How To Build A Pedalboard In 13 Steps
Under: Guitar Gear
One of the most confusing things in guitar playing is how to order effect pedals! Which should go first? And which last? So here’s how to build a pedalboard in 13 easy-to-follow steps.
The art of building a pedalboard is one that most guitarists eventually master! It can be a confusing mess for years, especially if you’re like me and are constantly changing pedals on the board.
Before we get into the steps and learn how to build a pedalboard, let’s start with a few basic questions you’ll want answered.
Basic Pedalboard Questions
The first question you might ask: Is there a correct pedal order? In a way, yes, but rules are there to be broken, right?!
So there are some rules, but it’s a matter of experimenting with your pedals. Play around with different orders and see what works for your music and what helps you translate what you hear in your head into reality.
Another question I’ve often asked about pedalboards: should I use a Pedatrain, custom, Ikea chopping board, or fill in the blank. Use what will be easy to navigate, lightweight, and rugged enough to withstand gigging, rehearsals, and whatever else you might throw at it.
What is the ideal power supply? Sadly, there isn’t one. Some love their TrueTone One Spot, others prefer Voodoo Lab Pedal Power. Cioks also offers a range of superb power supplies for pedalboards.
The same is true for patch cables. Use what you feel is the best solution. If in doubt, compare a few different options.
With those out of the way, let’s learn how to build a pedalboard in 13 easy-to-follow steps.
#1 Decide What Kind Of Pedalboard You’re Building
The types of gigs you play will decide the kind of pedalboard you’ll build. For example, if you’re doing session work, you’ll want a pedalboard that’s flexible, easily changeable, and can be integrated with different systems effortlessly.
If you’re playing heavy metal in clubs, which are sure to get rowdy, you’ll want to build a pedalboard that’s robust. It will need to be splashproof and unbreakable!
Another option is to build two pedalboards. The first is a control board, which doesn’t matter if it gets damaged as it’s just a bank of footswitches to operate the pedals on the second board. You’ll store the board with the actual pedals on behind the amps – in a relatively safe location!
#2 Chose Your Effects Pedals
If you’re like me, you probably collect guitar effects pedals! My current total is around 30, down from 50 a few years ago. Yes, it’s a lot! I didn’t start off trying to collect them. It just happened! Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!
Anyway, when I’m starting to build a new board, I’ll think about what I’m going to be using it for, what tones I need, and how flexible it should be. Do I need to access a wide range of guitar tones? Should it be easy to add another FX pedal? Can it use in conjunction with an existing setup?
I’ll also think about the guitars and amps I’ll be using with the pedalboard. If it’s for Jams, I will probably choose pedals that are natural sounding and work well with a load of different amps. So, overdrive pedals with a big mid-hump need not apply!
Again, I’m really thinking about this, so hopefully, I’ll avoid many problems that might occur later. I’ll grab a few pedals and do a shoot-out to find the group of fx pedals that work the best together.
Pro Tip #1
Don’t forget a tuner. No one ever wants to play with an out of tune guitar. I like the BOSS TU-3, it’s solid and well built.
#3 Find The Right Signal Chain
This is where the fun begins! I get lost in this stage for hours. Try every chain you can think of. Keep experimenting!
It could be a good idea to record something simple and easy to remember every time you change the signal path. So you can listen back and hear if it’s adding or taking away from your base tone.
If you’re using a lot of pedals consider grouping a few in a true bypass looper. Grouping pedals make it easier to control and save your tone, while making it easy to troubleshoot if your pedalboard stops working.
After all the experimentation, write down/photograph exactly what is going on – as simply as possible.
#4 Tweak The Signal Chain
I’m a big believer in less is more. Yes, I love pedals, guitar, and amps but I want to use the simplest setup possible.
If you have a ton of pedals on a gig then you’ll be tempted to play with them rather than connect with the audience. The guy leaning at the bar won’t know or care if you’re not using the exact sound from the record, but he will care if you look bored or spend too much time looking at your pedals.
