Things You Have to Know Before You Buy a Volume Pedal

VD November 11 2021

Many musicians who set out to buy a volume pedal think of it as a pretty straightforward process, because to their knowledge, the volume pedals don't have the sound of their own, and they modulate the volume through a straightforward mechanism. The chances are that there may be a lot more to the volume pedals that one may see.

There is quite a bit of jargon around the volume pedals, which happens to make things confusing for the starters. Therefore, if you are a beginner looking for your first volume pedal or an experienced guitar player, it is essential that you have prior knowledge of volume pedals before you make the final decision.

What is a volume pedal?

In terms of functionality, a volume pedal is quite basic, and its name is self-explanatory. Also known as a dynamics pedal, it can be used to control the volume of the instrument you are using by increasing or decreasing the audio signal aptitude. 

Its concept is quite simple, but things get complicated when you are to decide which one you should be buying. There are numerous factors that might come into play in the volume pedals that are available on the market. The majority of volume pedals come with the same form factor as the Wah pedals, and you can put your foot on its large-ish surface and then rock it back and forth. The outer shell is usually made of metal, and it has a large rubberized pad in the center.

They are 'connected' to the instrument that you plug into them, but their mechanism is slightly different from that of a Wah pedal. The volume pedals usually have a 100k ohm resistance when in the 'off' position, and if you need to lower down your volume in a subtle way, you can rotate its pot to somewhere around 50k ohms or so. If you want the full effect which is akin to an audio signal being completely muted instantaneously, then there's no use lowering this resistance all the way because it won't make any difference. However, if you wish for even more over your volume levels and would like to cut them down even further, you can remove the sound from your instrument by lowering its resistance all the way to 0 ohms. However, in case you want to add back some volume after having turned it all the way up, you will have to rotate it clockwise.

If you are playing with a band and would like your guitar volume levels to be brought down in between songs or sets without adding any particular effect onto your signal, then this is where volume pedals come into play. They provide a quick solution for musicians who need their volume levels lowered for a short while during a performance. The basic mechanism of a volume pedal is fairly straightforward - making contact with the rubberized pad allows one's foot on the top surface to mount an audio signal and then reduce or increase the volume. One can rotate the 'Fader' in order to add back some level when they would like their instrument to sound a bit louder compared to how it did before.

In general, both beginners and experienced musicians find it quite difficult to choose from amongst many different options when shopping for a volume pedal because there are so many brands available in the market currently that produce a huge variety of pedals that might not serve many purposes. It is important that you know what you need before going ahead with your purchase because chances are that if you don't know what you're looking for, then any old model will do.

  •  A lot of musicians have been playing without even knowing about volume pedals, but this is where the situation changes. A volume pedal can put you in control of various aspects of your instrument's sound, and it makes sense to check whether you are using one already.
  • The next step would be to figure out how much of a guitar person you are, then research accordingly before making the decision. Buying something that is not suited for your requirements might lead to some major problems down the line, so even if you have only been playing for a week or two, it is essential that you know exactly what kind of volume pedal will benefit you. Using equipment on the internet without proper knowledge about them is never advisable because chances are that buying anything blindly will result in disappointment at the end of the day.
  • Another aspect that you need to be aware of is whether or not your instrument can take any effects pedals. There are guitar players who don't need much in the area of effects, but this might change in the future when they play with a band or alongside another guitarist. If you're not going to utilize a volume pedal more than once every few months then it's alright to go ahead and buy one but if you consider them as a 'necessary evil', then it makes sense to limit the number of boxes that'll end up under your bed or inside storage.
  • You also have to look at how many different types of faders are available right now on the market because each company has its own unique take on the concept and so every pedal is unique in its own way. Some models might come with slow rates, fast speeds, or with a 'true by' design that allows them to keep their original feel over prolonged periods of time. It is important that you find out what you need before going ahead and purchasing something because if you aren't aware of your needs then chances are that you'll end up buying something that doesn't even suit your preferences.
  • Before going ahead with a purchase, it is also advisable to check on the amount of rubberized surface area on the device as this makes a big difference when it comes to choosing between one model and another. Larger surfaces allow for easier operation while smaller ones will be more compact and might even allow for effective soloing. As an additional tip, it might be worthwhile checking out the pickups on your guitar to make sure that they aren't somehow interfered with by any volume pedal you buy because this could lead to some problems down the line.
  • Finally, one has to make sure whether or not their new volume pedal comes with an internal adjustable gain knob since this will determine the precise level of the output signal from your instrument before being added back in. This is important because if your pedal allows for a large amount of 'boost', then certain surrounding elements such as noise gates or compressor pedals might have to be taken into account during setup so as to avoid feedback loops and other peculiarities which might ruin everything.

