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Like many musicians before you, you are starting to get sick of continually twisting that blasted volume knob on your guitar for volume swells and fade-ins etc.
It’s time for a guitar volume pedal, and you know it!
It’s just a silly volume pedal, so it should be really simple, right?
Well you would be surprised at the quality shift you can find between different types and brands of volume pedals, which is something I’m going to explore in this article so you can make an informed decision while buying your pedal.
How To Choose The Best Guitar Volume Pedal For You
There are a few main things that you need to look out for when choosing your volume pedal. Each different feature will affect the way your pedal works, sounds, and how long it will last before wearing out.
The main features that vary from pedal-to-pedal are:
- Pots (Potentiometers) or Electro-Optical Circuits?
- Stereo Or Mono?
- A Minimum Volume, or No Minimum Volume?
- Powered Pedal or Non-Powered?
These are the main things that you need to consider when choosing which pedal you would like to purchase.
Pots or Electro-Optical?
A pedal that uses a potentiometer (pots) to control the volume of your guitar is more likely to wear out.
What happens is the Pots get worn out, and then they start to get scratchy and make some pretty irritating noise when you are trying to control your volume.
The upside of the Pots is that they are common. You will find them in almost every volume pedal out there.
The advantage of the Electro-Optical Circuit is that it doesn’t wear out. That is because there are no moving parts in it. The Optical Circuit just uses optical technology to read the position you have put the pedal in, rather than an analog connector.
The disadvantage of the Electro-Optical Circuit is that only 1 brand makes them: Morley.
Of course, Morley is a really great brand and is one that I am going to recommend later on in this article, but the fact that only 1 brand uses this technology is a disadvantage, because you don’t really get the opportunity to “shop around” when looking for them…not that you would need to.
Stereo or Mono
Well this one is basically up to you.
If you choose to have 2 Inputs/Outputs (Stereo), then you have the option of plugging in up to 2 instruments into your pedal. You are probably already aware of the types of possibilities that it opens up for you.
As well, it gives you the opportunity to output your signal to more than one amplifier. If you do this, you now have the ability to create a “stereo” setting, which can be very useful for you if you are playing with different effects.
Some Guitar Volume pedals even give you the option to use your Stereo Guitar Volume Pedal as a pan, to pan the mix of your signal between two amps. Doing this can allow you to make some pretty wicked tones as you shoot your amp sound from one side of the stage to the other.
So if this is the case, why doesn’t everyone just get the Stereo Version?
Well the #1 reason is…the price! The stereo version will most certainly cost you more money than the Mono Version.
As well, if you are going to try the Electro-Optical Circuit, then you won’t be able to get a Stereo Version (Morley only has the mono channel versions). So that is another reason you might not be able to get one.
But if the money doesn’t matter to you (they are almost twice the price), and you don’t mind using a pedal with Pots, then you can try using the stereo version instead.
Minimum, Or No Minimum Volume?
Basically, if you have a minimum volume, you can set how low you want your pedal to set the volume to.
Maybe you only want to make your guitar ever go to 20% Volume at one time. Well you would just set the minimum volume, and it would physically make it impossible for you to go to a volume any lower than that.
If you choose no minimum, the low setting on the pedal will always be 0% volume.
So really, it’s up to you. If you like the idea of making your guitar quiet, but not completely off, then I suggest you get a pedal with a minimum volume.
If you don’t really care either way, then just ignore this feature and make your decision based on the other factors I’ve listed here.
Powered Or Non-Powered?
This one has to do with whether or not you have a large supply of 9V batteries by your side!
If you get a guitar volume pedal that requires power, you will either need to feed it 9V Batteries, or you will need a 9V power adapter that plugs in.
Keep in mind that most pedal brands have their own unique adapters, so it is not a one size fits all situation. It will likely cost you $10-$20 for the adapter for the pedal.
And if you are having upwards of 3 or 4 pedals on your board (I have 5+ pedals), you can see how powering all of them at once can become quite a problem.
To fix that problem, I use the 1-Spot Space Saving Power Adapter. It works with almost any pedal, and the original design comes with 4 plug-ins (So this 1 power adapter can power 4 different pedals at the same time, even though it only uses 1 wall socket).
You can also get extensions for it to power more pedals (Still with only 1 adapter). You can get an extension for 5 extra effects pedals (9 in total) for another $10.
Instead of buying 9 different adapters (Even at the cheap price of $10 per pedal, that’s $90, and many of them can cost $20), you can buy 1 of these baby’s for $30 and can power all of them, with only 1 plug in the wall.
So if you are willing to buy a “1-spot”, or the power adapter for your Guitar Volume pedal, then I would say it is worth it.
In some cases, powered Volume Pedals that have a minimum volume switch might function properly without power, but the minimum volume switch will be disabled until you plug it in.
That is a good function, because then if you just need to use the thing for Volume swells and such, you don’t have to worry about the power to your pedal.
Just keep in mind that if you mix this Power Adapter (The “1-spot”) with AC Power (not DC), you could be risking some hum noises. This is because the electrical frequencies can interfere with each other, which is never a good thing!
But if you are mindful of the AC power, and make sure you always plug in to a surge protector, I think everything will work out just fine for you.
Top 3 Best Guitar Volume Pedals
As far as Guitar Volume Pedals go, there are 3 big brands that you need to consider. Each of them has their separate pros and con’s, and there really is no “best choice”, only the best choice for you!
- Dunlop GCB-80
- Morley Volume Plus
- Ernie Ball 6165 Stereo/Pan Pedal
So let’s do a quick review of each of these brands. Starting with the Dunlop…
Dunlop GCB-80 High Gain Pedal
The Dunlop Volume pedal is built very similarly to their CryBaby Wah-Wah Pedal.
