Using a Volume Pedal for that Violin Technique — without the Fancy Footwork
by Jon Chappell
Many guitarists, from Eddie Van Halen to Adrian Belew, are masters at dipping and raising their volume pot as the play lead lines, which buries, or masks, the notes’ attack, resulting in a violin-like articulation.
In this technique, the lowered-and-raised volume control allows only the sustained portion of the struck note to come through, along with a slight swell. Stratocasters are especially good for this effect, because the volume knob is so close to the treble side of the bridge, where your pinky falls -- unless you play Hendrix style (with a “flipped” guitar), in which case the volume knob is out of reach.
A better way to execute the masked-attack technique is with a volume pedal, which doesn’t cause your right hand to contort in strange ways while you try to strike the strings and work the knob. But either way, this delayed swell is a great effect, especially on slower, legato lines. Synching the volume device with your playing can create a problem if you’re less than rehearsed at doing two things at once (playing the line and working the volume level).
But through recording you can achieve the same effect without crippling your little finger or getting shin-splints from repeated pumpings your volume pedal. Here’s how to do it:
Record your line in the normal way, without any volume manipulation.
On playback, route the track you want to “de-articulate” through a volume pedal (via your mixer’s direct out or pre fade aux) and bring it into another channel and onto a new track. Keep the original track out of the mixdown, so that only the volume-pedal-manipulated track is heard (as shown in Fig. 1).
Apply your pedal moves to the new track, rather than your live playing. This way, you’re doing only one thing at a time, and if you mess up a pedal maneuver, your original track is intact.
Fig. 1. Take the direct out (or a pre fade aux send) of the recorded guitar track and run it through the volume pedal and back into another channel and onto a new track.
I’ve tried doing this technique using the volume fader (and even automating the moves to “save my work” as I go), but it just doesn’t sound the same. It might be that the taper on a fader is too smooth for the effect to be convincing. But an old volume pedal is just the ticket, and you learn how to apply the pedal on your own lead lines, which will help when you have to perform the technique live!
Practice Those Foot Moves
Using a volume pedal between two recorded tracks is also a way to isolate the two independent tasks of handwork and footwork. Work on getting your foot moves down in isolation before bringing your hands into the picture. By playing with recorded tracks, you can focus on just your foot, making sure you're masking just enough of the attack to produce the violin effect without robbing the any more of the sustained portion of the note than necessary. The danger of this is that if you're not quick enough on bringing your foot down, the passage can always sound a little behind the beat.
Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).