Keeping Things Simple: How to Have a Small-ish Pedalboard & Still Sound Rad.

We’ve all been there: you sold your power supply, didn’t get a new one in time before the next gig, and had to throw something together right before rehearsal. These things happen. Replace power supply with delay or overdrive, then you really have to get creative.

For church guitarists, effects pedals are pretty important. You can’t nail those Hillsong parts without a dotted eighth or dotted quarter note delay, and you can’t fill those transitions with pretty, verbed-out swells. This is the nature of the music we play.

Unfortunately, I think we have created a culture of approval for how our pedalboards look on Instagram. Don’t deny it. I’ll admit it: I’ve bought pedals before because they would look sick on my board. This is where that idolatry thing can come in.
But I’m not here to preach on pedalboard theology. I’m here to encourage you guys that have smaller boards, and also challenge the guys with larger ones. I’ll start with the latter.

So I sold my power supply. I hadn’t gotten my new one in, and I was playing that night (sounds familiar, right?). So I threw something together. Here’s what I used…


Not a bad board, right? I was pretty pumped on it. I was pushed into a corner because I was short a large power supply, but I embraced the situation and challenged my self. Normally, my board has 15-16 pedals on it. Some of you might say that’s a lot, but I’ve worked it a bajillion ways to Sunday and there isn’t much excess for me and the situations that I play in. But I used this opportunity to see if I was wrong. I was.

I got to the church and plugged into an amp I was highly unfamiliar with - yet, another challenge. I’ll admit, I was mostly unhappy with how I sounded, but I was happy that I stepped out and took the challenge.

Conventional wisdom might say that a smaller pedalboard inhibits your creativity, that you need 10+ pedals to sound “good.” But I think it’s the opposite that is true: you can actually be more creative with fewer pedals. Why? Because you have to work around the hurdle of a small board to find the sounds that you need. Yes, there are sounds that you can’t get (i.e. octave, modulation) with a board like I was using that night, but you can get creative and think of something that can stand in place of a particular part. It won’t be THE part, it will be YOUR part. You’ll be making music. You will win at life.

Now for the guys with the smaller pedalboards.
Here’s a scenario: you’re a 17-year- old high school student who has played acoustic guitar in your youth praise band for the last year. You’ve been playing guitar for a couple years at this point. One day, your worship leader asks if you want to start playing electric guitar. Without hesitation, you jump at the opportunity and learn as many Hillsong parts as you can in a week, because your first Wednesday is in a few weeks. You don’t have great gear, if any at all. You’re borrowing the church’s Tele, the pedalboard from the worship center, and the small Blues Jr. from the closet. Your tone isn’t great. In fact, it’s pretty bad. You think you sound like James Duke, but it’s your first time using a pedalboard.
You don’t sound like James Duke.
Your worship leader encourages you, telling you that you did a great job, and asks you to play more. You’re excited. You feel great about yourself – you should. You did a great job!

Fast-forward six months. You’re playing electric guitar every week, even playing lead on some songs. You save up some money and ask your parents for a pedalboard for Christmas. You ask around to your gear friends, ask questions on Gear Talk:P&W, spend an ungodly amount of time on, and figure out your perfect pedalboard. Then you actually buy all the pedals. It looks and sounds nothing like you thought. But it’s your first pedalboard. You’re pumped.

You might have a TU-2, a TS-9 (KEEP IT FOR YOUR WHOLE LIFE), a DD-7, and an RV-5 (NEVER SELL IT). Nothing flashy at all, but it gets the job done. You play on it for another six months, and you get comfortable with how everything sounds. One day, discover different accounts on Instagram that feature amazing boards. You get jealous. You get a little insecure. “Man, I wish I had that board.” Don’t worry, bud – we’ve all done it. You wish you had all the pedals. But trust me, you’re in a pretty incredible situation. Having a smaller pedalboard can allow you to learn your instrument as best as you can (which is really the most important part), and secondly, learn how to be musical with the pedals you have (also super important).

This might sound a little polarizing, and obviously, the illustration above is not true of everyone with a small board. Also, not all of us are longing to have a large pedalboard. But I think these are common instances. I think it’s helpful to constantly re-evaluate ourselves with the investment that we’ve made in gear. Ultimately, we need to recognize our own personality as a guitarist. Be comfortable with that personality, and never stop practicing. The gear stuff just works itself out. If you have a great rig and never practice, you won’t sound good. Sorry, but you won’t. Learn your instrument: how it feels, how it reacts, where the great sounds are, where it shines, where it doesn’t, etc. Get all that down, and then worry about your pedals. Odds are, if you know how to play your instrument, you’re going to sound awesome in any situation, no matter how large or small your board is.

Bootsandboards Blog Post Written By: Jake Fauber
Jake Fauber is a guitarist out of Northwest Arkansas. He writes for his blog, Goods & Services, and plays guitar for the band, We the Union. Find him on Instagram, @fakejauber.

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