Pedal Rig Tips

These articles summarize some of the things I've learned from a lifetime of playing guitar, and doing customer support for PedalSnake, where I get to talk to guitarists with pedals all day long!  You can learn a lot when you listen!

Jody Page, President and PedalSnake Inventor


Multi-Effects vs Stompboxes

There was a migration towards multi-FX in the 1990's. While PedalSnake works fine with multi-FX units, there has been a trend back to stomp boxes.  There are now thousands of great sounding stompboxes out there. 

Players often debate whether to go with a multi-effects unit or several stomp pedals.  Here is a brief comparison, with some of the pro's and con's of each.


All FX in a single unit = easy setup

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

The sounds are often fixed, impossible to change

It is easy change out stomp boxes, one at a time

Programming with menus can be slow and cumbersome

Turning a knob on a stomp box is fast and easy

Digital FX can sound less natural

Many analog FX sound better

Digital modeling of distortion has come a long way, but...
The best overdrives are analog, especially for lighter distortion


Pedal Order
Does it matter?  Yes. 
Time-based FX should come after any distortion happens.  In other words, "delay the distortion" rather than "distort the delay".  This is amp FX Loops were invented.  If you get distortion from the front end preamp of a gain-master type amp, the FX Loop provides a way to put time-based FX after the preamp distortion, so their sound stays clean.
The main rules of thumb are:
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

Finally--Easy FX Loops

This is one of the great benefits of PedalSnake, because amps with FX Loops become just as easy to use as amps without them---you run only one cable, no matter what your rig contains.
In the past players tended to avoid using Loops, even if their amp had one, because they hated running the 2 extra guitar cords (which was somewhat of a pain).
Should you use your FX Loop?  If you:  1)  Use distortion from your amp's front end preamp, and  2)  Use clean time-based effects (like delay, tremolo, reverb, etc.)...then YES.  See Pedal Order above.

Pedalboard "Failures"?

This sounds weird, but its a fact, and happens all the time.  A layer of rust (see galvanic corrosion) can build up and cause your sound to crackle and fade...or stop altogether....causing many good cables to be tossed for no reason. 

This can happen when electrical contacts experience these 3 conditions:

1.  Low current (under 1000mA)
2.  Low voltage (under 30V)
3.  Connections remained plugged in a long period of time


Pedalboards experience all 3! 

An electrical contact that experiences all 3 conditions will slowly develop a thin layer of rust between the two mating contacts.  If all the plugs on your board don't get unplugged or moved periodically to break the rust layer, you may start to hear  "pops", "crackles", and "fade-outs".  (This is why smacking electronic devices upside the head will often make them straighten up---the vibration broke through the thin rust layer). 

Not knowing this, folks hear a problem and think its the cable.  Perfectly good cables often get thrown away. 

Folks also begin to fear that "fewer connections mean fewer failures".  While this is technically true, it is rarely a factor with pedalboards.


Because good quality cords and cables on pedalboards generally do not break because they aren't handled or stressed a lot.
So most all pedalboard "failures" are due to one thing...rust on the contacts.  All you have to do to keep clean signal is to rotate each plug on your board back and forth in its socket.  This will scrape the contacts clean.  Do it every 6 months, or before important gigs.


What about gold plugs?  I was told they prevent corrosion.  Are they really better?

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

Contrary to popular belief (again, sales hype), gold is not the best electrical conductor.  That honor goes to silver.  Copper is next, gold is 3rd.  Gold is a superior metal only because it does not corrode. 

But rust between electrical contacts is due to galvanic corrosion, which happens faster between 2 contacts if the contacts are not the same metal.  So for gold to be of value, both mating contacts--male and female--must be gold.  This is why critical, high-reliability applications, like medical equipment or the space shuttle, use all-gold contacts.

but the guitar gear industry does not use gold.  The quasi-standard there is nickel-plated brass.  Most all guitar amps, pedals, etc. have nickel-plated connectors.  A gold plug on a guitar cable means two different metals will be touching, and this only serves to corrode the nickel faster.

