I play post rock/prog/art rock type stuff. Lots of pedals, lots of different parts in the songs. What is the best way to regulate levels? What I've been doing is adjusting pedal levels before each song (writing them down at home and having that notebook on stage). This is cumbersome and leads to a fair amount of interruption in the flow of the set. I mess with my guitar knob a bit too but that's hit and miss and really just a backup. Not to mention it's pretty difficult to hear your actual level while playing. Random sound guys don't know how the song's supposed to sound.

Considering a volume pedal?

  • 3
    Put a compressor at the end of the chain?
    – PeteCon
    Mar 5, 2018 at 6:42
  • It isn't the sound guy's job to mix the song - at least not on a casual gig. It's his job to help you hear what's going out front so that YOU (and the rest of the band) can listen and balance. I realise this is contrary to the 'more me' philosophy of monitoring.
    – Laurence
    Jun 5, 2018 at 10:56

6 Answers 6


This may seem obvious (or tedious), but ...

You could carefully set the levels on each pedal so the volume is the same with the pedal on or off.

If each pedal individually isn't adding volume, then combinations should be pretty controlled as well. Where this has fallen apart for me are things like high gain distortion or fuzz and my envelope filter. I always seem to have to tweak the filter if I'm using it with distortion vs. without distortion.

A volume pedal should help smooth over the rest. HTH

  • For the most part, I agree. Except for something like a Big Muff, which when you click it on, you WANT it louder, because it's weird as heck to be strumming acoustic, hit the fuzz, and not pump up the volume.
    – Dan Gayle
    Feb 19, 2019 at 0:56

You need to either balance and set the output levels yourself, or use a compressor of some sort at the end of the chain. Even an overdrive with the gain set clean can help to compress the sound and even up the output a bit. The compressor will add more noise to an already noise-prone effects chain; balancing the levels will take a bit of ear work. Even using a compressor you'll need to balance your chain's output to an extent.

Some experience with effects helps as well. Distortion/gain/fuzz and modulation dynamics can vary quite a bit depending on the settings/position in chain, and you need to understand your output levels throughout the chain for the best results.

Post-rock/progressive/effects heavy musicians spend a lot of time on their boards being 'performance-ready', and they keep the settings written down (sometimes sharpie/duct tape on the unit itself). It is basic audio engineering to a degree; it isn't just plug 'n play when using a long effects chain.

Keep in mind that 'bedroom' volume and 'gig' volume will sound different, and you need to balance your levels to whatever 'gig'/'rehearsal' volume is. In your bedroom or in a studio it doesn't matter as much as when your amp is set to compete with a kit and other amps in a space.

  • Another thing that works well--take a phone pic of the pedals/board settings when you get it dialed in for the sound you want. But you make a great point about how different rooms and contexts will change the way you hear everything. I can't quite describe the feeling that is moving your gear from the practice room to the gig only to hear that fat sound you had with the band just evaporate into nothing once you sound check on the stage. Eventually you do get used to it, but the first few times you experience it, it certainly unsettling.
    – elrobis
    Jul 5, 2019 at 15:42

You've got a couple of options with complicated (and changing) effects routing:

  • A good sound person who can control the effects routings;
  • Look into some sort of multi-effects unit instead of individual pedals. You would then pre-set your various sounds and step-though;
  • If you still want individual pedals then look into pedals that can be controlled via MIDI and then look for some type of MIDI controller - there are several on the market;

There are two methods that are going to be workable:

  1. Use your feel and adjust the volume after the pedals with a volume pedal.

  2. Get a digital multi-effects unit or even use a laptop with a guitar package like Waves GTR3 or Positive Grid Bias (if you have an ASIO Audio Interface to reduce latency).

Method one costs less but means more attention from you (and sound engineer if you get it wrong). Method two is more set-up and potential for failure esp if you use a computer but you have a lot more control and confidence.

Have you looked at what guitarists in Prog bands are doing - from Yes to Dream Theater. I assume some talk about their rig or you can at least spy it during concert videos.


Something like this http://www.soundsculpture.com/volcano + a midi controller (midi mouse from Tech 21) would let u do what u want in a programmable way.

A much cheaper option would to be to pick up a cheap smallish multifx pedal, and basically turn everything off and just use as a volume control.

Another way is to use a compressor configured as a limiter - this will mess with your sound to some degree, but might be a quick and easy solution.

I think the best option might be to balance the levels carefully in rehearsal room / your garage etc. This is the way I would go - beware that you might need to do this at a reasonably volume to get similar results to stage (due to speaker response etc)

PS: Just realised this is quite old, but my answers already written so leaving in case it helps someone.


If you watch any old Hendrix, Pink Floyd, etc., you'll see them constantly adjusting the volume knob on their guitar. Don't use it as a backup, learn to use it as part of the performance.

There are tons of YouTube vids on volume knob technique

Aside from that, if you're doing post-rock and don't have a volume pedal… you should get a volume pedal.

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