Reviewed: Monark Pedalboards Mainframe

About two years ago, we did a preliminary inspection of a rather neat and highly engineered take on the pedalboard. Fast forward to very recently and Monarch Monark Pedalboards has finally brought their product to the public. We got our hands on their flagship product, the Mainframe (specifically a 26×16 version with a wedge) to see how this concept stacks up with real world use.

Main features – AKA What’s so special?

While these boards currently come in three varieties (two sizes of Mainframe boards and an option to have the larger Mainframe with a wedge), I like to think of them as somewhat modular. That speaks both to the ability to order a custom size as well as the notion that many flavors of boards could exist in the future. The main components in question are:

  • An exterior frame (the silver part)
  • 9 aluminum rails that can slide up and down in the frame and mount anywhere to accommodate your pedal configuration. The rail design also creates handy pathways to run cables out of sight.
  • Mounting vices that hug each pedal on all sides
  • An optional wedge to tilt your board and provide a mounting space for a power supply

The whole point of this design is to provide a more permanent solution for mounting pedals without modifying or gunking up the pedal itself. I say “more permanent” as once they’re in place, they won’t go anywhere, but you can still move or remove your pedals at any time.

Part of this design also leads to durability. Plenty of folks have wood or plastic boards, which of course are not going to be “buy it for life” items. They’re fine if you play at home, but the more you travel and bounce around on stage, the more likely you’ll be to break something. With the Monark board, you might get some scratches that can make you sad, but it seems unlikely you’ll have to replace it due to damage.

These little vices grab your pedals and don't let go.

These little vices grab your pedals and don’t let go.

What’s changed?

It’s been a while since we saw the prototype, so aside from a slight name change, let’s run down the noticeable differences.

More straightforward overall design. The original unit was built into a hard case. Great for heavy travel, but added a lot of weight and complexity for manufacturing. There was a tilt/slide rail system involved to get your board angled. Now the board has a fixed height wedge underneath which serves as a place to mount your power supply or any other items that you don’t need ready access to (there was such a space originally, but the new way is very easy to access).

Color Tweaks. Original board was silver and with orange vices to hold the pedals. Some folks didn’t like orange. Now it’s a little more universal in the styling appeal, with a silver frame, black rails, black vices. I like orange, but this does allow your pedals to be the most visually prominent part of the board.

Smaller Vices. The little fellas that hold your pedals in place were wider originally, which potentially limits available width. They have shrunk a bit, although in most cases any pedals with side mounted input/output jacks are going to be the biggest issue for width. But regardless, you’ll have less concern here unless you currently have pedals that literally touch from side to side.

That’s really it. The design change is the most striking difference, but likely something that will be appreciated by most folks. The selling point on these things is the unique way they hold onto your pedals and that’s unchanged.

How does it work?

Assembly is a bit time-consuming. I didn’t refer to any documentation that Monark may have, but was given a couple tips. Based on some minimal trial and error, here’s the route I found best.

  1. Loosen all the screws holding the rails in place. Loosen them to the point that they stay in place but you can still move them, as you’ll need to do so.
  2. Place your pedals on the board in the layout you prefer
  3. Adjust the rails so you’ll be able to clamp vices onto your pedals without any jacks getting in the way. Tighten the rails as you go.
  4. Start clamping vices.

It’s not hard and if you’re comparing this to a brand new traditional board where you’re cutting velcro as you go, it’s going to take maybe twice as long. Where it gets tricky is if for whatever reason you want to change your layout, it may involve repeating several steps. I reordered 3 of my pedals and it was a five minute ordeal. You’re sacrificing a little bit of simplicity/ease of adjustment for the permanence of this concept.

I quickly made a little video showing the clamping process, as that’s the bulk of the work. Again, it’s easy, but takes time.

It can be done far quicker than the near 3 minutes in that video, but obviously I’m taking my time to explain the process. That also gives you a better visual of how the rails play a role and the need to have them be adjustable.

Verdict

If you have dealt with velcro and wished there was a better way, found the systems that require drilling into the bottom of your pedals or attaching other hardware to your effects, this is a great option for you.

If you play out a lot and need a pedalboard you don’t have to worry about (stuff moving, boards breaking, connections coming undone, etc), this is for you.

If you’re a casual guitarist that mostly plays at home, this is likely massive overkill.

Let’s be honest, these boards are expensive. The model I tested will currently run you $299.99 and that’s about double the price of the conventional alternatives. But, the folks who I think are ultimately the ideal customers either aren’t buying the conventional alternatives or they are and they aren’t happy. People who think a PedalTrain is all they’ll ever need will sneer at the price. So I’m rating this with the mindset of the more ideal customer.

And that said I stick with my initial assessment that I feel like this is an awesome product. It’s not just a cool idea, but can legitimately make life easier in the sense that your pedals aren’t going anywhere once they are on the board and you don’t have to do anything drastic to get that result. There needs to be a clear case/bag solution for the Monark boards to live up the the durability and gigability hype, but that seems like a problem that’s easy to solve. For now, it’s a clear upgrade over any commercially-available option I know of when it comes to durability and security (security of your pedals not moving on stage or during transit). If that’s something you’re struggling with now, the price is hardly an issue.

Go ahead and check them out at http://www.monarkpedalboards.us/