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The ultimate guide: How to set up a pedalboard

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The ultimate guide: How to set up a pedalboard

Whether you're a guitarist or bassist looking to build your pedalboard, this comprehensive guide is your roadmap to build a professional setup. Whether you're a beginner navigating the vast world of effects or a seasoned player seeking to elevate your rig, avoid the pitfalls that can compromise the reliability of your pedalboard.

3 important reasons to build your pedalboard like a pro:

✅ Portability and organization to move from place to place.

✅ Time-saving efficiency during setup.

✅ Consistent tone for a reliable sonic experience.

Table of Contents:

1. Select the Perfect Pedalboard

The first step in setting up a pedalboard is gathering all necessary gear. There’s plenty of pedalboard companies in the market, and you can even build your own pedalboard at home.When choosing the right pedalboard for you, consider the following factors:

1.1 Pedalboard Size

Ensure it accommodates all your pedals and patch cables comfortably. Consider factors like your current pedal collection, potential future additions, and where you plan to play (on the go or stationary).

Small pedalboards offer portability but limited capacity.

Medium-Sized pedalboards strike a balance between capacity and comfort.

Big pedalboards offer you more capacity but less comfort. A great solution if you’ll keep it home, at the studio, or you have someone to carry it for you.

Modular pedalboards can be adapted to your needs over time.

Pro Tip: Check our article, "The Secret to Choose Your Pedalboard Size," for more insights.

1.2 Material & weight

Look for a board that is made of strong, durable materials, designed to withstand the rigors of regular use. Additionally, weight is an important factor to consider, especially if you’ll be transporting your board often.

So: look for a board that is lightweight and easy to carry, while still being strong and durable enough to last. Aluminium and wood are great materials that will give you a good relation between weight and resistance. Especially if it is constructed with aluminium profiles that will give you sturdiness.

1.3 Design and construction

Slotted pedalboards are the old & most-common option, but there are many other designs that can help keep your board organized and easy to use.

Angled pedalboards are a great option as they make it easier to reach the last row of pedals, and also provide a secure space for the power supply under the pedalboard and a clean way to route the audio cables. You’ll also have more space for pedals in your pedalboard!

We strongly recommend a board with adjustable and anti-slip feet so it stays in place when you step on it. With the right design and construction, your pedalboard can be a reliable and convenient part of your setup!

1.4 Attaching method

When it comes to attaching your effects pedals to your pedalboard, there are several options. Hook and loop, plates, zip ties, adhesive strips, bikechains… all of this options are effective ways to keep your pedals in place. However, if you want to ensure your pedals stay pristine and in perfect condition, we recommend looking into adhesive-free alternatives such as our patented Smart Track® Pedalboard System.

Smart Track pedalboards securely hold your pedals in place without the need for glue, tape, or other messy substances. In addition, the system is designed to keep your pedals safe from wear and tear, ensuring that they retain their value for years to come.

1.5 Accessories & Customization

Your pedalboard will evolve with you, so you must be sure you can addapt it to any need you will have in a future. Check if the manufacturer is offering you accessories to help customize your board, such as brackets to attach the power supply, cable management clips to keep it tidy, and extra levels for adding more pedals... The more options you have, the more adaptable and custom will be your pedalboard! Also consider if the board has any extra features such as built-in power supplies, carry handles, or whatever you can imagine.

2. Choose your Pedal Power Supply

Powering up your pedals is often overlooked, but it’s a critical part of ensuring that your pedalboard is functioning properly:

⚠️ A mismatched powering to your effects can be the end of your effect pedal and/or your power supply. You wouldn’t be the first one to kill a pedal when powering with the wrong voltage or polarity, so carefully check the power requirements of all of your Pedals.

2.1 First Step: Check your power requirements

Understand each pedal's specific power needs, considering voltage, current draw, connector polarity, and AC/DC requirements.

Refresh your memory on concepts:

Voltage (V)

Voltage measures the electric potential of to points of a circuit. To keep it simple, it’s the pressure that pushes the electricity of the power supply, and it is measured in Volts.

The most common voltage required for pedals is 9V, but some run on 12V, 15V, 18V, or even 24V.

⚠️If you power a pedal with a higher voltage, you can blow some components or totally ruin its circuit. Ensure the power supply matches the required voltage for each pedal.

Current (A)

Current is the rate at which electricity flows in a circuit and is measured in Amperes. Since the power consumption of pedals is relatively low, the ampere (A) is a large unit of measure, and therefore, the current draw of a pedal is typically specified using a fraction of that unit, known as milliamperes (mA):

1 A = 1000 mA so 0.015 A = 15 mA

This is important to know, since some power supplies indicate their max current in Amps instead of mA.

The power supply must be able to handle at least the current draw needed for each pedal, as each pedal will draw only the amount of current that needs to work properly.

For example: The Dr. Robert effect pedal needs approx. 40 mA so you could power it with a T-Rex Fuel tank as all of its isolated outputs are 120mA each.

