by Craig Anderton
I needed a pedalboard for my live act as part of the hard rock duo EV2, but had somewhat unusual needs: I currently don’t use pedals! Instead, I’m using a laptop, E-Mu 1616m audio interface, breakout box for the Gibson Digital Les Paul guitar, and a bunch of AC adapters and audio cables. (I’m also using a DigiTech GNX3000 as part of my setup for now, but it’s not much smaller than the pedalboard itself, so it sets up next to the pedalboard.)
But just because I’m not using traditional pedals doesn’t exempt all these gizmos and gadgets from needing a roadworthy home. After looking at several options, it seemed that short of building my own from scratch, the Furman SPB-8C (Fig. 1) would be the best option…here’s what I found out as I tried to put together the 21st century equivalent of a pedalboard.
Fig. 1: The SPB-8C without its cover; the black surface is covered with Velcro for attaching pedals.
Incidentally, as no sacrifice is too great for readers of the Harmony Central Confidential, I took the unit apart to expose what was going on under the metal housing for the power supply, jacks, outlets, fuse, etc. In the process, I must say I was impressed with the construction: Extruded aluminum, rubber ends, and 10 screws holding the bottom metal plate in place (which in turn sits against the bottom of the casing; it’s not exposed to the outside world). I suppose it’s possible to come up with way to crush this part of the pedalboard, but it would take serious effort – and likely take out anything that was on the pedalboard as well.
Given that I was going to be incorporating some fairly pricey gear (including the computer), the SPB-8C’s inclusion of power conditioning was a major plus. Although there’s no interruptible power supply to provide power in case of outages or brownouts, there’s a 15A circuit breaker, RFI filter, and spike/surge protection (Fig. 2). There are also four AC outlets, spaced widely enough to allow for wall warts to fit without problems.
Fig. 2: The outlets, fuse, and protection circuitry (the black blob toward the middle). Note the heavy wire “bus bars” connecting the outlets.
Also in terms of power, there are eight 9V DC outlets with short circuit protection that deliver 120mA each. These feed 1/8" minijacks, so the pedalboard includes six power patch cords with coaxial power connectors, one cord with a miniplug, and one with a 9V battery connector for patching into effects that don’t have provisions for an AC adapter. 9V outs aren’t really relevant to my particular needs, but I have used them for powering other devices when the pedalboard was sitting at home. The power supply uses a toroidal transformer, which minimizes any fields that could get into high-gain circuits and cause problems (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3: The toroidal transformer feeds a circuit board that supplies 9VDC of protected power.
In addition to the way the box handles power, there are stereo ins/outs – important for me, as I use a stereo guitar setup – with stereo loop jacks (Fig. 4).
Although I don’t foresee myself using the loop jacks for effects, I’ve used the loop sends to provide an additional set of outs for monitoring and recording. Also, the whole unit is built solidly, with a high-impact plastic (polycarbonate) outer case built on a steel chassis, handle, and rollers. Although it hasn’t been thrown into the bowels of a Northwest Airlines cargo hold yet, it has handled being put in cars/vans and taken to gigs with no issues.
There are 10 rubber feet on the bottom to discourage the unit from sliding around, and a 10' long AC cord – a considerate move for all those times when the AC outlet seems just beyond the reach of a standard 6' cord.
The polyethylene hardshell case is also worth noting. It features a retractable handle (Fig. 5) and inline “skate wheels,” which is certainly handy when you’re running through an airport terminal (and ever since the American with Disabilities Act mandated easier wheelchair access, you can usually get the pedalboard around without having to lift it up over stairs).
There’s also a side handle, as well as latches that hold the cover in place over the main pedalboard – although these have no locks, nor can you add anything like a Kensington lock or small padlock. If there’s any vulnerability to the SPB-8C, I would guess it to be the latches (Fig. 6).
The SPB-8C uses the Velcro approach for mounting pedals, which has the advantage of malleability if you change your mind about how best to set things or change your setup, but isn’t as secure as screwing stuff down with actual screws. I was concerned whether this would work with the computer, but was relieved to find that it actually stays in place very well. Nonetheless it never hurts to be safe, so I fashioned a hard foam “ring” to cushion the computer when the case is closed.
