Five Things Your Pedals Wish You Knew About Power:
1. Your pedals don’t really know if they are running on a power supply or a battery. Every once in a while I get wind of a thread on some forum where somebody is waxing on eloquently about how pedals sound best running off a battery, as God intended. Some even go so far as to say that vintage pedals only reach their full potential on plain old-school carbon batteries … because, hey, those fancy-smancy alkaline types weren’t even around when the pedal was originally designed. Now, it may be true that a pedal knows how much voltage it’s running on, and weather there is enough amperage being supplied, but that’s about it.
2. Speaking of batteries, your pedals want you to know that a brand-new, fresh alkaline “9-volt” battery actually clocks in at an average of about 9.6 volts. If by chance you ARE running your pedals off of batteries, you should try to keep tabs on the batteries ACTUAL condition by checking it’s voltage with a multi-meter. A battery that checks at 9 volts is NOT “brand new”, and one at 8 volts is certainly NOT “nearly new” … more like on death’s doorstep.
3. Speaking of voltage … I also hear a lot about the benefits of running pedals at higher or lower voltages than what they are designed for. If the pedal in question is a digital pedal, then grab your hip-waders folks, cause you’re possibly stepping in some deep doo-doo. A voltage higher or lower than the design specs can fry the puppy! Now, if we are talking true fully analog pedals, sure voltage will change the sound. But, is that a good thing? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. A higher voltage on an old bucket-brigade analog delay, for example, may increase the signal to noise ratio a smidgen, while also boosting and cleaning up the output just a teeny bit. But the down-side is that you will probably be hastening the demise of your pedal. In exchange for about a 1% change in tone. In my opinion, not worth it! How about the other way around; less voltage? Here there MAY be a tiny bit of truth, but only in the case of a fully analog “dirt” box. Yes, if this were 1972 and you were using, say a Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face, the old carbon-zinc battery would be sweating bullets just trying to power the sucker. Remember that 9.6-volt figure I mentioned in #2? In the pre-alkaline days, that wasn’t the case. Walking into your local Ben Franklin’s five & Dime store to get your Eveready battery (the one featuring the cat with 9-lives), you would blow the dust off a “9-volt” with anywhere from about 6 volts to 9.6 volts. The designers of those old pedals knew this, and they usually designed accordingly. They would design a circuit that could tolerate up to, say, 10-volts, but something like 8-volts was the design spec. So, in the case of one of these effects, sure, a decent argument can be made for “browning” down the power supply to maybe 8 volts or so. Most any pedal designed from the 80’s onward though, no way! All you’re going to do by browning out your new reverb pedal is decrease headroom and you’ll experience some signal clipping (usually, the unpleasant kind).
4. Again, speaking of batteries. Please, please remove the batteries from your pedals when not in use. If you haven’t experienced the destructive force of battery acid inside the closed environment of an effect pedal, consider yourself very lucky. It ain’t pretty. Nuff said.
5. So, I’m kind of not-so-secretly hoping that I’ve dissuaded you from using batteries in your pedals by now. Seriously, all it takes is one show ruined by a dead battery, or one pedal ruined by a leaking battery and you quickly join the battery-hater club! BUT! All power supplies are NOT equal. That bears repeating: All power supplies are not equal. Often, if someone is anti-power supply (pro-battery) it is because they have plugged their pedal into a power supply and experienced hum or other noise that was not present when operated on a battery. That’s because you can’t just go to the local electronics store and buy a generic “9-volt DC” power supply. Nor can you simply steal the power supply from your kid’s mickey-mouse sing along tape player to power your new dirt pedal. You MUST choose a fully shielded (filtered) and regulated supply that has been specifically designed for use in powering audio devices (pedals).
On behalf of every pedal you currently own, or will ever own, thanks for reading!