Volume pedals are rather handy devices. Not only do they provide a quick and easy way to make very controlled adjustments to your volume, but they can also be used to create a cool effect.
That effect is the volume swell. This is a great effect that can let you create some truly epic-sounding moments in your songs. But that means that choosing the right volume pedal is just as important as any other device that goes onto your pedalboard.
Apart from using them frequently in my career as a musician over the last 20 odd years, I've spent the past couple of weeks extensively testing some of the most popular volume pedals that are used by guitar players everywhere. Based on my experience, these are the options you should check out!
5 Best Volume Pedals for Swells
1. Lehle Mono
The Lehle Mono has a very simplistic design, but I guess that makes sense since Lehle is a German company. Function over form was clearly the name of the game with the Mono.
Prioritizing function over form has definitely paid off here. Replacing the standard potentiometer with a magnet-controlled VCA makes for one of the smoothest volume pedals I have ever used.
The swells on the Lehle Mono are wonderful. The motion of the pedal itself is also smooth and I didn’t have any hitching or dead zones while using the pedal.
I also didn’t notice any tone suck or dip in the quality of the overall guitar sound. The tone might be a little bit thinner, but I couldn’t really tell a definite difference between with or without the pedal.
There is a gain boost at the back of the pedal, but honestly, after playing around with it for a few minutes, I just turned it off. I didn’t feel like it really added anything meaningful and if your amp has a built-in boost, that will be much easier to use.
The Lehle Mono features a direct output. This allows you to split your guitar’s signal to another amp, mixer, etc. I would personally always try to use a signal splitter or DI, but this is a great feature if you are in a pinch.
For a pedal that only does volume control, I do feel the Lehle Mono is a bit too expensive. It is a very well-crafted pedal, but you can easily get something that costs half the price of comparable quality.
While the all-metal construction is also very solid, it does make the Lehle Mono a bit too heavy for my liking. A fully loaded pedalboard is heavy enough and if I can cut down on a few pounds by using a lighter pedal, then I am going to use the lighter pedal.
2. Boss FV-500H
The Boss FV-500H is among the bulkier pedals around, but that bulkiness luckily doesn’t carry over to its sound.
The change in volume is very smooth and even. I didn’t notice any abrupt jumps or dips while using the pedal. As for tone loss, I would say that there is very little and you likely won’t even really notice it while performing.
What sets the 500H apart for me is the addition of a volume control knob on the side of the pedal. This means that you aren’t just controlling the volume with the pedal, but can change how much volume the pedal is letting through or preventing.
I have played with volume pedals that were too soft. The 500H allows you to set the levels evenly across your guitar, amp, and pedal and prevent any awkward dips.
Apart from volume control, the 500H can also be connected to an effects pedal and used in expression mode. The pedal is just as smooth and precise in expression mode as it is in volume.
The 500H is also both a high impedance and a passive pedal. This means that it doesn’t require batteries or external power and you don’t have to worry about where you place it in your signal chain.
Like I mentioned early, though, the 500H is quite the bulky pedal. It is up there in terms of both weight and size and you will need to make some extra room for it.
The upside is that it is very sturdy and will be able to take a beating. And for the guitarists with a bigger footprint, you are likely going to have a much easier time using this pedal rather than one of the more compact ones.
Like most Boss products, the FV-500H is just an overall excellent device that will likely satisfy the needs of most guitarists.
3. Ernie Ball 6180 VP JR
The Ernie Ball 6180 VP JR is a rather unique volume pedal. Rather than using a pot like other volume pedals, the 6180 uses a pulley system.
In the most basic of terms, the pedal uses a string to adjust the volume. There are two major concerns I had going in with this pedal, and I am willing to bet you had the same two concerns just come to mind.
The first concern is, of course, how smooth the sound is going to be. Luckily, both the sound and the movement of the pedal are very smooth as far as I can tell.
I didn’t notice any jumps or hitches in the sound. Using the pedal itself is also easy and comfortable. The pedal does have a taper which I did have to take a minute to get used to. Once I got comfortable with the pedal controls, it was a smooth sailing.
The second concern is the durability of the mechanism. The string is made of Kevlar, which is a very durable material, so it should last long enough. It is a bit hard for me to judge without spending much more time with the pedal.
Replacing the string is cheap and does seem to be fairly easy to do yourself, however. I would certainly handle the 6180 with care, but wouldn’t be too worried about having to replace the string mechanism.
Apart from this one issue, I like the build quality of the 6180. It has a compact design and solid metal build that isn’t as heavy as other all-metal volume pedals.
The 6180 also features a boost switch under the footplate. This switch boosts the signal slightly, giving your sound a bit more dimension. I don’t think the difference is all too impressive and wouldn’t use it myself, but it is there for anyone who might want it.
4. Dunlop DVP5
One of the most famous pedals of all time is the Dunlop Cry Baby. That puts the bar for their DVP5 volume pedal pretty high. Dunlop hasn’t disappointed, though, and the DVP5 is another excellently built Dunlop pedal.
The change in volume is smooth and even. I didn’t experience any stutters or jumps, muting is quick and responsive, and swells are majestic.
