We look at what you need to create a pedalboard – everything from the gear to how to chain your pedals together correctly.
If you’re a guitarist, bass player or even a vocalist who relies on effects pedals to get their sound, chances are you’ve got a selection of different effects in your arsenal and have asked ‘how to build a pedalboard?’.
Guitar effects are a fantastic way to expand your sound and really create your very own sonic signature but carrying them around and keeping everything in one place can sometimes be a bit of a nightmare considering all the batteries, leads and cables involved.
Thankfully there’s an answer out there – the pedalboard. For those who have yet to take the plunge into the pedalboard world, or for those who are still carrying their Boss DS-1 and TU-3 around in a carrier bag (we know it happens), chances are you’ve probably wondered when the right time to get a pedalboard might be. In this blog I’ll aim to highlight when you should seriously consider getting a pedalboard, and how to build a pedalboard based on your needs. Now I don’t mean taking a plank of wood and some nails and creating your own “Bob the Builder” style, I mean the pedalboard order in which your pedals should go and some recommendations on essential gear.
Do I need a pedalboard?
Well, the short answer is, if you have more than 2 pedals, you should look at getting a pedalboard. This of course, does not apply to everyone, but for the uninitiated, a pedalboard is a convenient way to carry around all your effects, power supply and keep your connector leads, such as patch leads and power cables safe. Although most pedals these days, such as Boss, Strymon and Wampler are built like absolute tanks, banging them together along with fragile power cables will eventually take its toll and possibly leave you with a damaged pedal over time.
So, with that said, here’s a quick summary of why you might want to consider a pedalboard:
1. Pedals are locked down
A pedalboard usually comes with Velcro or cable ties, which are used to stick underneath/hold the pedal and attach the effects to the board. This means when you’re carrying a pedalboard around the pedals are stuck in place and will not move, thus helping to prevent any damage. It also means they won’t move when you stomp on them or get dragged across the stage if you decide to take a walk with your guitar.
2. Your guitar leads last longer
Guitar cables, patch leads and power cables are of course built to last, as long as you buy some high quality options, but no matter what style you get, if they’re being thrashed about, stretched or knocked around in a plastic bag or backpack, chances are they’re going to eventually break down on you. When you use a pedalboard – especially one in a protective case, the leads, just like the pedals are held in place and therefore will be less likely to become damaged in transit. Power leads from your power supply to your pedals can be quite fragile, so the less you move them the better.
3. They’re in a handy location
When you attach your pedals to a pedalboard there’s no need to go digging through your back pack or guitar case looking for that Flanger pedal as it’s going to be right where you left it – on your pedalboard! Whether you’re using a plank of wood to hold your pedals down or a professional pedalboard, you’ll find that having everything in one location is a far easier option.
4. Set up time is quicker
If you’re a gigging musician, time is always of the essence, so reattaching power supplies and leads each and every time you play a gig is not really a good idea if you want to get on stage quickly. A pedalboard is essentially a way to plug in and play as everything is already hooked up. Just attach a lead to your guitar then one to your amp from your pedals and you’re good to go.
5. You can carry a power supply
Most good quality power supplies can be a little on the heavy side, so attaching one to a pedalboard with the rest of your effects makes it easier to carry and is by far the best way to save money on batteries. Using a power supply also helps to avoid any reliance on 9V batteries, which can let you down quite regularly. Just like the rest of your effects and leads, the power supply will wait patiently on your board for you to fire it up and deliver every time.
So how do I build a pedalboard?
If you’re keen on setting up a pedalboard, congratulations, you’ve made a wise decision as you can now set up quicker, carry everything around easily and enjoy a far more reliable option than a bag. The next step you need to take is setting the pedals up in a correct order. Now of course when it comes to music, there are no rules – you should always play whatever you think sounds best, and the same goes for which pedals you use. However, there is a basic configuration or order in which pedals should be placed in the signal path.
Most commonly this order is:
Guitar -> tuner -> wah -> compressor -> overdrive/distortion -> EQ -> modulation -> delay -> reverb -> loop pedals -> Amplifier
Again, this is just a guideline, as you may find a different configuration sounds better to you. To make sense of the order though you need to understand why these pedals are in this particular order in the first place. There is no hard and fast rule, but this is the most common configuration, and one that I find works well:
The tuner needs to go first as this means it is receiving an unaffected, pure signal thus giving you the best tuning capability.
Things like Wah pedals and filters should be placed next as they respond to your attack and need to colour the tone first.
A compressor will usually raise the noise of an effect before them so it’s ideal to have them next in the chain and as close to the guitar as possible. If you have a distortion or fuzz that is a little noisy, a compressor will amplify that noise – which isn’t great!
EQ pedals should come next (although this is not a hard and fast rule) as they will allow you to scoop out any unwanted mids or add a little extra to those solos when you’re using a distortion/gain pedal.
Modulation pedals and pedals such as chorus, phaser and flanger pedals should come next and after any tone producing effects. This means the modulation pedals can process and modify the tone that you’ve created before them. If you were to place the distortion after the phaser for example, you would be distorting the phaser and not getting the full benefit of the modulation. This is of course your chance to experiment and see what you like best, but this is generally the norm to place a modulation pedal AFTER distortion.
Delay pedals work best at the end of the chain as placing them before any type of distortion or gain can result in a jumbled-up mess. In addition, distortion can trigger a jump in the ambient effect level if placed after a delay which will make it sound a bit strange.
The same goes for reverb pedals. You may find that delaying a reverb pedal may sound muddy, so it’s best to put this last. You can, however, get some very interesting sounds if you place the reverb before distortion, so play around with the best configuration for you.
