Volume pedals may seem straightforward, but you may be surprised to find there is more to a volume pedal then meets the eye. We can quickly get lost in jargon such as high impedance, low impedance, tone suck, passive and active.
Who knew searching for a volume pedal could make your head hurt? That’s where we come in. We’ve spent many hours crawling the web’s music forums and music sites to help you find the best volume pedal for your board.
Full disclosure: I’ve been playing with a volume pedal (VP Jr. P06180) for a number of years now. To be completely honest, when I added it to my chain, I used it maybe a handful of times and then forgot about it. That was of course until I heard another musician use a volume pedal the correct way. I was surprised by the way you are able to subtly adjust your dynamics to create rising and falling swells. I began to rely on the volume pedal to adjust my volume – hands free – to fit in with my bandmates on certain sections of the song.
Once you’ve practiced the control required, you can use the pedal to create very airy notes, or cut off any prolonged note at the perfect time to create a more discrete tone. In short, in the right hands (or feet), the volume pedal can play a huge role in your tone and overall sound.
Ernie Ball VP Jr. P06180
Boss FV-500H Volume Pedal
Ernie Ball MVP, Most Valuable Pedal
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While there are many volume pedals available, there have been a few pedals that have been highly recommended by a large number of people. We’ll give you a list of those pedals in order of price (lowest to highest). First, it’s a good idea to have an understanding of what makes these pedals stand out. This requires some basic knowledge of the features of each volume pedal. Once you’ve grasp the basic concepts, you will be able to pick the best volume pedal to match your needs and your budget. We’ve written this article to be as user friendly as possible. I hope you find this article useful!
Volume Pedal Breakdown
Volume pedals are usually classified as a style of ‘expression’ pedals. That is, they are used in one way or another to change the dynamics of the guitars sound, thus altering the expression. They fall into the same category as a wah or multi-effects pedals. Keep in mind that when someone uses the term expression pedal they are typically referring to a foot pedal that controls a multi-effect unit.
The benefits of using a volume pedal are as follows: hands free volume control, preset minimum volumes, ability to overdrive into distortion, and dynamics control. As a guitar player, you have the ability to control your guitars output signal using the volume knob on the body of your guitar. While okay to use in some circumstances, it makes it very difficult to modulate your volume when you are actually playing. This is where the volume pedal comes in.
If you have ever heard a guitar player creating airy swells, this is how they are doing it. Some pedals also let you set a minimum volume that can be instantly accessed through the press of a foot. This is perfect for changing your volume to a preset level when playing along with bandmates, and also allows you to instantly turn the volume back up during a solo.
Although very useful, not every volume pedal is created equal. Let’s have a quick run through of the considerations you need to make when selecting the best volume pedal. We’ll list each feature we think is important, with a quick explanation of why. Lets dig in!
- ConstructionThe pedal housing should be bomb proof. It needs to be made of metal with the least amount of plastic possible. The pedal should be large enough to fit your entire foot. This is crucial to give you the control you need to have the subtle dynamic changes. If the pedal is too small, you will have a difficult time controlling it, and risk your foot slipping off mid performance. You may also want to consider the size of the pedal if you have minimal real-estate on your pedal board.
- SoundThe pedal should not have a noticeable effect on your tone. You may be familiar with the term ‘tone suck’. This term refers to some pedals reducing your guitars output signal in a way that distorts your tone. Some people have complained about pedals reducing the high end of their signal. We had trouble noticing any tone loss when playing through our pedal, but it is something to be aware of. It’s thought that passive volume pedals have tone suck when matched incorrectly with the guitars pick ups (active or passive). We’ll list each pedal to buy for each type of pickup.
- Active vs. PassiveThe term active or passive refers to the mechanism used modulate the guitars volume. Passive pedals use what is called a potentiometer (similar to those used on a guitars volume knob) to control the signal. It is thought that passive pedals can sometimes cause tone suck if used incorrectly in an audio chain. We’ll clarify this below. A quick way to determine if a pedal is active or passive is to see if it requires an electrical input. If power is required, it’s active. If no power is required, it’s passive. An active volume pedal will require an amplifying circuit to function. If you want to avoid all the confusion, buy an active volume pedal. They’re not sensitive to where they are placed in the audio chain, or which type of guitar pickups they are used with. When using a passive volume pedal you need to put a little more thought into things. If you have passive pickups (strat, telecaster or Les Paul) you need to use a volume pedal with 250K-500K impedance. If you have active pickups, you need to use a volume pedal with 25K – 50K. You don’t need to work about active volume pedals. Still unsure? You can do some further reading here.
