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My Name is John, and I Have a Pedal Problem

An ode to pedal addiction

It started in ninth grade when the dealer at our local music store sold me something that changed my world: his used, gray ROSS compressor for $50, (a king’s ransom for a 14-year-old). I plugged it in and suddenly everything sounded better. Like a crackhead’s first hit, that’s all it took to ensure my lifelong dependence on those magic little boxes. I still have that Ross, and about 50 other pedals, some working, some long since dead, yet I can’t part with any of them. I’ve spent thousands of dollars and hours experimenting with different combinations, models and manufacturers. Every gig or session I do, I study the other players’ boards, even the gear belonging to underwhelming opening acts. I seek out web photos of celeb boards the way normal men web search for celeb skin. This obsession stems from the fact that a well-placed pedal can save me—has saved me—and many of my brethren from bad to mediocre performances.

About three years ago I was playing acoustic on a master session for Ray Scott, an artist on Warner Brothers. Dan Dugmore was on electric. When it came time for a solo, Dan kicked on his flanger and hit a big chord at the head of each bar. That was it. It was perfect; so simple, yet I would have never thought of it. This lesson reinforced my pedal dependency.

Pedals are like beer: they make everything better until they make everything worse. If you’re on a gig and not getting any sound out of your amp, it’s probably your pedalboard, not the guitar, nor the amp. If your guitar sounds distant and weak, again, it’s probably your board stealing your tone. Your amp and guitar are fine. These are the lows of pedal dependency. I’ve learned to live with, and adjust for, pedal pitfalls. Here are a few tips to help if you’re suffering the same affliction:

Switching, or FX loop systems help. Not only do they prevent the pedals you’re not using from sucking your tone, but more importantly, when a pedal or jumper cable dies, the loop lets you cut it out of your path and keep playing. I’m an optimist by nature, so I tend to run my compressor and dirt straight from my guitar, then use switches for my delays, tremolos and swirly stuff.

Everything breaks. If you find a pedal you truly love, buy two or three of them. After my Homebrew Power Screamer died at a dusty state fair in Colorado, I sent it back to the company to be fixed and purchased three more, so I’d never be without at least one. Currently, I use three of them in different boards and leave a brand new one in the box at home, waiting on deck should one of the others go down.

Good connecting cables are more important than your pedals. When I switched out all my assorted jumpers for DiMarzio braided jumpers, I gained a whopping 7dB in my signal, plus a ton of crisp highs.

Velcro does not hold pedals in place for very long. Zip ties do.

The perfect pedalboard is not attainable. I have four pedalboards and am currently working toward the ultimate pedalboard. Here’s the rundown:

The Big Tour Board has power and wireless hidden under the board. The top of the board works as a guitar rack, holding two electrics, a mandolin and an acoustic. The switching system takes effects out of line; comp, boost and overdrive are in line.

The Small Tour Board has neither wireless nor loop; the case top holds two electrics and a mando. I chose smaller pedals.

The Studio Board has effects in a switching system that run to the effects loop in the amp. I plug my head into the board’s Furman power (even though the manual says not to).

The Club board is made out of the back panel of my Kustom 12 Cab and fits in my guitar gig bag. One Hot Spot powers it. Every pedal on here is missing a knob or a switch.

The Ultimate Board is a work in progress. It will have everything without being too big.

John Bohlinger
John Bohlinger is a Nashville guitar slinger who works primarily in television, and has recorded and toured with over 30 major label artists. His songs and playing can be heard in major motion pictures, major label releases and literally hundreds of television drops. Visit him at: or