Lastly, we have a looper pedal. Normally, you’re going to want to loop the last thing you’ve played including the effects you’ve used, so you would usually place a looper at the end of the chain. If you were to put the looper before any effects, you would get a repeat of the clean signal and the signal would only use effects if you switched them on. This is entirely up to you, but most people have a looper last in the chain.
Again, this configuration is more of a guideline and offers a more tonally flexible sound that will allow you to get the best out of your effects, or at the very least hear them in the way they have been designed to be heard. I would always recommend trying different configurations and orders though, as you may find your sound in the most peculiar set up!
What do I need on my pedalboard?
So, you’ve got your pedals in order and you now want to get a complete set up for your live rig. So, what’s next? You’ll need a few extra bits and pieces before you’re ready to get out there and gig.
There are a variety of pedal power supplies available that will power your pedals effectively. As I’ve said before 9V batteries are not reliable and as such, you shouldn’t really gig with them unless you really have to. Pedal power supplies can vary in budget, so it’s up to you which option you decide to go with. You can read more about pedal power supplies and how voltage etc. works here.
In one hand you have the likes of the ultra-reliable Dr Tone PSU10 power supply which will allow you to power 10 pedals off one unit. It’s small and compact enough to sit discreetly on your board and you can even use different pedals with the 2 selectable voltage outputs which will let you change between 6, 9 and 12 volts. It also comes with 10 connectors to get you started and LED lights to let you know that everything is working as it should. A great piece of kit for the beginner or intermediate guitarist.
If you’re a professional musician, you need a professional piece of kit to power your pedals. The major benefit when it comes to spending a little more money on your power supply, especially when it comes to the likes of the MXR M238 ISO Brick, in particular is that you get 10 fully isolated outputs. This means each pedal is powered independently, which will help reduce any loss of tone and power each pedal effectively rather than making them fight for power. You still get 2 variable outputs, but you also have surge protection and separate LED’s which lets you know if one particular port is having trouble. It’s also built like a tank! Remember, if you’re not supplying your pedals with the right power, you’re not getting the best out of them. Again, you can read more about voltage and mA in our handy guide to powering pedals found here. Don’t scrimp on power supplies – your tone will thank you for it!
You’ve spent a lot of money getting the right gear for you, so don’t ruin your sound with cheap cables. You’ll need good quality patch leads to ensure all your pedals are receiving the signal correctly. If you buy low quality patch leads, you risk losing tone and ruining the sound of your guitar, effects and amplifier.
Some great options come in the form of the Fender Custom Shop Performance series patch cables and the Boss Patch Cables. The Fender Custom Shop Patch cables are a little more expensive, but offer a lifetime warranty, 95% copper coverage shield for less noise interference and a super tough exterior to stop kinking and ultimate durability. If you want professional grade patch leads, these are a very good option, however if you’re just starting out the Boss patch leads are great too – they’re a trusted brand and know or thing or two about making guitar pedals so it should stand to reason that their patch cables are of a very high standard! This 130mm/ ¼” mono jack patch lead is right angled too, so you can get your pedals closer together and save room – it’s all about that pedalboard real estate!
It’s now time to choose your pedalboard! Hooray. There are a variety of different options to choose from, so here’s three recommendations all perfect for a travelling or gigging musician.
The Stagg UPC688 ABS Case is a great option for those on a budget. It’s a hard case shell with a lid that completely detaches leaving a solid board behind. The felt interior ensures you can attach your Velcro to it and secure your pedals and the tough outer exterior makes sure your pedals are safe when rattling around in the back of a van. There’s plenty of room for pedals and a power supply and you have enough height to store your guitar leads in there too. A great starter option that will definitely last a few years.
The Boss BCB-60 is a great option as it is a perfect way of setting up and transporting your gear safely. The major selling point of the BCB-60 is that it actually includes an onboard AC adaptor that will supply 1,000mA of power that can supply up to 7 effects units. You get everything you need to power your 9V pedals as well as a customisable foam interior that allows you to use any brand of 9V pedal you may have. Customisable layout built like a tank and includes a power supply – that’s a pretty good option if you’re only using 9V pedals at the moment!
If you’re a professional musician, you’ve got a lot of pedals or you just want to keep them as safe as possible at all times, the Pedaltrain Classic 2 pedalboard with Tour Case is the one for you. This four-rail pedalboard gives you enough room to store a huge number of pedals whilst the rail design ensures you can keep them in place thanks to the cable ties and adhesive backed hook and loop fastener – your pedals will be safe and secure. Speaking of safe and secure, the tour case that it comes in is a touring quality hard case that will keep all your gear safe in transit, whether on a plane or in a bus. If you value your equipment, want to be able to store a lot of pedals and benefit from a quick set up time, this might be the option for you.
So, if you’re wondering how to build a pedalboard, chances these tips should help! Remember to experiment with pedal set ups and orders, but always get the highest quality gear you can if possible, as good tone is priceless!
Get in touch
You can find a full range of guitar effects pedals over at the Dawsons website. Alternatively, head to your local Dawsons Music store where our in-store specialists will be more than happy to help you out.
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Get a solid grounding in the world of guitar effects in our Beginners Guide to Guitar Effects Pedals.
For those need to knows on critical pedals every rig should have, check out our article on Essential Pedals and their Smaller Friends.
Lee Glynn is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Liverpool, England. After moving to the UK from Perth, Australia, Lee enjoyed a successful career as guitarist in Liverpool based rock band Sound of Guns. After releasing two albums, a myriad of EPs / singles and touring extensively around the world for 6 years including stops at Glastonbury, Latitude Festival, as well as the coveted Reading & Leeds Festivals, Lee decided it was a time for a change of scenery.