Expression pedals are used by guitarists, keyboard players, and music producers to control electronic music equipment. They’re like a remote knob you control with your foot. Digital amplifiers, rack gear, stomp boxes, keyboards, and MIDI controllers can all sound more interesting with an expression pedal or two.
The best expression pedals work with devices that include a dedicated expression pedal input or MIDI control input. Most digital amps and high-end effects accept an expression pedal for control of volume, wah, “whammy,” etc. And many high-end stomp boxes (Source Audio, Strymon, Pigtronix, and Eventide, for example) allow pedal control of various parameters, such as reverb or delay time or tremolo speed.
Some expression pedals are meant to be used with the company’s own instruments or effects. In this case, a pedal might not work properly with other equipment brands. Not only that, some pedals claim to have additional functions, including volume control, wah, and modulation. Sometimes this is true, and sometimes not.
This review will explore all these questions and more. And then we’ll review not just a selected Top Ten list of expression pedals, but virtually every pedal available. We’ll tell you how they compare, and whether a particular model you’re considering is likely to work properly for you.
Let’s take a closer look…
How Does A Best Expression Pedal Work?
An expression pedal has a top panel, usually called a rocker, that’s fixed near one end and swivels up and down. Attached to the bottom of the rocker is an arm that’s connected at the other end to a potentiometer shaft. Moving the rocker up and down turns the pot, which is wired to an output jack or cable.
A low voltage passes through the cable from the device being controlled, through the pedal’s pot and back out to the output. Moving the rocker changes the pot’s resistance, and therefore the amount of control voltage returned. The effect uses this voltage to determine the setting of whatever parameter is being controlled.
An expression pedal is a passive device. It requires no power to operate since the controlled device supplies the control voltage. Unlike a traditional volume pedal, there’s no audio input or output on a “pure” expression pedal.
Expression pedals are different from Control Voltage (CV) pedals. Those are active devices that generate a control voltage internally from a battery or external power supply. A CV pedal can damage a device that’s not designed to use one. If you’re in doubt, read the manual!
Unfortunately, no standard exists for expression pedal inputs. Gear manufacturers use a variety of different systems that sometimes make it difficult to find a compatible pedal for a particular device.
Most devices work best with an expression pedal potentiometer resistance of approximately 5,000 to 50,000 ohms (5 – 50K). Some equipment requires a much higher resistance value, up to 500K. A pedal with the wrong resistance can have a limited range or have an uneven response, or not work at all.
A pot’s taper describes how the resistance changes as the shaft turns, and the wiper moves from one extreme to the other. A linear taper pot has a resistance that changes at a constant rate throughout its range. Most expression pedals have linear taper pots.
In contrast, a volume control pedal usually has a logarithmic taper, where the resistance changes slowly at one end and faster at the other (because audio loudness is logarithmic). This is one reason why a volume pedal doesn’t work very well for expression. Some wah pedals have reverse log pots, and they don’t work well either.
Potentiometers have three connections. The Wiper (W) connection is in the middle. Clockwise (CW) connects to the end of the resistive strip closest to where the wiper is when it’s turned all the way up. And Counter-clockwise (CCW) connects to the other end of the strip.
The most common expression pedal wiring connects the pot to a 1/4-inch stereo TRS jack, with W at the tip, CCW at the ring, and CW at the sleeve.
Alternately, the tip and ring can be switched. A pedal wired this way wouldn’t work in a device expecting the other format since it would always send zero volts to the device. Some pedals provide a polarity switch to work with both formats.
Another scheme connects both W and CCW to the tip and CW to the sleeve of a mono 1/4-inch TS cable, like a normal guitar cable.
Finally, at least one expression pedal reviewed outputs two control voltages simultaneously through a 1/8-inch TRRS cable.
Pedals vary greatly in how they’re constructed. The best units have aluminum cases instead of plastic. Also, cheaper units may have the output cable already hard-wired to the pedal. If it breaks, replacing the cable is a non-trivial repair.
