Posts Tagged ‘volume’

I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked that question over the years, and my answer is pretty much the same: “It depends…” No, I’m not trying to be a dick, but it really does depend on what you’re after with your volume pedal.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because of a conversation I had yesterday with a friend and fellow guitarist. We were talking about amps and I mentioned how I set up my amp, with a particular emphasis on setting up my gain and volume on my amp. He asked me, “Why don’t you just put a volume pedal on your board?”

I told him I could do that, but I like to control my instrument volume from my guitar. He looked at me quizzically, and then it struck me that as a reggae player, he played almost entirely clean, so putting a volume pedal on his board would give him a volume bump. But then I shared with him that I couldn’t do that because of the way I set up my tube amps; that is, I set the volume to just at the edge of breakup on my amp so that when I turn up the volume on my guitar, I’ll go into overdrive, then clean up by turning the volume down. He was still a little puzzled at what I was talking about, so I gave him a crash course on tube amps (which I won’t go into here).

But that conversation sparked an idea to write about where to put a volume pedal in my signal chain and that then carried over into how it could be useful in various positions along my chain. So, given that, let me offer up some suggestions.

First, though, let’s go with the conventional wisdom of the general order of pedals on a board.

Distortion boxes (overdrive, fuzz, distortion) => Wah (I know, some people like them in front of dirt pedals) => Modulation pedals (Chorus, Flange, Vibe, etc) => Delay => Reverb.

I know, Delay and Reverb are modulation pedals, but it’s important to separate those out because they generally should be last in the chain. Also, I know that everyone has their preferred setup, but this is generally what you’ll find if you look it up.

So given that, where’s the best place to put a volume pedal?

  1. Put it in front of your distortion section to act like your guitar’s volume knob. This will push the front-end of your overdrive pedals and cause them to break up more (just like an amp).
  2. Put it at the back of your pedal board to provide an overall boost to your volume before the front-end of your amp. For tube amps, this could push your pre-amp tubes into overdrive. For solid-state or tube amps with tons of clean headroom, you’ll just get a volume boost.
  3. IF you have an effects loop, things can get interesting. 🙂 I actually run two pedal chains when I’m using my DV Mark Little 40. My dirt pedals go in front of my amp, while I place all my modulation pedals in the effects loop. If I were to use a volume pedal, it would be the very last pedal in my effects loop chain. The reason is that this would have a better effect on overall output volume, which is what I’m after, as it would act much like the master volume on my amp. This is also the place where I prefer to use a boost pedal as opposed to a volume pedal because all I’m after is a quick volume bump. And as long as I haven’t pushed my power tubes into saturation, I’ll get a few more dB of output volume which is great for playing solos. Note that this may even put my power tubes into saturation, and that’s not a bad thing.

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Like I have been doing practically every morning for the last few years, I peruse my favorite gear forums and came across this thread discussing whether or not 4 X 12 cabinets are a dying breed. There were lots of responses both pro and con, but a sidebar discussion ensued about loudness; specifically SPL (sound pressure level) and perceived loudness. So that got me thinking about the mechanics behind loudness and that led me to the title of this article. So how can a 1 X 12 be louder than a 4 X 12? Well it has to do with a combination of several things, but at least from what I understand, you can boil it down to two things: Speaker efficiency and frequency response. In any case, I found a great article that discusses this subject in detail here. It has some good technical information while maintaining a chatty, conversational tone. It’s a good read, and actually explains how a 1 X 12, given the right combination of amp, speaker sensitivity and frequency response can be louder than a 4 X 12. Pretty cool.

But all this ruminating on loudness also got me thinking of how I got pissed at one of the guitarists in my church band who kept on stepping on everyone this past weekend with the volume of his amp. It got to the point where I finally said, “Look! I’ve had it with your volume; either turn it down or I’ll turn it off.” Thinking back on that situation and the information that I read this morning, I realized that the frequency response of the speaker of his amp – a California Blonde – is probably heavy in an area where he can’t hear it, so he cranks it up so he can. Plus, its spread is really narrow and as he has the amp right in front of him, he probably can only hear only a slight portion of the volume that amp can produce (I have one as well, and that amp really projects). The point to bringing this up is that perceived volume also has to do with where you are in relation to the front of the speaker, and that frequency response plays a huge role. If your speaker produces lots of sound in an area that’s not or less perceptible by the human ear as compared to other frequencies, you’ll perceive it to be not as loud.

For myself, I’m pretty sensitive about the frequency response of my speakers because as the lead guitarist, I need to cut through the mix. The interesting thing about this is that I don’t have to be loud to hear myself as my tone tends to be on the bright side – though I will admit that I like to be loud just because there’s nothing like SPLs. 🙂 However, that said, as of late, I’ve been much more sensitive to my stage volume, so I’ve reined in the volume a bit. My thinking is that as long as I can hear myself through the mix, it’s all good.

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