Where to Put the Volume Pedal?
Now, we’ve talked about signal chain before on the blog (HERE). There’s no right or wrong, only guidelines. Generally compression goes towards the front and reverb goes to the back. But some effects can find a home almost anywhere along the line. Where’s the best spot in your signal chain to put a Volume Pedal (VP)? What are the pros and cons? Is there one VP that’s better than the rest? Let’s talk about it.
VOLUME PEDAL USES
What are you using your VP for? What could you be using your VP for?
For worship guitarists, the main use appears to be for volume swells, which is when you strum a chord or play a note and slowly roll up the volume on either your VP or guitar’s volume control for an ambient ‘swelling’ effect. This swelling sound is usually increased with the use of staining effects like overdrive, delay and reverb.
The second most common use of a VP is as a kill switch. While I love the sound of a volume swell, almost 90% of the time, when I’ve used a VP, it’s been to “kill” the sound off my board. This most common at the start and finish of a worship time, but there are also places during the set when a kill switch would be useful. Many guitarists use their tuner like the Boss Tu-2 or TC Polytune for the same result.
The last of the three main reasons to use a VP is as a volume control. While our instruments almost always have on board volume controls, I’ve found that most places in a song were I would want to change that setting is also a place where I’m using my hands… so being able to control that volume setting with my foot for leads or more gain is a handy tool.
VOLUME PEDAL PLACEMENT
No doubt there will be people reading this who put their VP somewhere else in the chain from where I suggest. There is nothing wrong with this, and if it works for you then there is no need to change anything. All I am suggesting are placement options based on what you are using the VP for and based on my personal experience.
If you are using your VP to create ambient volume swells, then I would recommend placing your VP directly after your gain pedals. There are two reasons for this. The first is that you hit the VP with the most intensity possible by having your gain pedals in front rather than behind. The second reason is that you allow time based effects like reverb and delay the chance to trail off naturally instead of being cut off by the VP. This will produce what is commonly considered to be a better sounding swell effect.
Something that is often overlooked in discussions about VP placement is that they are often large, long and bulky. Pedalboards aren’t put together in a vacuum and the size and shape of other pedals play a role in your rigs set up as well.
Now, technically you could put the VP anywhere and it will kill the signal from your guitar to your amp. But, whatever you put after the VP can still send signal to your amp, even if it’s just background noise, it might be very unwanted on a Sunday Morning. So, while I understand if there are space or size reasons why you’d want to put your VP somewhere else in the signal chain, I would advise you put it very last if at all possible. This way you kill any and all possible signal and noise that could go to your amp.
If you’re using your VP as a volume control be careful. Remember that your guitars own volume control is still there and no matter what you do with the VP it will still affect how much signal your guitar is sending out. Personally, I would experiment with both the VP’s placement in the signal chain, and the setting of your guitar’s volume control to figure out what’s best for you.
WHAT ABOUT TONE LOSS?
There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about VP’s and ‘tone loss’. While it’s true that many stock mass produced VP’s have impedance problems that cause signal degradation, I do believe the problem is slightly overplayed just a little bit. If you are running a buffer in front of the VP; anything from a Boss TU-2 to a Wampler DB+, then you really shouldn’t have any issues with the VP as long as you aren’t using the Tuner Out.
Speaking of Tuner Out… there’s really no reason to use one. If you are using a quality tuner from Boss, TC Electronic, Peterson or others then you should have no trouble. If you’re loosing a low quality tuner then putting it your VP’s tuner out won’t help things anyway so really instead of paying to mod your VP, why not just buy a better tuner?
VOLUME PEDAL BUYING GUIDE
Honestly, I don’t care what VP you’re using. If you’re still using an Ernie Ball (as long as there is a buffer in front of it) then you’re probably just fine. If you’re using a higher quality VP from companies like Tapestry, then you are getting better build quality, better components and a more pedalboard friendly size/shape. If you’re using a cheaper VP, well, you get what you pay for don’t you?
I really like the way VP’s are moving into other territory like the Boss and Mission one’s that have Expression Pedal capability or the ones like the Hottone that has that plus Wah. I know a lot of guys who really like the new Jim Dunlop mini for it’s compact size and I know a lot of players like optical VP’s like the one made by Morley for it’s smoother sweep as you increase and decrease the swell.
As always, do your research and go with what works for you instead of what the crowd says.
Any VP horror stories? Any VP’s tips or tricks? Leave them in the comments.