Imagine you’re playing a song that’s full of distorted or overdriven guitar, but you want to play certain parts louder than others. Or perhaps you’re playing a song that requires a gradual volume increase as part of an intro or build-up. If you use the pot on your guitar, your overdrive or distortion effects are diminished. You can’t go running over to your amp and turning it down mid-performance.
The solution? A volume pedal, which controls the ‘master’ on your amp as you play. In this article, we’re going to review the best guitar volume pedals on the market and help you decide which is the right one for you.
At a Glance: Our Choice Of The Best Guitar Volume Pedals On The Market
- Sonicake VolWah
- Dunlop GCD80
- Ernie Ball VP Jr 25K
- Dunlop DVP4 X Mini
- Ernie Ball 250K Mono
- Lehle Mono
- Quick Lok VP-2622
- Hotone Soul Press
- Morley PLA Steve Vai Little Alligator
- Mission VM-1
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
- What is a Volume Pedal?
- Buyers Guide – Key Considerations
- Product Round-up and Reviews – Guitar Volume Pedals
- So, Which Should I Buy?
What is a Volume Pedal?
One the most overlooked, underrated but useful guitar pedals, the volume pedals attenuate your signal so that it’s reduced and has the flexibility to be increased again. They allow you to adjust how loud or quiet your guitar signal is, via a foot-lever or ‘rocker.’ It does this without affecting the signal from your guitar, and it can be done at any point in your signal chain. They’re an essential part of a dynamic performance, as they give you the control over specific levels of your instrument at particular times.
They also let you do cool things like volume swells and reductions. They work as a master control for whatever signal goes through them. Where you put your volume pedal in your signal chain depends on which signal it is that you want to adjust. If it’s the clean signal, before it’s been affected by things such as delay, distortion or reverb that you wish to reduce, the volume pedal will be best at the start of your pedal chain (immediately after the guitar). If your fully-affected signal is what you need to attenuate, it makes more sense to put it at the end of your chain.
Buyers Guide – Key Considerations
Choosing the right pedal for you depends on many things.
Passive vs. Active
The main decision you will make is whether to go for a passive or active volume pedal. The former are usually cheaper and generally easier to operate, plus you don’t need batteries or adapters to function. They work via mechanics inside the pedal, which reduces the signal when the pedal’s in its ‘closed’ position and allows it to come through when the pedal is fully opened. The one downside is they are prone to sucking some tone from your guitar’s signal, especially when they have a tuner output as well as a standard output.
This splitting of the signal can dampen higher frequencies, which is one reason many people choose their active counterpart. Active volume pedals contain miniature amplifiers inside them, through which the levels are adjusted. These are generally more expensive, but the benefits are a reduced risk of ‘tone suck’ and less risk of wear to the pedal. In contrast to passive units, they need to be plugged in or powered off a battery.
Matching to Your Guitar’s Pickups
Some of these pedals are better suited to active pickups, whereas some are more appropriate for passive pickups– like most Strats, Les Pauls, and Telecasters – it’s essential to match it with a passive pedal with an impedance of 250 – 500K. This will help you to avoid tone loss. If you’re using a guitar with active pickups, your passive volume pedal should have an impedance of 25-50K. If you choose an active volume pedal to pair up with your active pickups, you don’t need to worry about impedance.
Additional Wah / Expression
Depending on the model, some models double up as expression and wah pedals (3-in-1). If you are starting with your collection, it might make sense financially to get one of these 3-in-1 models. Similarly, if you already have wah and expression controllers, you can get a volume only unit.
Product Round-up and Reviews – Guitar Volume Pedals
The Sonicake VolWah is an active unit, which works as both a volume pedal and a wah. It’s tiny so that you can fit it inside the most compact of pedalboards, and it has an LED to tell you which of the modes you are using.
As it’s active, it will work equally well with instruments using passive and active pickups, and it can be powered using a 9V DC adapter. The wah feature gives you classic ‘Cry Baby’ sounds so that it will suit any Hendrix fans out there, or those who are just starting to experiment with different creative sounds on their guitar. It’s also quite budget-friendly. The Sonicake VolWah might be less suited to musicians are regularly gigging, as it’s made of plastic so will be less able to withstand knocks and bumps.
