Over the years we’ve noticed than many musicians either don’t understand, don’t want to understand or don’t care that not all of their pedal effects are in full working order. They may have been transported flying around in plastic bags for years, leading to crackly pots and faulty switches. We’re often confronted with a heap of worn pedals to make a pedalboard from, with the customers seemingly thinking that the mere installation on a board will fix all the small faults in their pedals. This is why we always ask the same question:
Are all your pedals in full working order? Honestly?
If you’re building a pedalboard you have to ask this question of yourself. Do look at your pedals with a very critical eye. If your pedals are old and road weary, their control pots feel loose and their contacts are crackly and unreliable, it really would be silly to put them on your new board in their current state.
They will either have to be repaired or exchanged for brand-new counterparts. You should really do things “by the book” and check all of your pedals. You want to have clean and reliable contacts, quietly working controls and silent switches. Write down any fault you may find, and have the effects repaired professionally, if you don’t know how to do it yourself.
It is surprising how often a pedal is blamed for a fault that actually is caused by something else. Especially in more complicated rigs, pinpointing a fault precisely is the first and most important step to take.
Before you start building your pedalboard you have to inspect all your pre-existing pedals for faults. Any real technical issues must be resolved before pedals are mounted onto the board. You need to know if any of your current pedals have scratchy pots or problems with intermittent sound or strange noises.
Faulty switches have to be replaced, the same goes for scratchy pots. This way you can place an order for all the required parts – like jacks, pots or switches – in one go, saving your valuable time.
Many musicians send their effects off for repair without first trying to do some easy DIY maintenance. There are certain things any musician can do without having to be an electronics buff. If you’d like to save some time and money, read this article – and watch a video, too – before sending your pedal off for repairs. Your problem might be easier to fix than you’d expect.
Should you use digital effects that can be updated, for example via USB, you can also do this, before any maintenance work or installation onto the board. Look for the latest firmware version on the manufacturer’s website.
Check visually for any obvious signs of wear and tear, and check for dirt and dust, too. Clean the pedals first with PRF 4-44 Air Duster, because dirt tends to travel from the outside to the inside, causing faulty switches, bad connections, and scratchy controls. Tighten all screws in the pedal as well as the nuts in the jacks, switches and pots with the correct spanners.
Luckily, most faults and gremlins are only caused by dirt and grime that has accumulated in the pedal’s contacts and potentiometers. On effects installed on pedalboards much of the unwanted build-up is caused by the effects of oxidation of metals. Because the pedals are installed fairly permanently on a board, cables are not regularly unplugged, which gives any condensation on the plugs and jacks ample time to oxidize the metal contacts. This oxidation will build up into a thin layer, causing the signal to cut out randomly. This thin layer has to be removed.
You should use high gain amplifier settings to check any pedal for faults, as this will make audio anomalies easier to detect.
– Use two high-quality instrument leads that you know are in full working order. One between guitar and pedal, the other between effect and amp.
It is a good idea to use a signal generator for testing, instead of a guitar, because then you will have both hands free for work.
You could use your smartphone and some well-chosen test tones. Pink noise is great for detecting scratchy control pots. Sine tones in several different frequencies are handy for finding faulty switches or connectors. Feel free to use these test tones.
We also offer our Custom Boards test cable for hooking up your phone to an effects pedal.
Smaller crackles and rumbles can be easily removed using a special spray for cleaning delicate electronics. The blue PRF 6-68 spray can, is the correct choice here. Spray on a little amount, insert and detach the plug a few times – and also turn the plug along its axis a little – and the jack should be clean again. The same procedure applies to phone plugs, too. A guitar cable is prone to pick up all manner of substances and dirt off a stage, which makes regular cleaning of its plugs an important point of maintenance. And you shouldn’t forget to occasionally clean the power connector and plug that power your pedal. A little squirt of 6-68 and a little wiggle will go a long way.
This is the single most important point of regular maintenance that everybody should be able to perform. This will do wonders for the continuity and quality of your signal.
Generally speaking, traditional types of high-quality potentiometers are easy to clean, before installing the effect pedal.