Although there wasn’t enough room to mount both the breakout box and interface flat on the Velcro surface, the pedalboard has enough height that the two boxes could fit on top of each other. I used double-sided Velcro (not included) to mount the 1616m on top of the Gibson breakout box.
Furman claims you can stick up to eight pedal effects on the base, and that seems about right for standard size pedals (e.g., Boss, DigiTech, Line 6, etc.) as the base is 13.75" x 26.75". However, the devices I planned to put in the ’board are big and relatively heavy, and use fairly sizeable AC adapters. As a result, it took quite a bit of thought to figure out how to best configure the various boxes (Fig. 7).
The pedalboard sits to the right of my mic stand, and the GNX3000 to the left. Therefore, I decided the guitar cable input had to go toward the right. That automatically implied that the computer go toward the left. As a result, the CAT-5 cable going from the interface to the PCMCIA-bus card that sits in the laptop couldn’t be left in place when the top was on; these are relatively big cables going into fragile connectors, so you don’t want to bend the cables too much. No big deal – I unplug the cable before packing up, coil it, and stuff it into the pedalboard.
In this case cabling was more complicated than a traditional pedalboard, not only because of the computer-related cables (AC adapter, CAT-5 cable going to the card, and a USB dongle hanging off the end) but because the Gibson breakout box sends six lines to the E-Mu 1616m interface – two to the front panel, and four to the rear panel. It was clear I needed to make my own cables, and this is where the Planet Waves Cable Station came to the rescue.
While this isn’t a review of the Cable Station, it’s worth mentioning: You can buy right-angle and standard 1/4" plugs, as well as cable and a cable cutter, and literally put custom cables together in minutes. You simply cut the cable to length, insert an end into a jack, tighten a setscrew, then repeat for the other end of the cable…done. I ended up using a mix of right angle and straight plugs cut to just the right length, and this definitely neatened things up. (Note that Planet Waves offers a pedalboard cable kit with ten right-angle plugs, 10' of cable, and a cable cutter. While great for standard pedalboards using standard effects, I couldn’t do what I needed to do without straight plugs as well.)
That still left dealing with the AC cords going to the various AC adapters and the AC adapter outputs going to the various boxes, but a few cable ties took care of keeping the wires from getting out of hand.
After completing the pedalboard, I must say I’m pretty happy with the results, even though I took this particular product out of its intended “comfort zone” (Fig. 8).
Fig. 8: The completed pedalboard, all closed up and ready to move on to the next gig.
Using this with standard pedals is a slam dunk, so I was pleasantly surprised that it also worked well as a “guitar rack in a laptop” box. However, if anyone at Furman is listening, the world needs a pedalboard specifically for laptop-based setups…something that can screw into a couple of mic stands or sit on a table, with a few extras (like a shelf that adapters could sit on or under) and a USB hub. But hey, the SPB-8C does the job for me. It’s a fine pedalboard, and I feel a lot more confident about taking my gear to gigs now.
Pedalboard: 3” H x 28.5” W x 20.125” D
Case: 3” H x 28.5” W x 20.125” D
Pedalboard: 8 lbs.
Case (w/ board): 18 lbs.
Limited three-year warranty covering defect in materials and workmanship.
Safety Agency Listing:
ETL / CETL
15 Amps total AC outlets, 1800W
Line to Neutral
Spike Clamping Voltage:
Initial turn-on at 200 Volts; TVSS rating of 400 Volts peak at 500 Amps
Maximum Surge Current:
Maximum Spike Energy:
Transverse Mode - greater than 20dB 800kHz to 10MHz
9 VDC POWER SUPPLY
120mA per outlet, 1A maximum combined current for all outlets
Eight (8) discrete re-settable fuses
1 amp fault, 0.2 second trip time
Eight (8) 3.5mm phone plug (tip hot) to P250L 2.mm x 5mm plug (tip hot)
One (1) 3.5mm phone plug (tip hot) to 3.5mm phone plug (tip hot)
One (1) 3.5mm phone plug (tip hot) to 9 Volt battery clip (non-perforated, tip hot
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.