There comes a point in every guitarists life when a bag full of loose pedals and tangled cables just won’t cut it anymore.
Frantically fumbling around in a beaten-up old rucksack isn’t the best look – especially when you’re setting up at a show.
A pedalboard may be the perfect solution for you to turn that tangled mess into a thing of beauty. 🤩
In this article we’ll go through some different pedalboard options, figure out what will work best for you, and explain how to put the whole shebang together!
We’ve also got the answers to some burning questions:
- What size pedalboard should I get?
- What’s the best way to supply power to my precious stomp boxes?
- What cables are best for connecting pedals?
- Are pedalboards better than multi-effects boards?
What you need to put together a new guitar pedalboard
Let’s start with the basics before we dive into some more subtle decision-making regarding the setup.
Building a board takes time. Be prepared to make a mess first. (Photo: Julia Mahncke)
You may already have a pedal collection but if you’re just starting your journey and need some recommendations, check out our Top 10 guitar pedals for beginners article.
These come in all shapes and sizes as well as different materials.
- Weight is an important factor, so don’t buy a gigantic board made of wood if you value portability.
- Velcro is a great way to hold pedals in place while keeping the option to easily remove/reposition them.
Pictured is one of the downsides – pet hair and velcro are best friends 😼 (Photo: Julia Mahncke)
Velcro isn’t the only option. Templeboards for example sell plates that attach to the bottom of your pedal and then function as a quick-release attachment on the metal grid of the board.
Templeboards have a grid and use quick-release plates. (Photo: Temple Audio)
Patch cables come in different lengths which helps keep everything neat and tidy (avoiding that cable salad).
To save space, look for cables that are flat and have a low-profile right-angle design.
Space-saving flat patch cables (Photo: EBS)
This is a complex topic and choosing which power supply you need depends on the pedals you have.
- Most standard pedals are happy campers with 9 volts.
- You can often get away with using a so-called daisy chain, which connects all pedals to power through one power cable.
- The Truetone 1 Spot is a common entry-level pedal purchase.
- One downside of this type of power supply is that it can lead to a noisy pedal.
A typical beginner’s power-supply kit. (Photo: Truetone)
Volts, amperage, and polarity
When you need a more reliable and flexible power supply, a dedicated ‘power brick' is the way to go. They allow you to connect pedals of different voltages (9v, 12v, 18v)
The MXR mini iso-brick (Photo: Dunlop)
Also, be aware of the power supply polarity to ensure you use the correct power adapter or battery.
- Double-checking the polarity information in the pedal's user manual or on the pedal itself will help you avoid potential damage.
- Be mindful of any vintage or custom pedals with different signal flow requirements.
Much like guitars, pedalboards will normally come with some type of case. Whether what came with it provides enough protection totally depends on your needs.
- Soft cases are light but don’t protect your pedals all that well.
- Road cases protect your pedals but are usually quite heavy – some of them come with wheels for that very reason.
- Unless you’re gigging heavily and having your gear thrown into vans or planes a softer case will probably be fine.
The best way to set up your pedalboard
Your pedalboard doesn’t need to look like everyone else’s. Sure, there are common practices but what matters is that it does what you want it to do, and stays within your budget.
Below is an example of a simple pedalboard for small gigs. This one may not work for everyone but it all depends on what you need – your pedalboard only needs to suit you!
A small pedalboard for simple gigs (Photo: Julia Mahncke)
This one features:
- A simple daisy chain power supply.
- A small clock to keep track of time during the set.
Which order is best for guitar pedals
There is no set rule – you can experiment with different orders for your signal chain.
Here are some common options for you to try out (we’re using ‘gain’ as a blanket term for overdrive, distortion, fuzz, etc):
- Gain > modulation (chorus, tremolo, phaser) > delay > reverb
- Tuner > compressor > gain > volume pedal > modulation (chorus, tremolo, phaser) > delay > reverb
- Tuner > volume pedal > gain > delay > reverb > modulation (chorus, tremolo, phaser) > looper
Below is a video of guitarist Jamey Arent in which he goes through the signal chain of his pedalboard and explains what each of his pedals does.
