A Gear Junkies guide to Building the Perfect Pedal Board —
A while ago, I was thinking to myself as to how I could better reach out to many of you who faithfully read my “colourful” reviews of gear on our site. I remember getting Twelfth Fret newsletters many years ago with various features in it. I would even have them forwarded to when I was on the road. Lately, I have had so many pedal order placement questions that it isn’t funny. So in light of this, my first tech-y feature is on building a pedal board. This worked out great, as I needed to get a pedal board together for gigs with my cover band and I was going to be spending time at home with my family with the birth of my daughter Olivia. Here it is, folks!
Getting Started: Alleviating Boardom
When building the perfect pedal board to suit your needs, you have to first figure out what size of a board you need. Do you want it ramping up to allow better second row access? Do you want all the cables hidden from view? Do you want it powered or straight up old school? Personally and in tradition of simplicity, I really like the PSG Pedaltrain and Gator products. They have many shapes and sizes to suit your needs. In my example, I choose the Pedaltrain 2 HC with deluxe hard case. It’s ramped, will hide all cables underneath it’s rugged aluminum chassis and comes with a tougher than Hulk Hogan road case. Pic #1 will show you what I mean. Notice the “soft-sided” Velcro that I have applied to the surface of the chassis. It allows for future modifications to the board for different gigs.
When applying the Velcro, make sure that you clean off the surface to remove any dirt that might cause the adhesive backing to not stick. I always use some handy dandy crazy glue to help with adhesion. I’m all about overkill, but more so about my pedals not falling off the board. Once this step is done, you can start thinking about the chain of pedals that you’re going to want to be stomping on.
Order in The Chaos…
There is so much fierce debate online, in bars and rehearsal studio about what pedals go where. There are no hard and fast rules to this. It’s more about common sense and what works for the individual player. For clarities sake, the board used in this article is for my own purposes and for the sounds I would use. The best way to find out what works for you is experiment. That’s where the fun is at, even if it’s at your loved ones expense. Here’s a simple map of how I like my stomp boxes to flow:
Guitar- Tuner- Distortion/overdrive- volume booster- modulation effects- Delays-amp
There is no secret to this. I like to use the BOSS TU-2 tuner for two reasons. One, it’s a great tuner by a great company. Two, it has a buffered output which helps put back some frequency lost by a guitar cable. I like a tuner to be bright onstage, accurate, smooth and be easy to use. It should also 100% cut out your signal so that you can tune in absolute quiet. Note the Digitech Whammy Pedal. I like to have before the distortion for the pitch bends and wackiness.
I love this pedal. It does so many crazy things like Whammy bar effects, chorusing and Harmonies. It works great for duping Trevor Rabin’s sound on Yes’s “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”. Next up is a pedal that I’ve left off my flow map due to the fact that I don’t use one. There are many things that you can do with compressors in this chain. For instance if you wanted to simply use it as a sustain/enhance box, then stick it aFt the front, just before your dirt boxes. A neat trick is to place it after your dirt boxes to allow for smoother clean to dirty transitions. It’s all really preference.
Personally, my right hand is my compressor. I often joke about that with our customers who ask what compressor I use.
After the tuner, I generally like to place my dirt boxes next in the signal chain. For many, this area will be the primary source for your noise. A lot of people would be inclined to use a noise gate or suppressor, but I use Humbuckers and/or humcanceling single coils in my guitars. Whatever little noise I get, I generally can live with. After all, Hendrix, Page or Clapton didn’t have a noise suppressor. In my chain, I start my “dirt team” out with a Wampler Pinnacle distortion pedal. I use this bad boy for the bulk of my heavy tones. I usually set it to “KILL” and use my guitar’s volume knob to adjust my gain.
Next up in the chain is a BOSS SD-1 Super Overdrive that’s been modded by my best bud Greg over at Solid Gold Soundlabs. The mod basically opens up the compression, adds a more flexibility to the “Tone” knob and improves the overall gain on the pedal. I use this for my Bluesy –to-Mild Crunch sounds.
Last in the chain of dirt boxes is my fave booster. It was custom made for me by Greg over at Solidgold Soundlabs as a gift for my birthday and features some personal touches and mods. The production model is now called the Nitro boost. It killer and adds hardly any noise…best of all it’s great for pealing dental work off of club patrons in the first row. Here’s how I lay it out.
Note the skull knob and splatter green finish courtesy of a little father/son painting experiment. I like the booster after my gain pedals in order to have a clean volume boost as opposed adding more distortion. If you want to slam your dirt box with more gain, then put it before the distortion box in question. Take a good look at my cables as well. I only use the best stuff when it comes to interconnect cables. I really like the Evidence Audio Monorail and I use it exclusively with soldered Switchcraft or Neutrik ends, period. There are many popular solder-less connectors, but do I really need to get into the pitfalls of these things. I mean seriously? I’m sure they work great for some but I tend to take the “hardcore insurance policy” out on this topic. It just makes for a more rugged and problem free pedalboard. I also like my cables short, but having a few varied lengths is a good idea.
