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.
   
 
MULTI-FX   STOMP BOXES

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
 
 
Even though FX Loops can offer studio quality sound to your clean effects, folks shy away from them because of the 2 extra cables involved (send and return from the loop). 

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.
 
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, fade, or stop altogether.  When a cable is wiggled, the crackle can be heard.  As a result, many good cables get tossed for no reason. 

Galvanic corrosion can happen to electrical contacts that 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 of these conditions will slowly develop a thin layer of rust between the two mating contacts.  How fast the rust develops depends upon the 2 metals that are coming in contact with one another.  What this means is, 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 whacking failing electronic devices real hard 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.
 
   

Why?

A:  Because good quality cords and cables on pedalboards generally do not break because they aren't handled or stressed a lot.
 
 
Most all pedalboard "failures" are due to this 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 connector jacks.

Contrary to popular belief (again, sales hype), gold is not the best electrical conductor.  That honor goes to silver.  Copper is 2nd, gold is 3rd.  Gold is a superior metal for electronics only because it does not corrode. 

But corrosion between electrical contacts is most often 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 electronics on the space shuttle, use all-gold contacts...on both sides.

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
 

This section became so informative and valuable, we enhanced it further and now offer the Guitar Noise Manual

 

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


At PedalSnake, we think power supply, and even wall wart, are better terms to use.  "AC adapter" or "power adapter" are popular terms, but they can be misleading.

In the audio biz, "adapter" is commonly used for changing the form and fit of a plug.  Power supplies do not "adapt" anything; 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 we say "power supply", and we invite you to joing us.
 
 

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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.

If you want to find out more accurately the amount of current you are drawing, check out The Power List online at Stinkfoot.se.

 


 

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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?

Buffered pedals are those which are not 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. 

But PedalSnake found another way to use the low Z output of a buffered pedal, and introduced a A Better Way...

 
PedalSnake Introduces

PedalSnake's new and patented wiring scheme employs the HiC-LoZ method, which not only allows guitarists to run power and audio quietly together, but it actually reduces noise..

How can this be?

 
PedalSnake's audio lines are higher capacitance (Hi-C), and when combined with the low impedance (Lo-Z) output of a buffered pedal, it becomes the quietest connection you can have.  For more about why this is, see How Is HiC-Lo-Z a Good Thing?
 
   
 

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Pedaltrain Pedalboards

PedalTrain Logo 187

 

 


The best pedalboard for use with PedalSnake, or any rig for that matter.
  • The raised, tilted design allows PedalSnake's G-Line and P-Line Pigtails to easily tie-off and hide underneath (they even supply nice Velcro!).  This yields the famous the Ultra Cool Look for PedalSnake.
  • PedalSnake easily coils up in the Pedaltrain case
  • The slgiht forward tilt make for easier stomping
  • Tough black powdercoat finish lasts a lifetime
  • Lightweight aluminum alloy construction---super strong

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