If you’re a guitarist then you might agree that one of the most satisfying things about playing the instrument is getting a sweet tone. Whether you’re attempting to emulate the tone of a favourite guitarist, or sculpt a unique one for yourself, getting a good sound out of your guitar is probably the most essential aspect of playing, and so in your search for the ultimate tone you’ll likely find yourself hunting for some effects pedals to open up your sonic palette. Over the years I’ve acquired a decent collection of pedals, and while it was easily manageable when I only had a wah and overdrive pedal, once the rest started rolling in I found myself tangled in cables and power adaptors. I knew I needed a pedalboard but as didn’t want to spend $200+ on one I instead chose to deal with the chaos I had created. That was until a few weeks ago when I happened upon a post at the harmony central forums about a guy who constructed a pedal board using a $10 shelf unit from IKEA. The shelf in question is called a GORM (who the fuck names these things?) and this cheap DIY pedalboard has inspired literally hundreds of people to create their own.
Before I detail my little DIY odyssey I’ll quickly share with you the pedals I have in my collection and the order I’ve placed them in the signal chain. I’ll also say a few words about each pedal.
1. Korg Pitchblack Tuner - This little guy tunes my guitar and does a pretty good job of it. It goes first in the effects chain because it needs a pure guitar signal in order to read the notes accurately. Of course, it goes without saying that a tuning pedal should not be a substitute for tuning by ear, as that is a crucial skill for any guitarist, but it is still very handy to have in an effects board in order to get perfect tuning on the fly.
2. Vox V847 Wah - A wah wah pedal is a guitarists best friend and should be the first pedal you purchase. It’s great to use simply as a boost – Jimmy Page often played with his wah kicked on to give his leads extra bite. Wah works great with either overdrive or clean, which makes it a very versatile pedal. I run the wah before the dirt because to my ears it sounds better to add overdrive/distortion to a clean wah sound rather than add wah to a distorted signal. My Vox has been modded by Modest Mike to make it true bypass (doesn’t suck tone), he also greatly increased its range and vocal quality, and even added a switch that turns the wah into a volume pedal!
3. MXR Dyna Comp - A recording musicians most prized pedal – listen to any of your favourite albums and a compressor was likely used on the guitar. The Dyna Comp compresses your guitar signal so that the dynamics are consistent while adding a bit of sustain. The evened out dynamics makes it ideal for playing chords that don’t cut through the mix too drastically, while the sustain gives guitar solos a nice character. Tube driven overdrive compresses your signal somewhat, which results in a slightly squashed sound. Used thoroughly in funk for that smooth, syncopated flavour.
4. EHX Micro Synthesizer - This pedal is an absolute beast. Electro Harmonix are notorious for making crazy pedals and this one is certainly no exception! The Micro Synth somehow makes your guitar sound like a Moog synthesizer, capable of everything from slow, pulsating swells, to fast lazer beams. It also has an octave up (think Hendrix) and a sub-octave (makes your guitar sound like a bass) voice slider. It’s completely analog so the sound is warm and natural, not artificial at all like some digital synths. Mine was modded by shotgunnmods to make it sound fatter and more bad ass in every way. He also made the pedal true bypass (just like the wah, this pedal is a huge tone sucker without true bypass, absolutely essential mod) and tweaked it to work with a specially modded crybaby wah that controls the stop frequency of the pedal, enabling me to create synth wah effects. Super cool!
5. Boss SD-1 - The Boss Super Drive is the cheapest pedal I own (it cost me around $30) but it also delivers the most tone for the money spent. This is seriously a great sounding overdrive pedal and sounds even better now since I got it modded by the same guy who modded my wah. It’s been modded to resemble the famous Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer Pedal. This puppy has a lot of sweet gain on tap.
