My Covid-19 Quarantine Project: Building a Professional Pedalboard
One of the goals I've been working towards the last few years has been to assemble all of the pieces for what will hopefully be a permanent rig for me for the next few years. Learning the ins and outs of pedal placement, power requirements, and MIDI programming has been a long process. Keeping in mind that I tend to play a lot of improvisational, effect-heavy music, I've tried to come up with a setup that is both practical and easy to reprogram on the fly.
I owe a BIG thank you to zZounds.com for sponsoring this video series and providing some of the products that made it possible!
This webpage will serve as the platform to host the video series I produced on my channel to document this project. Please know that this page contains affiliate links - if you decide you want to use the same piece of equipment as I have, purchasing through this link will earn me a small commission (at no extra cost to you). I am always happy to answer any questions you might have about the process. You can email me through this contact form.
Part 1: Hardware
Choosing the correct pedalboard is the first step to building the rig that will work best for you. The rest of the hardware will determine how efficient and tidy you are with the space that you've given yourself. The neater you can make everything, the easier it will be to diagnose issues when they inevitably arise down the road.
Waggi W28 Pedalboard - I like the Waggi pedalboard design. The flip top leaves plenty of room for the essential pieces of hardware that you need on your board, but don't need frequent access to. For example, the power supplies, MIDI distributor, DI box, and always-on pedals can be hidden away and won't take up precious real estate. I went with the 28" model, but really the whole lineup is designed incredibly well.
Cioks Power Supplies - these power supplies are some of the absolute best available on the market. They're modular, meaning that if you start running out of outputs, you can power another Cioks module off of your first one. For this build, I decided to go with the Cioks DC7 as the main unit and the Cioks C8E as the extension.
Handles - the pedalboard will end up being pretty heavy by the end of this build, so I've reinforced these handles with wooden blocks and washers underneath the board to help distribute the weight.
Cable Management - I'll be using 3M Cable Mounts to secure the cables to the underside of the pedalboard to to keep everything nice and neat in the case that I need to replace a cable in the future. You'll also need small zip ties (cable ties if you're from Europe) to keep the cables attaches to the mounts.
Part 2: Patchbay
Building a patchbay for your pedalboard is an excellent way of organizing all of the inputs and outputs of your rig. For this build, I used exclusively Switchcraft jacks so that everything would fit together nicely. The piece of metal that it is built into is just a simple stainless steel electrical cover, similar to what would be used for a light switch panel. I bought a blank template and drilled out the 1" holes with a hand drill (a drill press would've been far easier) to fit each of the jacks. A bit of filing was required to widen the holes slightly.
Stainless Steel Light Switch Panel - you can purchase this from any local hardware store. It's a standard size to fit a triple light switch panel. This will fit the W20, W28, and W34 Waggi pedalboards.
Switchcraft Locking TS Jack - this will ensure that your rig stays live, even when your bass player trips over your cables.
Switchcraft Locking TRS Jack - exactly the same as above, but can be wired for a stereo or balanced connection.
Switchcraft USB Jack - I use this to interface my digital pedals with my computer. Since the normal USB plugs will be buried by other pedals, I routed them to the patch bay.
Miscellaneous USB Cables - used to connect the digital pedals to the USB jacks.
IEC Power Input - This is what will feed power to my pedalboard. Be sure to shield your connections so you don't have high voltage current exposed!
Part 3: Custom Soldered Cables
The Squareplug SP400 and SP550-S are the lowest-profile pedalboard cable connectors available on the market today. They're not as cheap as some other models, but to me are worth it for the amount of space I'll be saving. It's pretty easy once you get the hang of it and custom-length patch cables are a great thing.
Square Plug SP400 - low-profile right angle 1/4" TS jacks
Square Plug SPS4 - low-profile straight 1/4" TS jacks
Square Plug SP550S - low-profile right angle 1/4" TRS jacks
Mogami 2314 - extremely flexible, low-noise cable that is perfect for pedalboards
Mogami 2552 - low-noise cable that carries two wires and a shield for TRS or XLR connection
Behringer CT100 - cable tester for a myriad of different audio connectors. This has been one of the best investments I've made throughout this entire process. It's way more efficient than using a multimeter.
Soldering Kit - this includes a solder iron (with adjustable temperature), solder & spool, and solder sucker.
Helping Hand - this acts as a third hand to hold whatever you're soldering.
Part 4: The Pedals
Let's be honest, this is really what you're interested in. This is the fun part about piecing together your own pedalboard. This is the part that makes it unique. All of your hard work researching and learning to use the right pedals for your own style of guitar playing gets to come together now. In this video, I'll be walking you through the pedals that I've chosen, how I use them, and the location in the signal path that I've carefully decided upon.
Wampler Terraform - The Terraform will be covering most of my needs for mono modulation. It has 8 available presets that I'll be able to trigger with MIDI. I have it set up in pre/post routing mode so that I can get certain effects like autowah, univibe, flanger, and phaser before my signal hits the overdrive section. Chorus, tremolo, and other modulation effects are set up to occur after overdrive and amp simulation for a high-fidelity sound.
