Ultimate Guide To Setting Up A Guitar Effects Pedalboard

A guitar pedalboard complete with the perfect pedals can really define a guitarist’s sound. Whether you’re just learning about guitar effects pedals; planning on setting up your very first pedalboard, or looking to improve your current board, this ultimate guide is for you.

How do we set up a pedalboard? Setting up a pedalboard involves the following steps:

In this article, I’ll discuss each of the above-listed steps in great detail to provide you with the ultimate guide to setting up a guitar effects pedalboard!

Choosing The Pedals And Effects

The most important (and fun) part of setting up any pedalboard is choosing the pedals!

There are plenty of pedals to choose from on the market today. You likely have your own collection if you’re reading this article.

If you have your own, it can be a joy to pick out exactly which pedals you want/need on your board. Alternatively, it could be an brutal exercise in reducing your collection to the essentials.

If you’re missing a few (or all) the pedals you’d like on your board, it is important to budget those pedals in and utilize pedalboards and power supplies that can effectively hold and power the full list appropriately.

To learn more about choosing the right board and power supplies, skip ahead to the sections on pedalboards and power supplies, respectively.

Regardless of your situation, selecting the pedals is the most important and creative part of setting up your pedalboard!

To help you, out, here are the main pedal types (I’ve added links to other My New Microphones for more information on select types):

There are plenty of individual pedals for each pedal type. Try out different pedals if you can to see what will work best for you!

If you’re on the fence about getting certain types of pedals for your rig, consider checking out my article Are Guitar Effects Pedals Necessary Or Worth It? for some help.

Depending on the number of pedals you decide to use on your board, a buffer may be needed. This is particularly true if you’re using some vintage pedals (due to input/output impedance issues) or exclusively true bypass pedals (due to high levels of distributed capacitance).

Essentially, buffer pedals (and, to varying degrees, buffered bypass pedals) act to restore signal integrity/quality from the negative impact of patch cable capacitance and pedal impedance issues that degrade the signal.

For more information on buffers and true bypass pedals as well as tips on determining the max number of pedals, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
Are Buffer Pedals Necessary & Where Do They Go In A Chain?
What Does ‘True Bypass’ Mean In A Guitar Pedal?
How Many Guitar Effect Pedals Is Too Many?

Ordering Pedals Properly To Maintain Signal Clarity & Tone

Once the pedals are chosen, it’s a great idea to determine their order before ever placing them on the pedalboard.

We can use the following list as a guide to ordering our pedals:

  1. Volume Pedals
  2. Utility Pedals
  3. Synth Pedals
  4. Dynamics, EQ & Pitch-Shifting Pedals
  5. Gain-Based Pedals
  6. Modulation Pedals
  7. Time-Based Effects Pedals
  8. Looper Pedals

Ultimately, however, we should actually connect the pedals and listen to how the system performs in the variety of effects combinations.

The above list is simply a guideline and is not an absolute requirement. Try ordering the pedals in a variety of ways and find out which signal flow works best for you.

Write down the order for later placement.

For a complete reference on ordering pedals in the signal chain, check out my article How To Order Guitar/Bass Pedals (Ultimate Signal Flow Guide).

Determining If A Loop Switcher Will Benefit The Board

If you’re planning to set up a larger pedalboard with many different pedals, you may want to consider a dedicated loop switcher pedal.

These pedals act as a control centre for routing the guitar signal through pedal chain. They utilize effects loops, which can be turned on and off via switches like regular pedal. Each effects loop can host multiple pedals.

The guitar (or bass) will plug into the loop switcher and the loop switcher will plug directly into the amp unless we want to add pedals outside the loop switcher.

The loop switcher will then control the routing of the guitar/bass signal through its loops as defined by us, the users of the pedalboard.

Some loop switchers offer presets, where each switch on the switcher will activate or deactivate multiple loops (and pedals) at once. This can greatly increase the ergonomics and effectiveness of your pedalboard and keep you focused more on your player rather than on tap dancing on the board.

There is a wide range of loop switchers on the market. Some are very simple while other are complex with tons of extra functionality.

The One Control Xenagama Tail Loop MKII (link to check the price at Sweetwater) is easy to understand and a great example of a loop switcher pedal.

One Control Xenagama Tail Loop MKII

This pedal has three loops (Loop 1, 2 and 3). Each loop has its own 9VDC power supply built into the unit.

The Xenagama Tail Loop 2 also has a tuner output and a mute control for tuning between songs.

