Welcome to the 2013 installment of my pedalboard evolution
Apparently, May is the month each year when I completely tear down and rebuild my guitar pedalboard. I outlined last year’s rebuild in another article and it generated some interesting discussion with other musicians. For this year I decided to make a few strategic changes, with a some pedals sidelined and others called into action. Here’s an overhead shot of the 2013 version of my pedalboard. Note that everything is powered up, which is purely for photographic purposes… the actual sound with everything turned on is akin to the mating call of the Kraken.
I started this year’s rebuild with the ritual of removing everything from the board and completely cleaning the surface with alcohol. I keep my equipment fairly clean but there always seems to be “that one gig” when someone spills a beer onto my pedalboard. Fortunately cleaning and prep was a quick job this time. With that step completed I sorted my cables by length to reuse as many as possible. I use George L cable for my pedalboards and am happy with their performance, plus they are very simple to make or modify. Their right-angle connectors stick out about 1/2″ from the pedal housing, and my densely packed boards always have some places where two of those connectors meet. I play “pedalboard tetris” and arrange the pedals to minimize those plug-to-plug spacing requirements, but I usually have at least a few special cables that I have to solder up using “pancake” solder connectors to allow a closer fit.
Let’s meet the 2013 lineup
- Pedal Train 3 Pedalboard with flight case. I have been using the Pedal Train 3 for a few years now. At 16×24 inches it’s big enough to hold a reasonable assortment of pedals but it still compact. It’s built to last forever.
- VoodooLab Pedal Power Digital [Added for 2013 rebuild]. This is a high-current DC power supply for my all my pedals. I’ve been using a VoodooLab Pedal Power 2+ for years, but this year’s board rebuild required higher output for pedals like the Strymon Lex. This power supply does not have enough individual outputs for the number of pedals on my board, so I use a few splitters for the low-draw pedals, leaving dedicated feeds where necessary for power-hungry pedals.
- Empress Buffer + [Added for 2013 rebuild]. This is a nice patch point for input / output. It includes both a selectable boost and an output buffer to moderate signal loss on the return line to the amp.
- A/B Switch. This is one my pedals I built to give me a simple way to switch between my wired guitar signal and the wireless receiver. Nothing fancy inside this box… it’s just a 3PDT switch with a couple of LEDs and current-limiting resistors.
- Line6 G50 Receiver. Line6 makes three models of guitar wireless systems. I have been using the G50 for a few years now and it’s without question the best wireless system I’ve ever used. It has great range and a fantastic transparent tone with full dynamics.
- Mission Engineering VM-1 Volume Pedal. This pedal is in a wah-style housing and is a straight-forward volume pedal. I love the smooth travel and transparency of this volume control.
- Mission Engineering SP-1 Expression Pedal [Added for 2013 rebuild]. This pedal is also in a wah-style housing. It provides continuous control output for the both the M9 and the Strymon Lex, courtesy of the amazing magic in the Expressionator (see below). I use this as a wah controller as well. In addition to being a sweep-style controller, this pedal also has a switch in the toe position, allowing me to control other effect settings. A very clever and useful pedal all around.
- Line6 M9. The M9 is the nerve center of my pedalboard and provides a wide range of multi-effect settings. It’s especially handy for setting up the base configurations for my tones, which I can augment with outboard pedals.
- Mission Engineering Expressionator [Added for 2013 rebuild]. This pedal is pure magic. It allows you to connect a single controller (such as the Mission Control SP-1) as an input, and then simultaneously route the controller information to three separate outputs. This means I can send control information to the Strymon Lex and the Line6 M9 at the same time, and still have another output available for future use. The sweep / taper can be set for each output, and the pedal has internal memory for saving presets.
- Modulation Controller. I built a simple on / off modulation controller in a tiny housing, to control expression input #1 on the M9. This allows me to have 2 settings for effects and switch between them without changing presets. For example, I have the delay mix and regeneration set fairly low as the default, but stomping the switch sets them to a higher level. The pedal itself is just a 3PDT switch, LED + current limiting resistor, and is wired to short the tip / sleeve (in one switch position) or connect via a 10K resistor (in the other switch position). The M9 perceives those inputs as MIN and MAX settings from a controller.
