by Erin Cosner
Proofread for informational accuracy, spelling and grammar.
Predictably, volume pedals are a simple and one-dimensional piece of guitar gear. While some of them have added features (like a stereo connection, tuner output or adjustable boost), most of these pedals just control volume. The technology is simple, which makes picking out the best volume pedals a lot trickier.
In addition to price, we're looking at the following features to determine value:
- Smoothness of the pedal sweep (how the pedal "feels")
- Tuner output?
- Minimum volume controls?
- Boost or adjustable sweep
These are all the factors we considered when making our four choices.
If you're not sure about how you would use a volume pedal, or if you want to refresh your memory on how volume behaves going through your signal chain, here are a few resources that cover those topics:
Are volume pedals necessary?
One situation where a volume pedal becomes really crucial is when you're using an acoustic guitar pickup without any kind of preamp. In that situation, a volume pedal is the only way you can control the output of your instrument. Outside of that context, volume pedals can still have a lot of relevance and utilitarian value, particularly for live performances and gigging situations.
Here are a few perks:
- Adjust signal levels in between songs
- Adjust signal levels within a song (different volumes for bridge & chorus)
- Reduce the gain coming out of your guitar
- Mute your guitar's signal quickly
- Add a fade-in effect to chords and notes (the swelling sound)
While this functionality is more vital in a performance, volume pedals are used on studio pedalboards as well. When you get accustomed to having that extra versatility available it's hard to then go without it, even if you have an electric guitar's volume knob to rely on.
From a buyer's perspective, the task is simple. A volume pedal should:
- Be sturdy and well built
- Be reasonably cheap (it's a glorified volume knob)
- Have bonus features that include distinct swell points (like the Ernie Ball VP), tuner outputs, minimal volume settings, boost and a stereo connection
We'll use that criteria to dig up a few recommendations.
How did we choose the best volume pedals?
Websites (that we would not recommend to you), write lists like this one all the time. And yes they are extremely subjective. Not only that, but they're largely unhelpful in terms of providing actual knowledge about the guitar pedals in question.
With that in mind, we need to point out something about this piece of content and others like it that we have written- This is based on the knowledge and opinion of real musicians. We are not marketers or internet gurus trying to make a buck off Amazon. We do use affiliate programs to support this site and those who run it, but we are not simply throwing pedals up without knowing why we're suggesting them.
This is based on the knowledge and opinions of real musicians who have used this gear.
And while the opinion of any human being on a topic like this is going to be somewhat contextual and subjective, we can give you concrete reasons why we recommend these pedals over others.
Our recommendations are based primarily on the following factors:
- Actual use and experience with the pedal
- Secondhand knowledge from other musicians we know who have used or owned the pedal
- A proper value assessment
Guitar World contributor, educator, writer and guitarist since 1996.
Worship leader, PCA deacon and guitarist.
Session musician, guitar, keyboard & bass
What is a proper value assessment?
We determine value by first knowing the features of effects and guitar pedals that matter the most. For example, when it comes to delay pedals, we know that (in many cases) having a tap tempo included in your delay is better than not having one.
How do we know this? Because we've actually used delay pedals, some of which did and did not have a tap tempo.
This means that we can make a proper value assessment based on actual features; without just saying, "this delay pedal will sound great" or one of our personal favorites-
"Among the most prolific pedals made popular by its solid performance."
Use this Google result if you want to see the site we're referring to.
We would contend that kind of recommendation is unhelpful at best.
Additionally, as we can identify and confirm more of those features that add quality, we can also then search for pedals that give you those features at the lowest possible retail cost.
Therefore, we define the best volume pedals by those that provide the most value based on the following:
Just look for the features that matter and see which brands and pedals deliver those features at the lowest price.
If you boil it down, our template is simple:
- As quality goes up, value increases
- As price goes down, value increases
- As quality goes down, value decreases
- As price goes up, value decreases
What this list is and What it is Not
We should point out that this list is not a ranking or a full review of each pedal. Per our publishing policy, we do not publish physical product reviews in favor of making contextual recommendations.
