How to Build a Basic Pedalboard

Almost every guitarist have their own pedalboard with the pedals they like and color their personal sound and tone with. Finding the right pedals will take time and can be expensive. It can also be hard to find out what you really need on your pedalboard, so that's what I will talk about in this column. Read on, good people, and contact me if there's any questions!

How to Build a Basic Pedalboard
1

Playing Without Effects at First

Well, first off, starting out as a guitarist it may be a good idea to play without effect pedals. There's a few good reasons for doing so. Firstly, you're new to playing the guitar and don't quite know how long your interest will last - so don't go all in too soon. Secondly, finding the pedals that's right for you will take time and will require some knowledge.

By the time you've been playing for some time, and know your style and guitar, then it's time for some pedals. Go to your local Guitar Center, search online, aks friends, ask forums, read reviews, use YouTube, etc. All this can and will help you get to the pedals that'll suit your style and playing.

What You May Need for Your Personal Pedalboard

First off you'll need a pedalboard to put your effect pedals on. It's up to you to decide whether you want to buy a smart-looking pedalboard, or you're more into building and designing your own pedalboard. I've done both for some of my pedals and both ways work very well! There's a lot of different pedalboard brands to choose from these days. A few brands could be Pedaltrain, Behringer, Gator and SKB.

Of course with a DIY, do it yourself, pedalboard you'll have a lot more freedom to how and what the board's going to look like, and how small or big it's going to be.

Tuner

After you've decided if you're buying a pedalboard or building one yourself, you'll need a tuner - so that you can always make sure your guitar is in tune.

Having a tuner on your board also makes it a lot easier to tune your guitar after, for example, a song or a short/long time period.
Some great suggestions for tuners would definitely be:
  • T.C. Electronic PolyTune 2 / PolyTune Mini - a precise and great tuner.
  • Boss TU-2/TU-3 - Good Boss quality as we've known it for decades!
  • Mooer Baby Tuner - A small and compact tuner that'll fit on every board.
For me I like it when a tuner doesn't take up a whole lot of space on the board - making it easier for fitting other pedals on the board too.

Wah-pedal

After the tuner you could maybe put a wah-pedal, if you're into that.

A Wah-pedal will work great for some rock/metal-ish styles - as best known from guitarists like Slash and Kirk Hammett. Suggestions for Wah-Pedal brands could be:
  • Vox;
  • Morley;
  • Dunlop.
Try out a wah-pedal and see if it's something for you! Did you know? Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits actually uses a wah-pedal on the "Money for Nothing" track. The wah is set in a "fixed" position, meaning that the position of the pedal is set the same for the whole track.

Compressor

After the wah-pedal you'll place your compressor. A compressor will be excellent for some funk or for adding some sparkle and sustain to your solos. The need for a compressor can depend and I'll suggest that you try a few ones out at first, and see it you like what a compressor does and what it'll do for your sound.

A couple of great compressors could be:
  • Boss CS-1/CS-2/CS-3;
  • Mooer Yellow Comp;
  • MXR Dyna Comp.

Overdrive & Distortion

Now, this is where we're getting to a major part of every guitarist sounds; the overdrive & distortion pedals! (Man, I really dig those). An overdrive & distortion pedal will basically distort and push your signal coming from your guitar running into your amplifier. Overdrive & distortion is widely used on countless records, by countless of guitarists. There's a lot of different overdrive & distortion brands out there today, so it can be kind of a long journey finding the ones that you love.

Suggestions for overdrive & distortion brands to choose from:
  • Boss: SD-1 / DS-1 / BD-2 / OS-2 / OD-3 / BC-2 / DS-2.
  • MXR: Super Bada-s Distortion / GT-OD / Distortion + / Fet Drive.
  • Mooer: Green Mile / Hustle Drive / Rumble Drive / Solo Distortion.
  • Electro-Harmonix: Big Muff / East River Drive / Soul Food.
  • Carl Martin: Plexitone / DC Drive / AC-Tone / Heavey Drive.
  • Ibanez: TS-9 Tube Screamer / TS-9 DX.
  • Maxon: OD808X / SD-9 Sonic Distortion / VOP-9 Vintage Overdrive Pro.
  • Blackstar: HT-Series.

