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Power Struggle #1: Batteries

Power Struggles with Batteries

Powering pedals used to be simple. Go to the drugstore, buy a battery, pop it in and you’re ready to rock. Today, there are other options and concerns. Here, we’re going to take a look at batteries.

Batteries are by far the easiest, and quietest, way to power your pedals. The catch is, they’re not environmentally friendly and they can only supply a certain amount of power. Analog fuzz, compression, overdrive, and wah pedals tend to consume a small amount of power (5mA), so a single battery can last a hundred hours. Digital pedals, however, consume much more power (80mA and above) and you may find out at the worst possible moment that a battery will only last an hour.

Luckily, there’s a formula to help you figure out approximately how long a battery will last in your pedal: Milliamp hours of the battery divided by Milliamp current draw of your pedal (usually found in the manual or contact the manufacturer) = how long the battery will last. For example, 9V batteries are typically 500 mAh so let’s use that value.
Divide 500 mAh of the battery by the mA of your pedal:

  • 5mA pedal will last 100 hours
  • 100mA pedal will last only 5 hours

There may be times when a battery is your only option. Some vintage pedals, for instance, are not designed to accommodate a power supply. Things get sticky with a PNP germanium fuzz. These pedals have a positive ground and do not play nicely with power supplies and daisy chains. Then there are tone issues. Some pedals sound better with specific batteries. Wait a minute. Batteries have tone? Yes they do and let’s just say pour a cup of coffee and “google it.”

Let’s not forget rechargeable batteries, which are available as single units for each of your pedals. There are also versions that can supply power to an entire pedalboard. These are great options if you don’t have close access to AC power. Just like your cellphone battery, they will eventually hold less and less of a charge and will eventually have to be replaced.

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