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Pedal Rig Tips

 
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Multi-Effects vs Stomp Pedals
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Players often debate whether to go with a multi-effects unit or several stomp pedals. The the positive perception of multi-FX units is three-fold:
  1. All the effects one needs can be had in one unit (true)
  2. Fewer pedalboard connections means fewer problems (this is actually misleading; see Pedalboard "Failures")
  3. High-end rack FX can be better for some sounds (true, if you can afford them)

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There was a migration towards multi-FX in the 1990's. While PedalSnake works fine with multi-FX, there has been a trend back to stomp boxes, which have now made a big comeback.  Here are some of the reasons: 

MULTI-FX

STOMP BOXES

GREEN = good...........RED = not so good   

Have many sounds in one unit You get one sound per stomp box (usually)
A single "program" can call up many FX at once Each stomp box must be stomped individually
Players rarely like all the sounds inside Each stomp box can be chosen for a sound you like
You are stuck with all the sounds the unit It is easy change out stomp boxes, one at a time
Multi-FX are more expensive, and harder to resell Stomp boxes are usually less than $200, easier to resell
Programming with menus is slow and painful Turning a knob on a stomp box is fast and easy
Digital FX can sound unnatural Many analog FX sound better
Digital modeling of distortion has come a long way, but... The best distortions are still analog, especially "lighter crunch" tones
 
 
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Pedal Order
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Does it matter?  Yes. 
 
If you get distortion from the front end of a gain-master type amp, the FX Loop becomes important too. 
 
The main idea is that you want time-based FX AFTER any distortion happens.  You do this to "delay the distortion" rather than "distort the delay" (using "delay" as an example),  
 
The main rules of thumb are:
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If you DO NOT use an FX Loop

Pedal Order NO LOOP 400

If you DO use an FX Loop
  • Put Gain-FX in the AmpInput chain
  • Put noisier Gain-FX after quieter ones
  • Put Time-Based-FX in the FX Loop chain
Pedal Order LOOP 400
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Finally--Easy FX Loops
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This is one of the great benefits of PedalSnake. With PedalSnake, amps with FX Loops are just as easy as amps without them---you always run only one cable, no matter what your rig contains.
 
You see, in the past players tended to avoid using Loops, even if their amp had one.  They hated running the 2 extra guitar cords (which was somewhat of a pain).
 
Should you use your FX Loop?  See Pedal Order above.
 
 

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Pedalboard "Failures"?
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This sounds weird, but its a fact, and happens all the time.

A layer of rust (see galvanic corrosion) will slowly form between electrical contacts if they experience these 3 conditions...

  1. Low current (under 1000mA)
  2. Low voltage (under 30V)
  3. They are not disconnected or jiggled around over a long period of time

It just so happens, pedalboards experience all 3 conditions listed above, so...

  • They can occasionally exhibit "pops", "crackles", and "fade-outs" if the connections are not moved around periodically
    • (This is why smacking electronic devices upside the head will often make them straighten up---the vibration broke through the thin rust layer). 
  • Still, perfectly good cables often get thrown away for no good reason, and folks begin to think "fewer connections mean fewer failures".
  • While this is technically true, it is rarely a factor with pedalboards...

Q:  Are gold plugs better?

A:  Only if the male plug and the female jack are both gold, which would never be the case in a guitar rig.

Gold is a superior metal, but not because it is the best electrical conductor (it is only 3rd on the list of metals for "lowest resistance", silver being 1st, copper 2nd).  Gold is superior because it does not corrode.  But galvanic corrosion happens faster between 2 contacts if the contacts are not the same metal (see dissimilar metals).  The only place where gold usage is really important is in crtical high-reliability applications.  Then, all the contacts--male and female--are gold.

But the audio industry has developed a quasi-standard metal for electrical connectors:  nickel.  So most guitar amps, pedals, etc. have nickel-plated input jacks.  A gold guitar plug going into a nickel jack will only serve to cause the nickel to corrode faster.

So don't pay extra for gold plugs on your cable.  It is sales hype, nothing more.

