In this article we are going to take a look at this most overlooked piece of equipment for your pedalboard – the guitar volume pedal;
- What is a guitar volume pedal and is it necessary to all guitarists?
- Active or passive volume pedal
- Where you should place your volume pedal in the signal chain
- Types of volume pedal available on the market
- What is an expression pedal?
1. What is a guitar volume pedal? And is it necessary to all the guitarists?
Everyone knows that the sound of a guitar depends a lot on the playing technique, the guitar itself, and the amp. However, the unique sounds that each type of pedal offers can help shape your tone to a higher level and make it unique, expressing your own style.
The volume pedal is a device that helps to align and transform the sound waves of an electric guitar creating different sounds and effects. And to be easier to understand, just imagine that the only difference between a classical guitar and a bass guitar is a magnetic pickup, and thanks to the volume pedal, it will create the sound diversify going from fuzz bass (bass distortion), wah-wah,…
In comparison to all the other types of the pedal, the volume pedal might be the most overlooked; however, this device will always be an important piece in the pedalboard. One bonus, for example, if you were wanting to turn down the volume using things like pots on your guitar, this can affect the qualities of your sound, as pots reduce the original signals and make it weaker when delivering into some of the other effect pedals in the signal chain. On the other hand, with a volume pedal, it implements the volume attenuation that is perfectly fitted to your playing style, without affecting the qualities of the sound.
2. Which one is better or more suitable? Active or Passive Volume Pedal?
A funny thing about passive volume pedals is that it’s quite similar to the magnetic pickup from your guitar. And it does not need the power to function. Maybe the convenient thing about passive volume pedals is that since a regular volume knob on your guitar can be hard to use at times, with the design of the volume pedal allowing you to use your foot to adjust, it keeps you less distracted from the whole controlling pedalboard and playing process. Moreover, the passive type also depends a lot on the position it’s placed in the signal chain as it’s output can be unstable sometimes and lead to a loss of frequency, devaluing your tone.
An active volume pedal has the structure (including an amplifier circuit) used to boost the signals and for tuner isolation. Different from the passive type, the active volume pedal needs power to work or a small battery inside it. With this feature, the active type helps to transfer the signal most effectively, you don’t have to worry about where the volume pedal is placed in the signal chain, the length of the cable or having to go through many other effect pedals.
In conclusion, it is still up to you which pedal will best compliment your own music style and purpose, but the active volume pedal offers a more diverse option that can work well with different effects but this comes with a higher pricetag.
3. Where should you place your volume pedal in the signal chain?
This must have been the most asked question for people who first start using volume pedals. The answer is that there’s no correct answer! How you place the volume pedal depends on whether what effects you want to create and your own tastes. But there are two most common ways that guitarists use to set up their volume pedals in the signal chain. At the beginning or at the end of the chain.
Let’s have a look at the first way: An example of placing a volume pedal at the beginning of the chain: Your guitar => Modulation (ex: Wah Wah, Phaser, Flanger, Chorus, Pitch, Compressor,…) => Volume pedal => Overdrive/distortion => Chorus => Delay => Reverb => Amplifier
In this case, the volume pedal plays a role that’s quite similar to your magnetic pickup or volume control on your guitar. It will control the level more closely before it goes into the other effects and ends with the amplifier. And if you reduce the volume, you will also reduce the signal level going into the following effects. Looking at the above example of setting order, the next step is that an overdrive pedal, which amplifies the original sound or distorts the original sound so that the new sound has a regular buzz, will clean up the overdriven tone as you have reduced the sound. If you’re into things like swells, then this order is gonna fit well. Moreover, placing the volume pedal at the beginning of the signal chain will make the sound stretch throughout the other pedals, even when the sound is reduced, effects like “Delay” or “Reverb” can still continue.
The other way requires you to set the volume pedal at the end of the signal chain, right before effects like delay and reverb (adds the effect of amplifying the bass sound to make it sounds a lot louder, bigger as if you’re in an open space). So what is the purpose of putting the volume pedal at the end of the chain? For those who want the volume pedal to act like a last-step-volume-control, by doing this you also don’t have to clean up the signal from previous effects and completely cut it off.
4. Other types of a volume pedal available in the market?
Electro-optical Volume Pedals
Just by looking at the phrase from its name “Electro-optical”, we already know this is going to be a fancy, quite expensive yet effective and modern volume pedal to consider buying. Everything seems to function easier with the help of innovations coming from the electronic factor than having to do it manually. This type of volume pedal will take advantage of the sensor to accurately determine how much attenuation is needed for adjusting. A LED indicator is also added to the battery compartment.
Morley PLA Steve Vai Little Alligator Volume Pedal
Stereo Volume Pedals
The first thing that comes to mind when hearing of this type of volume pedal – the stereotype is that it certainly has something relating to the stereo effect. As we’ve already known, the stereo effect creates a sound combination of two or more different channels. When hearing them together, it helps illustrate and leave the impression of hearing the sounds coming from many directions. So if you are into it then you might want to try the stereo volume pedal.
Besides that, this type of volume pedal also lets you connect and plug into not one but two instruments at the same time. You now can control the sound through two signal chains altogether and also have two amplifiers to create the panning effect.
Valeton EP-2 Guitar Stereo Sound Pedal
Signstek Guitar Stereo Sound Volume Pedal
5. What is an expression pedal? What’s the difference between a volume and expression pedal?
Volume and expression pedals might seem alike in their designs at first glance. However, in fact, the two pedals have quite different usages. With volume pedals, as we’ve discussed above, is mainly used for amplifying and adjusting the volume of a sound easily and smoothly. For the case of an expression pedal, this device focuses more on controlling the parameter of effects, like increasing the delay level or modulation effect and the level of reverb, distortion effect,… It can also generate additional effects thanks to working with multi-effects units, amplifiers, or synths.
Another major difference is that an expression pedal does not have an input jack on it to connect to the signal chain like a volume pedal. There’s only the output jack that helps connect it to the other effect pedals and a potentiometer inside is attached to the input of the device that the expression pedal is controlling. And because of not being a fixed part of the signal chain, you can choose to place the expression pedal anywhere you want on the pedalboard, connecting to the effects pedal that you wish to vary.
One more thing that you should note down is that an expression pedal does not need power to function. You can think of it as a type of passive pedal. An expression pedal inputs commonly use a TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) or TS (tip-sleeve) jacks to plug into the other effect pedals.
Some of the best expression pedal models on the market
AMT Electronics EX50
Mission Engineering Inc EP1
Morley M2 Mini