6. Fulltone OCD - The OCD (obsessive compulsive drive) is without a doubt the best overdrive pedal I have ever played. It produces a totally organic sounding drive that can otherwise only be obtained by cranking a tube amp. Think ‘The Ocean’ by Led Zeppelin… that’s what this pedal does. It can be powered by either a 9V or 18V adaptor. I play mine with 18v as it gives the pedal way more headroom and rewards me with a less fizzy, and more dynamic overdrive. I stack this with the Boss SD-1 to get some sizzling tones.
7. EHX Big Muff Pi - The legendary Big Muff fuzz pedal. Famous for being used by David Gilmour (check out ‘Echoes’ live at Pompeii for a great example). Fuzz is different from overdrive in the sense that it’s rougher and, well, fuzzier. I actually stole this pedal from Allans back when I was in high school and got blacklisted from the shop because of it. I remember getting voice messages on my phone from the guy at the store accusing me of ‘stealing the Big Muff’ and finding it hilarious. I feel bad for it now, in retrospect, but I would still never give up this pedal! For another great example of what this pedal can accomplish have a listen to ‘Sitting on Top of the World’ by Cream.
8. MXR M-108 10 Band Equaliser - This is a pedal that would likely get overlooked by most tone searchers as it doesn’t really do anything wild and seems to be a waste of money, but that is far from reality. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that if you are unsatisfied with your tone, then this should be the first pedal you buy. Forget what I said about the wah, this is the most essential tool to have. It completely opens up your tonal range by allowing you to tweak with 10 sliders covering basically every usable frequency that a guitar can produce. With this pedal you can literally sculpt your sound. I put it after the overdrive/fuzz pedals so I can use it to shape the sound of my drive.
9. EHX Memory Toy - The Memory Toy is a lot of fun, as toys should be. It’s a tiny version of the infamous Memory Man (there’s also a pedal in between the Man and the Toy called the Memory Boy.. isn’t that cute) The Memory Toy is an all analog delay that creates warm, vibrant repeats. It also acts as a great boost and just fills the air with a indescribably sweet sustain (I just described it didn’t I?) This thing also self-oscialltes when you put the feedback knob on full, creating some crazy sounds. Works great in conjunction with my Micro Synth for launching into outer space.
10. EHX Holy Grail Nano - The stock reverb on my Vox AC15 is pretty pathetic, and while changing the reverb tank to an Accutronics was a huge improvement, still nothing can touch the reverb that leaks out of this tiny pedal. It has three switches: Spring, Hall, and Flerb. Flerb is flanger mixed with reverb and I rarely use it. Spring is what my amp uses and is known for that washed out surfy sound, while hall makes you sound like you’re playing in a concert stadium, and is just the business.
11. Boss RC-3 Loop Station - This is possibly the best pedal purchase I made as it has single handedly improved my guitar playing more so than any other thing I can think of. It has put my learning on overdrive as it allows me to record guitar rhythms on top of a drum track and loop it endlessly, letting me craft solos over the top for as long as I please. It’s like having a band in a pedal. Truly awesome.
All right, so now that I’ve explained my pedal setup it’s time to get straight into the heart of this post. The DIY IKEA pedalboard!
- GORM shelf
- Velcro tape
- Patch cables
First thing you need to do is pay a visit to your local IKEA and pick up a GORM shelf in either 77 x 31cm ($15) or 77 x 51cm ($20). They come in packs of two. The smaller one has three instead of five planks of wood. I bought the larger one, as you can see in the pic. The thing looks a little plain and needs a bit of work, but you can no doubt see the potential.
After you’ve purchased and taken home your GORM shelf it’s time to sand the hell out of it. This is to ensure a smooth surface for the paint job you hopefully plan to do. Use whatever grit sand paper you want, so long as you make sure you do a real good job getting a fine layer of that wood finish off the board.
Next you want to paint the thing. You can use spray paint if you like but I opted to use house paint because it’s thicker and produces a nicer overall finish than spray paint. If you use house paint make sure to use a roller as using a paint brush will only be a pain in the ass and will also result in an uneven finish. Be sure to choose a colour that suits you as this is one of the most personal steps in the whole process. I chose a cream white to match my amp cabinet, and also because I enjoy the contrast it has against the black velcro.
