Your First Pedalboard: Things to Keep in Mind

It is almost a certainty that at some point in your guitar-playing journey you will do a deep dive into pedals. For many, effects are a great way to expand your tonal palette and make playing guitar even more fun. Yet, there is actually quite a bit involved once you start talking about playing through multiple pedals. For your first couple of stompboxes, you might be fine just daisy-chaining everything thing together on the floor. But problems do arise when you start to accumulate more than a few pedals. Things like board space, proper power, and cable management are all often overlooked by the beginning board builder. So, with that said, here are a few great beginner tips for getting into pedalboards.

Plan Accordingly

The worst thing you can do when building a pedalboard is to go into it without a plan. Start with an outline of what your board is going to look like. Consider things like effect type, number of pedals, and board size. For example, if you’re a blues player your likely only going to need a few things like overdrive, wah, and maybe some delay. Yet, this specific example could be completely wrong for you though, in this case, you might need to add a reverb or another drive depending on the amp you have.  

 Truthfully, there are a thousand examples of what works for one player or another, just pick what you think suits you best. Once you have your pedals picked

DIY vs. Prebuilt

When selecting the actual board, you will be met with one of two paths to go down. Will you build your board, or choose from the hundreds of options from manufacturers? If you really only have a few pedals and are feeling crafty, I suggest trying to go the DIY route. Doing this will enable you to go through some very helpful trial and error. I’m not sure that I have ever heard of someone who got their board perfect on the first try. You will likely change what your wants and needs are over time. Meaning it might be best to not spend a ton of money on something that can be hard to resell.

If you are still wanting to buy a premade board, there are plenty to choose from. I would recommend sticking with something simple to start out with like an offering from Pedaltrain or Gator. While things like I/O jacks and proprietary connection methods are nice, again you probably don’t know exactly what you want at first.  

 Velcro or Something Else?

Velcro. Pretty much for most players in most situations, Velcro is the ideal way to attach the pedals on your board. There are other options like pedalboard tape or Temple Audio boards, but for your first board, it is going to work out best if you stick to the old standard. Now, there are different types of Velcro for you to consider. Basically, you have the choice of industrial-strength or regular. I have found, while more expensive, Velcro brand industrial strength to be the most reliable. Fair warning though, the industrial stuff can be really hard to pull off, you’ll do best to find a tool to help you with this.

Unfortunately, no matter what type you choose, paying for a lot of this stuff adds up, keep your eyes open for sales.

*** Quick note: A common rookie “mistake” is putting the hook side of the Velcro on the board, just something to keep in mind if you don’t want to be made fun of!

Think About Power

It is super easy to start buying all your lovely pedals and forget that they all need sufficient power. If you’re wanting to have a board that turns on you essentially have to choose one of three options. Firstly, many pedals enable to power them via a 9-volt battery on the interior of the unit. There are obvious drawbacks to this method. Having to deal with going through batteries and unscrewing the back of the pedal make 9-volts a less than a stellar option for most.

The next option you have is the daisy chain. Truetone’s 1 SPOT is the most popular version of this method of power. Essentially you have a wall wart with multiple leads that go into all of your stompboxes. This method is great as far as ease of use and not having to replenish anything. Where this one is lacking in dealing with the idea of proper power. Yes, problems can arise with these types of daisy-chained solutions. I’m not going to get too detailed here, but just understand that a wall wart like this is not giving the ideal “clean” power to your effect units. Also, once you get milliamp consuming digital units, it is really a good idea to stay away from this powering approach.

The real best-case scenario for you and your pedals is a truly isolated power supply. From reputable brands, these will typically start around $100 and work their way up. Unfortunately, this is a big cost that is not really all that fun of a purchase. However, once you buy a good-sized one of these with options, they will last a long time. No, this might not be something you acquire on your first board but be sure to keep them in mind.   

Stay Away from Cheap Cables

This is basically just a quick tip that applies to everything in guitar, but especially when discussing pedalboards. When you get into tone and buying nice gear, your signal should be at the forefront of every decision made. Your signal is everything. It ends up being what you hear, feel, and pay for.

With all that in mind, don’t cripple your efforts by using those colorful patch cables that cost $2 at your local music shop. Spend a little more and get stuff that will do your guitar justice. Ideally, take the time to learn how to solder your own cables. This process is not that hard and will save you lots of money in the long run. Furthermore, soldered cables are actually the best-case scenario for quality, you can set your own standards. But, no matter what, please avoid the super cheap stuff here, it matters.

Well, that’s most of the information that will help get you started. I know there is a lot of information here and way more on Google and YouTube. Just take some time to digest everything and think about what your plan is going to be. Also, don’t sweat it too much. This process is and should be fun and exciting for you. If you don’t get things perfect on the first try there is always another board to be built in the future.