Guitar pedals are expensive. Some of the top tier effect pedals go for upwards of $500. Even pedals in the general sweet spot of $150-200 quickly add up.
Let’s be clear though: these pedals are absolutely worth their sticker price. When you find a pedal that sounds awesome and inspires you, you gladly fork over whatever it takes to make it yours.
But if I’m a beginner building my first pedalboard, I’m not likely to drop a grand to play my first few gigs. Most of us spend several years building (and re-building) our pedalboards. Collecting pedals as we go along. Building these behemoth pedalboards and having several more behemoth sized pedalboards worth of pedals waiting in the wings for their moment.
Expensive pedals (mostly) sound great. You’re partially paying for the expertise and engineering, partially for hand selected and tested components. And sometimes hype. But what can you do?
If you wanted to build a pedalboard that sounds close-ish on a budget, what would it include? Or put another way, can you actually build a legit pedalboard for say under $150?
Let’s start with the pedalboard itself. Unless you want to use a piece of scrap wood (which is totally an option, by the way. Just check out Paul Gilbert’s pedalboard) you’re going to need a pedalboard. This is about as cheap as it gets.
No frills, but it’s lightweight, durable (presumably), and comes with Velcro, which you’ll need to adhere your pedals. All in all a good deal for the price. It looks like we can fit 6 micro pedals, let’s see what we can do. OK, next thing.
Unless you’re at a Jazz gig, you need an overdrive. You have a lot of options here, but I think a good versatile overdrive is something based off a Tube Screamer. Joyo is a funny brand. We all know they’re dirt cheap (which is questionable), but we all really love how they sound for the price.
They make just about every effect, and even have a low wattage amp head. This is crazy. For $35, this pedal is also crazy. Check out a YouTube demo. Completely nuts.
I don’t understand the biohazard logo, and don’t particularly like yellow pedals, but for a cheap analog delay this is hard to pass up. The delay range is 20-620ms which is more than enough for 90% of people.
You get all of the basic controls you need on a delay pedal, and it sounds pretty good.
Reverbs are almost as important as delays. Spring reverbs are a pretty versatile style of reverbs which is why I chose this one. You wont get big swells or ambience, but with a little bit of spring reverb you’ll get more depth and texture.
This one is simple to use too, with just a Mix and Dwell (wet signal) knob. Not that it impacts your tone, but the color is nice to look at.
I saved the tuner for last, even though it should go at the front of your signal chain, because they’re boring. They're super important, but also super boring. Here’s one that does the trick.
The Total Cost
We went a little over, at $170. But we got a killer, and completely practical pedalboard. With this pedalboard you can do so many gigs. Blues, Rock, Alternative; pretty much any guitar focused genre. You could build as you go, adding in another overdrive and delay, maybe a few more modulation effects. But as it stands you can knock the gig out of the park...tonally anyway.
I don’t have a power supply on here, or the patch cables you’ll need to connect them all. Some patch cables worth checking out are the Donner Flat Patch Cables. They’re $16.99 for a 6 pack, which will cover your board with spares in case one goes bad.
For power supplies, you can use a daisy chain like this one from Coda Music. It has a single 9V DC power supply with 1700mA of power, which is more than enough for this set up.
The pedalboard we just built was based on my “ideal” gigging pedalboard. If you find yourself having some spare cash, get a gift card, or want to make any swaps, here are some cheap pedals you can swap in.
I thought hard about putting in a Rat style distortion. But when it came to versatility I had to go with a Tube Screamer type OD. However, if your bent is more rock leaning, a Rat style distortion like this is a great option.
It has your typical Volume, Distortion, and Filter (Tone), plus a switch if you want to go even crazier.
A Klon style overdrive is another one I debated putting on. I love them. But I also use them in a really low gain way, which isn’t practical if it’s the only overdrive on your pedalboard. This is a great second overdrive to include though.
If your music is low gain you could easily swap this one in.
I love fuzz pedals. A lot. But they have specific places and times. According to angry people who don’t like anything. But those people might be watching your band or hiring you for their gigs. So I left it off the pedalboard.
If you find yourself with some spare change and want to expand your pedalboard then this is a good option.
Loopers are fun to have but rarely required in a full band setting. If you’re a solo musician though, you can bring a lot of life to your gigs by using this. This one’s easy to use, you can bring in music from your computer, and it’s high fidelity.
I opted for an analog delay on the pedalboard, but I always have a digital delay in addition to an analog delay on my pedalboard. They give you some more options and controls that are nice to have. This is a pretty decent one.
This pedal is NOT true bypass, which is one reason why you might want to swap out the analog delay for it. You’ll need a buffer on your pedalboard and you won’t get it with an all true bypass pedalboard. To find out more about true bypass and why it’s important, check out this article.
Is It Better So Save For Better Pedals?
You might be questioning the quality (tonally or otherwise) of these ~$30 pedals. Which is completely fair. Like I mentioned earlier, you get what you pay for. When you buy an Analog Man King Of Tone, you’re getting one stellar pedal. And you pay for it.
With these budget pedals, I like to think you get a little more than you pay for. Will they sound comparable to the pedals they’re modeled after? Absolutely not. Will they sound good enough? I think they do.
Will your audience actually be able to tell the difference? Not a chance.
I have a friend, Koby in case he’s reading this, who has a very good ear for tone. He can take a cheap, or even bad, pedal and make something really good out of it. This is a skill I want to develop in myself. And I think that’s an important thing to think about. Tone shaping is a skill. Great pedals will inherently bring this to the table easier, but you can still make a great pedal sound awful if you try hard enough.
And you can make a so-so pedal sound good if you try hard enough.
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