Riding the volume knob


There are many ways to change your guitar’s volume or tone in live situations to create dynamics. Simmering through breakdowns, dialling down behind a vocal, cranking up for a solo, chorus or outro – all require control. Overdrive and boost pedals, or switching amp channels, are both options. Combining the two offers even more scope.

Adding another pedal, gain boost or switch on stage though means more to consider when you need to focus on one thing: performance. So, what about relying on two great sound sources – your guitar and a single overdrive source (pedal or amp) – and maximising tone and volume from them?

I’ve practised this technique recently using a Boss ST-2 Power Stack on my main pedalboard. The drive is set low to 8:00 and volume at 2:00, going into the clean channel of a Vox Night Train NT15C1 valve combo dialled in to clean with a hint of hair. This pairing works nicely with my Gretsch Filter’Tron pickups and the P90 soapbars on my Les Paul. The Mooer Green Mile tube screamer clone on my mini pedalboard does the same job, but I don’t have control of this pedal yet. It sounds fizzy to my ears.

Philippe Herndon summarises the attraction of one great overdrive pedal in State of the Stomp: More Sounds from Fewer Pedals:

“Consider an alternate arrangement: By using a relatively high-gain pedal or fuzz and working your volume knob to lower your guitar signal, you can dramatically change your sound and free up real estate on your board. You may even find yourself (gasp!) using that tone control you were always leaving on 10 before. […] Another benefit of this arrangement is freeing yourself from always having to direct attention at your pedals for dynamic changes, which lets you to reconnect with your audience.

Listen to this technique in action. In the clips below, three guitarists from different eras – Jimmy Page (1973), Joanne Shaw Taylor (2013) and Gary Moore (1993) – ride a Les Paul’s volume and tone knobs to great effect.

Jimmy Page – Since I’ve Been Loving You

Check out Page’s technique, particularly the volume changes between 1m 30s and 2m 23s:

Joanne Shaw Taylor – Going Home

Taylor creates superb dynamics and tension through finger picking, volume control and pickup selection:

Gary Moore – The Thrill Is Gone

Hear Moore mimic BB King’s clean tone before launching into his signature high-gain sound:

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