Most expression pedals use a mechanical means to harness the linear movement of the rocker to turn the potentiometer. Usually, this is a rack and gear mechanism. Alternately it might use a metal or Kevlar band. Some allow you to adjust the stiffness to suit your style.
General-purpose pots that are turned by hand are unsuitable for expression pedals, for a couple of reasons. Pedal pots must withstand the stress of a foot-operated rocker.
Also, regular pots rotate between 270 and 320 degrees. A pedal pot’s full rotation has to precisely match the rocker’s travel to avoid losing part of the pot’s range or damaging the pedal mechanism. That’s why pedals have special, more expensive pots specifically designed for that purpose.
Many expression pedals include an additional sensitivity control that lets you adjust the response to match the controlled device or to limit the range. For example, maybe you want the full movement a pedal to change the control voltage from 50 to 100 percent.
Some pedals can be used as either an audio volume pedal or an expression pedal. They include a mono input jack. Inserting an audio cable or moving a switch causes the pedal to switch to a high-resistance logarithmic-taper pot. The audio signal is routed to the output jack, which is connected to your amp or the next pedal in your chain.
Otherwise, the pedal’s linear pot is connected, and it works like a normal expression pedal, with the TRS output connect to your effect. These “2-in-1” pedals are more versatile but cost a little more.
Some pedals ambiguously claim to be “volume/expression/wah.” One pedal we’ve reviewed does indeed have a built-in wah function, and it can be switched to work as a volume, wah, or expression control pedal. Some others making the same claim as just expression pedals, but they can be connected to compatible gear to remotely control any of those parameters.
Now that you know everything there is about Expression pedals, let’s look at some…
Top 18 Best Expression Pedal In 2021 Reviews
We’ve chosen a very wide selection of expression pedals, virtually ever major brand plus a few obscure ones. They all control expression in the same way, differing mainly in size, build quality, bonus features, and price.
We’ll start by comparing several “pure” expression pedals that have no other function.
1 Nektar Expression Pedal (NX-P)
The Nektar NX-P Universal Expression Pedal gives you good functionality at a very low price. It has a polarity switch on the bottom, so it’s compatible with virtually any expression input. There’s also a sensitivity control on the side to fine tune the response.
The NX-P is a full-size pedal, 8.3 x 3 x 2 inches, in a hard plastic case. Rocker movement is smooth and solid. The attached 6-foot TRS cable feels a little thin. If treated with care, it should hold up on stage, though you can’t just plug in a replacement cable if it breaks. On the plus side, it’s very inexpensive.
- Very low cost.
- Polarity switch.
- Plastic case.
- Hard-wired cable is relatively short.
2 M-Audio EX-P Universal Expression Pedal
Another very cost-effective option is the M-Audio EX-P. It includes a polarity switch on the bottom for compatibility with most devices with an expression input, including Yamaha gear. There’s also a trim pot to adjust sensitivity.
The EX-P has a molded plastic case that’s a relatively large 10 x 4.2 x 2.2 inches. The TRS cable is hard-wired.
- Very inexpensive.
- Polarity switch for Yamaha format.
- Hard-wired cable.
3 Moog EP-3 Expression Pedal
Moog Music has a reputation for quality going back more than 50 years, and the EP-3 Expression Pedal doesn’t disappoint. It’s solidly built, with a newly-designed and innovative cam system for extremely smooth rocker movement. It includes is a polarity switch and a scalable output knob.
The EP-3 is a large pedal, 12 x 4 x 3.2 inches. It ships with a 6.5-foot TRS cable, but a longer one will work fine.
- Polarity switch and adjustment knob.
- Smooth cam system action.
- Detachable output cable.
- May be too big for some pedalboards.
4 Zoom FP02M Expression Pedal
The Zoom FP02M is another excellent expression pedal. Used with a Zoom guitar or bass, it can control volume, wah, pitch, and several effects parameters. Because it’s optimized for Zoom gear, it doesn’t include a polarity switch or range adjustment knob.