The term "review" is a bit deceptive since most people who review guitar gear don't have anything bad to say about it. That's not a review as much as it is an endorsement. In most cases, we simply avoiding talking about products that we can't or wouldn't recommend to Guitar Chalk readers.
Thus it's misleading to use the term "review."
As a consequence, we want to be clear that this list is not a "review", nor are the numbers used an indication of ranking the products in any particular order. These are simply recommendations based on our experience that may or may not apply to your own situation.
Our Two Favorite Volume Pedals from the List
The two volume pedal purchases we are most confident about and have purchases ourselves would be the Ernie Ball VP Jr. and the Morley Little Alligator.
Best Volume Pedals: Recommendations Based on Value
In this section we've used the process outlined in previous paragraphs to select four volume pedals that we believe are the best available for their respective tax brackets (price). Please note that while we've taken price into consideration, we're not allowed to display pricing of any kind on this page since we're Amazon associates and it's against their terms of service agreement.
We recommend checking out the info on all four pedals then referencing the links for pricing info. From there, you'll be able to make an informed decision about which volume pedal would work best in your situation.
Let's get started.
Ernie Ball VP Jr. Volume Pedal
Since we don't like paying much for volume pedals, the Ernie Ball VP Jr. is our go-to as it usually retails in two-figures instead of three.
You'll note that there is a 25K and 250K version available, which means the following:
- 25K: 25 Ohms of Impedance - the "low impedance" option
- 250K 250 Ohms of Impedance - the "high impedance" option
Most websites should allow you to choose between both versions.
High or low impedance?
In most cases it's fine to go with the high impedance volume pedal or, in the case of Ernie Ball, the 250K version. Low impedance volume pedals - which we'll discuss more at the bottom of this article - are typically used only if you plan to keep your volume pedal in an effects loop.
A Smoother Foot Pedal
The "feel" of the VP Jr. foot pedal is a lot smoother than pedals like the Dunlop High Gain. It feels as if it's not letting you push down or roll back too quickly. Cheaper volume pedals can feel a little clunky and haphazard in this regard, but the VP Jr. does a good job of leading your foot and sort of guiding you into certain positions.
Unfortunately, it doesn't have a minimum volume knob, which is why we also recommend its old brother, the Ernie Ball MVP, down below.
Still, the VP Jr. sounded great for fading in single notes for that smoother "swelling" effect. From a value perspective, it's easily our favorite on this list.
How does the tuner jack work?
The tuner jack sends an output signal from your volume pedal regardless of the VP Jr. sweep position.
Here's a picture of the setup on our table with a Boss TU-2 chromatic tuner:
The Ernie Ball VP Jr. sending a signal through the tuner output to the Boss TU-2, and the main line output to the Boss NS-2. (View Larger Image)
Here's a closer look at the front panel of the VP Jr.
The output jack goes into the main pedal line while the tuner jack sends a signal - that's agnostic of the volume pedal's position - to the tuner. (View Larger Image)
With this setup you can leave the tuner on all the time and tune your guitar with the volume pedal down or up. It's an underrated feature that's hard to do without after you actually use it.
- Step on to engage
- Taper switch for distinctive swells
Price and Value
In our opinion, all volume pedals are overpriced.
However this is one of the cheaper options that doesn't cut corners, gives you the needed features, and a smooth, usable foot pedal. Since most pedalboards can benefit from a volume pedal it's an easy recommendation for us to make.
Morley PLA Steve Vai Little Alligator Volume Pedal
Steve Vai's signature Morley pedals are some of Bobby's favorites, mainly because he has been using them for years. The Little Alligator from the same series is designed to work in both high and low impedance scenarios- which basically means we can use it either in or out of an effects loop.
Morley also adds a minimum volume knob allowing you to go back and forth between two specific points. This is a fantastic feature we don't see with many other volume pedals in this price range.
It's also a little cheaper than the VP Jr., which makes it tough to pick between the two.
