All guitar pedals need power.
Much to the disappointment of many beginners who buy guitar pedals without realizing this (like I did when I first got started), guitar pedals do not work without either a battery or power supply.
Read more: Guitar pedal power supplies
Batteries are expensive and full-tilt power supply bricks - like the Voodoo Lab Pedal Power Plus - are even more expensive. This drives many pedal shoppers to something called a daisy chain, which is a low-cost, shared power source with a single plug that distributes power across multiple pedals.
Problem solved, right?
In this article, I'll make my case for why I believe guitar players should always avoid daisy chains and shared power sources for their pedals.
What is a daisy chain?
To make sure we're all on the same page, let's start with the basics: What is a daisy chain?
A daisy chain is a nickname given for a guitar pedal power supply that has one wall plug - usually nine volts - with several power connectors. These connectors can then be plugged into multiple guitar pedals, all deriving power from the same 9V source plugged into the outlet.
This is a type of shared power, as opposed to isolated power.
Here's what a daisy chain looks like:
Here's what it looks like hooked up to a few pedals:
This is almost always the form a "daisy chain" takes, though you can also have un-isolated power supply boxes, which are sort of a type of daisy chain that has been made to look like a heavy-duty power supply box.
We'll talk more about those later and how to tell the difference.
Now that we have a definition, we can get into why I don't recommend using daisy chains to power your pedals.
Read more: Best guitar pedals overall
The Biggest Problem with Daisy Chains
While daisy chains are cheap, they are problematic because they share power from the same source.
This often results in noise issues between pedals, like unwanted hum, hiss, cracking, and other noise-related problems when using your pedals. The more pedals you use with a daisy chain, the more likely you are to have excess noise issues.
Why does this happen?
Because all the power is coming from the same spot without any isolation for each power receptor in your pedals.
In fact, you'd be better off with a 9V battery in each pedal. That is at least a form of isolated power.
I've also noticed that daisy chains tend to degrade and have more noise issues over time. You might plug it up the first day and not have any problems, yet as time wears on and you continue to use the power supply, noise issues will almost inevitably crop up.
Which brings me to the obvious question: What's the solution to this problem?
There are Far Better Options
As I mentioned, 9V batteries are on option, though they're expensive and tend to run out rather quickly. Even when the pedal is not on, if you have an instrument cable plugged into it and a battery installed, the pedal is going to continue draining power.
So batteries solve our noise problem by providing isolated power, but they're still fairly inconvenient.
Instead, we recommend going with an isolated power supply, like the Voodoo Lab offerings:
Power supplies like the ISO 5, pictured above, provide isolated power for each individual output. In this case, we have four 9V outputs and one each for 12V and 18V. These are all completely isolated from one another, meaning you won't run into noise issues like you would from a daisy chain.
Some might also call this "clean power."
The Downside of Isolated Power Supplies
While isolated power supplies solve a lot of noise problems, they are significantly more expensive than daisy chains or non-isolated power boxes:
- Daisy chains: $9-$20
- Non-isolated power boxes: $20-$40
- Isolated power supplies: $100 and up
It's fairly rare to find an isolated power supply for under $100, at least if you want a power source for multiple pedals. However, I would still recommend spending the extra money for a decent power supply. Because if you don't, there's a chance you could end up replacing it anyway and costing yourself more.
How can I tell if a power supply is isolated or not?
For those power supply shopping: How can you tell the difference between an isolated or non-isolated power supply?
Primarily, there are two things to look for:
- Specs, product description language
First, you should look for power supplies that use the term "isolated" in the title and/or description, like this:
However, this in and of itself is not enough to prove that a power supply is truly isolated. Some cheap manufacturers will use the term "isolated" when they just mean shielded or individual power ports. True isolated power supplies are always more expensive, which is why we also need to look at the price as a confirmation indicator:
In other words, it's not enough for the description of the product to claim to be isolated. I'd want to see a price tag that corresponds to the amount of work, detail, and overhead that it requires to produce power supplies that are truly isolated from one another, despite being in the same box.
Can I just use a daisy chain anyway?
Yet, even after all this, I still can't deny that the draw of a daisy chain price tag is hard to compete with. For sometimes as low as $10 (maybe less) you can power all your pedals, and you might even get lucky without any noise for awhile.
And this begs the question:
Can I just use a daisy chain anyway?
As I alluded to before, I believe time will be un-friendly to your daisy chain setup, especially if you add pedals or if you already have a lot of pedals running.
While you can certainly use daisy chains in the short term, I wouldn't recommend viewing them as a long term solution.
Do daisy chains hurt your pedals?
But can they damage your pedals or cause problems after you stop using them?
In most cases, no. Daisy chains will not harm your pedals.
General electrical issues can crop up, particularly if you use the wrong kind of voltage of milliamp load, but that's going to depend on which pedals you have and how they're connected to the daisy chain.
Make sure to read the documentation that comes with your pedals, particularly as it relates to powering each one and follow instructions accordingly.
If you're working with all 9V pedals and a daisy chain, the chance of harmful electrical problems are pretty small.
Daisy chains are cheap, which is great. But are they a viable long term solution for powering your guitar pedals?
For the noise issues alone, I would say no.
Instead, look into a high-end isolated power supply and make the investment, even if you don't like the price tag. You'll get years of use out of the nicer power supply and you'll be taking the most important step in reducing electrical noise within your guitar rig.
If you have lingering questions about daisy chains or guitar power supplies in general, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I'll do my best to help out.
We'll see you there.