Got effect pedals? Get on board!

Got effect pedals? Get on board!

Show me your pedal board and I’ll tell you who you are… Some shredders come to the gig with a swanky two-square-meter ship, the mobile strummer may prefer a small Nano pedal train, but equipped with exquisite boutiqu e pedalshand-painted if possible, of course! But to each her/his own, and if the sound result is right, so be it. Anyone who archaically places her/his four pedals individually at the front of the stage and asks desperately where to buy 9-volt batteries is sure to be mocked by his contemporaries.

But, despite the show-off factor, a pedal board is a must for anyone who carries more than 3 effects to a gig. It saves time, work, nerves and, last but not least, money (and the environment) for all those batteries you’d need to purchase. And if you’re not a handyman/woman you can now buy ready-made boards in a wide variety of designs, which can be customised to your specific needs.

However, there are some basic considerations that should not be ignored when building a pedal board, and we have outlined them for you below…

Effect signal chain. Why do I keep hearing these words?

One of the most discussed topics when it comes to pedal boards is the sequential order of effects, from instrument to amp (or soundboard). Of course you can (and should) experiment with this, but, as a starting point, a relatively clear order has proven itself over time, which guarantees an optimal sound even when using several pedals at the same time:

Starting from the instrument’s output jack a “normal” signal chain looks like this:

  1. Pedal Tuner
  2. Wah-Wah (Envelope Filter, Touch Wah)
  3. Whammy Pedal (Octaver)
  4. Dynamic effects (compressor, limiter)
  5. Pre-Distortion EQ (Equalizer)
  6. Overdrive (Booster, Distortion, Fuzz)
  7. Post-Distortion EQ (Equalizer)
  8. Pitch shifter (harmonizer)
  9. Modulation effects (Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, etc.)
  10. Delay
  11. Reverb
  12. –> Amplifier or soundboard input

If you have an amplifier with an effect loop, then you need 2 more cables, because the first half of the used effect pedals should be connected before the input (pre-amplifier), the second half in the effect path before the power amplifier.

This would be the variant for an amplifier with effect loop:

  1. Pedal Tuner
  2. Wah-Wah (Envelope Filter, Touch Wah)
  3. Whammy Pedal (Octaver)
  4. Dynamic effects (compressor, limiter)
  5. Pre-Distortion EQ (Equalizer)
  6. Overdrive (Booster, Distortion, Fuzz)  6a. –> Amplifier input

6b. Amplifier Send output –>

  1. Post-Distortion EQ (Equalizer)
  2. Pitch shifter (harmonizer)
  3. Modulation effects (Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, etc.)
  4. Delay
  5. Reverb
  6. –> Amplifier return jack

That’s it for the rules of thumb. But there are also some exceptions, which are justified and lead to special sounds. That’s why trial and error is always a good thing. For authentic Rockabilly sounds, for example, it makes sense to put the delay before the overdrive. Since this style doesn’t call for a high degree of distortion, the delay sounds don’t sound muddy, but just dirty. That’s exactly how they did it in the 1950s. 

The phaser can also be parked in front of the distortion generator for dirty phasing effects. As a rule, you should make sure that you don’t use too much distortion in such configurations, but as is usually the case in life, personal taste counts here as well.

An equalizer fits in front of or behind the distortion section, depending on your sound concept. Before distortion and overdrive its setting influences the degree of distortion (e.g. mid boost), if you place it behind it, the distortion sound can be bent quite significantly. If you want a Metal-typical Mid-Scoop sound, you should definitely put the EQ behind the distortion pedal.

Power Supply

When selecting the power supply, the number of pedals and their voltage and current requirements are always important. As a rule, most effect pedals are supplied with 9-volt DC voltage, which is often referred to as DC for direct current. However, there are also devices that require 12, 15 or 18 volts, for example. Before you take care of a power supply, it’s a good idea to take stock of what voltage each pedal needs and how much power is needed. The necessary information can usually be found in the technical data on the pedals, on the enclosed operating instructions or on the manufacturer’s homepages.

Daisy Chain

If you have everything ready, the power consumption of the individual pedals is added and you can go on the search for a suitable power supply. If you only want to use some pedals with low power consumption, a standard power supply (e.g. Boss PSA 230s or Thomann NT 0910 AC/PSA) might be sufficient. You can also get a so-called daisy-chain cable, a distribution cable that can be used to connect several effect pedals to one power supply. The above mentioned power supplies deliver up to 500 mA current. This conception of the power supply is the most favourable variant, however in the unfavourable case it can come thereby to problems with humming problems.

