Volume Pedal shootout: looking for the best volume pedal for ambient swells

Discussion in 'Effects, Pedals, Strings & Things' started by echo unit, Jan 13, 2011.

  1. echo unit

    echo unit Member

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    I've been on the hunt for the best volume pedal for doing guitar swells, sometimes into long ambient effects treatments.

    So far, I have had the chance to try the following pedals:


    Ernie Ball regular size and Jr. size
    Boss - current model volume Pedal
    Dunlop VP-1
    Goodrich 120
    Goodrich H10K active model
    Telonics Multi-Taper volume pedal
    Hilton active volume pedal
    George Dennis mono volume pedal

    My criteria and testing was simple and has had two steps


    1. Tone suck evaluation

    Record the guitar straight to my Fractal Audio Axe-FX without any volume pedal in the chain. Guitar cable (Mogami) > Axe-Fx. Then I put each volume pedal, one at a time between my guitar and the Axe-Fx with each pedal full open, using two Mogami 2549 cables and recorded the exact same clean guitar part with my hands in the exact same locations on the instrument to insure that the same tonal character is achieved from the instrument itself. Then I A/B between each volume pedal recording and the non-volume pedal recording to see how close each one sounds to having no volume pedal in the chain and to hear how much tone is lost with each pedal. All pedals had the volume full open and when listening, all tracks were level matched using a digital VU meter.


    2. Taper envelope swell shape and feel

    Comparing the swelling in action and sound envelope curve of each pedal and how quickly or slow the volume increases as you rock the pedal forward. Also looking for bumps in the volume where the taper is not as smooth or natural sounding.




    Ernie Ball regular size and Jr. size

    These pedals have the absolute worst tone sucking of all the ones I tried. They lop off a significant portion of your treble and bass frequencies and leave the guitar sounding very pinched and there is this kind of nasty frequency response to the guitar after it goes through this pedal that produces the ugliest overtones from the instrument possible. The flipside is that these pedals have the best taper and smooth volume swell out of all the passive models I tried. The tone suck here is the deal breaker.


    Boss - current model volume Pedal

    This pedal has the fastest taper out of the passive models. The volume seems to come on very quickly but it is very smooth and nice action through the travel. Not exactly and on/off switch but the volume does increase quite rapidly at the very bottom of the pedal's travel. This pedal had a lot less tone suck in the treble frequencies compared to the Ernie Ball but at the same time, it had some really nasty scooped out midrange that gave the guitar a very brittle sound. Brittle is exactly how my ears heard this immediately which again disqualified it from my list right away. Brittle.


    Dunlop VP-1

    I was both impressed with this pedal's construction and turned off by it's size and weight. This thing is huge! Overall the tone on this pedal placed second out of the passive models with the Goodrich 120 being in first place out of the passive models I tried. The tone suck was still very noticeable in the treble frequencies but less brittle sounding than the Boss and less lifeless and dead sounding than the Ernie Ball. The thing about this pedal that really threw me off was how different it's volume taper is. The Dunlop VP-1 pedal has way way more pedal travel than any volume pedal I have ever used. So much travel in fact that I had to sit way farther back in my chair to get my foot and ankle positioned so that I could actually move the pedal without straining my foot from the bottom of it's travel to the top. After a few minutes, my ankle was starting to get sore. Sorry but this pedal rocks outside of my ankle's naturally flexible range! The whole time I was using this pedal I was aking myself if it was made for giants and I am not a tiny person. OK, and now the really bad news: The pedal fades in very nice and smoothly but very gradually. More gradually than any other pedal I tried but.......and this is a big but........right near the end of the gradual and smooth volume swell is this big bump in the volume. Right near the end of the pedal's travel, there is a sudden increase or bump in volume. To my ear, it sounded like a volume swell within a volume swell if you get what I mean. Kind of a cool effect if you want that kind of thing but not a very natural way to hear a volume swell.


    Goodrich 120

    Best tone out of the passive models. Worst reliability. I went through 3 pots during evaluation and the one it came with was scratchy! Swell taper is not as smooth as the Ernie Ball and the pedal's travel is very short but the tone difference is huge. The Goodrich smokes the Ernie Ball in the tone suck department. This pedal eats pots like crazy which disqualifies it from my search for the best volume pedal. The one thig I noticed with this pedal is that it suffers from little bumps in volume along it's travel. If you rock it really slow you can hear them quite clearly. The volume increase is not smooth when using the factory installed Clarostat pots that wear out in less than a couple gigs.


