ProGuitarShop

Volume Pedal Exposé

January 27, 2017
Written by PGS Staff
 
If there’s one question I’ve been asked nearly to death since my stint in the effects industry, “what volume pedal should I get” likely ranks near the top. It’s rather perplexing on the surface, especially to those of us that have peeked under the hood of one. However, there’s so much spin about each model and what they accomplish, that even this simple task can be muddied beyond comprehension. What’s more, many manufacturers make three or more different models, which further clouds the data pool. Hopefully, this list puts your mind at ease.
 
 
 
 
 
 
1. Ernie Ball VP Jr.
 
Let me start off by saying that the Junior is not the only volume pedal Ernie Ball offers—there are several. However, the Junior 250k model is the one most often associated when the worlds of “Ernie Ball” and “volume pedal” collide. To EB’s credit, most of these models are different configurations of potentiometer value and size, with the Junior of course being the smaller of the two. Ten years ago, there were no complaints with the Junior, but now, in the age of true bypass this, tone suck that, many camps have derided the Tuner Out jack on this and other passive volume pedals as an ominous sounding “passive split” that eats your tone for breakfast. Some claim that actually plugging in a tuner does irreversible damage, more than occurs when no tuner is plugged in. Be that as it may, the sweep of the Junior is very even and smooth, and it never goes high enough to feel unnatural. Unfortunately, the arrangement inside the pedal consists of a spring-and-string configuration that doesn’t fail often, but enough to where Ernie Ball sells replacement kits. That said, unless you own a dental scaler, changing the string and spring is harder than trying to stack golf balls.
 
Pros: Smooth action, parts readily available
Cons: Replacing the string makes you want to punch someone out
 
2. Boss FV series
 
Boss takes a little bit of the guesswork out of choosing a volume pedal by offering only two models—mono and stereo (and both in miniaturized versions)—with no choice of potentiometer value to differentiate between active and passive pickups. And fortunately, they offer a “junior” size like Ernie Ball does. Which is good, because I believe that the originals are the largest volume pedals on the market. That said, they’re extremely well built; picking one up really exudes an air of stoutness. The originals include an expression jack (EXP), a tuner out, a tension adjuster and a minimum volume knob. The arrangement inside doesn’t seem like it would ever need to be repaired, as a static arm manipulates the sweep of the potentiometer. However, because this pedal contains a quartet of jacks (five in the stereo model), the dreaded passive split looms within the Boss FV pedals. The features are really nice and the enclosure sturdy, but the sweep feels a tad herky-jerky, and the sweep is a little too tall. And if pedalboard real estate is at a premium, I suggest you keep looking.
 
Pros: Great feature set, sturdy enclosure
Cons: The originals are really, really big, the sweep feels a bit abnormal, and is pretty tall
 
 
3. Mission VM-1 and VM Pro
 
Mission Engineering out of Petaluma, California is the new kid in town, and purveyor of all things treadle. In fact, every floor device Mission makes is in this form factor except for one. This includes four different active pedals and one passive pedal. As the company’s most popular devices are the VM-1 and VM Pro, these are the ones we’ll be looking at. Firstly, Mission’s wares aren’t the cheapest out there, but in true “you-get-what-you-pay-for” fashion, the features easily match the asking price. For one, the tuner out is actually isolated from the other jacks by way of a mute switch, eliminating any trace of a passive split. The active VM Pro is far more sophisticated, providing a crystal clear buffer for preserving every last picofarad of tone. There’s also a minimum volume trimpot inside that’s a precision multi-turn so players can adjust whether or not the heel-down position actually kills the entire signal or just quiets it. However, the dedicated non-muted tuner out requires some kind of funky Y-splitter apparatus, so it looks a little unnatural and adds a bit of clutter to your board. If you’re one of the obsessive types where streamlining is key, this won’t drive you nuts, but it may come close.
 
Pros: Buffered, minimum volume setting (Pro), mute switch to eliminate passive splits (1)
Cons: Relatively expensive, Pro’s tuner out jack needs some strange device
 
 
 
4. Truetone Visual Volume
 
Perhaps known best for the 1spot line of power adapters and irregular pentagon-shaped pedals, Truetone comes to us with the aptly named Visual Volume. Though the company isn’t particularly renowned for its volume offerings—and this is the only one—it’s a shame because it’s a very full-featured pedal, perhaps one of the most full-featured in this write-up. The unit features true stereo in and out, active (with buffer) and passive modes, a gain control in active mode for a little extra boost, a tension adjustor, and a nifty array of LEDs on the side for precise, on-the-fly adjustment. The construction is very robust—it’s solid metal, though it looks plastic—and it uses the same rack and pinion type treadle arrangement as almost all wah pedals. That said, should that contraption fail, spare parts are readily available and easily replaceable. With six jacks adorning the top edge though, the pedal is pretty wide; it’s definitely closer to a square shape than any other pedal on the list. Playing pedalboard Tetris just to replace an existing volume pedal with a new one might be more trouble than it’s worth. Still, the feature set to cost ratio is among the highest, and if this is your first volume pedal, it’s a fine choice.
 
