Steel Guitar News April 11. 2013

April 11, 2013

This is Bob Hempker and today I’d like to talk about volume pedal technique.  The volume pedal is an instrument all of its own.  Part of a players style signature can be heard in the way they use the volume pedal.

One of the things I notice especially with beginners and in some players who have been playing for quite some time is there overuse or pumping the volume pedal.  We hear it often here in the store from people who come in and try guitars out.

I had a problem when I was a kid.  I had always kept time with my right foot.  When I started using a volume pedal, I could no longer do that.  Obviously, you can imagine what that would sound like.

It can become difficult sometimes, for instance using a knee lever on your right leg while keeping your volume pedal in the same position.  This may need to be practiced.  

Another thing we have a tendency to do is if we play a certain note not quite as cleanly as we would have liked to, we will back off the volume pedal to compensate.  

I believe it was Ernie Hagar, the renowned west coast player, who said he would practice with his volume pedal unplugged with his guitar plugged straight into the amplifier.  His right foot however, would be on the volume pedal even though it wasn’t hooked up.  

That can show us where we are over-using the volume pedal if we pay attention to our right foot movement.  This is an excellent way to practice not pumping your volume pedal.

We need to practice controlling our volume level with our right hand picking technique.  If we want a certain note louder than another note, pick it slightly harder.

I like to use the volume pedal to sustain notes.  If I’m playing a three note chord and I want it to sustain for a whole bar or more of music, when the notes start to die out, I ease down on the volume pedal to keep the volume from fading out so fast.

Another popular volume technique is “popping” the volume pedal.  You initially play your notes with the pedal down and then quickly shut the pedal off.  Many prominent C6th players such as Curly Chalker were very proficient with this.

One problem we encounter is if we change the volume setting on our amplifier.  This changes the position where the volume pedal begins to come on, in other words the initial on point.  This particular thing really throws me.

Normally in a recording studio, you will play at a lower volume than you will play live.  This can play havoc with your volume pedal technique.  The easiest way to anger a sound technician or producer is to be erratic with your volume pedal.

If the producer or sound engineer changes the level in your earphones, it can alter the audible point where your volume pedal comes on and off.  One great feature of the Hilton pedal is the off point adjustment on the bottom of the pedal.  You can change this setting if you change your amp setting where your volume pedal will come on and off at the same physical place.

Another good thing is to possibly have two different volume pedals, one set for live playing, the other set for recording.

Everybody has their own unique way of using the volume pedal.  As long as it’s not distracting to the listener, fine.  We all just need to be conscious of over-pumping the volume pedal and use it mainly for sustaining and emphasizing something that we’re playing.

The immortal Jerry Byrd had a volume pedal technique like no one else’s.  He had one of the best volume pedal techniques ever.  Jerry played without pedals as we all know, so he used his volume pedal with his left foot.  He also had the control set where it was full volume in the up position and off in the down position, the exact reverse of the way everyone else plays.

I think all of us need to really work on our volume pedal technique more than we do.  It’s an extremely overlooked art.

It’s a good idea to carry to carry a spare volume pedal in your seat.  Pots can go bad.  The strings can break on them.  You’ll never know when a spare volume pedal can be a gig-saver.  

It’s also a good idea to swap them out.  Use one pedal for a few gigs, then use the other one.  That way the pots won’t get dirty and scratchy from laying dormant.

I hope I have raised the level of awareness of a piece of gear that is often only an after-thought when in reality, we’d be hard pressed to live without it.  We have a good selection of new and used volume pedals on the website.  Think of us when you need one.

Steel Guitar Nashville
123 Mid Town Court
Hendersonville, TN. 37075
(615) 822-5555
Open 9AM – 4PM Monday – Friday
Closed Saturday and Sunday

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