Next step is to get the other shelf that came in the set and saw off one of the planks. This plank will be used to raise the pedalboard at a slight angle so the pedals at the back of the board are as reachable as the pedals in the front. You might need a hammer to remove the nails once you’ve taken the plank out. Go ahead and sand/paint this piece of wood as well.
After I had done this step I placed the pedals flat on the board to get an idea of how much space I would have. I decided that the board was too large for the amount of pedals I had and decided to saw off one of the planks from the main board. Had I known this before I could’ve saved myself having to saw a plank off the spare board. Note in the picture the board now has 4 instead of 5 planks.
The next step is to get out your velcro tape. You should have enough tape for both the pedalboard and for each of the pedals. Cut strips of the soft, fuzzy velcro and attach it carefully to each plank on the board. If you’re as anal as me then you will try to place the tape as symmetrically as possible. I only taped the middle of each plank and left room on either side so more of the white finish would be visible.
After you have carefully applied the soft velcro tape to the board it is time to attach the sharp, hook velcro tape to the bases of each pedal. But before you do this make sure to take off any rubber feet glued to the pedals. BOSS pedals in particular have a rather thick rubber padding on the bottom, which should be removed.
You might have a hard time defacing your pedals like this, but know that these rubber feet are no longer necessary and will only get in the way of securing a strong connection with the velcro tape. If resale value is a concern of yours, you can keep the rubber feet in a zip lock bag. Now it is time to measure the length of tape needed for each pedal, and to cut it.
Once you’ve cut the hook side velcro tape you simply stick it on the back of each pedal. You might be wondering what those weird robot ear looking things are coming out of my pedals. Those are connectors for my patch cables which I’ll be making myself with a patch cable kit. More on that later.
And by later I mean now. What cables you use play a very important role in your pedalboard. Using cheap and inferior cables results in a lot of unwanted noise in your chain and a diminished tone as a result of the guitar signal being inadequately transported from pedal to pedal. Also you want to use the least amount of cable possible, as too much means your guitar signal has longer to travel to reach the amp, and therefore loses sonic potency on the way.
The solution to this problem? Make your own cables using superior materials. This usually requires a soldering iron and soldering skills. But you can buy solderless cable kits that include a certain length of cable, a cable cutter, and a bunch of connector points. The kit I purchased from Planet Waves includes all of the above, and making cables is as easy as measuring the length I need, cutting the cable, putting it inside the connector, and screwing it shut with a small flat head screwdriver.
Now all that’s left to do is to place the pedals on the board in the order you want to have them, keeping in mind that generally tuners go first, followed by filters (wah, auto wah, envelope filters), then compressors, then overdrives, then modulation (chorus, tremolo, flangers, phasers), then volume pedals, then delays, and finally reverb. EQs are generally placed either before or after the overdrive. Be sure to put the very first pedal in the chain on the very far right or left of the board, and the last pedal in the chain on the edge of the opposite side. This is so you can easily plug your guitar into one side of the pedal board and plug your amp into the other.
Once you’ve decided on the perfect layout for your pedals – one which results in the least amount of cable distance between each pedal in the chain – it’s time to start cutting the cables to length and attaching them to each pedal. It’s best to use right angle rather than straight angle connectors, so they can be hidden inside the gaps in between each plank of wood, which saves space and looks less cluttered.
You will also want to attach the spare plank to the back of the board now and hammer it in place with some nails. A screwdriver can also work, but be careful not to use screws too big, as they can split the wood.
Lastly, attach a powerboard to the underside of the pedalboard (use any velcro tape you have left) and plug all of your power adaptors into it. Ideally you should get a single power adaptor with a high energy output (1000msa or higher) and a daisy chain, so you can power all of your pedals with the one adaptor.
If you like you can also attach rubber feet to the bottom of the board to give it a little extra height and some added support. You can also get a strip of wood and nail it into the underside to give the thing some more stability.
And there you have it, a fully functional, personally customised, and cheap pedalboard!
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