Pedal Pad AXS-XL
Mike Stratton, President of the Kansas-based Pedal Pad has taken the art of pedalboard-making to the production-level using inventive labor techniques and a creepy table-saw guy.
How did you get started making pedalboards?
My first inclination to build a pedalboard was based on saving time. I would finish a day’s work, rush over to the storage unit to load gear, drive over to the gig to set up, sound check and rush home to have time with my kids before driving back to the gig. I ran sound from the stage, so not only did I have to get the P.A. tweaked, I had to spend a lot of time getting my pedal setup just right for the room we were playing in. I’d dump my pedals out of a duffle bag, wire them up, hit a sustaining A chord and twist knobs for a good 20 minutes.
How has your design evolved since you first started?
My first designs were pretty simple, but they all had a compartment underneath for concealing the excess cables as well as other undesirable items that just got in the way of the pedals. I was using a Wah as well as a volume pedal for swells, so my feet stayed pretty busy. Since playing electric for me involved using more than just my arms, I started thinking of my pedals as an extension of the guitar, and wanted to have them positioned just right. Because I was always changing pedals, I decided to design a pedalboard that could also be changed.
The two-tier design was always important to me because I liked not having to spread the pedals out in a long line, but I also did not like kicking the knobs off the front row when trying to step on the back row. Having a stair-step design eliminated that problem. In order to accommodate larger pedals like the Wah or Volume, I came up with the adjustable panel design which allowed any section of the front row to be either flat for smaller pedals or raised to meet the pitch of the second tier to accommodate longer pedals. Apart from the adjustable design, we have scaled down the height of the pedalboard.
Who were your first customers?
I met two of my heroes at the 2003 Summer NAMM show, Adrian Belew and Victor Wooten. I offered them boards and they seemed pretty enthusiastic about having them. Dweezil Zappa and George Lynch soon followed. I have not been very good about using the testimonials to maximum benefit. Maybe because I have always had the opinion that it makes sense to have even famous guys pay for their gear. That way you know they’re really diggin' it.
What would you do without Velcro?
Cry. Velcro sometimes gets a bad rap because it loses it strength or the adhesive starts to give up. All I can say is prep your pedals, prep the pedal surface and use the Velcro consistently. Hook always on the pedals and Loop always on the pedalboard or visa-versa. That way you can move pedals around if you want.
Do your systems come with their own power supplies?
Yes. Our current power supply is the Power Pad II, which is a switching power supply module that can be located anywhere on the pedalboard just like the aluminum panels. We are coming out with the Power Pad Pro in March 2009, which will have eight isolated outputs via a toroidal transformer with multiple secondaries. All of the outputs will be able to run either 9 or 12 volts and will have protection features built in to each output. It will also include an AC courtesy outlet.
Is the power supply above the board or below?
On our MPS boards, which are powered, it is above the board as a module within the pedal surface. On our non-powered AXS boards, a power supply can be placed either on top or below.
Any pedals out there that just are not pedalboard friendly?
Talk Boxes come to mind, as well as the multi-effects units, which are the root of all evil in my opinion. They are so big and players get painted into a corner with factory sounds. With our adjustable design, just about any pedal can be placed comfortably on the Pedal Pad.
What are some popular customizations?
The adjustable panel design on our MPS series boards which allows the player to customize for longer or shorter pedals is at the heart of the Pedal Pad design. The hinged panel on our AXS boards is pretty handy if not a little bit innovative.
How long does it take to make a pedalboard?
This is where it gets a little weird. We assemble 100% of the pedalboards in a prison using custom-made tools just for Pedal Pad building. My old partner was a whiz at designing a jig or fixture for every single function, so construction goes rather quickly and the consistency is usually dead on. None of the Pedal Pads go from start to finish before another one is started, so it is a little difficult to say how long it takes to make one. We usually schedule the ordering of materials and the labor around production runs based on a certain number of units. Runs of 100 are pretty common and that can take two or three weeks.
What materials do you use?
We use 9-ply, void free, ½” Baltic Birch for the rim and ¼” for the top and bottom. We then roll the entire case with adhesive and cover with the standard Ozite-style carpet, which is common with speaker cabinets. We use a charcoal color so that lint doesn’t show up very well. Once the hardware is fixed to the case, we start on the inside. The Baltic Birch center support beam, which controls the functionality of the adjustable panels, is outsourced to a local cabinet shop [that] router cuts about 500 per run for us via CNC machinery. The center support beam is sanded and painted then fastened into the pedalboard case. Panels, power supply, patch bay and accessories are added and then boxed up. The aluminum panels and power supplies are produced for us in Asia.
What cables do you recommend?
There are a lot of good cables out there, but I have always made my own. My recommendation to anyone handy with a soldering iron is to produce their own guitar cables using a high-quality three-conductor mic cable. Make sure the mic cable has braided shielding, because cable with the spiral shielding can literally be twisted in your fingers to roll off the treble in your signal. Connect the white to the tip on both ends, and twist the black wire and the shielding together and connect to the sleeve. This makes an excellent guitar cable.
How many fingers does your table saw guy have?
34. He collects them.
Any interesting stories of pedalboard use or abuse?
One guy who works for Robert Keeley told me that his fell out of a truck or trailer on the highway and he was still using it the last time I talked to him. Another guy had his fall from a 14-foot ledge. I had to replace the lid for him, but that is the only time out of 12,000 units where I replaced a case.
Any special or odd customization requests?
I pretty much stay away from this, because it is not a good fit with my production strategy. I do sometimes change the height of the AXS pedal surface for players so that they can put taller objects below. People have asked for longer units and shorter units, but it’s easier for me if I spend my time trying to talk them into less pedals or more pedalboards.
What is the price range of your pedalboards?
Our models start at $150 for the AXS Road Buddy and go to $350 for the MPS-XL.
How long do you expect your pedalboards to last on the road?