Not long ago I had to completely redo my pedalboard.
It was too big, too noisy and had a bunch of effects that I never really needed or used.
I had been a bad pedalboard planner.
The second installment of my pedalboard was smaller, quiet, well-designed and stocked with exactly what I needed to play the type of music I was accustomed to playing.
This pedalboard planner guide will help you accomplish the same thing, by simply learning from my mistakes.
Here's what we'll cover.
- Planning for pedals you own and want to keep
- Planning for pedals you want to buy
- Assessing pedal dimensions and choosing a pedalboard
- Powering your pedals and organizing wiring
- Arranging your pedals in a functional order
Let start with basic pedalboard planning and layout.
We have a web app in beta that allows you to plan and order your pedalboard. You can launch it here and continue with the article.
Pedalboard Planner and Layout
When I planned and rebuilt my second pedalboard, the first thing I needed to do (that ended up being extremely helpful) was size all the pedals I had (and planned to keep) as well as those I planned to buy.
Every pedal that exists has standardized dimensions.
You need to know what these are and consider them before you buy a pedalboard.
To do this, you need to know what pedals you want to buy ahead of time.
For me, I settled on the following arrangement:
- Boss Tuner
- Boss Flanger
- Boss Phaser
- MXR Compressor (already owned)
- Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler (already owned)
- Boss Bass EQ
- Seymour Duncan Analog Delay (already owned)
If you have an over-crowded pedalboard like I did, you'll need to go through the stompboxes you own deciding what you want to keep and what you want to get rid of.
In my case, I had an entire box just full of pedals that I didn't need. They're still sitting in our basement somewhere, and everyone once in awhile my three-year old twins pull them out and arrange them on the floor.
There are a few questions (a litmus test of sorts) that might help you decide what pedals you want (need) to keep and which ones you don't.
- Do you use your amp's distortion (gain controls)?
- Do you find yourself needing to fluctuate between different volumes?
- Do you play rhythm or lead guitar?
- Do you use a lot of modulation (phaser, chorus, flanger)?
For example, in my situation I almost always used the distortion from my amp. Yet, I had a bunch of distortion pedals.
There was honestly no reason for those pedals to be on my board.
Moreover, I used (or wanted to use) modulation on a regular basis. Yet I had no modulation pedals on my board, save one chorus pedal.
To correct this imbalance, I bought a flanger and phaser, and sold/stored the distortion pedals.
You'll need to make the same kinds of decisions when you examine your own pedalboard plan and situation. Once you do that, here's a look at guitar pedal dimensions for some of the most popular stompboxes.
Guitar Pedal Dimensions Section
All dimensions given are to the best of our knowledge and are subject to change depending on pedal model, brand and variations thereof.
Boss Pedal Dimensions (compact, DS-1, BD-2, etc.)
Line 6 Modeler Pedal Dimensions (old version - DL4, MM4, etc.)
Dunlop Crybaby Wah Pedal Dimensions (original)
MXR Compact Pedal Dimensions (Phase 90, DynaComp, etc.)
Morley Wah and Volume Pedal Dimensions
Ernie Ball Jr. Volume Dimensions
Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Dimensions
ProCo Rat Distortion Dimensions
Ibanez 9 Series Dimensions (TS9, FL9, etc.)
Strymon Smaller Series Dimensions (Blue Sky)
DigiTech Whammy 5 Dimensions
EHX Big Muff Distortion Dimensions
EHX Memory Man Delay Dimensions
Pigtronix Fat Drive Dimensions
ZVEX Generic Wide Shape Dimensions (Fuzz Factory)
Other Guitar Pedal Dimensions Not Mentioned
The guitar pedal dimensions provided are for the best-selling and most commonly used stompboxes.
Dimensions for other pedals can usually be found on the manufacturer's respective websites. I'd recommend seeking out those sites as the most direct source for finding guitar pedal dimensions, as opposed to information provided by third-party retailers or dealers.
Here are just a few manufacturer websites where you can look up specific dimensions for different pedals.
- Boss and Roland
- Danelectro Pedals
- Wampler Pedals
- Jim Dunlop, MXR and Way Huge
- Hughes and Kettner
Each website will have a page for each individual product they sell. Refer to that page to grab dimensions or to verify numbers you may have obtained elsewhere.
