The Baddest Pedalboard Ever

For many years I had the most meager of stompbox collections. Maybe a chorus, maybe a wah. I seem to recall having a digital delay somewhere along the way. Fast-forward a few years and now I count a total of thirteen pedals in my working configuration (to say nothing of the ones sitting in my closet).

As this collection grew I needed something to hold them all together. Simply tossing them on the floor and connecting them up resulted in some kind of techno-fishnet that was bound to send me faceplanting on-stage.

The homegrown rig

So I rigged up a home-grown pedalboard using a bit of left-over shelving. The wood was quite solid with a nice edge. All I needed to do was lay down some industrial-strength velcro (hook-side, please) and route some power. Voilà! Instant pedalboard.

This served me quite well for awhile. But the more you use something, the more you start to see its deficiencies. Some you can fix and some you just have to live with. For me, the homemade pedalboard was getting past the point of tolerable.

Stacking that many pedals on a board isn't going to be light, no matter how you do it. But attaching them to a ten-pound piece of plywood is less than ideal. It was also turning into an organizational nightmare. Call me OCD. Call me a neat-freak, but I like a clean pedlaboard.

The last problem was that it was a flat board on the ground, which meant that I had to really angle my foot at times to push a pedal down. With a little bit of cant towards me, my pedal-stomping gets easier (which means less screwing up changes when playing live).

With these two criteria in mind, I set out to completely re-think my pedalboard setup. I switched over to a Pedaltrain Pro setup. Like my previous setup, the Pedaltrain line uses velcro as the primary way to attach pedals to the board. Fabulous. Half of my work was already done.

The next step was planning out how the pedals were going to layout. This took a little bit of time as I had to consider signal-flow as well as ergonomics. I also wanted to make it easy to troubleshoot when things (inevitably) went awry.

I started by organizing the pedals into their logical order that is, the order in which the guitar signal will pass through them. I run two chains of effects: the chain on the front-end of the amp (between my guitar and amp) and another chain in the effects-loop.

If you search the web, you'll find a million different discussions on what order to put your pedals and which ones should go in the effects loop. After some basic theory seasoned with a lot of experimentation my chains look like this:

The two effects chains: one for the front-end, one for the effects-loop.

Here are my basic rules of pedal order and signal-flow:

  1. The tuner has to go right after the guitar because it doubles as a mute switch, for when I change guitars. Also tuners should get the cleanest signal from the guitar that they can.
  2. I like to wah-wah and volume pedals fairly early in the front-end signal chain.
  3. Modulation effects such as phaser, flanger and chorus typically go next. You’ll notice that I violated this by putting the chorus up in the effects-loop chain. To my ears, it just sounds better here.
  4. Put overdrive effects last in the front-end chain. If it’s earlier in the chain, you run the risk of overwhelming other down-stream boxes with a hotter signal.
  5. If the effects-loop chain I like pitch-shifting and modulation to go first
  6. Delays go next because I’d rather delay a pitch-shifted signal that pitch-shift a delayed signal
  7. The looper goes last so that it copies the full signal

Ideally I’d place the pedals on the board in a way that the visual layout matched the logical layout. That is, the pedals in the two chains would be grouped together and would progress in their ideal order.

The next step was to place them on the board and start laying them out. Fortunately I didn’t need to rearrange the order of any of the pedals. Instead it was a matter of figuring out where to put the pedals so my feet could easily reach them and how close I could get them and still connect the pedals.

Since I was going whole-hog, I decided to replace all of the one-size-fits-all pedal connection cables with custom-length George L cables. This meant I could make my connecting cables the exact length they needed to be and no longer.

The Pedaltrain board has a lot of open-space which makes it very easy to route cables below the top surface. This makes for a much cleaner-looking pedalboard and also protects the cables. Where possible, I routed pedal-to-pedal connections below the board.

With the pedals laid out where I wanted them, the next task was to power them. My first Golden Rule is Thou shall not play with 9V batteries. It's just one more thing that can go haywire and with every pedal securely velcroed to the board, a quick battery-change is out of the question.

In my previous setup I ran a daisy-chained 9V adapter from pedal to pedal. It was inexpensive and worked well enough, but the absence of isolated power introduced all kinds of noise into my rig. So I decided to "level-up" to something better and went with two Mooer Micro Power boxes.

Mooer Micro Power bricks—so full of awesome.

These compact little beauties provide up to eight isolated 9V outputs. Not only do they power all of my pedals, they do it quietly. Even cooler, each brick somes with a set of connecting cables and even polarity-reversing adapters for pedals with reversed adapters. Because of their size, they take up very little space and were very easy to hide on the underside of the board.

The next step was wiring up the power in the cleanest way I could. The primary rule was getting the shortest run possible, but re-route if it meant hiding the cable runs. Some of the bigger pedals like the EVH wah and the Ernie Ball VP Jr. do a great job of hiding the power cables below them.

I secured the power cables to the chassis of the Pedaltrain with several adhesive squares that you can run a zip-tie through. I simply wound up the excess power cabling and zip-tied it down to keep anything from snagging. Very neat. Very orderly. Joy!

The last bit to figure out was powering the entire board. I went to the local hardware store and got a regular old run-of-the mill power strip. While the Mooer boxes themselves are pretty small, you gotta put a transformer in there somewhere and it ended up going into the wall-warts. Two of these plus a specialized adapater for the Eventide PitchFactor meant that all three wall-warts took up the physical space of six outlets in the power-strip. Not ideal, but I'm willing to live with it.

The last indulgence was the hard-case to go with it. Given the option of a $100 difference between the hard and soft cases, I decided it was worth the extra money to protect the investment of all those pedals. Sure the case is big, anything short of a nuclear missile isn't going to touch a hair on one any of those pedals. Besides, it looks super-impressive!

Now, of course, the real question is, how does it sound? The isolated power supplies make a huge difference in the total noise floor. The cleaner setup and the better angle make it much easier to do the pedal-dance. Was it worth the money? You bet your ass it was.

Check out this slideshow of the whole rig: