All pedals require power. This traditionally comes in the way of a battery or power from the walls. Wall power is the cheapest, but it also comes with inherent issues. Primarily noise, and also power surges. Noise is extremely common, especially at venues using a lot of electrical components on the same breakers.
Batteries are quiet and reliable…until they’re not. You don’t have the benefit of a power gauge to know when you need to change batteries. So you’ll change them every gig (like I used to) and waste money and batteries. Or you chance it and hope they don’t start to die during a gig. Not to mention the hassle and time it takes to physically change the battery on most non-Boss pedals.
So what if you had the quiet power of a battery, without the hassle, and with a gauge to tell you how much life is left? And what if that was easily rechargeable?
Good news! This already exists!
Why You Should Power Your Guitar Pedals With a USB Power Bank
USB Power Banks (or USB Lithium batteries) are “all the rage” with the kids these days. And I can see why. They’re relatively cheap, highly portable, and easily rechargeable. And they can easily get you through a gig or rehearsal.
Like I mentioned above, you’re removing potentially bad electricity from your signal chain. That gives you reliable and consistent electricity throughout your gig. No power surges, no electricity noise.
You’re also able to utilize the rechargeable aspect of any of the power sources. Single use batteries are expensive, bad for the environment, and all around obnoxious. Changing batteries is the worst, plus there’s no gauge to tell how much life they have in them.
If you travel internationally you can leave your complicated 220v to 120v converter at home. You’ll likely be using a back-line for any gigs you have, and you can eliminate the need for a converter by using USB power. Ideally you could even build a dedicated fly-rig that is completely USB powered.
Buskers will certainly appreciate this since sidewalks are notorious for not having power outlets.
Power outlets at festivals can be tough to come by. There’s a finite amount of power being supplied over long cable runs. Give up one of those power outlets to your lead guitarist so he can power his fan to get his hair flowing Dragonforce style.
I’ll say the same thing for churches (sans the personal fans. Probably). I’ve had to make really long power cable runs just to give my 3 delay pedals juice. It would have been easier and cleaner to use a USB power bank with a 5V USB to 9V Power Converter.
Did I forget to mention those? Yeah, you’ll need one of those too.
Pairing 5V USB Power to 9V Converters and USB Power Banks
I’ve dropped some terms that might be confusing or a little vague: USB Power Banks/Batteries and USB 5V to 9V Power Converters.
USB Power Banks, also referred to as USB Batteries, are rechargeable lithium batteries with USB outputs. You might have one for your cell phone already for those prehistoric flights where the seats don’t have power in them (what is this, the 1990s??). Except, to quote Tim “The Toolman” Taylor from Home Improvement, they have more power.
That “mAh” is short for milliamp hours by the way. It’s measurement of how much current a battery (or power source) can deliver for a period of time. The higher the number the more things you can power at a time (to grossly over simplify things).
The Mission Engineering Power Bank is $150, and the Anker Soundcore is the most inexpensive at $120. Be careful buying anything suspiciously cheaper than this, and be wary of any non-name brand USB Power Banks. For one, they’re padding the mAh numbers of their power banks much of the time. For two, they won’t provide the level of circuit protection as these more legitimate batteries will. You get what you pay for folks.
These power banks run on 5v, but as you know most pedals run on 9v (or more). In order to use your power bank to power your pedals you need a power converter.
5V USB to 9V (or 12v) Power Converters will enable you to actually power your pedals. It’s actually the same concept as any wall wart or a Voodoo Labs Pedal Power unit. But it takes a 5V USB input from a power source (USB power bank) to convert and deliver that power at 9V.
How To Use A USB Power Bank On Pedalboards
Mission Engineering makes a USB Isolated Power Converter with 4x 150mAh outputs and 1x 500mAh outputs for larger pedals. Both of these combined give you the freedom to go cableless for your pedalboard.
What if you don’t want an expensive power converter? After all, part of the beauty of this setup is cost. If you only want to use the USB power bank then use a 5V USB to 9v (or 12v) power cable and a standard daisy chain. The power cable has a USB-A plug on one side, a standard 2.1mm center-negative plug on the other, and a voltage converter in between.
Just like any other pedal power situation, you’ll want to make sure your power bank has enough mAh to power all of your pedals. I’ve written extensively about it in “The Ultimate Guide To Pedal Power”, if you’re not sure how to calculate this.
Pro tip: you can also power some wireless units with a USB power bank and power converter combo.
Can USB Power Banks Really Power Pedalboards?
Yes! The only downside I see is that the USB battery has to be charged, which can take several hours. This is a small issue in the grand scheme of things, especially since it will get you through long gigs without an issue. If you’re a forgetful type, just make sure you set yourself some reminders to charge that bad boy after your gig!
This is a relatively new idea, and I’m excited to see where this goes in the future. Will we see Voodoo Lab style power bricks with long life lithium batteries built in? Will this stop at pedalboards, or will we see batteries powerful enough (and small enough) to power entire rigs?
I’m not sure. But where we are now is a pretty good place to start.