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This article was originally published in issue #21
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When is a boring old volume pedal not a boring old volume pedal? When it's the new Erie Ball MVP, says Lewis Turner.
Let’s face it, volume pedals are pretty dull things. I mean they are great as a tool, with so many things you can do with them, but to sum them up, they are basically your guitar volume pot on the floor operated by your foot. The End. But here's the new Ernie Ball MVP (it stands for Most Valuable Pedal!) Volume/Gain Expression pedal to shake things up!
As the title suggests, this is not just a straight forward volume pedal any more. This pedal also has volume and gain controls built in. The volume control allows for the heel position to be set at zero up to 50 per cent. Setting it at zero is great for the full-on volume swell effect of chords or single notes, add a little chorus and big long delay for that fantastic Allan Holdsworth sound. Setting it at max so the heel position is at 50 per cent volume will work well in a band situation, right back for rhythm playing then bring it forward for 100 per cent lead volume. To be honest this control isn’t new and is available on other models, but it's still a handy addition: the gain control is the interesting part.
This control allows for the toe position to be set at 100 per cent up to a boosted 20+ decibels of gain for powerful lead levels. I set the gain and volume to max, the amp to crunch and gave it a go. It worked well, I had a nice rhythm volume with the heel down, then when I pushed it to full toe position I got a definite volume and gain boost which is ideal for lead work. I also tried this on a clean channel. With the gain set to max the extra 20+ dB does help to give the impression of a clean valve amp being pushed and starting to break up (in a good way). Normally to get this effect you will have to turn the amp up really high, although it's never going to replace playing a valve amp at full tilt. Additionally, there is a tuner output that can be used at any volume, with any tuner, without any effect on the audio signal.
There's no high frequency loss at any volume, and works with active and passive audio signals. The manufacturer claims to have improved the sweep for ideal volume control, and I have to say that the pedal felt smooth and consistent through the whole range. Oh, and it can be powered either by 9v battery or a power supply.
All these new features certainly add up to a volume pedal that offers a little more than the norm, and it all seems to work just fine. However, I was also interested in the general construction of this pedal, to see if there have been any changes from the older ones. The pivot action on Ernie Ball pedals is controlled via a string pulley system and spring, this is still the case with the new one. In its favour, it's this system that makes it feel so consistent and smooth to use. However, the string and spring have been known to break over time, normally sending the pedal to the off position making it unusable until you remove it from the chain - not ideal in a gig situation. Some players have experienced this in the past while others have had theirs for years with no problems at all. It's a fairly simple and cheap fix if it does happen and maybe it has been improved for this latest offering, only time will tell.
Volume pedals in general can also sometimes cause signal/tone loss. Putting them as early as possible in the chain and with a buffer can cure this. I only tested this pedal on its own not in a chain so cannot comment on any signal or tone loss when used in a pedal board situation, but Ernie Ball claims that it can be placed anywhere in the chain without any problems.
I should also mention that this new pedal is quite expensive. That said, I have stuck with my trusty volume pedal make for years, but I have to say that after playing this one I am tempted to make the change. The additional controls make such a big difference to what you can do and dial in, plus the sweep is silky smooth, though it comes at a price.