Boost Pedal

After your overdrive & distortion pedal you can put a boost pedal. A boost pedal will generally boost your signal, for example, the boost pedal can boost your overdrive to increase the volume/output and/or add more gain/treble/mid/bass, depending on what kind of boost we're talking about.

Boost pedal brands:
  • Blackstar: HT Boost;
  • Mooer: Pure Boost / Flex Boost;
  • Keeley: Katana Boost;
  • Electro-Harmonix: LPB-1 / Screaming Bird;
  • Artec: Gainer Boost;
  • MXR: Micro Amp / Micro Amp +;
  • T.C. Electronic: Spark Booster.

Volume Pedal

With your pedalboard evolving it would be a good idea to get a volume pedal, to control the overall volume of your signal. This makes it a lot easier to adjust your overall volume and by that have a little extra to give, when you have a solo coming up!

Volume pedal suggestions:
  • Ernie Ball: EB6181;
  • Dunlop: GCB80;
  • Boss: FV-500-H.

Modulation Pedals

On many famous guitarists boards we'll also find some modulation pedals. Modulation pedal will add a variety of sounds to your playing and overall guitar tone. Everything from lush and liuid chorus to a wobbly phaser to raging flangers.

There's a few pedals to talk about when it comes to modulation effects.

First off we have the chorus. The chorus pedal adds a liquid shimmer/undulating effect to your playing.

Some of the best known chorus using guitarist could be Andy Summers from the Police and Keith Scott from Bryan Adams. I bet that you've heard some of the Police's records and noticed the smooth and liquid guitar tones - that's the chorus pedal.

Suggestions for chorus pedals:
  • Boss: CH-1 / CE-20 / CE-5 / CE-2 / CE-3;
  • Electro-Harmonix: Small Clone / Poly Chorus / Nano Clone / Neo Clone;
  • Mooer: Chorus Ensemble / Mod Factory;
  • Carl Martin: Classic Chorus;
  • MXR: Stereo Chorus / Analog Chorus / Micro Chorus;
  • T.C. Electronic: Corona Chorus.

Secondly we have the phaser. The phaser is well-known from artists like David Gilmour from Pink Floyd and Eddie Van Halen. Often some phasers can be a little too much, but try some different ones out and see if you like it.

Good suggestions could be:
  • MXR: Phase 90 / Phase 100 / Phase 99;
  • Boss: PH-1R / PH-2 / PH-3;
  • Mooer: Ninety Orange Phase;
  • Electro-Harmonix: Small Stone / Nano Small Stone / Stereo Polyphase.

Thirdly we have the flanger pedal. The flanger pedal is also well-known from David Gilmour's signature sound with Pink Floyd. Also Eddie Van Halen is a known flanger user.

Flangers will be able to give some smooth modulation, but also some really crazy and mad sounds.

Flanger suggestions:
  • T.C. Electronic: Vortex Flanger;
  • Boss: BF-3 / BF-2;
  • Ibanez: AF2 Paul Gilbert Signature Flanger;
  • MXR: M117R Flanger;
  • Electro-Harmonix: Neo Mistress / Deluxe Electric Mistress.

Delay Pedal

After the modulation section we'll have the delay pedal, or the "time-based" effects, as they're also called and referred to as. Delay will really suit your solos and give you some smooth background delay, also making your solo playing stand more out. A delay takes some getting use to, but you'll soon find out that you can't live without one!

