Tip of the week (7) – volume

February 28th 2011 | Posted in Tip of the Week | 23 Comments

Every week I’ll present a little tip that’ll hopefully help improve your tone and technique. Please feel to comment and share your experience on the topic.

Volume
I get a lot of questions about how to control volume and how to set the amp and pedal volume controls. There’s no easy answer to this because volume isn’t an effect like a distortion and how and why depends very much on your technique and what your rig consists of.

It’s easy to just crank everything and get blinded by settings on the individual components but how you set one pedal will affect the other. This is a common mistake when one use David’s settings combined with pedals and amps that he doesn’t use. It’s also important to understand how volume affects your overall tone. The volume control on your pedals doesn’t just control the actual output but also the overall tone. A tube amp will sound more punchy and/or distorted the louder you play and this will again affect your pedals. Different venues – bedroom, studio, club, stadium and their size and construction/acoustics) – demands different volume settings and you might realize that you have to do major adjustments between venues. Being able to control the volume also helps in terms of eliminating noise and generally improve your overall tone.

Amp volume
I always set my amp first then the pedals and if needed fine tune the amp. The best way to do this is to plug the guitar straight into the amp and set the EQ controls, output volume and master to match the venue or room I’m in. Then I plug the guitar into the pedal board and set all the pedals. The louder I set the amp the more I need to roll off the gain and volume on the pedals or else I get tones that are too aggressive. However you also want to have tones that suit the place and audience. A good example is the difference between David’s tones on the Albert Hall and Gdansk 2006 shows. Remember to keep the guitar volume and volume pedal at max when you set up your rig.

Pedal volume
As explained above the effect volume should be set accordingly to the amp’s output but it’s also important to consider each pedal individually and in combination with the other pedals on the board like a distortion+booster combo. The pedal volume affects the overall tone of the pedal. The lower its set the thinner the tone. The higher it’s set the smoother it gets but set too high the pedal will sound too aggressive and be hard to control. Depending on what tones you want you should always spend some time experimenting with different volume settings. If you combine gain effects (compressor, overdrive/booster, distortion, fuzz etc) it’s important that you match the volume of each pedal. If both pedals are cranked you’ll get feedback and a muddy tone but if the distortion pedal is set too low the booster won’t have the wanted effect and you’ll end up with a thin tone. If you look at David’s classic Muff+Tube Driver combo both pedals are set fairly mild with the Muff volume around 50% (unity level) and the Tube Driver volume slightly above. Added mild gain settings you’ll get a tone that’s not that much more aggressive or louder than the Muff alone but the Tube Driver will gently colour the tone with its character adding attack and sustain. The term boost is perhaps a bit misleading in regards to David’s tones but again, you should set your pedals according to what tones you want. I prefer mine a bit more aggressive than David’s so I always keep the Tube Driver volume higher than his.

Guitar volume
The guitar volume control is a great tool for creating dynamics and for controlling gain, feedback, overtones and sustain. The fact that the guitar is in front of the pedals means that the guitar volume will control the signal or gain coming from the guitar to the pedals. This way you can effectively control the gain on your distortions and overdrives making even the meanest fuzz sound like a mild overdrive – an effective way of utilizing the potential of a single pedal, which again allows for fewer pedals on your board. David is a master at using the guitar volume for controlling gain and creating so called swells with different delays by rolling on/off the control. In the clip below I’m demonstrating how to control the distortion by focusing on each note and rolling on/off the volume when needed. In the first part of the solo I’m controlling both the gain and sustain with the volume around 5 and further into the solo I’m increasing the volume for more gain as the song progresses into a full blown outtro solo. In regards to clean tones I often roll off the volume to 8-9 for controlling the overtones and attack.

Volume pedal
Contrary to the guitar volume a volume pedal is normally placed either last in the chain or in front of the delays. This means that it controls the overall volume without affecting the character of the gain pedals. I have my volume pedal in front of the delays, which allows me to mute the signal and have the delays sustain. This sounds more natural when you finish a song or if you want to create swells without muting the gains. Combining different swell/echo techniques with both the guitar volume and a volume pedal adds character and dynamics to your playing. Whether or not you need a volume pedal is up to you. The average plug and play rock n roller will often just use the guitar volume but I think a volume pedal is much more efficient for controlling big pedal boards, muting while changing guitars and for creating different effects or adding boost.

I urge you to always trust your ears. There are no rules but having some knowledge about volume and how it will affect your tone, whether you want to suppress it or crank it, will make your playing sound better and it’ll be easier to utilize the potential of each pedal in combination with your guitar and amp.