If you don't see dimensions directly on the product's page, user manuals are also likely to have them listed.
Effects pedal order and best practices
Once you know which pedals you want to include on your new board, you can start to plan for pedal order (signal processing) and layout.
While there is some debate about how to order guitar effects pedals, I've found this resource from Strymon to be the most helpful, accurate and straightforward assessment of the issue.
They provide several different graphics that each show us an optimal pedal chain.
1st Configuration (no effects loop)
2nd Configuration (no effects loop)
3rd Configuration (effects loop)
4th Configuration (effects loop)
We can make some generalizations from these graphics.
First, let's group our effects pedals into categories:
- Distortions and Overdrives
- Volume and Wah
- Modulation (phaser, chorus, tremolo)
- Ambience (reverb, delay, echo)
Let's take the first three.
Rarely do I see a pedal order suggestion that deviates from the following:
Where things tend to get a little more "debatable" is when you add modulation and ambient effects, like chorus and delay.
When you're planning how to order your guitar pedals, I would recommend ordering them by category first.
In other words, if you have a phaser and chorus pedal, put those both into the modulation category and just know that they should come after distortion but before ambient effects. Here's how I would categorize modulation and ambience:
For example, here are the pedals that I setup on my new pedalboard.
- Boss BF-3 Flanger
- Boss PH-2 Super Phaser
- MXR DynaComp Compressor
- Line DL4 Delay Modeler
- Seymour Duncan Vapor Trail Analog Delay
- Boss GEB-7 Bass Equalizer
To order these pedals properly, I break them up into three categories:
If I arrange by these broader category first, based on conventional wisdom (and Strymon's graphics), I could then easily plug my pedals in.
With pedals that fall into the same category, like phaser and flange, the ordering within that category is a matter of preference.
Here's how I ended up ordering the pedals on my board.
In the photo my Line 6 DL4 is sitting to the left, off of the pedalboard.
This is also something you can consider when sizing and buying a pedalboard. Not all of your pedals have to be on it.
Now that we've covered pedal order, let's look at buying a pedalboard that suits and accommodates the pedals you plan to include and the order in which you want to include them.
I'll start by providing dimensions for the most popular pedalboards on the market.
In most cases you'll have variable sizes within specific brands, displayed most evidently by Pedaltrain's collection.
Let's start there.
Pedaltrain pedalboard dimensions
On Pedaltrain's website, they have a handy downloadable guide with all the sizes included.
I'm not certain why Pedaltrain doesn't include the height of each board.
We've added that into this tabbed diagram below.
14 x 5.5 inches
18 x 5 inches
16 x 8 inches
20 x 8 inches
24 x 8 inches
18 x 14.5 inches
24 x 14.5 inches
32 x 14.5 inches
18 x 12.5 inches
22 x 12.5 inches
24 x 12.5 inches
32 x 16 inches
42 x 14.5 inches
In terms of having the most sizes to choose from, Pedaltrain is one of the best pedalboard companies.
Most other pedalboard manufacturers don't have such a wide range of sizes. Thus, we'll condense the rest of the boards into one table to give you an idea of what options you have available.
Gator Cases and Boss are the two primary alternatives to Pedaltrain.
Remember, we're showing you these primarily so you can get a feel for the pedalboard dimensions and plan your board based on the size of the pedals you want to include. It's not meant to cover every pedalboard out there.
23.75 x 10.66 inches
24 x 11 inches
15.75 x 7 inches
30 x 16 inches
26 x 14 inches
13 x 11 inches
Once you know what pedals you want, you can match up the space your pedals will take up with the corresponding pedalboard, based on size.
We'll sketch up some examples.
Sketching up the layout
Now that we've looked at some typical pedalboard sizes, we can start to establish a pedalboard sketch.
We have a couple different options for doing this.
First, you can just grab a piece of notebook paper and draw it up yourself.
We also have the pedalboard planner tool mentioned earlier, that allows you to start with a basic pedal chain and add whatever stompboxes you want. It also lets you plan the arrangement of your pedalboard by ordering ambience, modulation, distortion, etc.
The program focuses primarily on pedal and effects order, though we plan to add actual pedalboards and proper dimensions in future releases.
For now, let's assume a pedalboard that's 24 inches wide and 14 inches tall (just for example).