The all-aluminum case is 9.5 x 4 x 2.8 inches and is attractively designed. This is small enough to fit on most pedal boards but still large enough for smooth operation while standing. It has a 1/4-inch TRS jack and includes a 12-foot connecting cable.
- Attractive aluminum chassis.
- Detachable cable.
- No polarity switch or range control.
5 Roland EV-5 Expression Pedal
The Roland EV-5 expression pedal is solidly built. And it’s Roland’s reputation for quality that makes this rather basic pedal more expensive than other brands with more features.
It doesn’t provide a polarity switch or range adjustment. Also, it comes with a hard-wired 6-foot cable, rather than a jack to plug in a stronger cable or one of a different length.
The case is plastic, 7.9 x 3.4 x 2.2 inches.
- Solid build quality.
- Hard-wired output cable.
- Not polarity switch or adjustment control.
- More expensive than similar models.
6 Yamaha FC7 Volume Expression Pedal For Keyboards
The Yamaha FC7 is optimized to work with Yamaha keyboards or their DG Series amplifiers, so it’s a safe choice if that’s your intention. It will usually work with other gear, though the response curve might not be ideal.
The 9.8 x 4.6 x 2.3-inch case is plastic, with a connected 5-foot cable. No polarity switch or range adjustment knob is provided. The pedal angle and spring point are adjustable. A metal connecting plate lets you physically connect several pedals together.
- Plug-and-play simplicity for Yamaha devices.
- May not work properly with other brands.
- Short, hard-wired cable.
7 Line 6 EX-1 Expression Pedal
The Line 6 EX-1 is the ideal pedal to use with the Line 6 M5 Stompbox Modeler, AX2 modeling guitar amp, and similar products. The output jack (oddly labeled “input”) is a 1/4-inch TS connection, so it’s not compatible with other equipment.
The case is black plastic, 9.5 x 4 x 2.8 inches.
- Great for Line 6 products.
- Incompatible with other brands.
8 MeloAudio EXP-001 Volume Expression Wah Bass Guitar Effects Pedal
Despite how it’s advertised, the EXP-001 Pedal is a standard expression pedal, though it can be used to control volume, wah, or any other parameter that a device makes available. It’s small, 5.5 x 2.2 x 2 inches, with an aluminum case, and weighs a mere 13 ounces.
Despite its size, the EXP-001’s rocker has a smooth, damped action. The rocker stays put if you lift your foot.
There’s no calibration control or polarity switch. A 6-foot TRS cable is included.
- Metal case.
- Small and lightweight.
- Damped action.
- Small pedal may not be comfortable to use when standing.
- No range calibration control or polarity switch.
9 MOOER Expline Guitar Expression Pedal
The MOOER Expline is one of the smallest best expression pedal reviewed, just 5 x 2.2 x 1.9 inches. But it offers a few surprises. The rocker platform has fold-out ring stirrups to provide a longer surface for your foot, handy for saving space on your pedal board.
It also has pressure switches on the rocker that turn the pedal on automatically when you step on it. A status LED lets you know the pedal is active.
The Expline has an all-metal case and provides two I/O jacks. These are wired differently to accommodate different standards, but they don’t include a calibration control. One TRS cable is included.
An external 9-volt power source is required. The Expline includes a 4-year warranty.
- All metal case.
- Innovative compact design with fold-out stirrups.
- On-off pressure switches.
- Dual-format wiring.
- Power supply required.
- No calibration control.
- More expensive than many other models.
10 Boss Dual Expression Pedal (EV-30)
The Boss EV-30 Dual Expression pedal has a compact design, just 7.5 x 3.2 x 2.33 inches. But it has the smooth feel of a full-size pedal because of its innovative mechanical design. The chassis is die-cast aluminum.
With dual outputs, each with a control to adjust the range, you can easily control two devices at once. The outputs are isolated, eliminating the possibility of ground loop noise.
Each output has a polarity switch and a calibration control, making the EV-30 compatible with a wide range of music gear.
- Dual isolated outputs.
- Polarity switches and calibration for both outputs.
- Metal case.
- More expensive.
