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Building the Guitar Effects Pedal Board Setup That’s Right for You

Updated on November 7, 2017
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Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters Comic Strip Series.

A Pre-Made Pedal Board Setup

The main purpose of a guitar effects pedal board is to simplify your setup time when playing out live. After all, who wants to sit there and plug in each effects pedal before each gig and disconnect them at the end of the night? Talk about a nuisance. It is so much easier if everything is already hooked up together and ready to go. All you have to do is plug the guitar into that first pedal and run a cable from the output of the last one to your amp. If it takes you a full minute to do that, you’re probably goofing off.

So what exactly is it that would make the perfect pedal board layout for you to use at live performances? My guess is that it all depends on what you hope to accomplish with it. That would determine the effects pedals you buy and hook together. As an example, I will give you a rundown of my setup just to illustrate some of my various points.

Are You in a Band or Solo Act?

I currently perform primarily as a solo artist. So my pedal board is obviously geared towards live performances as a solo act. Although I play a number of instruments, I basically just play my guitar when I play out as a soloist. I also sing. Setting up for myself is fairly simple. I just hook up a mic directly into a mixer, plug the guitar into the pedal board, the pedal board into the mixer and run the speaker cables from the mixer to the speakers. that’s it, nothing more.

Since all of my effects are already laid out on a pedal board, it certainly simplifies matters. Now, as I stated above, I have a pedal board that is geared for my performances as a solo act. My pedals include two Zoom G1On guitar Multi Effects pedals, one B1On Bass guitar Multi Effects Pedal and a Digitech Trio Band creator pedal that plays bass and drum tracks based upon a chord progression you play on the guitar. I also use the Electro-Harmonix Synth 9 Pedal. The Synth 9 Pedal transforms your guitar into a synthesizer. I mostly use the strings sound.

All of my Zoom pedals have a built-in looper function. That allows me to play a guitar progression, record it as a loop and play a solo over it. The Digitech Trio allows me to add drums and bass on some songs. On the slower songs, I use the strings sound in the Synth 9 Pedal to make it sound like my guitar is being backed up by a strings section. It adds a lot of depth to the sound of a solo performer.

The Capabilities of My Setup

In order for you to understand my pedal board layout, let me explain what I am looking to accomplish. First of all, the layout is totally geared for live performance. Secondly, it is for a solo act. That is why I have two of the same pedal. Because it simplifies things in a live setting.

The first Zoom G1On effects pedal is mainly used for the acoustic guitar simulator sound and the various distortion sounds. The second one is used mainly for modulation effects and delay. I use the looper in the B1On for the guitar and use the rest of the features just for the bass. I also have an A/B foot switch that allows me to choose one of two instruments, the bass and the guitar. Sometimes I might not use the bass guitar and will have an electric mandolin plugged in. So the A/B switch allows me to choose between having the guitar or the mandolin run through my pedal board.

The reason I prefer to use two G1On pedals is because I prefer to separate the functions. The first G1On will be set on either the acoustic simulator or the distortion. The second one allows me to add whatever modulation effect I want to either the acoustic simulator or the distortion. This makes it easy to quickly change my sound whenever necessary, without having to do too much tap dancing with my feet. Remember, the whole idea is to simplify things for live performance. I have no desire to be up there tap dancing like Mister Bojangles. I’m a musician, not a dancer.

So I can easily go back and forth between acoustic simulator and a distorted sound, with just one tap on the effects pedal. Just as I could easily add any modulation effect with the second G1On. I can very easily use the loop function on the B1On pedal because it is always on standby. I always have that screen up on the display ready to be used.

I usually use the acoustic simulator on the first G1On pedal with the Synth 9 pedal set on the strings sound. I play a Fender Strat and the fingerpicking I do in many of the songs I play sounds very clear with the single-coil Strat pickups working in conjunction with the acoustic simulator effect. The second G1On pedal is after the synth 9 in the effects chain. So sometimes I may add chorus or phase effects to the two sounds coming from the Synth 9 pedal. The two sounds being the synth effect and the original guitar sound going into it. You can control the volume level of each on the Synth 9 pedal.