Universal Power Adapters

A remedy in such a case is a multiple power supply. As a rule, this not only has greater power, but often also galvanically isolated outputs, which help to avoid hum loops. If you decide for such a model, you should pay attention not only to the maximum current output, but also to how much each individual output has to offer. Digital effects usually require more power than an analog overdrive, and if no output provides this power, it becomes problematic. Many of these multiple power supplies therefore not only deliver different currents, but also provide various voltages to choose from. Some are even able to simulate batteries with a low state of charge using stepless voltage regulation. With old analog pedals this can lead to a better sound.


It has become established that most power supplies for pedals have negative polarity (also known as “centre negative” or “tip negative”). See the image below for the standard icons used on products. If you have a power supply with positive polarity and you want to connect standard effect pedals you will need an extra cable for polarity reversal 


The required standard DC cables with a 5.5 x 2.1 mm (outer diameter x inner diameter) plug are usually included in the scope of delivery of universal power supplies. However, some pedals may require different formats. Different versions of the Ibanez Tube Screamer or older Big Muffs, for example, have a 3.5 mm jack plug for power supply. Some Line 6 devices require plugs with a larger inner diameter (5.5 x 2.5 mm). You should always test this and get the appropriate cables. Some older pedals don’t have a connection for a power supply at all, for them you usually need an adapter cable for a 9-volt battery clip. The Voodoolab PedalPower Plus (pictured above in the Universal Power Supply section) is equipped with a large number of additional cables for such purposes, these cables are also available separately.

Voodoo Lab Pedal Power Cable PPBAT

Wah pedal and power supplies

Be careful not to position the power supply too close to or under the wah pedal. Magnetic fields like to scatter into the coil of the wah pedal and cause hum, whether galvanically isolated or not. Before you screw or glue an effect to the pedal board, always test its functionality and check for hum loops. Sometimes a shift of a few centimetres is enough to avoid radio signals, buzzing and humming. 


The effects are positioned in the right order, a power supply with all adapters is available, now you can cable the effects together. Of course short cables should be used, space-saving versions with angled plugs are best. The EBS Flat Patch cables with their very flat plugs (and cable) are well suited for positioning the pedals a little tighter on the board. Before you decide on a board, it’s best to build up your configuration “dry / un-powered” with cables to test how much space is needed. If you’re using mini pedals, don’t pack them too close together, because you should still be able to shift them individually later, according to your shoe size and footwear.


The aluminium rail concept has become more and more popular for boards. The American manufacturer Pedaltrain was the first to bring these boards onto the market, which are now also available in similar designs from other manufacturers. The board consists of several aluminum rails and is therefore extremely light and the pedals are fastened by velcro tape. The base is usually sloping, which makes pedals in the second row a little easier to reach. Another advantage is that often a power supply unit can be mounted under the board, leaving more space for pedals on the top. Cables can also be stowed under the board.

The alternative to the aluminium rail board would be a special flight case in which the effect pedals are attached to the bottom of the case. The advantage there is that everything is housed in a sturdy case and the lid simply has to be closed after use. In general, you should think about whether a case or a bag makes more sense for you. The case offers better protection when the pedal board is exposed to brute force on tour, but weighs a lot more. A much lighter bag makes sense if you frequently transport the pedalboard yourself and rarely fly with it.


You should also think about the mounting of the devices on the board. The advantage with velcro tape is that you can change pedals quickly, but it doesn’t always hold on 100%. Make sure that the surface you want to glue the velcro to is clean and dry. In addition, you should avoid turning the pedal board upside down during transport. For those who want the pedals to be fixed in a bomb-proof way, mounting screws are the way to go. However, this only works with wooden boards. Some guitarists fix the pedals with plastic cable ties around the rails of their aluminium board…

Little Helpers

There are also a whole slew of accessories, which can facilitate the workflow of the pedal board. The pedal riser, for example, positions pedals slightly higher in the second row so that they are easier to reach with the foot. In addition, the space under the riser offers more storage space for cables. An option knob can be attached to the potentiometer shaft to replace the potentiometer knob itself. This makes it easier to adjust the potentiometer by foot – for example if the gain of the distortion is often adjusted and you can’t or don’t want to bend down while playing. Plus, it’s glow-in-the-dark!

Anything Else?

If your board is double rowed, the first row should always contain the pedals that are switched most frequently. Cable your pedals, as much as possible, using colour coding or labels because nothing is worse than having to set up quickly at the festival and then wasting time figuring out which cable comes from where. It’s just as unpleasant for the audience when they have to wait for the first song or when no sound comes out of your amp!

Author’s gravatar
Joe has been singing since he can remember and started playing guitar when he was 10. He's been using it as a songwriting tool ever since. He is passionate about melody and harmony and admires musicians who create these in unique ways. Check out his alternative / indie projects Best of Feelings and Zef Raček.


    That’s a great insight, thanks guys

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