Today were going to talk about an under appreciated part of the guitar. The Volume Knob. We’ve all seen one on an electric guitar. For the most part, many only use the volume for two options: full on or off. You may as well just have an on/off switch.
There are a couple of different reasons why one would want to use the volume. The most obvious is volume (duh). But what else does that mysterious knob do? Let’s investigate.
People keep talking about different ways to alter your sound. Often guitarists fill their pedalboard with gadgets to do so. By playing with your volume knob (don’t get the wrong idea you sicko’s) you open up a new range of sounds.
Knock it back from 10 to 8 and you’ll notice a bass and tremble roll off. For purposes of recording, this is great to know. It’s a fine adjustment to tone. Before I switch amps or guitars, I will always play with the volume knob a little. Just like I’ll try different pickup positions.
Under The Lights
Onstage volume knob adjustments can be very helpful if the room or the amp you’re plugged into is overly bright. Pulling back a little can take a some of the nasty bite off.
Let’s talk volume philosophy. First, your solos aren’t going to be heard very well if you play lead at your rhythm volume. Single notes don’t cut the same as big chords. In my mind I have several settings my pinky will adjust the knob at will. Lead volume, rhythm volume (while the singer is singing) and instrumental volume (for rhythm parts that don’t have singing and the guitar should stand out more).
It’s not an exact science. I’m not looking at my volume knob and documenting the numbers. It’s a feel thing. This technique is going to require some time to get used to. You’ll have to practice until it becomes an involuntary action.
We’re going to be interrupted by a public service announcement brought to you by your singer: Don’t play at full volume the whole set. It’s not that the singer is always being a diva, it’s just sometimes there is no sonic space.
It’s in everybody’s best interest for you to turn your volume down while the singer is singing. Playing wide open cramps the arrangement. You don’t want to be responsible for sonic poo do you?
There are a lot of frequencies floating around when your volume is all the way up. Knocking it back clears room for all the other instruments in the band. Multiple guitarists on a stage playing the whole gig wide open sounds like mush and noise. (see sonic poo comment)
Dynamics are a crucial part to a show and live sound. You have to create the automation or “mix” that is on the record. Listen to some of the recordings of the songs you’re playing. Where is the guitar sitting? Try to create THAT onstage.
A guitar volume permanently cranked is like driving with your foot pressing all the way down on the gas pedal the entire trip.
Now mind you I play pretty loud in general. But, I ride my volume knob. When I solo, I’m going to be loud enough to sit above everyone. But, when the vocalist is singing I come way back.
Riding your volume does affect your gain settings. It’s pretty hard to play with a full out distortion sound and knock your volume down. In this case we need to forget about the wide open issue. A simple solution would be to have a boost, or 2 distortion pedals. One distortion that is quiet for rhythms and one distortion that is at lead volume.
Different pedals will affect volume response. For instance, overdrive’s tend to clean up pretty gradual. You will have a lot of play before all the gain is gone. Fuzz pedals are more sensitive. It doesn’t take much to go from fuzz to fairly clean.
Behold The Jedi Master
Buddy Guy is a master with his volume knob. He may be the most dynamic guitarist I’ve ever seen live. He manages to get so much variety from such a simple chain which is guitar ->wah -> amp. Nothing to hide behind. You can watch him during solos reaching for the knob. He controls his volume the way one controls their voice in a conversation.
In a conversation you stress certain words or sentences. You don’t scream the whole time. If you scream the whole time you lose your voice and fail to be heard. Think about where the volume knob fits into your music. Consider how and when you’re making a statement with volume in a song.
Have any Inside the Guitar Questions?