Building a mini effects pedalboard

Gear

My main effects board is heavy. It’s also too wide for gigs in small pubs without a dedicated stage. So, I’ve built a micro-sized pedalboard that’s ideal for practising the guitar at home, rehearsing and performing.

The mini board covers what are for me the four essentials: tuner, drive, boost and delay. There’s also space for one additional pedal. For my current sound with the Rhino and the Ranters, this fifth effect is a tremolo.

Planning

For me, a mini pedalboard must be:

  • Lightweight – small enough to tuck under an arm or carry in a shoulder bag.
  • Powered by one rechargeable battery – for stages without mains at the front or for when you need to set up in minutes.
  • Hard-wearing and low budget – resistant to beer, boots, heels and ‘the stage is in the crowd’ gigs (no place for that original TS808 or boutique box).
  • Large enough to accommodate five pedals – tuner, overdrive, boost, delay and one other.

Fewer pedals, better sound

One thing I’ve discovered in the last two years is guitar effects paralysis in pursuit of tone nirvana. Just one… more… pedal… then that’s it. You think you have the perfect tone in the bag (ok, in a mahoosive flight case). You envisage soloing into an instrumental wig-out sunset of ecstasy while David Gilmour weeps at the bar, doubting his signature tone that now feels like a telephone of tin cans and wire in comparison to the wondrous audio feast you’re serving.

Meanwhile, you’re too busy choosing the right combination of effects and tap dancing around the board. The musical moment passes, and you’re still staring at your feet. Acceptable in a shoegaze band; not in showbiz. David rests easy, safely unchallenged atop his tone pedestal.

Instead of many drives in series, each delicately tickling the next into a perfect simulation of valve breakup, I decided to make one excellent drive pedal the core of my board. I followed the approach Phillippe Herndon recommends in State of the Stomp: More Sounds From Fewer Pedals (see the fearsome ‘Balls Deluxe’ device). After much deliberation, I chose Mooer’s Green Mile Overdrive, a budget clone of Ibanez’s classic tube screamer.

The signal chain is:

  • TC Electronic PolyTune Mini
  • Mooer Green Mile Overdrive
  • TC Electronic Spark Mini Booster
  • Mooer Mod Factory
  • Mooer Ana Echo

Board and power

The board is a Pedaltrain Nano. It’s lightweight, portable in a soft carry case, with enough space for five nano- or four Boss-sized pedals.

Pedaltrain Nano

Pedaltrain Nano

A Sanyo Eneloop Pedal Juice rechargeable battery provides the power. When attached to the board’s underside with cable ties, the Eneloop doesn’t look as neat as Pedaltrain’s made-to-measure VOLTO battery. The Eneloop is, however, half the price of the VOLTO.

Sanyo Eneloop Pedal Juice battery

Sanyo Eneloop Pedal Juice battery

I glued rubber chair feet pads of different heights to the Pedaltrain. Doing so angles the board comfortably to switch effects on and off, and provides enough height clearance to fit the Eneloop battery underneath.

Rubber feet mounted on Pedaltrain Nano

Rubber feet mounted on Pedaltrain Nano

battery-mounted-side-view-web

The feet at the rear are taller than those at the front

A useful feature of the Eneloop is the charge indicator. Turning from green through amber to red, you can see how much charge remains. There’s plenty of juice for several rehearsals and any single gig length. I deliberately positioned the battery so that the charge indicator remains visible from above while leaving a finger’s width for access to the on/off button.

Battery charge indicator light

Battery charge indicator light

Preparing the pedal bases

I attached all pedals to the board with velcro, removing rubber bases and any feet from the pedals before attaching the velcro. This helps to form a strong bond between velcro and pedal base.

Cables

Connecting five nano pedals with standard patch cables, while leaving enough space to press the battery’s on/off button, was a squeeze. Patch cables with pancake plugs help here.

Pancake connectors

Cables with pancake plugs

The final job was tidying up loose cables underneath the board and securing each power cable supplying a pedal with a cable tie. Mooer pedals’ power input sockets are on the top, which makes this job easy. TC Electronics’s side-mounted sockets are more of a pain.

Secure power cables with ties

Secure power cables with ties

Finished board

Here’s the end result. A lightweight, robust and budget mini pedalboard with enough scope to create a variety of tones yet small enough to tuck under your arm in a bag.

Finished pedalboard with five nano-sized pedals

Finished pedalboard with five nano-sized pedals

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