Musicians who love incorporating various gadgets into their setup will encounter the common issue of guitar pedals causing a volume drop. While these kinds of problems are fairly easy to solve most of the time, they can still perplex the minds of even the most advanced guitar players.
Imagine having successfully acquired all of the effects pedals that you have been drooling over for the past few years, only to discover that activating some of them causes a significant loss in your overall volume. What could be the culprit behind this phenomenon? Is it because you have too many gadgets and cables? How can volume drops be avoided?
Before we tackle the various solutions to prevent volume drops with guitar pedals, it is important that we pinpoint what was behind this unwanted loudness reduction. By singling out the root of this hurdle, we can determine what steps to take in order to address this predicament.
Signal chain basics For Volume drops
Although there are many ways to connect your pedals, it is important to stick first to the basics before you do some experimental combinations. Wrong signal chain sequencing of your pedals can affect your overall sound.
Here is the most preferred sequence of effects placement on most pedalboards, with tuners placed in the beginning (right after the guitar) and the delay effects at the end of the chain (before the amp):
- Dynamic effects (compressor/limiter)
- Gain (overdrive/distortion)
- Modulation (chorus, tremolo, phaser, flanger etc.)
- Delay and Reverb
The volume pedal can be placed at the beginning, middle or end of the signal chain depending on how you will use it. Placing the volume pedal at the beginning of the chain will make its role similar to your guitar’s volume knob, while putting it at the end will turn it into your master level control. Volume pedals sandwiched in between gadgets can unlock a host of sonic possibilities such as volume swells and other ambient effects.
Solutions for guitar pedal-related master volume drops
In some cases, volume drops can happen to your overall sound and not just to certain pedals in your rig. As a guitar player, you would want to maximize the capabilities of your setup and anything that will affect tone and volume should be addressed accordingly.
Here are some ways to make sure that your master levels are meeting its full potential:
Use an active volume pedal
Passive volume pedals can suck a lot of tone and may cause volume drops if they are placed right after the guitar.
Get yourself an active volume pedal and you can place it anywhere in the signal chain without having to worry about losing some tone and volume.
Buffered and true bypass pedals
Effects pedals with buffered and true bypass are the best option if you wish to eliminate all sorts of tone and volume deterioration. There will also be a slight boost on your tone to compensate for any signal loss that can be caused by having too many pedals and cables.
Use the amplifier’s FX loop
One of the best ways to preserve your volume is to use the effects loop on your guitar amplifier. This will help maintain signal strength and tonal clarity by allowing your pedals to be added after the pre-amp and not through it (or plugging through the front end).
Avoid cables that are too long
Whether it’s the cables that connect each effect on your pedal board, the length will contribute largely to the quality of your sound. The longer the cable, the more likely your tone will be dull and your volume significantly reduced.
Pedal patch cables are the right cables for connecting your gadgets, make sure that you have them in your setup to minimize signal loss and guitar pedal volume drops. As for the cables that you will use for your guitar and amp, anything beyond 15 feet is unnecessary.
How to fix individual guitar pedal volume drops
There are instances wherein only some of the guitar effects pedals are experiencing volume drops. You will have to single out which pedal is having these signal problems before you can start fixing any issue.
Effects pedal adjustments
Determine first which guitar pedals are going through a volume drop and make sure that the loudness of each is up to par with the louder ones. Before worrying that your effects might be experiencing some serious issues, try to tweak them first to match the rest of the gadgets on your pedal board.
Lack of headroom
Some effects pedals just have a less sufficient headroom compared to others, making them inferior when it comes to loudness. The next time you are shopping for a new set of gadgets, you can test and audition them by comparing their bypassed output levels.
You don’t have to replace your effects pedals just because they have less headroom or volume capacity. What you can do is adjust the levels of all of your effects to match the ones with less headroom. Although this will compromise the loudness of your entire setup, what matters is that all of your pedals are evenly matched.
You can make up for the lost volume with a few tweaks on your amplifier or if that won’t be enough, you can use some boost pedals to increase the gain of your overall sound.
Vintage and analog pedals
Collecting vintage gears is a cool hobby, but if you wish to incorporate them in a setup along with modern effects pedals, don’t expect them to equal the loudness of the new gadgets.
Although some vintage pedals can provide charming guitar tones that you only hear on classic records, they are also the usual suspects in sudden signal loss. The only solution for this is to either take the old gears out of your board, or adjust the volume of all the pedals to suit the vintage effects pedals.
You may also use a compressor/limiter at the end of the signal chain to limit the levels of the louder pedals, making their loudness a little closer to the vintage and analog ones. This will make the guitar pedal volume drops less apparent.