With a scratchy pot you have to open the pedal first, and then give the control pot a thorough cleaning with PRF 6-68. Then spray the pot with a single dose of lubricating PRF 7-78, as it contains a lubricant in addition to the cleaning agent.
Use either using dedicated openings in the pot’s housing, or – if there are no openings – from the top by squirting the agent judiciously on the shaft. Turn the pot’s shaft in both directions for a number of times, so the cleaner and lubricant can have an effect. Check the signal for any remaining crackles, and repeat the process if necessary. If this doesn’t seem to help, you’re probably in for a potentiometer replacement.
Transporting your equipment causes vibrations, which in turn can loosen parts, and even break solder contacts. Effect pedals running on nine, 18 or 24 volts are safe to open, meaning there’s no risk of electrical shocks in opening up the casing and having a look around inside. Does everything look alright? You can use a thin wooden object, like a chopstick, to touch and carefully move internal parts and cables. Often a faulty or loose part, like a broken output jack, can already be spotted visually.
Check for things like loose jacks or any other loose or bent parts that could be causing a short-circuit. A jack can be tightened with the correct spanner (US: wrench), but remember to hold it in place at the same time from the inside of the effect, to prevent any solder joints from breaking. Is the tip contact of an open-style phone jack bent a little backwards, not keeping the jack securely in place? You can bend it back into place by carefully using a pair of pliers. Has a quick connector gotten unplugged? Simply reattach both sides.
Should a pedal make short noises when it’s being tapped, the possible cause could be that the signal isn’t connected correctly to ground. This is a common issue with Electro-Harmonix-pedals. This is easily fixed by exchanging the input and output jacks’ plastic washers for metal ones.
Very often the footswitch is the real culprit behind pedal troubles. Switches are mechanical parts that are not meant to work forever. Most manufacturers will quote 10,000 switching actions as their benchmark, but a roughly treated footswitch can stop functioning much earlier.
It is also a very good idea to clean a footswitch’s contacts regularly, because not every switch has been originally designed for weak guitar signals. Some switches are actually meant for use with 230 volts, which means that even a small fluff of dust or a grain of sand can cause that weak signal coming off your Strat to become intermittent pr cut out completely. Being a comparatively small area of business, guitar pedal manufacturers have traditionally tended to use parts from larger volume industries, which is the reason for the unreliability of original true bypass-switches.
Some switches in true bypass-pedals can even emit pops, even though there isn’t anything wrong with them. Usually this is caused by some residual DC-power, bleeding into the effect’s signal path. German maker Lehle produces a small box called the Lehle DC Filter, which can be added before the noisy effect, and whose capacitor then prevents any DC-power to enter that pedal’s signal path. The DC Filter helps you in pinpointing DC-power as the cause of a noisy switch.
If your attempts to clean the switch’s contacts have not been successful, you will have to replace the faulty switch. In some cases, in which it is likely that a pedal’s switch has come close to the end of its lifespan, replacement may prove to be a very good idea, even if the switch is still working. This is a forward looking measure, meant to prevent annoying problems in the near future. Luckily, switch replacement isn’t rocket science. Draw yourself a diagram – or use your smartphone’s camera – so that you can remember which cable went where. The continuity mode on a multi-meter can provide valuable assistance.
Knowing how to solder can save you a nice amount of time and money. It feels great to know that you have swapped the footswitch yourself. You will gain vital insights into the inner workings of your pedal, as well as a dose of self-confidence.
As a replacement for momentary switches Lehle offers their BTN model. A momentary switch is easy to spot, because it sports only two cables, and pressing the switch gives you no audible (or sensory) clicking noise. Many of these switches also have a rounder tip than their clicking brethren. For example many of Strymon effects, various bypass-loopers, as well as newer Wampler pedals, use momentary switches that can be replaced by a Lehle Switch BTN.
There are two ways of connecting the Lehle to the pedal’s circuit:
– The easier way is to cut the original cables to half of their length, remove some 5 mm of insulation, and solder the Lehle’s cables to the old ones. Remember to use electrician’s tape to insulate the solder joints.
– The second way is a bit more labourious, but also much neater. Unsolder the original cables on the circuit board. Then solder the Lehle’s cables to the circuit board in their place. It doesn’t matter in this case which of the two cables goes to which of the two solder points.
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.
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