I recently participated in a masterclass with Wampler Artist Andy Wood and was rather unexpectedly thrust into the limelight to talk about the finer points of guitar pedals. I was anticipating a huge amount of technical questions that I would need to call Brian about, people asking me which clipping diodes were used in a certain circuit, what amps liked which pedals, which fuzz pedal played nicely with a 1967 throb-o-matic deluxe univibe, that sort of thing, but I was wrong. A lot of folk just wanted a fundamental understanding of how to build a reliable and usable pedalboard from the ground up and they wanted to know how to achieve something close to Andy’s tone on a modest budget.
That was my lightbulb moment – I figured I would write a couple of blogs and try and distill some knowledge about building an awesome pedalboard for anyone who might be attempting to put a new board together for the new year. Whether it’s your first pedalboard or your 100th iteration (ahem – guilty) you might find some nuggets of wisdom below – so let’s dive in! I should hasten to add that – other than Wampler pedals – I have no association with any of the companies mentioned here. This blog is drawn from my personal experience and the gathered wisdom of others.
Firstly the pedalboard itself. This in essence needs to be nothing more than a flat surface of a suitable size. Some folk like wood, some metal, some multi-tiered, some flat. There is no single “best” pedalboard that suits everyone but there are a number of great solutions I’ve seen over the years. If you have an old deck and want a pedalboard, that can be a great platform. And you can put wheels on it and pop a sick ollie after your gig. The IKEA “Gorm” shelf was another popular product, with its railed design allowing for neat tucking away of cables etc., and these have now been superseded by the Hejne. These make a nice starter board, are a good size, and because they are bare wood you can personalise the finish with whatever color you so desire. I’m a fan of Pedaltrain pedal boards – I currently have 3 all within stomping distance. They use rails, so are very flexible in terms of configuration, they’re hard-wearing and finished in classic powder coat black, and they come with a useful carry case.
There are of course a bunch of great manufacturers making similar quality alternatives, too many to mention here, and there are innovations aplenty – the D’Addario Xpand extendable boards recently hit my radar. The Rolls Royce of pedalboards is probably found among the Schmidt Array custom pedalboard range. These are works of art, no two ways about it, but that artistry certainly comes with a handsome price tag. Pictured to the left (or above if you are browsing on mobile) is Lee Harris from Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets’ awesome Schmidt Array based pedalboard, and some of his rather tasty amps too.
Now you’ve found your platform, how are you going to attach your pedals? This is a subject of much debate. The most common adhesive system is good old fashion “Hook and Loop” fasteners, the most famous brand being VELCRO® Brand fasteners. This is a great solution and many boards come with generous rolls of said material but there are a few issues to consider.
Hook and loop fasteners are not particularly strong unless you use quite a lot, and they tend to be prone to losing power when contaminated with fluff and hair type fibres. It is not unheard of to see people cover the entirety of the back of a pedal to ensure a good stick. This is overkill for most pedal and board types. Moving up from hook and loop, we come to plastic reclosable fasteners, like 3M Dual Lock. This is essentially the same principle as hook and loop except it is formed from rigid plastic and is “single sided” – rather than having 2 sides, a hook side (scratchy) and a loop side (furry), the plastic “bobbles” are designed to lock together so you don’t have two separate tape reels to keep hanging around. It is also significantly stronger which means you need a heck of a lot less. I prefer to take ½ inch long strips or pre-cut “dots” and put them on each corner – this is more than enough to make a great and stable mounting. Another tip – some fasteners can leave some adhesive residue behind on your pedal. The best solution is to put some painter’s masking tape over the base of the pedal and stick your chosen fastener over it. I should also mention that if you use too much of either fastener, you may find taking the pedals off your board a challenge, and some sort of plastic pry-bar might be needed. The little plastic levers they sell for changing pushbike tyres work well for this. Has your pedal got little rubber feet on them? If so, remove them before applying your fastener of choice. For bonus points, you can keep the old rubber feet in that box of cables that you never use. Perhaps it’s a BOSS or similar pedal with a giant rubber footplate? I find that 3M Dual Lock can be mounted in the gap in the middle of these and works great – you may want to add some masking tape to preserve the finish as above. This is one of the reasons that here at Wampler pedals we don’t attach the feet but rather we give them to you as a self adhesive option.
There are also a number of other ingenious attachment options. Some pedalboards come with mounting brackets and screws, you can also buy bespoke solutions, like the well engineered “StompTrap” brackets that offer a quick release solution for your board. Some folk like to use cable ties. I’ve heard of strange fasteners with weird chains and quick release thumbscrews. It is very much down to personal preference, for me a Dual Lock style plastic fastener is the most flexible solution – allowing a secure board fixing and the ease of quick repositioning.
