pedal board

Pedal Board: A Beginner’s Guide

So you can play the guitar. You’ve learned all the riffs, can play all the chords, can nail all the guitar solo facial expressions. That’s great. But without the right tones, things are still going to sound a little ‘off’. In order to get a really great sound, I’d recommend a pedal board for electric guitarists.

What is a pedal board?

Sound travels from your electric guitar to an amplifier. This is what amplifies the sound. We know this part. Guitar pedals can manipulate that sound prior to it arriving at the amp. Sound passes through a chain from the guitar to the amp, so a pedal can actually affect those that follow it. It looks a little something like this:

SOUND FROM GUITAR —> Pedal A —> PEDAL B —> PEDAL C —> ETC. —> AMP

For ease of use, pedals are often arranged on a board; hence the term “pedal board”. At its most complex, my board looked like this:

Dave Betts' pedal board

Because most of these pedals are unnecessary for a beginner, I will briefly label them and then we’ll move on:

  • Gigrig Generator and Distributors: Power for the board
  • Electro Harmonix Holy Grail Nail: Reverb pedal
  • Digitech Whammy and Pog 2: Harmoniser pedals
  • Visual Sound Jekyll and Hyde: Overdrive/Distortion pedal
  • T.C. Electronic Nova Delay and Boss DD7 (with Bespeco tap tempo): Delay pedals
  • Looper Switch to run the pedals into
  • Super Chili Picoso: Boost pedal
  • Wah pedal
  • Volume pedal
  • Boss TU-3: Tuner pedal
  • Keeley 4 Knob Compressor: compressor pedal
  • George Ls: patch cables
  • Pedal Train Pro: The board itself

A Beginner’s Pedal Board

Dave's Beginner pedal board

When I moved to Canada in 2014, I massively simplified my board and to be honest, I hardly even notice the difference now. I have been asked countless times which pedals I would recommend for guitarists just starting out…this is it. I’ll explain this board and why I think each item (other than the second delay) is vital for a worship musician. The pedals themselves are not vital, but rather, the type of pedal:

1. VOLUME PEDAL

I use the Ernie Ball VP JR now. It was a gift from the youth worship team I used to lead, and it’s amazing. Volume pedals mean that you can control the volume of your guitar with your foot. That means you can create violin-like volume swells, and tune your guitar without making a ton of noise!

2. TUNER

Tuners are must-haves. This should be the first thing you buy. If your guitar is out of tune, it will be a distraction. No. Matter. What. Another reason I love volume pedals is for their ‘bypass’ feature, that means you can keep your tuner on at all times. Highly recommended.

3. OVERDRIVE/DISTORTION

The next thing that I believe should be in the chain is a good overdrive pedal. The reality is, there is practically no need for a distortion pedal in contemporary worship music at the moment (but who knows, that might change). For this reason, I would focus on overdrive primarily. It creates that crunchy sound that adds beefiness to the guitar’s sound. This is another vital pedal. I recommend the Jekyll and Hyde above, an Ibanez TS9 or a Fulltone Fulldrive 3. Honestly, though, there are a million great options, so explore and see what’s right for you!

4. DELAY

Personally, I’m a delay geek. I love the sound of a guitar with a delay on it and probably overuse it to be completely honest. Delay can either create an ethereal, atmospheric sound or really give the arrangement a sense of drive and momentum; both of which are perfect for contemporary worship music (at the moment – I’m noticing teams move away from it more recently though). The one crucial thing to make sure of is that your delay has a tap tempo. If it doesn’t, the delay will sound out of time and probably, pretty nasty.

I have two delays because the Nova Delay had so much promise! I pretty much only use it for its reverse delay function now though. In my opinion, it just can’t beat the dotted 8th (800ms on the pedal) setting on the DD7. If I had an endless budget, I’d buy something from Strymon in a heartbeat.

5. Reverb

Reverb makes your guitar sound like it’s in a big room, which can be awesome (depending on how intense the settings are). Personally, I actually use reverb from the pedal and from the amp, but that’s a personal choice for the setting that I’m in and it works really well. It might work for you, but then, it might not. Use your own judgment!

Other considerations

I now use a Pedal Train Jr as my board, and I think it’s great. You’ll need patch cables, a power supply, and a board, so things can get pretty pricey quite quickly. Personally, I would stick to analogue over digital sounds at the moment (mainly because the overdrive sounds just aren’t quite there yet), but technology is always improving.

For more information, I put together a number of video tutorials on guitar playing (including a walk through my pedal board setup) which you might find helpful.

LEARN HOW TO PLAY GRACEFULLY BROKEN BY MATT REDMAN ON ELECTRIC GUITAR

I know this doesn’t come close to answering your pedal board questions, but hopefully, it’s a start. I’d love to have a discussion with you in the comments below!

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