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If you bought your first effects pedal and opened the box expecting a ton of accessories to get the pedal up and running, you were probably quite disappointed.
Those still considering a pedal purchase might be curious what I mean and wonder: Do guitar pedals come with a power supply and cables?
Most guitar pedals come by themselves and require either batteries — almost always a 9V battery — or another power source to run them. You need to buy a battery or a power supply separately, and you’ll also need instrument cables to connect your guitar to the pedal and the pedal to your amp.
Let’s look at what you need to get started with a guitar effects pedal, what batteries and power supplies you should expect to need, as well as any other cables you’ll have to get to start playing.
Do Guitar Pedals Come With A Power Supply?
Most guitars require no power at all, and those that do mostly use a battery somewhere in the body of the instrument. Amps, on the other hand, almost all require more power than most batteries can offer, and so are plugged into the wall with a standard household plug.
Guitar pedals require some power, but nowhere near what most amplifiers need, and so can be powered either by batteries or through an AC/DC power supply plugged into a household outlet.
The instructions that come with your pedal should explain what you need, but there are some other ways to figure it out.
To check what battery you need, open up the battery compartment, which is usually on the bottom of the pedal. A 9V battery is pretty universal for effects pedals, but some need 18 volts instead.
As you’d expect, the inside of the compartment will tell you what battery is needed.
For the power supply, again, most pedal makers either sell a supply as an accessory, or they give you the information you need to get the right one.
Even if you’re buying a used pedal, though, there are ways to figure out what power supply you need without trial and error.
How Can You Tell What Power Supply A Guitar Pedal Needs?
By the power jack of the pedal there will be a small diagram that will tell you whether you need a power adapter with a positive or a negative center pin. If you plug the wrong polarity in, you risk serious damage to the electronics.
There are two types of pins, and each has a diagram associated with it. For power supplies that use a positive center pin, the diagram shows a plus sign at the far right, and the plus sign is surrounded by a circle with a line at the 9 o’clock position. That line ends in a small dot.
The dot is surrounded by a half circle with a line coming from the 9 o’clock position, which then connects to a circle that surrounds a minus symbol.
The diagram for a negative polarity center pin is the same as for a positive center pin, but the plus and minus symbols — which stand for positive and negative — are reversed.
A good way to remember which is which is to look at the left of the diagram, which will show you at a glance what polarity plug you need.
You also need to get the correct voltage for the power supply. That is normally 9 volts, like I mentioned above, but there can be some variation and some pedals can take a range of voltages and use circuitry to make sure the correct power is delivered.
It’s important to match the voltage, because sending too much voltage through a pedal can instantly fry the electronics. The voltage required is marked on the back of the pedal, while the voltage the power supply can produce is on the power supply’s label.
The final consideration is the current, which is measured in amps. Actually, in the case of almost every guitar pedal, it’s measured in milliamps.
Most pedals, in fact, take 100 milliamps of current to run, marked on labels as 100 mA. If a different current level is needed, that will be marked instead.
When choosing a power supply you need to make sure that the one you’re using matches the polarity and voltage exactly and supplies at least as much current as the pedal needs. The maximum current the supply offers is marked on the label along with the polarity and voltage.
If you have a pedal that needs 100 mA of current, you’d be OK with 100 mA or anything greater, but you don’t want to go lower. That’s because if you consistently try to draw more current from a supply than it can produce, you risk burning it out.
Do I Need To Buy Extra Cables For A Pedal?
When picking a power supply, you have another consideration beyond the basics I just covered above. What if, for example, you want to use more than a couple of pedals at a time?
One or two pedals are pretty easy to run using individual power supplies, but when you add more, that gets more difficult. You need to find reliable power plugs near the stage or your practice location and you need to have enough that you can plug in multiple power supplies.
An alternative is to use a specialized power supply instead. These supplies offer a major advantage: You plug the supply into the wall with a household plug. then use cables to connect the supply to the pedals.
Some of the power supplies offer power distribution right from the supply itself, while others connect to a separate distribution block, often one that is part of a separate pedal board.
This video explains how some of those supplies work, as well as how to pick what you need to run your board.
Apart from the specifics there, the basic idea is close to the same as covered earlier: You have to exactly match the polarity and voltage of the pedals, as well as making sure you have at least as much current as the total draw from all the things its powering.
A power supply with 1,000 mA of current could run up to 10 pedals that require 100 mA of current, but if you double that draw, of course, that number is cut in half.
What Cables Do You Use For Guitar Pedals?
The simplest way to handle power needs, obviously, is to stick with batteries, but that won’t always work. For one thing, carrying around a lot of 9V batteries can add a lot to the weight of your gear.
For another, some pedals just need a lot of battery power. It’s tough when you run out of power during a gig and need to change a battery mid-set, for example.
No matter what your need for power supplies, though, you’ll always need at least two cables to use any guitar pedal. You’ll need one to connect your guitar to the pedal and another to connect the pedal to the amp.
You need standard, mono guitar cables for this. One thing to remember is you’ll have to connect each pedal you want to use to the other. That means you’ll need an extra input and output cable for each pedal you add to your setup.
The issue with that, of course, is that too many long cables can take up a lot of space, both in your gear bag and once you have it set up on stage. Another option is to use short connector cables between the pedals. Designed to be flexible and take up less space, they often have right angle plugs, making them even more low profile and making your setup that much simpler.
All you’ll need then is a cable to connect the last pedal to your amp.
A guitar pedal can be the last missing piece when it comes to creating your own tone. Whether it’s overdrive, distortion, reverb, or something else, the effects you choose can shape your playing, just as your playing helps to shape how those effects will sound.
Before that, though, you have to get your setup in order. If you want to use multiple individual pedals, you’ll have to get the right voltage and current to the pedal.
If you’re using a battery, that is simple, but if you’re using an external power supply, you’ll need to match polarity and voltage and need to at least as much current as all the devices plugged in will use, and having more current is OK.
After that, just connect the pedals together and then to your amp and you’re ready to play!
I’ve been a musician, particularly a guitarist, for more than 25 years. I love writing about guitars, gear, recording, music in general and more.