If you have loads of pedals in front of you, it’s time to remove some and learn how to use what you have better. Can you use your volume pedal or control to give you the same sound you’re getting from a pedal right now?
Could you replace a few modulation-type pedals with something like a Line6 M5? It will save space, time, and might cost less than what you’re using right now.
#5 Mark Out The Area You Have To Play With
With tape, mark on the floor the area you have to play with. You’ll need to get it exactly right, or you’ll end up messing up and having to start again.
#6 Try A Few Different Positions
Lay out the pedals on the floor and try to get them to fit in the space which you have. Then try a different layout, pretend you’re playing a gig. Can you easily click each pedal in and out?
If you want, grab a guitar and have a jam to test how the pedalboard performs in the real world.
Is one of the pedals you use a lot hidden behind another, less used pedal? If so, try moving it.
Even if you prefer having certain pedals in specific spots, try moving them around. Try as many different setups as possible.
Pro Tip #2
You can always use a true bypass looper to group pedals, create insert points, or maximize the space.
#7 Plug-in, Try It, Test It
You might want to do this for each and every setup you think up and try out. Take photos, so you remember where it all went!
Don’t worry at this point trying to get the right length of cable or getting the layout to look seamlessly clean. Remember, keep trying different ideas.
Can you hit each pedal you need to? Can you get all the tones you need? Is one of the leads a dud? Does one of the pedals have a faulty socket? Try it, test it, and fix it.
#8 Rough Diagram
It’s good to draw a rough diagram and take some pictures. That way should it go missing, you’ll know exactly what you had.
It’s also good to keep track of signal chains as you could find some great tones with this board which just might be the right sounds for the next project you do – long after the board has been stripped and changed.
#9 Get Your FX Pedals Ready
Are you planning to use Velcro? You probably want to remove the rubber off the bottom of the pedal to create a flat surface.
If you’re reusing pedals that had Velcro on them, it could be a good idea to tear it off and start again. You might want to clean the glue off the bottom of the pedal using turpentine (sometimes known as white spirit).
You can also use this turpentine to clean the board as well if you’re also tearing that back to nothing.
#10 Attach Pedals – Power – Cables
A#10 Attach Pedals – Power – Cables Attach the pedals first. Next, the power cables. With any and all power cables, it’s a good idea to check that no shorts are happening. You’ll know you have a short as all the pedals will turn off as there’s no power.
If this happens, you need to start unplugging the power cables until you have lights again. Shorts can happen from within the pedal, or when two bare wires touch, or when a power lead touches a bare metal case.
Next up is the instrument cable. Now, I have a confession, I like wired cables from the guitar to the pedalboard and then from the pedalboard to the amp. However, I prefer solderless cables for the pedalboard.
Anyhow, at this point it’s time to make new cables or reuse the ones you have if they’ll fit. So it’s time to start measuring, cutting, and soldering (or screwing for those who are solderless!) patch cables for the pedalboard.
Pro Tip #3
My pedalboard of choice is the PedalTrain. They allow maximum flexibility as you can run cables underneath the frame and use velcro to hold the pedals [which makes it super easy to change them].
#11 Testing, testing …..
Some more fun! Great, where did that guitar go?! Test all the pedals out, still sounding great? Should do!
You might want to play for a long time, try packing up and setting up again as this will reveal a fresh set of problems like faulty input jacks, cables that have gone bad, or Velcro that hasn’t stuck and has got lose.
If you find any problems, now is the best time to fix them. The WORST time to fix gear problems is at a gig when you have no time to do it properly. Make sure you solve all your problems now and take the time to fully test your pedalboard.
#13 Enjoy! That’s How To Build A Pedalboard!
You now know how to build a pedalboard! Have fun playing guitar! Hopefully, you’ll find a ton more guitar tones you can easily use in your gigs, jam sessions, and practice.