byPhil O'Keefe12-14-201004:55 AM - edited 01-17-201304:27 PM
Here's a different kind of board for your studio
By Phil O'Keefe
While there’s something incredibly cool about the sound of a great guitar plugged straight into a great amp, you can get a lot of other useful tonal colors with some good effects pedals — and if you own a bunch of pedals, you need a nice pedal board. I got a lot of great tips and ideas from the folks on the Harmony Central Effects forum; I’d like to share a few of them with you, and walk you through how I built my pedal boards.
GETTING YOUR EFFECTS IN ORDER
Lay out your pedals of choice on the floor in a variety of arrangements until you find one that provides easy access to all your pedals so you can stomp on them as needed, without messing up your settings on the other pedals, yet doesn’t take up an excessive amount of space.
As to the order of effects, different setups provide different types of sounds. For example, wah-before-fuzz sounds significantly different than wah-after-fuzz, so experiment with the pedal order to find what sounds best. If you’re really stumped, start with fuzzes and filter pedals first, followed by compression, overdrive and distortion pedals, modulation effects such as chorus and flangers, and delay and reverbs last. EQ can work well both before and after your dirt boxes, so try it in both spots.
Once you have an effects layout and order, measure around it to get an idea of the needed board size. You can opt for one of several different commercial boards (e.g., Furman’s, which despite being a pedal board for stage use is very “studio-friendly”), or build one yourself. I built two separate boards — one for dirt and filters (Fig. 1), and a second one for modulation and delay effects; otherwise it would have taken a 6' wide board to hold everything the way I wanted. I used standard 1" x 3" lumber for the boards, and screw and glue construction. A few coats of flat black spray paint completed the build. I could have used a large sheet of plywood, but the “slat” style construction allowed spaces for routing my daisy chained power connections under the board, and also cut down on weight compared to using a solid piece of lumber.
Fig. 1: A completed pedalboard for the studio. (Click on images to enlarge)
The next issue is how to mount the pedals to the board. There’s always Velcro, and while it offers quick and easy pedal repositioning, sticking it on the back of pedals leaves a mess, and I wanted my pedals a bit more firmly secured to the board. A great trick I learned on the forum was using bike chain links as mounting brackets (Fig. 2). These allow you to use the existing case screws on the pedals; a few wood screws (or nuts and bolts if you’re using a plexiglass or metal top board) then clamp the pedals firmly and directly onto the pedal board.
Fig. 2: Attach bike chain links to your pedal, then attach the links to your board.
Practically any bike shop or hardware store will have bike chains and chain repair tools (the pair cost me under $12). You simply use the tool to disassemble several links from the bike chain by setting the chain into the grooves on the tool; line up the pin on the chain link with the pin on the repair tool, and turn the handle on the tool to “punch out“ the chain pins (Fig. 3). For some pedals, like the Fulltone OCD, which have case screws on the lower sides instead of on the bottom, I used bent chain links to mount the pedal to the board. It involved a blowtorch and careful bending of the links using a vise and pliers, so if you try it at home and get hurt, you never heard of me . . .
Fig. 3: Using the chain repair tool to separate links.
Other pedals required other approaches. With my Line 6 MM4 and Danelectro Reel Echo, the bike chain links weren’t long enough to reach to the screws on the pedal case. For those, I used 1.5" galvanized metal pipe clamps. Again, these are available at hardware stores and come in a variety of sizes. I cut them in half with tin snips, and used two pairs of pliers to bend them either at right angles or flat as the situation called for, then drilled screw holes in the appropriate places. Don’t forget to round off any sharp edges with a grindstone or Dremel tool.
If there are no screws on the pedal that you can use to mount the brackets, sometimes you can disassemble the pedal, drill holes into the bottom plate, and screw the bottom of the pedal to the board with sheet metal screws and then reattach the top. If there’s a set screw underneath, as on the Danelectro mini pedals such as the Fish & Chips EQ, you’ll need to drill an access hole through the deck of the board so you can adjust the assembly screw. While I have tried to take a “harm the pedals as little as possible” approach, sometimes you don’t have much choice . . . but don’t deface any expensive or vintage pedals with this technique. Fortunately for me, my über-expensive Lovetone pedals have screw holes in their base plates that made mounting them with sheet metal screws possible without modifications. Eventually I was able to screw down all of my pedals except for my tuner (I used Velcro for that one); I don’t step on it anyway, as I use an A/B switch to bypass the amp and route the signal to the tuner for “silent“ tuning.
MORE POWER, CAPTAIN!
Regarding power, batteries were out of the question — the arrangement I laid out puts the pedals too close together to unplug all of the input cables easily and bypass the batteries, and battery access isn’t from the top on most of these pedals, so AC power made sense. I used a Visual Sound 1 Spot power adapter (http://www.visualsound.net) on each board to power the majority of the pedals.
If some of the pedals hadn’t had different power requirements, such as different voltages or polarities, I could have powered everything with just the 1 Spots and a few of their daisy chain power plugs. But as I had to have more than one wall wart on each of my boards, I needed a power strip into which I could plug everything. Most power strips don’t attach easily to a board, don’t have detachable AC cables, and take up a lot of room. I found a cool alternative at an Ace Hardware store: a Yellow Jacket five-outlet adapter (http://www.woods.com). It’s compact (Fig. 4), costs $9, you can plug a detachable extension cord right into it (it has a male 3-prong AC input and five AC outlets), and it includes “cable locks“ that came in handy for wrapping up the unused extra length of DC power cable. I put screws through the wide, flat plastic panels between the outlets on either side to mount it to the board, plugged in my two power adapters, and ran the daisy chain power cables to each of the pedals — and whenever possible, routed them underneath the board and then up through and between the slats to each pedal. This, along with some nylon cable clamps, allowed hiding a lot of the wiring underneath the board, thus keeping everything organized and tidy. And because the Yellow Jacket has extra, unused outputs, a short extension cable allows plugging in the power for the second board without having to run two extension cables to the wall.
Fig. 4: The Yellow Jacket five-outlet adapter.
For audio wiring, I used four of the Planet Waves pedal board kits. These come with 10' of cable and ten right-angle 1/4" plugs — enough to connect up to six pedals. Other plug types are also available, including straight 1/4", “thin line” 1/4", and even plugs with built in “circuit breaker” switches; these are very handy for quietly switching guitars without buzzes and pops.
Assembly is easy, but when you insert the cables, make sure you really have the cables inserted all the way into the plug. Don’t just stop at the first sign of resistance — push hard. A slight quarter-turn “twist” on the cable while pushing inwards seems to help, as does maintaining pressure while setting the locking screw. Also, test each finished cable with a multimeter set for continuity checking. That way you know all is well before you hook up everything.
I really like these cables; not only are they solderless and fast to make, but you can cut them to the exact lengths you want, and the connectors can be reused if you change your board layout and need a different cable length. And most importantly, they sound great.
With a little thought, some inexpensive and readily available materials and a afternoon’s worth of work, I was able to build two boards. My clients appreciate having the extra toys to play with, and I appreciate the extra tonal options. So even if you’re a dedicated “mix in the box” fan, don’t overlook what having a different type of board can bring to your studio!