Recently had a project to assemble some pedal boards for compatibility testing with the Mission 529 which is a power converter that provides isolated 9V supplies from USB rechargeable Li-Ion battery packs like you use for your phone.
I was searching around for different combinations of pedals to test, and I thought it would be a fun project to see if I could quickly and easily assemble a full pedal board of tuner, distortion, delays, modulation, and reverb with a small footprint and for a low cost, just using parts I could get on Amazon Prime. Here’s how I did. There’s a full Bill of Materials at the end in case you want to build your own.
The Pedaltrain Nano was the easy choice for the base. The 529 Power supply was designed to fit it, and since I had a limited time to do the build, I really wanted something that was a known quantity and quality. At 69.99 for the soft case version, it’s not the cheapest. The Stompbox Pedalboard Mini was also available on Prime with a $45.99 price tag, so if lowest cost is your priority, you could save a bit there.
First up on the board is a GuitarX X9 Tuner. At $18.97 it was one of the lowest cost pedal board units, and looked to have a nice clear display. It doesn’t have the features of the TC Electronic Polytune 2. I would have gone for the TC if I was building my own board, but at $89.99 it was over budget for this cost optimization project.
For the rest of the pedals I went with the Donner range. There were a few others at a little lower cost, but the difference was a few bucks at most, and I wanted to have the best chance of everything working together first time. The offset input and output jacks on the Donners all looked to be the same, which would make for easy wiring in the tight space on the Nano.
First up was a compressor, and I went with the Donner Ultimate Comp. I love the MXR Dyna Comp and use one on the front end of just about everything, even digital rigs. My hope was for this to do something at least approximating it. Again, if I was building my own board I’d go for the MXR M291 Dyna Comp Mini, but the hundred dollar price tag is too much for this bargain basement project. The Ultimate Comp came in at $37 delivered.
For gain I went with the elaborately named Donner Blues Drive Classical Electronic Vintage Overdrive. I was intrigued by the product description of ‘classical electronic overdrive with plump, warm and sweet effect’. I think it should have been green or red, though. The metallic blue color is going to confuse me with a Chorus. However, it has switchable hot and warm modes (sadly no selectable sweet and plump mode), and tone, level and gain controls so it should provide a decent range of tones. At $29.99 it met the budget constraints. An alternative at the same price is the Morpher Distortion Solo which even more bizarrely auto translates the description to include a ‘high degree of metal’. I’m guessing that would be an option if you needed a higher gain distortion, but I stuck with the overdrive for this one.
Modulation comes from the Tutti Love Chorus that is both ‘stable and strong’, and ‘gentle and plump’ at the same time. I swear I am not making this up. I paid $35 which has to be a bargain if it turns out to be all those things.
For time effects, I went with analog delay and digital reverb. The Yellow Fall, also at $35, provides analog delay with Time, Echo and Feedback controls that should be simple enough to use. I’m looking for something with zero learning curve that can easily be demonstrated by anyone on a show floor. There’s no room here for anything that requires programming complex presets. If you wanted to go digital with the delay, there is the Echo Square pedal at $45.
Bringing up the tail is the Verb Square digital reverb. This has seven different reverb modes including the standard Studio, Spring, Plate and Hall, as well as Church, Room and Mod. For each mode, there are controls for Level, Decay, and Tone. The graphic chosen for this pedal appears to be a ships wheel. I’m still trying to work that one out.
Assembly was straightforward. All of the pedals have offset input and output jacks, so you can squeeze them pretty tightly together on the top of the Nano. The non-slip bases on the Donner pedals work great on the floor, but the Velcro didn’t stick to them very well. A little adhesive on the bases held the tape in place. I used a Mission solder-less pedal board wiring kit for the audio connections. The very low profile of the connectors in this kit let me position the pedals with just 20mm between them so that all six pedals easily fit on the Nano. If you didn’t mind a little overhang at the edges, you could probably fit a seventh pedal.
Since this rig is designed to run on rechargeable battery power, I fitted it with a Mission 529 and a 10,000mA/h battery. Current draw for all the pedals is around 470mA. Add 130mA for the power supply and the total current requirement is 600mA. That would give a battery life of about 16 hours, which is pretty decent for a six pedal board with all the basic effects, and a tuner. At just 5.25lbs for the complete assembled board including the soft case that can be strapped to your guitar bag, this would be a really nice and easy fly rig. With the battery power, you would not have to worry about carrying long power cables, and international adapters for touring.
How does it sound? Actually, pretty good. I was expecting one or two DOA’s for low cost pedals like these, but they all worked out of the box. The isolated battery power from the 529 means there are no issues with power noise or ground loops, and with no really high gain devices, it’s remarkably quiet. I ran it thorough a Marshall DSL40C and with all pedals bypassed there is almost no increase in noise. If I dimed the gain and volume controls and put my ear to the cab, I could just hear a faint click, probably coming from one of the clocks, but certainly nothing abnormal. With the effects enabled, there was a little hiss from the compressor and digital reverb, but again nothing more than I would expect from these types of devices in general. I’ve heard more noise from certain much more expensive devices.
All the effects worked well together, and with a little tweaking of the level controls, it was very easy to get the levels balanced when switching the pedals on an off. There is a little pop when hitting the stomp switches to turn some of the pedals on and off. This is not uncommon for True Bypass pedals. There may be some simple mods we could do to mitigate that.
The small size of the pedals, and the layout of the Pedaltrain with the opening between the rails for cabling, means there is not a lot of surface area for the supplied hook and loop tape to get a hold of. The first and last pedals get twisted a little when the input and output cables are connected. Using something stronger such as 3M Dual Lock will probably fix this, so I may do an upgrade to this if I get time.
There are some optimizations you could do depending on your requirements. If you didn’t need the battery power and could live without isolated power outputs, a low-cost daisy chain switching power supply would keep the price down. The Donner DP-1 ($13.99) or Truetone 1 Spot ($19.99) would be able to provide the 470mA required for this particular combination of pedals. This will likely increase the noise a little. You could drop the tuner pedal, and use a clip-on tuner (or just your ears) which would also save some bucks.
Many pedal companies are producing small form factor pedals these days. I already mentioned Dunlop (MXR) and TC Electronic. Both these companies have quite a range of small pedals, and there are quite a few others that would allow a Boutique version of this board with more premium pedals.
If you’d like to recreate this board, here’s the list of what I used. Most of the parts are available on Amazon. I listed the price I paid, or current price at time of writing. Prices may vary.
GuitarX X9 Mini Guitar Tuner – $18.97
Donner Ultimate Comp Compressor – $37.00
Donner Blues Drive Vintage Overdrive – $29.99
Donner Tutti Love Chorus – $35.00
Donner Yellow Fall Analog Delay – $35.00
Donner Verb Square Digital Reverb – $45.00
Pedaltrain Nano Softcase – $69.99
Mission 529 – $149.00
Mission Solderless cable kit – $75.00