- Active, so you are unlikely to experience tone loss.
- It’s tiny, so you don’t need to worry about it taking up too much space in your pedalboard.
- Doubles up as a wah, making it good value for money.
- You can’t control volume and wah at the same time.
- It’s made of plastic, so not as hardworking as a metal casing.
The Dunlop GCD80 uses mechanics to alter the volume, so you don’t need a battery. It works best with passive pickups so that the impedance matches. It’s a sturdy build, that looks like a classic wah, which makes it easy to control and a reliable piece of kit to take on the road. There’s just one input and output, so you don’t need to worry about split signals affecting your tone, and the rocker pedal is all there is to adjust the sound. With no minimum level control or additional outputs, this is very easy to use which will suit vintage-oriented players or those who like to keep things simple. It will be less suited to those looking for something a little more modern, or lightweight.
- Passive, so you don’t need to worry about using a battery.
- Comes in a sturdy die-cast casing so it will last forever.
- Large rocker makes it easy to control slight shifts.
- It’s pretty heavy.
- Only one output.
Ernie Ball VP Jr 25K
The Ernie Ball VP Jr 25K is designed with a low impedance to work with guitars or bass guitars with active pickups. It has a separate output for a tuner, so you can silently tune your instrument, and it’s built with a solid construction, making it perfect for taking on the road. It’s sturdy but not too bulky, and its lever/rocker is very thin and sensitive to your movements. It will suit those who don’t mind spending a little bit more for something that’s high quality and suited to active pickups. Use with passive pickups is to be avoided.
- Separate output for tuner, so you can easily send a clean signal to your tuner.
- Solid construction, so you don’t need to worry about it breaking.
- 25K impedance is designed primarily to work with guitars with active pickups.
- Only works with active pickups.
- Quite expensive compared to others on this list.
- Needs to be plugged in or powered off a battery.
Dunlop DVP4 X Mini
The Dunlop DVP4 Mini is a high impedance, passive unit that’s perfectly suited to passive pickups. It’s also tiny and lightweight so that you can fit it into small pedalboards. There’s an AUX connector to attach a tuner or expression controller which can be used to control FX parameters. It will be suited to creative guitarists who might like to use it as more than just a volume controller. It will be less suited to those who want a classic, hard-wearing unit.
- AUX connection for tuner or expression controller.
- Small and lightweight.
- Passive, so you don’t need to worry about plugging it in.
- You might lose some of your tonal qualities.
- It’s quite expensive.
Ernie Ball 250K Mono
The Ernie Ball 250K Mono is similar to the VP 25K, but with a high impedance to suit passive pickups. It has a separate output for a tuner, so you can silently tune your instrument, and built with excellent construction, making it great for gigging. Its lever/rocker is very thin and sensitive to your movements. It will suit those who don’t mind spending a little bit more for something that’s high quality and stylish, built for passive pickups. It would be an unwise choice for guitarists who use active pickups.
- Separate output for tuner, so you can easily send a clean, silent signal to your tuner.
- Solid construction, so you don’t need to worry about it breaking.
- Designed primarily to work with passive instruments.
- Quite expensive compared to others in this round-up.
- You might lose some tonal qualities.
The Lehle Mono is another active offering which uses a magnetic sensor to measure and adjust your volume smoothly. The voltage-controlled internal amplifier ensures that your frequencies stay the same as they adjust, so there will be no dampening of tone. There’s a gain control to offer overdriven sounds, and it also works well as a booster. It will be well suited to those who are looking for the ultimate transparency of tone and require smooth and subtle adjustments. Also quite expensive so that it won’t be suited to musicians on a budget.
- The magnetic sensor allows it to be used without signs of wear.
- Keeps all frequencies the same, so there’s no dampening.
- Includes a gain control to offer overdriven sounds.
- More expensive than others on this list.
- You need to plug it in.
