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A design and main purpose of your pedalboard

A pedalboard is your sound’s foundation and cornerstone, around which the rest of your rig – rack effects, amps and other equipment – will be assembled. Every musician has his/her own needs, but there is always a reason, like:

  • Do you want to build a pedalboard, because you need to solve a specific problem?
  • Your sound is great, but you don’t own a pedalboard, yet.
  • You might have a pedalboard already, but it has been around the block a number of times, and you may suffer technical problems, or it simply has become too small.

Do I really need a pedalboard, even though I only use a couple of effects?

You might be unsure, whether a pedalboard is really required for only a couple of pedals. We’d point out that transporting your pedals in a bag, hooking them up correctly, and finding a suitable power outlet every time you set up on a stage is slowing you down. Think of how much time and effort you’d save with a well-made pedalboard that has all the pedals, power supply and wiring safely in place. A pedalboard is a genuine plug-and-play solution, and well-installed effects, power supplies and cabling will keep your equipment in much better shape in the long run.

Small or large?

Often musicians make things harder for themselves by trying to fit far too many options onto a small pedalboard. On the one hand everybody want to have a lightweight solution, but on the other the musician is not ready to part with some of his pedals. For fly-in shows especially the size and weight of a pedalboard is an important factor, which can grow into a real problem. Sure, you want to look professional and well-equipped on stage, but remember you will have to take along other gear, too, like your guitars.

Because of this dilemma, many people fool themselves by underestimating the real size of a pedalboard-in-the-making, equipped with all the effects currently in the musician’s setup. The results are totally overcrowded boards, where the pedals are almost too close together for any patch cables and power connectors to fit in the gaps.


In real life you should be prepared to make certain compromises, when it comes to the number of effects. Genuine space-saving is achieved by leaving some effects off, not by trying to squeeze everything even tighter together. Just as with musical arrangements or text editing it is often better to leave a whole block off, so that the end result makes more sense.

Try to stay rational in your effect choices. Which pedals do I really need to get the job done properly? Are there any “one-sound wonders” that could be left off without jeopardizing the show? Try to stay focused on your real needs, and remember what you plan to use your pedalboard for.

Weight limits in air freight

Are you planning on transporting your pedalboard in the baggage hold of a plane, or will you be carrying it as hand-luggage?

For regular air travel your pedalboard should weigh no more than 20 or 22 kg (depending on the airline), and that is including the hard case. Excess baggage will be charged extra. The maximum weight allowed as check-in baggage is 32 kg. Should you plan to build a pedalboard for live-playing in your home country only, weight naturally isn’t really a concern. If your board is meant for the project studio or for TV appearances, only the sky is the limit.

Soft bag or hard case?

To decide on the best way of packaging your board, you should ponder your main means of transportation. How do you get to your rehearsals and gigs? Are weight and easy transportability the most important factors, or do you need ultimate protection?


Depending on your mode of transportation, your choices are soft bags and hard cases. Decide on this first, before even looking at specific pedalboard frame models. Be aware that a hard case will always be considerably heavier than a padded bag, even though manufacturers try to minimize the weight factor as best they can. You shouldn’t get too hung up about minimal weight differences between different manufacturers’ frames, either, as the actual weight difference, once all effects are installed, might prove to be marginal. By far the largest part of a pedalboard’s weight comes in the form of its pedals, power supply and cabling.

 

A large single board or two smaller ones?

Sometimes it may be better to split your effects into two pedalboards, instead of building a single mother-of-all-boards. Usually the split goes along the lines of “absolutely essential” effects for board one (the main board) and less-used “bells and whistles” for board two. This way you have a smaller board ready for fly-in gigs and such situations, where you have to take public transport or need to keep your equipment very compact.

A pedalboard with an internal effects loop

The second pedalboard can be taken into account, in terms of its routing, by adding an internal effects loop to the main board. The loop is usually added as a connector panel on the board’s side, comprising of two jacks – send and return. Send is the main board’s output for the second board, while return routes the second board’s output signal back into the main board’s signal path. This type of pedalboard FX loop can also be applied for single external effects that you want to use only for specific gigs. If only the main board is in use the FX loop is simply bridged with a short patch cable.


Having a loop on the main board allows you to route the second board’s signal to and fro at an exact point in the signal chain, even somewhere in the middle. This is important if you use effects that are very sensitive with regard to their input level. Some fuzzes, for example, want to be fed a straight guitar signal, which means you shouldn’t be running a whole second pedalboard in front of them. Another example would be a timed effect – like a long reverb – right at the end of your main board, which would turn a following second board’s sound into a disgusting mush.

Are you planning to add effects later?

Go over the plan for your pedalboard. Should you leave some space for possible later additions to your effect arsenal? If you have a distinct feeling that you might be adding more effects somewhere in the future, you should leave some space vacant. Don’t get too greedy, though, or else your board will grow too large. Try to remember the original purpose of your pedalboard.