What should you know when buying a volume pedal?

Choose the right pedal impedance for the pickups

It would help if you matched the impedance of the pedal to that of the pickups, and this is one of the most important things for you to know before you buy one. You may have a tone loss if there is an impedance mismatch. It is worth noting that you may be needing a low impedance volume pedal if you would like to use it in an effects loop.

Passive vs. active volume pedal

Like a passive guitar pickup, a passive volume pedal doesn't use any separate power source. On the other hand, an active external power source is used by the active volume pedal. The passive volume pedal controls the signal's volume, whereas the volume can be controlled through more fidelity through an active volume pedal.

Passive Volume Pedal PROS:

  • A passive volume pedal is less expensive.
  • It doesn't require any batteries or other power sources for it to work.
  • No noise can be produced from this type of volume control since no electronic processing is involved in the signal chain at all.

Passive Volume Pedal CONS:

  • The passive volume pedal must have a high input impedance to be able to pass a strong enough signal through itself without degrading its quality too much. This might require a certain voltage range that your pickups cannot match, and this could result in a loss of tone when you engage the unit with your guitar.

Active Volume Pedal PROS:

  • An active external power source can provide better gain staging which results in reduced noise levels and a cleaner sound.
  • The active volume pedal provides greater headroom which will result in higher signal levels before clipping, and thus also improve the clarity of your instrument's tone.

Active Volume Pedal CONS:

  • An active volume pedal always requires an external power source to work, so you'd need to buy batteries or some other kind of player for it to work properly.
  • This is more expensive than the passive version due to needing an additional power supply unit attached on top of the volume pedal itself.

The choice between one over the other will just depend on what your personal preferences are with regards to how much noise reduction you can afford versus how much money you're willing to spend on fully maximizing your playing potential.

Volume Pedal Capacitance and AC current

Another thing to know before buying a volume pedal is that you need to check whether or not your volume pedal has capacitance since this may reduce the low-frequency response of your guitar's tone. If you're planning on using it for bass guitars, then high-capacitance pedals are recommended because they work just as well as their low-capacitance counterparts. The best way to determine if your pedal capacitor is large enough is by using a multi-meter with a capacitor checker function to measure its capacity in microfarads, so much so that the measured value should be higher than 16uf for guitars and 400uf for basses. You can also use a special rectifier circuit called a Zobel network to artificially increase the capacitance of your volume pedal.

The worst-case scenario here is if your volume pedal uses AC (alternating current) and not DC (direct current). If this happens, then you should test it using a voltmeter or multimeter that can measure AC voltage before plugging in your instrument into it. You need to determine whether or not the phase inverter within the amplifier is installed properly too since this will produce an AC current as well which might cause damage to your equipment. Sometimes, faulty units like these could end up damaging your guitar's pickups so do check if they're working fine first before trying them out on stage via performance or rehearsal with other bands and artists who are depending on you to do a good job.

Expression

Usually, the volume pedals and expressions are lumped together, but they are two utterly different equipment pieces. The volume pedal controls the volume, and expression tends to control the parameter of an effect. Things like a chorus pedal's depth or increasing a delay's repeats are included in the expression. If you're looking to buy an expression, make certain that it is compatible with your effect type. There are special pedals that are made for this purpose, but they are very expensive since the circuitry needed to control the parameter of an effective cost a lot.

Build quality

Build quality is always vital for any piece of gear that you plan to buy, but when you buy something like a volume pedal, it is crucial to look for the one with metal construction for such a well-known brand for making durable gear. It all depends on how frequently you happen to gig; how heavy your foot is and how hard you will be on the gear. If you're a light player who gigs occasionally, then most probably, the cheap plastic volume pedals will be enough to get the job done.

If you want something more heavy-duty and can afford it, then buying one with an all-metal casing and with metal potentiometers is highly recommended. This way, it'll last longer than your typical pedal and will surely save you money in the long run.

Another useful things about volume pedals

Another thing to know before buying a volume pedal is that it has two jacks present on its input and one on its output. The input's positive terminal will be the tip of the plug, while its negative terminals can either be located at either side of where it connects with your instrument cable. The output jack will always have an indicator telling you which way the signal is flowing through it; this indicator also tells you how much current flows through it as well – usually these indicators are color-coded which means red signifies the hot wire and black goes for the return wire.

Bottom line

You must be quite ready to buy yourself a brand-new volume pedal for the effects chain, and therefore, it is vital to get the one that can fit all your needs and can deliver you the perfect value for the price. There are a number of options out there on the market, and some of them stand the test of time, but it is always wise to do proper research before buying the right volume pedal for yourself.