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Powering Your Pedalboard

Eric Lapp • Posted on 05/14/2021 • 5 min read

Not all pedal power is created equal. Simply put, the power you put into your effect pedals will impact the tone you get out. Even more importantly, bad decisions in this realm can damage your gear! Though powering your pedalboard may seem like a one-size-fits-all afterthought, the straight rules are not as universal as we'd like them to be – but fear not, we have you covered. With a couple of fast points and even faster science, the mystery and ambiguity of powering your pedalboard can hopefully be remedied.

Pedal Power: Voltage, Amperage, and Polarity

These mystifying concepts are rather scientific, but in the case of your pedalboard, there are a few simple rules to follow to stay within safe limits.

Voltage: This always has to match the pedal. The most common voltage requirement for pedals is 9 Volt, with 18 and 24 Volt the next most frequently seen. When looking at power supplies, take notice of what the supply provides and compare that to what you have. Voltage is one of the primary points that you need to know for powering your pedalboard so keep your voltage requirements in mind – especially across multiple pedals in the same chain.

Amperage: There is a simple rule here. The power supply can provide more than the pedal needs, but not less. If your pedal needs 100mA and the power supply only gives 50mA, you have a problem. Make sure to check amperage and how your supply matches up or exceeds the amperage requirements listed.

Polarity: The most common is negative center, but if you do come across a positive center, you need to use the correct connector or make sure that whatever power supply you are using has a way to reverse polarity either by a switch or specific cable.

Batteries: Some pedals have an internal battery connector, but we generally do not recommend them. Versus dedicated power supplies, batteries in pedals are not as reliable and die as any battery does. It can be a chore to swap out batteries every time your pedal needs one to keep going, so a power supply can be a dependable alternative to keep the pedals alive and the jams free, fully ready to go at a moment's notice.

When talking batteries, power sag can sometimes come up in the conversation. Power sag is a quality in pedals that is produced by a dying internal battery. When a dying battery has less power to keep your pedal alive, the output level of the pedal is lessened. If you are looking to get some power sag sounds from your board, some power supplies come with a controllable power sag feature that can lessen the power of an output to get a similar low-power sound. No batteries required.

Why is a dedicated effect pedal power supply worth it?

The words reliability and durability come to mind when thinking about the pros of a dedicated effect pedal power supply. Here are a couple of examples why:

Reliability – having a consistent and unified central power source removes a lot of the headaches that may come with a mixed and matched power setup – as well as a lot of the guesswork! If you’re having trouble figuring out what could be the problem if one of your pedals is not working correctly, a single power supply narrows the field down when it comes to power.

A consistent power source also removes the risk of power fluctuations that can sap tone or create ground hum. In addition, having a central power source for your pedals puts the responsibility on the power supply alone to keep everything working properly. Since dedicated power supplies are constructed to do just this, you can trust that your power source is doing what it was designed to do, and with correct setup on your end, your powering experience can be headache-free.

Durability – most dedicated power sources also work to protect your pedals from surges. This is a key advantage over other power sources or batteries. Since pedals require specific power specifications to not only work well but to work at all, it is important to make sure your power supply is capable of protecting from surges that could damage the internal workings of your pedals. Your power supply will need to work inside and out to function at its strongest, so a power supply capable of enduring a couple small dings and bumps is also a good investment.

Organization – a dedicated power supply can work wonders to keep your pedals organized and centralized. Crafting that perfect tone can be made easier through organized and self-contained patch cable and wire setups. Most power supplies are physically designed with this mindset of organization as a priority, so keeping all your cables and wires straight and clean should be no problem. In the end, these tools are meant to help creativity, not get in the way of it. With a well-manicured board, more time can be spent exploring than setting up. The last thing you’ll want once you have that perfect sound down to a science is to get wires crossed.

Choosing a power supply

There are a lot of options when it comes to picking a power supply. From the single wall wart that comes with some pedals to custom build units capable of powering dozens, you have a wide selection. Before making any decisions, take a quick look at your setup and answer the following questions:

“How many pedals do you have?”

- There may come a point where your board evolves beyond a single wall wart or daisy chain. Worry not! There are plenty of power supplies that can work with a smaller number of pedals.

- Should you have a larger assortment of pedals that you’ve meticulously sorted out to play its best, there are power supplies for those board as well.

- If you’re an experienced connoisseur of effect pedals, you've probably come down this road already. Reaching higher numbers in pedals calls for larger power sources, luckily, there are many power supplies available to meet those needs.

“What power specs do your pedals need?”

- The power each pedal needs plays an enormous role when picking out a power supply. If you’ve reached a point where different voltages and amperages have mixed and mingled in your chain, you will have to take those points into consideration to make sure every pedal connects together and plays its best.

“Do you expect to add to your board?”

- It’s exciting when you see a new pedal come on your radar that will be a must-have, but it can be a bummer when your current board may not have the space or power to fit it. This is a point to consider if you’re happy with the space and power you’ve allotted to your pedals, or if you’re still in the market for more. There are many choices in power supplies that are a solid step up from the last when you’re on the lookout for more entries to your pedal lineup.

- Many power supplies conveniently are designed for additional connectable add-on units that expand power sources and capabilities. In many cases, one power supply may not be the end of the line when it comes to finalizing a board, so keep a look out for the add-on units for a couple of popular power supplies so your board can grow along with your pedal collection.

Power supply recommendations:

For someone with a handful of individual 9v pedals who isn't ready to build a board, these daisy chain and single unit supplies are economical and simple.
Daisy Chain and Standalone Effect Power Supplies

If you have a smaller or minimalist board that has consistent power needs and composition, these units will give you all of the pluses above without breaking the bank
Small to Mid-Sized Pedalboard Power Supplies

For those with a thirst for exploration and have large boards or bigger aspirations, these power supplies have multiple voltage options and some are expandable, a great feature to future proof your board.
Large and Expandable Pedalboard Power Supplies

Conclusions

With some quick rules and careful planning, finding the perfect power supply to match your board can be a breeze. Keeping your pedals safe, your tone preserved, and your board organized has never been easier with the variety of options available today. Find the perfect supply and believe us, your pedals will thank you.

If you have any questions, we’re here to help, so reach out any time.