- Sonic Research ST-200 Turbo Tuner. There is a tuner in the M9, but I prefer the Sonic Research ST-200. It’s bright, easy to read, and on my pedalboard is always on.
- Xotic Effect EP Booster. This pedal mimics the tonal characteristics of an Echoplex EP-3 preamp section. Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page and Eric Johnson all use an EP-3 inline as part of their signal chain. This pedal is always turned on. It also has a boost, which I typically don’t use.
- Keeley 4 Knob Compressor. Robert Keeley makes beautiful guitar effects. This compressor is clean and transparent. I only use it for big strat tones, to evoke Stevie Ray Vaughan or David Gilmour. My version of this pedal happens to be a rare all-black variant. Not that I’m into black or anything.
- Wampler Sovereign Distortion [Added for 2013 rebuild]. I always need to have a “Marshall on ten” sound. This pedal has a huge gain range and delivers a full tone for those big rock songs. It’s only available from “a certain nationwide guitar chain” so you’ll need to go in or order it online. This is a damned fine distortion pedal. Wampler makes great gear.
- TC Electronic Trinity Reverb. TC Electronic makes beautiful equipment. This reverb pedal is a winner. It is a variant on the “Hall of Fame” reverb pedal, and includes a few extra preset models only available in the “Trinity”. You will have purchase this one from Pro Guitar Shop in Portland, Oregon. This is my favorite guitar store and is a joy to visit; they also have a fantastic web site with demo videos.
- Way Huge Pork Loin. First of all, it’s just really fun to say “Way Huge Pork Loin”. It’s somewhat based on the Tube Screamer tone, but has a much warmer sound with better clarity. I use this pedal to get some of my gritty blues / rock tones, and occasionally stack it with the Wampler Sovereign for solos.
- Strymon Lex [Added for 2013 rebuild]. Strymon makes stunning pedals. This is their “Leslie in a box” pedal, and I don’t know how they did it so convincingly. This is my favorite modulation effect. If you hear me play live you may notice that I use this effect quite a bit. I control the rotation speed via the Mission SP-1.
The signal chain (order) is :
Guitar->Empress Buffer+ -> Xotic Effects EP Booster -> Keeley Compressor -> Way Huge Pork Loin -> Wampler Sovereign-> Strymon Lex -> Line6 M9 -> TC Electronic Trinity -> Mission Engineering VM-1 -> Empress Buffer+ -> Amp
Here’s another shot of the top of the board with the pedals identified.
- Empress Buffer +
- A/B Switch
- Line6 G50 Receiver
- Mission Engineering VM-1 Volume Pedal
- Mission Engineering SP-1 Expression Pedal
- Line6 M9
- Mission Engineering Expressionator
- Modulation Controller
- Sonic Research ST-200 Turbo Tuner
- Xotic Effecst EP Booster
- Keeley 4 Knob Compressor
- Wampler Sovereign
- TC Electronic Trinity Reverb
- Way Huge Pork Loin
- Strymon Lex
For pedals that I build myself, I’ll make a big recommendation to Pedal Parts Plus. They stock a wide variety of pedal enclosures, switches, LEDs, and other parts. They offer drilling, custom painting and screen printing services for a custom professional finish. I’ve been ordering from them for years and have always been delighted with their service and support. Pedalboard configurations for my customers often include enclosures that I’ve purchased from Pedal Parts Plus.
I have a few items on my 2013 board from Mission Engineering. They produce high-quality equipment designed to survive the rigors of touring and are always coming up with new clever gizmos.
When you’re working out the initial layout for a pedalboard, there’s a handy online tool called Pedalboard Planner. It’s designed to help you arrange your pedals on one of the Pedal Train boards. If you are using another brand of pedalboard you can still use this tool as long as you know the dimensions of your board; just choose the next biggest platform and use their ruler tool to define the working space. Also, this tool does not show you the required clearance for plugs so expect to leave at least 1/2″ clearance for jacks.