The 10 Best Volume Pedals
This wiki has been updated 25 times since it was first published in July of 2015. For good control and audio effects when playing live shows, you won't find many better volume pedals than in our comprehensive selection of versatile and technically advanced options. Our top picks provide clear signal gains and are suitable for professional musicians, as well as those who just enjoy jamming out in their garage or are just starting to book their first gigs. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
June 24, 2020:
This was a very tricky update, primarily because many of the pedals in the list were very good already, and I found myself struggling to identify even better models to replace them with. Ultimately, I decided to only replace one pedal and leave the others alone, though I have moved some models around a bit.
I nearly added the QuickLok VP to this list, but upon further inspection, I didn’t feel that it added anything above and beyond what the current models in the list already had to offer. I had a similar dilemma with Fender FVP-1. Again though, including it would have meant that it would have had to replace one of the other excellent pedals here, and I didn’t think it was worth doing that just for the sake of making an update.
To clarify, volume pedals aren’t the same as boost pedals, though they do have very similar functions. A boost pedal is basically a button that you can push to achieve a pre-set volume gain, in effect working like a switch between two discrete volume levels. With a volume pedal however, you get a graduated increase between the two predefined volumes, exactly like turning the volume knob on your electric guitar or keyboard, but with your foot.
They both have their advantages and disadvantages, and volume pedals definitely give you a lot more to play around with, and tend not to ‘color’ your signal as much- i.e. amplify certain frequencies more than others- though high-quality boost pedals don’t have that issue either. If you want to amplify and play around with certain frequency bands, then an equalizer is what you’re looking for.
I’ve taken out the Dunlop GCB-80, which is a Cry Baby, but it produces too much distortion for a volume pedal, though this could have been an intentional part of the design, since Cry Baby makes many of the best effects pedals on the market, like wah-wah pedals, and they may have been trying to add their own flavor to the model by filtering the signal. However, I personally think that volume pedals should have a clean gain, and if you want an effects pedal combined with gain, you can always hook it up before the volume pedal in your circuit. Plus, many volume pedals come with ‘EXP’ ports and can double as expression pedals too, but the volume gain function of the pedal should provide a clean boost.
In place of the GCB-80, I've added a nice little budget option, the MeloAudio EXP-001, which, as its name suggests, can also double as an expression pedal. Like the EXP-001, the Dunlop DVP4 is another neat compact option which has taken the DVP3 and shrunken it by combing the ‘EXP’ and ‘Tuner’ ports into an ‘AUX’ port.
I’ve also moved the Mission Engineering VM-Pro down a couple of places as I found its sweep to be a little narrow – not ideal for such a high-end pedal, but it does provide a very clean gain, along with other features that make it worth its purchase price.
Why Volume Pedals Are So Necessary
Control of a function, effect, or volume is simply a step away.
Volume pedals, also commonly called expression pedals, are a must have for many musicians. No matter what instrument you play, having a quick way to adjust your volume without turning off your instrument is critical. Fumbling around for the volume knob can be a stressful experience; worrying about not missing your cue can often be the cause for doing exactly what you fear most; missing your cue. In the early days of guitar, everyone played without the use of a volume pedal. While it is true that there are many great performers today who still use no effects at all, even they would probably admit they could benefit from the use of a volume pedal.
Nowadays, music can be pretty complex. Playing a two handed instrument such as a guitar means your feet are the only things free to control effects and volume. Enter volume pedals and stompboxes. In addition, the complex keyboard synthesizer can be made a little bit easier by taking expression responsibilities away from your hands, and putting them into your feet. Control of a function, effect, or volume is simply a step away.
The History Of The Volume Pedal
The concept of a volume pedal actually goes as far back as the 19th century, to an object found on pipe organs called a swell box. The swell box was a large enclosure built around the pipes of an organ, which had shutters on it that opened and closed like window blinds. The organist would use the pedal to open and close these shutters to create more or less sound. Thus, the first expression pedal was born. This is why expression pedals are sometimes called swell pedals.
The organist would use the pedal to open and close these shutters to create more or less sound.
With the birth of the electric organ came the evolution of the expression pedal. Organists no longer had to use both feet to operate an organ’s pedalboard, and could focus instead on making changes in the music with the expression pedal.
This transferred almost immediately to guitarists, who, as early as the late 1930s, had been looking for a way to increase the volume on their instruments without using their hands. Over the years, the volume pedal has evolved. In the modern era, a volume pedal combined with a digital amp or controller now provides many more options than the pedals of the 20th century. Modern volume pedals can now be set to control multiple effects and features; such as gain, vibrato, and the infamous wah. These features used to require their own circuitry and a dedicated pedal to operate. Now they can be mapped from a digital amp and controlled interchangeably from your volume pedal.
Things To Consider When Buying A Volume Pedal
There are five main things that must be considered when choosing a volume pedal: compatibility, accuracy, durability, function, and size.
Consider how accurate you need your volume adjustments to be.
Before you buy any volume pedal, you want to make sure it is compatible with your gear and play style. To this end, ask yourself a few questions before making your purchase. Will the pedal work with MIDI equipment, or is it only for regular ¼ inch cables? If you need a pedal to control your MIDI board, this is a question you can’t afford to miss. Does the slightest off note or out of tune guitar drive you crazy? If so, you may want to consider a volume pedal that will not affect the tone of your guitar. You may even consider an expression pedal with an attached tuner output, so you can be sure to tune between every song.
Consider how accurate you need your volume adjustments to be. Do you play with a group whose dynamics require very finely tuned sounds? Then you will want a volume pedal that can give you an accurate reading and complete volume control. On the other hand, if you are the lead guitarist of a garage rock group, and only need your pedal to take your sound from loud to ear piercing, a simpler pedal may be the way to go.
Durability can be extremely important as well. It would be terrible for your volume pedal to break in the middle of a show. Will your pedal be getting heavy use? Traveling the road, getting stomped on night after night? A pedal of strong construction would be the one for you. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a home studio setting, a rugged pedal can be swapped for one with lighter construction. This may save you money and shave some extra weight off of your gear bag.
You will also want to think about the functions of your volume pedal. Many pedals can be used to express different effects besides volume. Will you also be using the pedal to create swells or control other effects on your guitar? Some pedals are more suited for that use. Do you simply need a pedal to turn your instruments up and down? There are very simple pedals without all the add-ons that may suit you.
Size can be another vital area to consider. For a musician with a lot of effects pedals, adding another one to your board may be enough to cause minor anxiety. Instead of buying a new board just to fit your volume pedal, consider buying a pedal with a smaller profile.