11 DigiTech Guitar Expression Pedal
The DOD Mini Expression Pedal by DigiTech is indeed small: 5 x 3 x 2.4 inches. Yet it’s designed to have the same feel and throw as pedals twice as big.
A 3-way switch ensures compatibility with every device format: TRS (25K pot), RTS (25K), and TS (10K). There’s no range adjustment pot. It has a 1/4-inch TRS output jack so you can use your own cable.
Digitech advertises that this pedal features “rugged all-steel construction and gear drive,” which implies that the gears are steel. In fact, they’re plastic, and some users have reported problems with them breaking.
- Steel case.
- Very compact.
- Compatible with all expression formats.
- Gears may fail.
12 Source Audio SA161 Dual Expression Pedal
If you want high performance, the Source Audio SA161 Dual Expression pedal may be what you’re looking for. It features dual isolated TRS expression outputs so you can control two effects at the same time. These outputs are wired for the standard “tip-hot” standard, and no polarity switch is provided. One output includes a range adjustment control to set the low end of the expression range.
In addition, the SA161 provides a 1/8-inch (3.5 mm) 4-conductor TRRS sensor output that connects directly to Source Audio Soundblox, Soundblox Pro, and One Series pedals.
The SA161 has a rugged cast aluminum housing that’s 10 x 4 x 3 inches. Build quality is excellent. It ships with a 1/4-inch TRS cable and a 3.5mm sensor output cable.
- Sturdy aluminum case.
- Dual expression outputs.
- TRRS connector and cable for Source Audio pedals.
- No polarity switch.
Several models are sold as “2 in 1” pedals. Depending on how they’re connected, they can function either as an expression controller or as a traditional audio volume pedal.
13 Donner 2 in 1 Viper Mini Volume Expression Guitar Effect Pedal
We listed these together because they’re essentially identical, made in China, and supplied to different companies. Choose the color or brand you prefer, shop for the best price, or buy one of each, so you have a color-coded set.
Regardless, this pedal functions either as a standard audio volume control in your effects chain, or as an expression pedal for a digital amplifier or effect. Connecting an audio cable to the 1/4-inch input jack switches to the pedal’s 100K logarithmic pot to control volume. With no input and a TRS cable connected to an expression input, the 10K pot becomes active.
These pedals have a relatively small footprint at 6 x 2.7 x 2.4 inches. This can be a disadvantage if you want the finer control of a longer pedal. On the other hand, it’s easy to fit one or more on a pedal board to add real-time control over effects settings.
The case is made of hard plastic, which seems solid enough for home studio use but might break eventually until the stress of live performance. The pedal action feels smooth and not sticky.
- Dual function as a volume or expression pedal.
- Compact footprint fits easily on a pedal board.
- Small size provides less control than a larger pedal.
- Plastic case.
and Valeton EP-2 Passive Volume & Expression Pedal
and Sonicake Express Passive Volume Expression Pedal
14 Korg EXP-2 Expression Pedal
The Korg EXP-2 Foot Controller (Korg’s terminology) is a dual-function volume and expression pedal. With input 1 and output 1, it’s a traditional in-line volume pedal. Output 2 is for expression control. Both can be active at the same time.
The hard plastic case measures 7.87 x 3.42 x 2.3 inches, a little smaller than most “full-size” pedals.
On the side, a slider lets you adjust the minimum expression control voltage. The EXP-2 does not include a polarity switch. It ships with a 1/4-inch TRS cable.
- Simultaneous volume and expression control.
- Range adjustment slider.
- No polarity switch.
- More expensive than some similar models.
15 Boss Volume Pedal (FV-500H)
The Boss FV-500H is loaded with features and built to last. It doubles as a guitar volume or expression control pedal, and there’s a separate tuner output so you can tune with the pedal volume off.
This is a big pedal, 11.4 x 4.4 x 2.9 inches, with a heavy-duty cast aluminum body. You can set the feel of the pedal with an adjustment screw on the bottom panel with a Phillips screwdriver. When used as either a volume or expression pedal, you can set the minimum output with a calibration pot.
