Tone Tips

UPSIZE|DOWN: A Pedalboard Manifesto

Are you like me? Can you backtrack through the pictures of various pedalboards you’ve assembled over the years (I know you have them) and identify changes not only in the pedal selections, but also in the size of the board they’re sitting on?

Because I can.

I went back and looked. Since moving my pedals from the floor to an actual pedalboard about 10 years ago, I’ve changed the size of said pedalboard no fewer than a dozen times.

From Pedaltrain 2 to Pedaltrain Nano and back again, I’ve vacillated to and fro on pedalboard size far more than I realized. In late 2014 though, I finally settled down with a nice Pedaltrain 1—but even today found myself perusing a few gear sites and pondering a move to a Pedaltrain Jr.

Inspiration for new article concepts comes in many forms, my friends.

But why all the changes? Good question. I’ve narrowed the list of reasons down to three.

First is my own fickle nature. Now, I have a core group of about six pedals that’s pretty well set at this point—for instance, I’ve had the same overdrive on my board for more than seven years and the same delay for more than five, remarkable feats in today’s ever-changing landscape—but sometimes, either one-at-a-time or all at once, I just want some different sounds. Inevitably though, a few weeks after upsizing to integrate all new tones and textures I’ve added, I start to get this creeping feeling that’s something akin to guilt—and I know that a downsize of my overindulgence is imminent. 

The second reason is innocent enough and has everything to do with changes in the pedals themselves; more specifically, changes in the size of new pedals. For instance, when I swapped out my longtime go-to Radical Red Reverberator for an Eventide Space—it caused a bit of a space problem (pun somewhat intended) and forced an upsize. Conversely, when a couple of my favorite pedals—the Diamond Compressor and Turbo Tuner—got hit with a shrink ray, I had the opportunity to either downsize my board or some new pedals to the mix. (I often chose the latter. For results see: Reason 1.)

Finally—and most unfortunate—are what I call “life events” that forced me to reevaluate my pedalboard and downsize. This happened when my kids were born, when a car unexpectedly bit the dust and a few other times when I felt better about having money in the bank than I did about having an elaborate selection of pedals at my disposal.

Hopefully you can identify with one or two of these examples, but either way—here are four practical tips for whichever side of the upsize|down fence you’re on.

If you want to upsize—

Buy a bigger board

There’s probably a time and a place for simplicity—what’s the fun in that? More isn’t just more, it’s better. And if I’ve learned anything about guitar players and their pedalboards, it’s that if there’s an open spot—it’s going to get filled sooner or later. We just can’t help ourselves sometimes. And with the golden age of effects that we currently live in, how could anyone (including our significant other(s), bandmates, or both) blame us? So, buy a bigger board and see what happens. Venture on to the other steps below if you need some ideas on what to do with all that newfound real estate.

Add a gadget

I’ve mentioned this before, but I tend to organize effects into three broad categories: workhorses, tools and gadgets. Workhorse pedals are the overdrives and delays you use all the time for a variety of purposes. Tools are things like volume pedals and noise gates that do the thankless tasks in your signal chain. And then there are Gadgets. They’re best used sparingly and for a specific sound—but boy are they fun. Think shimmer reverb, over-the-top modulation, wobbly filters or synths. These are the sounds you probably won’t (or shouldn’t) use on every song, but the ones you want nearby for that moment you do.

Get more of what you love

Maybe you’re really into fuzz. Or reverb. Or phasers. Whatever it is—you could probably figure out a way to use another one. So, get a new flavor of overdrive; or, hell—get two. Put that bigger pedalboard to use and load it up with the effects you like most on it. Care to indulge more reverb options? Have your eye on a gigantic pitch shifter? Or maybe you need something less sexy like a pedal switcher or a looper. Whatever it is, you’ve got the room—so go for it.

Pull some pedals off the shelf

I’ve tried and failed multiple times to be a pedal hoarder. As much as I’d like to have a stash of sweet effects that I could pick and choose from when the moment was right, I just can’t do it—but maybe you can. And maybe it’d be more fun to strap some of those extra pedals down on your board instead of leaving them to collect dust. Even if they’re cheap or not as robust as your mainstays, a pedal used is a pedal loved.

If you want to downsize—

Cut the fluff

This idea really comes down to one question you that have to be really honest with yourself in answering: “could I live without it?” The question is not, “Do I want to get rid of it?” Nor is it, “Would it be difficult in some way if this wasn’t on my board?” The question is: “Do I absolutely have to have it?” If the answer is no, then say farewell. It probably won’t be easy—it rarely is—but as someone who has employed this strategy quite successfully a couple of times in the past, know that it can be quite freeing. I promise. In fact, you may just discover that you’re not quite as reliant on that bulky volume pedal as you thought. Or, perhaps, that the subtle nuances you thought a trio of overdrives gave you just didn’t matter as much to anyone else in the room nearly as much as they did to you. Whatever it is, trim the fat and you’ll come out better for it on the other side. A good place to start is with your tuner. Clip-on tuners have come a long way, so ditching your pedal-based tuner might be an option.

Get some combo pedals

There’s no shortage of pedal companies right now trying to help you do this. From the Strymon Flint, Alexander Pedals Waveland, Neunaber Slate and EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run to more full-featured options like the Eventide H9—the market for sensibly flexible duos and multi-fx is positively booming right now. The most recent example of this might be the Keeley Super Mod Workstation. It’s loaded with two banks of eight effects and includes delay, reverb, tremolo, chorus and a slew of other effects that you can run together or individually. Such a thing might just be able to shrink four or five you’re your pedals into one—and that’s only a single example.   

Force yourself onto a smaller board

This might seem obvious, but I’ve found that no matter the size—whether it’s a Pedaltrain Jr., Temple Solo 18 or even something smaller—the process of physically getting a smaller pedalboard and understanding exactly what you can (and cannot) fit onto it can be very illuminating. It might also help you process how to navigate the two previous suggestions I mentioned in this section. It’ll definitely help you prioritize what’s most important to your sound. It might also spur you to focus more on your playing. And look—I’m perfectly okay with the idea of using your guitar almost as a tertiary element and focusing more on the pedalboard as a primary instrument, but that doesn’t work all the time. Nor does it allow you to grow that much as a player, I don’t think. So if the notion of thinking less about which pedal you’re going to stomp on next and more about what you’re actually going to play on the guitar sounds appealing, a downsize might just be what you need.

Consider the other elements

This may not work for every player, but if you’ve got six levels of gain on your board running into a clean amp—you might just have the wrong amp. Or you might just be using your pedals inefficiently and should consider some stacking options. Similarly, if you’re running an always-on compressor into a low-gain drive that you need to fatten up your single coils—maybe you’re playing the wrong kind of guitar or should consider changing pickups. Or, finally, if you play multiple guitars and have specific pedals to match up with each of those guitars, maybe you should seek out a best-of-both-worlds solution, something more flexible for both. Essentially, look for solutions outside the pedalboard as a way to slim it down.

Whichever way you’re headed—up or down—changing your board can be a lot of fun. Of course, there are other things to consider like patch cables, power supplies and which pedalboard is right for you—but we’ll save that for another time. Good luck!

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1 Comments

  1. J

    “I start to get this creeping feeling that’s something akin to guilt—and I know that a downsize of my overindulgence is imminent”

    Yep, that’s exactly what I’m feeling now having recently acquired a 30x18 Trailer Trash board with an enormously thick hard case.  I have a feeling I will spend a lot of time and money wiring up this board with a switcher, only to downsize shortly after.