Good delay suggestions:
  • Boss: DD-20 / DD-7 / DD-5 /RE-20 / DD-3;
  • Electro-Harmonix: Memory Man Deluxe / Memory Man Nano;
  • MXR: Carbon Copy;
  • Line 6: DL-4 Delay;
  • T.C. Electronic: Flashback / Flashback X4 / Alter Ego X4;
  • Mooer: Ana Delay / Reecho / Echolizer / Repeater / Reecho PRO.

Reverb Pedal

Last but not least - the reverb pedal! The reverb pedal will add ambience and short delayed sounds to your playing. Everything from modulated reverb, room, hall, plate, spring and space reverb. I've found that I simply can't live without reverb on most of my sounds. I like everything the reverb does!

Reverb suggestions right here:
  • Boss: RV-2 / RV-3 / RV-5;
  • Electro-Harmonix: Cathedral Reverb / Holy Grail Reverb;
  • Mooer: Shimverb / SkyVerb;
  • Line 6: Verbzilla;
  • T.C. Electronic: Nova Reverb / Hall of Fame / Trinity.

Chain and Signal-path

When building a pedalboard every guitarist will find out, at some point, that effect pedals can be chained together by following the "path" that I've used in this column. Though, it's important also to lay out that effect pedals can be chained together in any order you want or wanna try. The "path" or method I've used is sort of a "basic" guide for making sure that your variety of pedals will sound good and have its proper connections.

If you have an idea of different way you want to chain your pedal, then go for it! Many, many, many famous guitarist have discovered their signature sound and tones by doing so! Yours only waiting for you!

So, to sum up chaining your pedals together:
Guitar - Tuner - Wah - Compressor - Overdrive & Distortion - Boost - Volume - Chorus - Phaser - Flanger - Delay - Reverb - Amplifier.

Bonus Information for the Curious Minds

When talking about the modulation and time-based effects, (chorus, phaser, flanger, delay & reverb), there's another way to connect those on your pedalboard. Many guitarists will discover that some modulation pedals and some time-based effects will sound muddy, thin or too bright when just chained together with the rest of your pedals. By using your amplifiers effects loop you can solve this problem. The reason for using the effects loop is because of the way effect pedals and different amplifiers work. Meaning that some effects go before your amplifier and other effects go after your amplifier - and that's where the effects loop come in handy.

Here's a good way to do this:

1. Run your tuner, wah, compressor, overdrive & distortion, boost and volume as showed above. (Guitar - Tuner, Wah, Compressor, Overdrive & Distortion, Boost and Volume).
2. When you're then getting to your modulation and time-based effects then here's how you do:
From the "input" of your chorus, or other modulation effects, you'll run it to your amplifiers "FX Loop Send" from there you'll chain the rest as normal, chorus - phaser - flanger - delay - reverb, but your "output" on your reverb pedal will go to your amplifiers "FX Loop Return." By doing so you'll basically have your tuner, wah, compressor, overdrive & distortion, boost and volume before the amplifier and then have your modulation and time-based effects after your amplifier.

I hope this column will get a lot of guitarists to start building and think about their future pedalboard!

If there's any questions for this section, please contact me!
I'll be glad to help you.

