THE MASSIVELY defended Death Star is nothing compared to the expansive metropolis of stompboxes and pedals guitarists use these days. It’s interesting how neat, integrated systems are out of vogue right now in favor of a string of vintage- looking gizmos. It seems to be part of the analog movement— which even includes pedals with tubes. I get it, I really do, but there is a difference between using these setups in the rehearsal studio or at a local gig, and the realities of bringing them on the road.
As I always say—a week on the road is worth a year in the rehearsal space. At one packed German gig a couple of years ago, a crazy fan jammed a firework under the stings of my guitar while I was playing. Three strings blew off and the headstock ignited. Try rehearsing for that! Herein lies the problem: In the manic real world of touring, you want to keep things as simple as possible. Okay, at concert hall and festival gigs, the loonies can’t easily get to you, but other problems might ensue—power at the front of the stage, for instance.
Simple and bulletproof—the homemade, Nicky Garratt-designed, road-ready pedalboard.
Small gigs have an altogether different set of problems: Beer drenched stages, glasses or bottles being lobbed, the dimwit stage diver who insists on posing with his arm around you for ten minutes, or the loser who thinks it’s funny to unplug your guitar. The other day, a fellow guitarist told me that he turned around to take a drink during a performance, heard a buzzing sound, and noticed his overdrive pedal was gone. In addition to these catastrophes waiting to happen, there are obviously increased odds of a jack going crackly with so many additional connections on a huge pedalboard.
Far be it from me to suggest you don’t need the delay, chorus, overdrive, phaser, flanger, wah wah, and ring modulator at your toes every night. What I do know is, when you’re on the road, take only what you need. If you need every effect—so be it. But you can still move the boxes you don’t alter during the set—perhaps a noise gate, compressor, or graphic EQ—to the safety of the back of the stage, next to your amp.
After 35 years pedal free—save for the splitter box that would power multiple Marshall stacks in my “rock star” years, or the occasional noise gate to tame a Strat—I’m again using pedals. After researching current pedalboard systems, I found most, while accommodating and versatile, are not fleapit safe.
What do I really need every night for the next tour? A wah, a tuner, an overdrive, and perhaps a delay. That’s it. The wah is better free standing, so it was off to the hardware store to build a three-pedal pedalboard. What I wanted was a small front “projectile shield,” no cable spaghetti, a little ground clearance, and something rugged and easy to set up every night. My DIY pedalboard has worked out very well for me. But if you feel the need for a big pedalboard system, and you’re in a band that plays in raunchy dives, save yourself a series of headaches, rethink your needs, and keep it simple.
Nicky Garratt is the former guitarist for the UK Subs, founder of the New Red Archives label, a vegetarian author, and a lecturer on science advocacy topics.