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Where To Put Your Volume Pedal

The most obvious, and probably most common ordering for a volume pedal in the signal chain is simply to put it first: Take the cable from your instrument and connect it directly to the input of the volume pedal. Everything else comes after that. In this scenario, the volume pedal behaves very much like the volume control on your instrument itself. As you reduce the volume, you will be reducing the signal level into the following devices. For guitar players this means  level sensitive inputs such as overdrive pedals, or the front end of a tube amp will respond accordingly, typically cleaning up an overdriven tone as you reduce the volume. This makes placing the volume pedal first great for things such as swells, or blending between a clean and crunchy tones. It also means that following effects such as delays and reverbs tails will still continue even after the volume is reduced to zero.

One thing to watch with connecting the volume pedal first is to make sure the input impedance is compatible with what you are connecting. In general passive electric guitar pickups will work best with at least 250K Ohm on the input of the volume pedal, around 500K Ohm is better still. Here’s a rule of thumb for nominal impedance matching to a volume pedal:

Passive electric guitar pickups – 250K – 1M Ohm
Active electric guitar pickups – 25K – 50K Ohm
Buffered pedal output – 25K – 50K Ohm
Amplified (active) piezo electric pickup – 25K – 50K Ohm
Line out such as electronic keyboard – < 150K Ohm
Passive piezo electric pickup – 10M Ohm

One problem here is that if you connect multiple instruments to your pedalboard it’s not always going to be easy to mix and match. A solution is to use an active volume pedal such as the Mission VM-PRO, which is designed to work with multiple different inputs.

The second common place to put a volume pedal is at the end of a signal chain after all the other effects . In this case it is going to behave more like a master volume control. This is useful if you don’t want to effect the effects drive level or want to be sure that the signal from all effects is cut off.

Connecting the output of the volume pedal to the main input on a guitar amp is still potentially going to impact the drive level of the front end of your amp though. One way to avoid this and make the volume pedal even more like a master volume control is to put it into an effects loop. In this case, for most effects loops, the volume pedal will be bypassing the pre amp and tone stack so as not to impact the drive level on the front end of the amp. This is a good if you really just want the volume pedal to control volume, and not have any other effect on a guitar tone. Make sure that the amp has a series effects loop, and not a parallel effects loop for this to work.

When placing the volume pedal after buffered effects pedals, or in an effects loop, you will want to use either an active volume pedal or a low impedance volume pedal, normally around 25K Ohm. Connecting a high Z passive volume pedal such as one in the 250K – 500K Ohm range will not work that well. The impedance mismatch will cause an uneven response.

One last thing. Some volume pedals provide a secondary or tuner out. On a passive volume pedal this will split the signal reducing the overall impedance and increasing the resistive and capacitative load on the signal from the extra connector, cables and electronics. This will be a particular issue if you use an always on tuner or one without a true bypass. To resolve this, one way is using a true two channel active volume pedal, where the tuner/secondary out is driven from a completely separate amplifier. If this solution is not available, make sure to use a tuner with a hard-wired bypass, and turn it off when not in use.

11 thoughts on “Where To Put Your Volume Pedal”

  1. Hello, and thank you for the informative post. I am curious to what you mean by “impedance mismatch” and just how noticeably that would effect the tone? I believe that the effect I am after would be best suited by placing the volume pedal after my distortion but before chorus>delay>reverb. However, the volume pedal that was recently gifted to me is “passive” at 250K. (Passive pickups on my guitar). Will this create the “uneven response” you refer to? And what exactly is “uneven” about it? Thank you very much for your time and expertise.

  2. Thank you for this informative article. I would like to place a volume pedal after my drive pedals going into the front of the amp. All my drive pedals are true bypass. My guess is that I should use a high impedance volume pedal so that I don’t lost high frequencies when the drive pedals are bypassed. I wonder however if the volume pedal will provide a smooth sweep when one of the drive pedals is engaged. Should I consider using an active volume pedal in this situation? Many thanks.

    1. It depends on the drive pedal but in most cases, you should use a low impedance volume pedal since the drive pedal(s) are going to buffer or at least change the impedance matching. Using a pedal of around 50K would be common. Using an active pedal like the VM-PRO would be easiest since you can place that anywhere in the signal chain and not have to worry about it since the internal buffering takes care of it. If you try to use a high impedance volume pedal such as something around 250K -500K you will almost certainly experience an issue with the sweep being more like a switch.

        1. That depends on the specific loop switcher and how it routes the volume pedal loop. Some loop switchers have a dedicated volume loop. Check the user manual for your switcher.

  3. Is there any problems that could be encountered with using Mission Pro with going in the middle of the pedal board after the distortion, but before the delay, chorus, and reverb. This is all going to be run direct into the P.A. system, and not an amplifier.

    I perform from multi-tracks through an ipod. I use a sim-cab pedal for the use of different cabinet features, but it doesn’t seem to get the sound I want. However, about the pedal. with a Harmony2 pedal for vocals at the beginning of the chain, will this buffered pedal be my best option for continuous sound from the P.A. through to the guitar? I have a Praise Worship Concert coming up in two months, and would like to of course get the best sound possible with my equipment. If you need the list of pedals I’m using, email me.

    1. One of the advantages of the VM-PRO is that it can be placed anywhere in the signal chain. It’s perfectly fine to put it between other pedals. You normally cannot do this with passive volume pedals.

  4. I recently purchased an old amp for the purpose of going stereo with my modulation effects. I’ve got the effects in the loop of my primary amp and am taking the second output of the mod effect into the power amp in of the second amp, as I want to bypass the preamp and tone section of that amp. I was not aware however that the master volume of the second amp is actually in the preamp section (verified by schematic) and so I have no way to independently control the volume of the second amp. I was thinking a volume pedal placed between the second output of the mod pedal and the power amp in would be a nice solution. If I remember my electronics training correctly, the input to the the power amp stage should be high Z, and I should ideally be using a low Z volume pedal. Is that correct?

  5. Thanks for this info! I wanted to know which type of volume pedal is best to use in my (buffered, series) fx-loop of my Friedman Runt 20. Now I know it should be a low impedance volume pedal, normally around 25K Ohm.

  6. I’m interested in a Active Volume pedal to place in my effects loop and keep looking at the VM-Pro, but I’m confused about the input impedance stated. Looks like the VM-Pro says 1M ohm input impedance. *However for passive pedal you want 25k or less. So, I I’m confused with 1M ohm input impedance for the active pedal and thinking it has the same effect as the passive one. What am I getting wrong here (yes, ones passive the other active) ? I’m a EE guy so you can hit me to help me understand and make a confident decision. I’m using passive pickups also (dual humbuckers and high gain amp, ENGL), but like I stated wanted to place this in the FX loop before my delay and reverb (4 cable mthd).

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