Now to the most divisive of subjects in this blog – what sort of cable should you use to connect your pedals together? There isn’t a “one size fits all” option here but there are some great cables on the market. Firstly I would recommend “dry building” your board and working out what size of connectors you will need. Patch cables are available most commonly in Mono (Tip and Sleeve) but sometimes also in Stereo (Tip Ring Sleeve) and a myriad of shapes, sizes, and colors – typically you will be using Mono cables. The most important thing when creating a neat pedalboard is the size of the connector head – this can make all the difference in terms of how many pedals you will be able to get on your board and how much space you will need. This is even more important for pedals that have their inputs and outputs mounted on the sides like our range of mini pedals.
You can spend as much or as little as you like on cables, and generally you get what you pay for. The D’Addario patch cables are probably my go-to “budget” cables as I’ve never had one break on me. My personal favorites are the EBS range, and specifically the EBS Gold flat cables. The head on the connector is probably the smallest out there and it allows for very neat hookups between pedals. The cable is flat so you can tuck it away with ease. I should also mention “solid” connectors here, which look like a double ended jack plug, generally used to connect smaller pedals or those with side mounted jack sockets. I am not a huge fan of these, because I feel the flexibility of a cable is a useful safety feature, but if they are used correctly there isn’t an inherent issue. It does mean you have to be super careful when moving any pedal with one in. The saving in space is not worth that extra bit of hassle, and there are numerous apocryphal horror stories of people destroying pedals with them under certain conditions.
If you want to go one step further you may want to make your own patch cables. This can be very rewarding and help you achieve a tidy finish to the surface of your board whilst also allowing custom cable lengths to be catered for. This is where the controversy comes in – if you go DIY do you make soldered or solderless cables? Brian is not a fan of solderless cables – and certainly he makes a good point. Many brands, especially at the value friendly end of the scale, are perhaps merely disasters waiting to happen. You cannot beat a good quality soldered cable for durability. One exception to this rule is the Evidence Audio SiS (Screw in Solderless) cables. I have been running these on my board for about 4 years and not one of them has ever failed me. They are incredibly high quality, easy to build, and the connector heads have a tiny footprint. An essential bit of kit for anyone thinking about making their own cables is an inexpensive cable tester – I favor the Behringer CT100 – it eliminates all uncertainty from your build and speeds DIY cable building up immensely.
Powering your pedals
We’ve got our board, we’ve figured out how we are gonna stick our pedals down, we’ve figured out how we are going to connect them together, now we must also consider how we are supplying power. Some pedals will accept a 9V battery, some will not. Most modern pedals use the universal “BOSS Style” PSA, a center negative 9V connector standard, and there are a number of power supplies that can supply this. If you are running a decent number of pedals you should aim to get one with multiple isolated outputs. This is the least noisy option across the board and gives you the most flexibility for your pedals. You’ll need one with suitable output current – some pedals draw 100X more current than others so you need to be aware of what your requirements are. Again this is where dry planning, using a planning tool, or if you are sad like me, a spreadsheet, can really help. You should add up the current requirements then buy a supply that supplies something like 50% more current than you require if you plan on expansion. Which trust me, you do.
You can also daisy-chain certain pedals together by using a power supply with multiple connectors connected to the same output. This is not suggested for beginners as you need to have an understanding of which pedal circuits are happy to be daisy-chained without adding in additional noise and which are not and this is not a simple subject. Both Brian and I are fans of the TrueTone power supplies – I use the CS12 on my board and it powers up 15 pedals and 2 switchers without missing a beat. Their single output “Wall wart” is a great bit of kit too – it outputs 1700ma and is a great solution for daisy chaining certain pedals together – adapters to add 3,5,7 additional output plugs are available.
A question we get asked sometimes is “How come my pedal is still powered up when I unplug my power supply?” and the answer is often less magical than you may think. It probably still has a battery inside it, so that raises a good point – if you are powering your pedals with a power supply you should disconnect the battery to avoid any chance of leakage.
Keeping it neat
You will most likely run your power cables underneath your board and you will want to tidy them. You can use cable ties and the little self adhesive mounting posts to go even further. Some people have ridiculously neat board undersides and those people are maniacs. Joking, but I have never had the patience to do that. I would also say this – if you move your board around a lot, think carefully about how you tie down all your power!
Well that just about covers the basics – in the next blog I will be looking at Tuners, Switchers, and the first pedals I would buy for my board with three different budgets, so until then, rock on my friends!