As guitar players, many of us are not content to stand idly by while keyboard players have access to so many cool sounds. Fortunately, a new guitar effect pedal is born almost daily. Unfortunately, the dizzying array of products can make it seem overwhelming to the pedal neophyte.
So, where does one start? I’m glad you asked! For me it was one pedal: a Kent Fuzz-wah.
For someone who only wanted to modify their guitar sound occasionally with one effect, the idea of a pedalboard sporting a dozen (or more!) different tonal possibilities almost seemed like too much bother. At least that’s what I used to think.
I was a “guitar-straight-into-the-amp” kind of guy, but I have since changed my ways. A real pedal geek may have no less than 50 pedals; I lost count at around 60…
How do we start the process of assembling one or more pedalboards? Let’s start simple and work our way up.
For many people it can start with two pedals: maybe an overdrive or distortion of some sort and a delay or reverb perhaps.
Let’s grab a popular overdrive, perhaps a JHS Morning Glory or Wampler Dual Fusion. Both will push more volume into the front end of an amp — just the thing to kick it up for a solo or melody line or maybe add some heavier chords (my preference is to use both!).
Now we add a popular delay pedal like the MXR Carbon Copy and a nice reverb, in this case we’ll use a Universal Audio Del-Verb. If your amp already has a reverb built in, you may consider dropping the Del-Verb. But either way, let’s hook it up!
And there you have it: the beginnings of a nice pedalboard!
I introduced these basic pedals in the order I would wire them up. My guitar cable would go from my guitar into the overdrive’s “IN” jack. From there you could hook a short “jumper” or “patch” cable (more on that shortly) from the overdrive’s ”OUT” jack to the delay’s “IN” jack, then another “patch” from the delay’s “OUT” jack to the reverb’s “IN” jack. Lastly, a regular cable will carry your signal from the Reverb’s “OUT” jack to the input of the amplifier.
Guitar → Overdrive → Delay → Reverb → Amp
As we go along, I’ll suggest a good working order for your pedals to go in, but there are no rules. Many suggest that you should initially start with tone-modifying devices, like wah-wah and/or overdrive; then into more modulation-based effects like a chorus, phase-shifter, or flanger; and then finish up the end of your run with time-based effects, as we have done here with the delay and reverb.
Check out this quick guide to pedalboard flow if you want a bit more in-depth information about how to organize your rig.
AMS Pro Tip: A word (or two) about “patch” cables. Keep them to the length you need and make sure you test them. A tester like the Hosa CBT500 will check about anything. If you enjoy building and switching around pedalboards, a cable tester will eliminate the frustration of a bad cable messing up the works.
It’s important to use a good quality cable as well. You’re amplifying your signal though the pedals you use, making good cables mandatory so as not to pick up extraneous noise. EBS and Ernie Ball make problem-free patch cables.
At this point you have your pedalboard ready to rock (or jazz?) and all your pedals are running on their internal batteries. No problem, unless your gig is more than one set… A digital delay can gobble up some serious power, which will have you replacing the battery hourly! Not good, and not terribly economical.
So let’s talk about power supplies.
Perhaps one or more of the pedals you’ve hooked up came with an external power supply. You can run your power supplies individually to each pedal and then to a power strip. Look to Furman for a wide variety of power strips that condition the line signal and offer different configurations.
Running your guitar amp off this same strip is also a good idea, helping to control ground loops (more on that later).
Now you’re powered, connected, and rockin’! But your rig is likely still a bit of a mess to transport and has to be disconnected and packed away every time. Here’s where the actual “pedalboard” comes into play!
A pedalboard is just a flat surface, usually a piece of wood or metal, that holds all your pedals together, keeping them all nice, neat, in order, and (sometimes) even powered. You can buy premade pedalboards or even make them yourself, like with a piece of plywood wrapped in a blanket.