 

...Why?

  • Because they aren't handled or stressed a lot, good quality cords and cables on pedalboards generally do not break, and,
  • There is a more common reason for pedalboard failures...
  • ...no matter how many connections you have on a pedalboard, oxidation of contacts will cause more failures than anything else if some periodic "jiggling" is not done. 
  • This is especially true if you live near corrosive "salty ocean air".

To avoid pops and fadeouts at gigs, all you have to do is: 

  • Use all standard nickel plated plugs
  • Every 6 months, break any rust layer like this:
    • Twist all connectors back and forth several times
    • Move connectors in and out several times
  • If you live near the ocean, do this monthly 

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Types and Causes of Noise

Guitar rigs are susceptible to 3 types of noise, each with a different cause:

  • HUM . A low pitched, smooth bass tone (60Hz). 
    • If it does go away when you turn the ax down, you are probably using single coil pickups and standing too close to a power transformer in an amp, or some other "hum source". 
      • You can "sniff out" these kinds of noise sources.  Turn your ax all the way up, and walk around, holding the pickups up near different "suspects".  Hold it up close to where the power cable goes into a tube amp (power transformer is here), you will get the picture.
      • You can make a "humbucker" out of 2 single coil pickups, just by using the proper "out of phase" model pickup.  Then when 2 pickups are used, hum is cancelled, just like in a humbucker.  In an ax with 3 single coil pickups, like a Strat, install "out of phase" in the middle position.  Then positions 2 and 4 (on the 5-way switch) will cancel hum.  Newer Strats should already have this feature.  Older Strats did not.
    • If it does not go away when your turn the guitar down, it may be caused by one or more of these:
      • A ground loop in your rig, and this can be found and fixed (see Grounding and Hum). 
      • A cheap power supply, or one not designed for low-noise audio.  Get a good audio power supply, like our SnakePOWER, or a wall wart from Boss, Dunlop, etc.  These are all fine, low noise, ground-isolated Class 2 Transformers. 
      • An overloaded supply.  A supply won't hum until you exceed its current rating.  But drawing more current out of a supply means a shorter lifespan.  So be careful to not use too much more than 1/2 the current rating.  Most wall warts are rated at 200mA (good for powering 4-6 9VDC stompboxes).  Our SnakePOWER is rated at 500mA, and will power a dozen or more.  To find out if you are overloading:
        • Remove some pedals from the power-chain and see if the hum subsides, or...
        • Upgrade to SnakePOWER with 500mA---the most of any isolated-transformer 9VDC supply. This is epower nough current to power 15-20 9V Battery Pedals without overload.
      • A pedal that doesn't like to "share".  For some reason, there are a couple of pedals out there that just need their own individual power supply.
  • BUZZ . Similar to Hum (from 60Hz wall power frequency), but sounds like a "buzz" instead, with a higher pitched component in the sound
    • If does go away when you you turn the guitar down, you are probably using single-coil pickups and getting buzz from light dimmers, neon lights, color TV's, etc. (these emit radio waves).
      • Try turning-off these buzz sources, or move away from them.
      • It may help to rewire your pickups and pots properly, and shield the cavity (the manufacturers rarely do), Stewart-MacDonald has a nice kit, and Shielding a Strat has an excellent guide for proper wiring--take it to a good tech if you don't do it yourself.
    • If it does not go away when you turn the guitar down, you may have
      • A damaged (or cheap) amp.  Get a better one (we all will one day!)
      • Noisy wall power. Try plugging your amp into a good power strip that claims "EMI" or "RFI" filtering on the package.  Most simple surge protectors have this.  A full blown "power conditioner" does the same thing, but costs a lot more.
  • HISS . Is just  what it sounds like---a high pitched "white noise".
    • Hiss is typically "system" noise, and does not go away when the ax is turned down.
    • The most common cause is high gain. Use only enough gain to get the right sound, which we know can be a lot for some kinds of music.
    • Other than that, hiss is best reduced by getting better amps and FX pedals.
  • POWER SUPPLY NOISE  This is like buzz, but is not always based on the 60 Hz "wall power" frequency.  It is based on the switching frequency of your pedal's power supplies.
    • Power supplies, unless they are expensvie chassis style supplies with "toroid" transformers, can radiate noise as radio frequencies.  This does not imply you need an expensive toroidal power supply, only that you shouldn't put standard power supplies right up next to your pedals and cables.  When moved to a safe distance, there is no difference in noise between the expensive supplies and the standard wall warts.  They isolation and circuitry are the same, and the typical wall wart will have a higher current rating than most of the outputs provided by the expensive supply, which makes them better for power chains.  For more, see Chassic Style Supplies below.
    • A fun experiment:  Put a typical wall wart on an extension cord, and wave it around your pedals and cables while the volume is up loud on your amp.  This will give you an idea of how much noise your power supplies contribute, how far away they need to be, etc.  You can see Jody demonstrate this at the PedalSnake Channel on YouTube, in the help video about P-Lines and Power (starting at 0:27).
    • This is one reason PedalSnake makes rigs quieter.  Wall wart supplies move to the backline, away from your pedals and cables.  They even plug in to the same power strip as your amp, which yields a quieter "star ground".

