See how to build your own effects pedalboard. Use our in-depth guide and little care to creating a home for yours pedals without resorting to expert attention
Of course there are plenty of ready-made pedalboards out there, but if your pedal collection is a rag-bag assemblage of variously-sized boxes, you’ll need something that can accommodate them all. You might like to swap things around for different gigs, so that should be easy too; and what if some of your pedals are mains-powered, while others run off regular 9v DC supplies? There’s only one thing for it: you’re going to have to build your own.
Our design is very simple –in fact it’s largely based on the pedalboard displayed on the T-Bone effects pedal website. We’re going to use cheap, easily obtained materials, and you’ll only need some basic tools and DIY skills.
Firstly you’ll have to decide how big your pedalboard needs to be, so it’s time to get all those pedals out and decide what’s the best layout for you. If you have more than say three stompboxes, laying them out side by side isn’t really an option: the board will end up being so wide that you’ll be running back and forth across the stage every time you need to change sounds. What’s more, most power supply leads won’t reach if the pedals are too spread out. So it’s advisable to organise them in a ‘front and back row’ arrangement. If you have pedals that you switch on and off regularly, they are best situated at the front. The same goes for time-based effects like delay pedals with tap tempo controls. Obviously wah pedals need to be accessible, too. On the other hand a digital tuner pedal can be tucked out of the way, along with other effects that some players prefer to leave switched on, like compressors and clean boosts.
By definition a pedalboard requires a board and it should be fairly sturdy and stiff. Chipboard tends to flake and MDF frays so I decided that plywood is the best solution. The 9mm thick stuff was way too bendy and I was worried it might snap if I jumped on it in a moment of uncharacteristic theatrical bravado. The 18mm stuff was heavy and seemed like overkill, so I went for some 12mm ply courtesy of B&Q. I settled on a 100cm x 40cm board size, and most DIY shops and timber merchants will cut sheet material to size for no extra charge.
I also decided to attach a second piece of ply to the board to create an upwards slope because I wanted the pedals in the back row to be as accessible as possible. B&Q cut this for me while I was in the shop – so if you do take on this project, make sure you have all your measurements worked out before you actually go shopping.
Maybe it’s all the years I spent working in recording studios, but I have an aversion to messy cables. I wanted all my power and audio wires to pass underneath the floorboard, popping up where they were needed. Like most guitarists I’m always chopping and changing effects and I’ve even been known to buy things on internet auction sites now and then, so I wanted to make my board future-proof.
I decided to drill a matrix of holes across the floorboard at 35mm intervals with the idea that there should always be a hole for a cable to pass through somewhere in the vicinity, so I drew a grid onto the plywood and drilled all the holes. I used a 12mm flat-head bit and, to minimise chip-out, I drilled the holes until the tip emerged on the other side, then flipped the board over and, using the small hole as a guide, drilled the cable holes to full width. Once all the holes were made I carefully removed any loose splinters of wood and gave both sides a quick sanding using a sanding block. To be honest, making the holes was the most tedious part of the project. If you do end up with chip out on one side, don’t worry, we’ll be covering that up later – as you’ll discover.
The next task is to decide on the angle of the ramp. This will be down to personal taste so I’d recommend wedging up one end then putting a few pedals loose on the board. The idea is to make the pedals at the back as accessible as the ones at the front, but if you plan to mount a wah make sure the angle is comfortable enough to play it without damaging your ankle. Also bear in mind that we’ll be mounting a four-way power block with plugs and/or wall warts underneath, so you’ll need a reasonable amount of clearance. Once you have decided, mark the underside of the front board where it meets the backboard and draw a straight line all the way across.
I used a piece of 1″ x 1″ (planed) batten to join the backboard and the floorboard together. After allowing enough space at each end for a couple of side-cheeks, I cut the required length of batten and clamped it to the floorboard. I then drilled several pilot holes through the floorboard and into the batten so they’d be perfectly aligned. After that the clamps were removed and some PVA wood glue was smeared across the top of the batten before the two pieces were screwed back together. The same method was then used to join the backboard to the floorboard. This combination of screws and glue should ensure a strong and long-lasting joint.
Things were beginning to take shape, but I decided to add a couple of side panels to reinforce the structure and hold everything square. Four more battens were screwed and glued – two on the floorboard and two on the backboard to secure the side panels. If you have any off-cuts left over after your plywood has been cut, most DIY centres will ask if you need them too. Say yes, because you can use the excess material for the side panels. I decided that they should run half the depth of the floorboard, and I cut them so they just cleared the floor.
With everything assembled, I put the board down on the floor and stood on it. Thankfully there were no worrying cracking or splintering noises. I even plucked up the courage to bounce up and down a few times. Once I was confident that the board wasn’t going to fall apart, it was time to move on to finishing. I chose black paint because I figured it would be the easiest colour to touch up when the board starts to look shabby. After sanding off all the rough edges and surfaces, the board received a brushed-on coat of Fiddes’ shellac-based sanding sealer. Once that had dried overnight, I put on my breathing mask and gave the entire board a blow-over with a can of grey primer and a large can of matte black spray paint from Halfords.
Velcro strips are a tried and tested method of securing stompboxes to effects boards. You could simply stick the hooked side to the effects pedals and the fuzzy side to the board, but like many before me I chose to use carpet tiles. The universe is full of carpet warehouses these days but you can find carpet in most DIY shops too. I took along a strip of Velcro just to make sure I was getting a piece of carpet that would do the job.
All I needed was two tiles and, after I had trimmed them to size using a Stanley knife, I used contact adhesive to fix the carpet to the floorboard. You could use Evo-Stick or a Copydex-type glue and there are plenty of adhesives in aerosol cans that may be suitable. Most of these glues give off noxious fumes, so wear a mask and work in a well-ventilated area – preferably outside.
As for the colour, that’s up to you. Grey is boring but it won’t show the dirt. More importantly I needed something neutral to help the pedals to stand out on a dimly-lit stage. Imagine if you had one or two red effects – they’d be pretty hard to distinguish on a red carpet!
There are plenty of ways to make this project easier. For instance, there’s no real reason to paint the board other than to make it look a bit more professional. If you are happy to have all the cables on show you could even run them above the board, so you wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of drilling all those holes.
You could also make a much better job of finishing this pedalboard by covering the plywood with amp-style textured vinyl. Those square edges will begin to look worn fairly quickly, so what about adding some corner protectors? Alternatively you could round off all the exposed corners with a jigsaw prior to assembly. Try stencilling your name or the name of your band on the front panel for the entire world to see. If you’re already a rock star and you’re planning on getting your guitar roadie to build this for you, it would make an ideal advertising space for your tour sponsor – you know they’d appreciate the gesture!
As it turns out, the board’s not too heavy – it actually weighs less than all the pedals combined. Of course it doesn’t look as good as a Tonebone Boneyard but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you built it yourself. The next job is to mount all the pedals and make those connections – and we’ll be doing that in the next issue.