What Is The Best Guitar Volume Pedal

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Volume pedals. An often overlooked pedal. After all you can use the guitar’s volume control to produce sweeps and other cool effects right? In fact having a volume pedal can introduce some subtle benefits and means you can focus on your playing rather than on playing with the volume control knob. In this post we will try to answer the question what is the best guitar volume pedal?

A Bit About Volume Pedals

Although volume pedals are simple to use there are a few things we need to consider before jumping in. There are broadly two types of volume pedal, passive and active. A passive pedal is the cheaper option. It doesn’t require power. They usually have a rating of high or low impedance.

Impedance is the amount of signal they’re handling. Something like a 500k value would be high impedance whilst 50k would be a low impedance. The problem with passive pedals is that you can get some top end leaking, known as tone suck. 

Another issue is the type of pickup you’re using. A humbucker or a P90 produce much more signal, so paired with a high impedance passive pedal you might experience some tone suck too. A good way to avoid the headache of tone suck is to go for an active pedal.

Active pedals do require power but they have a buffer, which dynamically maintains the signal integrity. They’re a little more expensive, but definitely more reliable when used in combination with other effects.

 

Another consideration is where you’re going to use the volume pedal in your effects chain. If you use the volume pedal right at the beginning of the chain (before distortion or modulation) it will affect the signal. The more volume you roll on the more gain is fed in. This is where passive pedals can work quite well.

If you have an effects loop on your amp, you can have it roll off the volume of the distortion whilst the volume pedal is placed at the start of the chain.

However if you want volume swells you need to place the volume pedal after distortion or overdrive. That way the gain is preserved but you can fade in or out the distorted tone. By having the volume effect before modulation effects, such as delay or reverb you can also roll off the volume whilst preserving the echo effect. 

If you place the volume pedal at the end of the chain you’ll lose the echo effect because the volume pedal will act as your master volume. Once you’ve got your head around that they’re super simple to use and can create some really distinctive effects.

Another practical matter that’s worth considering is the size of the pedal. If you have big feet like me (size 15), a small pedal can be a little more difficult to control. That won’t be the case for everyone, but it’s worth considering if you have larger feet. Let’s move on to talk about some pedals!

Boss FV-50H Volume Pedal

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The first pedal we’ll talk about is the Boss FV-50H. A high impedance passive volume pedal, it’s good for electric guitars. As it’s passive it’s designed to be connected at the front of the effects chain. This pedal is mono only, but stereo output isn’t commonly found on most pedals.

The FV-50H has a minimum volume dial on the side of the pedal, which allows you to select the lowest the volume will go when at the heel position. Set the minimum volume high and you can use it as a sort of boost pedal when at the toe position. That’s quite a nice feature, but I do think the control knob looks a bit cheap and ugly. 

Additionally there’s an output jack to run to a tuner pedal so that you can turn off the sound whilst you’re tuning. Most people will enter bypass mode when tuning anyway, but at least it gives you a bit of a fail-safe.

The FV-50H is reasonably compact and very lightweight, weighing just 15 oz / 400g. In terms of dimensions it’s 3.4″ / 8.6cm wide and 7.9″ / 20cm in length. Compact but not as compact as a mini pedal.

The casing is made of plastic, but I was surprised at how sturdy it feels. There’s a non slip surface to the top of the pedal, an essential in my opinion. My first choice would always be aluminum for casing materials, but the plastic does a reasonable job. The use of plastic helps contribute to being able to keep the price down. 

The FV-50H is quite cheap, but not so cheap as to belie Boss’ reputation for pedals. 

Boss-FV-50H-Pros-Cons

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Dunlop DVP3 Volume X

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The Dunlop DVP3 Volume X is also a passive pedal, however it has a few more features than the Boss FV-50H. Firstly it’s bigger, more the size of a Cry Baby expression pedal. That’s good for those with larger feet. Not so good if you don’t have a lot of room on your pedal board.

The DVP3 has the option to output in either mono or stereo. There’s also a jack that enables you to output to an effects unit that offers expression so that you can use it as an expression pedal. However when you use the DVP3 as an expression pedal you seem to lose some of the impedance. A tuner out jack allows you to connect to a separate tuner to ensure silent tuning. 

The pedal is made from aluminum casing and feels very tough. I have every confidence that this pedal will last. Like the FV-50H the DVP3 has a minimum volume setting, There are a few other features too. Using a switch, you can reverse the action of the pedal so that the toe position is off and the heel position is higher volume. 