When it comes to functionality, the Boss ES-8 (link to check the price on Amazon) is one of the best loop switching pedals on the market.

This pedal has a manual mode, which allows us to turn loops on and off manually (like the aforementioned OneContol switcher). It also has a memory mode, which will load up 100 banks of 8 presets for 800 presets in total.

In terms of I/O, controls and effects loops, the ES-8 packs the following:

  • 8 independent loops
    • 6 mono loops
    • 1 loop with mono send and stereo return
    • 1 loop with stereo send and stereo return
  • Volume pedal loop
  • 2 inputs
  • 2 outputs (L/R)
  • Tuner output
  • MIDI input
  • MIDI output/thru
  • 3 control output jacks
  • 2 expression output jacks
  • 2 control/expression input jacks

Its digital signal processing also allows for plenty more functionality, including the capabilities for:

  • LCD and 7-segment LED display
  • Delay time
  • Altering the routing order of the loops
  • Putting loops in parallel with one another
  • Completely customizable pedal function assignments

The pedal also keeps the signal analog for purer tone and offers adjustable buffers at the input and output.

To learn more about loop switcher pedals, check out my article What Is A Guitar Pedal Switcher & How Do Switchers Work?

Choosing A Pedalboard

When choosing the best pedalboard for your rig, there are a few factors to consider:

  • Size
  • Portability
  • Powering options
  • Surface
  • Future plans for the pedalboard

When it comes to size, it’s important to choose a pedalboard that has enough surface area to fit all the pedals in your rig. Of course, it’s possible to have pedals connected on the floor next to the board or even multiple boards. However, in general, it’s best to keep everything on one board if possible.

Portability is something to consider especially if you have a lot of travel in your gigging schedule. It is less important if you’re just playing around at home but as soon as traveling gets involved, consider opting for a board that is lightweight, compact and easy to maneuver.

Powering options is another factor to think about. There are powered and unpowered boards on the market.

When opting for a powered pedalboard, ensure the power supply can effectively power all the pedals you’ll be attaching to the board. More on this later in this article.

When going with an unpowered board, you may be required to leave additional space on the board for a dedicated power supply.

Choosing a board with a proper surface is also critical. Most pedalboard surfaces will work with velcro or dual lock.

Perhaps the more important factor is the layout of the surface and the where holes are vs where the solid surface is. Having spaces in the surface can help tremendously in tucking power and patch cables away, making the board cleaner in the process.

I personally have a Ruach Foxy Lady Size 3 (link to check the price on Amazon). It fits what I need for my band Blunt Cousin, though I plan on getting a bigger board as I expand my pedal collection.

Ruach Foxy Lady Size 3

Finally, it’s important to choose a pedalboard that you can grow into if you plan on picking up additional pedals.

Having a little (or a lot of) extra room on a pedalboard can be a good thing, especially if extra pedals are to be used in the future.

Choosing The Right Power Supply

Pedals need power. Most pedals will work with a battery (often 9V).

However, when putting together a board with several pedals, it’s best to go with a dedicated power supply rather than relying on batteries, which have a limited lifespan. This is especially important considering we’ll likely want to leave the pedals patched together between uses, which typically drains the battery.

I would also advise against daisy chaining the pedals together on your board. When discussing pedals, daisy-chaining refers to the practice of powering two or more pedals from a single power source.

This can work if there are very few pedals but can really degrade the sound quality when used on a larger number of pedals. The effect on audio would be similar to a battery dying off and not being able to provide the full voltage necessary to run the pedal completely.

A pedalboard power supply with effectively convert power from a mains outlet to voltages that can power one (or more) pedals.

So, then, with any number of pedals, I’d recommend a dedicated power supply.

As we’ve discussed before, there are powered pedalboards on the market that, as their name suggests, come with a built-in power supply for the pedals.

Other pedalboards are unpowered, allowing the user to choose his or her own power supply. The downside, of course, is finding room for said power supply.

The power needs of effects pedals range from pedal to pedal. The voltage required to run one pedal may be different than another. The same is true of the pedal’s current draw.

Therefore, there are basically two main factors to consider when choosing the best power supply for your pedalboard:

  • Number of isolated DC outputs
  • Voltage and amperags of each output

The number of isolated power outputs in the supply is important. We should have at least as many outputs as we have pedals to avoid the need of daisy chaining or using battery power.

