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Pedal Power - What You Need to Know

Updated: Apr 4


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Powering Pedals

Powering your pedals correctly is really important if you want to get the best out of them, and with the prices of pedals seemingly creeping up and up, they are not getting any cheaper. If we're going to spend lots on a new pedal, the least we should do is to make sure it's powered correctly so we get the best out of it.



I know, it's not very exciting or sexy, not compared to looking at the latest new overdrive pedal that's got loads of cool faders and which can offer us hundreds of sounds, presets, midi applications and so on, but if you have pedals then we can't get away from the fact that at the heart of our set up there will be a power supply, or maybe even more than one.



Ideally, what we generally want is a board that is just plug and play, as in we just need to connect one plug or adapter and off we go. So we may be looking at something like a One Spot daisy chain for a very small board, or certainly when we first get into pedals as this will generally do an okay job when we just have a couple of overdrives to power.


However, once we start getting a other pedals we might notice more noise creeping into our set up. Maybe a digital delay unit and a modulation pedal is added, and then we get a new overdrive too which just seems noisier than it should be, and things just don't quite sound or feel right any more.


At this point, we really need to look at our set up and put a bit of thought into how it's powered.


Here's a video that demonstrates a few of the points discussed in this blog, but keep reading too to see the main things we need to take into consideration.







Let's take a look at the main things we need to think about:


Voltage


This is how much juice we're basically feeding the pedal. Voltage can be thought of as the amount of pressure from the power source that's pushing a charge to or through your pedal. Think about water pressure and a garden hose.


If you put too much pressure through, this is when you could really damage your pedal so it's really important to make sure your power supply can offer the right amount of voltage.


Too little is unlikely to damage your pedal, but it won't work correctly, too much could just fry it.



Most pedalboard power supplies have more than one voltage output available, so it's important to think about what your pedals need and to make sure the supply you get can cover these different needs. For example the Voodoo here has 9v, 12v and 18v outs, so you don't want to connect your 9v pedal to the 18v out or vice versa.


Polarity


Nowadays nearly all pedals run from a centre negative adapter, as can be seen in the picture here. But you do need to check this as some, especially older ones, can have centre positive, with Electro Harmonix for example updating all their pedals over the last few reissues to conform with this standard.


Having pedals all powered in the same way makes things much easier for us when thinking about power supplies, which is why this standardisation is really taking place. We're more likely to buy a pedal which doesn't require its own special PSU or an adapter to use.



Current Draw / Consumption


This is about how much current your pedal needs to work correctly, and is measure



This is really important as we need to make sure each and every pedal can get enough current to run optimally. Here, too much isn't an issue as a pedal will only draw what it needs, but not enough and either it simply won't work at all, or it will be impaired in some way.


Each pedal you have will likely require a different number of mA, so it's important to read the manual and check. As a rough guide, analogue pedals, especially overdrives, boosts, distortion and fuzzes require little, often somewhere between 4 and 12 mA. However, many of the digital devices we're seeing more and more of may require 400mA or even more. As an example the UAFX Golden Reverberator, see the review here, needs 400mA and a Strymon Big Sky around 300mA.


So when you are choosing a power supply, check to see that it can supply enough current to cover the draw of all of your pedals comfortably, and again think about how you may need more as your requirements change with the addition of any new pedals.





This is easy to do as you just need to add up the draw of each pedal. e.g my board has:


Origin Effects Cali 76: 77 mA

ThorpyFX The Dane: 34mA

King Tone Soloist: 5-10mA

EHX Micro Pog: 180mA

UAFX Golden: 400mA

Free the Tone FT-2Y: 400mA

Friedman BE-OD: 7mA

TC Electronic Dittox2: 100mA +

RMC Wah: 10-15mA

Line 6 G10S: 500mA when charging

GigRig Qmx 6: 300mA


So when added up, this quickly becomes quite a lot at 2023mA. When powering this, I need to make sure my power supply can manage at least this and preferably a lot more in case I make any changes in the future.


Isolation


The final thing to think about is isolation. Is each and every pedal isolated from each other? Now most power supplies, like the Voodoo above do have isolated outs, so these all work pretty well, but this is where things like the One Spot daisy chain approach falls down.


If pedals aren't isolated they can start introducing noise to your signal chain quite quickly, which is only made worse once you turn on a drive pedal or anything else that compresses your signal, the obvious other pedal being a compressor.


As mentioned, there are many power supplies that solve this issue, personally I use the Gigrig gear as it is so flexible and powerful. However it is not cheap!


So other solutions are to use the PSUs supply with your larger digital pedals, and also don't forget about the lowly battery, which will actually give your pedals the purest form of isolation possible!




Conclusion


When choosing a power supply Voltage, Polarity, Current Draw, and Isolation are really important. If these are all covered, your set up is going to sound clean and every pedal will work optimally.


More expensive solutions are not inherently better. Assess your needs and purchase in line with this. You could simply use batteries for your drive pedals, then use the PSU supplied for any larger device like the Free the Tone FT-2Y.


If able to spend more and look at a quality power supply, make sure it's flexible enough for where you think your set up may go in the near future. These things aren't cheap and you don't want to get a new pedal and then realise this then means you also need to new power supply for your board too!


And with our predilection as guitarists to often add to or change our pedal collection, it's really important to look at getting a power supply that offers more than your immediate needs, as otherwise you may be getting a new one sooner than you'd like.



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