If you do everything right to prevent noise, and still have problems, you could try a noise gate.  While they may be needed for high-gain players, they do alter the sound a bit, and are considered a "band-aid fix".  Its better to try to kill noise at its source. This is why most high-gain players use (quieter) humbucker pickups.

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"AC Adapters" (and other confusing names for power supplies)

At PedalSnake, we think power supply, and even wall wart, are less confusing names to use.  Other names, like "AC adapter" or "power adapter", are really misleading terms.  Why?

  • "Adapt" is a somewhat misleading term for what a power supply does, especially when "adapt" is used so commonly for changing the form and fit of pedal (and other electrical) connectors.  A better word for what a power supply does is to "convert" (or "transform") 120VAC wall-voltage to a low-voltage for pedals and other electronic stuff.
  • Most power supplies do not output "AC" power---most deliver  DC power.  So folks are often confused, thinking their "AC adapter" outputs AC, when in really outputs DC.
  • In the pedal biz, various types of Power Plug Adapters are often referred to as "power adapters", which is a better use of the term.

Two types of power supplies:

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annnnnndWall Warts 

Wall warts are the most economical way to get clean, quiet power.  You just have to know how to use them...  Some nice characteristics of wall warts are:

Wall Wart 200

  • They almost always have have isolated transformers (like SnakePOWER, Boss, Dunlop, etc.), so they are very quiet.
  • Our tests show that good wall warts, when used properly, are not only as quiet as more expensive chassis supplies, but as quiet as batteries! 
    • Don't overload the wall wart power supply (it may hum).  See Supply Current Ratings.
    • To avoid induced noise, keep wall warts (at least) a few inches aways from audio connections within your pedals. (PedalSnake makes this easy).
    • Avoid ground loop hum:  Be careful with a power chain from one wall wart that connects to more than one pedal chain.
    • Use a "star ground" in your rig...plug your wall warts into the same power strip as your amp.  (PedalSnake makes this easy).
    • For more...see Grounding and Hum.
  • They are mass-produced in large volumes, so they are usually inexpensive ($20 or less)
  • They almost always have an output of 200mA or more.  This means:

Most wall warts have a cable with a male plug, requiring our MF1-H (or MF2-I) PLine Pigtails Kit.

However, our SnakePOWER has a female output jack instead of the typical "cable and plug":

  • Use our "male to male" PLine Pigtails Kits  with SnakePOWER (MM1 (or MM2-I).
  • At 500mA, our SnakePOWER supply has the highest current rating of any ground-isolated Class 2 Transformer power supply.  Ground-isolated transformers (like most wall warts) are the quietest type power supplies, and deliver quiet clean power at a modest cost (when you know how to use them!).
  • SnakePOWER easily powers 15-20 9V Battery Pedals

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Chassis Style Supplies 

 

Wall wart stype power supplies have gotten a bad rap.  True, they can induce noise placed right up against pedals.  The better chassis style supplies have a toroidal transformer, which keeps noise from being induced this way, so the supply can be placed quietly right next to the pedals.  But, when moved a foot or two away, a wall wart supply is just as quiet, and a LOT cheaper.