Pros: Extremely versatile feature set
Cons: Kind of wide, awkward to fit on a board, sweep isn’t the smoothest
 
5. Hilton Electronics volume pedal
 
For those not in the know, the Hilton Electronics volume pedal is the Cadillac of the volume world with the price to match. The most basic model comes in at $269; some users might think “what’s 30 more dollars” and opt for the pro model at $299. Truthfully, the Pro model has so many upgrades over the standard that the extra $30 is actually a steal. The Pro model includes a tension adjustor, standard power (the original takes a 24-volt center-positive adapter, by no means standard) and the ability to use the pedal without power—a feature the standard version lacks. While the original model comes in regular and low-profile versions (low-profile for use by sitting steel guitar players), the Pro model is optimized for standing guitarists. What’s more, all Hilton volume pedals are built like a brick house and use optical circuitry. There’s a light, a photocell and no other moving parts. There’s nothing to go bad in a Hilton volume pedal.
Pros: Excellent clarity, custom transformer, optical, wonderful feature set, rugged enclosure
Cons: Really, really expensive
 
6. Dunlop Volume pedals
 
Dunlop’s volume pedal line fulfills a niche in the volume pedal world by offering several designs, and most notably a large, foot-friendly pedal with the smoothest, longest sweep in the game. While this may not be the most convincing selling point for a guitarist’s volume pedal, every keyboard player out there would kill for a pedal like this. Like most manufacturers, Dunlop offers more than one volume pedal—there’s the flagship DVP1, the DVP3 and the DVP1XL along with mini versions. Of these, the DVP1 is the largest; it’s a very large pedal with some serious grip on the top and a strange Airstream-like design. The product pages for the Dunlop volume pedals boast a patent-pending frictionless drive mechanism which sounds as if no parts will ever wear out, but I wasn’t able to open the unit to inspect. Removing the four screws on the bottom wouldn’t budge the enclosure, which is both good and bad—good because even intentional fiddling wouldn’t jar it loose, bad because the unit may not be constructed for aftermarket repair. There is a tuner out, and with it being a passive pedal, this is something of a no-no. The DVP1XL and DVP3 offer an output to use the pedal as an expression pedal. At any rate, the action doesn’t get any silkier than this; shop accordingly.
 
Pros: Likely the smoothest sweep on the market
Cons: Very large, passive split, seemingly impenetrable

Comments

  1. Dave Jacoby says:

    I own and stand by (and on) the Morley Little Alligator. No tuner out (I keep my tuner last as ultimate mute, but I’m weird), but it works perfectly, and it uses an LED and a light sensor instead of a pot, so it won’t wear out.

    posted on January 27, 2017 at 8:11 am
  2. Jackson says:

    Good stuff guys. In my experience, Dunlop is very good with customer service and they stand by their products so you would probably never have a need for aftermarket repair.

    posted on January 27, 2017 at 8:14 am
  3. Thom says:

    I own a Lehle volume pedal. It works magnetically….no pots….no belts. Expensive but worth every penny!

    posted on January 27, 2017 at 8:41 am
  4. Michael H. says:

    The answer is actually; Any optical one.

    Avoid having to deal with a volume-pot or anything mechanical like that, and don’t get problems with wear, noise, or impedance-mismatching.

    posted on January 27, 2017 at 8:59 am
  5. java hut audio says:

    And the true “Cadillac” or maybe actually “Ferrari” or “McLaren” of volume pedals is the Telonics Multi-Taper FP-100. I have a Hilton. Unbelievably enough, the “action” and range of the Telonics is so much better than the Hilton… that if you’re into using a volume pedal… the Telonics is worth every cent of the approximately $500 price tag. Really.  http://www.tpa-az.com/page8.htm

    posted on January 27, 2017 at 9:05 am
  6. Ted S says:

    I have this nifty little knob on my guitar that does a good job with volume… I’ve never seen the need for a pedal.

    posted on January 27, 2017 at 9:12 am
  7. Aaron Goldberg says:

