Tag along for a pedalboard build for use in the studio.
Guitar pedals are often associated with live use on stage but as we all know they often end up in the control room, often on a chair or table or even on the mixer board to facilitate tweaking without having to bend down to the floor.
Being a studio owner/musician and not a frequent live player I decided it was high time to improve on the daily chaos of pedals and cables in my home studio and build a simple pedalboard specifically for studio use. It’s my first ever pedalboard build and it’s going to be a real learning curve for me.
It’s about time
Yes, after almost a lifetime in the studio I should have thought of this years ago but it’s never too late. I will no doubt make a bunch of mistakes but that’s the whole idea of this post. So here’s a familiar mess in my home setup.
Being the proud nerd I am I realised quickly that a proper plan was in order. What size board? What cables will I need? Power requirements? Budget? I thought the best approach would be to look at the pedals I own, their physical dimensions and from that form an opinion as to the appropriate size of pedalboard I’ll need. I have limited workspace in the control room so it needs to be small enough to sit next to me but big enough to facilitate my most used, go-to pedals. Most importantly I need to address the power management issues, have a bunch of wall warts that I’d like to do away with.
I quickly realised that I’m going to have to downsize the amount of pedals on the board, but that’s not a big problem, I can switch and swap pedals as needed. Some distortion/overdrive options would be nice and a splitter to send the signal to two destinations. I will rely on studio hardware compression, no pedal needed there. I’ve already learned that pedalboard building is all about compromises!
I came up with this:
Adding images to the sketch…
Its a small area approximately 450mm wide by 300mm depth. These are my go-to pedals that initially need to be on the board. Things will no doubt change but it’s a start. I’ve allowed a couple of inches between pedals for cabling. The pedals that require frequent tweaking are in optimal positions where possible. It’s definitely not a live, stage setup. Nope, this is geared for studio tweaking.
Shopping The Pedalboard
First off I started looking at wooden boards, pretty boards like this beauty from an Irish company, Ruach. Nice but…
In the end I settled on a board from Palmer because of the power supply management, the adjustable crossbars and the fact that it was the perfect size, roughly matching my initial sketch. Purchased this from Gear4Music for 63 EUR.
Great. That was cheaper than expected, comes with a bag, some velcro and straps for the power supply which fits neatly underneath the board. The crossbars are already covered with velcro.
Before moving on to other aspects of the build, here’s a quick video of the Palmer Pedalbay Series to wrap it up.
FX pedals are notoriously noisy so budget-priced cables are out of the question for me. Patch cables need to be of good quality and preferably as slim (flat) as possible to save space on the board. Most of my cables in the studio are geared more towards ‘quality’ and thus rather bulky so I decided to invest in a few Warwick Rockboard Flat Patch Cables as a happy compromise. These cables are available from Gear4Music in different lengths. 60cm, 30cm, 20cm and 10cm. Price range is between 5 – 10 EUROs. What’s not to like?
I grabbed some more velcro too, just in case.
Although the budget so far has been quite reasonable, the addition of purchasing a power supply increases it considerably. On the other hand, good, reliable power is vitally important and compromises are here are undesirable. I already have a decent 9v, isolated unit ( T-Rex Fuel Tank Jr) but it wont power pedals requiring more than 120mA. I’m going to have to find a unit with more power on tap, at least for two of the outputs.
About Current Draw
The most important rule here is not to underpower a pedal with too few milliamps. An FX pedal requiring 250mA to operate should NOT be connected to power supply rated at 100mA. Conversely, sending more milliamps than needed to a pedal is fine, matching exactly will also suffice.
Pedal voltage is important too. While most standard FX pedals are 9v DC, some require 12v, 18v or 24v to operate. Most are DC (Direct Current), very few are AC (Alternating Current) but it’s vitally important to check each pedal thoroughly before connecting it to your power supply. Yes, some pedals can operate on different voltages. An exact voltage match is required unless otherwise stated by the pedal manufacturer.
FX pedal power Connectors
The most common power connectors, used by Boss, MXR and many others is the DC Barrel type connector, polarity center negative, size 2.1 × 5.5mm.
The ‘2.5mm’ is referring to the actual size of the hole that connects to the center pin. The ‘5.5mm’ refers to the outer diameter of the barrel.
A common question I hear a lot is “Is ‘negative tip’ the same as ‘center negative’? Well, if you think about it, there is no tip on a standard DC Barrel type connector, only a center. Mini jack plugs on the other hand do have a tip and were mostly used on older pedals, normally 3.5mm. But the short answer is yes, “the ‘center’ is synonymous with the ‘tip’. If the tip is negative and the ring is positive the center (or tip) is negative. Be aware that some pedals require a postive center connector to operate, like my Version 9 “NYC REISSUE” BIG MUFF (USA 2000) which also uses a mini jack 3.5mm connector.