Some of the other general arguments against using a chassis style supply:

  • Are more expensive than wall warts ($175 or more). 
  • Outputs can be isolated from each other, but not always
    • Having many isolated outputs can solve some hum problems, but...
    • ...so can adding a 2nd wall wart, which is much more affordable, because wall warts are isolated too.  Usually, isolating each "pedal chain" on its own wall wart works great!

Some additional arguments against using a chassis style supply if you want to use PedalSnake:

  • Chassis supplies are made to be on pedalboards, which requires running that nasty 120VAC power cord to the pedal area...uuuggghhh...which is something PedalSnake seeks to eliminate.
  • Some brands have outputs of only 100mA each, which powers only 3-4 9V Battery Pedals, taking little advantage of
    • Power-chains.  These will be limited to 3-4 pedals.
    • PedalSnake PLines.  You'll have to run a P-Line for every 3-4 pedals, whereas a supply with a single 500mA output can power a dozen or more 9V stompboxes thru one P-Line.

If you do elect to use a chassis style supply with PedalSnake, remember they have multiple female output jacks in the chassis (no cable/plug like a wall wart).  So be sure to use MM1 (or MM2-I) PLine Pigtails, so you'll have a male at both ends.

 

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How Many mA Do Pedals Really Draw?

A pedal will draw a certain amount of current (mA) from a power supply (or battery).  This is NOT the same as the "mA rating" of the supply.  The real current draw of the pedal is usually much less than the supply's current rating (usually printed on the supply, in "mA").  So you can usually power-chain several pedals from one supply. 

For example, a typical "9V battery" pedal draws less than 20mA.  So you can usually power 4-5 of these with a 200mA power supply without exceeding 50% (100mA) of the supply's current rating.  It is a good rule of thumb to not stress your power supply to the limit of its current rating.  Staying at 50% or less will keep the supply running cooler, which will increase its reliability and extend its life.  

For power-chaining purpose, knowing the real current draw of your pedals (or estimating it) can help you determine how many pedals you can run off the supply.  (You usually get a clue that you are chaining too many if you start to hear hum, or the supply gets hot.  They usually get warm, so this is a judgment call). 

If you can know (or estimate) the current draw of each pedal, you can check the mA rating of the supply and figure about how many pedals it will power.  These resources can help:

Pedal Current Categories

PedalSnake defines 4 Current Categories for pedals.  This can greatly simplify your decisions about power-chains and PLines. 

The Power List

If you really want to push the limits of a supply, you may not want to estimate the current draw.  Many are listed here, by manufacturer.


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Power-Chains
  • Reduce the number of power supplies you use 
  • Reduce the number of PLines you need for your PedalSnake 
Get a power-chain cable, like our Daisy4S, and chain power from one supply to several pedals of a given voltage (like 9VDC).
Daisy Chaining 500
Daisy4S has all standard 2.1mm plugs. Power Plug Adapters are available for pedals and for supplies if needed.

Whether you use PedalSnake or not, you must power chain properly to avoid hum.  See;

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True-Bypass Truths

What is a True-Bypass Pedal?

When a pedal is "true bypass", the FX circuit is completely bypassed when the pedal is "off".  The off switch connects the input to the output, as if the pedal isn't there.  You can tell when a pedal is true-bypass, because when the pedal is off you can still play your guitar thru the pedal with no battery or power applied.  The signal only dies when the pedal is switched on.

What is a Non-True-Bypass Pedal?

These are what we call "buffered" pedals.  The electronic circuit is not bypassed when the pedal is off---just the "effect" is turned off.  This is done to overcome cable capacitance.  The longer the cable, the higher the capacitance.  Buffer-circuits (with lower output impedance, or "lo-Z") will push the guitar signal thru more cable capacitance than a passive guitar pickup.  NOTE:  This is why you have to unplug the cable from the input of a buffered pedal to save the battery.  Even if the "effect" is stomped off, the circuit is still on and will continue to drain the battery until you do unplug the cable.