On the design side of things, the DVP5 is very compact, one of the most compact I have played in quite a while. All the inputs and outputs are also at the top of the pedal rather than on the sides. So, no need to squeeze cables in between pedals which is something that frequently annoys me.
The pedal also has a curved design at the heel. This gives you more travel that gives you more control over your volume changes. But I think that it also makes the motion of the pedal feel a bit more natural and comfortable.
One of the coolest features of the DVP5 is the ability to reverse the heel/toe action. In other words, you can set the maximum value to be in the heel down position rather than toe down.
Dunlop has also designed the DVP5 alongside Pedaltrain. That means that if you have one of their Metro, Classic, Novo, or Terra boards, the DPV5 will be a perfect fit.
This isn’t such a big deal, but I do appreciate that they’ve taken out some of the guesswork regarding whether the pedal will fit a specific board.
5. Xotic XVP-250K
When you’re unleashing bold, powerful swells, a low-impedance pedal is an absolute must. With that in mind, the Xotic XVP-250K High Impedance Volume Pedal feels custom-made specifically for expressive volume swells.
The first thing I noticed when trying this pedal is its relatively small footprint. I’ve typically avoided mini pedals in the past: my size 12s don’t find much purchase on tiny wah pedals. However, this Xotic pedal fits a nice middle ground.
The other major feature I appreciated was this pedal’s rugged construction. It feels reassuringly heavy in the hand, and even leaning heavily on the pedal while rocking it forward didn’t force it to move around.
This pedal feels well-built. It reminds me of my old Dunlop Cry Baby with its metal chassis and grippy pedal surface. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this pedal, even with all its moving parts, outlasting many others on a standard pedalboard.
The smooth, even taper of this pedal’s volume control is extremely easy to use. I always appreciate an even taper on a volume control. A lifetime of using Marshall-style amps, where the jump from 1 to 3 feels more like 1 to 10, will do that.
The even taper of this pedal means that it’s great for more than just an even, expressive swell effect. It’s easy to adjust the volume with a simple rock of your foot, either for a clean boost in a solo, or to pull back during a quiet section.I could see myself using this volume pedal to even out the signal when switching guitars during a live set, for example, or to control volume levels easily during soundcheck.
How to Get Good Swells?
Because volume pedals are fairly basic devices, it can be easy to think that you simply put them at the end of your signal chain and off you go. The truth is that there are a few things you can do and take into consideration to get the most out of your volume pedal.
Placement of Volume Pedal in the Signal Chain
The placement of your volume pedal will have a big impact on the way it functions and how it affects your sound. Generally speaking, there are two positions for a volume pedal: the front of the pedal signal chain or the back.
Placing the volume pedal at the front will make it act like a volume control for your guitar. While placing it at the end will make it act more like a gain control.
If your aim is to get great-sounding swells, then you should put the volume pedal after your overdrive and distortion pedals, but before any time-based effects like delays and reverbs.
This will give your sound a much better sustain and longer trails, resulting in a better-sounding swell.
Placing your volume pedal in this position will mean that you also need to consider its impedance. When you are placing a volume pedal in front of buffered pedals, it is better to use a high impedance volume pedal.
This will ensure that it doesn’t interfere with the effects placed after it even if the volume is turned down to zero. When a volume pedal is at the end of the signal chain and has a lot of other pedals in front of it, a low impedance pedal is better to avoid an uneven response.
Impedance in a volume pedal is, for all intents and purposes, inversely proportional to its representation of your guitar tone. Low impedance means more “coloring” of your sound. High impedance means a more natural signal.
When you’re doing volume swells, you want as much of your guitar’s regular sound to get through to the amp as possible.
High impedance volume pedals are best for passive instruments (such as a standard electric guitar without EMG-style active pickups). These offer a clean, even volume control without additional gain or grit.
This is best for the orchestral-style volume swells we all think of when we’re imagining volume swelling.
Using It with Single Coil Pickups vs. Humbuckers
Continuing from the previous point, lower resistance allows more treble to "leak", so to speak. For example, 250K will leak more treble compared to 500K. Since single coil pickups are relatively more treble heavy than humbuckers, they match lower-resistance volume pedals well.
For the same reason, humbuckers with less treble output go well with higher-impedance volume pedals (such as 500K).
More Uses for Volume Pedals
Volume pedals are great for more than just epic swells.
Gary Moore, for example, used multiple volume pedals in front of his stage monitor live.
This allowed him to control the relative levels of the other instruments in his ensemble in his mix, giving Moore total control over the mix he was exposed to.
I know many guitar players who use their volume pedal as a clean boost. They set a tone with the rest of their rig and the volume pedal at full tilt, and then rock the pedal back a little for their rhythm tone.
That offers a clean boost (albeit with a defined ceiling) for lead breaks.
One of my all-time favorite uses of the volume control, which falls under the swelling category, comes courtesy of slide guitar master Derek Trucks.
Trucks achieves his voice-like slide tone by consistently swelling or reducing the volume knob on his guitar. You can make this easier as a lead player by using a volume pedal to achieve the same effect. The trick is never going to wide open or zero, but consistently playing with the space in between.
Whether your swells are big and epic or subtle and controlled, these are just a handful of the best volume pedals for swells to make your swells sound as great as they can.