At times, it’s the silent gear that’s trickiest to nail down. This week on TPS, Dan & Mick broke down volume pedals usage and placement to the absolute basics. Whether you’re a volume pedal sage or absolute newbie, sometimes it’s the simplest tricks that can optimize your gear.
So how, where, and when should you integrate a volume pedal into your rig? As Mick summed up, “you basically have three positions for your volume pedal. Right at the start of the chain, which decreases the level of gain into the pedals after. We’ve got right at the end, which acts as the absolute master volume. We’ve also got before your overdrives and before your reverbs and delays.” Each configuration has its advantages, so here’s a walk-through of the primary volume pedal locations on your pedalboard.
Place Your Volume Pedal First for Gain Tinkering and Tidal Wave Swells
One of the more common places you’ll find a volume pedal is first in the queue. There are at least two main reasons why this set up might be a good place to start your volume pedal journey.
First, although the value and response of a volume pedal isn’t exactly the same as a volume pot on your guitar, it does provide another tool for cleaning up overdrive sounds by rocking the volume back before your gain stages. Any difference you hear between using your onboard volume pot and on the floor volume pedal is due to the patch cable’s capacitance between your pickup and the pedal. To avoid any loading problems in this scenario, Dan recommended exploring an active volume pedal to retain the “sparkly” sound of the cleaned up overdrive. In this setup, Dan reminded us, you’re not actually using the volume pedal to decrease volume. Primarily it is a gain decrease mechanism.
Second, if you are running a board that is primarily for crafting ambient soundscapes and otherworldly swells, placing your volume pedal up front might make the most of the collaborative impact of your effects. If, however, a key part of your foundational tone is from an always-on style of drive pedal, skip this option and consider what’s next.
Place Your Volume Pedal After Gain Pedals to Retain Overdrive Structure
As Dan described, this second configuration involves “placing your volume pedal after your gain stages but before your delays and reverbs.” In short, it sits in between any dry and wet effects. The advantage here is that you benefit from a consistent signal and setting of drive, which is then blended into the ambient effects. As a result, “it lets the tails of your delays and reverbs carry on” depending on the level of signal you send through by rocking and rolling the volume pedal.
Place Your Volume Pedal Last to Act as a Master Volume
The final main location your volume pedal might call home is dead last in the signal chain. By placing the pedal in this position it means all of your effects do their beautiful and brilliant thing together but you have the option of engineering your own fade-ins and fade-outs on the fly. As Dan noted, “the volume pedal has now become the master volume, because it is after everything we are getting a complete decrease.” This means no alteration of the gain structure of your overdrive pedals and no echoes and tails from your wet effects.
Picking Your Best Volume Pedal
No two volume pedals are created equal but there are some technical and functional considerations for picking your best option.
One consideration is impedance. As Dan commented, at times, the higher impedance value of the volume pedal, the less control there can be over the range of volume. In this case, the Boss FV-50L is an option worth considering due to its lower level pot and impedance setting.
Size is another major consideration. Let’s face it, volume pedals can be real estate hogs! Yet if you want the option of ambient swells or complex gain interactions on the fly, smaller format volume pedals offer the same functionality in less than half the space. For these applications, check out the DOD Mini Volume Pedal or Dunlop DVP4 Volume X Mini.
Finally, if you just can’t decide which pedal to pick, you can’t go wrong with any volume pedal in the Ernie Ball lineup. These aluminum chassis designs are nearly indestructible, come in a range of impedance values, and even have varying physical footprints.
For these and other volume pedal options, stop in to see us at Riff City in store or online.
Guitars: Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster, Fender Custom Shop ’63 Telecaster.
Pedals: Sonic Research ST-300 Turbo Tuner Mini, Jam Pedals Rattler, Paul Cochrane Timmy Overdrive, Empress Echo System, Walrus Audio Fathom Reverb, Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man, Boss FV-30H, DOD FX-17 Wah Volume.
Amps: Fender Hot Rod Deluxe III with standard speaker, Lazy J 20 combo with Celestion Alnico Cream Speaker.