4 Simple Pedal Fixes

We’ve all been there: the lights dim, the sound of the amp humming is filling the room, a solitary bead of sweat finds its way down our chin, we simultaneously stomp our favorite pedal and deliver a mind melting riff… and nothing happens. Something in your signal path has bitten the dust. Luckily, there may be no need to panic. Today, we will help you to unlock your inner tech and take you through four common pedal problems that require minimal (or no) tools to fix.

1. The dead Line 6 DL-4

It seems like you can’t traverse gear forums without encountering a bevy of horror litanies written about the DL-4. This is likely due in part to its continued success—the pedal has been an effects staple for almost a decade now. As someone who previously worked in the pedal repair business, I saw several of them come across my bench.

Symptom: No lights, no sound

Fix: As the DL-4 is software-based, it is not without its typical software hiccups. More often than not, dead DL-4s that crossed my bench needed a software reset. Typically, this means your presets are erased, but consider the alternative. To perform a software reset, plug a cable into the mono input on the back of the unit. Unplug the DL-4 from its power source. Hold footswitches one and four, and while holding them, connect the power to the pedal. If the pedal fires up, there’s nothing more to do.

2. The grounded pot

We’re all musicians here, so we know that gear used in the heat of passion is subject to any amount of abuse caused by the adrenaline coursing through our veins. Sometimes our moments get the best of us—we awake from our sonic trance and turn the gear off only to find it’s not working the next time we turn it on. There can be many causes for a rig not working, but if you remember turning some knobs too hard, this is likely the culprit.

Symptom: No sound at all or extremely intermittent, lights in pedals still on

Fix: If one of a pedal’s potentiometers is loose, there’s a chance that the knob was twisted in such a way as to alter the orientation of the potentiometer inside the pedal. Remove the back plate of the pedal with the appropriate screwdriver, and inspect all the potentiometers. There should be three connections (lugs) on each. If even one of these lugs is touching the chassis of the pedal itself, then the knob is grounding out. This is especially prevalent on volume knobs because of the way they work. The potentiometer shunts signal to ground as it’s turned, but if the lugs are touching the chassis, the full load is being dumped to ground—it acts as if the volume is all the way down no matter where the knob is placed. Take the knob off the offending potentiometer; this may involve either a small flathead screwdriver or allen key. Get a socket wrench, pair of pliers or a nut driver, and simultaneously free the potentiometer’s lugs from touching the pedal chassis while tightening the potentiometer’s nut from the outside.

3. The chip reseat

Almost every single pedal with some sort of “rate” or “time” control uses some sort of IC (integrated circuit). Sometimes, but not all the time, these ICs are placed in what’s called a socket. In older effects particularly, these ICs tend to pop out and cause all kinds of mayhem. Several Deluxe Memory Man pedals from years past can be repaired in this way.

Symptom: Pedal just doesn’t work, or, on delays, has crackly, distorted repeats

Fix: The reason this is much more prevalent in older effects is that it takes a long time for an IC to dislodge itself from the socket. The reason this happens is simple: temperature. When your old Memory Man was on stage in the late ‘70s, it was hot. When metal gets hot, it expands. The metals in the chip socket expanded at a different rate than the legs on the IC, so when the gig ended and the pedal got thrown into a cold van or bus, the metals contracted at different rates. Over time, this slightly dislodges socketed ICs. Take the rear panel off the pedal and locate the ICs. If they are socketed, they will be slightly taller than normal and will have a black “frame” around the lower edge of the IC. Some people prefer to use some type of lever to gently dislodge the IC and put it back in, but I’ve found that applying gentle, even pressure with both thumbs to the top of the IC works as well. If you hear or feel the chip lightly crackle, your job is done.

4. The loose jack

This problem affects the type of player that is constantly swapping pedals in and out of his or her rig. As the jack is jostled, the nut loosens ever so slightly. Pedals are grounded inside, and usually they’re grounded against the chassis via the jack’s sleeve lug. If the connection is barely there, your pedal is grounded intermittently.

Symptom: Signal cuts in and out, or doesn’t pass at all.

Fix: If your jack is noticeably loose, this is an easy fix that sometimes isn’t the easiest to spot. Sometimes a would-be tech can get away with tightening the nut externally with a pair of pliers, but this might create a problem internally if the jack is rotated and the other lugs touch things they shouldn’t. To be thorough, remove the pedal’s back plate and hold the jack in place while tightening the nut. This ensures that no other problems will spring up as a result of the fix.

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