I was recently moving a few things around on my pedalboard to make room for a few new pedals so I can reproduce the sounds I need to have to play the songs from my new CD. As I was doing it I thought it would be great to go over the basics of building a simple utility pedal board to cover the basic sounds you would need in most situations. Here are the basics:
1.) Figure what your specific needs are and how many pedals you will be using.
2.) Determine the order you want the pedals to be in.
3.) Power supply requirements for the board
4.) Size of board
5.) Cabling for all pedals
Once you decide what pedals you will be using, you need to decide your signal path and where each effect needs to be so you can get to them easily on the board while you’re playing (This will be a factor since it does effect the sound). Just for this blog, let’s say you need a overdrive, wah, delay, chorus and a power supply. It is usually better to run modulation effects (such as delays and chorus) through your amps effects loop, but since we’re keeping it simple we’re going to run everything through the front of the amp.
Now we need to decide how big the actual board needs to be. There are several great companies out there that manufacture great pre-built pedal boards that are ready to go. Some even have built-in power supplies and some even have built-in effect loops (more on that in an upcoming blog). For now let’s keep it simple.
Some of the companies that make pre built boards are Coffin Case, Furman and Pedal Train… If you want to go the DIY route you can even use a piece of plywood. Eddie Van Halen actually used a pedal board he made out plywood with his pedals duct taped to it for the first Van Halen world tour. I used to do this all the time. You can get a cool piece of plywood from the local hardware store for a couple bucks. Just cut it to the size you need and you’re ready to go. I used to spray paint mine flat black so it looked cooler.
After you have your board let’s lay the pedals out. Set up the pedals and maybe take it to band rehearsals and make sure everything is in the right place to make whatever sound changes you need to do while playing that are easy to hit. Put them where you need them and then figure out the signal routing. The overdrive should go first followed by the wah, then modulation effects like delay and chorus. It’s always better to have effects that have gain such as wahs and distortion or over drive in front of the signal chain. They boost the signal before hitting the other pedals.
Next let’s figure out cabling. It’s generally better to have the cables as short as possible between pedals to cut down on signal loss. There are several options here. Lots of companies make quality short cables specifically made to go between pedals in various lengths. It’s usually preferable to have cables with two right ends so you can really squeeze everything together.. .not all pedals will have the connecting jacks on the same side so you will have to use your judgment as you go along to decide your specific cabling needs. Also remember that you want to be able to plug in your input (From guitar) and output (To amps) cables in easily. Usually this means plugging into the right side of the board and the signal going to the amps coming off the left side of the board.
Once we’re all cabled up we need to decide how to power everything. You can always just use the batteries in the individual pedals as power or we can get a power supply to power the entire board and get a more consistent sound and you will then not have to worry about your pedals starting to sound weird when your batteries start to fade a bit. Once again, there are many great companies out there that make great power supplies. Another thing to consider is that if you have any pedals that have specific power requirements. Pedals such as Boutique pedals, the big Line 6 and Eventide pedals require much more power than a typical 9 volt. There are companies such as Decibel 11 and Voodoo Labs that make power supplies that can power various pedals at various voltages simultaneously. Since we are just using just a few simple pedals we can go the basic route. You can get an inexpensive power supply that daisy chains the power for you pedals for around $20 from your local music store or you can use one of the many more road worthy units out there. One of the big benefits of using a power supply on your board is that you can leave your pedals all plugged in without worrying about draining the batteries.
On a related note, I keep batteries in my pedals just in case something goes wrong with the power supply so I can keep playing. This saved me recently when I was playing in Germany when the foreign power was messing with my on board power supply.. I just disconnected it and used the batteries in my pedals during my performance and was able to finish the show.
Now that we have your pedals in the order you want and everything powered up plug in your guitar and play through the rig to make sure everything works and sounds good to you. This is an important step, don’t be afraid to experiment and change the order of the pedals (if for some reason you are getting any weird noises in the system you would be surprised how just changing a pedal around in the order can increase or decrease the overall noise of the system not to mention the over all sound).
Once you’ve decided where everything is going to go, now it’s time to mount everything to the board. I suggest using the tried and true method of using Velcro. You can get Velcro pretty much everywhere. I use the industrial strength stuff from Home Depot so my pedals really stick. You can get the regular Velcro at pretty much any Walmart or Target…or you can also bolt the pedals to the board with screws (Which I have done in the past) but I suggest Velcro since it allows you the flexibility to move things around if need be with minimum fuss.
Now go out there and make yourself a cool pedalboard. The only limit is your imagination…Remember it’s all about experimenting and having fun….