23 comments so far

  1. Kamil Poland says:

    Your tips are very helpfully :)

  2. Eric Nyberg says:

    Great timing on the article Bjorn. I just replaced my germanium London Fuzz with a Skreddy Lunar Module and I was very surprised at how loud that little guy is. I think my intonation is a bit off because it’s shaking the notes when I’m doing bends. It’s a great pedal though. Just for reference sake, I have the volume on my amp at 1.5 and the volume on the skreddy around 40%. I have to keep it relatively quiet in my apartment. Can you offer any advice?

    [Some pedals are loud and although unity level is usually around 50% or 12 o’clock it varies from pedal to pedal and not least how you set the gain. The lower the gain setting the more you usually need to boost the volume and vice versa. I think the best tip is to set the amp and then balance the pedals to unity level, whatever that may be, and then adjust the volume on each pedal for the desired tone. – Bjorn]

  3. Tyler Branham says:

    It says that was a rat in the song description which is very easy to tame with the volume knob as compared to a muff. From my experience, a muff can’t be tamed haha. Overall a great tip and a good read. I’ve found the fuzz face to be fun to control with the volume knob.

    [Thanks for noticing. It’s an old clip. Anyway, I think the Muff works very similar and it’s more a matter of choosing the right Muff for your setup. The triangle and ram’s head are easier to tame than the Sovteks. – Bjorn]

  4. Nic says:

    Bjorn,

    FANTASTIC as usual! I couldn’t tell you how much I needed this article and didn’t even know it!

    I think a lot of us have a tendency to just roll the guitar’s volume up to 10 and leave it be unless something is super noticeable. I have recently, in just this past year, really began to discover the wonders of the tone knobs on the guitar and how they can turn a horrible tone into one I can’t live without (and vice versa) with just a nudge.

    I was watching Remember That Night earlier last week and my girlfriend commented on how much David was “touching those knob things,” referring to his tone, volume and pickup selectors. I don’t think I’ve ever really noticed just how much he is truly all over those knobs, it’s amazing the man can focus on that and the next note!

    I’m rambling, but thank you Bjorn for this article!

    PS: It’s a shame many of us have to learn the hard way that keeping the volume at 10 on clean tones does provide many unwanted overtones. The best fixes are usually the simplest!

    [David’s an old school guitarist who learner to use the guitar in any way possible. He had to because in the late 60s you only had 2-3 effects/pedals to choose from so you had to experiment and discover every trick in the book to get the tones you want. I discovered that learning how to use the guitar volume and how to control volume in general ended up saving me space on my pedal board, which again means less noise and a cleaner signal. Cheers! – Bjorn]

  5. Alan says:

    This article has saved my tone! Before this I had to use my dynacomp to keep my tone smooth but now that I have adjusted my volume and put it right before it broke up, my big muff sounds beautiful without a compressor. Thanks for this article!

    [Glad to help! Cheers! – Bjorn]

  6. Peter Schepens says:

    Hi Bjorn,

    First of all, nice choosing of song, that’s one of my favorites from david, and really nice played.

    This is a great tip, manny people struggle with the settings.

    Thanks Bjorn.

    [Thanks! – Bjorn]

  7. Robert Farrer says:

    Brilliant article and volume is my worst nightmare at present my 15w Laney valve amp is loud and by time you add a big muff and tube driver to that it’s not remotely neighbour friendly. What key do you play the track in Bjorn outstanding effort.

    [The best way is to set the amp first to a desired volume and then match the Muff. Just roll off the volume on the Muff ’til it’s something you can live with. – Bjorn]

  8. Rob says:

    Bjorn, you have incredible timing! I have just been experimenting with getting more variety out of my rig by using the volume knob and your article has helped reinforce what I have learned recently as well as taught me a few more things.

    I am constantly struggling with two opposing ideals with regard to effects. One side of me wants to have everything and anything that will give me the tones I want while the other side is a minimalist and wants to have as simple a rig as possible to avoid degradation of tone, cut back on possible gear failures, etc. Learning to better use the controls that I already have (volume and tone knobs) has taught me that with only a handful of pedals, I can actually achieve a whole palette of tones (and can easily switch between them). I have 3 OD/Distortion pedals on my rig right now, and even that feels like one too many to me sometimes, but they do provide me with different tone flavors/levels of gain (RAT, Tube Screamer clone, and Blues Driver), so I am living with it for now. :-)

    Love the weekly articles. Keep ‘em coming. More on David style (i.e., theory, use of scales/chords, not necessarily physical technique) would be greatly appreciated as well. I’m learning a lot by studying his work, but sometimes it takes a pro to point out certain things to us amateurs!

