In 1948, when DeArmond introduced the first guitar pedal, the Trem Trol, little could anyone have guessed it would be followed by thousands more and produce a million-dollar industry. Today, many guitarists and bassists prefer to use single pedals in a chain that is specific to their taste. As performance needs change, one or more pedals can be replaced. I did my part as a guitarist by bringing a bagful to every show. When the pedal count and cabling started to resemble a map of the constellations, it was time get it under control with a pedalboard. Here’s how it’s done.
Consider Your Layout
Assemble the pedals on the floor first. Have them working with connections and power for a performance test. The spacing and order of the effects will dictate board dimensions and design options. A popular configuration is preamp type first:wah/compressor/distortion/overdrive/EQ/boost, then time-based effects: modulation/delay/reverb, but feel free to experiment. Placing the wah on an outer edge will help you keep your balance and can serve as guitar input if placed on the right. The layout for the pedals can be in the order of connection or, because cabling is versatile, in any position that allows ease of performance. Right angle quarter-inch connecting cables (in pre-made lengths or hand-soldered) can allow your pedals to be closer together.
Choose a Pedalboard
Much as big name brand and small shop boutique pedals have been increasing in quantity and popularity, so have the pedalboard manufacturers. Boards differ in size, style, and shape, with some makers offering custom sizing. Wedge-shaped or inclined boards may help you access buttons. A level pedalboard gives your wah a more comfortable feel from a standing position, and the toe-up angle of your extended foot helps to prevent your sole from touching dials.
Adding a rear platform (tier) will provide better access to pedal footswitches mounted there. Both wedge and rear tier designs can hide power supplies.
Choose a pedalboard size to match the dimensions from your floor layout. Pedals should be mounted closely, but leaving room for the foot, and space for future additional effects pedals. A rear tier may be built or purchased separately.
If you are building your own pedalboard, make a drawing first. Use knot and void free 1/2- to 3/4-inch plywood, which will provide a strong, level base. You can make a rear tier from 3/8-inch plywood with a frame made of 1 X 2s on the edge, which provides enough room to hide newer single-outlet power supplies. These can feed more than one pedal with a daisy-chain adaptor and may be powered by an inexpensive, three-outlet extension cord. Larger multiple outlet supplies may need higher headroom. Be sure the case top will have room to fit with rear tier pedals. Drill and screw for strength and a clean look that will allow for future maintenance, changes, and additions.
Mount your pedals one at a time, complete with cabling and power. There are many attachment methods available (For example: ready-made clips and brackets, Velcro, wire ties, and bicycle chain links) You may need to use a combination. The base of some pedalboards come carpeted with Velcro. Professional grade velcro is easy to use and fairly strong, but can’t work with large pedal feet, may ruin backplate stickers, and may not hold heavy pedals in place during transport. Electrical wire ties are inexpensive, yet strong, and can go around pedals into holes in the backing board or in metal frame styles. Chain links that attach via the existing pedal backplate screws are arguably the strongest and most versatile. You can use longer bolts with spacers to raise a pedal to match taller pedals. They can be securely screwed down with #6 sheet metal screws to a plywood base. Nylon washers will protect the finish. Some pedals may not work with chain links due to short or recessed screws or bolts that have hard to find threads.
Be patient. A pedalboard takes time to build, and when done with care, will be worth it. The examples here are just a few of the many that are available. Research what brands your favorite artists are using and why. Moderation is always sage advice; having more pedals is not necessarily better. Prioritize your pedal count to fit your performances. If you do need a large number of pedals and find it hard to do the pedal dance for sound changes, there are a growing number of programmable loop bypass switcher/routers that can bring in a selected combination of pedals at the stomp of one button.
This is a custom-size NYC Pedalboards case. Pedals are mounted with chain links. Four Power-All power supplies are hidden under a handmade rear tier. There is a socket for a pole-mounted lap steel with an A/B switch (guitar/steel). The in/out box accepts guitar with choices for mono mix to one amp or stereo to two amps.Harris Thor is owner/operator of the HG Thor Guitar Lab since 1989.