The Truth

The first pedals ever made (1960's) were true-bypass.  But tone-loss was noticed when these pedals were off, because the guitar cable and amp cable combine to make a pretty long "cable". So, the buffered pedal was invented.

In the 1990's true-bypass made a come back.  Some players were saying buffer circuits "colored" their tone, and they wanted true-bypass. However, with "all true-bypass", they must be aware of cable capacitance,which means using shorter cables, and more expensive, low-capacitance cables. (It may seem a bit odd that they feel this way, because true-bypass pedals still turn on the circuit on when the effect is on).

So when using all true-bypass pedals, and they are all off, the cable capacitance of all the cables from ax-to-amp adds up.  This mainly affects the pedal-chain that connects to a (passive) guitar pickup.  A pedal chain in an amp's FX Loop should have a lo-Z output buffer in the FX Send output.  An active pickup in an ax (requiring a battery) also has a buffered output. 

So, if you have all true-bypass pedals in your primary pedal chain, and have...

  • 20' cord from guitar to pedals
  • 15' of worth of short cables between pedals
  • 20' cord from pedals to amp
  • a passive guitar pickup (no battery)
True Bypass 400

...you are using a "virtual 55-foot cable" (when all pedals are off), and it is being driven by the hi-Z output of a passive guitar pickup. This much cable can cause tone loss, which is really high-frequency (treble) loss, no matter how good the cables are. 

For this reason, most pedals today are buffered (not true-bypass).  With a lo-Z buffer, we don't have to worry so much about using expensive short cables.  Buffers are usually 200 - 2,000 ohms, while guitar pickups are usually 6,000-14,000.  So the buffer with the highest Z will still drive 3 times more cable than the pickup with the lowest Z.

PedalSnake Recommends

  • Becuase PedalSnake G-Lines are of higher capacitance, a player should include at least one good, buffered pedal (like a tuner) in the pedal-chain that connects to the guitar pickup (the "primary chain"). 
  • The primary chain (if the pickup is passive) is the only one that needs a buffer.  FX Sends, wireless outputs, etc., are usually buffered already. 
  • Once there is one buffer in the primary chain, you are covered.  A passive pickup can usually drive up to 25 feet of cable to get to the pedals, the buffer drives the rest of the cable all the way to the amp.  But, after having the one essential buffer, the more true-bypass pedals you have, the better.  Too many buffers can indeed start to color your sound, but it usually takes at least 6-8 to begin to notice anything.

The Rationale

We have never seen anyone who could tell the difference, in a blindfolded A/B test, between a good buffered pedal, and no buffer (the guitar connected directly to the amp).  A few folks out there may be able to hear a difference, but very few think it matters much.  Buffered pedals are usually good about having low-noise, low-distortion output buffers.

So overall, we think it is fair to say that a few good buffered pedals will not "color tone" to any significant degree.  Just don't use too many buffers.  A good practical limit may be 4-6 in your rig, but let your ears be the judge.  


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Pedaltrain Pedalboards

PedalTrain Logo 187

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  • Pedaltrains Pedalboards---the best for PedalSnake, or for any rig, really
  • Pedaltrain's raised, tilted design allows...
    • This yeilds the famous the UltraCool Look for PedalSnake.
    • PedalSnake to coil-up in the Pedaltrain case
    • Easy stomping
  • Elegant in their simplicity, rugged, and affordable
    • Tough black powercost finish lasts a lifetime
    • Lightweight aluminum alloy construction---super strong
  • No gimmicks like "built-in" power supplies or power patch bays to cause hum problems. Why is this desirable?
    • Power supply patchbay outputs are almost always a power-chain; i.e., not isolated from one another.
    • So, to stay hum free, power is best done with individual isolated wall warts. Usually, when hum occrurs, a 2nd isolated wall wart is needed to isolate one pedal chain from another.  See Grounding and Hum.