The resistance of the pedal can also be adjusted to preference. Great if you prefer something stiffer or more easy going than factory settings. The pedal is quite lightweight at 2.6 pounds (1.2kg). A non-slip rubber surface on the top of the pedal helps you to maintain control. 

The pedal is a little bigger than the FV-50H at a width of 3.8″ / 9.8cm and a length of 10″ / 25.4cm.

The one concerning thing about the DVP3 is reports that it can malfunction, meaning it has to be returned and replaced. It’s a little more expensive than the FV-50H, but aside from some of the pedals malfunctioning, it’s a better pedal.

Jim-Dunlop-DVP3-Pros-Cons

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Boss FV-500H

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The Boss FV-500H is also a passive pedal. Unlike the FV-50H, this thing is built like an absolute tank. It’s also much more stylish than the FV-50H. There are two versions of this pedal, the FV-500H (high impedance) and FV-500L (low impedance). We’re focusing on the high impedance model as that’s better for guitarists. 

The body of the pedal is made from die cast aluminum, which adds to the weight but really toughens it up. There’s a stylish non-slip rubber patterned surface to the top of the pedal to help maintain control. 

The pedal will only output in mono, but there’s a jack to the side to run out to a tuning pedal. It’s nicer that this is on the side as it prevents what feels like dozens of cables protruding from the top of the pedal. There’s also an expression out jack to enable you to use the FV-500H as an expression pedal. 

Additional features include a minimum volume control knob, which actually looks stylish unlike the cheap looking control on the FV-50H. The pedal action is also adjustable, allowing you greater control over the range of the pedal. The action on the pedal is really smooth, a noticeable plus point. 

The pedal is a heavier than the two covered so far, weighing in at 3.9 pounds / 1.6kgs. It’s dimensions are also bigger with a width of 4.8″ / 11cm and a lenght of 12″ / 30cm. 

The pedal is no good for someone looking for a compact pedal and won’t slot into a crowded pedal board.  The biggest issue with the FV-500H is the volume taper. It feels a bit steep, as if a lot of the volume reduction and increase is handled over a small amount of the action. That’s something you can get used to, but something to consider.

The FV-500H isn’t the cheapest of pedals, but it still won’t break the bank. In terms of a value proposition it’s cheaper than most active pedals, but unless you’re dead set on getting a passive pedal, I’d probably be looking to spend $30 more for a good quality active pedal.

Boss-FV-500H-Pros-Cons

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Jim Dunlop DVP4 Mini

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Here’s a pedal for those looking for something a little more lightweight and compact. The DVP4 Mini is half the size of the DVP3 meaning it’s more likely to fit into a crowded pedal board. 

The DVP4 is built sturdily with a lightweight aluminum chassis, weighing just 1.2lbs (580g). The top of the pedal has a non-slip rubber tread, as we’ve seen with all the pedals thus far. The pedal action is very smooth and is adjustable thanks to the included hex wrench (Allen key). 

The DVP4 can double as an expression pedal, which is handled by an auxiliary port. The auxiliary port also acts at the output to the tuner, so you can’t use both at once. You also have to tell the pedal via a switch if it’s to act as expression or volume. 

The DVP4 includes the feature to reverse the action of the pedal, which we saw in the DVP3. You can adjust the minimum volume using a trim pot on the inside of the pedal. It’s a bit of a pain to get to and definitely isn’t as convenient as using a control knob. 

The pedal is tiny in terms of it’s dimensions with a width of just 2.9″ / 7.5cm and a length of 6.1″ / 15.5cm. It’s probably not the pedal for someone with bigger feet, but good for those who are short on space.

Dunlop-DVP4-Pros-Cons

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Ernie Ball MVP

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Let’s move onto talk about active pedals. The Ernie Ball MVP actually comes in at a similar price to the Jim Dunlop DVP3, and only a little more expensive than the FV-500H. The pedal is built like an absolute tank thanks to it’s aircraft grade aluminum housing. 

It’s similar in size to the DVP3, around double the size of a classic Boss compact pedal. It weighs in at 2.2 pounds / 1kg. Its 3.5″ / 8.9cm wide and 10″ / 25.4cm long. It might fit onto a larger pedal board, however you might want it as an aside from your board.

As you’d expect there’s a non slip pad on the top of the pedal so you don’t lose your footing! Similar to some of the passive pedals the MVP has a minimum volume control, which allows you to set up to 50% of normal volume as the minimum at the heel position.