The reason it’s called a high-gain pedal is because it can handle the high-gain signals properly, namely guitar signals.
It’s not really something that needs a lot of attention, but is something to consider. If you get a low gain volume pedal (They generally have an “L” after their title), that means it is meant for things like keyboards and such (and are not suitable for guitar).
Like I said, not something that needs a lot of attention, but it’s still important to note why they call this pedal “high gain”.
The GBC-80 uses Pots, so you do have the risk of it wearing out on you (like every other pedal with a potentiometer). If it does manage to break on you, all you will need to do is just replace the scratchy Pots for new ones (They are about $20).
A good bonus is that this pedal is not powered, so you won’t need any sort of power supply of 9V batteries to keep it running.
The price is fairly average, at roughly $80 it is not a low-end price, but not a high-end price either (Not going over $100).
As well, the thing is incredibly solid. I would say that most Dunlop-GCB-80-Owners would agree that you could probably drop the thing off a 3-story house and still not have any problems.
Of course, the unit is really, really simple. No tuner out, no stereo output, no minimum volume. You simply plug in one end, and the other end has an output. There is nothing else to it.
So if you are the person who likes a really simple setup, then it’s possible you might want to lean towards the Dunlop (as it’s the simplest volume pedal you can find).
Some common problems that you should be aware of when considering this Dunlop Guitar Volume Pedal are:
- Not being able to get 100% Volume, even with the pedal fully on
- Volume changing after editing the order of the effects loop around (and having to adjust the pedal)
- Pots wearing out and making scratching noise (having to replace with “Hot Pots”)
- It can eat up the tone of your guitar (some people claim it works perfectly, while others say it just sucks the tone right out of their guitar)
Morley Volume Plus Pedal
The Morley Volume Plus has the distinct advantage of using Electro-Optics instead of using Pots to read your foot volume position.
The great thing about this is that it’s all “lasers”! There are no moving parts inside, so you don’t have to worry about scratchy pots (making this thing about twice as reliable as any other guitar volume pedal).
Just like the Dunlop, this is not a Stereo unit and has 1 input and 1 output.
It has a minimum switchable volume, with a convenient little footswitch (On the right of the pedal) that you can hit to activate it.
The unit itself isn’t powered, but if you want to use the minimum volume switch you will need to use a 9V Battery (Or one of the power adapters I described earlier on in this article).
The great thing about the minimum switchable volume is that you now don’t have to worry about accidentally lowering your volume so much that the unit turns off, which is a big plus!
Another great plus is that the unit is colorless, meaning that it doesn’t suck your tone in any way. You put a cable in, a cable comes out, and nothing happens in between (except the volume change you set the pedal at).
The price is only around $20 more than the Dunlop pedal, coming in at approx. $100 total. Not a bad price for such an advanced pedal in my opinion.
Some common problems with the Morley Volume Plus Pedal are…
- …It’s a new brand?
I seriously can’t find a single bad thing to say about this pedal… Oh wait! I found one!
If you drop it out of an airplane, into the ocean, you might have trouble finding it…because…it’s black! And finding something in the ocean that is black would be pretty difficult!Check Price
The Ernie Ball 6165 Stereo Volume/Pan Pedal
The 6165 is the high-priced Ernie Ball Guitar volume/pan pedal.
At around $200, it had better live up to such a high price on something as simple as a guitar volume pedal.
The main advantage to this pedal is the Stereo input/output. You can put up to 2 instruments in, and can output to 2 different amps.
Of course, that comes with the higher price.
There is a lesser model (the 6166) that is about $40 cheaper, but doesn’t have the Stereo option. I wouldn’t recommend going with that one though.
With the 6165 you can Pan between two different amps. All you do is hit the pan switch and use the pedal to decide which amp you want to go through. This allows for a lot creativity, especially when using effects such as delay, or having one amp set to distortion while the other is set to clean.
As with the Dunlop, the Ernie Ball 6165 has Pots to regulate the volume, so it can get worn out and you will have to replace the Pots as usual.
You should also be aware that this thing has the capability to suck some of the tone out of your guitar. It’s a pretty big point to notice because it’s the thing most guitarists look for when buying a guitar volume pedal (and one of the only things that matters).
Some of the main issues that surround this pedal are:
- Pots can get scratchy
- Sucks tone from your guitar
- When panning all the way left (or right), you could potentially still hear some of your signal coming out of the opposite side (It won’t pan 100% in one way. More like 97% left or right).
- Customer service for broken units is not very good.
- The treadle can sometimes slip out of the Unit
So overall this unit is a little bit of a disappointment to me.
A lot of guys in the business use it too. I know many guitarists who swear upon this rig, but my experience just hasn’t been as pleasant. And for such a high price…I just can’t say that it is a good deal.
Now keep in mind that some of the things on the above list will most likely not happen to you. In fact, it’s possible that you could have a very good experience with it.Check Price
Choosing A Guitar Volume Pedal: It’s A Matter Of Preference
Which pedal you get is really up to you. It has to do with what your needs are, how much you can afford, and how big an audiophile you are.
Personally, I chose to go with the Morley Volume Plus Pedal. I like the aspect of the Electro-Optical Circuit in place of the Pots to prevent wears outs, and I like the feature of the minimum volume as well (suited for when I want to do rapid fade-ins).
But don’t let my preference change your opinion. Just look at the facts above and make a decision based on that.
If you need a bit of extra help choosing, here are a few situations you might see yourself in:
- If you are trying to save money, go for the Dunlop or the Morley
- If you want the Stereo input/output, use the Ernie Ball 6165
- If you are worried about your Pots wearing out, use the Morley
- If you want to make sure you have a perfectly clear signal (and not have the pedal suck your guitar tone), go with the Morley
Hopefully this article has helped you make an informed decision that will keep you volume swelling for years to come! Thanks for reading.