The 1st generation Valvebucker was launched in 2019. It gained a lot of publicity at the time, being the first and only vacuum tube powered active pickup system ever for electric guitars. The key Mk2 upgrades are:
• Available now for 4- and 5-stringed Ruokangas basses • Available now for 7-stringed Ruokangas guitars • Completely new visual design • The redesigned floor unit features now a balanced output (works as a DI box) as well • The floor unit is now always matched in colour with the instrument
And a quick recap of the Valvebucker key features:
• A sensitive magnetic pickup capsule, capturing the instrument sound in high fidelity • Tube powered proprietary preamp circuit • One pickup – but a wide variety of sounds • Military grade triode and pentode NOS tubes with lifetime warranty • A floor unit included, to connect the Valvebucker® -equipped included to the rest of your signal chain • A 12VAC power supply included • A 10-foot XLR cable included
The design architecture of the Valvebucker® circuit is noteworthy, making use of sweet spots found from outside the typical operational points of vacuum tubes, by using relatively low voltages. The power consumption of the Valvebucker® remains within the given values also during startup – an important feature when using commercially available pedal power units. Every Valvebucker® unit is handmade and finetuned individually in Finland. The Valvebucker® design team is: Lassi Ukkonen (the designer of the Simble Overdrive, etc), Jorma Kostamo, Jyrki Kostamo, Junnu Vuorela and Juha Ruokangas.
The Valvebucker® Mk2 is available as a custom option for Ruokangas guitars and basses, adding 2000€/US$2.200.00 to the basic cost of an ordered instrument. The Valvebucker is not available as an aftermarket/retrofit product.
This is what Sonny Landreth says about his Valvebucker guitar:
”I love the Valvebucker Mojo! This pickup/system is unique and doesn’t sound like anything else. If I had to sum it up with one word, it would be smooth as the Valvebucker is the smoothest sounding pickup I’ve ever experienced. It kind of reminds me of the difference between vintage Neve and SSL consoles of the day. I especially like it for dialing in a big, clean tone with the selector switch in the middle position for my solo songs. The range from top to bottom for moving parts of bass lines against chord melodies etc is balanced and nothing ”pokes out” too much – much easier to let multiple parts speak. Also, I love how complex, distorted chords with open tunings for slide sound.
Tech 21 NYC is known for its excellent analogue SansAmp amplifier- and speaker-simulations that have made playing guitar (or bass, for that matter) live without a physical amp possible, long before the advent of digital modellers or impulse response technology. Tech 21’s range of ultra-compact Fly Rig multi-effects builds on the company’s SansAmp technology to provide the gigging musician with a whole signal chain that fits in a gig bag’s side pocket.
Tech 21’s new Character Plus range approaches a very similar theme from a slightly different angle. Each of the four Character Plus pedals (current price in Finland 369 € each) offers the guitarist a timeless, classic amp and stomp box combination. The Character-knob, which is what gives the four pedals their name, lets you swipe through a wide variety of different permutations of the chosen amp, and the twin-channel layout makes it easy to dial in, say, a rhythm and a lead sound to switch between.
The EQ section is shared between both channels of each pedal, which may look a little limiting on paper, but proved to be pretty unproblematic in real-life use.
The Character Plus Series pedals each sport 1/4″ phone jacks for input and output, if you want to run the pedal as an effect in front of your physical amp, with a balanced XLR-output provided to connect the pedal to a mixing console or an audio interface.
The Tech 21 Screaming Blonde is the series’ Fender-flavoured offering. The Character-control in each channel sweeps through different Fender-style sounds – from ”Tweed” to ”Blackface” – and also has a bearing on the channel’s gain structure.
The Scream switch activates a Tube Screamer-style overdrive that has been optimised to work seamlessly with the Screaming Blonde’s amp channels, making this pedal a great choice for anything from function bands to Texas or Chicago Blues.
The Tech 21 Mop Top Liverpool references the Beatles in its name, and both the name as well as the diamond cloth pattern graphics hint at a Vox-style SansAmp-circuit. In contrast to the other three Character Plus pedals, the Mop Top Liverpool features two slightly differently voiced channels. This means that the pedal makes any typical AC30-sound available – from the Shadows all the way to Rory Gallagher or Queen – especially as the additional Boost-section is actually also two boosters in one.