30 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    EntropicDiscord
    For Wah and volume the Morley pedals are worth checking out since they use an optical sensor and therefore wont wear out.
    CostasNoir
    Great article! How about noise gate? I'd say it would really come in handy with all those effects.And for those without the money for effects (like me), learning how to cleverly manipulate the knobs on the amp and the guitar to alter the tone would be useful.
    PedalFreak94
    Hi CostasNoir. : Thanks for reading my article - I'm glad. Oh yes, guess I forgot the Noise Gate, but you're right, it would be a good idea to get a Noise Gate. It would eliminate any noise from the effects. Well, yeah, you're also right about the knob-manipulationg but all-in-all it really comes down to fiddling around with it yourself That's always the best way CHEERS!
    Kevätuhri
    While this was a great guide overall, the pedal suggestions were really bland. You could have summed it up by saying "Boss, MXR and EHX make pedals, thats all you need to know." Even though this is for beginners, you could have name dropped brands line Earthquaker, Mr. Black and Wampler. You right to not talk about very pricey stuff like Strymon and Empress, but Mr. Black for example has pedals that are easily affordable and will wipe the floor with anything near their price range. Also, everyone should pay attention to Old Blood Noise. Check them out.
    PedalFreak94
    Hi Kev. Thanks, I'm glad you liked it! Well yeah, I could have done that, but I thought it would be a good idea to put some brands out there. It's always hard to nail everything in an article - I tried! But hey, thanks for sharing! CHEERS!
    smittyanthrax
    Good article.I love buying pedals just mostly for finding different sounds.I really like how well they hold their value so if you don't use it often you can always sell it for what you paid for it.
    cjfaro
    What about the looper position in the second scenario where the modulation pedals are after the amp?
    PedalFreak94
    @cjfaro Hi there - thanks for your comment! You would always put a looper as the very last pedal in your chain. Please let me know if this wasen't the question you were looking for I'll be happy to help!
    henrihell
    Title is kind of misleading. I came here looking for advice on actually building a pedalboard. This is just suggestions on what pedals you might want to use.
    PedalFreak94
    Hi Henrihell.. Well, I'm sorry.. But the way I see it the term on putting together a pedalboard would be the way I layed it out.. Sorry if it mislead you! CHEERS!
    zach.brobst
    I'm currently on a "tone journey" and I found this article to be really beneficial for my over all set up of my board. Thanks!
    PedalFreak94
    Hi zach! Thanks, man, I'm glad my article helped! If you have further questions or need help, then feel free to contact me. CHEERS!
    franciscanavarn
    Good article. I've always tried to keep mine fairly simple, with a normal clean setting on the amp (either a Fender Blues junior, or Marshall DSL), through a fuzz pedal, with a tube screamer to give me a boost for solos (the other guy in my bands plays a humbucker against my strat), with a dunlop wah, and polytune. Gonna check out of some of these suggestions though!
    bass.desires
    Basic=11 pedals..... O_o Ok article but the title is misleading.
    PedalFreak94
    Hi there. Haha, no, basic not meaning that you have to have 11 pedals on your board, I'm just trying to lay out the pedals that you will meet on your way and maybe wanna have on yout board at certain times Well, sorry about the title, but I can't see how it's misleading - thanks for input.
    TauSigmaNova
    Nice article man. If I were you I'd look into some of the Seymour Duncan pedals. Heard great things about them. Keep up the good work.
    PedalFreak94
    Thanks, mate! Sure, I too have heard good things about those! Thanks for your input! CHEERS!
    brian.misciosci
    Nice guide, but I think a noise gate would be necessary. On the other hand, I like to put the booster right before the distortion pedal. To me, after heavy distortions it just adds gain, while before the distortion pedal it gives it a "punch".
    esky15
    I prefer to have it right after my distortion. I think it sounds much better.
    PedalFreak94
    Hi brian. Yeah, I saw that.. A Noise Gate would be good! Boosters can be placed wherever you like, but thanks for you insight. CHEERS!
    plbrynt
    And you can't go wrong with velcroing(or other) it all on to a bit of plywood..
    lukcuturic97
    Another thing, if you put the booster in the fx loop it will be a clean boost, handy if you use amp distortion!
    yahelite-rcell
    Gud day ...Can u give some comment on my set up Im using Korg ax1g + Boss Multi fx BE-5M and last is BOss Ge-7..this is my setup Guitar ---Korg -Boss BE-5m then i Loop my Ge-7 to Be-5M then to Amp .. is that correct way to set it up and in Korg I turn off the EQ .
    yuvalasaf3
    where would you put a Looper pedal? (Im using a looper , wah , dist. which means >> guitar > wah > dist > amp . where should the looper come?
    PedalFreak94
    Hi yuvalasaf3 A looper always goes as the last pedal in your chain. So, Guitar - wah - dist - looper - amp. Hope this helps you!