A Discussion with Master Pedalboard Designer, Jerry Nepomuceno
TRW: Your name on some guitar forums, JNepo1, has become synonymous with very clean, streamlined pedalboards. I’m sure it started out with your own builds, and now you’re doing it for customers. Tell me how you ﬁrst got started with building your own boards – and then how it grew to building for others:
JN: Thank you. It deﬁnitely started with me ﬁnding what I wanted with my own board(s), and from there I built one for my brother. Afterwards, I got inquiries to build a board or two locally, and word of mouth spread. I was never into forums until someone mentioned a few popular ones to check out, so I started posting my own board and then began to get inquiries along the way.
TRW: When a client contacts you, how does the process develop – do you do exactly what they want, or are they often looking to you for suggestions on what works best?
JN: Ultimately, it’s the client’s decision in terms of what they want, but it is a two-way street. I will give my suggestions after hearing what ideas they have. Just the initial conversations via email or phone can take time, which is ﬁne by me. After all, it is their board and I just want to make sure they are happy with the end result. I try not to make suggestions in terms of pedal choices unless asked — they would know their taste better than I would — but communication is key. In many cases, a client will have ideas about what they want to see, and I’m there to help them out to get the best results.
TRW: Do you lay out the pedals ﬁrst and then decide what size pedal board to use? What do you ﬁnd works best for optimal layout?
JN: Yes, I use a grid board that helps to scale out the size of the board. My father is an architect, so for me, it’s always been a visual layout process whether I draw it out or layout the effects on a table, ﬂoor, or in my head. I have several rolls of painters tape on my workbench to use for outlining the borders for a pedalboard build, but the grid board is a nice tool to use. It helps in spacing out the pedals and the rows for a better visual layout. I tend to make several prospective layouts and take pics along the way, then send them to the client so they can see what is visually appealing, as well as if it works for them. I like to lay out the effects according to the signal ﬂow, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way – especially if you have a wah or a volume pedal in the mix.
TRW: You build your own boards from scratch, isn’t that right? What are they made of? Do you prefer the ﬂat design, slanted, or using risers?
JN: Yes, I build the boards from scratch. I use birch plywood, normally ½” as it is sturdier than a 3/8” birch plywood. I use an ABS laminate for the top surface to mount the effects onto. It’s very durable and reusable unlike a carpeted surface, which eventually looks bad, especially when you change out pedals often. I have made slanted boards for myself and others, but I personally didn’t like the angled approach. Having a wah or volume pedal on an angled board didn’t feel right, so I nixed the idea from a personal standpoint. I have built a few boards that are angled, but I don’t like drilling holes to ﬁsh cables thru to the underside. I do make individual risers for effects on second and third rows for easier access, and will stager the heights of the risers so that the footswitches are similar in height with the other effects on the row. I don’t like staggered heights when effects are on the same row, so the varying riser heights help a lot.
I will also build tiers for a partial or entire row. This helps in so many ways: routing cables underneath, as well as placing an interface and/or power supply under the tier, makes the board a little more compact while keeping cables orderly. There are instances, though, where I have builds based on existing pedalboards, and cases that I have to make everything ﬁt into also.
TRW: One of the things I’ve noticed about your builds is the fastidious attention to detail when it comes to wiring each pedal and the wiring from the power supplies, too. What have you found works best in terms of the products and techniques used for keeping the wires so organized? Do you solder your own cables? If so, what tool do you use?
JN: Zip ties and zip tie mounts: They are two of the best products you can have in achieving a neat, organized board. Once I have the pedals in place on a board, I start to imagine the layout of the patch and power cables, and that’s where the zip tie mounts come into play. I will start from the power supply and lay out the zip tie mounts for power cable routing. The same goes for the patch cables — you have your signal chain, and you follow the signal ﬂow to lay out your patch cables with the zip tie mounts as a visual aid in the routing process. From there, I take the cables I will be using to build up the patch and power cables, and then route them throughout the board using the zip tie mounts to aid in the proper spacing and length of each cable.
I do solder my own cables. I use Mogami 2319 or Evidence Audio Monorail cables. I’ve also used Evidence Audio Melody cables and The Reveal for boards. As for power cables, I use Mogami 2528 unbalanced mic cable or Voodoo Lab’s power cables.
TRW: Typically how long does a client build take once you receive their pedals?
JN: Under normal circumstances, it usually takes 5-9 business days to do a pedalboard build. Along the way, there may be changes and modiﬁcations that arise, but the client knows beforehand. Communication is critical via email, phone or text. What may delay the process is getting the parts and supplies critical to the build. Living in New England, you never know what the weather will do, and this time of year I’ve had delays in receiving products that were all weather-related.