    Surprised I didn’t see Morley show up on the list. The original ones are gargantuan compared to the ones here, but the mini volume has served me well for almost three years.

    posted on January 27, 2017 at 10:00 am
  8. Gary says:

    Just watch and listen to Jeff Beck control all his volume with the guitar volume knobs on his Strat. No pedals, just fingers - fantastic. Eric Johnson does the same thing very well, also.

    posted on January 27, 2017 at 10:20 am
  9. Adam B. says:

    I also have the Lehle volume pedal.  Revolutionary approach, and the function is seamless.  My pick.

    posted on January 27, 2017 at 2:38 pm
  10. Mike M. says:

    I use an old DeArmond 1600 series Volume pedal.  Sure they are BIG (but I have size 15 feet so I actually like that).  They are metal and very tough.  The pot is easy enough to change to one of your liking (lots of long shaft pots can be made to work in here).  And they can be found for cheap on eBay or Craigslist.  True they don’t have all the bells and whistles (tuner out, true bypass, buffer, etc.) of the newer stuff but all I want is a pedal that will turn down the volume when I step on it… and the pedal does that perfectly for my needs.

    posted on January 27, 2017 at 3:18 pm
  11. Simon says:

    I think Lehle is the real new kid in town….or in Stadt, Lehle being german.
    200$ but difficult to find a con.
    Also surprized to not see Morley in this list.
    What about Fulltone ?
    What about the compact ones ? AMT, DOD ?

    posted on January 27, 2017 at 8:47 pm
  12. simon says:

    Also what about Goodrich ?
    Andy Othling, the noisy-ambient-postRock master uses Goodrich…there must be a reason to it, right ? :-)

    posted on January 27, 2017 at 8:50 pm
  13. TS says:

    No way there’s anything better - except, maybe, the one that’s completely passive, and that’s still not the same - than the Lehle volume pedal. It’s the only one without a “pot” in the usual sense, but a full-blown VCA controlled by magnetics. No dirt, no “scratch,” no nothing except over 110dB of range. You basically want a pedal that’s either extremely colored *just the way YOU like it* for some tones or the Lehle, which is the opposite and uncolored in just about every way.

    posted on January 27, 2017 at 9:25 pm
  14. David Grimaldi says:

    Hotone Soul Press… 3 in one and in a small enclosier….Volume, Wah, and Expression… great for my little board…Wah is great, Volume is adequate for my uses.

    posted on January 27, 2017 at 10:26 pm
  15. Shaun says:

    I just returned my second Dunlop Mini X pedal.
    Both of them were scratchy in the mid range of the sweep.
    I wanted to like the pedal- size and price, eg.- but, I could not get over the noise…

    Might spend double and get the Lehle.

    posted on January 28, 2017 at 7:17 am
  16. Paul says:

    Is there a “bad” volume pedal? Seems the most simple circuit to render. Providing issue of impedance in/out, bypass or buffer and how good the buffer is, if you cannot get full bandwidth on a volume pedal you should not be making pedals.

    posted on January 29, 2017 at 2:58 am
  17. James says:

    I have an original Thomas Organ Company Cry-Baby [brand sold to Dunlop.]  Very Narrow sweep. My favorite is the Ibanez Weeping Demon-7.  I love it’s huge versatility.  Just make sure that you write down the settings for each song that has a different sound….and I’m not kidding…
    Love it.

    posted on January 29, 2017 at 3:10 am
  18. Joe Brackman says:

    I saw the Telonics many years ago and loved the features, but about lost it when I saw the price. I thought, “I can build one similar to that.” I got an Arduino Uno, an old Crybaby shell, and hooked up the wah pot to the Arduino. I then used an Analog Devices digital pot for the actual audio path, but that had too much zipper noise. I then went to a THAT 2180 VCA, and my DIY volume pedal has been on my board ever since (albeit with a replacement pot, rack, and pinion from Small Bear). Advantages: 1) The pot is filtered so that scratchiness isn’t a problem, at least after six years of frequent use, and 2) the pot is read digitally and then the VCA is fed with filtered PWM, so if I wanted to, I could change the taper in software (like the Telonics, but not as convenient as theirs). I like the taper just as it is, but it’s a cool setup if you can DIY.

    posted on January 31, 2017 at 3:03 am
  19. Mitchell Rosenberg says:

    Didn’t see anyone mention the Mooer Volume pedal…by far the smallest out there. Works magnetically too.  I bought one from a place in the UK cheaper than I could find it here in the US…go figure.  I love it!

    posted on February 5, 2017 at 10:20 am

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