Counterclockwise from 12 o’clock the booster adds a mid-range boost, while clockwise will add a treble booster to your circuit. A pair of frequency shift buttons makes the Liverpool Mop Top even more versatile.
The Tech 21 Fuzzy Brit takes proceedings well and truly into classic Hendrix territory by bringing two channels of Marshall-style goodness and a switchable Fuzzface-type fuzz effect to the table.
Again, the Character control gives you a whole range of different, but equally classic, versions of Marshall-thunder from ”Beano” all the way to ”Ladyland”, and beyond.
The Fuzz-circuit is based on a silicon Fuzzface, but with the added advantage of a Tone-control, which lets you tame any excessive top end response.
The Tech 21 English Muffy takes things firmly into 1970s Rock territory by featuring the classic combination of a Hiwatt-stack and a Big Muff Pi. Even though this combination is clearly aimed at David Gilmour fans, this hard rocking SansAmp also works a treat for Who-style power playing.
The Character-control takes you from clean tones (7-10 o’clock) to crunchy Rock tones (upwards of 11 o’clock) with the highest Character settings adding an upper-mid boost.
Different Big Muff iterations can vary quite considerably in sound, but the Tech 21 version sounds fat and creamy.
As a demo song for the Tech 21 English Muffy I played a short instrumental version of the Who’s classic track ”Won’t Get Fooled Again”:
Here’s my version of Paul McCartney’s raga-influenced guitar solo on the Beatles track ”Taxman”:
I opted for a Shuffle Blues to feature the Screaming Blonde’s sound:
Here’s a short instrumental version of ”All Along The Watchtower” in the style of Jimi Hendrix:
After spending some time with this quartet comprising Tech 21’s SansAmp Character Plus Series, I feel that the main point behind these pedals is how amazingly well they work. You get maximum useable sound with practically no fuss whatsoever. The Character Plus pedals put virtually no obstacles between hearing the sound in your head and committing this sound ”to tape”. A few little knob tweaks and you’re ready to roll.
Sure, if you want to experiment with different microphone types and placements, a physical amp or digital modelling software will let you do that, but there’s always the danger you might lose the ”creative spark” before everything is set up.
The Tech 21 SansAmp Character Plus Series is all about getting things done, smoothly and easily, without sacrificing your tone.
Even though the first guitar effects were already introduced in the mid-1960s, guitar pedals only started to become affordable and widely available in the late-1970s with brands such as Boss. Ibanez and MXR.
Why do I need a pedalboard?
Back in the early Seventies most guitarists used one to three effects at the most on stage, if any. Back then the signal chain was straightforward and easy to set up and tear down. There were maybe a couple of guitars, a guitar lead, a couple of effect pedals, a short patch cable, as well as a long cable from the front of the stage to the amplifier.
In the early days most guitarists weren’t even too particular with their live sound. If the guitar sounded a little different from one show to another, who cares? The main objective was to keep the show on the road.
These days both the musician and his/her audience are much more discerning, and want to hear a fairly accurate version of a song’s recorded guitar and bass sounds live as well. Most players are very knowledgeable and specific when it comes to their signature sounds, as well as the pedals they use. A dependable and ”secure” signal chain is a prerequisite for the professional musician of today.
If you carry your effects around in a sports bag, setting up your signal chain – and troubleshooting it in case of problems – is much more time-consuming than pulling a clean pedalboard out of its gig bag (or case) and connecting only a couple of audio cables; one for the guitar and one for the amp.
A pedalboard also protects your effects and patch cables from damage by keeping them firmly in place during transport. Additionally, powering all your effect pedals is much easier using one central power supply for the whole board.
Luckily, the 2020s offer us a wide array of different solutions for the budding ’board builder, making even the assembly of a complex signal chain relatively easy.
Kimmo Aroluoma, who is the founder of Custom Boards Finland, has spent years on the road as one of Finland’s most sought-after guitar technicians. Kimmo has worked for acts such as The Rasmus, HIM, or Hanoi Rocks. These days Kimmo spends most of his time running Custom Boards, a company dedicated to making world-class pedalboards, as well as supplying pro-grade components to DIY pedalboard builders.
Is there a ”correct” order for effect groups?
Making music is a creative process, so any type of experimentation is highly encouraged, but if you want to ensure that your ’board will work in the desired way with the least amount of hassle, the above picture will get you there. Of course this effect order works also with effects that are not placed on a pedalboard.