I prefer having extra DC outputs in case I ever add pedals or in case an output ever becomes faulty.

The next thing to consider is the voltage and amperage of each output in the power supply. Matching the output voltage of the supply to the power needs of the connected pedal will allow that pedal to work optimally.

If you have pedals that vary in power requirements, consider a power supply that has multiple output voltages. Furthermore, there are power supplies out there, like my Voodoo Lab Pedal Power Mondo (link to check the price on Amazon) that have switchable output voltages.

Voodoo Lab Pedal Power Mondo

You’ve selected your pedals. Now it’s time to power them up!

Designing The Layout Of The Pedalboard

Here comes the game of Tetris. We have our pedals and we know the order we’ve opted to patch the pedals together in. Our pedalboard and our power supply are ready. Now we get to layout the pedalboard to ensure everything fits nicely.

The layout is entirely up to you but I’ll share some tips here.

Generally we want adjascent pedals in the signal flow to be beside each other on the pedalboard.

Typically pedals have their inputs to the right and their outputs to the left. This means it’s likely easier to run the pedals starting at the right side of the pedalboard and moving toward the left side. For right handed guitarist and bassists, this has the additional benefit of not having the guitar patch cable running across our feet/board between the guitar output and first pedal.

It’s also important to have enough space between pedals to allow for proper patching. Ensure enough space is available for the patch cable between each pedal. Better yet, we can design the layout with the pedals connected. More on choosing cables in a moment.

Do your best to fit everything neatly on the board while making the pedals comfortable to work with your feet. Ensure connection is possible and that the pedals can be connected in their proper order.

If you’re using a separate power supply, make sure there is a place for it as well.

Choosing Cables & Connecting The Pedals Together

There are plenty of patch cables on the market. These 1/4″ TS cables are used to carry guitar and bass audio signals from the guitar to the amp but are also used in connecting pedals together.

Of course, the typical guitar-to-amp patch cable is much longer. Pedalboard patch cables are typically between 6 inches to a foot long. Elbowed connectors are preferred when it comes to these short patch cables so to allow for more compact pedal layouts (straight connectors take up too much space outward from the pedal).

Most patch cables will work just fine. Choose some cables with the proper length and elbowed connectors and you’ll be fine!

The Mogami Gold Instrument-0.5RR (link to check the price on Amazon) is a 6″ elbowed patch cable.

Mogami Gold 0.5RR 6″ Instrument Cable

The D’Addario Planter Waves 6″ Classic Series Right Angle (link to the check the price on Amazon) is another great example of a pedalboard patch cable

D’Addario Planter Waves 6″ Classic Series Right Angle

Attaching The Pedals To The Pedalboard

Once everything is thought-out and in place, it’s time to actually attach the pedals to the board.

As previously mentioned, most pedalboards will have velcro-compatible surfaces.

So then, we can use velcro, dual lock or other fabric fasteners to attach our pedals to our pedalboard.

Simply stick the adhesive side of the velcro (or velcro substitute) to the back of the pedal and then stick the pedal to the board.

As a tip, it’s best to run the velcro overtop the pedal “feet” (or remove the feet from the pedal) before applying the velcro. This will ensure that the velcro actually makes contact with, and sticks to, the pedalboard.

The Donner Velcro Pedalboard Mounting Tape (link to check the price on Amazon) is a great velcro product for attaching a pedal to a pedalboard.

Donner Velcro Pedalboard Mounting Tape

The 3M Dual Lock Recloseable Fastener SJ3560 (link to check the price on Amazon) makes for a sturdier attachment than velcro and is another great choice for attaching pedals to a pedalboard.

3M Dual Lock Recloseable Fastener SJ3560 – 4 feet

Ensure the pedals are attached securely; connected together with patch cable and powered properly.

And there you go, your pedalboard is all set up!

What pedals should every guitarist have? Every guitarist is different and would benefit from different pedals (if at all). There is not particular “must-have” pedals for guitarists. That being said, common pedals to consider include tuners; boosts/preamps; overdrive or distortions; choruses; delays; reverbs and wah pedals.

How many guitar pedals is too many? The number of pedals, in an acceptable-sounding rig, can be limited by the amount of tone degradation; ergonomics; physical space; price of equipment; cables; the order of pedals in the system and the type of pedals in the system. It also depends on the subjective end goal of the guitarist’s sound.

For more information regarding the number of pedals in a rig, check out my article How Many Guitar Effect Pedals Is Too Many?


Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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