A volume swell is a musical crescendo commonly associated with the electric guitar. Crescendo, in standard musical notation, refers to a passage of music during which the volume gradually increases.
The technique is often executed by the little finger of the guitarist which is wrapped around the volume pot/knob of the guitar. When the note is struck the volume is increased from zero by a rolling motion of the little finger. Alternatively, the effect is achieved with a volume pedal. It is sometimes called “violinning”, because the sound is similar to a bowed violin. Allan Holdsworth pioneered the technique of the pedal swelling along with a delay unit to create a thicker sound that’s more associated with chellos.
Guitar players who can do volume swells with the volume knob, often change them to round roller knobs to give your pinkie more traction and accuracy. Personally I use the stock Stratocaster knobs and find them very adequate.
Adding volume swells to your repertoire will take some time in terms of practice and patience. It is considered one of the most beautiful flowing sounds an electric guitar can be manipulated into performing. Take a few minutes out of every practice session to develop your technique. In time, you will become a master and more viable player.
Roy Buchanan was famous for his emotive volume swells, often in combination with note bending and vibrato. Jan Akkerman used the technique with Focus.
Another early use of swells is found in the Beatles recording of Eight Days a Week.
Check this video out, it is very understandable, and a good tutorial to use in order to learn how to do a volume swell.
Volume swells fall into the same category as pinch harmonics, false harmonics or squealies. As far as we are concerned at Guitar Players Center, small effective guitar tricks such as the ones described in this article and the article on pinch harmonics are wonderful additions that add distinction and flavor to your guitar vibe. Anybody out there good at volume swells? What technique do you use? Do you have any tricks to share? Comment on them please, or if not please Share any solid info with other guitar players. Enjoy.