side view of a guitarist's pedals

How to Build Your Own Pedalboard: The Guitarist's Guide

Posted by DTC Thrasio


If you play the electric guitar, you've almost certainly played around with different effects pedals. Keeping these pedals organized can be tricky once you have more than one of them, and that's where knowing how to build your own pedalboard comes into play.

What Is a Pedalboard?

A pedalboard is designed to secure your guitar's effect pedals, patchbay, and power supply all in one spot. They can be built to conveniently transport all the effects needed for your performance, venue to venue.

Planning Your First Pedalboard Layout

There are a few steps to planning the perfect pedalboard layout for you. These questions apply whether you're a novice or an expert, whether you just need a couple of pedals or if you're looking for something more complicated.

Which pedals should my pedalboard have?

No matter what your needs are, there are common pedal types to know about that can help narrow your pedal browsing. A common layout for a first pedalboard is in the following order:

  • Tuner — Tuner pedals are a must for any serious guitarist as they allow you to keep your instrument in tune without bringing other equipment out.
  • Overdrive — An overdrive pedal adds grit and color to your guitar sound, used for many styles from blues to metal. A good overdrive pedal can be the key to a guitar track that effortlessly cuts through your mix.
  • Distortion — As the name suggests, a distortion pedal distorts the sound of your guitar. Much like the overdrive pedal, this can be used to boost your guitar's signal for specific playing style.
  • Gate — When playing a heavily distorted guitar tone, it can be useful to utilize a gate pedal which cuts off the signal under a set volume. This ensures a clean performance without your guitar's ground noise interfering when not playing.
  • Wah — A wah pedal is a filter with high resonance that tends to recreate the sound of a human saying "wah-wah", hence it's name.
  • Delay — This pedal records and plays back any tones played into it, allowing you to duplicate sounds. They can add width to your guitar tone with a very short delay, or give off a psychedelic effect with on-beat echoes.
  • Reverb — The reverb pedal adds an ambience to your guitar's sound, ranging from extremely subtle to outright ethereal.

There are a lot of other pedal options available to guitarists, but the above layout covers the basics. Choosing which pedals to use can be the hardest part, but it's critical to know your needs so that you can choose an appropriately sized board. Keep in mind that you'll need a little space between each pedal to fit the cables.

closeup of pedalboard

How big should my pedalboard be?

Size absolutely matters here. For setups of five or less pedals, a small pedalboard of under 24 inches in length and 6 inches in depth will be adequate. Anything larger will depend on the amount of pedals you have already or plan to attain in the future. The best way to figure out which pedalboard will work for you is to know the dimensions of both the board and your effects pedals, ensuring no complications when fitting.

Keep in mind that your pedalboard needs more than just your pedals in order to function...

What other components do I need to set up my pedalboard?

After you choose which pedals you need, the next thing you should decide when wiring your own pedalboard is what the board should be made of. A lot of musicians buy pre-made cases, but if you're handy, you can build a wooden one yourself or even convert a prefabricated shelving unit from a home goods store. Regardless of how you decide to build your pedalboard, Pedal Playground is a great resource to help you visually plan which pedals will go where. Not only can you select nearly any pre-fabricated pedalboard layout along with nearly any pedals, you can enter your own board dimensions for a truly custom design.

After you plan the pedal layout and routing, you need to actually get the pedals themselves. These can come from a variety of manufacturers, but for the sake of consistency, it's best to find a single brand for all of them. It's much easier to use a pedalboard when all the pedals are of a similar size and shape.

Of course, you will also need cables to wire your pedalboard...

Cable Management for Your Pedalboard

However you build your pedalboard, you don't want loose wires and cables in the way. Luckily, there are many ways to handle this.

Custom Length Cables

Custom length cables are easily the most professional way to keep your pedalboard looking tidy — perhaps the most cost effective too. GLS Audio offers many custom cable options, including six-inch patch cables.

Patch cable length often ranges from one to six inches. The closer your cords are to the exact length you need, the fewer cables you have to tidy up in the first place. You can either buy custom lengths or buy a cable snake and cut the right length of cable.

Velcro

There are a lot of Velcro cable management tools available. One of the benefits of these is that they're easy to loosen and re-tighten, allowing you more flexibility to move things around than cable or zip ties.

Zip Ties

Zip ties are by far the cheapest way to manage the cables in your custom pedalboard, and they have the benefit of being cheap and disposable. You can easily add more if you need to without worrying about the cost.

The ideal cable management solution for you pedalboard includes all of the above. Not only will you retain better signal quality through your pedals with patch cables no longer than they need to be, but the velcro and zip ties also help to ensure a secure connection where there can still be moveable parts.

Can you use unbalanced cables in your pedalboard patchbay?

You may be tempted to put unbalanced cables in a balanced patchbay if they're nearby, but this is generally a bad idea. Balanced TRS cables can sometimes work if pulled halfway out of the pedal jacks, though this isn't a secured signal so it is better to stay with unbalanced cables.

Building Your First Pedalboard

No matter what you place on your pedalboard, it's important to use the right materials to connect them all together. That's where GLS Audio comes in. With a huge variety of audio cables available, we definitely have what you need to wire your dream pedalboard.