So don't pay extra for gold plugs on your cable.  Get the standard nickel plugs.  Gold for guitar cables sales hype, nothing more.


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Noise:  Types and Causes

Noise is a mystery, and one of the more frustrating things about playing electric guitar.  Solving it can be like a black art.  You may see articles about noise that treat it like it is one thing, with one solution.  Far from it. 

Fortunately, Jody Page, PedalSnake's inventor, was trained as a noise-reduction specialist, and breaks down guitar rig noise into hum, buzz, hiss, power supply noise, and digital noise.  Here are some of his tips that can help clear things up.

Sounds like:  A low pitched bass tone at 60Hz ( a little sharp of a low Bb).  50Hz in Europe (a little flat of a low A).
  • If it goes 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" (this works best with single coils).  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 canceled, 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. 
    • Don't Overload a power  supply. 
      • 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 enough to power 15-20 9V Battery Pedals without overload.
    • A pedal that doesn't like to "share" on a power chain.  This is usually digital noise (see below).
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Sounds like:  Similar to Hum (from 60Hz wall power frequency), but sounds like a "buzz" instead, with a higher pitched component in the sound.
  • If it goes 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 shielding kit.  And their are some excellent online guides about how to improve the wiring in a Strat, or other single-coil axes.
  • 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!)
    • You could have 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.  It may not eliminate the buzz, but it may help.  (A full blown "power conditioner" does the same thing, but costs a lot more, and may not work better.)  
Sound like:  High pitched "white noise".
  • It does not go away when the ax is turned down.
  • Hiss is typically "system" noise.  The most common cause is high gain.  Use only enough gain to get the sound you need.
  • Other than that, hiss is best reduced by getting better amps and FX pedals.
Sounds 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.
  • It does not go away when the ax is turned down.
  • When placed right up against a pedal, a power supply can radiate transformer-noise into the pedal electronics.  You can get an expensive supply with "toroid" transformers,or simply move the supply a few inches away from the pedal. 
  • 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 0:26).
  • This is one reason PedalSnake makes rigs quieter.  Standard 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".
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Sounds Like:  Hiss, buzz, or even a high-pitched whine. 
  • It will not go away when you turn the guitar down.
This is occurring more and more as more pedals go digital. Usually it sounds like a strange background whine.

We are often told digital noise is a "ground loop".  It is not.  Very few folks really understand a "ground loop", and it has become the pat answer for the cause of most any noise problem. 

Digital noise is caused by lack of proper filtering in the pedal.  Digital pedals have high frequency "switching noise".  Most pedals filter this out of the analog audio signal (the sound you hear).  But they sometimes do not filter it out of their power input line, so digital switching noise can escape out onto a power daisy-chain.  Since analog pedals have no need to filter out digital switching noise, the noise enters their audio signal, and on to the amp where you hear it.

Isolating the offending pedal with ground-isolated power will fix this.  So the typical sales response is to tell us we must buy an expensive multi-output supply, with all isolated outputs.  (Lord, how they love to sell us expensive power supplies!). 
Cost:  $150 or more

But this like telling someone they must buy a Ferrari when they have bad spark plug.  Sure, it fixes the problem, but there are simpler, less costly ways. 

Simply take the offending pedal off the daisy-chain, and use any decent ground-isolated transformer (wall wart) to power this pedal by itself (see Isolating Digital Noise).
Cost:  ~ $20

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

At PedalSnake, we think power supply, and even wall wart, are better terms to use than "AC adapter" or "power adapter".  These can be misleading.  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 a plug.  Power supplies do not "adapt, they "transform" 120VAC wall-voltage to a low-voltage for pedals and other electronic stuff.
Another confusing aspect of "AC adapter" is that most power supplies put out DC not "AC" power.  So folks are often confused, thinking their "AC adapter" outputs AC, when in really outputs DC.
In the pedal biz, Power Plug Adapters are often referred to as "power adapters", which is a better use of the term.
So this is why, here at the PedalSnake site, we say "power supply".

