Utility pedals can be a hard category to justify splashing your cash on. While undeniably serving a purpose, volume pedals are often tough to squeeze onto your pedalboard, and let’s face it: no one’s ever enjoyed purchasing a tuning pedal. These kind of pedals are seen more as tools than they are as tricks, and it’s for this reason that they’re often at the bottom of any pedal head’s list of priorities.
Ernie Ball’s new VP JR Tuner pedal might just change all of that. Building on the blueprint of the sturdy VP JR, Ernie Ball have integrated the volume pedal with an ultra-precise touchscreen tuner display. On paper, it’s an offer you simply can’t refuse. For some, it’d be easy to scoff and swat this concept away as just being a gimmick for some easy Ernie Ball unit shifting, and I can admit to being a bit skeptical about the pedal on initial assessment. Thankfully, the VP JR Volume & Tuner lives up to all expectations, and actually makes for an incredibly useful and even creative addition to any pedalboard.
Straight off the bat, it’s worth noting that the VP JR is definitely not a ‘junior’ pedal, but it’s worth making the space for. It’s quite bulky, and has a footprint marginally bigger than your average wah pedal. On the flip side, it’s also as sturdy as they come, and the rubber surface that surrounds the screen offers plenty of grip for your footwork. Interestingly perhaps, Ernie Ball have forgone a touchless sensor system and employed a cable mechanism in the design of the VP JR’s volume component, which is constructed from PVC coated Kevlar and provides consistent tension when sweeping with the pedal. Given that it features a touchscreen, this pedal also requires a 9 to 18V power supply, whereas most other Ernie Ball volume pedals are passive. Our review unit featured a racing car red finish: others are available in black, silver or gold.
Upon engaging the pedal, the VP JR’s touchscreen lets you choose three different display modes: volume, tuner or both. Choosing tuner mode and double tapping the screen also lets you change the reference pitch of the tuner upwards or downwards from 440 Hz, which is a nice touch for all those picky ears out there. On that note, the tuning precision of the VP JR is spot on, and the bright incremental display makes for a great guide to navigating each string, with the changing lights and pitch indicator making it as easy as possible. I feel like it would have been cool to see the VP JR feature a polyphonic tuning mode, but you can’t really take points away given what’s already on offer.
In use, the VP JR tuner/volume pedal is exactly the same as the tuner-less version that preceded it. Swift sweeps and incremental adjustments are simple, and the action of the pedal makes for a consistently taut response. In volume mode, the touchscreen display is also utilised as a numerical value depicting the volume of your signal, which is a killer way to gauge your overall master volume from a distance or in dim lit rooms. This screen really adds a lot to the overall practicality of the pedal, and I feel like it’ll go on to set a trend in this niche market.
There’s also a range of routing options on the top of the VP JR, including standard I/O as well as Effects Send/Return. On top of a standard Effects Loop setup, you could setup the VP JR to control the master volume of either your amp or a pedal, or even as a gain control for either configuration. This can let you get a bit creative with your use of the pedal, and makes it a lot more versatile than you’d think, particularly for more textural swells or clever effect fade ins. It’s nice to have such a practical unit that still lets you facilitate creative ideas without making them over complicated or forcing you to go menu diving to unlock its inner secrets.
At its pricepoint, the VP JR Volume/Tuner might not be accessible for all users, and it’s a bulky pedal to justify carving out such a huge chunk of pedalboard space for. Yet, it’s an incredibly alluring product from Ernie Ball, who’ve obviously paid a lot of attention to detail in order to create a sturdy, feature-packed and ultimately useful design. I wouldn’t be against describing it as the best volume pedal on the market, and there’s sufficient evidence to say the same about the tuner as well: I can’t see how anything can come close to what’s on offer here from Ernie Ball.
Hits and Misses
Great feel, sturdy design and consistent operation
Ultra precise tuning
Creative routing options
It’s not cheap