July 21, 2016

Guitar Player

So, you’ve finally assembled the pedalboard of your dreams. Your tone and settings are dialed in, and you’re ready to take it onstage. However, before you do, you need to find the best way to power everything up. Fortunately, in this day and age, there are suitable pedal powering options for nearly every budget and pedalboard configuration. This article will explore the main choices and help you find which solution is best for your setup.

If you only have a few pedals and aren’t gigging too heavily, a simple daisy chain style setup will suffice. With this setup, all you need to do is plug in a single 9V adaptor to the wall and use a daisy chain cable to connect all your pedals together. When purchasing an adaptor, make sure it is 9V and center negative. You can tell if an adaptor is center negative by checking this for symbol on the packaging or the adaptor itself:

Center Negative Symbol

It is highly advised to buy an adaptor made specifically for pedals, since many adaptors available in electronics stores are not as well filtered and may not be suitable for your needs. These standard adaptors may work even for small consumer audio products, but they are not expecting the gain and power of your guitar which will boost their higher noise. Usually they are made for a small 1-5W amp media player with low gain, which hides their noise.

The daisy chain method only works if all your pedals are 9V. While the majority of effects pedals on the market run at 9V, there are some that require 12V or even 18V to function properly. Besides the added voltage requirement of the 12 and 18 volt pedals the wiring can be backward with the center positive, so be sure you have the right connection. If you have a large number of pedals, it is probably best to invest in an isolated power supply or pedal power brick. These power supplies are built robustly, often with aluminum or metal housings, and designed for frequent gigging and touring. In addition to offering numerous individual outputs for your pedals, many also can accommodate different voltage requirements, providing an all-in-one solution for your setup. When choosing amongst these types of power supplies, keep in mind the voltage requirements of your pedals and also your plans for future expansion. If you’re an effects guru looking to build a foundation to expand upon, you may want to choose a power supply with more outputs.

A quality isolated power supply offers numerous benefits over a standard daisy chain, but has its share of drawbacks as well. Isolated power supplies greatly reduce clutter, as you can neatly route each pedal to the supply without involving bulky wall warts or adaptors. They also help reduce hiss and hum that may result from daisy chaining numerous pedals. Distortion and overdrive units are especially prone to noise and may not play nicely with other daisy chained pedals, and having an isolated power supply solves this issue. The main drawbacks of an isolated power supply are the high price tag and size. If pedal real estate is at a premium on your board, a power supply might take up too much space. But if you’re gigging often and serious about your tone, chances are it’s worth the investment.

An added note here about transformer adaptor placement. This is becoming less of an issue with the newer and smaller switching power supply adaptors, but it is still a good idea to keep your guitar cords and pedal to pedal audio patch cords away from the adaptor. The older transformer based adaptors would give off a 60Hz hum and a 120Hz buzz that would get into your audio. The newer switching adaptors can give off a little 60Hz hum, and they can give off some high frequency 20,000 – 100,000 Hz noise that will play havoc on any digital effects. This high frequency interference can also add extra hiss noise to your rig. The good thing is the farther your audio cables are away from these adaptors the lower the interference, so be smart about where you place your power adaptors. A good test is to move them around and move your cables around them to see which cables and adaptors are more sensitive.

A recent addition to the market is a portable, rechargeable lithium-ion based power supply. These power your pedals the same way an adaptor and daisy chain would, but do not need to be plugged in. Instead, you simply charge it up at home and they are good to go for the gig. This solution is great for big stages where outlets are far away, or if you play outdoors often.

How are you powering your pedals? Let us know in the comments!

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