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Guitar pedals, while not always essential, are important accessories for guitar players looking for different tones and sounds in their playing. Pedals can help set guitarists apart as the many different pedal brands, types, and styles can help to develop a guitar player’s unique tone.
While pedals are great, they won’t work without a power source. 9volt batteries or a DC power supply can power most pedals. However, not all pedals are the same, and some require specific power requirements. Apart from power considerations, players must also consider the type of audio signal that is going to and from the pedals.
One such type of audio signal is line level, which raises the question of whether or not guitar pedals can take line level or not.
So, what’s the answer? Can guitar pedals take line level?
Most guitar pedals cannot take line level without the addition of a DI box and a re-amping device. Otherwise, the signal will be too strong, which can either distort or clip the audio signal. There are however guitar pedals that are specifically designed to handle line level signals.
Let’s take a closer look at what line level actually is, if guitar pedals can take line level, and why you may or may not want pedals that can take line level.
What Is Line Level?
According to Sweetwater, line level is a specific strength of signal used to transmit audio between two different audio components. Line level is frequently used in DVD players, TVs, certain amplifiers, and large analog mixing boards, among others. Line level is one of four signal levels used in the audio and music realm. These four signal levels are microphone (mic), instrument, line, and speaker.
Line level is the third strongest type of audio signal, with mic and instrument being weaker and speaker being stronger. You can follow the link to this article on Sweetwater’s website for a deeper dive into the other audio signals.
Line level is the highest strength of the audio signal before actual amplification, and it is important not to send a line level signal to a preamplifier, as preamps should only be used for the weaker audio signals (mic and instrument).
Line level is broken into two different types; professional and consumer. Professional line level will be at +4 dBu, which is found in things like professional mixing boards. In comparison, the consumer line level will be around -10dBV, which is found in things like CD players.
Can Guitar Pedals Take Line Level?
Now that we have a better understanding of what exactly line level is, the big question of this article is if guitar pedals can take line level. The answer is a bit more complicated than a simple yes and no, so let’s break down the nuances.
The bottom line is that most guitar pedals are designed to work with those instrument-level signals I mentioned above. Remember, instrument-level signaling is going to be weaker than line level.
Another way to think of signal strength is in terms of impedance. Sweetwater states that impedance is the resistance a given device or circuit has to alternate current (aka a guitar pedal connected to an amplifier, for example). Because line level signals are stronger than instrument-level signals, they will also have a higher impedance, which can cause audio issues to arise.
Signal strength (and impedance) are critical considerations when hooking up pedals (or any other type of electrical music equipment). If you use the wrong signal type, it can damage the equipment or even potentially cause hazardous situations. This signal is measured in ohms. If you have ever owned an amplifier head and cabinet, you will likely have seen the ohms on the back.
To better express how vital this signal strength consideration is, check out the video below that explains how to match a head to a cabinet correctly and what can happen if you put the wrong combination together.
Thankfully, in most situations, plugging a line level signal directly into your guitar pedal that is only designed for an instrument-level signal won’t cause the pedal to be damaged, like mixing up the wrong head and cabinet combinations can ruin your amplifiers.
However, plugging a linevlevel signal into a guitar pedal that isn’t designed to take that signal strength can certainly result in distorted or clipped audio output, as the pedal isn’t designed to handle that type of higher signal. While not exactly the same, this type of distorted or clipped audio can occur within DAWs such as Ableton if the buffering rate isn’t optimal.
How Do You Know If Your Guitar Pedal Can Take Line Level?
Most guitar pedals will not be able to take line level. Before you consider connecting a line level signal to a guitar pedal, you should always look at the pedal’s manual to determine if the pedal can handle that type of signal. If you bought a used pedal without a manual or have misplaced the manual, you should contact the pedal manufacturer to determine whether or not your pedal can handle line level signal.
When in doubt, it should be assumed that a given guitar pedal won’t be able to take line level because most guitar pedals are not designed to handle that type of signal. However, there are several pedals that are made to handle line level. Some of the most notable are the TC Electronics TonePrint pedal series.
There are also some pedals that can switch from line level to instrument level signaling, such as the Eventide Factor series pedals.
The bad news here is that there are a limited number of pedals that are specifically designed to take line level, so your options on what type of sounds and effects you can have are limited. Further, many of these pedals tend to be on the more expensive side.
However, thankfully there is a solution to this issue. If you purchase a DI box and a Re-amp unit (you can also find them in combination), you can use any of your regular instrument-level pedals with a line level source.
This is a great solution, but it should be noted that this can be pretty expensive. However, purchasing these will allow you to use any pedal you want with a line level source, providing more options on effects than if you focused on purchasing the limited range of line level pedals.
Unfortunately, most guitar pedals are not designed to handle line level signals. However, there are many options to overcome this issue.
I hope you have found this article beneficial, and I wish you the best of luck in figuring out which solution is best for you if you are attempting to use guitar pedals with line level signal.
Until next time, stay creative and keep on playing!
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.