It was when I visited our rehearsal room after a few months of not playing with the band that I decided I needed a pedalboard. I hadn’t been playing with the band because essentially, our lead guitarist had sacked us. He had decided that he no longer wanted to play with a bassist, drummer and rhythm guitarist who weren’t as accomplished as he was and thought it was about time he played with better musicians. It was understandable, if disappointing. After all, we did have a lot of weekly fun playing together and we didn’t have any ambitions, as far as I know, to do anything other than have a good time. We weren’t that awful. Some of our jams sounded pretty good – at least to us. And we had been playing together for several years.
So now I became the de facto band leader and there were big shoes to fill. I didn’t think I could really fill them adequately. Our drummer was quite likely not to show up in any case, seemingly preferring amateur dramatics. There was only so much fun to be had playing along with a bass guitar, so we tended not to bother.
But we still all forked out a monthly sum for the rehearsal room. Our guitar player was now using it for his own band and a new drum kit appeared in it and our rent was reduced accordingly. However, on a couple of occasions the remaining three members of what had been Needless Jam did try and play together and it was then that I discovered that I was no longer chez moi. My guitar pedals were disconnected and strewn around. Some of the cables that I had bought personally were to be found in a box of miscellaneous cables. It took me half an hour to put everything back to how I like it and reconnect everything to the amp. My Vox AC30 is not so easy to sling around; it’s pretty weighty. But it was at this point that I started to think that I should perhaps no longer leave my guitar pedals in the rehearsal room but should take them home where my guitars have always lived. It is something of a drag, though, to set out and cable up your pedals every time you want to play, so I began to investigate pedalboards. I figured that I could then transport the pedals en bloc to the rehearsal room and quickly become operational whenever I actually wanted to play there. There is also something undeniably cool about pedalboards per se. They look professional, although they are a comparatively recent invention. If you look at early Pink Floyd videos, even Live in Pompeii, David Gilmour doesn’t have a pedalboard; his pedals are just lying on the ground much as mine were. There probably weren’t any pedalboards at the time that he could have bought.
It’s not like that now though and I did a lot of research on the web and YouTube in particular into pedalboards. One of the surprising things that this threw up was that you really need a power supply to power your pedals, which was not good to hear. Not good to hear for a couple of reasons. For a start, it’s more expense and spending a significant amount on a power supply is not a sexy way of spending money. Where’s the fun? The second problem is that the power supply is going to take up valuable space on the pedalboard and you were already wondering how you were going to cram all the pedals on it in the first place. I opted for a T-Rex Fuel Tank power supply and its creators have gone to some lengths to make it more fun by producing it in blue and packaging it nicely. It also comes with loads of handy cables for powering the pedals. More research indicated that the clever thing to do was to mount it under the board where it wouldn’t take up room on top that I might need for pedals, so I bought some brackets for this purpose. I had to drill the board to take them, but that is apparently standard procedure. This had all become a bit DIY. As things turned out, I had to raise the power supply a little off the board so that the sockets for the cables were available, otherwise they are entirely hidden. I used a thick piece of rubber that was supplied with the bracket, although I don’t think that that is really what it was there for.
You then need to attach the Velcro that comes with the board to both pedalboard and pedals. That is what is going to keep them all in place. Not such a tricky job. And then you have to arrange the pedals – trickier than it looks.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves here as before you even buy a pedalboard, you need to decide which one you are going to buy. There is inevitably, as with just about anything these days, plenty of choice. Pedal Train is probably the brand leader and it’s not hard to see why. Quite apart from their boards looking snazzy and being made from black-coated aluminium, they have invented a superb marketing tool. This takes the form of a website where you can have fun building your virtual pedalboard. You can select the different models of Pedal Train and virtually install your pedals on it. You will thus be able to simulate what the finished board will look like and which model you are going to require. It is pure genius, great fun and very useful. And once you had gone to the bother of doing this, why would you opt for a different make of pedalboard with all its unknowns? Here is the picture of what the Pedal Train software threw up for the board I was going to make. Although the amount of pedals in the software is comprehensive, there isn’t every single pedal available so I had to duplicate the Boss Super Overdrive to replicate the missing Golden Plexi by Tone City.
I had ended up with a Pedal Train Classic 2 pedalboard and the simulation was pretty accurate. It was undoubtedly the right size of board to accommodate my pedals. But the layout wasn’t quite so simple. When you just have the pedals on the floor, you cable them up in the logical order; in my case it has always been right to left. What is the logical order? Well, there are also umpteen videos on this and no rules cast in stone. You can do whatever you like, but it appears that some things work better than others.