Keep in mind that digital effect pedals require more current than analog pedals, so be sure to check the power requirements for each effect and make sure your power supply is capable of delivering it.

Connector polarity

Connector polarity describes the direction of the current flow of the electrical circuit and indicates the way the positive and negative terminals of your pedal are wired. It is usually indicated by this drawing:

Positive-negative-polarity

The most common polarity in effect Pedals is center negative. Even though, some pedals using vintage components like germanium transistors have reverse polarity (center positive) to alert you that circuit has a positive ground and must be powered using an isolated power supply.

⚠️ Make sure to double check the polarity before connecting your pedal to the power supply.

AC or DC Current

Electrons can flow in a conductor in two Fashions:

AC or Alternating Current: Mostly used to transmit electricity in power lines and deliver current to homes, industry etc.

DC or Direct Current: The type of current that many electric and electronic devices such appliances, computers, amps and pedals work with.

The function of an effect power supply is to transform that relatively high AC voltage (110 to 240V) into a low DC voltage, isolating that source of voltage from the wall outlet avoiding electrical shocks for the player. While most effect pedals work on DC, some of them require to be powered with AC mostly because they have tubes (tube filaments normal run on AC) or they need dual rail (positive and negative voltages) to work properly.

Pedals like old EHX Tube line or Digitech’s Whammy 4 need to be powered with AC and while it’s not a risk powering them with DC (they will not work though)

⚠️There’s a potential risk to harm a DC pedal powering it with AC. 

Before using an unknown power adaptor make sure to check its specifications. Here’s what you need to know to identify a compatible power supply for any given pedal.

[Fotos d'exemple]

2.2 Summarize it

Create a template to record each pedal's voltage, current draw, plug type, and AC/DC requirements. This will help you make an informed decision when it comes time to choose a power supply.

Effect PedalVoltage (V)Current Draw (mA)Plug TypeAC / DC
Dr. Robert9≈40Center NegativeDC
Pedal 2
Pedal 3
...

2.3 Match a Power Supply with your pedalboard needs

Select a power supply unit that meets the collective power requirements of your pedalboard. Opt for reputable brands and consider isolated multiple power supplies for reduced noise and enhanced reliability.

There are many well known brands that manufacture Power Supplies. We recommend go for one of these well-known brands as poorly designed power supplies can lead to noise, ground loops and intermitent issues.

There are two different architechtures for multiple output power supplies:

Common ground multiple PSU: Simply by having 4, 8, 10 or even 54 separate power connectors doesn’t mean that a PSU has the mentioned individual power outputs. Cheap PSU’s are “glorified” daisy chained power adaptors that share the same power transformer and ground point. Some even provide multiple voltages per output but they’re a potential source of noise, ground loops (usually caused when two pedals that draw a lot of current share the same power supply) and can be more prone to fail since their internal transformer runs closer to its limits.

Isolated multiple power supplie: The authentic multiple power supplies are the ones that have an individual power adaptor per output, with a single power transformer (or secondary if they share the transformer’s primary winding), AC to DC recitifer, voltage regulation and filtering. Those are the best option since they eliminate the famous ground loops and other power related noises. The bad side is that they have a higher number of components and that makes them more expensive. Anyway it’s definitely worth it since a good power supply and the first building block of a reliable pedalboard.

Keep in mind that your power supply also has to be in your pedalboard. We recommend to hold it underneath, so you will have more space for effect pedals.

3. Patch cables, the key for a neat and reliable pedalboard

Creating the perfect pedalboard is an art, and at the heart of this masterpiece lie the often underestimated heroes – patch cables. Beyond just preserving your tone, these cables play a pivotal role in ensuring the durability and reliability of your pedalboard, making them a critical choice for musicians seeking a seamless performance.

Cheap cables suck tone but the worst thing about them is their connectors are not strong enough to widthstand road abuse. After many times of plugging and unplugging, stretching and forcing them to fit on a thigth pedalboard and even the tiny force they make one to each other when you press a pedal, messes with their internal components, loosening them and causing internal failure and false contacts.

With that said here’s the two main factors to make sure you’ve chosen the best patch cables for your setup

3.1 Plug Selection

Aside from the obvious of getting right angle plugs to optimize real estate, there’s three principal categories of patch cable plugs:

Switchcraft 226 Style

A standard in professional setups, these plugs are sturdy with a relatively small footprint (compared to Neutrik's options). Ideal for low-density & single row pedalboards. Be aware, there's plenty of cheap clones arround: they’re usually rubbish and prone to fail easily!

Pancake Style

Perfect for crowded pedalboards or setups with lots of pedals with side-mounted jacks. They help to pack all your pedals and take advantage of every milimeter of space in your setup. In recent years a company called Squareplug has developed the smallest pancake style plug to day, ideal for setups using a switch looper!