This gives you enough room for two rows of pedals, with roughly the following dimensions:
We can surmise that most pedals (at least of a smaller size) are between two and three inches wide.
In this case, I've used the Boss pedal width of 2.87 inches, dividing into the 24 inches of the pedalboard.
This gives us room for approximately eight pedals across.
However, we also need to account for cabling and the space between any two pedals. I've come up with numbers for the following three pedal connectors:
- Pedal Couplers: 1.25 inches
- Low Profile Patch Cables: 0.75 inches
- Regular Patch Cables: 2 inches
It's clear that the low-profile patch cables are your best bet in terms of space saving. I still like the couplers for noise reduction (especially in older pedals) but they're surprisingly not the shortest option.
While it's hard to generalize the space you'll have between all your pedals, I always try to account for roughly one inch between each pair of stompboxes.
So, we should take six inches of pedal space off a 24 inch pedalboard, leaving us with the following:
By accounting for the space between each pedal, and doing our math again, we get room for somewhere about six (maybe seven) small, Boss-sized pedals.
While this process does paint in broad strokes, it gives you a place to start and some factors to consider if you want to add larger or smaller pedals. In either case, I'd recommend looking up the dimensions (or taking your best guess) and quickly doing the math, to make sure you have enough space.
The actual sketching you'll have to do is all going to depend on the goals you've set for your own pedalboard.
Here are a few other strategic items to remember:
- Make a note of pedals that have i/o jacks on the top instead of the sides
- Pedals that you don't have to access as often can often be turned sideways (EQ, compressor, etc.)
- Pedal couplers come in both straight and angled shapes
We'll cover more on cabling later in the article.
Buying a Power Supply
Your power supply (unless you plan to use 9V batteries) will be as much a part of your pedalboard as any stompbox, meaning it should be considered in the planning process.
There are primarily three factors:
The size or "footprint" of your power supply is the most important consideration, so we'll start there.
Power supply size (footprint)
Depending on the pedalboard you purchase, it may be possible to mount your power supply beneath the board's platform, thereby saving extra space.
This, of course, depends on the board and the size of the power supply.
The old MXR DC Brick design was smaller, making it an easy fit for the bottom of most pedalboards. In this photo I would assume they're using Velcro to keep the power supply in place.
Pedaltrain boards can be used with a pair of mounting brackets, which work particularly well with Voodoo Lab power supplies, allowing you to fix the box directly to the bottom of the pedalboard without Velcro.
Other strategies include keeping "set it and forget it" pedals like EQs and compressors underneath the board and simply leaving them on.
Here's an example of this where we have two MXR EQ pedals next to a power supply, all fixed to the bottom of a pedalboard which is then setup on risers to make sure it's high enough off the ground.
Note that a setup like this is also contingent upon having a pedalboard with "rails" (space in between each row) as opposed to a flat surface.
This is part of why the Pedaltrain boards have become so popular.
You simply don't have these configuration options without the space and pass-through capability. A setup like this also allows you to hide most of your wiring, and even some of your cables, underneath the pedalboard.
Pedal power handling (number of ports)
Another practical issue to consider before buying your power supply is (perhaps obviously) how many pedals you'll need to power.
In my case, I had six total, one of which was the Boss TU-2 Chromatic Tuner. That tuner actually has a power out, which, if the TU-2 is itself powered, can provide power to another pedal.
Thus, I only needed to power five pedals, including the TU-2, which I then used to power an MXR Dyna Comp as my sixth and final stompbox. The Voodoo Lab ISO 5, providing up to five 9V power sources (and an additional 18V) was an ideal fit.
In my case I gave myself zero room to grow, simply because the pedalboard I had was already maxed out on space and I don't plan to add any pedals without first removing one.
If that's not your situation, and you want some breathing room, just up the power handling number. Usually three or four extra ports is enough.
In that case you'd be better off with the Voodoo Lab Pedal Power Two, which has eight ports.
Noise and signal considerations
Every time you add a pedal to your signal chain, the chances of having excess noise increases.
One way to help reduce this noise is to use a power supply that isolates each power source, which basically simulates each pedal having its own 9V battery. Though annoying (and not at all cost effective) 9V batteries are a form of isolated power.
Here's how you'd draw it up:
A daisy chain, though cheap, simulates using a single 9V source for each outlet.
Unfortunately, this almost always causes noise issues.
