There is a lot of mysticism surrounding guitar gear.
Some of it is founded in facts, some of it is entirely made up.
The thing with pedals and batteries, is different, though.
There’s evidence, that in some situations, batteries could make your pedals sound different.
But is “different” better?
Let’s find out!
But first, for those who prefer a quick answer, here it is:
Guitar pedals don’t necessarily sound better when used with batteries. If the battery is completely full and capable of outputting the same voltage as a quality power supply, the sound will be exactly the same. The difference in tone comes when the battery is drying up and outputs a lower voltage.
If you want to dive deeper into this topic, I invite you to spend a few minutes with me, and we will analyze all the alternatives.
Are you ready to get started?
Does running your guitar pedals on batteries make them sound better?
Running your pedals with batteries will not make them sound any different than using them with a high-quality power supply.
This is until the batteries start to dry up and output a lower voltage until they completely die.
That lower voltage is known to affect the final tone of a pedal, however, as it’s a side effect of the battery failing it’s virtually impossible to control.
And this variation in tone will not be consistent over time, since the voltage will fluctuate until power cuts off.
The determining of if this variation in sound is better than the intended tone of the pedal is up to the player.
What’s an objective fact is that it’s hardly reproducible and very inconsistent.
How batteries could affect the tone of a pedal?
The only way batteries could affect the tone of a pedal is by outputting a voltage lower than their intended one.
This happens, as I mentioned when they start to lose the ability to provide a constant output.
Different pedal circuits will react alternatively, but particularly distortions are known for providing interesting results when this happens.
A great way of demonstrating this situation is with a plugin that simulates the voltage drop such as in the following video:
As you can see, the difference is noticeable, however, in real life, there is no way of tweaking a battery in that way to get a certain tone.
Contrarily, the most reliable alternative for achieving such results would be with a power supply that allows for consistent output of a lower voltage than 9V.
Where did the idea of batteries producing a better tone come from?
Dating the origin of guitar myths is almost impossible.
The best I can do is tell you that the first time I heard about this novelty, it was attributed to Eric Johnson and his preference for battery-powered pedals due to a better resulting tone to his ears.
I’m not throwing Mr. Johnson under the bus here, and he clearly has an ear lightyears away from mine, but perhaps what he heard was something different.
Or maybe he convinced himself of something that wasn’t true, and this could happen to any of us.
What I also think is that maybe he experienced low-quality power supplies many years ago, especially when playing live, and the tone was not on par with batteries.
Even the interference resulting from such cheap gear could ruin your sound.
Add this to, perhaps, the enjoyment of the liveliness of batteries dying on stage and the predictable performance shift of his pedals over decades of using them, and you get a set of good reasons for preferring batteries.
I can’t blame him.
Do guitar pedals connected to a power supply sound the same?
Guitar pedals connected to a decent quality power supply capable of providing a constant output will sound exactly the same as pedals running on a fresh battery.
This is because the great factor defining tone is voltage, and in this case, it’s very likely that it will be the same.
Again, differences will emerge, if we were to do an A/B test over a period of time when the battery starts discharging and lowers its voltage output, while the power supply maintains its intended one.
Power bricks are great for consistency and replicable tones, this is why most gigging musicians invest a lot of money on systems that can guarantee them “healthy” electricity for their gear, independently from the grid they are plugging into.
Are there any benefits of running your guitar pedals with batteries?
It’s not in vain that a lot of pedals allow for the alternative of being used with batteries.
In some cases, it may make sense.
Think of a small gig, where you won’t bring a big rig, and perhaps you will only require an overdrive pedal, apart from your guitar and amp.
In that case, running your pedal with a battery is absolutely convenient.
You will end up with an overall smaller rig since you left a heavy power supply at home.
Another likely situation is when busking.
Although you will probably need a power source for your amp, having the chance of running your pedals with batteries will be one fewer headache to take into consideration.
But, as you can see, all the situations I can come up with are mainly convenience-driven, and not because of the sound you could obtain.
My sincere recommendation is that you avoid obsessing about these rather small variables, and focus on the bigger ones such as your playing.
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.