    Cheers!

    Rob

    [I’m not so sure I’m a pro Rob but I’m glad you enjoy the weekly updates :) I think there’s a fine line between being a minimalist and compromising the tone. I started out years and years ago with just a Boss GT3 unit and a Muff and slowly expanded into total chaos with near 30 units on my board. Then I scaled it down to a point where I was struggling with achieving the tones I wanted. Now I have one distortion and three overdrives and a handful of modulations and delays and each pedal is carefully tested and selected based on tone and its noise level. I think it’s important to have some idea how you want to use a pedal rather than just keeping stuff out of affection. I also like to maintain a large collection of different pedals for different occasions. – Bjorn]

  9. ruodi says:

    Mr. Riis has that one single thing in common with Mr. Dave G.: He can play on whatever he want – it´ll always sound like David Gilmour!

    What looks like a gift at first sight could also become a handicap, because this talent makes him fairly useless for uncommitted pedal or amplifier demonstrations! ;-)

  10. Lorenzo Schiavetti says:

    Thanks for the article. I play at home too and it’s not that easy to find the right volume, having to pick up a muff would you suggest the Red Muck or the Musket fuzz? Also, in your opinion, what is the cheapest way to boost them? Maybe a BD-2 or TS9?

    Respect

    [Depends on what tones you want. The Red Muck is warm and mild while the Musket is brighter with much more gain. I think both goes very well on smaller amps and low volume. Personally I prefer the BD2 of the two. – Bjorn]

  11. Eric Nyberg says:

    Bjorn do you have a preference between the Keeley BD-2 and The Fulltone OCD for a Gilmourish tone?

    [I don’t think you can compare the two. Although I guess you could use either for any period the BD-2 has a classic transparent Colorsound Powerboost-ish tone while the OCD is basically a hot wired TS9 with a mid rangy saturated tone, lots of gain and lower end. Personally I think the OCD works better for David’s 80s and 90s tones and perhaps the present TD tones. It’s not that suitable for those transparent tones. I’m a big fan of both but if I had to choose I’d go for the Keeley. On the other hand, the OCD is perhaps an overall more versatile pedal for other styles as well :) – Bjorn]

  12. Giorgio says:

    Bjorn, what a great solo and what a great execution. I forgot about this song, or better still, I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to that solo until I saw this clip…. and now I realize what a masterpiece it is.
    Anyway, yes I did notice as well that the guitar volume knob can do wonders with the RAT, the BD-2 and the Big Muff. I just ordered a Fuzz pedal (MXR M-173 Classic Fuzz, I am intrigued by the buffer switch) and can’t wait to try it. One of my favourite gilmour-fuzz moment is the funky solo of Atom Heart Mother. I suppose that tone is achieved by controlling the volume knob, is that so?

    [Thanks! Atom Heart is a great example of how David controls the gain using the guitar volume. He used a germanium fuzz at the time, which has a warm mild tone that responds very well to the guitar volume. A silicon fuzz however usually gets quite thin when you roll off the guitar volume. – Bjorn]

  13. Vergil says:

    Another brick in the wall of wisdom… good tips again…

    I would mention that if you are going to use your volume on your guitar to affect to gain and tone (which you REALLY should), and especially with Strats, you may want to get a small mod done to your controls called a “treble bleed”, which I believe is just adding a capacitor to your pot, so that when you roll back your volume, your signal doesn’t get muddy and bass heavy… I have it on my Strat, but barely know how it works, I just like that it does work.

    Also Bjorn… on that solo… you played it with really, and I mean REALLY good feel man… you didn’t just play the notes of that song…. you really massaged and squeezed the notes, and made them sing… Very well done… as your reward, you can have your pudding, and don’t have to eat your meat.

    [LOL! Thanks! – Bjorn]

  14. Daniel Krause says:

    Hi Bjorn,

    Great article again…and a very usefull one too.
    I’ve learned to use the volume knob on the guitar very quickly, when I started playing almost 15 years ago and it is one of the most usefull things when you’re on stage. I use a volumepedal too, which I really started to “need” I like to have it just a notch off full volume…just to have a little more when I need it.

    About the comment above, about the treble-bleed mod…
    I never really liked the mod, simply because I like to get a little less high’s when rolling of the volume a bit. It can tame distotions/drives a lot. And I thought…when I tried a guitar with the mod, that it made the sound thinner when rolling of the volume. But…to each there own ;-)

    Bjorn…really…don’t stop with these articles. They’re very informative and usefull for any guitarist!

