How to make your own guitar effects rack

Written by jeff o'kelley
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How to make your own guitar effects rack
Basic rackmount case ((c)2009 Jeff O'Kelley and licensers. All rights reserved.)

Guitar effects racks are a common component of a professional guitar rig. These effects racks provide easy transport and a safe environment for delicate equipment while on the road or in the studio. While guitarists have the option of purchasing a preconfigured guitar-effects rack, making one from scratch allows the guitarist to customise the rack to her personal taste, as well as save some money. Using stock components and equipment, making a guitar-effects rack can be a simple and fun project for any guitarist.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Rackmount case
  • Power supply
  • Effect components
  • Signal cables

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Purchase a rackmount case. To securely house and transport your guitar effects, purchase a ATA-rated rackmount case. The ATA rating ensures that the case meets guidelines set forth by the Air Transport Association for baggage to be checked on a commercial flight and will provide a safe storage place for your guitar effects. Rackmount cases come in many different sizes, shapes, colours and styles to suit your taste and equipment needs. Standard case width is 19 inches, while height is measured in U's, which are equal to 1.75 inches.

  2. 2

    Install power components. Select and install a rackmount power supply and surge suppressor to power the guitar effects in your rack. When selecting a power supply, consider the power requirements and type of effects that will be installed in your rack. Power supply components are typically installed at the top of any effects rack, so heat generated by the supply has the least effect on the other components.

  3. 3

    Select effects. Based on your personal taste and requirements, purchase rackmount guitar effects for your rack. Effects such as compressors, equalisers, wireless units, tuners and reverb are the most commonly used components. Other popular effects include distortion, chorus, echo and various modulators.

  4. 4

    Design signal flow. With the effects for your rack selected, you will need to design a signal flow before installation. Basically, signal flow determines the order of the effects in your rack and how they will be installed. For example, most guitar effects racks will have the tuner mounted first, so when in use, the signal isn't affected by any of the other components. The rest of the signal flow is ultimately determined by personal taste and can take many forms. To get the right set-up, consider connecting the components in various configurations before installation. This will allow you to decide the best order for your needs, before mounting any components.

  5. 5

    Install and connect effects. Once you have determined the correct signal flow, install the effects into your rack. You may have to reconfigure your installation if issues such as blocked connections or access become a problem. Plug the effects into the power unit and connect using the shortest signal cables possible. Short cables will provide the least amount of signal loss and reduce the clutter in your rackmount case.

  6. 6

    Test the set-up. Power up your guitar effects rack and test the operation of all effects and components. In addition to testing the electronic operation of the rack, also check that all connections, buttons, knobs and sliders are fully accessible and operational. Also, be sure that the covers or doors for the rack can be fully closed and locked for transport.

Tips and warnings

  • Before decided on the size of rackmount case to purchase, consider the height of effects you will be installing, as well as some room for expansion.
  • Rackmount cases can also accommodate features such as equipment lighting and storage drawers.
  • Shock-proof cases offer a spring loaded mounting surface that provides extra protection for delicate equipment.
  • In addition to surge suppression, consider installing a voltage monitor to ensure your rack is connected to an adequate circuit.
  • To save money, consider purchasing used effects or reconfiguring a used effects rack.
  • Allow adequate ventilation for your effects while in use. Many rackmount cases have a removable back to provide the best ventilation.
  • High-quality signal cables will provide better sound.
  • Allow effect components to cool after use before replacing the covers.
  • Don't store extra cables or other supplies in the back of your rack. This can cause a fire hazard or damage to your effects.
  • Keep your guitar effects rack away from moisture to prevent component damage.

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