TRW: What are some basic tips and tricks you could share with our readers that could help them streamline their own boards? Should everyone learn how to solder their own cables, or do you prefer the solderless design?
JN: You can’t use enough zip ties and zip tie mounts. Everyone has a different agenda with their board, so every situation varies from the next, but if neatness is one of them, zip ties and their mounts go a long way. Even for the guys using solderless patch cable kits, zip ties will help keep cables from bouncing around during transport, and even when the board is in use.
In regards to soldering, I personally think anyone who plays should at least learn to solder; it comes in handy not only for cables, but also if you like to swap out pickups on your guitar. I personally prefer soldered cables. How many people use solderless instrument cables from their guitar to board or amp? I suspect not many. Still, the advent of the solderless plugs have come a long way since the late 70’s or early 80’s. I tried his product when it ﬁrst came out and was intrigued. But I eventually went back to a soldered cable for reliability reasons. These days, they are common on many boards, especially with the popularity of the pedalboard switchers available in today’s market. With the jacks so tightly located on the switchers, the solderless plugs are a must in most cases.
TRW: Are there any pedals or particular designs that make your job harder or easier? Like the big Fuzz Face pedals, or maybe some of the older, quirky EHX pedals?
JN: The original EHX pedals are huge, so they can be challenging when ﬁtting onto a board, and yet board size is a priority. I’ve had to resort to making tiers for individual pedals such as the original DMM (Deluxe Memory Man) in order to build a board in the same footprint as a Pedaltrain 2 so that the client can use the existing hard case. So, yes it can be challenging. What is more difficult, however, is fitting so many pedals on a pre-existing board with a matching hard case. Sometimes, it’s not just the footprint of the effect, but the footprint of an existing board and hard case, especially the height of the case that everything has to ﬁt into.
TRW: Given that a lot of pedals use different power voltages, how do you deal with that in terms of the power supply you use? Do you have a favorite power supply that you use in your builds?
JN: Really it’s based on the power requirements of the effects on the board. In some cases, a client may already have a power supply. If the build is from the ground up, then I like to chart the effects and their power requirements: voltage, milliamps, and AC/DC. I like to work with Cioks or Voodoo Lab, as I ﬁnd they are the best power supply available in the market. There are differences between the two, especially their power taps and connections, but overall their quality speaks for themselves. Ultimately, it’s the client’s decision.
TRW: What are the advantages of guitarists/bassists in having a clean and well thought out pedal board? Is it to reduce the breakdown at a gig? Is to make a board more functional and maybe less tap dancing? What are some of the other bonuses for a good layout?
JN: A well thought out board is beneficial in so many ways: Building the board according to the signal ﬂow helps minimalize cabling, which in turn helps keep things neater while also aiding in troubleshooting should the need arise. I like to have pedals on the second row on similar planes for the purpose of accessing the footswitch. Moving the pedals forward or back to line up the switches alone also helps in minimizing fumbled switching and tap dancing. Unless you have a switcher on the board, tap dancing can be troublesome. Being consistent in regards to height and distance of the switches may seem minor until you experience it ﬁrsthand. Proper spacing of effects and switches makes things much easier for the musician, and neatness is an added bonus.
TRW: In your opinion, what can turn the average pedal board into a great pedal board? What tools are essential in doing things right?
JN: Great question! However, I really can’t answer that. Every musician is different in their priorities. I would say that patience plays a part in all this. Patience in measuring and building the patch cables, whether they are soldered or solderless. Patience in laying out the effects on the board. Pedaltrain and many pedalboard companies out there make things easier nowadays in assembling a functional pedalboard. The introduction and the growth of the solderless patch cables have made it much easier for people to assemble their own boards, and that’s a big plus. There are many factors in making a better pedalboard, but it’s really hard to narrow them down. Patience is where it starts, in my opinion.
TRW: What’s next for you on the horizon? Do you see this business getting bigger? Do you have any famous clients that you can mention? Would you want to do a celebrity’s board?
JN: I absolutely enjoy the whole process. This is a part-time gig for me, and I can see this as part of a Bigger Picture, but I really do not want to go that far. I enjoy what I am doing and appreciate the community in the forums and outside of it. I’ve built boards for musicians in the States, as well as Australia, Singapore, Kualu Lampur, Canada and several musicians in Europe. Would I want to build a celebrity’s? Sure, absolutely. I think all the guys and gals that I’ve done builds for are in that category though. I really just enjoy doing it.