    Cheers,

    Daniel
    Holland

    [Thank you Daniel! – Bjorn]

  15. Eric Nyberg says:

    Bjorn, Airbag related questions, is there a theremin on Safe Like You? And did you have to use much studio compression/limiting to get your guitar sound? I’m thinking of getting a Waves CLA2a plugin for Pro Tools. My 27th birthday was 3/9 so I’m thinking of getting a little present. :)

    [Happy birthday :) I’m using an EBow on the guitar. Same thing with Feeling Less. I didn’t mix the album but you always have to use some compression and limiting in the mix to make the signal more balanced and to be able to cut through the mix. A guitar signal easily gets all over the place with nasty transients etc so you have to tame it to some degree. – Bjorn]

  16. Eric Nyberg says:

    that is, without giving away any trade secrets ;)

  17. Rick says:

    Would love to hear some feedback if my theories hold any water. As Bjorn said, running amp sims through a amp is like putting distortion on distortion. So, this is my way around it. I have a cub and a ME-70. I want to use the amp sims in my me-70 not only for Floyd but other things. I want versatility. So, since ME-70 does not have a four cable set up. I do not plug my guitar into the amp at all, just the return. I bypass almost everything but the last tubes. The EQ and gain knobs become useless. I EQ and run my amps from the ME-70. This also puts my mods at the end of the signal chain and the next piece is the power tube and then out the speaker. Does this make sense?

    [The dull answer is yes – if it sounds right to you. I need to try this my self to have an opinion but the theory seems right. Perhaps some one else can answer this better than me. – Bjorn]

  18. Don says:

    Are you running all the pedals into the front of your amp? I run my multi FX in the loop of my amp. Am I losing control by doing it this way. Thx for your help.

    [See this post for info. Let me know if you need more help. – Bjorn]

  19. Jean-Francois says:

    Hi Bjorn,
    I’m a little late on that one, but I was watching Pompeii yesterday, and was a bit surprised when seing and hearing the part where David is playing alone Echoes parts in studio on the black strat.
    At first he has a very satured screaming tone, I guess with the fuzz face, playing lead licks from the “funky” part of the song. And then he turned to rhythm part, without switching any effect, and without roll down the guitar volume, but his tone seems to change radically, no more screaming, no more distortion, or at least just a little bit.
    Talking about Volume, do you think it’s just how he picks the strings, or are there some sound scecret here ?
    thanks
    JF

    [I think it’s just the sound mix that’s distorting on the first part. Probably a camera mic or vocal mic that pickups up the guitar. Doesn’t sound like cab is close mic’ed. Sounds very clean but loud and then he kicks in a fuzz and delay. – Bjorn]

  20. Philipe says:

    Hi Bjorn, it’s me again. Your tone from the clip has blown me away! How did you set your RT20? The rat did a good job placed on muff’s place….
    Thanks,
    Philipe

    [Thanks! Mode 1, rise time 12:00, effekt 9:00, direct 12:00, balance 12:00, overdrive off, slow 1:30. – Bjorn]

  21. jay says:

    hey bjron, i have a question about how to set the volume up on my Peavey Classic 50, it has a master and a clean channel volume as im sure you know, and i was wondering on what a good way to set the volume on the amp, for instance should the master vol be set about 12:00 and the clean channel at about 9?, im new to tube amps and this is my first one and im still getting used to it.

    [How high you want to set them depends of course on how loud you want to play but a good rule of thumb in terms of David’s tones is to set the master at about 1/3 – 1/2 of the channel volume. So if the master is at about 9:00 the channel should be around 12:00 – 1:00. – Bjorn]

  22. Daniel says:

    What do you mean when you say “I have my volume pedal in front of the delays, which allows me to mute the signal and have the delays sustain”. What is the way for doing that? How do I have to put the pedals and cables?. Thanks

    [If you have a volume pedal, place it in front of your delay pedals. Then, when you lower the volume pedal, the delays will sustain. If you place it after the delays, it will mute everything when you lower it. It’s just different ways of doing it and personal preference. – Bjorn]

  23. Norm says:

    Hi Bjorn,
    There seems to be many brands of volume pedals out there. When reading up on any of them, there are always many comments on ‘tone suck’ regardless of brand. There are also debates on active vs. passive, use with buffered pedals etc. Do you have any advice you could share. Are there any brands/models that you would recommend…

    [I’m using Ernie Ball Jr. Always have and very happy with that. – Bjorn]

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