Getting into the world of guitar effects and pedalboard architecture can be overwhelming. What pedals do you choose? How do you lay them out? Where do you turn when things go wrong?
Whether it’s your first pedalboard build or a tear down and reno job, there’s no better authority than Dan Steinhardt of That Pedal Show to guide you along the way. This week on TPS, Dan & Mick hosted Chris Buck who needed a pedalboard revamp. We thought we’d listen in on this masterclass and distill down some of Dan’s top tips and hacks for building better pedalboards. If you find yourself lost among trip wire of patch cables and countless pedals strewn about like landmines, these three hacks will help bring order to the chaos.
Know Your Workflow and Sift Your Pedal Choices
There’s no one way to build a pedalboard, but there’s certainly better and worse ways. To position yourself for success, invest some time up front to plan ahead to fend off problems along the way. Part of this means simply understanding the steps in the process. Generally, your build will involve three stages. As Dan prescribed, start with the rough layout, then sort out your power needs, and finish up with patch cable connections. When establishing your blue print of pedal placement, be sure to leave space in between stompboxes for all the necessary connections.
At this point it’s also a good time to pause and reflect on the delicate balance between needs and wants on a pedalboard. While your pedal collection will likely grow in the lifespan of your rig and it’s important to ensure your pedalboard can accommodate that evolution, it’s also likely that you don’t need to have every single effect you own on hand (or foot). As Dan and Chris explored the pedal possibilities for the new board, Chris found there were several stompboxes he liked yet seldom used. These were eventually retired from active service and set aside for a future iteration of the board.
As you’re planning your workflow and sorting your pedals, be sure to think about both the physical constraints of your pedalboard as well as the creative confines that you want to set by the strategic pedal choices included on your pedalboard.
Power Supplies and Patch Cables: The Lungs and Veins of Your Pedalboard
Chances are, the most exciting and inspiring part of your pedalboard build is the actual stompboxes you’re wiring up. Yet these are only as good as the power supply and patch cables that connect them all. As Dan regularly preaches, to have pedals perform at their finest accessories can’t be afterthoughts.
When it comes to power supplies, invest in one with isolated outputs and variable options for currents to meet your pedals’ needs. Do your homework on each pedal and ensure your supply dispatches the amounts required. In a way, your power supply is what breathes life into your effects, so don’t suffocate or over-inflate them.
For patch cables there are equally as many options, from custom cut lengths to prefab connectors. Here too, don’t skimp on the budget and plan ahead. If the power supply is the lungs, these little leads are the veins connecting all your stompboxes. All it takes is one to misfire and the whole project goes down. A quality set of leads will ensure your signal is flowing clearly and avoids problems when you need them least.
Finally, while your board will likely look organized and pristine from up top, many pedalboards have a rat’s nest mess of cables and connections lurking underneath. A truly pro board, however, will look as curated and uncluttered underneath as it does up top. To achieve this, Dan recommends using cable ties with one pro tip: set them up loose, run all your cables, and then only when certain all the leads are in place tighten things up for a clean underside for your board. “Doing it like this just helps you keep things neat and tidy.”
Ergonomics, Tap Dancing, and Always-On Stompboxes
One of the early questions Dan asked Chris in the rebuild process was, “Is there anything that you’ll need to get your feet at?” This might seem like an odd question at first, but what Dan was really getting at was discerning which pedals are switched on and off most often or have tap tempo switches. Since these effects see the most action underfoot it’s essential that they’re positioned for easy access and in a location where your footwork won’t interfere with the switches or knobs of nearby pedals. Simply put, keep these ones up front and in a plot of pedalboard territory where they’re accessible and unobstructed.
On the flip side, Dan also learned that Chris almost always has his compressor pedal engaged for a bit of cushion and clarity. No matter what your “always-on” pedal is — a compressor, low gain, reverb, or delay — these pedals are ideal for tucking away either up top or even underneath if you have a two-tier board.
To avoid the calisthenics of prancing across your pedalboard, be sure to think of your pedal layout not only in terms of signal flow but also ergonomics.
No matter where you’re at in your journey as a player and effect architect, a good pedalboard (re)build can be an incredible source of inspiration. For more gear hacks and player tips, be sure to follow Riff City Channel Two for fresh takes on the ongoing history of all things guitar and pedals!
TPS Rig Rundown:
Guitars: Fender Highway 1 ’60s Stratocaster with Radioshop Chris Buck Signature ID Pickups, Yamaha Revstar RS720B.
Pedals: Ceriatone Centura Professional Overdrive, Snouse Blackbox Overdrive 2, Analog Man King of Tone Version 4, Vs Audio Straight Flush, Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe, ThorpyFX Gunshot Overdrive, Grace Tone Effects FF-01 Fuzz, Catalinbread Echorec, Dawner Prince Boonar, Hello Sailor Effects Custom Range Master, Supro Delay, Supro Tremolo, Love Pedal Rotary Reverb, Korg Pitchblack Mini.
Amps: Victory V140 The Super Duchess and Zilla Custom 112/EVM12L Speaker, Victory V40 Deluxe with Victory V112-WC-75.