How to Set Up a Guitar Pedalboard

So you’ve been playing electric guitar for a while now and love the sound of your amp. Maybe it has some cool built-in sounds with a foot-switch and you’ve never really considered exploring your sonic potential beyond that.

Perhaps lately you’ve been curious about pedalboards. What’s the big deal anyway? So maybe you went out and bought a bunch of guitar effects pedals. Now what?

It’s not really convenient to have to carry around a bunch of individual guitar pedals (especially if you’re playing gigs). A pedalboard helps to consolidate all of that loose gear.

You can find pedalboards of many different sizes and styles, but essentially it’s a metal or wooden board that you secure all of your guitar effects pedals to. Then you can either carry that from gig to gig in a case, or just on its own.

Here are some popular pedalboards on the market today:

Pedaltrain Classic Jr SC

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SKB PS8 Powered Pedal Board with Gig Bag
  • Powers up to 8 pedals
  • Injection molded from eco-friendly rubber modified styrene
  • Heavy-duty 19 x 12 inch hook and loop mounting surface

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Temple Audio DUO 24 Templeboard

Temple Audio DUO 24 Templeboard - Gunmetal
  • 24" Modular Pedalboard System for 2 Rows of FX - Gunmetal

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The above pedalboards are popular for a good reason, but if money is really tight, you can always build your own. All you’ll need is a wooden board large enough to accommodate your pedals and a way to elevate it from the ground (plus some power tools to drill pilot holes for running power cables, and some wood glue). I built my own years ago and modeled it off of a GroundSwell Pedalboard. It’s an exciting process and worth the time!

Now, when putting together your pedalboard, there are several things you need to consider.

  1. What type of sound do you want to create?
  2. How should you connect your pedals?
  3. How should you power your pedals?
  4. In what order should you arrange your pedals?

What type of sound do you want to create?

This is a question you should definitely ask yourself before you go out and spend a bunch of money. Give this some serious thought (and experimentation whenever possible) because it will affect your choice of pedals, and the order in which you arrange them.

Guitar effects can be categorized into four major categories:

  1. Gain (Overdrive, Distortion, Fuzz, Compression, Boost)
  2. Filters (Wah, Noise Gate, EQ)
  3. Modulation (Chorus, Flanger, Phase Shifter, etc)
  4. Time (Delay, Reverb)

Some other common pedals you’ll find are tuners (hopefully you’ve got one), amp emulation, instrument modeling, and multi-effects pedals. Getting into what all of these pedals do would go well beyond the scope of this article, so I’m just going to assume you’ve got your pedals ready to go. 

How should you connect them all?

The most common way to connect your pedals is to use patch cables. If you’re concerned about not having enough room on your pedalboard, you can easily find some short patch cables with right angle jacks to save space.

How should you power them all?

Powering your pedalboard properly is crucial to getting the most out of your pedals. There are a couple of terms you should become acquainted with: voltage and current. If you don’t provide enough current, your pedals probably won’t turn on. If you provide too much voltage, you could fry your pedals’ inner components.

Luckily, the vast majority of pedals require a standard of 9 volts, and a minimum of 100mA of current. You might notice that some power supplies provide up to 500mA of current, but fear not -having more current than is necessary won’t harm your pedals at all.

There are two common methods of powering your pedalboard (aside from using individual batteries… because those always die at the wrong time):

  1. Daisy-chain: This method is simple. All you have to do is connect all of your pedals to a single electrical socket via a single power supply with a daisy-chain style cable, like this one.
  2. A dedicated power supply: This is the recommended method because it provides clean electrical power to each individual pedal (as opposed to all of your pedals sharing the same power supply, which can get noisy). Some popular power supplies include:

Truetone 1 Spot Pro CS12 (Amazon)

Voodoo Lab Pedal Power X4 (Amazon)

Strymon Zuma R300 (Amazon)

In what order should you arrange your pedals?

Understanding some basic signal flow will help you figure out what order to arrange your pedals. Signal flow goes something like this:

When you pluck a string on your electric guitar, the pick-ups detect the vibration of the string. Then some magic happens inside your guitar, and a small electrical signal is sent out of your guitar and through the cable that runs to your amp.

Placing pedals between your guitar and your amp allows you to manipulate the signal before it ever reaches your guitar amp (using your amp’s effects loop works a little bit differently but don’t worry about that for now).

Just keep in mind that every pedal will affect the sound of everything that comes before it in the signal flow. So if you have a distortion pedal right after your guitar, followed by a phaser pedal, the phaser pedal will affect the distortion, but not the other way around. I suggest playing around with the order of things in this way. You might just discover a sound you love!

I want to emphasize that there are no actual rules when it comes to this. If you like how something sounds but it’s not “common practice,” the guitar police won’t come and take you away. But if you’re curious and want to experiment from a baseline, a very basic pedalboard setup might look something like this:

Guitar > Tuner > Boost > Wah > Overdrive > Distortion > Chorus > Delay > Reverb > Amp

You can simplify this order even more this way:

Guitar > Gain > Modulation > Time > Amp

Throw filters in wherever you’d like or wherever they might be most effective. For example, placing a wah pedal at the front allows for better control of the entire signal because it’s coming straight from the guitar. Another example would be placing an EQ right after a powerful distortion pedal in order to further customize the sound of the distortion. The guitar effects world is your oyster.

Assemble and Wrap Up

The final step is assembling your pedalboard. I recommend getting some hook-and-loop tape to secure your pedals to the board. Plug everything in, double-check that you’re only using 9v power for your 9v pedals (before you turn the power on), and have fun jamming!