Volume pedals are fairly straight forward, although the quality of a volume pedal’s electronics will make a difference in what you hear when using it. The YouTube video below goes through various features of Mission Engineering’s VM-PRO, which is not like any other volume pedal out there, making it far more diverse and complete for a wider audience of gear heads:
I’m covering all the features in the Overall Impressions of this review, but suffice to say that the ability to tweak the VM-PRO makes a considerable difference when comparing to typical volume pedals. As the video demonstrates, the BUFFER in the VM-PRO produces a higher quality and truer sound in your tone. As well, you can adjust the VM-PRO to work with Active pickups, which tend to push volume pedals too hard (and high-gain amps/pedals produce a rougher edge to the tone). As with other volume pedals, you can have the VM-PRO roll off the highs and get a little darker as volume fades – or you can add ‘SPARKLE’ (keep the highs in). Not all volume pedals work well with vintage-style fuzzes, but with the VM-PRO you can flip a switch so that it drives a little harder and with a higher impedance. Nor do you don’t have to have zero sound when rolling off the volume – there’s a set screw that allows you to adjust just how much comes through in the heel-down positions, to the point of having a lot come through to produce your regular volume, followed by a BOOST for lead in the toe down position. Finally, there’s an option of a separate Tuner out, to keep that pedal out of the chain and to prevent more tone sucking.
Beyond a typical and simple volume pedal, I’m impressed with Mission Engineering’s VM-PRO. It provides several options, which I’ll address here, that typically are not found on lesser volume pedals. This model is a bit pricier, but you get a lot more for your dollar – and likely a lot less frustration if working with active pickups, fuzz pedals or dislike how volume pedals typically roll off the highs when decreasing volume. The first bonus on this pedal is the built-in buffer, which stays on all the time. Anyone with a long line of true-bypass pedals or long cable runs knows the value of a Buffer, which controls the input and output of the signal for a truer tone. A simple buffer can cost $100 or more, and so now you have it in the VM-PRO (and it works well with other buffers).
The three dip-switch options inside adds to your customization. The VM-PRO is set for passive pickups, but you can switch the pedal over to better accept active pickups, an important feature since active pickups can overdrive a volume pedal and produce unwanted distortion at full volume. Next, volume pedals always remove the ‘highs’ as you roll off on the volume, and sometimes that is a good thing if you want a darker sound or feel to the tone when doing so. However, the VM-PRO allows you to add in some ‘Sparkle’ by keeping the highs as you roll off on the volume (making it a truer volume controller by not altering the tone). Third, vintage and vintage-style fuzz pedals require a high impedance output from a guitar and most volume pedals will not accommodate this need (which means less of a ‘kick’ in your fuzz tone). Conversely, if you’re an avid fuzz user then all you have to do is flip on the third dip-switch to support the best fuzz tone possible.
There still are more features. A cool one is the trim-pot adjustment screw (also under the hood of the VM-PRO). Usually a volume pedal will roll off the sound completely – going from 100% signal to no signal (with heel down). The VM-PRO allows you to adjust this, so that maybe a little bit of signal still is audible, or perhaps a moderate amount of signal is to your liking. In effect, what you can do is adjust the trim-pot so that 80% of your signal can be heard with heel down and then 100% with toe down, allowing you to use the VM-PRO as a boost.
Finally, with the inclusion of an adapter (available through Mission Engineering) you can have a separate tuner out, which is useful if you want to keep your tuner out of the signal chain (since tuners can be tone suckers).
EASE OF USE
A volume pedal works in a particular manner… as the heel goes down volume decreases, and as toe goes down volume increases. Pretty straight-forward. How you want to control volume output can vary depending if you have the VM-PRO in front of or at the end of the chain (just before the amp/cab). If you have it at the front you take advantage of the built-in Buffer for superior and truer sound; as well, when you roll off the volume the delay/echo and reverb still are heard, but will decrease according to their settings. Conversely, if the VM-PRO (or any volume pedal) is placed at the end of the chain you reduce any echo/delay and/or reverb as you roll off the volume. (NOTE: If you suddenly drop the heel to complete silence, any delay/reverb is cut off suddenly as well.)
Next, the use of the special features of the VM-PRO is not so straight forward as selecting what you want. If you like to swap guitars in the middle of a set, going from passive pickups to active pickups you will need to choose what dip-switch setting you want since you would have to unscrew the rubber feet to gain access to the electronics. Do you get sufficient quality of tone if set on passive or active? The same is true whether you want the ‘Sparkle’ or if using a vintage-style fuzz pedal – you need to decide what works best on average. Adjusting the volume on the trim-pot poses similar issues. You can have no sound or just a bit of sound with the heel down, which is how most people use a volume pedal. Conversely, if you want to have the pedal act as a Boost, then you set the trim-pot accordingly. However, in doing so you cannot roll off the volume completely (although using the guitar’s volume knob would work as an adjunct).
Perhaps if these options were available as switches on the side of the VM-PRO it would be best, but then again that may just complicate the design and likely spike production costs. Nonetheless, the fact that these options are available make the VM-PRO far more versatile than standard volume pedals (even a simple buffer will cost as much as half this pedal’s worth).
RELIABILITY & DURABILITY
Mission Engineering’s VM-PRO is very study with a good weight to it. Both the base and foot pedal are steel, with my particular version having a carbon fiber finish (also available in solid black, vintage white and red). The top of the foot pedal is rubber, which increases grip and stability when in use, and is easy to clean (I also have a Mission Engineering expression pedal and was able to clean some dirt off it easily with some mild soap and a damp cloth).
Movement of the foot pedal is smooth and solid, set up at the factory with just the right amount of tension (although you can adjust this with the Allen Key provided). The quality of the pedal’s moving parts indicates clearly that it was built to last, which it needs to because of regular up and down movement. Pots always wear, depending on how much you use them, and so it’s difficult to say how long the pot in this particular VM-PRO will last. Regardless, it is quiet without any crackling or other extraneous noises.
The cable input, output and power input are located on the sides, which are typical of a rocker-type pedal (e.g., wah, volume, expression). Lastly, do note that the VM-PRO can operate on a 9v battery if you don’t want to use an electrical power source, and consumes only 1mA of power – and so a battery will last a very long time (but do unplug from the guitar input when not in use to avoid draining the battery). If using a power source, it will handle anything from 9v to 18v, making it versatile in that aspect as well.