- Minimum volume knob setting (setting two distinct levels)
Price and Value
If the minimum volume setting is something that you'd use frequently (and that you'd prefer over the tuner output), the Little Alligator should get a ranking bump over the Ernie Ball VP Jr.
Ernie Ball MVP, Most Valuable Pedal
This iteration of the Ernie Ball volume series adds two notable features to the front control panel:
- Minimum volume control: "MIN" knob
- Gain control: "GAIN" knob
The minimum volume knob functions the same way as the Morley Little Alligator, allowing you to go back and forth between two distinct volume points at the top and bottom of the pedal's sweep position. The gain knob is basically a boost option. This turns your volume pedal into a signal booster that you can use for solos- making the MVP ideal for live performances.
That increase can go up to 20 decibels.
This model is also compatible with both active and passive signals, making it a good option if you have a pedalboard that switches between an acoustic and electric guitar with different electronics to consider.
Otherwise, all the perks of the VP Jr. still apply.
- Smooth sweeping motion (precise)
- Tuner input
- Compact housing
- Gain control (boost)
- Min knob for minimum volume setting
Price and Value
The MVP retails somewhere around $20 - $30 (more than the VP Jr.), which means we'd only recommend it above that pedal (and the Morley) if you'd use the gain knob and the minimum volume control. Those are performance-friendly features, so folks shopping for a gigging pedalboard might want to invest in the MVP.
Boss FV-500H High Impedance Volume Pedal
Boss's entry into the volume pedal arena is - in our opinions - a successful one, particularly since they offer two variations of the FV-500; an H and L version for a mono/high impedance connection and a stereo/low impedance connection.
The sweep motion on the pedal is also really smooth- comparable to both the Ernie Ball and Morley offerings. We also like the rubber grip on top of the pedal which gives an additional level of control since the surface isn't completely flat.
If you don't like how it feels, you can actually adjust this aspect of the pedal with a torque control.
Other features include an expression pedal option and a tuner jack.
- Adjustable Torque
Price and Value
To be perfectly honest, there's little that makes us recommend the Ernie Ball VP and MVP above this pedal, other than the familiarity we have with those units. The price point for the FV-500 is similar yet we've got to take the shorter amount of time we had with it into consideration. If we were equally familiar with the volume pedals of both brands (Ernie Ball is a much more popular option) it would be much harder to choose.
The only knock against the FV-500H is the lack of a minimum volume control.
We like the FV-500H (assuming you need the more common high impedance version), for any and all volume control situations.
Where to Place your Volume Pedal
One of the most common questions surrounding the use of effects is whether or not there is an optimal way in which to order those pedals. In a typical signal chain, the input originates at your guitar and is outputted through an amplifier. The guitar pedals sit in the middle of that line, processing the signal from the guitar before sending it into the amplifier and out through a speaker.
Strymon has an article that explains this in detail and provides some helpful graphics for scenarios with and without an effects loop.
For volume pedals, that would apply to a high-impedance pedal, or one that is compatible in either a low or high impedance scenario like the Morley Little Alligator.
Volume Pedal Placement Without an Effects Loop
Volume pedals are placed at the beginning of the signal, right after your guitar. The graphic has your compressor going before your volume pedal, which means you're changing the volume of an already compressed signal. Wah, distortion and modulation follow in that order.
If you do have an effects loop, your ambient pedals would get dropped in there, using the send/return option to take them out of your main signal chain.
Here's the diagram from Strymon depicting that setup (while still including your volume pedal outside of the loop):
Volume Pedal Placement With an Effects Loop
Moving the Volume Pedal to the Effects Loop
Again, these are conventions to be tested and not rules that must be followed. The biggest question is whether or not you even can and want to run an effects loop. If you don't, you're simply putting a high impedance volume pedal at the beginning of your signal chain.
Volume Pedal Connection Basics
In most cases your volume pedal should connect like any other pedal, with the input coming from your guitar and the output continuing onto your next pedal or amplifier.
