5 Quick Tips for Pedalboard Bliss


For the guitarists and bassists who employ pedalboards, there is an air of sacredness to the way they set them up. While the core of any excellent tone comes from a player’s fingers, instrument, and amp, an array (or just a choice few) of effects can unlock creativity and, in many cases, help establish a unique tone or playing style.

As many musicians will tell you, setting up a pedalboard can become an art form in and of itself, and can be the source of no small amount of frustrations when you’re in the experimental stage of setting it up. Here are a few tips that can help you focus on the pedals and your sounds themselves, rather than the mechanics of the board itself. 

1. Go Big

There is absolutely no shortage of models of pedalboards from which to select, and a quick trip to Home Depot will yield the DIY’er the right materials to make a basic board themselves. But whether you’re building or buying, don’t get yourself a board that will fit the pedals you own now—go up a size to make room for the pedals you’re going to get in the next year or two. Buying pedals can become an addictive habit, and you should always plan ahead for new additions… they’ll come faster than you might expect. Most pedalboards give you an estimate of how many they’ll hold (4 to 5, 8 to 10), and I’d suggest getting a size larger than what you have on hand now. You’ll never regret the extra space when you come across that vintage Big Muff.

Aclam Guitars Smart Track L2 Pedalboard with Soft Case

2. Power it Up

It might be tempting to cut some corners and just keep using batteries or individual power supplies to run your pedals, but if you’re looking for the convenience of a pedalboard, you need to be looking for a power supply to run your pedals. There are many types of powering options, but you’re going to hear two major buzzwords when talking about power supplies: isolated and non-isolated. Non-isolated power supplies basically daisy-chain the power supply from one pedal to the next, while isolated power supplies have all of their connections (as the name implies) isolated from each other. If you’re daisy-chaining power, any electrical hum or grounding issues from one pedal will travel right into the next one. Long story short, if you have a lot of pedals, spring for an isolated supply. It will dramatically reduce noise.

BBE Sound Supa-Charger - Multiple Guitar Pedal Power Supply

3. Order Matters (but not as You May Think)

So, you have your board, you have your power supply, but now, how should you organize your pedals? Order matters dramatically, but not in the way some purists will attest. The very typical, traditional order for pedals tends to be a wah-wah or volume pedal first, then your overdrive, distortion, or fuzz, any modulation like chorus or flanger, and closing out with any time-based effects, such as delay or reverb (in your amp’s effects loop, if it has one).

Signal flow like this is “the standard,” as if there is such a thing in guitar playing, and will assure your wah-wah’d tone is distorted, and the tone of your amplifier’s preamp section is what gets delayed. However, if you play ambient, over-the-top washy pop or rock, you might find you’ll get results better for you by throwing your delay directly in front of your amp rather than in its effects loop. Put your wah-wah before and after your overdrive, and see which sound you prefer. Experiment with overdrive and distortion placement, in general. You might find “the standard” way isn’t necessary applicable to your sound.

4. Try a Buffer

There is no shortage of buzzwords when it comes to pedals. Many guitarists consider certain features a must-have for their gear, even if they’re a little iffy as to the reason why. One of these features is whether or not a pedal has “true bypass.” This basically means that, when the pedal is disengaged, the signal that goes into the pedal is the same one that comes out. If you only have one or two pedals, this is undoubtedly ideal; you only want your Klon Clone shaping the tone when it’s switched on.

However, when you start chaining multiple pedals together (as you likely do if you’re reading this), you can start running into problems you might not know you’re having. Basically, your guitar’s output is a high impedance signal, which when run through several pedals and/or long cable runs, begins to degrade, resulting in a loss of tone. Unsure if this is happening to you? Plug your guitar directly into your amp, and then run it through your pedalboard with all your pedals off. If you notice your tone is degraded when running through your disengaged board, you could benefit from a buffer pedal. A buffer pedal turns your signal into a low impedance one, allowing it to handle longer cable runs or multiple true-bypass pedals, leaving your precious, precious tone intact. A good buffer pedal will sound like nothing—in fact, it won’t change your tone at all, just preserve it like grandma’s marmalade. Unless you have a fuzz pedal in your chain, put a buffer first in line (or right after your fuzz).

TC Electronic BonaFide Buffer

5. Don’t Skimp on Cabling

Cables are, in many ways, the scourge of guitarists. They literally tie us down, give us something to trip over, get tangled, lost, or broken. Facing facts, they’re boring, especially when we could be investing the money into new pedals. But cables are not an item on which you want to skimp. Now, don’t worry, I’m definitely not one of those audiophiles who insists you should invest in that $1,000/foot cable that gets massaged with unicorn tears because you can totally hear the difference, but going “cheapest you can buy” is not the best method, either.

Very cheap cables (you know the kind, I’m sure you’ve bought them) can be a gateway to noise, thanks to poorly soldered connections and lackluster shielding, two things you want to avoid when you’re placing so many cables in the relatively small vicinity of a pedalboard. There are many available from Canare that employ Neutrik connectors. These patch cables from Kopul are what keeps my board connected currently, and they’ve been great. 

Kopul Premium Performance 3000 Series 1/4" Male RA to 1/4" Male RA Patch Cable with Braided Fabric Jacket

Any questions or ideas? Share them in the Comments section, below.