The Synth 9 pedal has 9 different sounds, which is how it got the 9 part of its name. Each of those 9 synth sounds can be adjusted to taste. The Trio pedal has volume controls for both the bass and the drum sounds. So I have a lot of control over my sound. Obviously, it takes a lot of playing around with to get everything to work together well. Also, it sounds different depending upon what amp or mixer you may have everything plugged into.

So How Is My Setup Simplified?

Some of you might be thinking that my setup is complex. It is in the sense that it has a lot of capabilities and much of what I have done with it was pretty well thought out. Not to mention the fact that I have done a lot of tinkering around with the pedals as well. Thinking things through while keeping in mind that I will be using it for live performance is the key to the whole thing. It is designed to take little setup time and it is designed to require as little toe tapping on the buttons as possible. That allows me to concentrate on things like my playing instead of constantly tapping on a pedal.

I use my pedal board for practicing as well as for live performance. That way, using it live is a piece of cake, since I have already spent countless hours using it. When I stumble across issues while practicing, I make the necessary adjustments and it’s all ready to go when I play out live. And since my pedals are already hooked up and ready to go, it’s no problem using the same setup I use live for practicing purposes as well.

How Would I Do Things Differently for a Band Situation?

For a band situation, you may not need to use certain functions like the ones I have as part of my pedal board capabilities. I would have a live drummer and bass guitarist as part of my band, so I would not need to use the Digitech Trio Band Creator Pedal to get those sounds. Also, if I have a keyboard player, I might not need to use the synth sounds in the Synth 9 pedal.

Remember, the whole idea is to tailor everything to what works best for the band situation that you are in. For a full band situation, I would probably use more of the built-in effects of the Zoom multi effects pedals and rely less upon the looper or Sytnh effects. I might even remove those things from the pedal board altogether.

Determining the Order of Your Pedals

Since each pedal within your pedal board setup has its own function, there is usually some sort of logical order they should be placed in. For example, you don’t have your distortion after your modulation, echo or reverb effects. At least not unless you really want to muddy up the sound. It always sounds better to have your distortion before a chorus effect. Some of you are probably aware of this anyway, but I thought I’d at least mention it.

Most things are common sense but others may be a matter of trial and error. I have played around a bit in the past with the order of my various pedals to see what would work best. Much is dependent upon what pedals you are using and some of it is dependent upon what you hope to achieve. Of course, there is always a matter of what pedals you can afford to have in your setup. After all, not all of us are rich.

The Bottom Line

Every pedal board setup should actually be unique. Each musician should strive to develop some sort of individuality. You should strive to find some way of separating yourself from others. Developing your own unique setup could actually help with that. But the first thing you must determine is what exactly you want to be able to do with the whole setup. Maybe you will want to think about the long term. Maybe you will get one pedal now and save up for another one that is more expensive and purchase that later. In any case, you should have some idea as to what you want to be able to do with it.

There are obviously money concerns when setting up a pedal board. I made my own homemade one. I took a piece of 1’’ x 12” pine about 24 inches long and glued rubber floor padding onto it and then attached Velcro onto it. The other side of the Velcro was put on the bottoms of the pedals and secured that way. The Velcro is very strong and there is no fear of the pedals becoming easily detached from the board. I also have one power supply that powers all of the pedals that is always connected.

You can buy pedal boards already made but they are usually quite costly. They also come in various sizes. If you buy a large pedal board now and only have a few pedals at the moment, you will have room for future expansion. However, if you buy a small one now, you limit your ability to expand in the future. In any case, you should put a lot of thought into it before you even start. That may save you money in the long run and might save on frustration as well.

You can actually lay everything out on paper, like I did at first, before you even buy or make your own pedal board. Laying it out on paper gets you to think logically about what you hope to do with it all. I hope this has been of some help to those of you thinking about setting up your own pedal board system. Good luck.

© 2017 Bob Craypoe

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