You’re probably best off starting with the tuner pedal, so that it gets an unconfused signal from the guitar. Then overdrive pedals, then distortions. You want the distortion pedals to be beefed up by an overdriven signal, should you decide to stack them (have them both, or all, on at once). In my case, I have elected to cable from less distorted to more distorted, so it goes Marshall Bluesbreaker to Golden Plexi to RAT to Big Muff, the latter being a fuzz pedal. No doubt I could do it all entirely differently but it works for me. After that, you want the modulation pedals – chorus, phaser and the like, and then the delay. I have reverb and tremolo on the amp so don’t use separate pedals for them. There is a limit to my pedal madness although like many guitarists I could easily become something of a pedal whore as they are essentially non-comestible, brightly-coloured sweets for guys (in the main). Pedals are small, not overly-complicated, fun gadgets. So, do you want a phased (swooshy) chorus sound, or a chorused swooshy sound? The former, in my case, but you could argue for the later. So it’s Boss Chorus before MXR Phase 90. The delay repeats or echoes your final sound, so best at the end once you have finished farting around with the signal, although I suppose that the amp is then adding the reverb on top. Not to worry. Sounds fine.
However, unlike the floor, you might not wish to arrange the pedals on the board in this order, no matter how you secretly cable them together. What became apparent is that some pedals are taller than others, such as the RAT, and if you have it next to the Golden Plexi which is very small, you are going to have a hard time getting your size 9s or 10s to operate the switch on the smaller pedal as it will be impeded by the RAT. Similarly, the Phase 90 is quite low – best to have it next to the Golden Plexi even if it is a few pedals down the road in the signal chain. It is very unlikely that you will suddenly have to tune-up deftly in the twinkling of an eye, so you might just as well have the tuner pedal in a less convenient place. What you should end up with is an ergonomic board layout that has nothing to do with the order in which you are really going to cable the pedals.
So with any luck I already had all the cables to power the pedals, as they were supplied with the T-Rex. What I now needed was all the patch cables between the pedals for the unimpeded guitar signal. I already have quite a few patch cables, but inevitably, I needed some longer lengths as some pedals were now quite a long way away from each other and my cables weren’t long enough. Enter the totally superb D’Addario patch cable kit. This allows you to make your own patch cables – 5 of them – to any length you want. You get the connectors, a long length of cable, a tool to cut it to the right length and a little screwdriver. I was stunned by this product. It was laughably simple to use and I had my 5 cables put together in minutes. It is just a sheer joy to be able to accomplish your DIY task with so little hassle. I can’t recommend it enough, even if the Planet Waves kit looks pretty similar.
I had finally finished and it was time to see if it all worked. And the answer? No, it didn’t.
Not a sausage. When I plugged the power supply in, its little light didn’t come on. Crisis! Don’t tell me that the unit was defective! What may amaze you was that this was the first time I had plugged it in. I had waited until I had buried it under the pedal board and screwed it in before checking to see if it worked. Doh! Well, in my defence, it’s not that interesting just plugging in a power supply. I assumed that of course it would work. I did some instruction book consultation. This seemed to suggest that if one of my pedals was reverse polarity, it would prevent the power supply coming on as it would save itself from some potentially catastrophic electrical malfunction. Was one of my pedals reverse polarity? Search me. All I want to do is play a little guitar, not become an electronic engineer (even if, ironically, my father was one). Two of the pedals, the RAT and the Big Muff have a different jack which is male and not female. I already had one converter for this, but I found a cable with the T-Rex which also ended in a male connector and had used this. And then, when I disconnected the Big Muff, everything lit up like a Christmas tree. Ah-hah! So, there was the problem. The Big Muff is true bypass, so it doesn’t matter if it is on or not; it can still be cabled in the chain and the signal will still get through. I proved it was the T-Rex cable (which, I presume, must inverse polarity) by swapping the cables around between the Big Muff and the RAT. So to finish the board all I needed was another female to male converter which didn’t inverse the polarity.
However, once I had solved this problem, I found that there was still quite a lot of hum and buzz from the pedals when everything was switched on. The manual implied that you can probably get rid of this by using the supplied daisy chain to link several pedals together. It sounds counter-intuitive. Why would you want to do this when you have 8 separate DC outs to power 8 pedals? I really don’t know and you needn’t tell me. What is worth bearing in mind is that the 8 outs are not isolated from each other, which you’d probably expect them to be as they are on some power supplies. No doubt this is all extremely important. In my case, the eagle-eyed may have noticed that I have 10 pedals, so how, in any case, could I power them with 8 sockets? Good question. The answer to this is that the Colorsound Wah can only work on a battery (which, in itself, is quite annoying); you can’t power it via the mains. But that still left another pedal to share an outlet. I had used the supplied daisy chain for this and left the other 3 nodes just sort of trailing around on the floor under the pedalboard. I suspected that this was not good. So, I decided to experiment. I recabled the pedals to the power supply using all the nodes on the daisy chain (five pedals) and powered the other 4 directly from the bloc. Hey presto, no more noise. Now my pedalboard sounds as good as it looks and I am very happy indeed with it.
In part 2 to this, I’ll give you a little gen on my pedal choice and how I have ended up with the ones I have.