As any musician who travels a lot by airplane will tell you, it’s essential to have a portable rig.
What’s a portable rig you ask?
Basically, a mini pedalboard that you can carry on any flight and be at ease knowing you won’t have to worry about any accidental damage that could occur if you checked a full board. In this article I’m going to list some tips on how you can get started on your own portable rig.
First thing you need to do is decide on what works best for you. What do you actually need to perform at a gig? The bare essentials. Pick out pedals that will give you the sound and playability you need.
The second thing you need to do is some planning ahead of time. Once you have decided on the essential pedals you need, lay the pedals out and measure the physical space they actually occupy. Don’t forget to leave room for guitar cables as well. That’s a common mistake that’s frequently made. I personally use a Pedaltrain Nano + as my board of choice to travel with. It’s extremely durable and it’s never let me down. It’s been all over the country with me and comes with its own carrying case. The included pedalboard tape is great and I’ve never had one single issue with it. You should also visit Pedalboardplanner.com the site can help you visualize what your pedalboard layout will look like and it offers a wide variety of pedals to plan with.
The third thing you want to do is to get some quality cables. I can’t stress enough how important this is. There are plenty of options out there. From buying pre-made cables at the lengths you need or you can make your own to suit any needs you might have. If you’d like to make your own cables, I can recommend the BOSS Solderless Pedalboard Cable Kit and the Bulk Cable Co FX Pedalboard Kit. The Bulk Cable Co FX Pedalboard Kit uses Mogami cables which are top notch. I’ve used both of these products and have had nothing but excellent results.
The fourth thing you should plan is “how to power” your board. You need to decide if you want to take up valuable space for a power supply or go a different route. For me, I decided on using a Truetone 1 SPOT Slim 9V DC adapter coupled with a Truetone 1 SPOT Multi Plug 5 cable adapter. This has been my tried and true set up with zero issues. I have all of my pedals powered and when I need to pack up, it’s a breeze to do so. Just unplug the 9V adapter from the Multi plug, wrap it up, and place it in the Pedaltrain gig bag and go.
Now, I have two portable rigs which both suit different needs. I’m going to lead you through my train of thought on why I built them the way I did. My first board was built with versatility in mind. I wanted to be able to do enough of any style or get close enough with this board. Now let’s talk about the pedals I chose and why.
Portable Rig #1
The first pedal on ANY pedalboard of any size should be a Tuner. EVERYONE NEEDS A TUNER. Nothing’s worse than seeing someone perform out of tune. I recommend the TC Electronics Polytune. Its bright LEDs can be seen on any dark stage and I can easily see them while on a sunny outdoors stage. When it was introduced in 2010, the original Polytune forever revolutionized the way musicians tune their instruments. Praised by professional and amateur players, guitar tuning instantly became as simple as Strum – Tune – Rock! So, how do you make the best-selling polyphonic tuner even better? You take it to the next level by, providing multiple tuning modes which include polyphonic, chromatic, strobe and a variety of altered tunings. Add an onboard BONAFIDE BUFFER to preserve your tone over long cable runs and pedalboard signal paths, and upgrading the LED display for even higher tuning accuracy. Other pedals you could also consider using would be a Boss TU3, a Peterson StroboStomp HD Compact Pedal Strober Tuner, or a Planet Waves PW-CT-20 Chromatic Pedal Tuner.
The second pedal I have is a Keeley Red Dirt Overdrive. An extremely versatile pedal that I can use to get bluesy overdriven tones and a warm volume boost, by adding it to rip roaring leads that need a bit more of a kick. With its low and high settings there are plenty of tonal options to be had for any player. The Red Dirt overdrive began from a quest to find the perfect classic drive sound while also offering new levels of sonic versatility to satisfy a wider range of musical styles. Founder and head engineer Robert Keeley took this idea and combined the great sounds found within his original “Mod Plus” and “Baked” modified pedals and added refinements found exclusively in his custom pedal line. A Keeley-designed FET input stage makes this overdrive break up in a whole new, genuine “tube like” style that will have your leads singing and your rhythm playing more dynamic and expressive than ever. It all culminates in an overdrive that is superbly dynamic, with crispness and clarity that lets players cut through a dense mix, while retaining the plump midrange. By incorporating these tones along with the Keeley standard of U.S.A. hand-built quality using premium components, the Red Dirt overdrive aims to become an indispensable part of any pedal chain. The Red Dirt Overdrive is why people have been saying that Robert Keeley is the mod god!