Quick Lok VP-2622
The Quick Lok VP-2622 is a budget-friendly, passive option which has two inputs and two outputs. It can be used with two instruments at once, making it great for multi-instrumental solo artists. There’s also an adjustable sensitivity control, so you can fine-tune it to suit you and your instrument(s). It has a high impedance, so it’s suited to guitars with passive pickups and is substantially sized enough to make it easy to control. It will be perfect for musicians on a budget who want to get started controlling their volume with their feet. It will be less suited to gigging musicians, as its plastic casing means that it might not last on the road.
- Very budget-friendly.
- Two inputs and two outputs so can control two instruments at once.
- Adjustable sensitivity.
- Not as smooth as some of the more expensive items on this list.
Hotone Soul Press
The Hotone Soul Press is a 3-in-1 volume, expression and wah pedal. Despite its extensive features, it’s also one of the smallest items on the list and comes at a reasonable price. There’s a small switch on the side, to choose which effect you’d like and there’s an adjustable minimum level control on the other side. As it’s active, it doesn’t affect your tone or frequencies – and the minimum level control makes it very smooth. It’s super compact, but it’s still pretty easy to control. It will suit those who want all three features and don’t mind these effects all sharing one unit. It will be less suited to those looking for something simple and purely for volume control.
- Works as a volume, expression and wah controller.
- Active, so it doesn’t dampen higher frequencies.
- It’s very compact.
- You need to plug it in or use a battery.
- It’s tiny.
Morley PLA Steve Vai Little Alligator
The Morley PLA Steve Vai Little Alligator is another active controller, making it perfect for all kinds of guitars. It includes a minimum volume control so that you can ensure a smooth transition between dynamics, and there’s an LED indicator which makes it easy to see when it’s on or off. Despite the name, it quite big, but it’s well built, sturdy and easy to control – plus it’s reasonably priced, with one input and output and a DC connector. It will suit those who need smooth swells in their solos, but don’t want it on at all times. It will be less suited to guitarists who require additional options such as wah and expression.
- Active, so there’s no ‘tone suck.’
- Includes a minimum volume knob for smoothness of transition.
- LED indicator makes it easy to see when it’s on or off while on stage.
- Needs plugging in or to be battery-powered.
- Takes up a lot of space.
The Mission VM-1 is a well built, passive option with high impedance, making it perfect for passive pickup guitars. It has a tuner output, but will not suck your tone due to its point-to-point hand wiring and the way the tuner is isolated from the rest of the signal via a mute switch. It’s quite bulky, but you can trust it to last many a gig, and its size also means that it’s easy to control with your foot. Available in a choice of either black or red, it will suit the style-conscious amongst you. It’s perfect for the musician who doesn’t mind paying a bit more to get a high-quality unit but less appropriate for the guitarist with active pickups.
- Hand-wired point to point to reduces the risk of ‘tone suck.’
- Passive, so you don’t need to plug it in.
- Tuner output and mute switch.
- Quite expensive.
- Relatively large and heavy.
So, Which Should I Buy?
If you are looking for something that doubles up as a wah pedal, the Sonicake VolWah or Hotone Soul Press offer you that option. The Hotone Soul Press also has an ‘expression’ option, and both of these pedals are surprisingly small. If you’re looking for something a bit more substantial in size, the Dunlop GCD80, Mission VM-1 or Morley PLA Steve Vai Little Alligator might be more suited to you. The Dunlop GCD80 is a classic, which is extremely reliable and easy to use. The Mission VM-1 offers an additional tuner option, without tone suck, and the Morley PLA Steve Vai Little Alligator gives you minimum-volume adjusting options.
Both Ernie Ball pedals – the 250K mono and the VP Jr 25K are also sturdy and well-sized. The 250K is designed for guitars with passive pickups, whereas the 25K will only be suitable for guitars with active pickups. The Lehle Mono is another full-sized pedal, which uses innovative magnetic technology to ensure transparency of tone and long life for the equipment.
If you’re looking for a small pedal, but don’t require additional features such as wah or expression, the Dunlop DVP4 Mini is a high impedance passive pedal, which will be well suited to most electric guitars without the need for a DC adapter or battery.
Whichever pedal you go for, we hope that this article has helped you to find the tool you need to embrace a new dynamic range.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.