- Adjustable FeaturesSome pedals offer adjustable features such as a minimum volume, additional gain, and a tuner output. If you are looking to use the pedal with your bandmates, having a minimal volume level can be very useful. Additionally, pedals sometimes offer taper adjustments to change the swell rates.
As a total side note, do anyone of you have interesting ways to mount your pedals to a board? I’ve seen people using things as strange as bamboo serving trays.
Our Top Picks For The Best Volume Pedal
Ernie Ball VP Jr. P06180
- Passive volume pedal
- Smaller size to fit onto tight guitar boards
- Great build quality
- Taper switch for two swell options
One of the most popular guitar volume pedals. I’ve used this for a number of years and have been very happy. The construction is sturdy and it takes up minimal space on my board. Do you have passive guitar pick ups (strats, tele, les paul)? Get the 250K version. If you have active pickups, you need the 25K version.
While some have complained about tone suck, I have not noticed any adverse effects on my tone. The beauty of the Ernie Ball VP Jr. P06180 is the solid construction, simplicity, and reasonable price. This is the lowest price point of the pedals we suggest, but you are still getting a durable pedal that doesn’t require a power source.
This pedal is great for anyone who is looking to spend under $100 and who doesn’t want to worry about sending power to the pedal. If you are going to be needing a pedal to set your volume when playing in a band, we recommend checking out the other pedals that have the preset volume feature. Otherwise, if you are looking for a great pedal to create airy soundscapes, this pedal will do a fantastic job.
Bottom Line: A great pedal for creating swells and quickly changing your volume. It also avoids the headache of requiring a power source and takes up the least amount of room out of all the pedals we suggest. If you are looking to have a preset volume, have a look at the other two pedals.
Boss FV-500H Volume Pedal
- Passive pedal
- Minimum volume
- Adjustable tension
- Expression out
- Tuner our
- Very durable
One of the most recommended pedals on the market. Right off the bad, just to avoid any unnecessary confusion, we recommend you stick with the high impedance version (500H) if you have passive pickups, and go with the low impedance version if you have active pickups. You should also stick to the low impedance version if you are planning on using it for keyboards, or before preamps.
The winning features of the Boss FV-500H are the minimum volume knob, smooth action (adjustable tension), simple to use, and it comes with a tuner. The minimum volume feature is perfect for playing in a band when you need to set two preset volume levels. There have been many comments on the smooth action of the pedal itself. This is perfect when you need to have the fine adjustments for creating your swells and other dynamics.
Another feature that is consistently mentioned: durability. The pedal has very few plastic components and is built to last. Additionally, it comes with an expression out. This will allow you to control an expression effects you happen to have.
The only complaint we found was that it is big. Be prepared for it to take up a lot of space on your board.
Bottom Line: A great pedal with a minimum volume and smooth action. It’s very durable with a large pedal surface for you foot. Pay attention to which version you are ordering based on your active or passive guitar pick ups. Only downside is it’s big.
Ernie Ball MVP
- Active pedal
- Gain boost
- Minimum volume level
- Durable construction
This is our top choice. The Ernie Ball MVP is an easy to use pedal with a lot of nice features. Firstly, it’s an active pedal. While this does require the pedal to be powered, you don’t have to worry about any tone suck from your active or passive guitar pickups. It also allows you to put the pedal anywhere in the chain with no thought involved.
The pedal has an additional gain adjustment knob with a minimum volume. The minimum volume is great for playing in band when you need to have two preset volume levels. We have heard many positive comments about the smooth control you are able to achieve – perfect for creating any swells or airy soundscapes.
The gain boost gives you up to 20 db of extra gain, which is perfect for any extra punch you need during your soloing. The pedal housing is constructed using aluminium, making it very durable and resistant to corrosion.
This has been one of the top recommendations we have come across in music forums. However, there has been some apprehension about the mechanism driving the pot failing at somepoint, but we have yet to come across a case of that happening.
Bottom Line: A great, easy to use pedal with a little extra punch. Because it is active, there will be no chance of any tone suck. While it is the most expensive of the three, we believe the quality of tone and extra features are worth the price.