More Info On Powering Your Pedals
If you need more information on powering your pedals, here’s a thoroughly entertaining and informative Youtube clip from Dan and Mick of That Pedal Show walking you through the topic in detail.
And, if you prefer to reading, try the link below from the good folks at Sweetwater:
Guitar Pedal Power Demystified – Sweetwater
My Choice of Power Supply
We all have different pedals and different needs so the choice of power supply will not be the same for everyone.
After much research I settled on the Strymon Ojai R30 Multi Power Supply. Retails around 189.00 EUR. This unit will safely power the Strymon Riverside and give me options to expand later. It wont power the Two Notes – Le Clean so I’ll have to make do with the original power supply for that pedal.
Modding The Power Supply
As I mentioned earlier I own a T-Rex Fuel Tank Jr which would make sense to utilize. And, the new Strymon Ojai R30 (on it’s way) will also need to be mounted to power 12v and 18v pedals I have. But how do you mount two power supplies in one available slot on the Pedalbay 40? Hmm.
I found an available space under the pedalboard where I could attach another power supply. I drilled two holes in the chassis and clamped the Fuel Tank down with a strip of metal ‘Fixing Band’. To enable access to the power cable connector I added a rubber mat underneath the power supply to raise it up about 8mm. That power supply is going nowhere. Here’s some images.
Preparing Pedals (Rubber Feet And Backing)
Boss pedals usually have a strip of rubber covering most of the underside of the pedal. Others have rubber feet. Some, like the Strymons have nothing.
Pedals are held in place by attaching velcro to each pedal. Therefor it goes without saying that the underside of your pedal need to be as clean as possible before applying the velcro to get a strong bond. Try to get rid of any residue glue left behind from rubber feet or rubber backing removal. If you can’t remove the old glue at least heat it up before applying velcro. See topic “Hair Dryers and Heat Guns – TIP” further down the page.
With the Boss pedals I simply removed the entire rubber strip. I used a sharp knife to get it started and then just pulled it off by hand. To clean the excess glue residue left on the plate I used Acetone (nail polish remover). Sometimes an old credit card can help to remove glue residue. I know you can buy label remover from hardware stores which is a mixture of lemon oil and other chemicals. This is handy stuff too. One word of warning: Acetone can sometimes react with any labels on the underside of the pedal. Proceed with caution. Test a small area first. For rubber feet I just pulled them off and cleaned up any residue.
The Protruding Dome Head Screw Problem
Sometimes, pedal manufacturers use large dome headed screws to fasten the backplate to the pedal housing. These screws sometimes protrude a couple of millimeters hindering the efficiency of the velcro to make contact with its partner. In this situation you may have to attach two strips of velcro, or more, so that the velcro makes good contact with it’s partner. Alternatively you could try adding a plastic shim, packing material such as cardboard to the backing plate before attaching the velcro.
Hair Dryers And Heat Guns – TIP!
A good tip I picked up on a forum was to heat the velcro and even the plate of the pedal before sticking the velcro in position. Heated glue sticks better! You don’t need to go mad here, just get things warm and tacky. Press and massage the velcro in place once applied, especially on the corners to get as good a bond as possible. Press it down hard.
As a side note, I found that some pedals have a nice sticker on the bottom that sometimes contains a serial number or other information that you may wish to keep velcro-free. If you can, apply velcro around the sticker and not over it where possible. Apply velcro in patches if you need to, preserving the label as much as possible.
Here’s yet another approach to applying velcro from checkitloud on YouTube. He has a downloadable template for a range of pedals on his site.
Click here to go straight to checkitloud’s templates.
Adding The Pedals To The Board
With everything in place it’s finally time to assemble the pedals on the board. It became very apparent that arranging pedals is a real puzzle. I learned that it takes a few tries to get it right. Problems arose when I tried to connect the AC power cables to the pedals, no room. Some of my cables were too short, some too long and the new ones have not yet arrived. Using what I have available today, here’s the (almost) finished product.
This is of course a work in progress and as with all pedalboards they are constantly undergoing updates and improvements. I learned you can never have enough patch cables of the right length, buy a bigger board than you think you need and be prepared to lash out on a reliable power supply.
Thanks for your time and hope you find this useful.
Other mooselander links:
Peavey Classic Series 60/60 – Under The Hood
Getting Great Guitar Tones With Guitar Preamp Pedals