How to pick the right power supply to power your pedalboard:
Smart power supply selection and power cable layout will:
- Eliminate hum and noise
- Help you deal with compatibility of pedals issues
- Address the blizzard of different voltages
- Connectors and contribute to the efficient and clean layout of your pedalboard
What you should really base your pedal purchase decision on:
From a power supply point of view, you should choose your pedals based on their power requirements. But let’s be realistic. That’s never going to happen! Pedals are chosen for their function, sound and how they look. Dealing with how to power them is always an afterthought and be a challenging issue.
A real Stone Age solution to a powered pedalboard is to use only batteries. This was the way the first few generations of pedals were powered. Even today most pedals have a battery clip inside to accept a standard 9-volt battery. It’s like an appendix in human beings – not terribly useful.
Besides being completely portable, batteries are noise-free and don’t cause annoying hum created by ground loop problems. But as we all know, batteries have one big drawback – they have limited life and are a real pain to replace, especially when a pedal is connected and fastened in place. This is the reason other ways to power pedals were invented.
Batteries will sometimes get you out of a jam:
Don’t disregard the idea of individual 9V batteries altogether. It’s good to always carry some batteries for your pedals. If something ever were to go wrong with your setup, sticking a battery into a pedal could help save the day. For instance, the hum-free powered pedalboard you are so proud of might start inexplicably humming under the stage lights at a new venue. A couple of batteries in the right pedals might fix the problem.
Try this battery-powered alternative:
There is another battery method to consider, a big lithium-ion battery that powers all your pedals. You hook it up to your pedals like an AC adapter. The Pedaltrain Volto or Sanyo Pedal Juice gives you long battery life plus the convenience of portability. Depending on your compliment of pedals, either can supply over 36 hours of power – longer than a Bruce Springsteen concert! They are small enough that you can mount them to the underside of your powered pedalboard. Just charge them up and you are ready to go.
The next step up for pedalboard power is to use an external power adapter or wall wart as they are affectionately known. These convert standard 120V (or 220V in most of the world) household AC power into 9V DC power (or other voltages as we shall see). The modern classic is the Boss PSA-120S. Using one of these, the easiest way to power a pedal board is to daisy chain the power connectors together so one wall wart powers the entire pedalboard. I know you are thinking ground loops and other incompatibilities like plug polarity, but daisy chains work for some situations where the pedals don’t require much power and don’t have a lot of digital electronics inside.
I use a daisy chain for the Golden Path Pedals demo pedalboard. Here is the reason why. I start with a trusty Boss PSA-120S power adapter. Two of the pedals on my demo board need power only for the LED indicators. The Roland BOSS TU-3 Tuner is engaged only when tuning. The rest of the pedals are demonstrated one at a time, so there is little interaction among them. The Teletone, Bone Bender and Mad Man are straightforward analog electronics and not complex digital pedals so they are less susceptible to ground loops. Here is a picture of all the pedals daisy chained together off of the pedalboard.
Daisy chaining works only if all the pedals are the same voltage, usually 9V, which is frequently not the case.
The wall wart solution:
This leads us to the next solution for powering your pedalboard, which is a bunch of wall warts of different voltages plugged into a power strip. This has its own set of advantages and disadvantage. On the plus side, you satisfy all the voltage requirement needs of your pedals and all the power supplies are isolated from each other, which can make for less hum, noise and other interaction. On the negative side, the power strip and wall warts take up a lot of space and can be an unruly ball of wires. See an example of this in the featured photo at the top of this blog.
The best way to power your pedalboard
I will leave the details of different voltages, connectors, polarities and AC vs. DC to the next blog post. Now I want to move on to the final (and best) way to power a complex pedalboard: a dedicated multi-output port power supply. Just as the name implies, these power supplies have multiple independent power outputs. Usually the default voltage is 9V, but sometimes a few outputs can be changed to other voltages like 12V or 18V and/or provide extra current for newer digital pedals. They have come a long way over the last few years and now can handle just about any combination of voltage, polarity and current requirements.
I think the Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus is the current state of the art. It has eight completely isolated 9V outputs, two of which have variable voltage “sag” to emulate dying batteries for getting that vintage sound in old analog pedals. It can supply 18 and 24-volt pedals by using a special cable. It can also handle many of the pedals that take a lot of power like the Boss Twin pedals, TC Electronics Nova pedals or Line 6 ToneCore pedals. It comes with a selection of cables for handling all sorts of cabling situations. Other advantages of a multi-output power supply will become apparent in future blogs. We use a Pedal Power 2 Plus in our workshop. See the picture below.
In this blog post, we covered the basic categories of power source and interconnect. It’s only the tip of the iceberg for understanding pedal power supplies. Next time I’ll get a little deeper to understand different voltage and current requirements so you don’t have a pedalboard brown-out.
What does your guitar pedalboard power system look like? Why did you choose to build it the way you did? Comment below or send me a picture and a description. It’s OK if it doesn’t have Golden Path Pedals on it. – This is all about discovering new stuff along the path to perfect tone!