Check out our pancakes cables

Solderless

The go-to for compact boards and intricate routing. Brands like Lava Cable, Evidence Audio or George L's offer the smallest plugs and best materials but care is needed during assembly to avoid potential failures. You'll need soldering skills to make yourself custom lengths cables.

Every company has adressed this issue on their own, Evidence Audio has the Srec In Solderless system where the core of their Monorail cable screws into the plug tip, or Lava Cable has designed a solder version of their plug.

Either way if you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and build them with love and care, the solderless patch cables are definitely the best option for a crowded pedalboard with lots of routing and/or a switch looper. Plus usually their cable has an smaller diameter!

3.2 Cable Quality & Diameter

The cable itself is as important as the plugs. There’s no such thing as a “good” or “bad” sounding cable. It all depends on how it’s made and what kind of signal carries. The high impedance signal of your guitar’s jack output is much more sensitive to a bad quality cable than a buffered low impedance one, so make sure the cable between your guitar and pedalboard is as good as possible. This will ensure there’s no treble loss and the pedalboard will get the best signal possible even with longer cables.

Diameter Matters

While our common sense dictates that a thicker cable will be sturdier and higher quality sometimes that cannot be all that true. Of course a thicker cable will be more resistant to mechanical stress but doesn’t mean the internal construction is “better”. Some companies fool the users by making a thicker rubber sleeve and putting a thin poorly shielded cable, just to make it look better quality.

- For simple setups or frequent pedal swapping, opt for a thicker cable (up to 6mm) paired with Switchcraft or pancake plugs. Mogami 2524, Sommer Tricone XXL, and Klotz AC014 are reliable options: They are resistant, flexible and with superb audio qualities.

- In intricate setups, choose a smaller diameter cable (under 5mm) for easier routing stress reduction. Evidence Audio Monorail, Lava Cable Mini ELC, George L’s 155, Mogami 2314 or Sommer SC-Onyx Tynee are reliable options.

Lava and Evidence cables, with electrostatic shielding, top the list. But what’s that? Let us explain; understanding how cables affect your signal is crucial.

Capacitance

A cable is basically two conductors separated by an insulator, which translates into an small capacitor. Capacitors are the components found on onboard guitar tone controls and are the responsible of removing the high frequency content of your guitar’s signal.
A bad quality cable can have a significant amount of capacitance per m (in the order of hundreds of p coFarads) and that could tremendously reduce the brightness of your signall, specially if all your pedals are true bypass and they’re off. Low capacitance is key to preserving brightness. 

Some of the lowest capacitance cables available nowadays are: Sommer Spirit LLX: 52pF/m, George L’s 155: 67pF/m & Klotz AC104: 115pF/m.

Any cable below 100pF/m will be considered very low capacitance.

Shielding

A quality cable must effectively block hum and electromagnetic interferences (EMI). This is achieved thanks to to a proper shielding of the core wire that carries the guitar’s signal.

The outer conductor, called shield is made of copper and it’s job is to connect ground between the to sides of the cable and provide a barrier to external noise sources to the cable’s core. It could be done using an spiral technique or a braided construction, beig the last the most effective but a bit more expensive.

So, opt for cables with braided shields like Sommer Tricone and Klotz AC104.

Another important thing is the electrostatic shield, a layer made of conductive plastic material placed between the copper shield and the core. It improves EMI blocking inconjuction the copper shield and helps avoid cable michrophonics. Almost all high diameter cables have this layer but some of the smaller ones like the George L’s 155 and Mogami 2314 do not have this feature, that makes a bit more sensitive to external noises.

To conclude, the absolute no-nos of patch cables are the ones with sealed plugs, like the cheap colored ones made overseas and even some made by major brands. They do not allow you repair them in case a soder joint breaks and that’s definitely a bummer!

3.3 Keep it neat and tidy

Maintaining a tidy pedalboard is not just for appearances; it ensures functionality. Utilize zip-ties or specialized cable management solutions like Aclam's "Tidy cables" for a clutter-free setup.

Tidy Cables by Aclam

In crafting your pedalboard, each element contributes to the symphony of your sound. By selecting the right patch cables, you not only preserve your tone but also enhance the longevity and reliability of your musical journey.

4. The Perfect Pedalboard Layout and Signal Chain

This question continues to be a source of both fascination and debate among guitarists. In reality, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. Exploring various options and configurations is part of the journey. 

Feel free to check out our recent live session for additional insights here

Before securing your effects onto the pedalboard, it's crucial to finalize your layout. Lay them out from left to right in the order you plan to connect them. For those with extensive pedal collections and larger boards, the opportunity may arise to create multiple rows of effects.

While there's no perfect rule for arranging your pedals, understanding some essential tips and information can empower you to determine the optimal order for your specific setup. The journey towards finding your perfect pedalboard layout is an exciting one, and there's no shortage of possibilities to explore.

Using a pedalboard planner is a great way to start!

How to use an online pedalboard planner

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