I've recently started a band, we are a drummer, and a bassist, and me on electric guitar. I am new to using electric guitar and effects pedals, previously I've mainly used acoustic by myself.

My question

Thoughout our songs I sometimes turn on or off Big Muff distortion, which dramatically increases or decreases the volume. Furthermore, I often change my style mid song - e.g from strumming chords, to doing solo work, to palm muting picking, and back again.

The volume of my guitar is therefore dramatically changing constantly, sometimes way below or above the other instruments. How should I be dealing with this?

My initial possible answers ...

1) Buy a compressor. But will this always work for each desired section of the song?

2) Fiddle with the guitar volume throughout the song. But won't this be fiddly and hard to work out for each section and each song?

3) Buy more pedals to help with volume, and painstakingly work out for each section what volumes settings on all of my equipment are needed for each bit of the song in relation to the other instruments. Is this a normal thing to do?

4) Something else???


7 Answers 7


Most effects pedals will have a volume control to help with this. Distortion ~(especially analogue ones) pedals are a bit more complex as the output from the pedal will also contribute to distortion in the amp as well as the sound colour/distortion produced by the pedal.

It's also worth bearing in mind that historically in rock/metal a lot of the guitar sound is generated by the amp but with modern lightweight solid state amps combined with effects it may be more pragmatic so tee the amp and speaker more as a fairly clean PA, especially as a beginner when you will want to experiment a lot with your sound and probably can't afford expensive kit. Experimenting with pedals is certainly a lot cheaper than experimenting with valve amplifiers and speaker cabinets.

Similarity many amps will have more than one channel with separate volume (and often also EQ) controls so you can more easily balance clean and distorted sounds, you can usually switch channels with a foot switch.

Most electric guitars have at least two sets of pickups which are switchable and have separate volume controls so you can switch between pickups and preset the volume to the appropriate level.

EQ is also important as the relative frequency balance will determine how loud the guitar part sounds, especially in a 3-piece band where guitar and drums will tend to dominate certain parts of the frequency spectrum.

As mentioned in other answers a volume pedal is a very simple solution and will also allow you to fine tune volume on the fly as well as being able to produce some quite interesting effects in itself.

Another option is to use a line-splitter pedal which will allow you to set up two separate effects chains with different levels.

Ultimately playing an electric instrument through and amplifier involves a lot of interrelated factors so you may very well have to do a lot of experimenting and tweaking to get the exact sounds you want.

  • All of these answers seem great. I have uprooted them all, and awarded the green tick to this one for it covers a lot of answers. :) Ultimately I think I need to "do a lot of experimenting and tweaking".
    – Andy A
    Sep 18, 2016 at 9:50

I suggest setting the volume on your Big Muff so that the percieved loudness is the same regardless of whether it's on or off. However, many players will use a distortion pedal as a boost when they need more volume. In that case, the difference in volume is not a problem but actually desired. Sometimes several distortions are used for different parts of a song that demand diffent loudness, eg 'verse distortion', 'solo distortion' etc, so yes, buying more pedals could help!

A compressor will work well to even out the volume changes that are a result of your different playing techniques, and it is often placed first in the chain (ie, directly after the guitar). Of course, it is certainly possible to adjust one's playing to get the same, or similar, results. Or, as you mention, riding the volume knob on the guitar, which will accomplish the same thing, but sound different. It could also be difficult to find the correct volume setting 'on the spot' while playing.


"Fiddle with the guitar volume" is not going to work at all if you mean the volume control on the guitar and part of your volume changes comes from using distortion. You need to fix the volume after distortion, like fiddling with the guitar amp volume control.

Using a volume pedal might work here as well. A compressor (after distortion) will likely not do the full job (partly also because distorted sound cuts through other instruments better than its nominal volume would suggest) but might leave less work for your manual adjustments.


A volume pedal will work, in line after other pedals. Set the guitar's volume so that there will be some travel on the volume pedal both ways, so you have some leeway. I've found this works well. A compression pedal will mess up your playing if used for this. It's not really designed that way. You could also try a graphic eq., which can be set as a boost or otherwise, with or without affecting the tone. You'll see a lot of pros actually twiddling with the volume pot on their guitar, partially to even out guitar volume, partially to add or subtract overdrive.

Incidentally, Boss has recently brought out a pedalboard that switches pedals. You could use a couple of graphics and programme this board to operate specifics together - but it ain't cheap!


This is not so easy. In point of distortion volume may be virtually the same but frequency content will appear louder from ear perspective.

I recommend having two drives with different output set. The first one set louder for palm mute and second one set quieter for strumming. Stacking both will give you third tone as bonus.

Compressor can be last in chain to equalize everything but it is rare application (except studio compressors) because may amplify noises. I recommend using compressor to boost clean signal to be comparable with distorted sounds and will not get too loud if you hit strings hard.

Some people use volume pedal in effects loop but I've never tested it.


I had a similar problem with picking to strumming dynamics and a small problem with volume when putting effect on and off but not as much. Mainly my lead lines were not as loud/clear as rhythm stuff.

My old chain was the following because I read that low gain to high gain works well. I did balance the volume as best I could but it just didn't feel great mixing rhythm and lead:

Digitech Bad Monkey Tube Overdrive Kramer Distortion Other Distortion

After reading up on preamps I decided to switch my Bad Monkey to last in the gain chain.

Kramer Distortion Other Distortion Digitech Bad Monkey Tube Overdrive

Now my lead lines come in close to same volume as my rhythm stuff. The tone also sounds closer to what I hear in recordings. I think this is related to what @Doktor Mayhem said about using EQ/preamps to counteract tone changes. I think the problem can largely be more about tone balance than volume in some cases.


I don't have a compressor yet and I run my effects with a Boss ES-8 not that makes that much difference. Stacking my pedals no longer increases the gain of the drives like the previous effect chain but I like the balance and overall tone much better now.

I leave my Bad Monkey on all the time now on low gain since it livens my clean tone a bit.


I deliberately use a range of techniques:

  • Pickup volume control
  • Guitar volume control
  • E/Q or preamp
  • Effects levels
  • Compression

The first two not only affect volume, but tone and distortion as well, so can be used to tip your overdrive over the edge.

An E/Q and preamp can be used to affect the volume, and to counteract tone changes.

Each effect that has a level control can also be tweaked - I use a multi-effect pedal with various patches to either include volume changes (e.g. For lead lines) or to maintain overall levels.

And compression can be used to even out overall levels - it also impacts tone though, and some detail is always lost with compression.

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