This is a list I’ve been accumulating for a long time. These are pedalboard tips and tricks for any player whether you are a beginner just starting out or an expert pedal crazed veteran. Some of these tips are guidelines I think just about every guitarist should apply to their pedalboard. Some of the tips are suggestions for how to use your guitar pedals in interesting ways. I hope they can be a source of knowledge, inspiration, or be helpful in some way on your path to a better guitar tone! So here we go, in no particular order 17 pedalboard tips for a better guitar tone.
Pedalboard Tips and Tricks
1. Simulate a Drained Battery with Fuzz Pedals
You can use a pedal power supply with adjustable voltage to simulate a drained battery. This works great on fuzz pedals and certain distortions to create a choked up and warmer sound. Many experienced players prefer using batteries over power supplies because of the character the drained battery gives their sound. With new modern power supplies you can dial in the voltage you want to get this sound. I recommend this one.
2. Put a Reverb Pedal after your Delay to Soften Trails
If you move one of your reverbs after a delay you can soften each echo. This will make it so each echo doesn’t stick out or cut as much. Kind of similar to the smear or blur effect on some digital delays.
3. Put a Delay Pedal after your Reverb to Create Depth
Likewise if you put a delay pedal after your reverb it will echo the space created by the reverb. This can create depth and more unnatural sounds that trick your brain.
4. Move Your Tuner Later in the Chain to Mute Noise
This can be helpful if you get yourself into a pickle while playing live you can just turn on your tuning pedal to mute whatever noise or feedback you’ve created. It does have the downside of potentially not getting accurate tuning if you leave too many effects on while tuning.
5. Move Your Compressor After Distortion or Overdrive
Moving your compressor later in the chain can expand the sound of certain distortion, overdrive, and fuzz pedals. Rather than putting your compressor at the beginning of your chain, which can add sustain while maintaining clarity.
6. Use Pancake Cables to Save Space
If you don’t have the luxury of having only pedals with top jacks pancake cables can be a life saver. These cables will allow your pedals to sit closer together, saving room on your board and making it easier to get between pedals. If you don’t have to move your foot as far to turn on and off pedals that means less tap dancing and more rocking! These cables are generally agreed upon as a good match of quality and affordability.
7. Simplify Your Pedalboard Whenever Possible
In a live situation its easy to get too caught up looking at your feet and making decisions about which pedal combination will sound best. I think it’s important to simplify your pedalboard when you can so you have less decisions to make and can focus on your playing. Less entropy, less possibility for chaos, and less tap dancing. This will also enable to you to choose quality over quantity when it comes to your pedals.
8. Use a Wah Pedal Before Delay for a Talking Echo
Using wah before delay can add a really interesting character to your echos that doesn’t sound like your typical Hendrix wah guitar solo. If you open or close the wah on a single note the delay will echo that modulation each time, which gives a kind of talking voice effect.
9. Use an Isolated Power Supply to Prevent Noise Issues and Loss of High End
An isolated power supply provides a separate line of power to each of your pedals. This will keep your sound noise free and prevent any high end drop off for larger pedalboards. Unlike daisy chaining or un-isolated power supplies, this prevents the possibility for interference and keeps your tone free of buzz. This is one of the most important pedalboard tips I can give. No one likes to hear the loud buzz of a guitarist’s amp in between songs. I recommend this pedal power supply.
10. Use an Overdrive After Your Fuzz Pedals to Smooth Them Out
If your fuzz pedals stick out too much from your other sounds this can be a great way to tame overly bright pedals. Just pick your favorite overdrive or distortion pedal and put it after the fuzz pedal in your chain. I recommend turning the gain just about all the way off on the ovedrive pedal and rolling the tone to a warmer setting. Example: if you have leave a tube screamer always on with a low gain/warm setting, your fuzz pedals placed before the tube screamer can be switched on for new sounds that don’t totally contrast your overall sound. A Tube Screamer or Fulltone OCD would be great for this.
11. Put Tremolo After Delay or Reverb to Create Interesting Modulation
Moving a tremolo after your echoes can soften the echoes and create a warped modulation on the echoes where the timing matches up. Another interesting sound is doing the opposite Tremolo before Delay.
12. Cable Management with Twisty Ties or Zip Ties
Keep those twisty ties that came with your pedal power supply. You can use those twisty ties or some good ‘ol zip ties to manage all those power cables. This will prevent your cables from rubbing together and causing potential interference. Also, it will prevent your pedalboard from looking like a bird’s nest.
13. Try Power-Grip Tape instead of Velcro
Some people swear by this stuff and it’s strength. If you are tired of having your pedals fall off your board when you are in transit, I’d recommend checking out Power-Grip Tape. Warning: this stuff is really strong and some people report having trouble moving pedals around. So make sure you choose your order wisely before applying.
14. If You Have a Long Cable or Pedal Chain Try Using a Buffer
Buffers can be kind of confusing but a good rule of thumb is if you have a really long cable or a long chain of smaller cables you should try a buffer. Long cables can create a loss of frequency response in some cases and a buffer will prevent this. Try and A/B comparison of your guitar directly into your amp vs. through your pedal chain. If you feel like there is a loss of high end or frequency response go pick up a buffer for your pedalboard. The TC Electronic BonaFide Buffer is great for this.
15. Go For Quality and Durability With Cables For Peace of Mind
This is the age old question “Is there a big difference between quality cables and cheap cables?” The answer is yes but probably not a huge difference. The real difference comes when you use a large amount of those cables and start to depend on their reliability for a long time. Would you rather be constantly replacing and diagnosing problems with cheap cables or put forth the initial investment for quality and durability? For me the answer is quality just for peace of mind. Many quality cables provide really great lifetime warranties. So think of that large investment as a purchase for life.
16. Use an A/B Line Selector to Turn Multiple Pedals On or Off
An A/B switcher pedal will allow you put a few pedals in a separate chain that are always on. Then you can use the A/B switcher, or line selector, to turn that chain of a few pedals on or off. I find it’s useful to think of your pedalboard as a few sets of sounds; clean tone, dirty tone, lead tone. Then you can switch on and off modulation and other effects separate from these core sounds. So if you like to layer a fuzz and a distortion for your lead tone use an A/B line selector pedal.
17. Think Outside the Box
My last and probably most important pedalboard tip is to think outside the box… er board? Switch up the order of your pedals. Ignore conventions. Do things the wrong way. Experimentation is part of the musical journey and there are no rules in music. Do things your own unique way and your creativity may come with great rewards. At the very least this will help you find your own unique voice on the guitar.