Let's take a look at how you can easily improve your pedalboard, both sound-wise and functionally.
Guitar pedals. Remember when you started out with just one, maybe a tuner? Yeah, those days are long gone! And now you'd like to make your board a little more like the pros. Let's dive in.
Order of business
First, you want to get your pedal chain order right. Generally, the best order will be:
Guitar - tuner - wah - compresssor - volume pedal - overdrive/distortion/fuzz - boost -modulation - delay - reverb - amp. (Which isn't to say you shouldn't try a different order to get some less conventional sounds!)
Putting your compressor before drives is great if you're looking for that smooth Keith Urban lead sound, for example. If you don't go overboard with the compression, it will add sustain and roundness to your lead sounds. Putting it after your drives is much less subtle, but the real problem is your volume can be quite unpredictable when switching between drives.
As far as volume pedals go, I prefer them in front of my drives. This allows for easy control of how much signal is feeding your drive pedals, basically turning it into a gain control. Alternatively, you can put it after your reverb, if you like to have a 'kill all signal' option. For example at the end of a song, without delay and reverb trails.
When it comes to drive pedal order, there are a lot of different theories. A great starting point is putting the low gain drives first, and high gain drives last.
Something to remember when stacking drives, is that the last one in the chain will influence your sound the most. A really dark fuzz going into a neutral sounding overdrive will sound brighter than vice versa.
If you're looking to boost your signal, (either with a clean boost pedal or an overdrive set to low gain), you'll want to put it after your drives. A boost pedal into an overdrive will usually give you more gain, instead of a volume boost.
For your modulation needs, there are a few things to try. If you have a phaser, you might want to try it before your drives. Remember those awesome Eddie Van Halen sounds? That was a Phase 90 running into a distorted Marshall Plexi.
Another type of modulation closely related to a phaser is a Univibe. this is something you also want to try in front of your drives. It's simply a hell of a lot juicier than after.
Lastly, chorus. If you're looking for that 80's rack chorus sound (think Michael Landau on Michael Bolton's 'How Am I Supposed To Live Without You?'), that's the distorted amp running into a rack chorus. But if you're looking for something more subtle, chorus in front of drives is your best bet.
Lay it all out
Now that you have the order pinned down, it's time to put them on the board.
But first, take a minute to think about your pedal layout. If you've just bought a new board, wait to add the velcro so you can easily try different pedal layouts directly on the board.
Are the pedal switches on the second and/or third row easily accessible? You won't bump the knobs of the pedal row below? No chance of turning on your tuner when boosting for your epic solo, leaving you with epic silence instead?
Remember that your physical pedal order can be different from your actual wiring, so don't be afraid to move them around to suit accessibility.
Another thing to keep in mind is you need to leave adequate space between pedals to account for the patch cable jacks. If you're short for board space, 'pancake' type jacks are fantastic for space saving. If you're handy with a soldering iron, Thomann sells them (Hicon plugs). If you're not, OCD can make you some! Soldered plugs are far more reliable than solderless cables, and always will be. Last thing you want on stage is your signal dropping out intermittently, or altogether.
Also, if you like your board to be as silent (noise-free) as possible, avoid plastic plugs. They offer no shielding, which means a noisy board. The more pedals you have, the more important this becomes.
If you've found a practical layout, you can start with putting them on the board.
Place your first pedal on the board, connect it to the second pedal with a patch cable, and so on.
Power to the people
Next, thing to look at is your power supply and pedal current demands. The most important aspect of your power supply is whether or not it has isolated outputs.
Some of my favorites are the Truetone CS7 and CS12 (not to be confused with the One-Spot daisy chain!), Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2 Plus, and Strymon Zuma.
Isolated outputs will minimize noise such as ground loops, weird interactions between pedals like ticking from a digital pedal bleeding into your signal, etc.
When buying a power supply, make sure it is capable of providing enough current for all your pedals. Most digital pedals like Strymon are power hungry (250-300 mA), so you want a power supply that can handle that. If you've found the perfect power supply but you need just one extra output, you can usually get away with daisy chaining two (analog!) pedals with a splitter cable.
The cool thing about the Truetone CS power supplies is that you're not limited to the rated mA per output. As long as you don't exceed the total mA capability, you can plug in a 250 mA pedal into a 100 mA output. Clever engineering for sure.
Once you have all this figured out, you can go ahead and connect your power cables.
some extra tips
are some pedals not sticking to the board as well as you'd like? Instead of using the standard velcro, you can try some 3M dual lock, or Tesa Extra Strong. If you go for the dual lock, use the dual lock on your pedal, and the loop velcro on your board. Dual lock on both sides is almost impossible to remove. (Learned that the hard way!)
Is the adhesive not sticking to your pedal? clean the pedal bottom with some rubbing alcohol, or something like TEC7 cleaner. Anything that removes grease from the surface.
Do your pedals 'crackle' if you bump them, or wiggle the cables? Take some contact spray (NOT WD40!) and spray it into the in- and out jacks. Then take a cable, plug it in and turn it around a few times. That should clean the contacts nicely.
If you're using a Pedaltrain, our OCD Jack Kit is a fantastic upgrade to add external in/out jacks to your board. check it out at: https://www.ottercustomdesign.com/product-page/ocd-in-out-jack-kit-for-pedaltrain
That's all for today folks, happy tone chasing!
Steven De Smedt