Volume pedals are used in a lot of different ways to create different effects and are actually one of the more versatile types of pedals. In this article, I’ll go through the different types of volume pedals and how to use them (including placement in the signal chain) so you can decide if you really need one.
What is a Volume Pedal?
A volume pedal affects the signal fed from your guitar into your amp. It can be pushed downwards or rocked backwards to operate it. It can be placed it at the start of the chain so it acts similarly to the volume control on the guitar, or placed later in the chain to act as a master volume control.
Do I Need a Volume Pedal?
You should get a volume pedal if you want to achieve the same effect as the volume control on your guitar, or if you need a way to adjust the master volume without adjusting your amplifier. They are very versatile and work for every style of music which is why many players have one on their boards.
Later in this article, I’ll go through some different uses of volume pedals in more detail so you can decide if they are suitable for you.
Types of Volume Pedals
There are two main types of volume pedal: active and passive.
- Passive volume pedals do not need a power supply and do not use a buffer.
- Active volume pedals require a power supply and have a buffer which prevents a loss of high-end frequencies.
Within the passive volume pedal category, you will find “low-impedance” and “high-impedance” pedals. High impedance volume pedals are suitable for guitars with passive pickups, whereas low impedance pedals should be selected if you are using active pickups.
Active volume pedals are suitable for both active and passive pickups and you won’t find multiple types here.
The issue with passive volume pedals is that they do not use a buffer. Buffers prevent the loss of high-end frequencies throughout the signal chain causing the tone to sound dull. This is a particular problem with passive volume pedals if you place them immediately after the guitar in the chain.
Here is a table comparing the differences.
|Passive Volume Pedal
|Active Volume Pedal
|Does not contain a buffer
|Contains a buffer to prevent loss of high-end
|Power supply is not needed
|Power supply is needed
|Need to choose impedance to suit pickups
|Work with any pickups
Uses of Volume Pedals
Now let’s take a look at the different uses of volume pedals so you can decide if they’re suitable for you. There are plenty of ways to use them and the different functions are dictated by two things: the pedal chain placement and how you move your foot.
Uses of Volume Pedals
- Similarly to your guitar’s volume control
- To control the master volume
- To create volume swells
- To crank a tube amp but play at lower volumes
Similarly to Your Guitar’s Volume Control
If you place the volume pedal immediately after your guitar in the pedal chain and before any other pedals then it will act in the same way as your guitar’s volume knob.
This means that the volume pedal will affect both how loud the pedal is, and the level of gain.
This is useful if the volume control on your guitar is in a difficult position to reach, for example on a Les Paul and some modern guitars. Stratocasters and Telecasters tend to have more accessible volume controls but it can be useful to also have a volume pedal for when your hands aren’t free!
This method works really well with active volume pedals but the lack of buffer in a passive volume pedal can result in a loss of high-end frequencies.
To Control the Master Volume
If you place your volume pedal at the very end of the signal chain, it will act as a master volume control so the gain will not be affected when you use the pedal. You can place it either before or after your reverb and delay pedals.
- If you place the volume pedal before reverb and delay then you will retain the trails from these ambient effects (most popular placement)
- If you place the volume pedal after reverb and delay then the ambient effects will be stopped completely when you activate the volume pedal (allows you to cut the volume completely, acting similarly to a noise gate).
Volume swells can also be created with a volume pedal. This works best when you place the pedal after your drive pedals, or in your effects loop if you are using your amp for the gain. Volume swells remove the attack and create an interesting effect.
Check out this video to hear what they sound like.
How to Perform a Swell Using a Volume Pedal:
- Turn volume pedal all the way down (tilting forwards)
- Play a note/ chord
- Depress the volume pedal
Cranking a Tube Amp at Lower Volume
Finally, some players like to use volume pedals through a tube amp when playing at home when practicing so that they can get a “cranked” effect but without the volume being way too loud. This can be useful but a better option is to use a power attenuator instead.
Best Volume Pedals
Here are some top volume pedal picks with links to Amazon (images also link to Amazon).
Passive Volume Pedal for Passive Pickups
Ernie Ball 6180 VP Jr 250K
Passive Volume Pedal for Active Pickups
Ernie Ball 6181 VP Jr 25K
Active Volume Pedal for Any Pickups
Mission Engineering VM-PRO
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the answers to questions you might still have about volume pedals.
Do volume pedals affect the tone?
Volume pedals can affect the tone if they are passive, as they do not contain a buffer. This means that you’ll often experience a loss of high-end frequencies causing the tone to sound dull if they are placed at the very start of the chain. Active volume pedals do not suffer from this issue.
How does a volume pedal work?
Volume pedals work by adjusting the signal level to allow you to achieve a variety of effects including volume swelling. It works by using a foot pedal that can be depressed to adjust the volume. Pressing your toe down will increase the volume whilst rocking back on the heel will decrease it.
Where should a volume pedal go in the chain?
Volume pedals can go anywhere in the chain but the most common placements are either at the very start, or after gain pedals but before reverb and delay. Placing a volume pedal at the start of the chain will also affect the gain, but placing it after drive pedals causes it to act as a level control.
Organising your new pedalboard? Check out my ultimate guide to designing a pedalboard including all the equipment you need and a step by step formula to getting set up in a pain-free way.