Build a DIY Pedalboard I/O Box
By Phil O'Keefe |
Build a centralized patch bay for your pedalboard
Here's a really simple project that doesn't require any advanced electronics knowledge, and only the most basic of soldering skills.
But first, you might think there's no real reason to DIY I/O boxes for your pedalboard, because you can simply plug your guitar, bass or keyboard into the first pedal on the board, and run a cable from the output of the last pedal and send it to your amp. While that's true, there are reasons you might not want to do that.
For example, some pedals use input and output jacks that don't mount directly to their enclosures, but instead solder directly to the internal circuit boards. These solder connections bear all the support load of the cable, and can eventually crack with repeated stress from plugging and unplugging, causing intermittent contact which can lead to noise and even a complete failure to pass any signal. By building boxes with enclosure-mounted "Switchcraft" style jacks, you can avoid that issue entirely. Not only that, but you can build additional connections into these boxes for devices like expression pedals, and the box provides a centralized place for easy access to potentially anything with plugs.
I'd recommend making two of these boxes, and using one at the "input" side of your board, with the other one at the "output" side, although you can put it all into a single box if you prefer. Essentially these boxes are similar to a patchbay, and should be very simple to construct if you know how to solder. Here's a basic wiring diagram.
• A suitably-sized metal enclosure. Hammond 125B-sized boxes will be fine in most cases.
• Panel-mounted 1/4" jacks. The quantity needed will depend on how many input and output connections you want.
• Some 22-24 gauge wire - stranded or solid core, either will work. And no, you don't have to use two different wire colors, although you may find that doing so makes it easier to keep track of what goes where.
• Optional - paint and labeling materials, like Dymo labels, waterslide decals, etc., to decorate your boxes and label the connectors.
• Corded or cordless drill with a 3/8" drill bit or a vari-bit.
• A suitable screwdriver to disassemble and reassemble the case.
• A 25-40W soldering iron or soldering station and some rosin core solder.
• Wire strippers.
• Nut wrench or pliers to tighten down the jacks.
• Optional, but a Digital Multimeter with a continuity tester / check can be useful for testing and troubleshooting.
1. If you're going to paint and label your boxes, I'd recommend doing that first.
2. Drill the 3/8" holes for the 1/4" jacks into the case on both sides, making sure to space them evenly and allowing enough room between them for all the plugs to be inserted simultaneously. If you want to use top-mounted jacks, check that your case has sufficient depth to accommodate them and the inserted plugs without anything shorting out against the case, other jacks, and plugs.
3. Open the enclosure, install the jacks into the holes you drilled, then tighten them down. Orient the jacks so that you can access both connection points to make wiring and soldering easier.
4. Cut your wire into pieces long enough to reach from the jacks on one side of the case to the ones on the opposite side. Leave yourself a little bit more length than you need, just to be safe, and simmplify soldering it up.
5. Use the wire strippers to strip about 1/4" of insulation from each end of each piece of wire.
6. Run a length of wire from the tip connection point of Input Jack 1 to the same tip contact point on Output Jack 1. Run a second wire from Input Jack 1's sleeve to Output Jack 1's sleeve, and then solder all four points.
7. Repeat the same wiring and soldering steps for the rest of the input and output jacks.
8. If you have a multimeter, set it to check continuity and then touch one probe to Input Jack 1's sleeve connector, and the other to Output Jack 1's sleeve. If the wiring and soldering are good, you should hear an audible beep (or see a meter reading of 0 ohms). Do the same thing to test the connection between Input Jack 1 and Output Jack 1's tip connectors, then repeat the testing procedure for the tip and sleeve on the remaining jack pairs.
9. If all of the connections test good, close the case up. If not, double-check your wiring, touch up connections with your soldering, test again, and then close the case once it all checks out.
10. If you didn't do so in step 1, apply labels to the I/O jacks using waterslide decals or Dymo labels, or even a Sharpie pen so you'll know what each jack connects to.
That's basically it. From there, it's just a matter of mounting the boxes and wiring them into your pedalboard, and the steps for doing that will depend on how you want to use those connections.
• For the box on the "input" side of your board, connect the Outputs from your I/O box to the target inputs. For example, Output 1 might connect to the input of an effects pedal, or maybe you'll want to use Output 1 and Output 2 to connect to a pedal with stereo inputs. Then when you get to the gig, all you need to do is plug the output from your guitar into Input Jack 1 (or your keyboard's left and right outputs into Inputs 1 and 2) and the signal will be routed to the effects pedal.
• The third Output might be for something like a expression pedal - connect Output Jack 3 to the expression pedal jack on whatever pedal you want to control, and plug your expression pedal into Input Jack 3.
• If you have more than one expression pedal, or need more inputs and outputs, you can make the boxes with more I/O if you want.
• The boxes can be mounted to your pedalboard with Velcro, or for even sturdier mounting, they can be bolted down using the "bike chain link" method.
For the second box on the output side of your pedalboard, it's the same basic idea except in reverse. Connect the output(s) from the last pedal in your chain to one or two Input jacks on the second box. The Output jacks on that box will then serve as patch points to connect to your amplifier(s), mixing board, or whatever. Be aware though, if you're running two amps in stereo, you can easily wind up with hum and noise due to ground loops. If you encounter that issue, put an isolation transformer after the I/O box and in front of one of the amps.
Have questions about this project, or tips you'd like to share? If so, please click right here and join in the discussion on the Harmony Central Effects forum!
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.