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History

In my early days as touring guitar tech, I was often facing situations where an amateurishly assembled pedalboard was more of a problem than a solution. Gigs started late, and some even had to be interrupted due to technical issues.

For some reason, some musicians are willing to put a lot of money and effort into their instruments and amplifiers, while neglecting the seamless integration of effects pedals into their rigs. There still was a clear need for the use of effects: For many players effects are a source of inspiration and a way of self-expression.

I wanted to help these musician solve their problems, which is why I started delving into the matter – partly because I was forced to do so.

IN 2010 I had already been working as a professional guitar tech for a number of years, working on the setups of bands such as The Rasmus, HIM and Amorphis.

Michael Monroe made a comeback as a solo artist with a new band. The starting point proved to be a bit of a challenge. The band members lived in several different countries, which meant they often turned up in Finland with a bag of guitar effects and a few cables stuffed in there for good measure.

As the band’s new guitar tech I felt very uncomfortable at the thought of having to guess which cable or pedal would be failing in the middle of hard rocking show.

To make life easier for myself and the band, I made an agreement with their manager to build the musicians roadworthy pedalboards that would be easy to travel with and would get the job done with no hassles.

I could draw on what I had seen foreign top acts using on stage. At my workbench at Helsinki’s Backline Rental I used the best adhesive materials I knew, took my lead dress inspiration from the handmade guitar amps I had serviced, installed pro-quality power supplies, and as the finishing touch I prepared cable snakes, which would take all the necessary cables from the boards to the backline in one, sturdy strand.

THE FIRST TOUR proved me right. The technicians at the venues we played were very happy with our meticulous and punctual methods. We got our equipment up and running in record time, and once the gig ended our teardown was fast as lightning. The band’s guitarists sounded better than ever, and what’s best, we had no technical problems. It was such a relief to know that every cable and plug in the signal chain had been selected and soldered by myself.

I used the same concept and techniques to make boards for Daniel Lioneye´s US tour, for the European tour of the Von Hertzen Brothers, and for the national comeback tour of Sielun Veljet in late 2011.

In light of these projects I realized that I had developed a new way of putting together a pedalboard. I was convinced that many more musicians could benefit from my knowhow because I was still seeing many bands turning up to a gig with plastic bags full of pedals and tangled, barely working cables.

MY NEXT STEP was to made a few boards for musicians such as Euge Valovirta, Ben Varon, Varre Vartianen and Erja Lyytinen, but I still felt that my concept could be improved. The technical side was great, but I needed to standardize my delivery times and pricing in a way that would allow me to give exact answers to clients, when it came to when their board would be finished and what it would cost.

I knew that I would need to make my process smoother and that I would need somebody to help me with assembling our pedalboards. Probably the hardest thing, though, was finding a way to tell people what exactly I was doing and why I was doing it. Seeing everything from the present, it was like a miracre that all parts started to fall into place.

I met a marketing consultant who was working right next door from our shop, who also became my fiancé. With her help, I developed my concept, so that musicians would be able to fully understand the advantages of my pedalboards, and what services I was offering.

Patch cable work took a huge leap forward when US-maker Evidence Audio introduced its new SiS-plugs. Now patch cables could be made faster, and with much better quality than before.

Our future Custom Boards technician Eetu Lehtinen simply walked into our shop one day asking for a job. He seemed extremely talented, so I took him under my wing to help me make pedalboards.

I was finally ready to design and wire pedalboards in a more structured manner. 

WE PLANNED AND MADE dozens of boards during 2014 and 2015. Thanks to Eetu I had now the time to further improve our services. We went forward with many areas like cabling and attachments, and also created the first official webpage for Custom Boards.

I released several new series of videos about pedalboards, and wrote a ton of articles on their use in the blog I had started. I developed a special planning form to speed up the design of new pedalboards, and also streamlined our building process. Word started to spread. We started to organize educational workshops on pedalboard design. During all this I started to notice a new problem with a positive undertone.

Our retail shop saw a steady flow of musicians who had read our posts and watched our videos. People would then show up in our shop with bags of pedals and wanted to leave the shop with a finished board.

Seemingly I hadn’t managed to get the point across that we were working on an appointment-only basis. Our shop assistants were left confused; could pedalboards be made on the spot or not?

AN IDEA for a new type of service started growing in my mind in 2016: We could offer help and advice for players on planning their own pedalboard, coupled with our suggestions on the right components needed. These consultations would be held by a technician specialized in board-making. You couldn’t make this concept happen in our shop, though, because it was impossible to take care of more than one customer at a time.

We discussed this idea with our staff, and I tried to come up with a concept that would help musicians in the best way possible.

Like anybody can tell you, working on something like this while running your daily routines takes a lot of focus. We were working on new boards all the while, writing new blog posts, shooting new videos, and I also had to take care of all the stuff that working as an importer, distributor, and brick-and-mortar shop owners entails.

In the end I had to take some time off from day-to-day work in 2017 to remodel Custom Boards’ whole range of services. Right now it almost feels like I’ve also come up with a business model for instrument shops of the future, almost by accident.

I FEEL that there is a real demand for hands-on customer service on an appointment-only basis. Some complex decisions have to be made in a quiet environment, and a busy, buzzing shop isn’t the right place for this.

The biggest difference with Custom Boards compared to traditional retail stores is that you can book an appointment. This change makes our work more effective, it improves our service, and it allows us to consult with the client in the privacy of our workshop.

We help our clients find their own sound, solve any problems concerning their guitar rig, and design pedalboards from start to finish. If somebody wants to build their own board, we are be happy to give advice and offer a full range of products to take home. Consultations can also be held using Skype, if our client lives outside of the Helsinki region.

Just like back when I worked as a touring tech, interacting with musicians is a highly rewarding occupation. Especially now that I can do it right here in my hometown.

18.3.2018 Kimmo Aroluoma
The author is the founder of Custom Boards.

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