A unique feature is the boost capability. There’s a separate gain control knob that allows you to boost up to 20db at the toe position, which is great for lead work. As with most of the other pedals there’s a dedicated tuner output jack. 

The pedal needs to be powered because it’s active. That can be achieved by either a 9v battery or a power adapter, which isn’t included. I’d advise getting a power adapter because you need to remove the back of the pedal to get to the battery compartment, not ideal if you’ve got it mounted to a board in the middle of a performance.

One of the best things about the MVP is that it’s an active pedal, so you can place it anywhere in the effects chain rather than being tied to the beginning of the chain or an FX loop as you would with a passive pedal. The buffer inside this pedal also means that you don’t need to worry about the power of your pickups because the pedal will handle that automatically. 

One issue with the MVP is that sometimes there appears to be a little bit of signal bleed when the pedal is at the heel position, meaning if tuning you really need to keep your foot on the pedal to ensure it’s silent. It doesn’t happen all the time, but is pretty inconvenient. 

Ernie-Ball-MVP-Pros-Cons

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Sonicake VolWah

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I wanted to include the Sonicake VolWah due to it’s uniqueness. It’s an active pedal, yet it’s cheaper than most of the passive pedals we’ve seen so far. There are reasons for that, but there are also some intriguing features.

The pedal doesn’t looks like anything special. It’s made of plastic and is compact in size. There’s no output for a tuner, no minimum volume control and it’s range is not adjustable. On the face of it, it appears to be a completely no-frills volume pedal. 

It’s not practical for those with bigger feet either, which removes a portion of it’s market. However if you want something that’ll find a nook in your pedal board and weighs almost nothing then read on. The pedal weighs just 0.6 pounds / 280g. It’s only 2.5″ / 6.5cm wide and 5.8″ / 14.8cm in length. 

The magic of this pedal comes with it’s mode switching functionality. The switch under the toe position acts as a traditional pedal switch and allows you to change between volume and wah. The wah sound is similar to the classic tones of the Jim Dunlop Cry Baby, more or less. 

An LED at the front of the pedal tells you which mode you’re in, green for volume, red for Wah. For someone who is budget conscious but needs volume and wah functionality, this might be an interesting pedal. Of course you also get all the benefits of an active pedal, not having to worry about mis-matching pickups with impedance level. 

The pedal is powered by a 9v battery or a power adapter, which isn’t included. One thing I did notice about this pedal is that it can sometimes seem a little harsh when playing volume swirls. I think it’s because the range of the pedal is a little limited. You’d need to adjust to rocking your foot more slowly because the pedal isn’t adjustable. 

Sonicake-Volwah-Pros-Cons

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Final Thoughts

Probably the first thing you need to decide when looking for a volume pedal is whether or not you want an active or passive pedal. Active pedals require power as they buffer the sound, which removes impedance mismatch problems.

Passive pedals meanwhile don’t require power, but you have to check the impedance level of the pedal. Running a set of P90 pickups through a low impedance pedal is a recipe for disaster. You’re also a little more limited about where you can place a passive pedal in the FX chain. 

Passive pedals tend to be cheaper than active pedals, and of course you don’t need to worry about swapping batteries or buying a separate power adapter. However active pedals allow you to place the pedal anywhere in FX chain, which gives much more flexibility in the type of effects you can produce.

Another couple of considerations are the size of your feet and your pedal board. Some of the compact pedals may not be comfortable to control when you have larger feet. That’ll be personal preference to some degree, but I know that with my size 15 feet I prefer a pedal at least 12″ / 30cm in length to feel in control.

The second consideration is your pedal board. If you’re looking for something to fit onto your pedal board, perhaps the larger pedals such as the Boss FV-500H aren’t going to be suitable. You can always position it to the side of your pedal board, but again that’s going to be personal preference.

Some people rely on their strumming hand to adjust the volume control on their guitar to achieve volume swells, however you’ll lose delay and reverb effects that way and of course it forces you to attend to the volume control knob rather than actually playing!

Each of the pedals above has it’s pros and cons as outlined. In general I don’t think I’ve come across a class of pedals so disparate. By disparate I mean they vary so much. Perhaps that’s because some of them appear to have issues that I’m surprised passed quality control. It just goes to show how specialized volume pedals are. You certainly won’t find one on every guitarists board.

If you’re interested in other effects, check out my guitar effect page. I hope you’ve found this post useful. Feel free to leave any comments or questions below. Alternatively you can get in touch using my contact page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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