Eric Johnson is on record as having a preference for the type of 9V battery he puts in his distortion pedals (he prefers Eveready to Duracell). Some people swear that germanium-based components sound better when driven by zinc batteries. Claims such as these and others have been made by golden-eared tonemeisters ever since the marriage of distortion pedals and batteries. So shouldn’t all of us put some more thought into powering our pedals?
That’s the mindset that Danelectro is taking with the release of their Dan Electrode, a 9V power supply with a twist: it allows you to vary the voltage continuously from a full 9V down to 3V. You can use pretty much any pedal manufactured by Danelectro, DOD, BOSS, Ibanez, or any effect that fits their particular plug (the Dan Electrode doesn’t come with any adapters). I grabbed three pedals off the shelf, a Boss Turbo Distortion, a Danelectro Cool Cat, and an Ibanez Tube Screamer. The plug fit, and the Dan Electrode did its thing with all three pedals with no problem.
Operation is pretty much what you’d expect from a power supply: plug one end into the wall or strip, plug the other end into your pedal, and you’re ready to go. The Dan Electrode has three features on it: a green power-on LED, a two-position switch (selectable between fixed 9V and variable), and a small thumbwheel for varying the voltage when the switch is in the variable position.
My three test pedals all behaved differently. First, the Ibanez Tube Screamer actually turned itself off when the voltage was dropped to about 3, or when the LED faded out completely. Dialing the Dan Electrode back up to 9 wouldn’t revive the pedal to its active mode; I had to re-stomp the unit. The BOSS Turbo Distortion would dim gradually until it went off completely and then would come back in its previous, active state when the voltage was dropped to 3 and then brought up again. The Cool Cat’s LED dimmed only slightly during the voltage dial-downs until the last second. Then it extinguished itself completely. It too came back on from nothing, in its active stat and without having to be re-stomped.
I found that for the Turbo Distortion and the Tube Screamer, whatever the effect you have dialed up, dropping the voltage changes the quality of the sound, but not the volume. This is a good thing, as you’ll typically be using the Dan Electrode for altering the tone, not necessarily the volume—that you would do with the devices’ onboard volume controls, or else you wouldn’t need to bother with an alternative always-on power supply for that. No, the reduced voltage definitely imbues your pedals with a different sound. Whether it’s one you like, and that you find usable, is a matter of taste.
For example, with the Turbo Distortion, reducing the voltage down to 4, or till the effect’s LED was almost invisibly dim, actually cleaned up the sound somewhat. I can only guess that there was less juice to power the distortion effect, but the gain remained the unaffected. On the Ibanez Tube Screamer, reducing the voltage made the sound raspier. It might have had less “effect,” but the resultant sound was no less distorted, just a harsher distortion.
The Cool Cat exhibited the strangest behavior of all: here, the sound started to crackle and fizz, and then a high, whistling sound resulted. It was definitely not usable as an overdriven guitar sound, but it was unique in an analog way, and as a sound effect for a movie, it was quite appealing.
The Dan Electrode claims to deliver from 9 volts down to 3, and you dial this in using the thumbwheel. But the knob could use better labeling: the highest setting is actually one tick past 9, represented with a dot. Is this 10v? 9.5? If it’s a true 9, then what’s the “9” below it? Also I wonder about the calibration of the knob. Nothing happens between the highest setting (the dot) and about 7. From there the LEDs on all three of my pedals gradually dimmed until 4. Then they simply quit at 3—went dark and into either no sound or bypass. So I don’t know if there are any pedals that will actually work at 3 volts or whether this is just the off setting, for all practical purposes. In other words, the pedals effective range is between 9 and 4 volts. The taper seems to be rather non-linear, with no change between maximum dot and 8, and then a noticeable dip between 7 and 4.
Still, you do see a continuous fade on your effect pedal’s LED, indicating a continuous lowered voltage. With both pedals on a clean sound, I tried various settings from 9 down to 3.
Starving voltage on my distortion pedals definitely produces a different sound, and you can hear the differences, but in both cases, I couldn’t say dropping the voltage made anything better. Raspier and mellow, yes, but mostly just sort of different. But if you believe in the principle, as Danelectro and Eric Johnson do, that “Musicians sound best when you feed them. Pedals don’t,” then definitely give the Dan Electrode a try.
The Sanyo Pedal Juice has the opposite mission of the Dan Electrode: it wants to supply all 9 volts all the time, under load, and with multiple and different pedals attached. It has no variable knobs on it anywhere. A sleek, and handsome white or black box, looking like it just escaped from an Apple laboratory, Pedal Juice is a no frills device that fits right in your pedalboard (see Fig. 1) and consists of just the rechargeable lithium-ion battery encased in a solid housing that has just three ports: a charging input, and two outputs for driving effects, mp3 players, and anything else that receives 9V DC power.
Fig. 1. The Sanyo Pedal Juice has the same form factor as a typical stompbox.
Included with Pedal Juice are the AC charger (the preferred “line lump” form) plus two short DC-out cords that connect Pedal Juice to your gadgets. For all it touting of multiple effects, you’d think the Pedal Juice would supply the necessary multi-output daisy-chain cord, but it doesn’t. Nor can you get one from Sanyo, it appears. Luckily, these are commonly found from other manufacturers, for a cost of about $30. The Pedal Juice does include the critical polarity-reversing adaptor, which ensures you won’t damage any pedals that follow the non-standard positive-tip/negative sleeve scheme.
Pressing the single button on Pedal Juice starts the electrons flowing, and a press-and-hold of about one second turns the unit off, saving energy while your pedals remain plugged in. I like this one-button arrangement, as it’s fast and simple and allows you to conserve power when using multiple, daisy-chained pedals.
The onboard lithium-ion battery has a capacity of 6,600 milliamp-hours, for a total more than 24 watt-hours. I hooked it up to my two most essential pedals—my Boss CS-3 compressor and my Ibanez Tube Screamer—and both sounded great and ran for well more than a week under normal use. When either charging or discharging (using) Pedal Juice, the LED changes from green to orange to red to indicate battery capacity. The Pedal Juice outputs 9V DC at up to 2,000 milliamps (2 amps), which is plenty to drive several devices simultaneously. You can determine your specific effects’ energy usage by consulting their manuals, but the Pedal Juice website provides helpful scenarios of different setups (see Fig. 2). With seven pedals of various types and current draws, Pedal Juice provides about nine hours of continuous power—more than enough to get you through a weekend of gigs without recharging.
Fig. 2. Chart showing typical duration of Pedal Juice using a variety of pedals and effects.
Pedal Juice fit right in with my stompboxes, both in a pedal board and loose on the floor. Its one-button operation means you can instantly power on or off your setup in a fraction of a second. The tri-color LED work well for monitoring your battery usage and its lack of an AC cord (and external ground) means you risk bringing a nasty 60-cycle ground-loop hum into your signal chain. For guitarists, vocalists, and keyboardists seeking a portable 9V solution, and who want to give up the old "disposable battery shuffle," Pedal Juice fits the bill.