Like any good guitarist, I’m constantly tinkering. Learning. Getting inspiration. Then tinkring some more. While my DIY briefcase pedalboard “Nedrick” certainly had its charm, it wasn’t exactly heavy-duty, nor was it expandable.
Then my good friend and guitarist Jason Rodgers pulled a fast one and made me a wooden, one-of custom pedalboard of his own design, aptly named “Dawn Treader.” Aside from feeling quite surprised and incredibly grateful, I had a decision to make: what pedals did I want on this board, and how was I going to get them on?
First off, I knew I wanted my simplest setups for both my Taylor 816-CE (acoustic), and for my Gibson Black Beauty and my Samick custom strat (electric). I also knew I wanted space later on for a volume pedal. So for my acoustic run, I used a BOSS TU-2 (which I always use as a hard mute, especially when dealing with slow or inexperienced sound engineers), and my tried-and-true BOSS AD-5 acoustic modeling pedal (balanced or unbalanced). For the electric run that goes to my VOX AC-4, I used my favorite overdrive, the Fulltone OCD, my favorite delay, the Strymon Timeline, and another TU-2 that I use after the Timeline, as she tends to put out some faint, psychedelic nuance even when bypassed.
Like most guitarists, Velcro has been my staple. And I knew it’d be so easy just to slap on three thick strips of Velcro or 3M’s heavy duty, outdoor, rough surface variety. Of course, I was used to the wobbly pedals, the sticky residue, and the missing pedal that disappears with the inevitable kleptomaniac, so it wasn’t like I didn’t know what I was getting into.
Then Jason mentioned “the bike chain link method.”
Bike chain links have two small holes that a 6-3/4 wood screw or 6-32 machine bolt fit perfectly through. And they’re just the right length to clear most effects pedal chassises.
The idea seemed like it would take a few resources I didn’t have (like screws, a bike chain, and a bike chain tool), and it would take more time and planning to execute. But the results seemed appealing: rock-solid stability, anti-theft benefits, and – appealing to my slight obsessive compulsive disorder – incredibly clean. I had to try.
• 6-3/4 wood screws (box) – $3.00 (You can chose to use 6-32 machine bolts and nuts if you want to. I chose the simpler route of screwing right into the board, but I will most likely move to bolts/nuts if replacing the pedals in the future).
• Bike chain link tool – $6.00
• 300-link bike chain – $4.00
• 4 – 1″ narrow hinges (for OCD pedal) – $4.00
• Coaxial staples – I don’t remember the cost, as I’ve had this box for a while.
• Cordless drill – A good one is expensive. Unless you already own one because you’re a homeowner or a contractor, save your wrist some carpal tunnel syndrome and go buy one. These little screws can be killer.
Taking the chain apart was fairly self-explanatory; the tool allows you to drive the cotter pin out of each link. But take your time, and rest your thumb, as this takes some pretty good hand strength.
Next came laying out my pedals. I’d advise connecting all your 1/4″ guitar cables and power chords when setting them. Without this, you’ll get a false sense of how much room you’ll need. As a result, you’ll very easily put pedals too close together and block audio and power jacks. Use a pencil to make tick marks on the board along the edges of each chasis, then take off all the cables as they’ll just get in the way for drilling (except those that do need to be connected due to unavoidable proximity issues).
Backing out screws on each pedal should be done carefully, as these screws can be hard to find duplicates of if you strip or mar them. Once out, put a chain link in place, and drive the screw back in – again, being careful not to damage the screw or over tighten. At this point I also removed all the rubber feet from the pedals so the links and screw heads would sit flush on the board. (The exception was the OCD, as its screws mount from the side, so I didn’t use links, but rather I used hinges. The hinge pivot point was actually further away from the chasis bottom, so I kept the rubber feet on as these didn’t play a factor in the mounting process).
The pedals then went on the board with 6-3/4 wood screws. If you think you’ll be swapping pedals out more, I’d suggest using 6-32 1″ machine bolts and nuts and drilling straight through the board, as they’ll be more secure long-term. If I ever swap out pedals, that’s what I’ll use (especially since the current screw holes will have less integrity the second time).
Once my pedals were all properly installed, I decided to mount an electrical power strip on the left side. Most power strips have screw holes and slide paths on the bottom; my version had four holes. I also chose a power strip with a recessed power switch on the side, not the top, as I too often bump the top-side ones and power things down inadvertently. The power strip feeds my Strymon Timeline (which needs its own proprietary wall wart), and the guts of an old BOSS BCB-60 pedalboard that I used to power everything else. (Eventually I’ll be updating this power rig with something ore legit, like a Voodoo Lab PedalPower 2).
Now it was time to hook all my cables back up, weave the power lines between the boards to keep the surface clean, and then use the coax staples and 6-3/4 wood screws to organize everything on the underside.
I used one 14″ zip-tie to hold my giant Radio Shack 9v wall wart to the board (which feeds the BCB-60 guts), and two Velcro strips to bind the extraneous lengths of power lines.
The result is a completely solid pedalboard that I can shake and flip, and not a single thing budges. I was shocked to realize I could plug a 1/4″ guitar cable into a pedal with just one hand. (Meaning, I didn’t need to brace the pedal with my free hand). Toe-tapping a tempo into the Timeline, or slapping the TU-2’s for tuning felt solid and accurate. Nothing budged an inch.
Approximate project time was 1 hour and 15 minutes. Not bad at all for a busy guy like me.
Totally solid. Secure. Safe. I’m a new bike-link convert for sure. It’s super clean and visually satisfying, allowing you to see more of your pedalboard’s face.
More labor intensive than Velcro. If you like to experiment a lot, and/or you don’t have your preferred pedals down pat, this system could drive you nuts. Carry a screwdriver in your gig bag or guitar cases: you may need to make adjustments on the road.
Hit me up in the comments section with questions, suggestions, references, or shout-outs.
Happy music making,