Powering Your Pedals

It has caused grown men to cry and young children to laugh with glee…. Wait, wrong subject..

Pedals are great but if you aren’t feeding them what they need, they’re most likely gonna cause some problems. I hope to break down what power does for your tone as well as help you choose the best source for your needs.

I remember getting my first guitar pedal. It was one of those plastic Ibanez Soundtank Tubescreamers. I would sit and play, amazed that I could just stomp this newly found contraption and get a different sound than my little amp originally offered. With two guitar cables, my little amp, rip-off Strat, plastic pedal and a battery, I was going to rock the world. Little did I know I was doing something right; I was powering my pedal in the best way possible. Battery you say? That’s absurd! Just thinking about powering a large board with separate batteries for each pedal makes us all a little scared. Let’s look at the reason batteries are the best power source and how we can get the same results without the pain.

Why is the battery best? It’s not so much the power that the battery offers. It’s not that your pedal likes the battery any better than a power supply. It’s how the battery is all to itself. Because of this, the pedal is receiving isolated power. You may still be wondering how this matters. Power is power, right? Wrong.

What if you were to share a drink with five or ten people? Everybody just taking a sip and then they pass it back to you… Now that’s scary. When we don’t use separate sources of power for our effects, it is really no different than this. If one pedal has any DC noise, it will spread across the board causing hiss and hum that may drive you nuts. The most common cause for this is daisy chaining your pedals from one adapter like a “1 Spot”. These products are excellent, but when chaining multiple powered devices, you never know what you’re gonna get. If you’re noticing a lot of noise with your setup and you’re daisy chaining, this is most likely the cause. Overdrive and distortion pedals are particularly prone to this as they boost and pull on certain frequencies that cause DC noise. Daisy chaining is great for just a few pedals but if you’re running a big board, you may want to revaluate the situation. I can’t count the times I have helped someone with their noise issues and this was the cause. Not only can you experience noise issues but you may also not be hearing what your pedal really sounds like. Certain circuits need exact milliamps and pull to do what they were designed to do. Daisy chaining can severely affect the operation of your pedals if the supply that you’re using is getting weighed down. Now that we are seeing the problems, let’s look at a solution.

We want the isolation of a battery but the convenience of a daisy chain. How can all your pedals get what they need while making it easy on you? The answer is an isolated power supply! There are lots of these out there, but here are a few that I feel are the best. My favorite is the Voodoo Lab “Pedal Power 2”. It has eight isolated outputs, voltage sag option, external plug (great if you use a Whammy or other DC pedal), and its own balanced transformer to insure low noise. I run two of these under my pedal train and they save my tone everyday! Another great unit is the BBE “Supa Charger”. BBE makes great stuff and they always have reasonable prices. It’s real close to the “Pedal Power 2” minus the external plug and sag option. There have been cases were certain pedals hum on some of the outputs; if this happens, change the output until the pedal stops humming. This is a very straight forward and simple supply that will isolate your effects. There are other things out there like the Pedal Gear “Juice Box” and T-REX “Fuel Tank that can do the job as well. Just make sure it says “isolated” outputs. An example of an un-isolated supply is the Dunlop “Brick”. It’s really no different than the daisy chains because the outputs share a common ground.

It may be hard for you to justify shelling out some extra cash on one of these supplies, but if you’re serious about your tone and quality of your pedals, you won’t regret it.

Here’s a list of common pedals that MUST use their factory supply:

  • Big Box Electro Harmonix “Holy Grail”. Don’t even try using another supply. It’s gonna cause problems.
  • Digitech Whammy
  • Boss DD-20 Giga Delay (can run properly on a Voodoo lab PP2. Hates being daisy chained)
  • TC Electronics Nova Series
  • T- rex Replicator
  • FoxRox CC2/TZF
  • Blackstar HT series
  • Hughes & Kettner Tubeman series pedals
  • (Let us know any others you know of)
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