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.
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Read on down through this article for a step by step explanation, or hop on YouTube and check out the full playlist.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 - 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.
2 - 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, right there on my rig. It saves time, and in a situation where you're just a sideman that could otherwise be holding up a stressful soundcheck, your job.
3 - 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.
4 - 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.
5 - 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+ here. It's not trying to be budget-friendly. If you're looking for a cheaper alternative, consider the DISO's mono little brother, the MISO.
The Mission Expressionator is a one-of-a-kind device that allows you to control up to three pedals with a single expression pedal. You can control the taper of the expression's sweep and switch between sending to 1, 2, or all 3 devices. It's incredibly flexible and is one of the key pieces in this rig that give me the control I need.
The Mission Engineering Expressionator is a way that I like to manage my different control voltage-based expression pedal signals going to each of my devices. In less fancy terms, these are the pedals that are expecting to see an analog expression signal. With one expression pedal, I can (1) control the volume function on the Vertex Boost, (2) control any parameter in the Wampler Terraform (modulation), or (3) send a signal to the Morning Star MC8 MIDI controller, which will interpret the signal and output it digitally in the form of a control change message to any of the pedals on my rig that are connected. What the Expressionator allows me to do that I could do otherwise do with just a MIDI controller, is select exactly what I'm controlling at any moment. It keeps things from getting mixed up - for example, by separating the Terraform (modulation) from my wet effects, I can control that modulation effect separately from volume or any other effects I'm using at the same time. There are a lot of great expression pedals out there. The one I use is the Boss EV-30.
In this video I'll be running through the basics of MIDI, setting up the MC8, and how I've decided to organize presets and bank switching. I'll go over setting up the MIDI channel for each pedal, what a program change message does, what a control change message and CC value does, and how to use expression pedals with MIDI.
I'll also talk specifically about why I chose the Morningstar MC8 over all of the other MIDI switchers out there. I have two banks set up for each type of gig that I do - one set up for ease of use with reverb & delay snapshots and toggles for modulation, and the other set up for more control over what tone I need to create with bank switching. I'll go over all of this in detail. It's a long video so feel free to visit the timestamps below:
0:00 - Introduction
0:45 - Setting the midi channel for each pedal
2:09 - Program Change vs Control Change messages
3:29 - Control Change number and Control Change value
4:55 - Using an expression pedal with MIDI CC
5:39 - How I set up the Morningstar MC8
6:43 - A bank for rock & pop gigs
8:05 - Wet effect snapshots
9:42 - Changing banks to access more presets
13:15 - Toggle mode for modulation on/off
16:25 - Complex banks for more control
18:48 - Banks for my originals band
19:37 - Setting up presets for specific songs
21:14 - Banks for CCM/Worship gigs
22:44 - Outro
The Morningstar MC8 is a beautifully thought out controller that is capable of way more than most people need to for. The desktop editor is nicely laid out and makes it easy to program. There are also smaller versions - check out the MC6 & MC3.
Some people might find that they'd prefer a more traditional midi controller. If you're sticking to plenty of analog pedals and only one or two MIDI-programmable pedals, my recommendation is to check out the Boss ES-8.
Other popular MIDI switchers you might consider are the Electro-Harmonix Super Switcher, Source Audio Soleman, and the Blackstar Live Logic. On a budget, I've heard great things about the MeloAudio MIDI Commander.
(Specifically, why I went with this complicated setup instead of just one of the larger Line 6 Helix units).
This is a video I've been requested to do a few times - how I use the HX Stomp with a full pedalboard and why I prefer this workflow to something like the Helix Floor. I'll run through the signal path and why I've chosen the effects that I have (and especially the utility pedals). The HX Stomp really is the central hub to all of it and it's what I base my core tone around. The board is wired up in stereo (mostly for recording purposes), but in the couple shows I've done since the pandemic, I've enjoyed being able to run stereo. I run a couple MIDI-capable pedals that I'm able to control with the Morningstar controller. The MC8 is pretty versatile and easy to set up and so although I'm not someone who likes to dial up a specific preset for each and every song in the setlist, I'm still able to use it to navigate my pedalboard.
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I hope this guide has been helpful! Putting together this pedalboard was a long time coming - literal years spent brainstorming and making changes to what I imagined the perfect rig to be for me. I stand by the products I've referenced in this article as they've been working great for me the last two years I've been gigging this board. If you found value in this guide and videos I've put together, a great way to pay it forward is to make a purchase through one of my affiliate links. If you're going to purchase one of these products anyway, simply entering your website of choice through one of my links will earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you. I really appreciate it!