Finding the best guitar pedalboard layout
Before you connect up all your pedals, make sure you have a plan – it’ll save you a lot of time.
- Set up your pedals without a board and decide on the order you like best.
- If your pedal board has more than one row, put your most frequently used pedals in the front row for easy access and help to avoid those impromptu tapdancing performances.
- If you’re still shopping for pedals, you could use an online tool that lets you plan a pedalboard virtually beforehand.
- Be aware that not all pedals are laid out the same way – some need more space on the sides for cables, and some need space above or below.
- Measure out which length of patch cables you need and which style of jack – sometimes a right angle is more helpful for saving space.
- Figure out where you want the power supply to sit so that all cables can reach the assigned pedal from that position.
When you have a large power supply, it’s common to attach it below the board.
How to choose the size of your guitar pedalboard
Go big or go home! In reality, you’re the one that has to carry it home – so be mindful of how heavy a huge pedalboard full of metal boxes can get.
Figure out what you really need, and decide what makes the most sense for your situation. Trial and error often comes into play here.
Remember: Even if you own 20 pedals, you don’t necessarily need them all on your pedalboard at the same time.
The minimalist setup: Choose your pedalboard first
This is the option if you want to limit yourself from the get-go. Decide on the size and weight of the pedalboard first, then choose which of your pedals you want to include or what pedals to buy.
The planning phase will take up most of your time for this version. Here are a few tips to keep a small footprint:
- Ditch the tuner pedal and get a good clip-on tuner.
- Look for small versions of pedals you’re interested in. Many manufacturers started making mini models that are slimmer than the original. The knobs are usually tiny, which is not for everyone.
- Be open to a puzzle exercise where not every pedal faces the same direction.
- Some pedals connect to a power supply on the left or right side, and some on top.
- If you’re willing to operate a pedal sideways, you might be able to fit more on your board.
- Digital multi-effects pedals are another way to increase options while saving space.
The sonic surfboard setup: All your pedals in one place
If you’re not worried about the weight or how much space your pedalboard is going to take up, then just follow these steps to find the size that will fit all your pedals:
Step 1: Arrange Your Pedals
Organize the pedals on the floor in the order you want to place them on the pedalboard. Remember to consider the space between pedals for patch cables and power supply connections.
Step 2: Measure Dimensions
Measure the total length and width of the arranged pedals to get an idea of the minimum required pedalboard size.
Step 3: Consider future additions
Let’s be honest, once you start buying guitar pedals, you will likely keep buying more. So, leave a little extra space for pedals you haven’t bought yet. 👀
Multi-effects boards vs pedalboards
The last question is mostly for guitarists who go on tour. For example, guitarist Molly Miller – who tours with Jason Mraz, is a professor at USC, and teaches one of the most popular courses on Pickup Music – recently swapped a beautifully put-together pedalboard for a Line 6 Helix floorboard.
There are some real advantages to ditching the pedalboard for a multi-effects board:
- It’s one piece of equipment made by one manufacturer so no mismatched voltages, or loose cables.
- Some multi-effects boards also include amp and cab models, allowing you to reproduce any sound in any style with one piece of gear.
- No need to turn a bunch of knobs before each song – digital presets let you bring up tone settings with the press of a button.
- You might be looking for flexibility regarding the order of your pedals – some multi-effects boards can route your signal any way you want.
All this being said, multi-effects boards can be very expensive since you’re essentially buying a whole assortment of pedals all at once – and some people miss the individual character and tactile experience of a traditional pedalboard.
Not to mention, there is also a lot of joy in curating your individual pedalboard over time, picking out each part yourself, and obsessing over the layout to achieve your ideal pedalboard aesthetic.
If you want a step-by-step video tutorial on how to set up a guitar pedalboard and how it fits in with your other gear, check out our Guitar Tone Master Class.
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