No matter what point in your guitar-playing career you are in, picking up new effect pedals is always an exciting time. Perhaps this is because pedals can significantly help you achieve those perfect guitar tones you have been dreaming of, without completely breaking the bank. There comes a time in a guitar player’s life where they will end up needing a pedal board.
However, knowing how to set up a pedal board can be a rather daunting task. Understanding: how to organize the signal chain to find the perfect sound and how to use power supplies can be intimidating enough to completely turn some guitar players away from the idea of a pedal board. Of course, you can haul your pedals around in a backpack, but let’s be honest, that can end up causing damage to your beloved pedals and turn your cables into a tangled snake pit of horrors. If you find yourself with more than three or four pedals, it may be time to set up a pedal board.
Have no fear! Pedal Haven is here to help. We put together a guide to building a pedal board, and we hope to alleviate some of this stress. This guide will supply you with an ideal beginner’s pedal board setup, as well as some tips to understand the technical side of your pedal board.
Finding Your Pedal Board
Of course, step one of organizing your pedal board is, in fact, finding a pedal board. Pedal boards come in all shapes and sizes, with a large amount of optional add-ons as well. However, just about anything flat can suffice as a pedal board – especially if you are just starting out. We have seen plywood, skateboard decks, and vintage suitcases being used as pedal boards – the opportunities are endless. Of course, we would recommend getting a nice started pedal board, like a Pedaltrain, and as your board becomes more advanced, it will be worthwhile to pick up a beautiful, professional pedal board.
Now that you have your board, it is time to organize your signal chain. Don’t worry, this is the fun part!
Photo courtesy of @drakaea.lind
How To Set Up a Pedal Board – Order Your Signal Chain
The average guitar player’s pedal board consists of about 6 pedals. A tuner pedal, an overdrive or distortion pedal, a delay pedal, a reverb pedal, a volume pedal, and some kind of modulation pedal like a pitch shifter or flanger pedal.
Organizing your pedals is one of the most important steps in the world of effect pedals. The order of your pedal chain should allow each pedal to showcase its individual tones, while complimenting the other pedal(s) that are feeding into it from the input jack. The flow of your guitar’s signal through these pedals is called your “signal chain”. Of course, there is room for personal preference when organizing your pedal board’s signal chain, but here is how you can order the six most common pedals during your pedal board setup.
Your tuner pedal should almost always be the first pedal in your signal chain. This will allow your tuner to have a clear, uninterrupted signal from your guitar – allowing for a much more accurate reading of whether or not your guitar is in tune.
After the tuner, you should have a dirt pedal of some sort. This can be an overdrive pedal (like a Ibanez Tube Screamer), a distortion pedal, or one of your favorite fuzz pedals – depending on the style of music you are playing. Placing the dirt pedal as the second pedal in your signal chain will help you get smooth tones, because the distortion will not be effected by other pedals.
As mentioned above, your modulation pedal(s) could be something like a chorus or a tremolo. This will give your modulation pedals first dibs on your tone, which is generally what you want. You usually don’t want to feed a modulation pedal a heavily effected signal – unless you are trying to find a very, very strange guitar tone.
The idea behind a delay pedal is to affect your entire guitar tone. Therefore, it should be placed near the end of the signal chain. This will allow the delay pedal to capture all of the tones coming from your pedal board – turning them into a beautiful, echoing sea of repeats. Here is a list the best pedal pedals!
The idea of reverb is very much the same as a delay. It is meant to capture all of your pedal board’s tones. After all, a reverb pedal helps simulate your tones as if you were playing in a large, open room. With this in mind, it should be one of the final pedals in your signal chain.
The idea of a volume pedal is to raise and lower the volume of the signal coming from your pedal board. This means that your volume pedal should almost always be one of the last pedals in your chain. This will allow a guitar player to have control over their volume. However, there is a fun trick! Placing the volume pedal before your delay and/or reverb pedals can create some interesting sounds. As the volume is turned down, the delay and reverb will still be trailing off; meaning your tone will have a nice, clean fade out, rather than going from 100 to 0.
Photo courtesy of @jessebobb123
Powering Your Pedal Board
A great deal of today’s effect pedals can simply be powered by a 9v battery, but let’s face it, having a battery die on stage can be both embarrassing and frustrating. If you are invested in your pedal board setup, we would recommend finding a way to power the board – without the hassle of batteries.
Thankfully, there is a fairly universal standard when it comes to guitar pedals, and that is the addition of a plug option for a power source. A great deal of today’s pedals will be 9v, but it is important to double check for specific voltage requirements on each of your pedals – frying your pedals is never a good time.
If all of your pedals are capable of using a 9v power source, the cheapest option would be investing in a One Spot power adapter. This allows you to daisy chain your pedals together, so that they are all working off of one power outlet. These adapters are a good solution to players with smaller pedal boards (no more than eight pedals), but as a pedal board becomes more advanced, it is worthwhile to look into an isolated power supply unit.
An isolated power supply, such as Voodoo Lab’s Pedal Power unit, are a must-have for a diverse pedal board. These power supplies will safely power a handful of pedals, and solve any issues with pedals that do not accept the standard 9v power source. If you plan on having digital modeling pedals, an isolated power supply should do the job for you.
Pedal Board Cabling
Now that you have your pedal board layout planned and powered, it is time to hook it all together. Cabling your pedal board can be quite a task. Retaining your layout and signal chain, while snaking your cables between your pedals, can leave you scratching your head at times.
We would recommend using a custom pedal board cabling kit. This will allow you to cut the cables down to the exact length you need, minimizing wasted space and messy cable-covered boards. However, if your pedal board layout is rather simple, picking up a few patch cables can do the job rather easily.
Photo courtesy of @ajhosker
Test It Out
You did it. You got your pedal board put together. Now let’s just hope everything is hooked up correctly! Plug it in and test it out. Be sure to switch every pedal on and off to ensure they are properly working. If you don’t like the way it sounds, don’t be afraid to change up your signal chain and try out new things – after all it is your pedal board! Establish your tone, and rock on forever.
If you just put together a pedal board using this guide, or have a pedal board that you are proud of, submit it to our Instagram account! We would love to feature you!
Featured Image Courtesy of @Kylethereptile