It doesn't matter how insanely powerful your music software is. Or how convincingly your plug-ins ape guitar pedals. Or how many gee-whiz presets your multi-effects box boasts. Nothing tops the Luddite pleasure of fastening a bunch of little metal boxes to a board and jumping up and down on them.
illustration by Elise Malmberg
This article surveys some of the things to bear in mind before building the pedalboard of your dreams. There's no one "right way," but there are a hundred wrong ways. Trust me over the last few decades I've made every possible pedalboard mistake. Perhaps this article will spare you the same fate.
The focus here is on pedalboard mechanics materials, layout, ergonomics, power supplies, cabling, and the order of your effects. We won't cover what the various types of stompboxes do, or how to adjust their settings that's another article. For now, I assume you have a) some pedals you like, and b) some idea of how to use them.
Ready, Set, Stomp
This may sound dumb, but start by laying out all the pedals you want to include on the floor in front of you. Don't place them too close together leave room for the audio cables. Even if you use flat-ended audio cables, you'll need at least an inch between each box. Try stepping on them, preferably with the kind of shoes you usually wear onstage. Is it easy to switch one pedal on and off without clobbering its neighbors? Consider the same issue if you're arranging them in more than one row. Leave space for a tuner, a nine-volt power supply, and an AC power strip. If you want to put your tuner on a separate line from your pedals (so that, for example, your sound doesn't play through your amp when you switch to the tuner), also budget room for an A/B switcher box.
When it feels good, measure it. Draw a diagram showing where everything goes. You'll find this information useful when you start attaching the pedals to your board.
Bring Your Own Board
Many materials will do for the basic pedalboard surface, though an unfinished wooden plank may not be the best call, due to the splinter factor. Consider a piece of laminated shelving from a hardware store's closet or kitchen sections. Kitchen cutting boards are another option. If you have basic carpentry skills, you can add wedge-shaped supports so the pedalboard slants downward toward your feet.
As for adhesives, Velcro is probably your best bet. Not only is it effective, but it's also the fixative of choice for most prefab pedalboards. Don't bother buying small quantities buy the big roll. Some users like the higher-priced, extra-super-strength stuff; others (myself included) find that it works a little too well. It makes it too hard to move the pedals around should you want to try new configurations (which you will). FYI, most manufacturers of prefab pedalboards put the fuzzy surface of the Velcro on the board and the rough-surfaced stuff on the bottom of the pedals. You might as well do the same, so you don't need to reapply all your Velcro should you someday choose the prefab pedalboard route. Which brings us to…
While it's fun building a board from scratch, there are many reasons to consider a prefab model. For example, several prefab models include form-fitting cases, both soft and hard-shelled. Some include nine-volt power cables and a space to stow your power supply, or even built-in power. Small, stripped down models start at around US$50 (expect a Velcro-covered board and a soft gig bag, but not much else). Pro models cost several hundred bucks.
A quick look at three excellent high-end models:
• The Pedal Pad AXS Pedalboard (street price US$200) has a hard-shell case, a pitched surface, and a two-tiered layout. The power supplies live beneath a hinged compartment, conserving floor space. It's also available in larger configurations.
• The SKB PS-45 Professional Pedalboard (street price US$230) is a flat-surfaced model with a hard-shell case. Its built-in power supply can run eight nine-volt stompboxes. Also onboard are three AC jacks and audio jacks.
• Pedaltrain pedalboards feature are pitched-surface boards that come with hard or soft cases. Street prices for the six Pedaltrain models range from US$100 for a small model with a soft case to US$300 for the mammoth Pedal Train PT-Pro. They include no cabling or power supplies, but the open construction of the "rails" makes it easy to route audio and power cables under and around your pedals.
Before deciding to go the store-bought route, consider the following:
• Whether the model includes Velcro, cables, and/or a power supply and how much these would cost if purchased separately
• Whether a strong and probably heavy road case is a plus for you
• If the pedalboard accommodates the power needs of your particular pedals (more on this later), and
• If your pedals will fit. (Don't laugh I've made that mistake more than once.)
Another tip: I don't do a lot of hanging out in gun shops, but I've been told that some gun cases are the perfect size for pedalboards. It's probably a good idea to remove any guns before mounting your pedals.
Resolved: Batteries blow. They're ecologically unconscionable, they die when you need 'em most, and they're expensive in the long run. Definitely aim for a battery-free board.
Unfortunately, that may mean contending with four or more different types of connectors. Pedal power has grown increasingly standardized, with the lion's share of pedals now favoring the 2.5mm "barrel" connector popularized by Boss pedals. If you're very lucky, all your pedals will be of this type. But you may also encounter:
• Pedals that require a 3.5mm mini-plug (most MXR pedals, for example)
• Pedals that look as if they accept a standard barrel connector, but which in fact require additional voltage (Line 6 pedals)
• Pedals that demand AC power (many digital effect pedals, including those from Flip/Guyatone and T-Rex), and
• Pedals with no external power jacks (for example, many vintage pedals). You'll need to connect a battery-clip cable.
Pedalboards with built-in power supplies and purpose-built pedal power supplies typically come with a mixed set of connectors. I'm a huge fan of the Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2 (street price US$170), which includes eight power jacks and a mixed assortment of cables. Other Pedal Power 2 plusses: They can drive the power-hungry Line 6 pedals. They include an AC jack. They have voltage trim pots for obtaining "sagging" fuzz-pedal tones. And in the (unfortunately likely) event that the included cables don't exactly match your pedals, Voodoo Labs will speedily provide the ones you need at a very reasonable price.
Another warning: Some manufacturers use standard connectors, but with reversed polarity which of course means you need a special cable. I love my Wolfetone pedal, but I HATE the fact that its barrel connector is wired center-positive instead of the usual center-negative.
Finally, note that most pedals requiring AC power always require AC power. (One notable exception: Line 6 pedals used with Voodoo Labs' Pedal Power 2.) For that reason, you'll probably want to include a standard power strip on your board.
The usual suspects: The 1/8" plug, the 2.1mm barrel-type
connector, and the battery clip connector. (Still at large:
the AC plug.)
Fortunately the audio connections are easier virtually all pedals use standard 1/4" connectors. Most have the input on the left side of the pedal and the output on the right, though there are some contrarians. (Please stay after class, Wolfetone, Boomerang, and Ibanez.)
Obviously, you're going to need a lot of short 1/4"-to-1/4" cables. If you've got mad soldering skills, the cheapest option is to build your own from bulk components. Using store-bought connectors especially ones that are genuinely stageworthy can get very expensive. Also, even if you get cables in short lengths such as eight or twelve inches, the small bits of excess length can add up to a massive pedalboard mess.
Fortunately, there's a middle ground: do-it-yourself pedalboard cable kits. These include a set of space-saving flat-headed connecters and a length of wire that you cut to the perfect length. Some, such as George L's Effects Cable Kit (street price US$60), include ingenious, no-solder connectors just screw them together and they're ready to go.
Power up. If you see dark LEDs, double-check your connections. Check the wire routing. Is the treadle of your wah pedal sawing the tuner cable in two? For me, this is the point at which I realize that I've placed the phase shifter and ring modulator so close together that I can't kick in one without bonking the setting on the other. Or that the phono jack sticking several millimeters over the side of the pedalboard means I can't close the case. But you won't have any such problems, because you planned in advance, right?
Posted September 2006
Send to del.icio.us |