    Goodrich H10K active model

    Just like the 120 but with a battery inside to run the active buffer circuit which is even better with a brighter top end - not perfect but closer to the original guitar track without a volume pedal in place. This pedal sounded second best out of all the pedals I evaluated but unfortunately it ate pots for lunch. I even tried using two of the Dunlop Hot Potz and they too went bad in this pedal. Oh, and by the way, like the Ernie Ball, these pedals use a string inside to crank the pot open and closed and the pot is a real bitch to replace in these!


    Telonics Multi-Taper volume pedal

    This active pedal is a work of science genius and craftsmanship. It's size is nice and it has up to 9 different tapers to choose from, all of which are better sounding with smoother action than any of the other volume pedals I tried. The tone, dare I say, might be better than the tone without this pedal in the chain. It adds some very subtle but nice rich harmonics to the guitar that I don't hear without it. It's not brittle at all like many of the other volume pedals in comparison including the Goodrich. No loss of treble or bass frequencies. My favorite tapers were 3 and 4. My only thing with this pedal is that it doesn't have as much travel as the standard Ernie Ball pedals which feel quite nice under foot but it has plenty more travel than the Goodrich pedals. Overall, this one is the clear winner so far for me. I guess it should be for over $500.


    Hilton active volume pedal

    Weirdness in the treble frequencies. I think they were trying to avoid tone suck in the top end and in the process they made some errors with this pedal's design because I hear a lot of noise (hiss and hum) coming from this pedal. It is active. It's action is quite a lot like the Goodrich pedals but I didn't like it's swell envelope - it's too gradual at the beginning of the travel and too abrupt in the last thrid of it's travel. The noise and huge power supply were the deal breaker for me.


    George Dennis mono volume pedal

    First off - this pedal felt weird under foot. It's not the most ergonomically designed volume pedal. It is an active pedal and overall, the tone suck was somehere close the Goodrich H10K Active pedal with perhaps a little more top end missing. This pedal did something to the guitar's sound that is hard to explain other than saying that it made the guitar sound sterile and weak. It definitely took something away and left me wanting to hear more of the guitar's overtones and harmonics. There was a drop in volume that was quite noticeable. The volume swell taper comes on pretty quick with this pedal and there doesn't seem to be a totally off silence with this pedal. When you are bottomed out, you can still hear a smidge of the guitar signal. There is no internal adjustment to change this. The swell shape was sterile too with a very linear sound - like I took the guitar track and drew a straight flat ramp fade-in curve within Pro Tools on it. It was a very boring and unmusical pedal both tonally and swell wise. The upside to this pedal is that it had no noise and seemed to almost decrease the amount of noise produced without the pedal.


    Conclusions

    So there you have it. Make your own choices but read this if you really want to know what your volume pedal is doing. Most of these volume pedals, especially the passive models really mess with the tone of your guitar and it's funny to me that the pedal that sounds the absolute worst out of all of the ones I tried is the most popular volume pedal used by the majority of people. The Ernie Ball volume pedal really does sound bad. It actually sounds twice as bad as the next pedal down the tone loss ranking which was the Boss. It's too bad because the Ernie Ball is very well constructed and has a great feel to it with a really musical volume taper shape. If you are willing to shell out some big bucks for a volume pedal, the Telonics might be the holy grail. It address all the flaws of the other pedals and then offers the tapers of each of them in one pedal!

    I am very curious to try any other volume pedals out there. I have saved all the recorded files and the settings on my Ax-Fx so that I may recall the exact sound later and continue evaluating volume pedals in the manner I have been already.

    I have my eyes on the Morley Mini Volume Pedal at the moment and am looking forward to evaluating it and comparing it against the others. Given that it is optical technology, I have high hopes for it.

    If you know of any volume pedals for guitar that I have not evaluated please let me know!
     
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  2. SonicBoom

    SonicBoom Member

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    Echo Unit -

    Thanks for a very informative review. Excellent job. Don't suppose that you could post the recordings as mp3s. I have an old Morley optical that I'd like to compare to them.
     
  3. Hugo Da Rosa

    Hugo Da Rosa Silver Supporting Member

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    This was great. Thanks for the in-depth review!
     
