Looking For The Best Volume Pedal For Swells?
Here’s a look at our favorites, including our top pick the – Ernie Ball VP Jr.
Volume pedals are a great way to take your guitar game to the next level. You can use a volume (or dynamics) pedal for a number of things—more precise control of notes, prolonged notes that fade into an airy finish, silencing your guitar to achieve more distinct notes, or to crank the volume when it’s time to crush your solo. Using a pedal takes some getting used to, but once you get a feel for it, it really opens up what you can perform by giving you more control over your sound.
At face value, it can be difficult to judge how good a volume pedal is for swells. They don’t independently produce any sound, so you’ll need to understand all of the technical jargon on the box and translate that into whether or not it fits with what you’re looking for. If you’ve done any shopping for volume pedals already, you probably already know there is a lot—and I mean A LOT—of technical jargon on the subject.
Believe me, I understand it can be overwhelming. Hopefully by the time we’re done today, I can help you to understand what to look for, what to avoid, and point you in the right direction.
What to look for in volume pedals for swells
As you’re looking around at your different options, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Sound – a good volume pedal is transparent. It’s job is to help you control your instrument’s sound, not to add its own flair. If you see reviews that talk about how a pedal adds style or color, it’s best to steer clear of those options (unless, of course, that’s what you’re looking for). For most guitarists, especially those that are primarily interested in swells, you want your sound pedal to be a silent partner.
- Tone loss – sometimes referred to as “tone suck,” this issue is known to plague cheaper volume pedals. A pedal that splits your guitar’s signal runs the risk of deteriorating an already weak signal and can lead to less-than-ideal high notes. This is honestly a tough one, because a pedal that splits the tone isn’t necessarily bad—a lot of it depends on your guitar and the original signal quality. It’s a problem for some guitarists, but there are many who don’t notice a different. My advice is to just pay attention to your high notes as you’re breaking in your pedal. If you’re hearing any deterioration, you’ll probably want to exchange the pedal for a better model that won’t hurt your sound.
- Active vs. passive – passive volume pedals don’t require power from a battery or adapter. Instead, they’ll pull power from another device in the signal chain. Active pedals are great because they draw their own power, so you don’t have to be as careful with where you place the pedal in your signal chain. Active pedals usually have less of an issue with tone loss, too. With passive pedals, the buzzword you’ll need to pay attention to is impedance. If your electric guitar has passive pickups, you’ll want to pair it with a passive pedal that’s impedance (measured in ohms) matches your guitar’s output. For example, popular guitars like the Stratocaster and Les Paul has passive pickups, and will match well with a passive volume pedal with an impedance of 250k – 500k ohms.
- Quality – plastic housing is going to be more susceptible to breaks than metal housing. That said, there are some great plastic pedals out there that are plenty durable, so don’t be too afraid of plastic options. Metal is preferable for longevity (especially if you’re on the heavy side), but sturdy plastics with a lower price tag than metal pedals are still worth a look.
- Mono vs. stereo – if you’re just looking for a volume pedal to use with your guitar, mono chains are just fine. If you’re thinking about using the pedal with a stereo instrument like a keyboard, you’ll want a pedal with stereo capability.
- Tuner output – some volume pedals have a main output and a separate tuner output that lets you silently tune in between sets. That can be great for gigging musicians, but it can lead to tone loss in passive setups if you’re not careful.
- Versatility & adjustability – there are simple and cheap pedals that just adjust the volume as you rock your foot, and there are more advanced (and more expensive) pedals that also let you adjust the minimum volume level, the torque/tension of the pedal, the taper, etc.
Even if you’re new to the game, you have probably heard of Ernie Ball. In the music industry it’s definitely one of the big brands that you can trust, and a lot of guitarists swear by their pedals. The VP Jr. potentiometer has a 250k ohm resistance that’s suitable for passive audio chains, and it’s a compact model that’s designed to easily fit on your pedalboard without taking up too much room. Despite its compact size, it’s still plenty durable with steel housing. It has a micro taper switch that offers two distinct volume swell rates and offers mono volume control.
Tapestry Audio Bloomery Passive Volume Pedal, Passive Expression Pedal, Guitar Pedal, Mini / Compact (White)
If you’re looking for top quality and durability, this is the one for you. The Tapestry Audio Bloomery Passive Volume Pedal is made of steel, so you can see and feel the tough, sturdy housing. It’s compact, so it takes up less space while still being comfortable for your foot. The direct shaft drive is coupled with a slide potentiometer, which eliminates the need for strings and gives you a smoother volume curve. It also lets you convert the tuner output into an expression output using the internal DIP switches on the side of the pedal.
The Dunlop DVP4 Volume X Mini Pedal lets you control your volume and FX parameters without crowding your pedalboard. The compact pedal is built with an aluminum chassis that’s lightweight yet sturdy, has an aggressive non-slip tread, and houses Dunlop’s patented Low Friction Band-Drive for a smooth range of motion and consistent, reliable performance. The rocker tension is fully adjustable, giving you maximum comfort and precision.
Like the Tapestry pedal, this one has a side switch that lets you toggle the output between tuner and expression functionality. If you’re using it as an expression pedal, you can use the internal pot to establish the minimum level of the FX parameter that you’re controlling with the rocker. For guitarists that want to switch it up, you can even reverse the function of the heel-down and toe-down positions using an internal switch. Given all of this, the Dunlop DVP4 is a fantastic choice if FX versatility is important to you.
This puppy is a compact 3-in-1 pedal that features Wah, volume, and expression modes. You’ll get a solid vocal sweep with lush harmonics, pristine tone, dynamic range control, and full compatibility with most FX plugins. It’s an active pedal, so tone loss shouldn’t be an issue. It’s also a stereo setup, so you can connect with keyboards and other instruments that use expression control. Users report that its compact design makes it easily portable, but it’s still large enough to be comfortable when you play.
If you’re on a budget and you’re looking for value, I’d highly recommend the Donner 2-in-1 Viper Mini pedal. It is made of plastic, but the hard casing is still pretty durable, and the lighter composition makes it easier to transport than metal pedals. It has an analog circuit design with passive volume and expression capabilities. The smooth taper responds to your parameters with precision, resulting in consistent playability.
If you’re on a tight budget, the Donner 2-in-1 Viper Mini is definitely the volume pedal for you. You’ll sacrifice a little durability with the plastic housing, but it’s still reliable and will save you a ton of cash over metal pedals. If you’ve got some more breathing room in your budget, take a good look at the Ernie Ball VP Jr.
While all of the pedals we’ve discussed are top quality and highly reviewed, the Ernie Ball VP Jr. is trusted by a ton of guitarists out there so you know it’s a reliable pick that’s going to last. Finally, if versatility is your game, I’d recommend the Hotone Soul Press Mini. As a 3-in-1 volume pedal, it’ll give FX-enthusiasts the best range of functionality.