Rex engineering and, after LOTS of research, ended up choosing the Voodoo Labs ISO-5 for clean quiet power and it’s size.
If you have LOTS of pedals that use 9v or 18v it would probably be a better investment to go with the more expensive options. The ISO 5 had enough outputs for me including two extra outputs if I add more pedals.
Whichever power supply you pick should have isolated outputs and a toroidal transformer to minimize noise. I chose the Voodoo Labs ISO-5 since it has an 18V output, plenty of 9V outputs for my needs AND it fits underneath the old PedalTrain 2 I bought.
If possible you should buy a power supply that fits underneath your pedal board so it’s out of the way and the pedal board sits normally on the ground. After lots of research I ended up going to guitar center and trying out the PP2 and ISO 5 from Voodoo Labs. It turns out that ONLY the ISO5 would fit properly with my PedalTrain 2 unless I drilled more holes.
I even had to mount it upside down because otherwise the outputs and power input wouldn’t be accessible. See the photos to figure out exactly why. The picture shows that the only way it would fit is in this one particular place. For now I just used velcro, but I have plans on getting long zipties so it’s even more secure.
So what power supply should you use??? Google is your friend! Figure out what power your pedals need and whether or not a unit like the Voodoo labs can handle them all. Keep in mind that professional power adapters like the Voodoo Labs PP2 are well worth the money if you care about noise in your chain! If you take your playing seriously then you should pick something with isolated outputs and a transformer!
Going cheap on a power supply may seem like a good idea, but i just learned first hand how much noise it adds and ended up paying extra for a nicer power supply. It was WELL worth the extra $70 and even makes my OCD pedal sound better at 18V!
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Now it’s time to get out the Velcro, cables, pedals , power and put it all together! Exciting huh?
First I made sure the Velcro on the pedal board was secure. Then I put Velcro on the bottom of each pedal. Be aware that some gear requires you to take off the rubber feet so the Velcro will stick. I recommend taking off the rubber and leaving in the screws so the pedal doesn’t fall apart. Also, don’t put Velcro over the screws in case you have to take it all apart. Keep the rubber feet in a bad in case you remove the pedal from your board.
Then I put the pedals on the board in the order I had previously decided on. I put the cables through one hole on the back of the pedal board and the power through the other. This allowed me to isolate all power from the signal path. I also used Velcro to keep cables out of the way and make everything nice and tidy.
After days of research and lots of planning I finally have my own pedal board! I can’t tell you how great it feels to simplify your gear and have it ready to go at a moments notice. It only cost me about $170 to put it all together using Craigslist and a few Guitar Center purchases.
Here are some pictures of the finished product.
I hope this post helps you make some decisions on building your own pedal boards. It may seem daunting at first, but if you take each step one at a time you’ll have your shiny new pedal board to show off at your next gig sooner than you think 🙂
One last word of advice: It’s EASY to go down the rabbit hole on every one of these topics. You could spend your entire life doing nothing but learning about gear instead of playing your damn instrument. At some point you need to make some decisions and just play some music.
I’d like to thank my friend Adam Schalke for his tips on pedal boards. He’s in a band called The Dirty Diamond and he offered me some solid tips. Please check them out when you get a chance 🙂
Thanks for visiting the Aaron Brown Sound blog! Come back soon for more posts about video game audio, audio engineering, sound design, composing and all other things relating to being an audio professional 🙂
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