An isolated power supply like the Voodoo Lab ISO 5 or the Pedal Power 2 Plus will be more expensive, but will do a lot to keep your signal cleaner.
If you're dealing with noise issues and you run a lot of pedals (or plan to), spending extra on an isolated power supply will be a worthwhile investment.
Organization and Pedal Placement
Once you decide what effects you want and how you want to power them, there's one final part of the process that might cause you to revise your list slightly.
Basically we're looking at the pedals we've selected and, a second time, deciding what the most effective way would be to order each one. Remember the graphics we looked at earlier?
We'll go back to our pedalboard app to look at a few scenarios for effects pedal order and placement now that you know what pedals you've chosen.
If you want to follow along, go ahead and launch the pedalboard planner.
In the pedalboard planner, we've setup a non-pedalboard mode that simply allows you to examine the order of your pedals by adding them to established placeholders.
Here's the default layout:
It's a bit difficult to see from the screengrab, so I'll just give you the order:
- Distortion (1 and 2)
- Modulation (1, 2 and 3)
- Ambience (1, 2 and 3)
This is essentially the same ordering we saw recommended in the Strymon graphics.
In the app, we've made room for multiple distortions, modulation and ambience effects (you can also add a "generic" placeholder to the beginning of the chain).
Let's assume that the following pedals are on your list:
- Boss DS-1 Distortion
- Boss DD-7 Delay
- Seymour Duncan Vise Grip Compressor
- Keeley Bubbletron (filter, phaser, flanger)
- MXR Phase 90
Use the placeholders to drag the pedals to their corresponding category:
This gives you a visual of how you'll order your effects pedals, while also showing you where you might want to grow your board.
You can remove the additional placeholders for a cleaner look at your signal line:
Though there are no set rules, it helps to know convention when you're planning your pedalboard. The reason I've left more room for ambience and modulation effects is because guitar players often have several of each.
The same cannot be said of wah and volume pedals.
But the simple exercise of knowing how to order your effects pedals, and being able to place the stompboxes you want where you want them, can be a helpful visual aid that shows you if your pedalboard will do the job you need it to do.
Whether or not you use the pedalboard planner, the idea is to simply plan ahead.
Couplers, low-profile patch cables or regular patch cables?
As it relates to cable length and pedalboards, the shorter the better.
Longer cables can cause unwanted distortion in your signal and will generally degrade tone, depending on the length of the cable.
Even the smaller patch cables pictured here can add extra length, take up space on your board and cross paths, which could mean more noise.
The short patch cables pictured here (usually under 10 inches in length) are the absolute longest cable you'll want to use between any two pedals. If possible, use a shorter patch cable, like these low-profile Hosa cables:
Here's a closer look, where you can see the space saved:
While I don't recommend running seven Boss Metal Zone pedals, you can see and appreciate the space saved between each box. Here are a couple of examples from my own pedalboard:
These save space and will help preserve your tone with less cable length.
You can refer to the previous section on patch cable and coupler length for specific measurements.
Here's a look at the couplers I used to connect the Boss phaser, flanger and chromatic tuner:
An obvious down side to the couplers is that they're less flexible in terms of how you can position your pedals. As we saw earlier, they also take up more spec between pedals.
Then again, the organization and uniformity is part of the charm, as it insures that similar pedals are positioned in a perfectly straight line.
The right angle couplers can make up for slight height discrepancies.
This allows you to use couplers between pedals from two different brands where the jacks are at different heights.
If at all possible, use this type of cabling (either low-profile patch cables or couplers) to avoid clogging up your pedalboard and your signal with longer cables.
Finishing Up the Pedalboard Planning
Let's do a quick review of the steps we've taken to get to this point. From top to bottom:
- Examined common pedal dimensions
- Examined common pedalboard dimensions
- Planned a rough draft of our pedalboard layout
- Covered our power supply options/best practices
- Planned our pedalboard organization and pedal order/placement/cabling
This is everything you need to effectively plan your pedalboard, right down to the last couple inches of Velcro.
I've found that the more effectively I plan up front, the less money I need to spend and the more effective my board is when it's setup. My advice is to use all of your pedalboard space, and avoid buying anything that you aren't going to use fairly often.
In other words, don't make the same dumb mistakes I did.
Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of Kyle Gaddo