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How to Plan Your First Pedalboard

For many musicians, effects pedals are at the heart of the setups they use both in the studio and on the stage. It makes sense then, that organising, transporting, and protecting these devices is one of the most important considerations as your collection grows beyond a few units.

Playing a Rickenbacker bass

Let's Start!

Taking the first small steps from a few loose pedals on the floor to a dedicated pedalboard is giant leap forward in terms of the repeatability, portability, and reliability of the sounds that define you as an artist.

Let's look at a simple three step process for planning your first pedalboard.

1. Define Your Project

The most important step in any endeavour is to clearly define what it is you're trying to achieve, so it's useful to decide what this pedalboard is supposed to do. Maybe you only need a few quality-of-life pedals to get the most out of your guitars and amps. Perhaps you want to sculpt your ultimate bass tone for the studio and stage. Or it might be you're creating a living organism that is an instrument unto itself. Whatever your vision, having it clearly defined will make planning your pedalboard that much easier.

Choose pedals you use most of the time. These are what make up the basis of 'your sound'. It might be tempting to have a sprinkle of effects you only use some of the time, but every extra box on your board is going to add to the cost, weight, and complexity of your system.

A compact multi-effects unit that can change roles depending on the situation might be a better solution for adding that little bit extra without needing to devote too much space.

Think about how often you'll need to travel. A smaller, lighter board will allow you to carry it on your back, on a plane, or in the back of a taxi when the boot is full of heavier gear. If you're mostly going to be playing in a studio with just the occasional local gig, then you can go large as weight won't be as much of a consideration. Bags are lightweight, padded covers that usually include a handy shoulder strap, while cases will protect your pedals from the rigours of road, rail, and air travel.

Seymour Duncan pickup on a Gibson guitar

2. Draft Your Layout

Once you know which pedals you need, you can begin drafting a layout to get the maximum performance out of them. The most hands-on approach to this process is to get a flat surface like a piece of cardboard and some masking tape to 'tape-out' the order and orientation of your pedals. The digital version is to use a pedalboard planner such as pedalplayground.com to determine the best position for each pedal. Most pedals have input jacks on the right and output jacks on the left, facilitating a right-to-left signal chain.

Think about how the order will affect sound. Placing modulation before or after distortion will create different sounds. Fuzz likes to be first in your signal chain. Compressors are great early or late to tighten things up.

Buffers can help minimise high end signal loss caused by long cable runs and mismatched pedal impedance. Delay and reverb sound more natural towards the end of your chain and especially after distortion, but some Echoplex style delays can sound great in front. Break these rules whenever you feel like it.

Consider the practicalities and ergonomics of your layout. It's important to save some extra space for power supplies, cable plugs, and future upgrades. Similarly, the position and orientation of your pedals will determine how easy they are to switch and tweak. Your 'most switched' pedals are handy to have closest, while 'always on' units can be squeezed in sideways to save space. Having switches too close together can lead to accidents, but also opens up the possibility of 'side-stomping' both at once if desired.

Fender American Ultra Bass switching system

3. Choose Your Pedalboard

Now comes the time to look at our pedalboard options. There should be a number of boards that suit your layout, but this is also the time to refine your choices to match an existing product. You'll likely find that the rectangle (or square) that you've positioned your pedals in doesn't exactly match a specific board. You may also find you have one pedal too many or too few for a board you like the look of. Rearrange, substitute, and add/subtract pedals to taste.

Finalise your layout and power supply choice. Ultra-compact pedalboards can often be powered by a single 'wall wart' power supply and a 'daisy chain' power cable. This will introduce some hum to your signal however. Single-row pedalboards can mount low profile power supplies underneath, allowing more room for pedals above.

Double-row boards are typically angled, which gives ample space for mounting larger power supplies below the rear of the unit.

Measure up for audio and power cables. With your pedal and power supply layout finalised, you can now see how far you need to run audio and power cables. Try to keep audio 'patch' cable lengths as short as possible to conserve your high frequencies. Flat patch cables with right-angled plugs can help to squeeze devices together if you're short on space. Consider running cables underneath the board to keep the top as clean as possible. Remember to build in a bit of extra length for when you inevitably swap something around.

Fender American Ultra Bass switching system
Playing a Rickenbacker bass

Welcome to the Pedalboard Club

As you can see, a little bit of planning goes a long way to helping you craft the perfect pedalboard for your project. Once you've built your first setup, it can become an endlessly inspiring platform for practice, performance, and composition. If you have any questions about planning, building, or refining a pedalboard to match your creative vision, talk to our pedal experts in store or online.

Check out our range of pedals and pedal accessories, including everything you need to build your board in store or shop online!

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