One thing all pedalboards typically have in common is some way of fastening the pedals to the board. Velcro is the most popular way to do this, although some other options exist, like Power-Grip tape. A couple manufacturers make a provision to screw the pedal right to the board. The best thing about that is it never moves; the bad thing about that is it never moves…
If you’d prefer to skip the DIY and get a premade pedalboard, Gator, SKB, Pedaltrain, Boss and others make boards in different shapes and sizes to accommodate everything from the smallest setup to something resembling an aircraft carrier. Some even have their own built in power supply with distribution to your individual pedals, eliminating the need for multiple power supplies. Others can accommodate a single multi-tap power supply mounted on top or underneath the pedalboard.
Voodoo Labs makes the popular Pedal Power 2 Plus, which comes complete with multiple isolated power jacks and an assortment of cables. Cioks DC4 is great for smaller boards where isolation is desired (I’ll get into that with the ground loop thing), or for the aircraft carrier that requires a lot of different types of power, the Cioks DC7 with the DC8 Expander is the big daddy.
Ground loops and isolation
Without going too deep into ground potential and a bunch of other technical stuff, sometimes a bunch of pedals in a line can make weird noises. The same pedals will run quietly on their own batteries, but as soon as they share two different grounding points (one on the patch cable shield and one on the negative line in the power supply) things can get unpredictable.
I’m a big fan of multiple isolated power points when I have six or more pedals. This problem rears its ugly head even more when you get into using effects loops to run some pedals through. Let’s touch on that quickly.
This can get deep and become fun to experiment with. A lot of modern guitar amplifiers have effects loops, which are basically a place where you can break into the amp circuit between the preamp and the power amp.
Why use an amp’s effects loop? Certain things sound better (to some ears) if they are wired directly into the amp. Time-based pedals especially seem to like it.
To use an effects loop, run a cable from the jack on your amp labeled either “Effects Send,” “F/X Out,” “Line Out,” or maybe “Preamp Out” to the “IN” jack on a pedal, say the aforementioned Carbon Copy. Then run another cable from the pedal’s “OUT” jack to the “Effects Return,” or whatever nomenclature is used on your amp.
Try your amp’s effects loop with different pedals to experiment. Again, there aren’t any rules, just time-tested suggestions.
Refer to the “Ground Loops and Isolation” section when it comes to powering pedals that are “in the loop” versus pedals that are “in front” (direct to the input) of the amp. Putting some pedals in the loop adds yet another ground to the circuit, increasing the possibility for weirdness.
Amps and pedals: How do they get along?
A little tidbit I learned recently: Some pedals get along better with some amps than others.
What does that mean? It means that your favorite overdrive you love in front of your Marshall may not sound the same in front of a Fender. This is probably due to the differences in the front-end design of these amps.
This inconsistency applies to pedals used in effects loops, as well. The loop may be too “hot” for certain pedals, causing the sound to become a bit fizzy. You can sometimes correct this issue if the loop has level controls.
Different boards for different needs
There is no one pedal arrangement to satisfy all needs. If you want to go to blues jams on Thursday nights, you can probably keep it simple (which I’m sure the host will appreciate).
For smaller gigs, I bring a mini Pedaltrain with a compressor and overdrive, chorus, and analog delay. I also have a tuner on there (put that before everything in your arrangement). And that’s it!
Conversely, in the 11-piece band I play with, I break out the aircraft carrier (Pedaltrain Pro Pedalboard) with all my favorite goodies:
I power all of them (with the exception of the HXFX) with a Cioks DC7 Power Supply and suffer zero noise problems.
Get out and play!
Okay, that was a lot of information — and there’s still plenty more for you to discover. But the most important take-away here is to have fun! Go to local blues jams and open mic nights, start a band, or just crank it in your basement! One pedal or ten, it doesn’t matter. But I’ll bet you can’t stomp just one…
Find your new pedal best friend here at AMS. Our selection of guitar and bass effects pedals is so big that you might not be able to get through it all in one day!
And if you see something you think you might like, try it out! With our 45-day return policy, you can easily try a pedal on your rig at home to see if you like it. If you don’t, send it back and try another one. We’re in this together! Let’s build the best pedalboard possible to suit your unique style.