The yellow box is home to such effects that will only work reliably with a pure/dry guitar signal. The orange box contains effects that add gain and texture to your signal. Next up are modulation effects. The green box adds space to your signal, as well as providing a good spot for a master volume pedal. And if you use an audiolooper and/or a booster pedal they should be placed last.
Plan before you act
You should definitely plan your new pedalboard, before you buy anything. Otherwise you can easily end up buying something that isn’t right for what you’re trying to achieve.
Choosing the effect pedals
What is the purpose of the ’board? What type of music do you play? Are you in a Metal band or do you play Top 10 covers?
The fact that there’s an old pedal lying around somewhere in a box isn’t a good enough reason to add this pedal to your new pedalboard. There should be a logical, musical or practical reason behind any addition to your effect chain, because any unnecessary addition could potentially degrade your guitar signal.
I had been dreaming about a compact board for playing Psychedelic Rock music – a bit ”Hendrix-ey”, but not necessarily totally authentic.
Because my main objective is ”compact” I have chosen a Jim Dunlop CBM95 Mini Crybaby-wah-wah for this project, as it is small enough to fit almost any ’board. Next up there are three blocks of different gain effects – a fuzz-style Electro-Harmonix Nano Big Muff Pi, as well as an EHX double-pedal – the Germanium 4 Big Muff Pi – to provide slightly wonky overdrive and distortion effects. The last pedal is a vintage-style phaser – the EHX Small Stone Nano. Tremolo, reverb and additional boosting are provided by my combo amp.
You should buy the best patch cables you can afford, because a poor quality cable will degrade your sound noticeably by ”eating away” your signal’s dynamic and treble content (especially with traditional passive pickups). There are many different models of ready-made patch cables available.
The number of patch cables you’ll need is dependent on the number of effect pedals you’re going to use. The individual length of each patch cable is determined by the physical placement of the pedals on the ’board. You should also remember to make sure that the plug design on a patch will fit in the space between two pedals. Choosing a relatively fat cable with large-bodied plugs will automatically mean that your pedals will have to be placed a little bit further apart.
Many professional pedalboard makers use bespoke patch cables for their clients’ pedalboards, using top-grade thin cable material coupled with special (no-solder) screw-on plugs. These patch cables save a lot of real estate on the ’board, while also being thin enough to be secured with the same security clips used for the ’board’s DC-power cables.
The physical placement of pedals and patch cables
My compact pedalboard will need no complicated wiring. I will place the effects in the physical order in which they appear in the signal chain in one simple row. This makes it very easy to use pre-made, off-the-shelf patch cables, because the signal continues straight on from one effect to the next.
In larger and more complex cases it may be more convenient to place the pedals that are used most in the bottom row of a ’board, with lesser-used effects placed farther away in the second row. On such ’boards the signal flow can be decidedly different from the physical order of the pedals. In such cases you should prepare a signal flow chart for yourself, so you can easily look up how you have planned to hook up all of the effects. Placing the pedals in their approximate place on the ’board frame will make it easy to measure the lengths of all the patch cables needed.
Choosing your pedalboard frame
To find the best pedalboard frame for your project you have to measure the outer dimensions (width and height) of your effect array, but you shouldn’t forget to take into account how you plan to install your pedals on your board. Most ’board frames these days are made from metal, and the pedals are installed with adhesive hook-and-loop fastener tapes – either generic velcro (sold with most frames) or industry-grade 3M Dual Lock-tape (bought separately).
There are also a few companies who use their own types of screw-on bottom plates or side clamps on their board frames.
Choosing a power supply aka PSU
You have to choose your PSU according to the physical space of your ’board frame, as well as according to the power needs of your effect pedals. There is a plethora of different PSUs available on the market these days; some pedalboard brands also offer frames with pre-installed power supply units.
Do check the power requirements of each of the pedals that will go on your pedalboard. You should check for voltage (9, 12 or 18 V), for milliamperes, and for the type and polarity of the connector plug. Note that there are a few pedals out there that will require alternating current (AC) in contrast to most effects that run on DC! Pro-grade PSUs come with a whole set of different pedal power cables. Make sure that the set includes all the cables (and connectors) you require. If not you will have to buy the additional cables you need.
