Tips For Setting Up Your First Pedalboard

You’ll need a tuner, overdrive, boost, modulation and a delay pedal. Ok. That’s covered, thanks for reading.

Obviously there is a great deal more to building a pedalboard than that, so let’s talk about it.

Picking the Right Pedals
Figuring out which pedals are right for you is probably the hardest and most daunting part of putting together your first pedalboard. We get asked “what pedals should I buy” every day in the shop, and I always reply with the same answer: “what style of music are you playing?”

Pedals are very personal to the user. There is no such thing as the “ultimate pedal set up”, only the right set up for you, however there are a few common trends throughout most guitarists’ boards. In this section I won’t be listing pedals you should go out and buy (that will be a different article), but rather some advice on what to look for.

Tuner
This is a Ronseal “does what it says on the tin” moment. It’s all right there in the name. I’d recommend the Boss TU-3, as it’s on pretty much every pedal board in the known universe.
If we were invaded by aliens who demanded we listened to their music or be blasted into the vacuum of space, they’d have a TU-3 on their board.

Overdrive and Distortion
Most people start out with an Overdrive/Distortion Pedal. I think every guitarist on the planet has an old beat up Boss DS-1 kicking around somewhere*. “Well if it’s alright for Kurt, it’s ok for me!” What drive pedal you choose is up to you, but please pick something with the appropriate amount of gain! If you are playing in a three piece blues trio, maybe put the Metal Zone down..

*DS-1’s actually materialise in abandoned gig bags if you leave them in the back of a cupboard for long enough

Boost
Something us guitar players frequently desire is a little box that makes us louder, especially if it means we can steal some limelight away from the singer. This is where a good sturdy Boost comes in. Again, and you may be sensing a theme by now, this pedal should complement your drive pedal, and work in the context of your band. There are many different types of boost pedal, from clean, mid pushed, fat, and many more. Go try a few out and see what works best for you!

(Daryl’s Top Tip™: If you are finding that when you engage the boost pedal you don’t get any louder (and the volume of the pedal is maxed out), you are possibly running out of “headroom” in your amp. Try turning the gain of your amp down and the master volume up. You can also try turning down the volume of the pedal before it in the chain. If this doesn’t work, then maybe look at getting an amp with higher headroom!).

Modulation
Next you’ll probably want some kind of effect, usually this will be a modulation effect. This can be Chorus, Phaser, Flanger, Tremolo, or basically anything that makes your guitar sound wobbly. And yeah you guessed it, it’s entirely down to personal preference! I use Chorus on most of my clean guitar sounds, and a Harmonic Tremolo for a more dramatic effect. If you fancy yourself as the next Van Halen then you’re going to need a phaser, and Flanger is a great word so if you still have space on your board, why not?

Delay
Lastly I’d say you need a delay pedal. This is one of the most versatile pedals available to you, which is why it’s been deemed worthy of it’s own section here! It can be used to make a solo have more movement and space, or it can also bring a nice ambience to clean parts. You can even use a short slap delay to give you that “doubled” guitar sound from old ‘50s records.

The order I have listed them here is how you would typically position them on your board, but you should experiment with this. For example, I like to run my chorus pedal into my overdrive for a more subtle effect, but there really are no rules to this. Just go with whatever you think sounds best to your ears and hope that others agree when they hear it!

The Board
Once you’ve selected your arsenal of pedals, you’ll need something to stick them to. No one wants to be the person that turns up at the gig with their pedals in a Farmfoods bag, dumps them on the stage and starts setting them up (although we’ve all been there).

There are hundreds of pedalboards out there, at various different price points. It doesn’t really matter which one you get, just make sure it will fit all your pedals comfortably. Leave enough space for all your cables and power supply – you’ll need an inch or so at either side of each pedal for patch cables. Also it’s probably a good idea to leave enough room for a couple of extra pedals in the future. As any guitarist that’s gone down the pedal rabbit hole will tell you, once you pop it’s hard to stop… I mean, we haven’t even gotten started on reverb here.

Power Supply
This is the thing people always forget about. Either that or they don’t want to think about it. I know it’s boring and isn’t as cool as buying pedals, but it’s still really important!

I recommend not using a daisy chain style power supply if you can avoid it. The reason for this is that sometimes not all of your pedals will be getting the full 9v they need to work properly, and it can cause problems with noise and even cause the pedals themselves to misbehave. It is not the recommended way to power your board. Instead I suggest using a “power bank” style power supply, as these typically give you multiple isolated outputs, which means all pedals get the exact amount of power that they need!

ALWAYS CHECK THE POWER REQUIREMENTS. PUT A 12V SUPPLY INTO A 9V PEDAL, YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE A BAD TIME.

Patch Cables
Ok, your pedals have been picked, they’re velcroed to the board, and we’ve got it all lit up like a christmas tree. Next we need to get some sound coming out of them, and to do that we are going to need some patch cables.

People spend lots of money putting together the “perfect” board, and at the last hurdle scrimp on the patch cables. Remember these little cables are what are carrying your signal from the guitar to the amp, and your signal’s only as good as it’s worst component. Cheaper cables mean more noise and signal loss.

I recommend getting good quality cables and make sure they are the right length. We don’t want them too long that they can tangled in the other cables or trailing on the floor, and not so short that they are being pulled and stretched. This isn’t going to break the bank, as you can acquire good quality patch cables affordably, but we would recommend that you avoid being tempted by the really cheap stuff.

Hopefully this helps with your first pedal board, and helps answer some of the FAQ’s we get asked in the shop!