  4. splatt

    splatt david torn / splattercell Gold Supporting Member

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    did you check or adjust the wee-little pot on the new boss pedal?
    might explain small non-linear arc of volume.

    did you check the hilton or the active goodrich for the "boost"/"gain-level"?
    might explain unusual brightness in said pedals, "hiss" in the hilton (if the pedal was wickedly boosting signal).

    did you check the active goodrich for which input was being used,
    "full bandwidth" or "normal"?
    also might explain perceptions of excessive brightness.

    i've done these shootouts for myself,
    with many pedals over a long period of time,
    and am most happier with the goodrich LDR2, myself,
    fwiw.

    dt / spltrcl
     
  5. B_of_H

    B_of_H Member

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    I love the EB's, I don't notice any tone suck at all unless the tuner out is connected then it's just a little high end rolled off...which is great imo as I have plenty of treble to go around. Weird.

    btw you can always just get an old EB volume pedal without all the extra crap on ebay then have it refurbished by them if you like the travel of the thing but not the tone suck.

    like this one:

    [​IMG]
     
  6. imaguy2

    imaguy2 Member

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    I've specifically looked at the sweep of the L120 when used as a MIDI expression pedal (sweeping through MIDI CC#'s 0-127), and my pedal didn't have these little 'jumps' you mention - it might be some mechanical irregularity with your pedal at the junction of the potentiometer. The sweep of my L120 was actually the best out of various expression pedals I compared it to (can't comment on the volume pedals in your shootout though).
     
  7. localmotion411

    localmotion411 Supporting Member

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    You're not the first person to comment on the Hilton about noise and strange high-end frequencies. I've never had any issue whatsoever with mine; love it. But now I'm looking into the Telonics for no good reason...
     
  8. wenbinbin2010

    wenbinbin2010 Member

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    definitely looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the morley mini volume. can't afford the telonics and also want a small footprint
     
  9. juujuuj

    juujuuj Member

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    missing the old dunlop GCB80 that i have.
     
  10. Bluewail

    Bluewail Tone curmudgeon Silver Supporting Member

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    I would be curious to hear what you find if you put a decent buffer in front of the passive pedals. That seemed to cure the EB's ills for me.
     
  11. Snap

    Snap Member

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    $500 for a volume pedal?!?

    And I thought the Klon was a racket...
     
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  12. guitarslinger21

    guitarslinger21 Member

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    I use an EBMM VPJr 25K after a buffer.

    zero tone suck, and a smooth taper.
     
  13. UncleLarry

    UncleLarry Member

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    I've been using a Morley volume pedal since '95. I always thought they worked and sounded excellent. It has an active buffer that is quite transparent to my ears. The taper is a little narrow compared to potentiometer based pedals, but it was easy to get used to. And the things NEVER wear out. Optical based, so there's no pot to wear out. If the pedal feels a little loose, just tighten the nuts a bit and you're good to go. I haven't tried the mini, but I assume that the electronics would be pretty much the same.
     
  14. KevinFinn

    KevinFinn Member

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  15. DemoColorScheme

    DemoColorScheme Member

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    Thanks for this. This is exactly why I use my VP Jr as an expression pedal to control the volume.

    @ echo unit:
    Does the Axe-FX have a control for adding an expression pedal to control the input gain?
     
  16. teleclem

    teleclem Member

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    Thanks for the reviews.
     
  17. daddyo

    daddyo Guest

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    With my EB VP Jr, I don't notice any tone "suck" - just a tonal difference that is easy to correct with EQ. Heck, most people complain about brightness in a lot of amps so the slight high frequency roll-off is a plus. I love the feel, size, rugedness, and price of the jr. I also like the fact that I can rebuild it - I just repleced the string/spring on mine.
     
  18. fly135

    fly135 Member

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    It would be very useful for you to discuss the guitar used to run this test. And even try different guitars. WRT passive pedals the pickups are very relavant to the amount of tone suck. That's why humbuckers frequently use 500K volume pots and single coils use 250K pots. Hotter coils are also more susceptable to tone suck.
     
  19. Cosmogang

    Cosmogang Member

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    @Echo Unit....

    You tried the Morley Mini Optical Volume Pedal yet?

    I am interested to hear what you think of it.
     
  20. blueswah

    blueswah Silver Supporting Member

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    @echo unit:
    Thanks for the review. It's very helpful.
    You put a lot of time into the testing and writing.
    Greatly appreciated.

    What guitar and pups were you using?
     

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