Using a pedalboard template

To make planning easier at Custom Boards’ HQ, we use a special template stuck to our large table. We call this template “the grid” and it has all the different outer boundaries of the frames we use clearly marked out. You can make a similar template for yourself, by using a bit of cardboard cut to the exact size of the frame you’re planning to use.

  • Think about the physical placement of your pedals on the board, and then arrange them on your template in such a way that your most-needed effects are in the front row, so they’re easy to step on, with the less-used effects in the back row. Also try to find a visually pleasing layout for your pedals. Only once all pedals are in the correct order, should you start planning how the effects will be connected in the signal path. Almost all Custom Boards pedalboards have the pedals arranged in a placement that doesn’t actually correspond to their order in the effect chain.
  • Take a handful of patch cables – or just some plugs – and start checking that you’ve really left enough space between the effects for the patch cables. If you don’t have any suitable plugs ready you can also use the combined widths of your index and middle fingers as a gauge between the pedals’ connectors.

 

No plugs outside the board

At Custom Boards we make sure that all pedals, including the plugs connected, stay well within the perimeter of the pedalboard frame. In a few cases some unusually sturdy connecter might stick out a few millimetres, but never so much that the board could get stuck, or that the connector could be stepped on and damaged.



Make doubly sure that the angled plug of your guitar cable really stays completely within the outer boundaries of your board. The same goes for the board’s output cable plugs. If the signal output is from one of the effects in the back row, and the effect has its connectors at the top end, also make sure those plugs don’t hang over the board’s edge.

Insert points

You can use the best pedals, the best patch cables and the best PSU in the world, but that still won’t be a guarantee against an emergency due to a broken footswitch. This is another good reason for not having a crammed pedalboard – you should always be able to unplug at least some of the patch cables in cases of an emergency. This is one of the points where we at Custom Boards, too, have sometimes sinned, willed on by the belief in our own cleverness. We have been able to avoid a number of problems, thanks to thorough inspection and servicing of all pedals, and thanks to our hands-on experience in making patch cables, but we try to take this point into consideration in each new pedalboard project.

In the picture below, pedalboard has enough slack cable and one insert point in the middle. Signal chain is:

Lehle Little Lehle II --> Mad Professor Forest Green Compressor --> J. Rockett Lemon Aid Preamp --> Mad Professor Little Green Wonder --> Mad Professor Fire Red Fuzz --> MXR Phase 90 --> Strymon Mobius --> Strymon El Capistan dTape Echo --> Digitech Whammy --> Boss TU-2 Tuner.

If something would go wrong, you could plug in to MXR Phase 90. Then your signal chain would be: MXR Phase 90 --> Strymon Mobius --> Strymon El Capistan dTape Echo --> Digitech Whammy --> BOSS TU-2 Tuner.

Other option would be to leave the board from Strymon Mobius. Then your signal chain would be: Lehle Little Lehle II --> Mad Professor Forest Green Compressor --> J. Rockett Lemon Aid Preamp --> Mad Professor Little Green Wonder --> Mad Professor Fire Red Fuzz --> MXR Phase 90 --> Strymon Mobius

An insert point, placed somewhere close to the middle of a pedalboard’s signal path, is a real godsend when it comes to localizing a faulty pedal quickly. In practice this means one jack in the middle of the chain where you can plug the guitar in directly, and another jack that enables you to connect the first half of the chain directly to the amplifier.

Do not continue before you have decided the order of the effects

Now that the physical placement of all the pedals is decided on, it is time to decide on the order of the effects in the signal path. Use some masking tape on the pedals to number the effects, not according to their place on the board, but according to their place in the signal chain. These are only temporary markings, so the labels needn’t be neat, as long as they’re legible. Think of yourself as the designer of an audio canvas. With the tape labels in place you can go over the layout and signal routing a few additional times, and swap a few labels if needed. 


Take all the time you need, because these decisions over placement and routing have a direct bearing on the success of your project. If in doubt sleep on the decision for a night or two. Don’t go on to the next step, unless you’re sure of the precise layout and signal path of your pedalboard.

If you have designed you pedalboard’s layout without a specific frame in mind, you can now trace your pedals’ outline on the cardboard and take measurements. You will find all of the dimensions of our pedalboard frames on our website, making it easy to compare your measurements with the frame models on the market. Should you feel unsure about what frame to choose, you could always transfer your measurements to a piece of paper (like a newspaper), neatly fold it up and take it along to go pedalboard frame shopping. 

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If you have purchased all the parts and components but get a feeling that you might not be up to the task after all, we can make your pedalboard for you, using the components you have bought from us. Don’t worry, we won’t let anything go to waste.

START BUILDING YOUR PEDALBOARD TODAY.

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