J Rockett Archer Gold - This is my little secret weapon that I've hidden underneath the top layer of the Waggi pedalboard. If I ever feel like I need just a tad more gain or mids, this is an easy way to accomplish it without diving into menus on my HX Stomp.
Line 6 HX Stomp - Does anything need to be said? This is my favorite guitar pedal of all-time. On this board, I'll be primarily using it for everything having to do with dry-tone: compression, varying levels of overdrive, amp simulation, etc. With any free space left over, I'll use the HX Stomp to cover wah and stereo modulation. This is also hooked up via MIDI so I can control any parameter with my Morningstar MC8.
Vertex Boost - This creative take on a boost pedal is a great way to get the problematic volume potentiometers out of your signal path. It's completely clean and very simple to use. I've got a full video dedicated to how I use the Vertex Boost here.
Electro Harmonix Pitchfork - The Pitchfork has been a part of my rig for years. It can handle pitch shifting anything I throw at it. I can also set it up to work in a similar way as the Digitech Whammy, but with no expression pedal needed. Highly recommended.
Electro Harmonix Freeze - This is a sustain pedal for the guitar! It'll sample whatever collection of notes you're playing and will sustain indefinitely. You can choose either momentary or latching controls.
Chase Bliss Warped Vinyl - The Warped Vinyl is a classic, and probably my favorite guitar pedal that isn't the HX Stomp. It's full analog (one of the only analog pedals on this rig), but can be controlled with MIDI and can store more presets than I'll ever need. It also has a bunch of really cool ramping parameters that I'll be excited to dig into now that I have it connected via MIDI.
Empress Echosystem - I've owned this pedal for well over two years now, along with the Reverb listed below. I know it in and out and have been happy with all of the sounds I'm able to pull out of it. It's hooked up to the MC8 for MIDI control as well with 35 different available presets. From here on out, my pedalboard is in stereo.
Empress Reverb - As stated above, I adore this pedal. 35 different presets that I can recall via MIDI.
Neunaber Inspire TriChorus+ - This is another hidden gem hidden underneath the flip-top layer of the pedalboard. I can set it up as an always-on pedal to add a bit of depth at the end of my signal chain to soundscapes. There is an delay mode as well if I ever feel like I need another delay pedal available.
Part 5: Why I Use a DI Box on my board
Truthfully, the Pinstripe Pedals DISO+ is more faithfully described as a "Line Isolator." It is designed to work specifically with modelers like the Line 6 HX Stomp and although it's not a necessity for a lot of players, I chose to add one permanently to my board for a number of reasons. Do you need a DI Box or Line Isolator for your HX Stomp? I'll try to answer that question below.
Reasons to own a Line Isolator:
1 - Creating a truly balanced signal. Despite what the chassis of the HX Stomp states, the unit is actually not entirely balanced. A balanced signal achieves two things - it converts the signal from high impedance to low impedance (impedance balancing) and then creates a copy of the signal, inverts the phase, and send it to the ring or XLR lug 3 (called differential output). The HX Stomp only achieves the former. The latter is where a lot of the benefits of a balanced signal lie.
2 - No signal loss. Since the HX Stomp and most other modeling units (like the Strymon Iridium) are already outputting a low impedance signal, there is no need to force that process again. An ordinary DI Box will perform both impedance balancing and differential output. Lowering the impedance of an already low-impedance signal will result in a volume drop of anywhere between 15 and 20 decibels. A Line Isolator is made specifically to work with a low impedance signal.
3 - A ground lift switch. It has happened to me a few times. For any number of different reasons, you might someday find that you need to run your signal through a DI box in order to make use of the ground lift. Chances are reasonable enough that the venue will have a DI ready for you, but probably not a line isolator. I like to be prepared with the right tool for the job. It saves time, and in a situation where you're just a sideman that could otherwise be holding up a stressful soundcheck, your job.
4 - Protection from phantom power. If your sound engineer accidentally runs 48v phantom power to your channel, it will ruin the tone you're getting. Even worse, I've heard of cases of Helix units getting bricked because of it. Line 6 has stated that this shouldn't be an issue, but the fact of the matter is that I've seen enough complaints online about it that I will enjoy the peace of mind of not having to ever worry about it. The transformers in a DI Box or Line Isolator will block that 48v phantom power.
5 - Thru outputs. Sometimes you want to run your own monitor on stage, in addition to the XLR outputs being sent to front of house. The thru outputs of the DISO+ make it possible to do that.
6 - Summing to mono. Though I wouldn't suggest it ordinarily, if your sound tech is being picky and your band is running out of channels, this is an easy way to sum your stereo rig to mono. The DISO offers it standard on the thru outputs (makes sense for when you're running a personal monitor as listed above), and for a small upcharge, you can get this feature on the stereo XLR outputs as well.
You can check out the Pinstripe DISO+ at this link. It's not trying to be budget-friendly. It is made using the highest quality components (including two Jensen transformers - the best in the business) and is assembled entirely by hand here in the USA. If you're looking for a cheaper alternative, consider the DISO's mono little brother, the MISO.