From my custom Nitro booster, my signal goes to my “old school” vintage/analog delay. I use the JAM DelayLhama+. It works great for duping old tape echo sounds and some of the cool filtered trail sounds. I mostly just use it for the U2, Pink Floyd and Led Zep material in our set. It’s an amazing recreation of the old BOSS DM-2 Analog Delay only with more Delay time and better fidelity. No tone-sucking going on here. Let’s not even touch upon the psychedelic paint job. ‘Nuff said.
Some people like to have modulation effects such as Chorus, Flanger and Phaser in this position, but there is something cool about this pedal getting slammed with my overdrives. It has a very organic quality to it. Note the extra long cable with the Neutrik end in the Dirt Box chain. Due to logistical issues and pedal placement, I had to resort to using an “S” type routing for my pedals in order to facilitate the signal path that I wanted.
My final two pedals are used in opposite extremes in that my BOSS DD-3 modded by Greg at SolidGold Soundlabs (Can you tell I just love his stuff?) is on all the time. It has been modded with an analog/digital switch and the dry out is now a send and return for modulation effects. In the DD-3’s loop, only whatever is in the loop affects the trails. It’s a very cool trick that is useful for thickening the aural experience, but in the tradition of simplicity and in honor of the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stud-muffin), I run it mono. Preceding the Delay is a Maxon FL-9 Flanger. I know what you’re all thinking but when you play as many Van Halen covers as I do, it’s a necessary evil and in this case I might as well use the best one out there, in my opinion anyway. I generally set it for the one “Unchained/ Atomic Punk” sound and leave it there. I chose the Maxon because it’s the one Flanger that gives the most even unity gain and doesn’t thin out you sound when you engage it. From the BOSS DD-3, it goes to whatever amp I’m using in rehearsal or my VHT Pitbull (now Fryette Amps).
Buffered VS True-bypass pedals
Why this particular placement? Simple. It works for the sounds that I need to get me through most cover band shows. There is also a little method in my madness in that if you take a good look at my signal chain, you’ll notice that the Wampler Pinnacle, Solid Gold Custom Nitro boost, JAM DelayLhama, and Maxon FL-9 Flanger are all true bypass. By design, they feature a multi pole two-way on/off switch that allows the original signal to flow through the pedal’s switch without being affected by the pedal’s circuitry. When you have more than two true bypass pedals, it’s a good idea to use a buffer. Being the smart, thrifty and debonair guitarist that I am, I careful planned to have my BOSS Tu-2 tuner buffer the sound going in and my BOSS DD-3 pedal buffers the output while my BOSS SD-1 buffers the interconnect drag. All BOSS pedals feature a very cool buffered output stage that alleviates the drag in sound associated in running long pedal chains.
Power To The People
Okay, so you have your layout and your sounds mapped out. The pedal board has been prepped and loaded and all the stuff is plugged in and to rock. Now all you have to do is supply power to your masterpiece. There are many products out there that will help you do this. Products like the Voodoo Labs Pedal Power, T-Rex’s Fuel Tank and BBE’s Supra Charger have been gaining popularity with DIY guitarists. I like to keep it really simple and I call on my buds at Visual Sound to solve my power problems. I personally use their One Spot adapter and Daisy Chain to power seven of my pedals on this board. It supplies a clean, lean and mean 1700 milli-amps and works well with most manufacturers pedals that require 9 Volts. The One Spot also can vary its voltage and only takes up one spot on the power bar. I like everything fastened down with no extra lengths hanging down and/or out like a vine in a rainforest. It just looks lame when they sloppily hang about and stick out. Take a few minutes, spend a few bucks and secure it all with tie clips.
The Digitech Whammy uses a very specific current that would max out the current the Visual Sound One Spot would put out. This why in this case, I’ve used a twist tie/cable tie to neatly stuff unsightly clutter underneath the raise chassis.
I also like to secure a lot of the interconnect cable where need be.
When you’re finally done, check all the pedals make sure that they light up and you get sound. Once you establish that, then take a listen for noise or static. Also make sure that the lengths of the connectors for power and audio don’t hang over and protrude over the footprint of the board. It simply protects your ¼” ends from getting wrecked in moving the pedal board. You may find that the pedals that you personally use might work in a different order. When I was done my pedal board this is what the final product looked like.
I added the BOSS Metal Zone as a spare. You never know if or when something is going to malfunction. Backup is a must when you’re out doing pro functions.
At the end of the job, take a few steps back, crack open your drink of choice as you’ve earned it and marvel at your creation. Don’t be afraid to ask for opinions and ideas. After all not everyone has a cute, cuddly little roadie. I’m lucky because I pay him in Cannoli (Italian dessert), Goldfish crackers,Yop yogurt drinks and trips to the Zoo. Too cute for words, Metallica shirt and all!