Because a pedalboard runs audio effects the power supplied by the PSU has to be ”clean”, e. g. free from extraneous noise, buzz and hum. Most traditional pedalboard PSUs provide this type of isolated power with the help of a whole row of tiny transformers. The transformers make sure no mains hum gets into the pedals’ power cables, while also isolating each of the outputs individually.
Because I have chosen the very compact and flat Palmer Pedalbay 50S frame, most professional PSUs cannot be mounted underneath the pedalboard in my case. Luckily, a 1Spot ”wall-wart” can be a viable option, if you forsake the additional safety and dependability of a ’board-mounted PSU. I’m not planning on touring with this pedalboard, and all the transporting will be done either by car or public transport, meaning the long cable between the transformer and the daisy chain cable will not be a problem for me. Additionally, I’m not running more than four pedals concurrently, and there’s no power-hungry digital multieffect in the group, so a simple daisy-chain set-up will work here.
Building my pedalboard
Here’s where it starts
Here’s what everything looks like at the beginning. I forgot to put the scissors in the picture, used to cut the velcro to size. Additionally, I made a last-minute switch to black cable ties, because they looked better, after all.
Cleaning all connectors
Should one of your chosen pedals be faulty, you should have it repaired before it goes on the pedalboard. One faulty pedal will have a very detrimental effect on the whole signal chain and the reliability of your new ’board.
You should clean all audio jacks before you assemble your ’board by squirting a little bit of switch cleaner (like PRF 7-78 Kontakt) on a 1/4″ plug, and then inserting and unplugging the plug several times from the jack. Repeat for each audio input and output.
Cleaning all bottom plates
Before you can use any adhesive material on a pedal’s base plate, you will have to take off all rubber feet from the pedal. Velcro and 3M Dual Lock need a smooth and clean surface for them to stick reliably to a pedal’s bottom plate. Sometimes using an additional cleaning agent (like PRF Label Off) can help to get rid of any old glue residue.
On my Electro-Harmonix effects my work is made easier by the separate little rubber feet this company uses. Most Boss and Ibanez pedals, on the other hand, use large rubber or silicone mats, which are much harder to get to grips with. I’d recommend looking for the appropriate removal techniques in the Custom Boards online guide or on Internet forums.
Remove all batteries from the pedals that go on your ’board. The patch cables stay inserted in each pedal’s input jack, which means any battery will be drained in a matter of hours (or a couple of days at the most). Taking the batteries out will prevent damage from leaking batteries in the long run.
Applying the adhesive
Now it’s time for the velcro to go on the base plates of the pedals. Make sure the adhesive tape sits nice and flat with no air bubbles.
The Palmer Pedalbay 50S comes with the loop side adhesive already installed on the frame. Most other models require you to glue the loop side yourself. If I were to use 3M Dual Lock on this ’board, on the other hand, I’d have to remove the pre-installed adhesive first and clean up all glue residue, before putting on the Dual Lock.
Installing the effects and patch cables
As there’s usually only a certain amount of space on a pedalboard, an effect pedal has to be installed on the frame with the patch cable already inserted in the previous effect’s output and this effect’s input. A 1/4″ plug is too long to be inserted after you’ve put all the pedals next to each other.
Installing the DC-cables with security clips
You’ll achieve a very clean and professional look by wiring the power supply cables from the ’board frame’s underside.
Many guitar shops also sell stick-on plastic security clips, which are just the ticket to keep all the DC-cables in place and securely out of harm’s way.
Time to check out your new pedalboard
This is a good time for a trial run of your new pedalboard with a guitar and an amp. Check out if the placement and the distance between the footswitches is convenient for you. Do all effects power on and off as they should? Is the signal going to the amp free from extraneous noise and hum?
Because I’ve used off-the-shelf MXR patch cables for my project, and the cables had a relatively large diameter and flat, but wide, plug bodies, securing the patch cables with small plastic clips wasn’t really feasible. This is why I’ve chosen cable ties.
The idea is to keep the patch cables out of harm’s way – or should that be foot’s way – so that it’s impossible to step on them. You apply only a minimal amount of pull on the cable ties. You only want to keep the patch cables from moving around, you don’t want to damage the cables’ outer insulating layer.
Many DIY patch cables are thin enough to be secured with the same type of stick-on security clips used for the DC-cables.