Jan 8, 2018

Blame it on Eric Johnson, the multigenre American guitarist known for being OCD when it comes to his tone.

Years ago, Johnson inadvertently gave rise to the suggestion that the type of battery used to power a pedal can make a difference in its sound. To be clear, what he actually said was that he once changed from using Duracell batteries and thought it made his tone less satisfactory. Since then he has used only Duracells.

Johnson didn’t exactly say he could hear variations among types or brands of batteries, nor did he say conclusively that it made a difference, only that he thought it did. Nevertheless, his story opened an ongoing debate among guitarists about a battery’s effect on tone.

Now, we can all agree that a battery’s strength affects how our pedals perform and sound. Electronic components behave differently as voltage drops in an aging battery, sometimes with pleasing results. For instance, many guitarists will tell you that a dying nine-volt can raise new levels of filth in a vintage fuzz pedals. For this same reason, results can vary due to the age of a battery—voltage drops over time even in an unused cell—or because of inconsistencies in production that affect entire batches of them.

The variations in tone created by an aging battery inspired Alchemy Audio to create the Dead Bat Dying 9-Volt Battery Simulator a few years ago. The device is a nine-volt battery simulator with a knob that lets you roll off the voltage coming from your power supply. You can see the Dead Bat in use in this video from Reverb.com.

Similar to the Dead Bat is the DeVolt from Beavis Audio Research. The video below demonstrates it at work on a variety of pedals, including an MXR Phase 90 and an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi.

But what we’re talking about here is a difference that is specific to brand as well as battery type, such as newer alkaline, lithium and nickel-cadmium (NiCad) cells and vintage carbon-zinc batteries. No matter how a battery produces energy, and no matter who makes that battery, the end result is a stream of direct current that powers a piece of electronic gear. Many guitarists have a hard time swallowing the idea that the means by which current is produced can affect the quality of a pedal’s performance. Yet others swear it’s true.

That’s good news for companies like DanElectro, who sell a vintage nine-volt battery that, according to their website, is “Made just like the batteries of the 1960’s.” The company claims “DC supplies and alkaline batteries eat your tone” and says its vintage-style battery will make your favorite pedal sound better than ever. You can find out for yourself: a two-pack costs $3.99. Oh and they also just launched an intriguing (although counterintuitive) battery power supply!

Or you can check out this video from Phillip McKnight, in which he compares the Danelectro battery to an Energizer alkaline battery using a Lawrence Petross Design Sixty 8 Drive pedal. Phil’s methods are hardly scientific, since variations in his string attack can color the sound of his performances. For more accurate results he should have recorded the guitar and played the recordings through a re-amp pedal to make each performance identical.

But watch the video and see what you think. As some commenters on the video note, the Danelectro battery does seem to produce a slightly darker tone. Whether it does—and more importantly, whether it’s desirable—is entirely up to your ears. Which is how it should be. – Christopher Scapelliti, PHOTO: Sky99| Creative Commons

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