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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" current rating of the power supply, which can be found on the label of the supply under "output".  If a current is written by the pedal's power input jack, in "A" or "mA", the same applies.  It is telling you what size power supply to use.

A pedal usually draws much less than the current rating of the supply powering it.  This is why a power-chain powering several pedals from one supply can be very effective and economical. 

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, however, to not stress your power supply to its limit.  Staying at 50% or less will keep the supply running cooler, which will increase its reliability and extend its life.  If you must, you can creep up to 75%, but just be aware there are limits.

See Power Chaining is Fine (when done right).


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True-Bypass Truths


What is a True-Bypass Pedal?

A pedal is "true bypass" if the FX circuit is completely bypassed when the pedal is stomped off.  The input of the pedal is hardwired to the output, as if the pedal wasn't there.  You can easily tell if a pedal is true-bypass.  When the pedal is off and power is removed, if you can still hear your guitar, the pedal is true bypass.   The signal dies when the pedal is switched on, and will come back again when power is reapplied.

What is a Buffered Pedal?

These are non-true-bypass.  The electronic circuit is not bypassed when the pedal is off---just the "effect" is turned off in the circuit.  This is done so that tone is not lost with long cables.  The longer the cable, the higher the capacitance.  Buffer-circuits (with lower output impedance, or "lo-Z") will push the guitar signal thru much more cable capacitance than a passive guitar pickup (hi-Z).  Buffers are usually 200 - 2,000 ohms, while guitar pickups are usually 6,000-14,000.  So a buffer will drive at least 3 times more cable than a passive pickup;  usually more.

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 made were true-bypass.  But players quickly noticed tone-loss when these pedals were off, because of the extra guitar cable needed.  The capacitance got too high for a hi-Z pickup. 

So, the buffered pedal was invented.

However, in the 1990's true-bypass pedals made a comeback.  Some players thought buffer circuits "colored" their tone.   (It may seem a bit odd that they felt this way, because true-bypass pedals still turn on the buffer circuit on when the effect is on, and active guitar pickups are buffers too.)

However, they soon found that with "all true-bypass" that they must use shorter, more expensive, low-capacitance cables.  Because when all the pedals are off, the capacitance of all the cables from ax-to-amp adds up, including those in between pedals.

NOTE  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 ax-to-amp-input chain, it adds up like this:

  • 20' cord from guitar to pedals
  • 15' of worth of short cables between pedals
  • 20' cord from pedals to amp
True Bypass 400

This translates to a "virtual 55-foot cable" (when all pedals are off).  This much cable can cause severe tone loss when being driven by a hi-Z passive pickup.  For this reason, most pedals today are buffered (not true-bypass), so we don't have to worry about cables. 

PedalSnake Recommends

All pedal users should have at least one buffered pedal between a passive guitar pickup and the amp input.  This is especially true when using PedalSnake, because PedalSnake's 1/4" G-Lines are of higher capacitance than traditional guitar cords.  But it is actually this combination of lo-Z buffer and high capacitance cable that reduces noise in PedalSnake.  See Keeping it Quiet.

Once there is one buffer in your primary "ax pickup" pedal chain, you are covered.  One buffer is actually ideal.  If you get too many buffers, tone can be affected.  If you don't exceed 5-6 buffers in your total signal path, and you should be fine. 


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Pedaltrain Pedalboards

PedalTrain Logo 187



  • Pedaltrain Pedalboards---the best for PedalSnake, or for any rig, really
  • Pedaltrain's raised, tilted design allows...
    • This yields the famous the Ultra Cool Look for PedalSnake.
    • PedalSnake to coil-up in the Pedaltrain case
    • Easy stomping
  • Elegant in their simplicity, rugged, and affordable
    • Tough black powdercoat 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 occurs, a 2nd isolated wall wart is needed to isolate one pedal chain from another.  See Grounding and Hum.

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PedalSnake® is the trademark name for Stage Magic's All-in-One Pedal Cabling Solution. Copyright © 2012 Stage Magic, Inc.