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Volume Swells

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by jklotz, Jan 17, 2013.

  1. jklotz

    jklotz Tele-Holic

    Jan 10, 2012
    Atlanta, GA
    I'd like to add some pedal steel type volume swells to my repitior. It's going to take a little practice to get it smooth and fast. Do you guys recommend a volume pedal or the volume knob on the guitar? I'm sure there are pros and cons to both - how do you guys do it?

  2. TeleTex82

    TeleTex82 Friend of Leo's

    May 4, 2010
    San Antone
    Why spend on a pedal when the knobs right there. Start with running through a scale or two, simple two or thee note licks/phrases, work on timing and hand coordination, watch lots of Roy Buchanan.
  3. Telegeekster

    Telegeekster Tele-Meister

    Nov 10, 2012
    The Old Line State
    My $0.02...

    Aspire to do both (knob and pedal). I'm traveling the same journey as you. My lessons learned:

    1. Using the knob: Use more volume on the amp, roll back the guitar's volume. That way, you increase your torque (volume gained per degree of knob turn).

    1a. You don't have to roll all the way down to zero to start a swell.

    2. Using the pedal has its advantages in that your fingers remain free to do stuff on the strings!

    3. Either method: I'd emphasize doing linear scales (up and down the neck) more so than across. Try swelling into each note of the scale as you do this. Every so often, combine a swell with a bend: swell into a D (10th fret, 1st string) and sustain that note as you bend up a whole step to an E.
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  5. telex76

    telex76 Doctor of Teleocity

    Jun 24, 2006
    Fort Worth,Tx.
    I'm a knob man all the way.
    I've got an Alligator Jr. volume pedal that I use on my lap steel that is very nice.
    I sometimes use it with my Telecaster at home just messing around but it's just another piece of gear to haul around that I don't need, so it stays home.
  6. twangjeff

    twangjeff Tele-Holic

    Feb 2, 2010
    Houston, TX
    Try both and see which works for you. The benefit of using a pedal is that you can control where in the signal chain the swell goes.

    What I typically do is run a compressor before the volume pedal and then reverb after. That way you get all the sustain you want, and you just control it with your volume pedal. This works on a lot of slower tunes where you really want that crying steel type of sound. You can hold those bends as long as you want without them dying out.

    Obviously that is just what works for me. Lots of players do it with a pedal, lots do it with the knob, no right or wrong way.
  7. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 28, 2006
    NELA, Ca
    Knobs and pedal work in different ways. Both is cool.
  8. bender-freak

    bender-freak Friend of Leo's

    Pedal man here. I'm a thumbpick and fingers thumper and my right hand is already busy enough. I've tried the "volume knob/flipping the plate" several times. Just doesn't work for me.
  9. Telegeekster

    Telegeekster Tele-Meister

    Nov 10, 2012
    The Old Line State
    Cool idea. Can't wait to try this.
  10. the embezzler

    the embezzler Tele-Holic

    I have the taller Broadcaster style knobs on my tele and I find them easier to grab with pinky. I also like using 3 note triads on the D, G, B strings when I'm doing steel swells. Check out Danny Gatton telemaster or licks and tricks video's for some ideas as he is the king of Tele steel stuff IMHO.
  11. Jixxjr

    Jixxjr TDPRI Member

    Nov 1, 2009
    Harrison NJ
    I use the volume knob and a fair amount of echo. It allows the old notes to kinda blend/carry into the next note. Ghost bends (bend up 2 frets, strike, swell and let return SLOWLY to original note) during quiet songs using this does turn heads. You can get some real nice train whistle effects going doing this.
  12. Lunchie

    Lunchie Poster Extraordinaire

    I like my Ernie Ball Volume, its huge but it was only like $40 used at GC.
  13. Pajama

    Pajama Tele-Meister

    May 12, 2003
    I can't do swells w/ my fingers and hybrid pick at the same time so I use a Morley volume pedal that I've had for around 20 years. I like that you don't have to replace pots w/ the Morley. Works for me.

  14. Steveareno

    Steveareno Tele-Afflicted

    Dec 10, 2010
    Dogtown So Cal
    When I used to play out, I used a volume pedal a lot. Not so much for swells, but just to control the volume and dynamics. Important when backing up singers. Volume pedal and compressor: both helped keep things nice and even. Never could get the hang of swells with a pedal. Can kinda pull 'em off with the knob. They sound great and work especially well on Teles. The early Fender steel players like Speedy West were also experts at swells, mostly with the knob but also with a volume pedal.
    Swang on,
  15. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    Nov 5, 2006
    Iowa City, IA
    Well, I must poo-poo this. I did it for a while after seeing the PBS special on Roy, and I think Garcia talked about it in Guitar Player in 1970. I'm all for increasing the palette, but I need for an extended technique like this to be useful in a wider range of situations that how I hear it used. Unless it can be applied in many different ways, it just sounds like a novelty to me.

    This comes up a lot in classical composition for classical instruments. To me, an extended technique needs to be integrated into a complete composition, as opposed to just adding a different color.

    For example, it seems more useful to me to have a guitarist playing a solo, and at a certain expressive moment, just dip into a swell for one note. Or maybe use it more frequently to add a little cry to a moment. Instead, and this is the tell-tale kiss of death for me, a player will suddenly start playing an entire passage with swells. When they do that, that is when I feel that the timing is off, that the peak of the swell comes a 16th or 8th note after the note is meant to be heard. I am completely on board with this technique is it serves an immediate expressive purpose, like a string bend, trill, or slide up or down the frets. But what I hear too much of is someone seeming to say, OK, now you are going to hear me play with volume swells. Whoopee, the technique is not so cool as to withstand being showcased like that. Surely, guitarists have evolved with this technique to the point where it is used once or twice in the occasional song. But too often I hear Joe Bonamassa play an entire 8 bars with every note a swell. What's the musical purpose of that, except for variety and whoo look at this.

    I have a similar problem with my composition students writing for strings. Within the first few bars, the violin is suddenly playing pizzes or double stops. The violin is a melodic, lyrical instrument that sings in ways that few other instruments can. Why should they be reduced to these dry, plunk, plunk pizzes for a third of the composition. Ditto for double stops. Sure, on occasion it is a good technique. But it should be used for a special expressive purpose rather than just as something extra the violin can do.

    I sound so much like an old fuddy duddy. I know this, because I used to read older guys grousing about new-fangled techniques and I sound just like them.

    Still, hear my plea. Save your volume swell for just that perfect, beautiful cry.
  16. honeycreek

    honeycreek Tele-Afflicted

    Jun 16, 2009
    I prefer a volume pedal at the end of the chain. When using pedals, it allows you to adjust volume with your foot and adjust "clean" with your fingers. I only use the volume pedal during a lead line for controlling volume. I like to use swells with a volume pedal for fill work whether imitating a pedal steel or swelling dirty guitar to sound like a violin.
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