The “H” in the model number means it has a high impedance audio input for a guitar. Boss also makes an FV-500L, a low-impedance stereo model more suitable for keyboards.
- Adjustable pedal feel.
- Very sturdy construction.
- Adjustment control for volume or expression.
- No expression polarity switch.
16 Dunlop DVP3 Volume (X) Volume & Expression Pedal
This is a handy kit that includes the Dunlop DVP3 Volume (X) combination volume and expression pedal, plus a set of cables. The DVP3 uses Dunlop’s patent-pending Band Drive technology for smoother and fully-adjustable rocker action.
It’s a full-size pedal, 10 x 3.9 x 2.6 inches, with a solid aluminum chassis. It provides a high-impedance audio input and audio output for guitar or bass, a separate expression output, and a separate tuner output that bypasses the pedal pot.
A calibration control lets you adjust the minimum expression level. You can also reverse the function of the heel-down and toe-down positions with an internal switch.
Included in this kit are two short cables with 1/4-inch TS right-angle connectors to configure the DVP3 as a volume pedal on your board, and two 10-foot instrument cables. Oddly, a TRS cable for express is not provided.
- Band drive with adjustable feel.
- Separate tuner out.
- Switch to reverse pedal operation.
- No polarity switch.
- TRS cable for expression not included.
17 Dunlop Guitar Volume Pedal (DVP4)
The DVP4 Mini Volume (X) is Dunlop’s newest volume/expression pedal offering. It’s a mini pedal, 6 x 3.5 x 3.5 inches, with the same style of sturdy aluminum case and Low-Friction Band Drive with adjustable tension as its big brother.
As with the DVP3, there’s a control to set the minimum volume or expression voltage, and an internal switch lets you reverse the pedal response.
The DVP4 is powered by a 9-volt external power source.
18 Hotone Soul Press 3 in 1 Mini Volume/Wah/Expression Effects Pedal
The Hotone (it’s pronounced “hot one,” in case you wondered) Soul Press, is not only an expression and volume control but also a real wah pedal. A slide switch on the side selects the operating mode.
As a volume pedal, it’s an active circuit with true bypass that helps preserve your tone. A range adjustment control lets you set a minimum value. The wah circuit is based on the sound of Dunlop’s Cry Baby.
The Soul Press is truly a mini pedal, at just 5.43 x 2.46 x 2 inches and a mere 12 ounces. Used as a volume or wah pedal, it requires a 9-volt battery or external power.
- Very compact.
- Active volume circuit.
- Range adjustment.
- Three pedals in one.
- Mini pedal, therefore, less comfortable to use standing up.
More Pedals For Your Board
Need some other great pedals for your board? Of course, you do, all guitarists do, that’s why we play! So check out our revies of the Best Phaser Pedals, the Best Analog Delay Pedals, the Best EQ Pedals, the Best Boost Pedal, and the Best Tremolo Pedals currently available.
So, What’s The Best Expression Pedal?
Do you want a traditional full-size expression pedal that takes up more space but gives you greater control? If you’re a keyboardist, the answer is probably “Yes.” But as a guitarist, maybe you want a compact pedalboard with mini pedals, maybe ones that perform multiple tasks.
Also, do you need a best expression pedal that doubles as a volume control? Chances are, you won’t switch functions during a gig, though a 2-in-1 pedal is more versatile in the studio. And if your setup changes, you can re-purpose a pedal from compression to volume or vice versa.
With that in mind, here are our favorites…
Best Full-size Expression Pedal
It’s fully adjustable, controls two devices and is built to withstand the worst abuse.
Runner up: Source AudioSA161.
Best Mini Expression Pedal
It has all the goodness of the iconic DVP3, in a beautiful mini package.
Runner up: Donner 2 in 1 Viper. A well-made dual-function mini that looks great on your board and doesn’t cost much.
Best Combination Expression/Volume Pedal
It’s a solid classic with adjustable rocker action and even a reverse mode.
Best Budget Expression Pedal
It does its job well, it’s full size, and it’s very inexpensive.