Ernie Ball VPJR Tuner/Volume Expression Pedal
By Chris Loeffler | (edited)
There are few things more important to a guitar performance than being in tune and having control of your volume. Unfortunately, these are so built-in to what players do that they don’t quite raise the spirits like a new dirt pedal or delay station will and are often under-represented due to price and real estate. Ernie Ball, one of the most prolific makes of treadle-controlled effects (think volume, wah, and even their recent Expression series) believes they’ve found the perfect solution for players that combines tuning and volume into a single pedal with enhancements based on decades of player feedback.
The Ernie Ball VPJR Tuner/Volume Pedal is an expression pedal format, active volume pedal with a built-in chromatic tuner that features various operational modes, a high-resolution digital screen, and standard ¼: ins/outs as well as an FX Loop send/return that runs on 9-18v.
What You Need to Know
My first observation of the Ernie Ball VPJR was how hefty and solid it was. The aluminum chassis has significant weight (over 2 pounds), anchoring the pedal firmly on the floor, and the physical feedback of the sweep is smooth and consistent. I found it to have the right amount of resistance to keep things from getting wonky from toe-to-heel and parking the treadle mid-sweep is surgically precise.
The unique touch-screen display on the face of the treadle looks like something you’d see in a high-end modeler, and is smartly recessed just a touch beneath the textured grip that covers the rest of the treadle to guarantee it can’t be triggered by a foot during standard usage (unless you’re playing barefoot, which… don’t). The contrast of the screen was clearly created with the input of road warriors, as it is bright and crisp enough to be clearly visible in a dark room or glaring sunlight but intentionally darkened enough to ensure you aren’t creating a distracting light show. Any menu (and there aren't many) can be accessed through intuitive, localized double taps of your finger.
There are three modes available for the display, all accessible on-the-fly through an intuitive touch response; Volume+Tune, Volume Only, Tune Only.
In Volume Only mode, the screen displays where the pedal is at in the sweep, from 0-10, which is extremely helpful in the context of a live band, where sound may not be the best and you want to know you’re hitting the right places to park your volume for a give song or part.
In Tune Only mode, the display constantly provides tuning feedback with a preferred note, cent marker, indicator needle, sharp/flat indicator, and reference pitch. What sets this apart from many of the big-name tunes I’ve played it the screen is larger and reads much faster. While I’ve rarely thought “I can’t read this tuner,” I certainly noticed an improvement in how quickly I was able to dial things in.
Volume+Tune is the best of both worlds, providing output level feedback of 1-10 as the volume pedal is engaged while automatically switching to the tuner display when the pedal is on mute.
The tuner itself is precise and extremely quick to respond, featuring 1 Hz increments of fine tuning from 432-447 Hz for reference tuning.
The Ernie Ball VPJR runs on 9-18v, and there is a noticeable difference between the range in terms of headroom. While the sweep and buffer were perfectly serviceable at 9v with active pickups and a little bit of gain, I could cause subtle crunching if I ran an irresponsible amount of boost and a spiky wah into it. Lifting the power to 18v immediately alleviated this and subtly strengthened my signal.
If you aren’t running a buffer in your signal chain and have more than a couple of pedals, you will likely immediately notice a fuller, stronger signal due to the high-quality, transparent buffer at the output of the VPJR.
The addition of the FX Send/Return provides some interesting flexibility for those looking to extend their placement of where the VPJR controls. While the standard In/Out patching effectively serves as a gain/volume control in front of pedals or an amp, incorporating the FX loop allows for control over the gain AND a master volume for every effect in the loop. This translates to things like swells and falls to fade reverb and delay trails at the same time the direct volume is being cut, or decreasing gain and volume with overdrive pedals at the same time.
I found a couple of buffer-sensitive pedals (simple fuzzes) experienced a tonal shift if placed after the Ernie Ball VPJR. Common-practice signal chain placement suggests most people wouldn’t want their fuzzes or envelope filters after their volume pedal, so most will be comfortable prefer these effects before the VPJR.
The Ernie Ball VPJR Tuner/Volume Pedal provides two top-tier functions for players in a single pedal with gobs of flexibility to fit into nearly any rig. Overbuilt construction, smooth mechanics, pristine sound, and the most readable display I’ve experienced in a single pedal make the Ernie Ball VPJR a beast of an addition to nearly any pedal board while freeing up a cable and power jack for even more sonic mayhem. Plus, it's really cool to see a design so thoroughly vetted out for the player experience.
Edited by Chris Loeffler