My next pedal of choice is the JHS Pedals AT+ Andy Timmons Signature which I use mostly for volume boost in my board. This pedal is often referred to as a “Hot-Rodded Marshall in a box.” It’s an incredible distortion pedal that’s versatile and sounds good through any amp I’ve run it through. Right out of the box, you’ll be able to effortlessly dial in the AT Drive to match perfectly with your amplifier. Its Volume and Drive controls work in much the same way as a high-gain master-volume amplifier. And the EQ and Air control let you keep the presence or thicken your tone by pinpointing separate high-end frequencies. Volume acts as the master output control, Drive, you guessed it. EQ is a low pass filter that removes higher frequencies. Air control functions much like the presence control on an amplifier’s power section. It’s like having three different amps on your board. The main addition that sets the AT Drive apart from the JHS Angry Charlie pedal is the addition of a 3-position headroom switch. It is very similar to the differences in 25, 50, and 100-watt tube amplifiers. Whether you like low-wattage smoothness or high-powered headroom and punch, it’s inside the AT Drive. Instant access to three different “wattage” settings. The up-position 25-watt mode offers a smooth, thickly driven, and compressed tone. The middle 100-watt mode is cleaner, loud, and sports an immediate attack. The down-position 50-watt mode gives you nice overdrive with a full-frequency response. I’ve used them all but my favorite combination is 100-watt while using my Keely Red Dirt as a boost. Sustain for days! Other pedals to check out would be the JHS Angry Charlie, Fulltone OCD, or the Boss JB-2 Angry Driver.
Up next I wanted a modulation effect. I went with a TC Electronics John Petrucci Dreamscape. Once again the main reason is simple versatility. There are six phenomenal modulation tones crafted by John Petrucci, that offer you chorus, vibrato and flanger effects in a single pedal. The voicing switch gives you a perfect representation of Petrucci’s ‘dark’ tone plus normal and bright options to carve your own path. TonePrint-enabled to let you beam cool signature tones into your pedal with the free TonePrint App. True bypass allows for optimum clarity and zero high-end loss when the pedal is off. Optional buffered bypass mode prevents high frequency loss from long cable runs. Compatible with all Corona Chorus TonePrints for extra versatility which I find just amazing! Other pedals to check out with are the JHS Space Commander, EarthQuaker Devices’ Sea Machine V3, and the Electro-Harmonix Stereo Electric Mistress pedal.
Last in my pedalboard chain is one of my ‘go to’ pedals; the TC Electronics Flashback Delay. With so many delay options including stereo outputs and an enormous selection of custom delays available via the toneprint settings, it is easily one of the best delay pedals currently available. I absolutely love it. This pedal features, 11 delay types including classic tape, analog and 2290 emulations. The audio Tapping feature lets you set delay tempo by strumming your guitar. There is also a 40-second looper with unlimited overdubs and undo/redo for total creative freedom. Seven seconds of delay time allows everything from vintage slapback to cavernous echoes. Three delay subdivisions with quarter note, dotted eighth note and combination selections. Other pedals to check out would be a Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall Analog Delay, a Boss DD-7, and an MXR Carbon Copy.
With this portable rig I can get practically any sound I want or need. I know I can do a stereo set up if needed and all the pedals complement each other extremely well. This is my main portable rig most of the time but I needed to build a second one for a different kind of gig.
I needed a few different sounds for this gig that I didn’t have on the previous board. So I decided to use some “mini” pedals this time. Lots of companies offer mini pedals now and you have loads many options to choose from. It’s quite fantastic. For those who don’t know what a mini pedal is, it’s essentially a smaller stripped down version of its bigger full size counterpart pedal. It will have the same sounds but not as many on-board controls most of the time. Once again this is all dependent on brand and who makes the pedals.
Portable Rig #2
First up I went with a TC Electronics Polytune Mini for space requirements alone. Works just as great as its bigger counterpart but takes up less space. Next I knew a head of time I needed a wah pedal. My favorite wah of choice is the Dunlop 535Q. For those unfamiliar with this pedal, it’s a multi-wah that can get almost every Dunlop wah pedal they have created. It has an adjustable frequency ranger sweep to fine tune the sounds you want and a switchable 16 DB boost. I’ve used it on countless gigs and shows in many varying styles. So when I heard they made a mini version, it was a no brainer for me.
For this board I didn’t need any kind of super saturated distortion pedal. I knew I wanted an overdrive pedal but I couldn’t decide on which. Luckily for me, a friend showed me the JHS Bonsai Tree. This is literally every overdrive pedal in one. From an OD1, to a TS9, to even the Keeley Red Dirt sound, they are all contained within this pedal. Nine classic overdrives in one pedal have given me more than enough to work with.
I also needed a phaser for this gig so I went with an MXR EVH Phase 90 Pedal; it’s simple, it sounds great and it works. Done and done. Now I decided I wanted to use some Mini pedals again to save space in case I wanted add more pedals in the future to this board. So I went with a TC Electronic Flashback Mini Delay and a Hall of Fame Mini pedals. These pedals contain the same sounds as their bigger counterparts but you can only have one sound at a time. However with toneprint technology you can access any sound you wish; giving you the versatility to change it up if needed.
So there you go; two simple portable boards to handle any need I would have for a gig! Both are versatile and give me plenty of tonal options to play with. There are endless variations of what you can put on a pedalboard, but these work best for me. You should use what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different brands of pedals too; that’s part of the fun!