Why won’t my guitar pedal work? Troubleshooting tips and tricks.

Have you tried turning it off and on again?

why wont my pedal work?

When you get a brand new guitar pedal it’s super exciting as you get to try out a whole range of sounds. You quickly rip it out of the box, throw it on to your pedal board, pick up your guitar, take that deep breath and strum away… only to find there’s nothing coming out. Oh no! Terror sinks in, as you desperately try and figure out why your delay pedal is not delaying, your reverb pedal is not reverbing and your chorus pedal is not, well, chorusing (that’s totally a word now!). But before you throw your guitar down in disgust, package the pedal back up and send it away, take a few minutes to try and figure out just what might have gone wrong.

As we deal in all sorts of guitar pedals and field a lot of questions such as “why won’t my guitar pedal work” and “my guitar pedal won’t turn on” we thought it best to come up with a few quick troubleshooting tips for those who might think they have a faulty pedal, as chances are it’s not really faulty, but something else is causing the trouble. Here are our top troubleshooting tips for guitar pedals.

Is it plugged in?

This might sound silly, but sometimes a guitar pedal is simply not plugged in properly. If both jack leads are not fully inserted, the pedal won’t work. This is a power saving feature. A pedal will not switch on unless your jack leads are inserted correctly and into the guitar end, otherwise known as the Input.

guitar pedal troubleshooting

It’s important to remember that the jack insert on a brand new pedal will be quite stiff at first, so when you push the lead in, you may feel that it is fully inserted when in actual fact it might not be. Be sure to give it a firm push. I’ve made this mistake myself once or twice! It will loosen slightly over time and be easier to insert, but it has been designed to hold the jack in place so can be quite tough. Make sure both the input (guitar end) and output (amp end) are inserted properly.

The battery is dead

This is quite a common problem. Dead batteries in pedals means there’s no power going to your pedal, therefore no signal. The same goes for active pickups in guitars. 9V batteries or any other batteries for that matter, are very unreliable and can last only a few hours on occasion. Check that the battery is not causing the problem here. Replace the battery and see if that helps. Be advised, if you leave a battery in a guitar pedal and both jacks inserted, this will drain the battery – remember what I said about the power saving feature? You may have had a blast on your new pedal and left it plugged in for a few hours. Well, this can be enough time to drain a 9V battery. Which is why pedal power supplies are so handy! This brings me to my next point.

Make sure you’re using the right power supply

If you’ve decided to get rid of the 9V batteries, which I strongly suggest you do, and made the change to a more robust power supply option, make sure that you’re actually using the correct power supply! If the power supply did not come with the pedal, you might be using the wrong type. If the guitar pedal requires a 9V DC power supply, make sure you use one! Plugging a 12 volt power supply in when something needs only 9V can seriously damage the pedal, so beware. As for milliamps (mA) or current, make sure your pedal power supply is providing equal or more than what is required. We actually published a very handy guide to pedal power supplies here, well worth a read if you’re curious about what power supply might be right for you.

pedal power supply

Check the polarity on DC power supplies. Your pedal will require either a positive (+) centre or a negative (-) centre. The pedal and the power supply will state the polarity. Look for this symbol to tell you what the centre is.

pedal polarity

There’s a fault in your chain

If you’re like me and you run a huge amount of pedals together in a chain, along with a myriad of patch leads connecting them together, every now and then something might come loose. If your pedal board was working fine before you plugged your new pedal in, yet seems to be unresponsive now, chances are you may have knocked something loose or an existing fault, which has been laying in wait for months, has finally decided to rear its head. Check your patch leads with a cable tester, and go through each pedal individually to see what could be causing the problem. It could be a faulty lead, a broken patch lead or a loose connection on another pedal. Work your way back through the chain and swap out a few patch leads and cables.

guitar patch lead problems

The guitar volume pot is turned down

Seriously, this happens all the time. And I’ve definitely accused my pedals of being faulty before realising that my volume pot was turned all the way down. The same goes for volume pedals, so make sure these are not engaged when you’re trying to play.

In addition, make sure that the threshold on noise suppressor pedals are not set too high. This can make a pedal sound very quiet or at the very least act a little weird. Test the pedal in isolation.

my guitar pedal isn't working

Read the instructions

They’re there for a reason! If it comes with operating instructions, try and get up to speed with those first so you know exactly how to operate the pedal. Which leads me to another point…

One of the main types of pedals that can cause a few issues is the Looper pedal, especially if you’ve never used one before! An example being the Boss RC-1, a fantastic pedal when you know how to use it. Our resident troubleshooting expert Josh offers a little insight into the Boss RC-1 and the main issue people can have with it.

BOSS RC-1 troubleshooting

“The RC-1’s have two different loop modes; one where the lights on the display rotate in time with the recorded phrase, and another where the lights rotate quickly then a light blinks to show where the playback’s up to. A lot of people manage to change the pedal into the second mode then get stuck. All you have to do to change it is press the pedal down twice within a second then turn it off and back on. It’s as easy as that!”

I hope this quick guide to guitar pedal troubleshooting has helped. Now get out there and enjoy your pedal!

Check out the full range of guitar effects pedals at the Dawsons website.

Lee Glynn is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Liverpool, England. After moving to the UK from Perth, Australia, Lee enjoyed a successful career as guitarist in Liverpool based rock band Sound of Guns. After releasing two albums, a myriad of EPs / singles and touring extensively around the world for 6 years including stops at Glastonbury, Latitude Festival, as well as the coveted Reading & Leeds Festivals, Lee decided it was a time for a change of scenery. Utilising his experience in music journalism, Lee now works within the web team at Dawsons Music, where he can still relay his passion for music by producing great content for the Dawsons blog and social media. Lee is still an avid guitar player and writer.