Pedalboards: How to Build the Perfect System from Start to Finish

November 6, 2015

Back in the mid Sixties, guitarists had a choice of maybe three or four pedals, and the players who were far out enough to use them all at once connected them together with cables several feet long, and used 20-foot coiled cables on each side of the pedal chain to go between their guitar and amp. From a modern perspective, this was not an ideal arrangement, because the cable runs led to all sorts of noise and tone sucking. But that’s also how some players got those “classic rock” sounds that guitarists still crave after all these years.

Flash forward five decades, and pedal chains have become far more sophisticated than a few boxes arranged on a stage floor. Many players build their own pedalboards, and manufacturers service varied needs with simple carrying cases (that sometimes include Velcro strips to seat your pedals on a floorboard), pre-fab boards with tiered shelves, and rugged tour monsters with regulated power, tuner jacks, onboard headphone amps, and other goodies. And if you’re not the do-it-yourself type—and wield sufficient coin—you can have a pedalboard and effects system custom-built to your every whim by experts.

PHOTO: Stratcat

If you go the D.I.Y route, however, the road can be daunting. For one, you’re faced with a plethora of pedals—including multieffects units that offer dozens of effects, and state-of-the-art modeling units that emulate vintage stompboxes. And that’s not all. Besides having literally hundreds of pedals to choose from, there are dozens of different types of cables, and tons of associated products such as power supplies and buffering devices. If you get anything wrong—well, you may get lucky, and everything will sound brilliant to you anyway. Then again, your attempt at building the perfect pedalboard could be bedeviled by noise, annoying level inconsistencies between pedals, frustrating tonal anomalies, and other problems.

So to help unravel some of the mysteries confronting prospective pedalboard builders and purchasers, we consulted some noted system designers on nearly every aspect of their art—from power to wiring to buffers and beyond. You’ll find advice from the inventor of the pedalboard, Pete Cornish (Pete Cornish, Ltd.), as well as from Bob Bradshaw (Custom Audio Electronics), Dave Friedman (Rack System, Ltd.), Michael Piera (, and James Santiago and Josh Fiden (Voodoo Lab).
Hopefully, after you digest this user-friendly arrangement of pedalboard science, you’ll know everything you need to correct any problems with your current rig, or build an effects system that precisely matches your performance style, technical desires, and creative approach.

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