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September 2014
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The Premier Guitar Pedalboard Survival Guide

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The Premier Guitar Pedalboard Survival Guide


The Voodoo Lab ISO-5 (reviewed November 2010) features isolated DC outputs for 9-, 12-, and 18-volt devices.

The Visual Sound 1 SPOT (top) can power up to eight pedals from one outlet, and it includes an eight-plug cable (left), two battery-clip converters (middle), an L6 converter for Line 6 modeling pedals (third from right), and two 1/8" converter plugs (far right).
Pedal Power
With all due respect to Eric Johnson and his views on the tonal differences among battery types, running all your pedals on any kind of battery will cost a fortune over time. Plus, changing batteries in a pedal that’s attached to a pedalboard can be a real pain—especially if the compartment is on the bottom of the unit. Some pedalboards come with built-in power supplies that can adequately power most conventional pedals. However, not all pedals use DC power, and not all pedalboards come equipped with a power supply. In these cases, an isolated power supply is the solution. Worthy units include the Voodoo Lab Pedal Power ISO-5 (Street $109, voodoolab.com)— which includes four 9-volt, one 12-volt, and one 18-volt outputs—and the Visual Sound 1 SPOT (Street $19.95, visualsound.net), which can power up to twenty 9-volt pedals using an optional daisy-chain cable.

“It’s okay to share a few analog pedals with one of the outputs from a good power supply,” says AnalogMike, “so you don’t really need one output for each pedal. But a digital pedal—such as a tuner or digital delay—should not share power with any other pedals.”

Noise and Signal Degradation
Most guitarists would probably not be surprised to hear that, the more pedals you add to your pedalboard, the greater the chances of problems. Even if you have relatively noise-free pedals, the extraneous noise from a bunch of them is going to add up. Sometimes it only takes one very cool—but very unruly—pedal to throw your signal chain into turmoil. And tone-robbing pedals can wreak havoc on your sound even when they’re turned off.

One solution you hear bandied about a lot is to use true-bypass pedals. When turned off, a true-bypass pedal sends the signal straight from the input jack to the output jack without any connection to the pedal’s circuitry, thus bypassing any tone-damaging properties of the pedal. Pedals that don’t use true-bypass circuitry send your signal through a buffered section of the circuit even when the pedal is off—it just doesn’t go through the effect section of the circuit.

But Radial Engineering’s Peter Janis says it’s not as simple as always selecting true-bypass pedals. “There are pluses and minuses to truebypass, just as there are with buffered signals. The problem with true-bypass setups is that they tend to pop’ hen the pedal is activated, and if many pedals are being used, noise can often creep into the system. Buffers are often used as a means to circumvent the problem altogether, but this too has a cost. A Stratocaster connected directly to a Marshall will sound different when the signal is buffered.”

AnalogMike says, “I prefer true-bypass pedals whenever possible, but if you go through several true-bypass pedals and they’re all off, you may lose some high end due to all the cabling. However, if you keep one pedal on, like a delay, that should provide enough buffering. A buffered-bypass pedal that is off will often be a good enough buffer. If you often run all your pedals off, a buffer on your pedalboard would be a good idea.”

If the sounds you seek aren’t always available in true-bypass designs, there are still steps you can take to combat noise and improve sound quality. “First, test with batteries to see if the noise is from the power supply,” says AnalogMike, “and also disconnect all other pedals when testing one pedal for noise. To test for noise, you have to set the pedal so that it’s at the same volume when it’s on as it is when it’s off—that is, at unity gain. When you turn it up higher, it will amplify any noise that is already there, making it more apparent. If you turn the guitar all the way down, you can hear what’s coming from the pedal. A little bit of white noise is normal when it’s set at unity gain. There are a million things that can cause noise, so plug in, open up the pedal, and probe around with a chopstick or something and see if you can locate the cause—like a bad solder joint, a failing switch contact, a jack, a pot, etc.”

If you have any pedals that just can’t be tamed, another solution is to incorporate a loop controller like the Radial BigShot EFX True- Bypass Effects Loop Switcher (Street $79.95, radialeng.com) or the buffered Radial Loopbone Dual Effects Loop (Street $259.99), or the Cusack Pedal Board Tamer (Street $500, cusackeffects.com) to keep them out of the circuit until needed.



  1. The Radial Engineering BigShot EFX True-Bypass Effects Loop Switcher features two footswitchable effects loops, allowing you to remove signal-degrading stompboxes from the path and create a true-bypass signal chain.
  2. The Radial Engineering Loopbone features class-A circuitry, two footswitchable effects loops, a footswitchable VariBoost function, a pickup-load-correction circuit, Slingshot amp-switching capabilities, and a tuner out.
  3. The Cusack Pedal Board Tamer (reviewed November 2010) offers nine effects loops—three of which may be operated in stereo—and has two guitar inputs that can be switched between truebypass and buffered, a mutable tuner output, three tap-tempo outputs, a Mech Mode mechanical looping mode, a Preset Mode with nine programmable presets, and an All Off switch.
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