Pesky Pedal Problems: Attaching Pedals to a Board
Guitarists tend to treat their pedal collection like museum pieces. That is, they put in as much time selecting just the right pedals as they do selecting the right guitar, amps, and pickups. I spend a lot of time finding the right pedals for my sound too, and with all of the tools we have out there (reviews, pickup demos, and online forums), we can get most of our questions answered before we plunk down our cash. Once we have collected more than three or four pedals, it might be time to put them all together on a pedalboard. These don’t have to be fancy, and I have seen boards range from a scrap piece of shelving to tricked-out LED-laden pieces of art complete with custom paint, Tolex or tweed. It doesn’t matter what your budget is, because we all face the same problem: how do we attach a pedal to a piece of wood, metal, or fiberglass? This article will explain a few solutions, and showcase the pros and cons of each.
What’s wrong with the floor?
Well, I put pedals on the floor for years. There is nothing really wrong with this approach, except it can get to be a bit of a mess sometimes. It’s not bad if your pedals stay in the same place, like a practice room or basement with a hard floor. Things get a little more complex if you are performing, or jamming in different places. It isn’t that you can’t scoop up your pedals, your power supplies, and patch cables. It is easy to toss them in a bag and be off. But it does take time to unravel the cables and set everything up when you get to your favorite jam spot. You then have to repeat the process when you leave. Small patch cables, sometimes the cheapest cables you own, don’t like to move a lot. Constantly moving them and plugging/unplugging them will shorten their life span. Thin cables of AC adapters don’t stand up to much abuse at all, either. Placing pedals directly on a carpet also provides a little bit of ‘bounce’ when you stomp on them. For ease of setup alone, even a modest homemade board is better than going through the untangling dance every time you set up.
OK, I got a board. Now what?
The first thing to decide is the order that you want your effects in. Now there are a lot of theories about this, but I will assume in this article that you researched yourself on this, and came to the conclusion that I did: There are no rules. If you’ve owned your pedals for awhile, you’ve probably experimented with different orders of the pedals, and if you haven’t, you should. Remember, some good things might happen if you break the ‘rules’. Once you get the order that you like, lay them out on the board, making them as close together as you feel comfortable with. Don’t forget to allow for shoe size, and the fact that if pedals are super close to each other, it might not be easy to switch out a cable or pedal if you need to.
Hooks & Loops
There are many methods of attaching the pedals themselves to the board. The most commonly available method is Velcro. Velcro is provided with all Seymour Duncan pedals, but if you don’t have any, you can get it at any hardware or craft store. I go for at least the industrial stuff, which is a little more expensive, but you might find that the regular stuff works fine. It doesn’t matter which end (hook or loop) goes on the pedal, but I’d be consistent so you can move pedals around. I generally clean the area of the board with some rubbing alcohol first to prep the surface, then apply the Velcro. Applying the matching side to the pedal is where things get tricky.
Most pedals don’t have bare metal on the bottom. Usually they come with a rubber tread, and the glue used in anything sticky doesn’t work on rubber. You have a few options here: You can rip the rubber tread off, which might damage it and hurt any resale value (if that sort of thing matters to you), or take the baseplate off and flip it over, showing the bare metal flipside. Clean this with alcohol, and then apply the Velcro. If the pedal has rubber feet, you might have to take these off (save them) so the bare metal touches the ground. If I use Velcro, I use several pieces, and it takes a few hours for the glue to reach full strength. Velcro is great if you switch out pedals frequently, and if your pedals use battery power. Battery doors are on the bottom of many pedals, and more permanent solutions prevent fast access.
While Velcro is fast and cheap, it presents a few problems. For those that live in humid climates (like me), the glue on the back of the Velcro never quite cures, and always remains a gooey mess. I have arrived at many gigs with my pedals rattling around in the bottom of my pedalboard case. The Velcro itself doesn’t fail, the glue does. If you live in a place with less humidity, this may never be a problem. Also, wah pedals have rubber feet which are actually the screws to hold the baseplate on. So unless you build a riser under the pedal for it to sit on, there is no good way to use Velcro on them.
Super Lock & Load
One of my favorite things to use for securing pedals is called Super Lock. Think of it like Velcro, but instead of a hook & loop system, it uses tiny, mushroom-shaped plastic pieces that interlock. The glue side is very strong as well. The locking side is so strong that you probably need a screwdriver or similar tool to wedge between the pieces to separate them. This works amazingly well for a fixed pedal order, and pedals that are powered with an AC adapter. The downside is that it is expensive, and difficult to separate. This is a problem if you need to get to battery doors, or if you switch pedals out often. Make sure you like where your pedals are before you put this stuff on. Similar material is used for specifically branded Power Grip Pedal Tape.
Ties of Zipping, +1
Zip ties work really well for attaching pedals. I have seen several boards (and one of mine, with a larger multi-effects pedal) that use zip ties. They are cheap, and available in different sizes. They are immune to humidity, and you can buy them almost anywhere. They don’t get goopy like glue or mar the pedal’s paint. You would want to make sure the zip tie is tight, but not putting pressure on any knobs or obscuring the LED of the pedal. Also, make sure your board has some holes in it. Solid boards would need holes drilled, so be sure this is something you want and are able to do. The problems that I have encountered with zip ties are few, but significant. Usually one isn’t long enough to get around the pedal, so you have to connect several. You can trim the ‘tails’ of the zip tie, but it leaves a really sharp edge, which when hit with bare feet practicing at home, hurts! I try to grind down the cut ends with a Dremel. Again, this is semi-permanent. Great if you are using AC adapters and don’t have to switch out pedals often. But, let’s face it. It doesn’t look great. We spend hours staring at pro boards, and not many have zip ties. It is not elegant, and the looks might bother someone enough to consider options.
But Wait, There’s More
Bicycle chain gets mentioned now and then too. Actually, it consists of using links of a chain to screw into a wood board. This works well (and your pedals certainly won’t go anywhere). If you can find chain, use a wood board and like a little bit of a craft project, you might give it a try. It keeps the pedal in great condition, and actually looks pretty cool from the top. You might have to get creative with certain pedals though, and it makes switching pedals out a little bit of a task, as you have to figure out where to attach the chain, bend it to the right angle and put it all together.
Lately, there is another option of attaching pedals in the form of Pedalboard Tape. This looks like a roll of strong foam tape pulls apart easily when you need it to, and doesn’t mar your pedals.
For ideas on setting up a board, check out this recent thread in our new forum dedicated to pedals.
What is your favorite pedal lately? How do you attach it to your pedalboard?