The input comes from your electric guitar, acoustic guitar or compressor pedal and goes into the input of the Ernie Ball mono volume pedal. (View Larger Image)
Stereo Volume Pedal Connections
The connection for a stereo volume pedal is also simple in that it allows you to plug two instruments into an A and B input or send the signal of one instrument into two A and B outputs.
Here's what it would look like on the 25K Stereo volume pedal from Ernie Ball.
A stereo volume pedal connection diagram showing the functionality of both inputs and outputs. (View Larger Image)
A setup example would be if you wanted to run the signal from one guitar to two different amps or two different pedal lines. If you're using only one input, you're running a "mono connection." If you're using both inputs you're running a "stereo connection."
Here's how the user manual describes the setup:
The Tuner Connection
In some volume pedals like the Ernie Ball VP Jr., you can connect your tuner pedal - or TRS tuner device - to the "tuner" jack on the pedal. This allows you to tune without running the main signal through your tuner. Here's how it looks when it's all hooked up:
Connecting a Boss TU-2 tuner to the Ernie Ball VP Jr. Volume pedal's tuner jack. (View Larger Image)
Which volume pedal works best with acoustic guitar rigs?
Volume pedals are simple pieces of technology- almost all of which will pair well with acoustic guitar rigs. Since the Ernie Ball VP Jr. has a good reputation with active electronics (battery powered, which are often used in acoustic guitars), that's the one we'd most often recommend.
In short, pair a passive volume pedal with active pickups.
Otherwise, the only other feature we'd consider is the stereo/mono issue, where you might want to run your acoustic guitar into two outputs- perhaps a mixer and acoustic amplifier.
Volume Pedal Vs. a Guitar Volume Knob
The important thing to understand when you're using either a volume knob or a volume pedal to reduce your signal is that you're technically reducing gain. The difference between gain and raw volume is the following:
- Gain- Refers to signal levels going into the preamp
- Raw or "Master" Volume- Refers to signal levels going into the power amp
In other words, gain is the signal coming directly from your guitar before it gets to the three-band EQ in your amplifier. In this respect, both a volume knob and volume pedal are controlling the gain, since they're able to reduce signal before it reaches a preamp.
The difference is that volume pedals are easier to control and often have more dynamic features like swell points or "pan" mode.
Why Get a Volume Pedal if It's Just a Glorified Volume Knob?
Volume pedals certainly are glorified volume knobs. However, they're much easier to control and they free up your hands to concentrate on playing. We recommend volume pedals because they allow you to fine-tune your signal and give you a lot more control than having just the volume knob for the same purpose.
In most cases we'd recommend using the volume knob on your guitar as a function to mute the guitar if needed, otherwise it should be maxed all the time.
That way you're sending all the gain into your volume pedal, which can then fine-tune the signal before it gets to your preamp.
What's the difference between an active and passive volume pedal?
Here's a fantastic answer to this question from Mission Engineering. We couldn't say it any better.
What's the difference between a high and low impedance volume pedal?
Most volume pedals are high impedance, meaning they should be placed at the front of your signal chain or at least outside of an effects loop.
Low impedance volume pedals are designed to be used in an effects loop. A volume with a 25-50K Ohm range would be considered low impedance, whereas high impedance would be in the 250K-500K Ohm range.
Concluding and Additional Questions
Have questions about these volume pedals that we didn't address? Feel free to drop them in the comments section below. Usually Bobby will answer there, which is preferred over email so that others who read the article in the future will have access to that information as well.
We also love hearing pedal suggestions and recommendations for these types of articles.
Just keep in mind our value assessment and method for including products. It shouldn't just be something you like personally, but should have some objective support as to why it belongs on a best volume pedals list, like this one.
- Strymon Effects Pedal Order Article
- Pedalboard Power Supply Rating and Recommendation Guide
- The Pedalboard Planner Written Guide
- The Interactive Pedalboard Planner Web App
- The Minimalist Pedalboard Build
- Best Pedalboard and Power Supply Roundup
- Best Pedaltrain, Boss and Gator Pedalboards
- Mission Engineering Volume Pedal Q&A
Flickr Commons Image courtesy of Alert Alert