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Volume Pedal Placement on a Pedalboard

Q: I have a guitar pedalboard question for you guys: I play passive electric guitars and use a Ernie Ball VP JR volume pedal on the front end of my pedalboard as a general volume control pot.

Should I go from my guitar straight to the volume pedal? I have been debating about it. I have been going to my tuner first, because it is powered and I’ve seen my signal and tone be stronger and better going to the tuner first, before my volume pedal. I’ve heard it’s something to do with the buffer in the tuner which helps my signal?

Also, I’ve heard some people use a buffer at the front end and at the back end of the pedalboard? Is that the way to go ?

A: We asked Mitch Gallagher, Sweetwater’s Editorial Director, and also the author of a soon-to-be-released book on guitar tone, for his thoughts. Here is what he had to say:

Hmmmm…this could potentially be a very deep conversation, because it depends so much on what other gear you have and what you want to do.

A few things to consider:

#1 Which VP Jr do you have? If it is the 25k, that is the wrong one for passive guitars and will definitely mess with your tone. You want the 250k version.

#2 Buffers can be very good for maintaining signal integrity. But they can sometimes interact; for example some vintage-style fuzz boxes will not work well with a buffer in front of it. Some vintage-style wahs are that way, too.

#3 Personally, I am an advocate of a buffer at the beginning or early in the chain, and if you have a lot of true-bypass effects following the first buffer or if you are running long cables, one at end of the chain.

#4 Where the volume pedal goes in the chain depends on what you want to do.

  • If you are simulating what the guitar’s volume knob does, put it at the beginning.
  • If you want overall control after your effects, put it at the end. This also lets you turn down noise from dirt pedals.
  • Early in the chain, you can turn off the volume pedal, but still let reverb and delay pedal repeats decay out naturally.
  • End of the chain, turning down the volume pedal will also turn down reverb and delay repeats.
  • Some players go as far as having multiple volume pedals at different points in the chain.

#5 Most players put their tuner first in the chain, but nothing says it has to be there. I’ve seen several pedalboards where the tuner is last in the chain. You just have to be sure all of your other pedals are off before using the tuner or you won’t get accurate tuning.

#6 One other thing to try: connect the tuner to the volume pedal’s tuner output and see if that works for you. Some players like this, other players do not.

Bottom line, try different orders and see which sounds best for you. There is no “wrong” way to do it. But some pedal orders will probably sound better to you than others.

Personally, I like having my volume pedal early in the chain. I usually put it after my tuner (which is true bypass), after my wah pedal (which likes to be early in the chain), and before overdrives and fuzzes.

If I have a compressor, I like it before the volume pedal, so that the compressor can work on the full guitar signal for maximum sustain.

If I am using my Boss TU3 tuner, which has a buffer, I like it after the wah. The wah I have does not like buffers in front.

Likewise, if I have my vintage fuzz in the chain it has to be the first thing I plug into, unless I have a true-bypass tuner in the chain, then the tuner can still be first.

But those are just my personal preferences. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary!

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