Whether you will be using your instrument for a live performance at the next outdoor music festival, or will be laying down the tracks to an upcoming single, it is important to know how to use a volume pedal for your acoustic guitar.
The acoustic guitar is one of the most dynamic instruments in the world of music. Without the aid of any amplifiers, it is capable of producing silent, to very loud levels of sound by controlling the pressure coming from your wrist. However, there are times when acoustic guitars are needed on a bigger stage or in a professional studio – environments that both require greater tonal and dynamic control.
When given much bigger roles from being cafe fixtures to touring stadiums nationwide, the acoustic guitar will not depend entirely on the hands of the musician anymore. Same goes when the instrument has made a jump from being a campfire accompaniment, to assisting a recording superstar.
What was once a purely acoustic instrument, will now rely on the help of electronics to make it resonate more clearly. Pickups, preamps, amplifiers and D.I. boxes, along with volume pedals, are some of the equipment that your acoustic guitar will need in the professional music arena.
Why use a volume pedal on an acoustic guitar?
One of the most overlooked elements of guitar setups is the volume pedal, which is an essential gear for guitar players. Having a volume pedal in your arsenal can help a lot in controlling your overall loudness with ease, instead of relying on tweaking the knobs on the amplifier or the mixer.
Volume pedals however, are not limited to the task of turning up and turning down your loudness, they can also be used for more creative purposes. Volume swells that turn into ambient, wailing sound effects, can be achieved with the help of volume pedals, often with trippy or cinematic results.
Active vs Passive
There are two main types of volume pedals: passive and active. Each type of volume pedal has their own advantages, as well as disadvantages. If you are planning to buy one, make sure that you did enough research to find out what’s best for you.
Passive volume pedals
Passive volume pedals have less complex components as they simply consist of a potentiometer controlled with a pedal. Passive volume pedals are less expensive and don’t need power to function. Unfortunately, the quality of their performance will be affected if you put them right after the guitar in the signal chain, resulting in some significant deterioration in tone quality.
Active volume pedals
Active volume pedals are more commonly used by guitar players nowadays for the sound stability that they provide. You can place an active volume pedal anywhere in the signal chain and you won’t have to worry about your tone being affected. It also has a buffer that will make sure that you will not experience any signal loss, even if your setup incorporates numerous effects pedals and long cables.
The only drawback of an active volume pedal is that they are more expensive and they require an internal battery or an external power supply for it to work.
How to use a volume pedal with an acoustic guitar
Before you proceed to connect your volume pedal, remember that acoustic guitars need to have pickups installed. Using a microphone to amplify sounds from your acoustic and connecting that mic to a volume pedal, will only lead to disappointment. It is highly recommended that you get your acoustic guitar a pickup and be ready with at least a couple of decent guitar cables.
Also take note that even though you are connecting an acoustic guitar to a volume pedal, this piece of gadget won’t have any control on the sound levels that will still emanate from your instrument’s soundbox. The volume pedal is only a tool to aid you in controlling your overall loudness, but your dynamics will still rely a lot on how you use your hands and wrists.
Now that you have understood the importance of the volume pedal, here are some ways to hook it up with your acoustic guitar:
First in the signal chain
If you are planning to use other effects pedals, it would be ideal to have your volume pedal placed at the beginning of the signal chain. This would mean plugging your acoustic guitar straight to the volume pedal before going through other effects and into the amplifier. The same sequence can be followed even if you don’t have other effects in tow.
With this kind of setup, your volume pedal will work in the same manner as the volume knobs on your guitar, only more convenient since you will be using your feet to control the loudness.
After a distortion pedal (before other effects)
Another creative way to position a volume pedal would be to put it after an overdrive or a distortion pedal. This way, you can reduce the volume without affecting the amount of gain coming from your overdrive/distortion, unlike when you are using your guitar’s volume knobs or when the volume pedal is placed at the beginning of the signal chain.
This volume pedal positioning is most effective when you want to do some volume swells with the overdrive/distortion activated.
After all of the effects
You may also place the volume pedal at the end of the signal chain. This time, it will act as the master volume for your entire rig, which means if you turn your volume to zero, everything will shut off, including the trailing sound that was a result of the delay effects.
Thru the amplifier’s effects loop
For amplifiers that have an effects loop, you may also use the return/send port. Connecting to the effects loop will turn your volume pedal into a master level control. In this setup, the volume pedal will not impact the drive level of your amplifier’s front end since it will bypass the preamp and tone stack.
If you don’t have any effects pedals in your setup and only need to control your loudness, utilizing a guitar amp’s effects loop is one of the best ways to hook an acoustic guitar with a volume pedal.